Your Money or Your Life


by Roxanne Tellier

“2020 is a unique leap year,” surmised David Wessel, an economic researcher, on Twitter. “It has 29 days in February, 300 days in March and five years in April.”

Oh yes indeed – there’s been five years in April and May might age me another ten. Ain’t nobody having much fun anymore.  

Have you noticed how fluid time has become since stay at home orders were instituted in March?  Last week Shawn lost a full day, and was living his Friday on Thursday. Not that we’re doing anything different on a Friday as opposed to a Thursday these days, but it’s still a little discombobulating.

Time is how we measure change, so when we are living in a time when little changes, we become unmoored from the concept.  It is as though we were astronauts, floating weightless in space; there are no borders here. 

Studies have shown that humans perceive time differently, based on whatever it is they’re doing when asked. Fear and anxiety change our perceptions. If a person is under some sort of time pressure, they may be unable to tell you if two minutes or five minutes have passed, even if they’re constantly looking at a clock to judge how much time they have left to complete a task.  We feel time differently if we’re physically stressed, with cold, or heat, when we’re depressed, or when we’re bored. And if you’re ever lucky enough to experience being ‘in the zone,’ of being totally absorbed into a project, time becomes so ethereal that it practically disappears.

Knowing how elastic time can become under varying circumstances, it becomes obvious that for some, time spent during lockdown in a pandemic can feel like it’s gone on forever, and appears to stretch ahead for weeks or months to come. Many people just can’t cope – either they want some sort of stimulation to perk themselves up, or they’re frantic that the time they’ve spent doing nothing in particular has been time wasted in a life that needs constant forward movement.

But of course, how we’re experiencing time is only half the battle. It’s the not knowing what’s next that is driving us insane. On the one hand, we’re safer staying in, and away from crowds, where the possibility of infection is high. On the other, if we have a job or business where every day is integral to the production of our product, we face the age-old conundrum; your money or your life.  

Like a back-alley mugger, COVID 19 has pointed a gun at our head, and demanded that we rethink how we earn our livings. But the problem is, the world we’re going to return to, the one that was our previous normal, no longer exists.

The local restaurants and bars we enjoyed probably didn’t sock away enough profit to survive several months of outgo with no income. Exorbitant rents, along with fixed costs of utilities, and the cost of the goods on offer will finish off the majority of Mom and Pop stores.

Public transit is so risky that we’re warned not to use it unless it’s absolutely necessary, and then only when properly masked and gloved. Travelling by air will never be the same, and I’m gonna guess most of us are not really willing to chance a ride on a cruise line’s floating petri dish.  

How will we attend movies? Sporting events? Symphonies? Jam sessions? Will some discover that they could have always avoided the morning commute by simply working at home for the majority of the time?  

There’s no going back for millions who have lost their incomes and possibly their businesses. Barring the institution of a Universal Basic Income, we are looking at a period of economic chaos unlike anything that has been seen in North America since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  

And even as we try to cope with these changes, there are some who will take this opportunity to either improve the world we live in, or to warp it so that it works even more to their benefit.

Right now, America is at a terrible crossroads. In truth, the tax cuts and trade wars that made a small portion of the population wealthy has actually stolen the rainy-day money that might have made this pandemic a little easier for people to survive. And even the money that should be available for the taxpayers who are struggling is being dripped out so slowly that many are losing hope of staying in their homes.

Constant cuts to the social networks meant to help citizens means that those institutions struggling to throw people a lifeline are already fighting from a compromised position, with their backs against the wall.  In many U.S. states, unemployment insurance was jiggered to the point where it’s almost impossible for citizens to apply for the benefit, let alone receive regular cheques. This has left far too many people with nowhere to turn.

The question then becomes – who does the average person blame for this crisis? And how do they attempt to change what they cannot easily understand, endure or accept as their new normal?   

“The victim’s need to survive is stronger than his impulse to hate the person who has created the dilemma.” Stockholm Syndrome, as described by Thomas Strentz, in his book, Psychological Aspects of Crisis Negotiation

Many people are just too tired and beaten down from fighting against their own leaders’ incursion into their rights and needs for the last several years. Lies. compounded by more lies, with disinformation and misinformation mixed, in have become our daily fare. We are so exhausted from all of the previous battles over political issues, both big and small, that now, when we really need our strength, we find there’s just nothing left in the tank.

And into that breech pours the 1%, with their hands out for yet more bailout money. There’s always money to be found for the billionaires, the cruise ships and airlines, the corporations, and the lobbyists. Even the churches are applying, and receiving armloads of cash. Wall Street is making out like a bandit. But Main Street is taking a real beating.

People have been brainwashed into believing that a thriving stock market, and a soaring number of billionaires means that their nation’s economy is thriving. But that’s never been true, because the stock market is NOT the economy.

Stocks anticipate future developments in business. They are not based on current affairs.  There is no relationship between a country’s GDP growth rate, and what will happen in the stock market. If anything, studies have found a negative correlation between the two.

While a good stock market can help with corporate assets, in practice, the tendency of management and investors to squander profit in poor decisions is more likely to tank the market. Putting funds into workers hands, so that it can circulate, is what really benefits the stock market, and that can be nice for our retirement funds. But … the stock market is not the economy.  

We are just not ourselves during crisis. We cannot think straight when we are in the grips of a ‘temporary psychosis’ – a desperate attempt of the psyche to resist a truth or a fear or a fact it cannot handle. That psychosis is what is driving so many to protest a lockdown that was instituted – against the wishes of those for whom the economy was more important than taxpayers – to save our lives.

The economy cannot exist without the millions of citizens that drive it’s engine. Without the efforts of those that are paid the least, countries would grind to a complete halt. And yet these workers are the ones that are treated with the most contempt, and who are often struggling just to make ends meet, on ridiculously low minimum wages.   

The unspoken truth is that these ‘essential workers, ‘ the ones treated so badly, are little more than the slave labour necessary to keep the 1% in control And there’s billions of willing workers, all around the planet, so if you break one, even if you murder hundreds or thousands of them, there’s always more slaves where those came from.

The fervor with which so many have greeted the false prophets and gurus of the ‘plandemic’ video and similar disinformation denotes how many have given up on logic, science, facts, or reality, as they struggle to deal with a reality that scares them to death. Sadly, a person with this psychosis can do quite a lot of damage when they are able to convince others that their paranoid suspicions just might be the truth. They tell two friends, and those two tell two friends… and so on and so on ….

They are struggling with a cognitive dissonance that overwhelms them, and their terror creates a psychotic reaction to the situation. They will not be shaken from their belief in the truth of the fantasy before them, even when the information is revealed to be twisted and untrue.

Overwhelming the audience with what is known as the ‘gish gallop,’ the viewer is bombarded with so many assertions and arguments that it becomes impossible to even keep up with the ideas, never mind refute them. And in that state of confusion we willingly walk into the slaughterhouse, and even defend those ready and waiting with the stun guns that will take us out.

We are living in a time of more confusion and uncertainty than we’ve known in a very long time, and the stakes are high. In order to survive, people need money, and to get money, they need to work. To work, the nations must re-open. But if the nations re-open before a COVID 19 treatment and/or vaccination has been produced, we may be re-injuring, and possibly even fatally damaging, our basic national economies.  

Scary times indeed. These are the times when we crave some sort of comfort, answers to the who what where why of this disaster. But even our scientists and national leaders can’t tell us with certainty what will happen next. 

Which is why so many are prepared to turn to charlatans and grifters, con men (and women) and snake oil salespeople. Using ethos, pathos and logos, and sifting in just enough plausible kernels of thought and ideas that seem possible and appeal to our intuition, the manipulator easily twists the vulnerable around their crooked little fingers.

Strange days indeed. Most peculiar, mama ……

I’ll leave you with some words of comfort and wisdom from Morgan Freeman   

Tilting the Mirror


There’s a conspiracy theory that’s been around for a few years now, in which people believe that CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) experiments have caused the world to shift into an alternate reality, a parallel universe. They claim that the organization was warned of the possibility by physicist Stephen Hawking, but that the alarm was ignored .. and now, here we are, somewhere other than where we should be..

bizarroworldSome days … most days! … it really does feel like our reality has been tilted just a little sideways. There is an enormous difference in the way I thought and wrote in 2016, as opposed to the way I do now, in 2018. We are living in interesting times that often do resemble a universe like our own, but upside down and backwards. It leaves me  feeling a little like Superman’s friend from the fifth dimension, Mr Mxyzptlk, or like I am living in BizarroWorld.

 

 

How else can you explain the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908, and Donald Trump‘s election to the presidency? Nothing has made sense for years – up is down, black is white, and Dollarama delisted not one but two of my favourite deodorants. There is no justice.

Mitch Alborn memePerhaps you are feeling ‘the Mandela effect,’ something which you might have come across on line, or in a group of friends, when you encounter people who believe and will bet their last dollar on their insistence that something happened – although all evidence shows that it never did.

Examples of the “Mandela effect” include believing that Nelson Mandela died in prison in the 1980s, and swearing that the comedian Sinbad played a genie in a 1990’s movie. Oh, and that the “Berenstein Bears” were really named the “Berenstain Bears.”

If you believe this theory, then Trump’s assertions of Muslims cheering in the streets after 9/11, or of terrorist attacks on Sweden, or any of the six plus lies he spews a day, are all true .. in his own universe. Just not in ours.

Of course, this is just a wild theory, meant to protect our fragile minds from cracking under the strain of living through the disaster of the Trump administration and the end days of capitalism. According to both French economist Thomas Piketty and German economist Wolfgang Streeck, society is on the verge of collapse due to the worst form of socioeconomic inequality in capitalism’s history. Which sort of trumps Trump, if you will.

With just eight multi-billionaires owning the equivalent amount of capital of half of the global population, we could be in for a world of pain, If and when the next major global financial crisis strikes, perhaps as a consequence of trade wars and excessive national debt.

hobbes nasty brutish short quoteBig capital, government and the military would ascend to full control. That would work out well for the privileged, who could afford to hole up in comfort, but life for the masses would be miserable in a polluted, brutish world.

On some level, we are all aware of this inequity, this imbalance of the playing field, this looming Armageddon that we are unable to prevent, and that unease we feel translates to how we interpret current events. If it is in our nature to double down on our core beliefs, we may have to deal with a shocking amount of  cognitive dissonance.

cognitive dissonanceFear of losing what we have always perceived to be true can be incredibly painful. When our truths are challenged, we will push back, unable to hold two truths in our minds simultaneously. That’s when you hear the screams of ‘fake news!’ and see the undermining of science, actual corroborated truths and facts, and respected journalism. It is easier to shoot the messenger than to absorb new information that contradicts our long held viewpoints.

But yelling ‘fake news!’ every time you hear something you don’t like, doesn’t make it fake. It just makes it contrary to what you want to believe.

Some of our most deeply held values may stem from our upbringing, and the unconscious ethics we’ve absorbed from our families and our peers. Much is drummed into us by our choice of media, especially as it has evolved in the last two decades.

We are the product of our environment, of what we are born into, and of what we choose to surround ourselves with when the choice becomes our own. It’s fascinating to unravel the gymnastic moves that minds can make when they are asked to confront how they came to a point of view or decision. Kind of like the new math meets the Kama Sutra – fun to watch until someone loses an eye.

How we name and sort concepts may depend less on reality, and more on innate prejudices. What we believe about others and their behaviors may have more to do ourselves and with what we have been lead to believe, than what those other people are actually likely to be thinking or doing.

In these days of divisiveness and bitter words, of anger and a sense of disconnect that threatens to bring countries to an emotional or physical civil war, it’s important to remember that it is only by coming together that societies flourish.

great society lbj. jpg‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’ In 1933, Roosevelt’s “New Deal” brought America back to prosperity by utilizing the federal government’s power to help the weakest amongst them. In 1964, Lyndon B Johnson tried to do something similar, with his vision of a Great Society, the main goal of which was the elimination of poverty and racial injustice.

He applauded the nation’s wealth and abundance but admonished the audience that “the challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to use that wealth to enrich and elevate our national life, and to advance the quality of American civilization.”

It has always and ever been the coming together of a people that enriches and ennobles them, not outbursts, divisions, anger and threats. A true leader does not divide to conquer, but rather, brings all together to prosper.

This time we are living in will pass. History will record what happened in these days of discord, and pass judgement on all of us, for what we did or what we failed to do. Some will continue to rail against what they do not want to hear or believe, while others will sadly put their ideals in the bottom drawer and carry on, diminished.

broken mirrorBut thee and me, and all of us, we will still be here, and all of the harsh words and deeds we aimed at each other will lie around us, like the husks of dinosaurs, or the steam that rises off a dumpster fire, fetid and festering.

The mirror tilted once – it can tilt again. But what will it reflect? A brave new world, or a desolate landscape of broken dreams?

So Long 2016


yes .. it’s been a while … but the rants have just been biding their time .. 😉

Your Sunday Sermon …

So long 2016 .. adios, hasta la vista. You took a lot out of us, and a lot from us, and what you’ve left behind isn’t all that comforting, but you’ve been and you’re gone. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

The thing about the sixth year of a decade is that it tends to be a culmination of the previous years. The beginning of a decade still clings to the decade before, and baby steps to change begin in the first few years, but by the sixth, the decade has rather defined itself. This six was a doozy. And it likely portends much of what will define the teen years of this century.

Were we more shaped by the losses we sustained, or by the gains we achieved? To me, the year was more reactive than proactive, although certainly, there were advances in most fields.

As for the arts …  nothing much captured and kept our attention, either visually or musically, for very long. The lack of gatekeepers allowed the flood of creativity, but it’s hard to distinguish one drop of water from another in an ocean.

Television might be the last bastion of creative possibilities, at least that which is available from the independent channels. I still prefer British television to American overall, but keep on the lookout for nuggets of gold in North American teevee.

walking-deadThis was the year I finally gave up on The Walking Dead .. Season Seven, filmed as even more brutal than the graphic novel from whence it sprang, just took it too far for me to stomach. After episode one, I gave episode two a cursory glance, but the emphasis on a demagogue bullying and  humiliating his ‘people’ felt too much like what I imagine Americans will experience under their new alien overlord.

But on the plus side, two new series – one from the U.S., and one from Britain – explored something I expect to see in a nearer future – artificial intelligence and a robot workforce Both were brilliantly written, acted and filmed. WestWorld postulated a future amusement park where humans could interact in any way they chose with realistic, synthetic humans, and wrapped the drama around a story line that encompassed decades.  The cast were amazing. My only quibble was with an unspoken assumption that, given the choice, most humans would choose to indulge their basest and most despicable impulses without fear of reprisal. Perhaps that is the sad truth.

humans-cast-tv-show   Humans, a British series, took another tack; a future as mundane as our own, where ‘synths’ took over all the tasks people no longer wanted to do – in effect, a new slavery. The flaw in that ‘dream’ was a computer code able to bring consciousness to the synths.

Consciousness, however, and in both series, drew attention to the new slavery AND the enormous range of needs and emotions, as applicable to both humans and synths. Just as a ‘human’ could be damaged by experience and become evil, so could a synth.

future-of-robotsI don’t think we’re close to the sort of realistic, humanistic synthetic beings either series portrayed, but automation and robotics – computers taking over most of the jobs humans currently do – is projected to be an issue affecting the planet within the next two decades.

“instead of a pro-job growth future, economists across the board predict further losses as AI, robotics, and other technologies continue to be ushered in. What is up for debate is how quickly this is likely to occur.

By 2034, just a few decades, mid-level jobs will be by and large obsolete. So far the benefits have only gone to the ultra-wealthy, the top 1%. This coming technological revolution is set to wipe out what looks to be the entire middle class. Not only will computers be able to perform tasks more cheaply than people, they’ll be more efficient too.

Accountants, doctors, lawyers, teachers, bureaucrats, and financial analysts beware: your jobs are not safe. According to The Economist, computers will be able to analyze and compare reams of data to make financial decisions or medical ones. There will be less of a chance of fraud or misdiagnosis, and the process will be more efficient. Not only are these folks in trouble, such a trend is likely to freeze salaries for those who remain employed, while income gaps only increase in size. You can imagine what this will do to politics and social stability. ”  

(http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/47-of-jobs-in-the-next-25-years-will-disappear-according-to-oxford-university)

For many, that shift to robotics will come when they are unwilling or unable to pivot to another occupation. What happens to all of those workers, who trained for positions that no longer exist?

cognitive-dissonance1We are already in a frightening economic time, when the wealthy are pedestalled for no more reason than their wealth, and where those who cannot find work are despised. We’ve been conditioned for centuries to believe that our work defines us, and that hard work builds character. We’ve been trained to believe that those with wealth, no matter how it was gained, are our superiors, and that  their wealth somehow magically imbues their character with all of the traits we claim to respect; charity, kindness, empathy, intelligence and the like.

Cognitive dissonance allows us to look at a venal, bigoted, racist, misogynistic, narcissist, and somehow believe that the attributes that created his great wealth – the ability to lie, cheat, steal, and steamroll over others, expecting nothing but the finest for himself, but comfortable with others having very little – make that person qualified for the leadership of 319 million citizens.

If writer and political commentator Andrew Sullivan is correct that, “in terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order … [Trump] is an extinction-level event, it may well be that his campaign and election are the paths to a new world rising from the ashes of the old.

ai-driven-automationMassive unemployment caused by automation must be met with new, thoughtful, empathic intelligence. If it is instead met by rampant greed, coupled with a loathing for any criticism or accountability, the clay feet of the rich and powerful will finally be exposed.

True leadership does not seek to enrich only the leader, or seek to rape the land and it’s people for profit. Every nation on the planet is in dire need of the sort of leadership that is bi-partisan and respects every nation and every citizen for not only what they have to offer, but for their very existence.

There can be no leaders without followers.

gpi-gdpImagine if, instead of  defining the wealth of a nation by it’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP,)   it was instead known by it’s Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI.)   The GDP has no conscience; it cannot tell if a dollar is spent on progress or destruction, and it neither knows nor cares about a future impact on the people. As Paul Hawken, an American entrepreneur, environmentalist and author, once said, “We are stealing from the future, selling it to the present, and calling it Gross Domestic Product.”    

The GPI, on the other hand, takes into account not just goods and services produced, but also the social and environmental impact of that production. When every citizen has more money to spend, more leisure time, and better health, the GPI rises. But when rates of crime, imprisonment, pollution and environmental damage increase, the GPI falls accordingly.

True leadership takes a long range look, sees the changes coming, and seeks to steer the citizens to a safer future. That kind of vision is antithetical to the current crop of wouldbe leaders, who are little more than politicians prepared to pander, lie, and allow corruption in the name of short term gain, and an unethical win.

Combining what needs to be done to enrich the citizens socially needs to take into account the upcoming redefinition of employment, and the climate changes we are experiencing.

If nations want true leadership, they need to reject those politicians who display an ignorance of scientific facts and a predisposition for encouraging divisiveness amongst their citizens. Citizens need to accept that they are responsible for the politicians they ignore or elevate, and understand  that with citizenship comes not only rights, but accountability. police-state-dictatorship

Otherwise, the government truly does become “what the people deserve.” No more, and no less.