The Burden Of Knowing
By Charles Hugh Smith
19 November, 2010
Knowing what lies ahead is a great emotional burden.
The knowledge that the present is unsustainable is, for many of us, a great emotional burden. It troubles our sleep, our minds, and our basic emotional well-being. Knowledge, like memory, cannot be erased at will, and thus it runs in the background of our lives, unseen by others but deeply troubling to the knower.
I am not alone in feeling this weight; correspondents and readers write me that they feel it, too.
Yet it is not just the knowledge that all this is based on cheap, abundant oil and a rapidly imploding financial system based on fraud and lies that burdens us; it is the mirror image of reality pressed upon us by the status quo: the Mainstream Media, the corrupt Savior State beholden to Power Elites and crony-capitalist, predatory monopoly-capital cartels and Global Corporate America (which conveniently enough owns the mainstream media).
One of the most chilling stories to emerge from China's Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s and early 60s--in which peasants were instructed to "make steel" by melting down their metal farming and cooking tools, leaving them to starve in countless millions--involves the artifices presented to Mao to cover up the grotesque consequences of his policies.
Communist party officials fearful of Mao's ire and losing their own perquisites arranged to have a specific route through the countryside planted thickly with rice. Five meters deep on each side of this road, rice was planted so closely that it appeared to be the very acme of abundance; the road was seemingly a thin ribbon of pavement cut through endless green abundance.
It was all artifice and lies. While the officials pointed out the phony bounty to Mao, tens of millions of peasants were starving to death. Behind the five meters of contrived abundance lay a barren landscape.
The American media and Savior State are busy planting their own five meters of apparent abundance and "growth" along every highway in the land. The vast majority of people--even people who should know better but who prefer not to know, and thus they studioudsly avoid peeking through the curtain of sham prosperity--accept that GDP growth means something positive is happening in their own lives, even as the visible evidence points to a mirror-image of this "growth" propaganda.
We know that all the contrivances of "modern life" are ultimately the result of one single condition: cheap, abundant oil. Everything--the plays on Broadway, the film industry, the iPods made in China for cheap, the endless Mcmansions in gated exurbs, the grain-fattened, fat-marbled beef, the "cheap" fast-food meals, the Savior State and its Global Empire--is all based on cheap, abundant oil. There is no substitute in the near term.
Every "solution" fails to hold up beyond the most cursory examination. Natural gas? Well, yes, but then all those "fracc'ed" wells the industry extols as the "solution" have a nasty habit of depleting rather quickly. There are an an estimated 254.4 million vehicles in the U.S.; would you care to guess the cost of converting them to natural gas?
Will "entrepreneurship" re-make the distribution system to enable fueling those tens of millions of vehicles with natural gas? At what cost, and to whom?
How about that "new discovery" of a 1 billion-barrel oil field in deep water? Does the MSM or Savior State propaganda ministry mention that 1 billion barrels is less than two months of U.S. consumption, or that it may take 5 years to extract the first drop, or that the costs of such deepwater drilling are so prohibitive that oil extracted will not be cheap?
How about that "endless" shale oil? How many MSM stories note that production tops out at 2 million barrels a day, a mere 10% of U.S. consumption--and the Canadians and Chinese have claims on much of that production?
Even a cursory read of this site, or others which peek through the thick green screen of State/corporate propaganda, reveals the multiple frauds at the very heart of American finance, governance, real estate and the stock market.
Yet most people don't want to know. They adamantly accept the mirror-image of reality presented by the media and State: that the economy is "growing" and fundamentally sound, even though the reality is the opposite; that "reform" will fix the core problems, even though the reforms are simulacra designed to give the appearance of reform; and that sickcare "reform" will lower costs even as the sickcare cartels increase their take of the economy every year.
This heavily promoted and contrived mirror-image disconnect between what we are told is true and what is actually true threatens us with a very draining madness. Some readers donate money to this site because they say that it provides some sort of landing in a sea of lies, propaganda, misinformation and misprepresentation--that in reading it they know they are not alone and that they are not crazy.
The unease and insecurity is very real. None of us know the future; we only know that the present is vastly unsustainable, and that if we as a nation and species rely on simulacra, artifice, lies, fraud and propaganda instead of reality, then the status quo will end very badly. Any sane person who knows this finds it worrisome.
Hence the rational desire to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Yet many readers tell me they meet fierce resistance from those around them. I understand completely; I personally do not know a single person in my circle or neighborhood who has prepared for even a few days without the global supply chain--and I live in "earthquake country" where a massive earthquake is not a possibility, it is a certainty; the only missing bit of knowledge is "when."
As one correspondent put it recently, most people have more dog food on hand than they do food for themselves.
I don't advertise my own preparations, and I pass them off as "earthquake preparedness" as that strikes people as only slightly mad and paranoid rather than the full-blown madness of knowing the whole system is extremely vulnerable and precarious.
Very few people I know well have any savings to speak of either. I have repeatedly suggested that they sell--sell their second home, sell their office condo, sell anything and everything to reduce or eliminate their debt, but they persist in working themselves to death to pay the mortgages on their mini-real estate empire.
They all hope that the bubble will somehow magically reinflate, even though the possibility of that happening with 19 million vacant dwellings, rising interest rates and 5 million foreclosed homes in the pipeline is essentially zero.
Readers ask me for investment advice; I cannot offer any, because I am not qualified to do so, nor do I care to do so; the future is unknown to us all. I can only say that I don't trust the stock market or the propaganda, and so cash is King in my eyes, and whatever their drawbacks, gold and silver will not go to zero, while paper assets and even real estate can either go to near-zero or become a capital trap.
I don't have a "cure" for this MSM-Savior-State induced madness, or the emotional burdens of knowing it is all interlocking dependencies supported by webs of lies and fraud, and thus is it really is "different this time," but not in the way the shills, carnies and toadies think.
It does not have to turn out that badly; we could get by on much less. Half the energy in the nation is squandered, as is half the food produced from the fields. If you visit any orchard in the land post-harvest, ton after ton of fruit lays wasted on the ground, rotting, in row after row, acre after acre, state after state. The dumpsters are weighted down with the food we have thrown away, just as the air conditioners are running when nobody is even in the building. A staggering 5% of our electricity is wasted on zombie electronics on standby. The list of waste is almost endless.
I have carried water to a garden in 5-gallon buckets and gotten by on handfuls of beans and corn or brown rice, and been happy doing so. Life does not end when the exurbs no longer make sense and the Savior State checks stop coming. Our sense of reality has become so skewed, so riven with mirror images and marketing, that we have as a culture have lost touch with much more than "mere" reality.
It doesn't have to end badly, but it might. Power Elites desperate to maintain their perquisities have always found that fanning the winds of war distracts their citizenry from their own incompetence and greed.
So what is the solution? I don't know; nobody knows. We only know our own limitations, and what we can do, however modest it might be. We can turn off the TV, that is easily done and extremely helpful. We can also limit our time online, as that is just another firehose of information which quickly overloads our sense of identity and proportion.
There are feedback loops in every system. I know 2015 will not be like 2010, but I cannot know precisely how it will be different. I know 2020 will be very different from 2010 and 2015, but I don't know exactly how different; nobody else knows, either.
All that we can do is to realize the carefully planted screen is only thick and abundant along the specified route, and that we owe it to ourselves to peek through to the barren terrain beyond, and to base our decisions and identity on that reality.
We cannot convince our loved ones, friends, family and associates; in the odd moment, we can make a suggestion or leave a book for them to glance through. That is all we can do; the emotional burden we feel only gets heavier if we push too hard and create needless conflict. So all we can do is make our own preparations as responsible individuals, as autonomous beings seeking liberty, and act accordingly.
Prudence is a good screen. Having a bit of non-frozen food on hand is after all merely prudent, isn't it? And so are the rest: water filters, propane stoves, and so on. Camping equipment is good to have on hand; gardening is worthy exercise, and a nice hobby. Eliminating fast food and packaged food from one's diet is also merely prudent; why poision ourselves if we have any sort of choice at all?
Voting against every incumbent who has supported the bailouts of banking Elites, the fraudulent "reforms" and all the Savior State propaganda is also merely prudent; why reward liars and thieves if there is any other choice available?
Having savings is also prudent, as is eliminating debt. Limiting our exposure to the lies, marketing and madness of Corporate-State media is also prudent. So perhaps we can agree to be prudent, and perhaps others will accept it all as mere prudence.
On another topic: I will have houseguests this coming week, and then the rest of the month is already overbooked with non-online work. As a result, I will be unable to answer email this month. As you probably know, this blog and indeed the vast majority of blogs are labors of love. There is no martyrdom in it; we each choose to maintain a site for our own reasons, or in my case, because I can't help writing something every day (even if it is of marginal value). Nonetheless the reality is that my livelihood is earned elsewhere, in writing I do for money and other work in the non-digital world.
Some mornings I sit down to answer email and I look up 4 or 5 hours later, exhausted, and I have not yet caught up or made a penny toward my own modest expenses. While I could set up an auto-respond, somehow that doesn't appeal to me; I would rather just tell you now, in a blanket way, that I learn so much from your emails--links, personal accounts, book suggestions and much more--that I do not want to discourage this free flow of meaningful information, even as I must confess I have severe limits on my time and energy and yes, emotional strength.
So in all honesty I must reluctantly tell you that while I will read every email I receive this month, I cannot respond to them. I can only thank you now for taking the time to share informaton with me, before the deluge of real-world work hits.
I would also like to thank everyone who makes their Amazon purchases through this site. It is a way of (in essence) donating a small but welcome amount of money to the site without having to pay the donation out of pocket--the small commission Amazon pays is paid out of their revenue; the buyer pays no more than they would if they made the purchase directly from Amazon.
Last month someone very kindly purchased their Kindle through oftwominds.com; that was very generous and I thank that unknown reader for their thoughtful donation via the small commission paid by Amazon.
Lastly, I would like to thank every reader who kindly bought a copy of my book Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation and/or Survival+ The Primer. As a self-published author the odds are long indeed, and your support means a lot to me.
Thank you for your continued readership and your understanding of my frailties and limits.