Sunday, December 21, 2014

" 'Tis the season to be jolly"....Sensing the Anomie Among Us

We are in the midst of the December Christmas holiday season with all its upbeat music, glittering decorations and consumer spending.  But amid the high spirits and joy of the season, a sense of anomie is emerging.

The stock market which has been a charging bull for the past couple of years took a polar bear plunge this month, primarily due to declining oil prices to a new low of $54 a barrel.

U.S. Stocks have gone up to record highs in the past two years

The recession which broke the back of the American economy in 2008 and ended officially in September, 2010  has resulted in the average American experiencing a loss of about 40% of their net worth since 2007.  The results of the aftermath of the Great Recession are mixed.  People who own stock, including those with retirement accounts with stock funds, have generally benefited from the hot stock market, at least on paper.  Timing is everything in the stock market and when retirees take their money out of the stock market is key to whether they are winners or losers.

Young people under 35 years of age are heavily indebted and have not been able to grow their wealth at all having spent their first 10-15 earning years on a roller coaster economy.  The minimum wage is stagnant with its real dollar value (accounting for inflation) more than $2 less than what is was in 1968.

Gasoline prices at the pump have declined to an average of $2.41 per gallon of regular  This has benefited consumers tremendously with lower commuting expenses and lower prices on items that fluctuate in price due to transportation costs (e.g. airline tickets, groceries, etc.).  It also creates instability in markets and damages alternative energy industries like electric cars and solar power as oil becomes cheaper.  On the other hand, OPEC nations and countries where oil is their chief export (Russia, Venezuela and Middle Eastern Islamic nations) have lost billions of dollars and face an economic Armageddon

And among all the economic ups and downs, the world news is dire with inexplicable violence, religious terrorism, natural disasters, increasing censorship, endless wars and noisy, chest-thumping dictators. People of reason, in the USA and elsewhere in this world, need to pay attention to what is happening in the world at this time.  Ignoring the signs of crisis will be at our peril.  But a feeling of anomie seems to be overwhelming individuals. 

For many people in the U.S.A., coming off an extremely negative election season where billions of dollars were spent to demonize candidates seeking office, they will turn more and more to their personal electronic devices to listen to music, play games and share monosyllable messages and pictures with their ever-enlarging circle of "friends".  More and more people in the world's leading democracy are "taking a pass" on the responsibilities of citizenship and, instead,  engage in private pleasures in this "brave new world".   Yesterday's Winthrop Quigley's column in the Albuquerque Journal took on this very subject as he shared his correspondence with Mark Rudd, a figure of 1960's radicalism:

’60s radical hears sounds of silence
By PUBLISHED: Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 12:05 amALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The electronic mail system brought an intriguing and depressing series of questions recently from Mark Rudd, a 40-year Albuquerque resident, retired CNM math teacher, former member of the Weather Underground, a leader of the 1968 student strike at Columbia University, a former leader of Students for a Democratic Society and now a self-described member of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.
Has the American population become de-politicized? Rudd asked. Do ordinary citizens think about the common good anymore? Does anyone believe the political process is worth one’s time and energy? Are people so self-involved that they don’t have room in their lives for the public square?
Rudd was reacting to my assertion in the Dec. 11 UpFront that the American people’s response to years of disclosures about the CIA’s torture program has been silence. What followed was an exchange of multiple emails and a two-hour conversation over coffee concerning the state of public engagement in America.
This was before polling organizations published surveys showing a majority of Americans approve of torturing our enemies, or at least feel that torture can be justified. American silence could simply be a sign of American support for torture.
But there is more.
They held an election last month. Hardly anyone came. About 40 percent of registered voters voted in the gubernatorial election. Voter turnout reached 70 percent in the 2008 presidential election.
Rudd points out that about as many people thronged to hear candidate Barack Obama speak in Albuquerque before the 2008 election as turned out to vote in the 2012 Democratic primary election. None of our kids seems to us to be particularly engaged politically. I find myself avoiding political conversations with people I don’t know fairly well.
Rudd thinks declining political engagement is a result of “the growth of the power and size of capital, which controls the government, the media, the defense establishment, every federal bureaucracy and most state legislatures.” He says that “we’ve learned to lead our real lives, our emotional lives in private.”
I sent Rudd a column I wrote three years ago that said political operatives have learned from product marketing experts that you can divide the electorate into tiny collections of people with a shared identity and grievance. Campaign staffs use advertising and other marketing tools that appeal entirely to that identity and grievance.
They cultivate anger and hatred and use that to motivate their supporters to get to the polls. When the election is over, it’s very difficult to pull all of these shards of the population together into a united people ready to engage in the tough work of solving a democracy’s problems. They continue to live in their own world of identity and grievance, I said.
“Maybe only those who see themselves as part of the civic community vote,” Rudd replied. “Everybody else might as well be a John Galt individualist.” He senses the nation has lost hope in its future. “There is almost total confusion on what this country stands for,” Rudd said.
Some of our angst is likely nostalgia. We both came of age in a time of civil rights agitation, the Vietnam War, the draft and Watergate. Politics seemed then like a matter of life and death. It is a lot harder to get worked up over the size of the federal deficit and whether the federal government should require people to carry health insurance.
Brian Sanderoff, who runs Research & Polling, probably knows more about political attitudes in New Mexico than anyone else, so I asked what he thinks.
“People are fed up,” Sanderoff said. “Their expectations have become very low.” The endless din of negative campaigning (and these days someone is always campaigning) suppresses voter turnout and increases cynicism about the process, he said.
Modern political campaigning gives a voter the sense that whoever is elected will be, at best, ineffective “because I just listened to six months of people being called a dog, and I don’t know who to believe or what to believe,” Sanderoff said.
Not only are people splintered; the media are splintered. In the old days, there wasn’t right-wing Fox News and left-wing MSNBC, Sanderoff said. There was network news, which tended to be a little left of center but which strived to be an honest broker. Now people can look for media that confirm what they already believe and which tell them that the other guy’s media, whether liberal or conservative, are not to be trusted. Information becomes suspect.
Those holding or seeking power have found a formula that works, but for how long? Sanderoff says voters hate the negativity in their political lives, they know the political classes are serving up bull, and they want justice in the world. Angry people demand change, as Rudd and I both learned as young men in the time of civil rights and Vietnam. Brace yourselves.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Winthrop Quigley at 823-3896 or Go to to submit a letter to the editor.

I fear that the "checks and balances" required for our democracy to thrive are gone with a plutocracy that controls our elections, especially accelerated by the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision. The voting populace has shrunken to an all-time low and "The People" that Jefferson so counted on to insure a democratic nation are largely poorly educated on not only the issues affecting them daily but also on history, science, government, etc. The shrunken conscience of our politicians and the increasing inability or refusal to convey ideas and facts through our sources of media allow for simple propagandistic thought to prevail as "common truth".  I happened to listen to a right-wing "talk radio" show the other morning and was amazed to hear such an alternative reality as described by the host.  His alternative reality attributed to President Obama and other Democratic politicians a world of horror and malice, I shuttered to think that anyone could believe this but America's enemies.  But all I need do is look at the blogosphere and listen to such "truths" repeated by some of our friends  to see that the propaganda is effective.   Absent some sort of national crisis to focus our attention  with laser-sharp focus to unite us, I do not think the US democracy can "bounce back". The very rich own us and until we experience wide-spread deprivation and loss, I fear that elections will change nothing in the immediate future as we fracture into smaller and  smaller groups based on identity and grievance.   In the meantime, many of us have gone missing from public life, focusing our attention on the most meaningless and ephemeral "feel good" activities deep within our own personal refuge.

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