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Culture Change e-Letter # 36

Overcoming the BS
Dysfunction: more individual or societal?

by Jan Lundberg

In these times, people's mounting conflicts are a reflection of mental and social illness. What are the causes and solutions?  As with our ecological crisis, problems that arise from our basic human make-up and from 10,000 years of this dominant culture (Western Civilization) are not going to be solved by electing different politicians.  

The big picture tells us that an historic crescendo of global economic and population pressure is still accelerating, as we note that modern life runs faster than in the 1970s or even the 1980s.  People are commonly running around either scatter-brained or dulled.  Some are "sleepwalking" to have a semblance of peace, at the price of their freedom and their own spirits.  Divorced from nature, we all try to manage our severely compromised lives, keeping our heads - if possible - above the polluted, roiling waters of change.

Those of us in a position to help others by applying our compassion, luck, and skill to the business of living cannot avoid being hit by the random insanity surrounding us.  It is comforting that there are infinitely more stars in the universe than there are twisted, abused, and abusive people.  But it sometimes seems like the latter are a very close second.

It gets better
When "these people" are dishing out misery to you, at least you are getting to know them.  It's good to find out about them, although it can hurt suddenly.  Friends have always come and gone, but in a disturbed culture and failing civilization, psychological disturbance, unethical behavior, and high emotions are rife.

The more active you are, the less isolated than the yes-sir/no-sir member of the herd you will be.  The more contacts, the more you run into "strange people" and their incompetence.  You also can meet many wonderful people who have their scene together, but they do not predominate or drive society - as to why, that's another essay.

Bosses suck
Among root causes of messed-up people's problems, one is that people allow bosses over them.  This breeds frustration, insecurity and fear.  "Going postal" is a well known consequence of bureaucratic, uncreative employment.  (For you non-USA readers: a worker, such as a disturbed veteran or broken hearted family man, mows down (ex-)colleagues with an automatic firearm.  It must have started in post offices.)  The U.S. tests the limits of workers' tolerance.  Compared to many civilized nations today, the U.S. provides poor or expensive health care, and much less vacation time.  

We are told that bosses are the only way.  That's not what the people of Barcelona practiced before Franco's forces re-imposed authoritarianism - as one small example.

We can blame oppression for dysfunction and wasting human potential, but as long as oppression is allowed, we seek to understand the current culture.  It's not as if there are simply wrong-headed people, on the one hand, and rational, healthy people on the other.  Indeed, many people have their legitimate issues.  So, conflict involving these hapless contestants is so often along the lines of misunderstanding and lack of communication, sometimes at a dizzying pace.

It's no fun finding out you can't trust someone.  When you find it out, the person already didn't trust you.  Whether you deserve it or not, people will project onto you their driving motives and assumptions.  People with unethical tendencies have the motto, "Do unto others before they do it to you."

Besides the hecticness and stress of daily living, megatrends include disunity and isolation.  These pressures, along with material insecurity and lack of community/family cohesion, set the stage perfectly for societal dysfunction and individuals going mad.  One may point to social movements of cooperative living and groups operating by consensus, but they are the rare exception - as they wait in the wings for Babylon to collapse.

We've all experienced the sense that "If it isn't one thing, it's another" or "It's one thing after another."  Crises accumulate on the micro and macro levels, without fundamental resolution.  Amazingly, intelligent people who understand the shortcomings of our society and culture are caught up in interpersonal disputes, as if these situations are anomalies and can be cured in the present social environment.

Our unnatural way of living yields more struggle than it does easy, predictable flow.  On a global level, one problem such as soil erosion is compounded by further deforestation and then climate change.  When people refuse to "get it," they add to the mess by massively consuming and insanely shooting off missiles and radioactive munitions.  The Earth cannot recover from any one thing when it keeps getting hit by more and more.  The same applies to the individual.

Yet, we are expected to soldier on and be hard, productive workers or students.  We are kept too distracted and busy to focus on deep issues, and, with patriotic brainwashing, we resist questioning the legitimacy of oligarchic and plutocratic societies.  It wasn't always this way.  That is also another essay.

Just as a sick body exhibits one serious symptom after another - in the organism's effort to detoxify and heal - a sick social environment is awash in constant, crazy episodes and mini psycho-dramas.  Dysfunction will remain the rule as long as the sick body or sick society goes uncleansed.  

What's next
A cultural change does not mean going back in time or imposing a set of rules - even if they are intended for sustainability.  Instead, culture change is simply whatever's going to happen next.  It is self-evident to more and more of us that a lethal, dysfunctional culture that over-breeds will crash, and that a non-petroleum based culture will emerge.  Old traditions that used the land locally for centuries will resume prevalence, along with new and imported ways that serve to help people survive and thrive.  Discredited ways of treating the land, the water, the air, people and other species will be frowned upon.  These ways, that will have brought us to near oblivion, will be rejected and probably made taboo, although there will be regional variations.

One thing is certain: with a mere fraction of the present population size (inflated by petroleum), sustainable use of resources and less strife (less competition for land) will be attained eventually, in balance with nature.  The relatively new fantasy of conquering other planets, after conquering Earth and nearly destroying her, may be even less reliable than a NASA Shuttle flight.

Increasingly, technology runs people, rather than the other way around.  Just that helpful invention of the clock (or the watch), is actually an instrument of oppression.  Mechanizing one's days and nights has enraged some, but for most it gives people something to occupy them - but rarely to question.  There are some who live without close time-constraints, and this will become a sudden huge trend once people return to a rhythm of the land and seasons, after the collapse of petroleum civilization.

Having allowed "time" to rule us, we next began to sacrifice our health to efficiency and high-tech convenience:  exposure to microwave radiation from a cell phone, at levels comparable to what people would experience during normal use.  Damage to nerve cells was observed in several places within the brain, including the cortex, hippocampus, and basal ganglia.  It was associated with evidence of leakage of proteins through the blood-brain barrier.  

The public backlash against radiation can be too muted to change habits during a functioning global economy, but when the current system falls there might be a general urge to resist resuming harmful, oppressive technology.

Lacking an understanding of their own world, albeit a fast-changing and complex world, people ask themselves, "Why am I surrounded by so many screwed up people?"  As you wonder about all the craziness around you, maybe you're considered screwy too.  But you think you're not.  That's small comfort.  The idea, then, is to get away from most or all people.  That's hard to do in an overpopulated society.  Ah ha!  Overcrowding - voila, this produces or at least aggravates neuroses and psycho-trauma, as well as deviance and dominance-syndrome.  Too many rats in a cage is a well studied experiment, and their behaviors and patterns mirror many of modern human society's symptoms.

To cope, it's important for a person to get some space, silence, and peace in order to have clarity and patience.  This may not start a trend of harmony, but every person strengthened with compassion and wisdom has a positive effect on others.  In general, large forces are at work which have been increasingly running our lives as well as determining our future: the economy's descent and inevitable disintegration, and nature "batting last" (reacting with fury).  These runaway freight trains coming down the track share the same root and insignia: "eco."

Solidarity versus money
The amount of help an individual needs from his or her fellow humans is reduced in proportion to how much money is possessed.  But when a person has made the effort to obtain money, that was time spent living not free but under a yoke of some kind.  As long as the money doesn't run out, the illusory and temporary freedom or self-sufficiency is maintained.  An obvious problem with this approach is that few people can ever have enough money such that they need no help - the whole population cannot do it.  "They are poor because you are rich" - graffiti in Arcata, California.

Living with no help - without a solidarity formula for living with others to share a place - is a dead end and runs counter to 99+% of our evolutionary experience.  Without solidarity, a mad selfishness constantly circulates, manifesting itself now here, now there.  More and more laws, prisons and police are applied to keep the population in line and reduce disputes - to uphold the status quo.  For the rich, dysfunction is "eccentric," and for the poor it's criminal or indicative of a weak work ethic.  Lest we get organized and take action for some justice, we are provided distractions such as commercial appeals and state terror including war.  The poor in the U.S. have always known they are not represented politically, although the sophistication in awareness varies greatly.

Whenever someone works for and spends a dollar on corporate products or certain government services, this harms not just the spender but Third World peoples and the Earth.  The idea, then, is to greatly minimize spending and consuming.  Such a strategy sends chills down the spines of classical economists and the powers that be.  The fact that people do not refrain from buying into questionable forms of convenience and self-gratification results in guilty feelings, realized or not.  This adds to the madness and bullshit flung about.  Despite the challenges that we are presented by self-interested persons and organizational entities, people can be educated to strive for ultimately eliminating bosses, corporations and government - a Utopian dream?  


Read James Keye's essay "Taking" about tracing transactions.  "Where does what you use and accumulate come from?  That you buy 'stuff' with money that you earn is not enough of an answer!" 

See previous Culture Change Letters on Archive page


Jan Lundberg formerly ran Lundberg Survey Incorporated which once published "the bible of the oil industry."  He has run the Sustainable Energy Institute since 1988.  It can use your assistance and generous help.

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by Peter Salonius

UK leader calls War on Terror "bogus"

Argentina bleeds toward healing by Raul Riutor

The oil industry has plans for you: blow-back by Jan Lundberg

It's not a war for oil? by Adam Khan

How to create a pedestrian mall by Michelle Wallar

The Cuban bike revolution

How GM destroyed the U.S. rail system excerpts from the film "Taken for a Ride".

"Iraqi oil not enough for US: Last days of America?"

Depaving the world by Richard Register

Roadkill: Driving animals to their graves by Mark Matthew Braunstein

The Hydrogen fuel cell technofix: Spencer Abraham's hydrogen dream.

Ancient Forest Protection in Northern California . Forest defenders climb trees to save them.

Daniel Quinn's thoughts on this website.

A case study in unsustainable development is the ongoing crisis in Palestine and Israel.

Renewable and alternative energy information.

Conserving energy at home (Calif. Title 24)



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Culture Change (Trademarked) is published by Sustainable Energy Institute (formerly Fossil Fuels Policy Action), a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) California non-stock corporation. Contributions are tax-deductible.