Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independance Day: All Of Our Institutions Have Failed Us


Apparently Americans are losing faith in our institutions. According to Catherine Rampell at The New York Times:
Gallup has just released its latest figures on Americans’ confidence in various institutions. The numbers are all pretty grim, with new lows recorded for Americans’ confidence levels in public schools, churches, banks and television news. These latest record-lows were within the margin of sampling error for last year’s measurements, I should note, but the longer-term trend is still down, down, down. Institutions that have enjoyed a relatively steady increase in public confidence — like the military — are the exception.
Clearly the trend predates the financial crisis. Maybe more combative political rhetoric is to blame. Maybe it’s a more sensationalistic, 24-hour news media cycle. Maybe it’s the rising “myth of the meritocracy,” as Christopher Hayes argues in his new book. Or maybe the relative transparency afforded by the Internet age has given Americans more evidence that the organizations they used to trust can make mistakes.
Losing Failth In American Institutions. Catherine Rampell, New York Times

"It’s not clear why trust in so many major institutions is falling." Really, Catherine, you don't know why trust in all of our institutions is failing? Is there a single institution in America that isn’t wholly, utterly, irreperably corrupt? It’s not any particular institution; all of them are failing at the same time. It seems like everywhere people are simply holding their breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Let’s take a quick look at some of our major institutions, shall we?

Wall Street has become a betting parlor for billionaires where financial speculation, insider trading, and asset stripping have replaced actual productive businesses. A revolving door between financial firms, banks and governments ensures the rich are free to do whatever they please without consequences. Wealth continues to be transferred to the top while the rest of society gets poorer, and any bad bets made by the banksters will be paid out in full courtesy of the taxpayers, while any profits will go into private bank accounts. Financial "innovation" drives entire nations into bankruptcy. Practically a mafia unto itself, racketeering, embezzlement, fraud, grift, collusion, profiteering and market rigging are simply all in a day's work.

The stock market is a Ponzi scheme designed to blow speculative bubbles, where well-connected insiders search for a greater fool to rook in a  "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario. The big trading firms employ high frequency trading algorithms to make the rich even richer and suck wealth out of the productive economy. Stock prices have become completely decoupled from the real economy which continues to deteriorate for most people, and the quickest way to boost stock prices are mass layoffs.

Madison Avenue pulls our emotional strings and preys on our insecurities to turn us into robotic shoppers, desperately seeking some kind of meaning in our empty lives through retail therapy. They keep us on the hedonic treadmill, consuming items that we quickly become bored with and throw away after our orgies of consumption.

Corporations are charged with pursuing short-term profits at any cost, and these organizations have unlimited funds to influence elections, lobby politicians, skirt regulations, pad profits, hide money offshore, hire mercenaries, sue competitors, and anything else that helps the bottom line, no matter how unethical or immoral. Most industries are dominated by a handful of big firms. CEO’s have downsized, rightsized, offshored and automated the middle class out of existence, as well as shipping America’s entire industrial base to China while rewarding themselves with outrageous salaries and bonuses. The bosses get richer in good times and bad, while consistently expecting employees and unions to tighten their belts. CEOs rotate from one company to another and receive golden parachutes for retirement while raiding the pensions of their employees. Many multi-billion-dollar companies exploit loopholes to pay zero taxes while taking advantage of America's infrastructure, schools, and legal and military apparatus. Fines for illegal activities and environmental destruction are simply the cost of doing business.

The wealthy tell us social security, retirement and health care are "unaffordable" while lining up with hat in hand for taxpayer-funded subsidies and bailouts. They call themselves "job creators" but are constantly looking for ways to eliminate jobs. Allocation of vital resources is largely dependant upon their largess, and all our arts are dependant on droppings from the table. They bankroll think-tanks, media outlets and publishing houses to disseminate their opinions and further their own agenda. They establish university chairs and sit on the boards of major public institutions. These pompous egotists are plastered on billboards and magazine covers, and they pen screeds purporting to know how to fix everything from our foreign policy to our educational system. They have an unshakable belief that they earned everything through their own superiority no matter what their background, and the rest of us must constantly bow and scrape to these masters of the universe.

Government has become a kleptocracy and a meal ticket for corrupt bureaucrats who guard their protected fiefdoms and constantly seek to widen their scope of authority to justify budget increases and feather their own nests. Small businesses are regulated out of existence by nuisance regulations while cronies are able to use government guarantees and largess to squeeze out competition and rig markets in their favor. Rich and poor alike get handouts while the productive middle class are used as tax donkeys. Old people demand their entitlements while the nation eats its seed corn.

Politics
has become a bribery bazaar where politicians spend all of their time raising funds for the next election cycle. Corporate lobbyists write the laws for their bought-and-paid-for lackeys to rubber-stamp. Politicians enrich themselves in an incestuous relationship with the businesses they are supposed to regulate while paying nothing more than lip service to the public interest.

Elections are almost entirely waged via negative advertisements and thirty-second sound-bytes on television and are won by whoever can make the biggest ad buy. Politicians pander to the dumbed-down electorate during election season and dutifully ignore their constituents the rest of the time in lieu of dining out with K-Street lobbyists in five-star restaurants and playing golf in country clubs with corporate CEOs. Most American citizens have given up and don’t even bother to turn out anymore.

Congress has become a Kabuki theater permanently paralyzed by partisan gridlock and devoid of any real impact on the lives of average Americans. It is unable to pass anything except for useless weapons programs, preemptive wars, tax cuts for millionaires, free trade deals to offshore American jobs, and pork-barrel “pet” boondoggles designed to bring home the bacon. It is a rogues’ gallery of cosmetically-enhanced narcissists who get first-class benefits paid for by our  tax dollars and will say and do literally anything to keep feeding at the trough. After their term is up they head off to their cushy jobs sitting on the boards of major corporations and raking in millions trading on their insider connections for lobbying gigs and speaking fees. Millionaire legislators have more in common with their wealthy campaign backers that with average voters.

Washington DC has become a virtual Versailles on the Potomac where the politicians, journalists, celebrities, and businesspeople rub elbows on what might as well be another planet, hitting the cocktail party circuit while the country literally crumbles around them. What began as a fetid swamp two centuries ago has remained so ever since.

The workforce have become disposable cubicle serfs and cannon fodder for corporate profits. Work has become pointless drudgery and useless paper shuffling to earn profits for the people in the C-suite. Rampant overwork exists side-by-side mass unemployment, and the economy seems to be unable to create anything besides low-wage McJobs. Predatory jobs pay extremely well, while socially rewarding jobs earn a pittance. Employers require ever more education and degrees for the same jobs, offloading all of the cost burden onto the backs of workers while demanding free labor in the form of unpaid internships just to get a foot in the door. Your only goal is to claw your way to the top, stepping over everybody else in a workplace full of workaholics, raging sociopaths, brazen careerists and preening narcissists. Brown-nosing, toadying, and sucking-up to the boss are ways to get ahead while independent thinkers are marginalized and dismissed. Workers all over the world are pitted against each other in a global race to the bottom.

The legal system disproportionately locks up minorities and hands down excessively harsh sentences for even minor crimes while white-collar criminals go to country-club prisons or go scot-free. Whoever can pay for the best legal representation usually wins. Patent protections stifle innovation and preserve monopolies. Civil courts are packed with "business-friendly" judges, and the US Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people, money is speech, and unlimited funds can be spent by anyone to influence the outcome of any election in the name of "freedom." Meanwhile, legal experts for the government justify things like warrantless wiretapping, strip searches, mass surveillance, torture, and indefinite detention without trail.

Higher education engages in rampant profiteering and has devolved into vocational training devoid of any sense of self-discovery or free thought. Students mortgage their future to pay soaring tuition costs that go to bloated administrations, millionaire regents, wealthy tenured professors, and country-club amenities designed to attract wealthy foreign and domestic students rather than educational value. Actual classes are taught by underpaid graduate teaching assistants with no health care or benefits. Meanwhile, high cost diploma mills attract students with the promise of a better life and saddle them with a lifetime of undischargeable debt for jobs that pay minimum wage or don’t exist. Millionaire coaches and top-of-the-line athletic facilities allow colleges to act as farm teams for the major leagues, with beleaguered students footing the bill.

The media have turned from watchdogs to lapdogs. No longer skeptical or antagonistic to those in power, they have become paid spokespeople for elite interests, while entire networks have become little more than partisan propaganda outlets. Blowdried pundits provide an echo chamber where people seek out confirmation of their own biases and ammunition to dismiss any alternative opinions. A sensationalist media relentlessly stokes fear and panic in the public when they aren’t shamelessly pandering to patriotism or prejudice. Investigative journalism, overseas bureaus and in-depth coverage of major issues have been replaced by a twenty-four hour news cycle devoted to celebrity news, "lifestyle" journalism and shouting matches.

The health care industry has become a hostage racket to exploit the sickest and most vulnerable for profits. Health insurance premiums rise ten percent a year like clockwork while the industry employs thousands of workers to find reasons to deny any claims. CEO’s earn millions and fly around the country in private jets while half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical debt and debt collectors are now showing up at hospital bedsides. Healthcare is tied to your job, and nearly one in five Americans have no access at all. Medical schools are funded by wealthy interests, and rather than preventative medicine or healing, medicine is designed to keep the oldest and sickest people alive as long as possible so they can be milked for profits.

The entertainment industry panders to the lowest common denominator and is is bereft of original ideas or genuine creativity. "Popular culture" is an open sewer of smut and violence designed to promote immaturity and hedonism. Hollywood peddles simplistic wish-fulfillment fantasies for Americans to lose themselves in to distract them from the bleakness of their everyday lives.

The pharmaceutical industry has turned the entire country into drug addicts. It engages in ruthless price-gouging as a routine matter, pays reps six-figure salaries to wine-and-dine doctors, and spends more on advertising than on research and development.  “Me-too” drugs are designed to make profits rather than cure diseases, and entirely new diseases are invented by the industry just to create new products. Designer drugs are developed with the aid of government research and funding even though Americans pay up to ten times more than the rest of the world for their daily meds.

The food industry peddles processed junk food devoid of nutritional value to a nation full of pre-diabetic land-whales (see health care). Supermarket shelves groan with cheap calories derived from corn, and foods laden with salt, fat and sugar exploit our evolutionary cravings and stimulate hunger for more. Processed foods are more profitable than foods in their natural state, and are flogged with wall-to-wall advertising, especially to growing young children. Fast food joints occupy nearly every streetcorner in America, and three-quarters of Americans are obese. Thanks to the food industry, nearly the entire agricultural base of the country is now devoted to wheat, corn and soy grown with copious amounts of fertizers and pesticides.

Marketing has become a well-honed set of spin tactics distorting reality to fit the aims of whoever signs the checks. Rather than promoting quality products at fair prices, marketing relies on deceit and obfuscation. Buying has become a game of "gotcha" with a host of practices such as  "push" marketing, limited-time offers, loopholes, fine-print clauses, long-term exclusive contracts, hidden fees, etc.

The banking system consists of private banks printing up debt-based IUOs out of thin air and loaning them to the individuals and governments at interest and backed by nothing more than faith and credit. Most people have now become debt-serfs. Government is forced to go deeply into debt to print its own currency, crowding out essential services and obligating the taxpaying public to pay off the debt to the banking industry. Most currencies are just ones and zeros in a database somewhere, and banks "print" money with reckless abandon.

The World Bank and IMF are global loan sharks employing economic hit men as enforcers. Loans are made to dictators for white elephants and siphoned off into elites’ offshore accounts driving countries deeply into debt.  While the mass of people starve and children die of preventable diseases, governments are forced to pay back the loans at usurious rates. Any leader opposing this soon finds his country bankrupt or is removed via coup d’etat.

Professional sports has athletes earning multimillion-dollar paychecks for throwing and catching a ball, and taking performance-enhancing drugs to get an edge when nobody’s looking. Taxpayers are shaken down and extorted to fund ever more luxurious stadiums for the owners of sports teams every decade or so, even as ticket prices escalate. The one percent relax in air-conditioned skyboxes and enjoy cocktails and hors d'oerves while looking down at the rabble munching on wildly overpriced beer and hot dogs. Twenty-four hour sports channels provide a bread-and-circuses distraction for sports-obsessed Americans, effectively distracting them from their increasingly miserable lives.

Schools have become little more than temporary holding pens for bored teenagers They are surrounded by metal detectors and chain-link fences and governed by a ruthless lord-of-the-flies dynamic where intelligent kids are mercilessly hazed and bullied in a pecking-order that would put a baboon troop to shame. Classrooms have become blackboard jungles with overworked teachers halfheartedly going through the motions for uninterested students biding their time until they can head to the mall. Schools are perennially underequipped, understaffed and underfunded, and seek out corporate sponsorship for money that always comes with strings attached. Local funding of schools assures that a decent education is simply a lottery based on your ZIP code.

Prisons are warehouses for surplus workers and a revolving-door training ground for better criminals. Rape is endemic and overcrowding is caused by locking up huge amounts of people for victimless crimes like drug use in the name of keeping the fearful public “safe” (see media). “Private” prisons profit off of locking up as many Americans as possible and plowing the profits into political donations to privatize more prisons and enact ever harsher laws in a downward spiral that’s caused a quarter of the world’s prisoners to be housed in American jails.

The TSA is practically an internal gestapo engaging in sexual molestation and intimidation of travellers on a regular basis with no accountability or oversight in the name of keeping the American people "safe."

The police have become internal militarized shock troops, cracking skulls for the elites and enforcing "protest free zones" all over the world. When they aren't beating and tear-gassing protesters or spying on their fellow citizens, they are engaged in various other acts of thuggery like shooting unarmed civilians, preventing recording of their activities and harassing the poor and minorities. Tickets and fines are written up for violating pointless regulations, and millions of dollars of taxpayer money are spent on stopping victimless crimes, even as serious crimes go unpunished and entire cities become "no-go" forbidden zones.

Churches have become downscale social clubs and incubators of reactionary politics for angry white rural Americans fearful of losing their privileges. Evangelical fundamentalist mullahs militate for a theocracy while raking in millions from their "flock." They obsess over homosexuality and abortion even as their congregations experience falling living standards. Sanctimonious preachers turn out to be closet homosexuals and the Catholic church pays millions of dollars to the victims of its pedophile priests when it isn't busy hushing up the scandal.

Durable goods are made in Chinese sweatshops as cheaply as possible. Quality goods have been replaced by cheap plastic junk designed to end up in landfills as rapidly as possible. "Planned obsolescence," along with superficial style changes, feature creep, and software bloat make sure that your computer or cell phone will be useless in five years time.

The American public are spoiled brats, demanding the best of everything but refusing to pay for it. They believe they live in the best country on earth despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Vindictive, war-mongering, ignorant and xenophobic, they are mollycoddled and doted on by toadying politicians and corporations who constantly tell them how great they are, even though most of them are morbidly obese, gullible, barely literate, beer-swilling cretins, singularly unable to do even the simplest things for themselves. Americans look like side-show freaks festooned with piercings and tattoos and clad in garish and ill-fitting clown costumes, behaving like overgrown children in adult bodies.This clueless population is in denial and elect only “leaders” will tell them what they want to hear. Comfort and distraction are the highest goals.

When will we finally admit that modern American society is pretty much just one giant clusterfuck?

Oh, and I know it's a sin to criticize the perfect military we're all supposed to worship, but when was the last time the military actually defended the homeland of the United States, World War Two? Since then its seems we've been waging wars on the other side of the planet, conveniently often in oil-rich countries. Who is paying for our hundreds of military bases around the world, and what exactly do the American public get for their money besides lunatics trying to blow them up? Do we really need to spend more than the rest of the world combined? The military waged preemptive war on two countries that did not attack us while failing to prevent a mass slaughter in our own country. And I seem to recall scandal after scandal in recent years, from waterboarding at Guantanamo Bay, to posing with hooded prisoners at Abu Ghraib, to the Pat Tillman coverup, to urinating on corpses, to cutting off fingers and ears as trophies, to employing private Blackwater mercenaries, to no-bid contracts costing taxpayers billions, to advocating "total war" with Islam. And now drones are flying over the world's hotspots blowing up wedding parties and terminating American citizens without trial. No, I'm sorry, they are not blameless.

And before you accuse me of "hating the troops" what about the coverups of Gulf War syndrome? What about not being allowed to take photos of body bags? What about being too cheap to buy adequate body armor for combat troops?  What about the treatment of patients at Walter Reed Veteran's hospital? What about the military suicides? What about politicians constantly trying to cut funding for caring for wounded veterans while voting for weapons systems even the military doesn't want? Loving war is not honoring the troops. Our institutions have failed them too.

I could go on. Ambulance-chasing lawyers. Sleazy used car salesman. Advertising targeted at children. Inebriated airline pilots. Truck drivers hopped op on amphetamines. Email scams. Computer viruses. Spam. Get rich quick schemes. Payday loan outfits. Cash for gold. Herbal supplements. Online degrees. Multilevel marketing. Work from home. As seen on TV. No-risk limited time offer, call now. Money-back guarantee. Buy now, pay later. You work harder and harder for less and less. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The scum rises to the top. The fish rots from the head. Another day older and deeper in debt.  Is this the end of history? Is this the final stage of society?

How much longer can the latest digital gadget be used to justify all of this?

Social mobility is virtually nonexistent as those who have made it to the top pull the ladder up after them. Any sense of common purpose is derided as "communism." The once mighty commons built by our grandparents and great-grandparents is sold off to international investors and private interests piece-by-piece at fire-sale prices. Young people full of a desire to change the world end up jaded and bitter, stuck in soul-crushing corporate jobs to pay back their crippling debts and make their monthly nut. Is this all our children can hope for?

Every interaction between individuals is scripted and controlled. Spontaneity and genuine interpersonal connections are discouraged. Everyone is scoping out the competition and looking for an angle. Everyone is mesmerized by their digital devices. America’s social capital is spent and Americans lack any sense of community.  The country is balkanized along income lines and people of differing social classes never even see each other, let alone interact. America’s beautiful cities have become crumbling ghettos as wealthy Americans retreat to suburbs, exurbs, gated communities and whitewashed, gentrified downtowns. Local businesses go under while big-box stores suck money out of local communities and into the pockets of Wall Street. Lack of public transportation means people will be utterly stranded and large parts of the country will be uninhabitable as gas prices go up.

Privatized profits, socialized losses and unregulated casino capitalism are the order of the day.  Everywhere the world is drowning in debt and suffering under austerity while the number of billionaires and their net worth continues to rise year after year without fail. Everywhere there are too many workers for too few jobs. How much longer can we extend and pretend?

And that isn’t all. Mercury in fish. Arsenic in chicken. Dioxin in breast milk. Pharmaceuticals in the drinking water.  Melamine in baby food. Estrogen-mimicking hormones in plastics. Towering landfills. Toxic nuclear waste. Oil spills. Droughts. Floods. Hurricanes. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Melting glaciers. Thawing permafrost. Overpumped aquifers. Open-pit mining. Groundwater pollution. Mountaintop removal. Fracking. Deforestation in the Amazon. Dried-up lakes and rivers. Expanding deserts. Disappearing honeybees. Algae blooms. Acidifying oceans. Collapsing fish stocks. Two hundred species going extinct per day. Depression, obesity, autism, and cancer, all going up, up, up. Where does it all end? Do we have to hit rock bottom?

Now You could argue I'm cherry-picking, but I don't think so, You could say I'm only looking at the negative. But I think this is pretty much in line with what people are thinking and feeling. The sleaze has become so deep and so all-pervasive that it cannot be said to be an aberration anymore. Corruption is the norm. Some people may cluck their tongues at this “disturbing” trend of losing faith in our institutions, but I see it as a positive sign. It’s a sign that Americans are finally waking up to what kind of society we've created. Our country has been turned into heartless zero-sum game where you've got to "outplay, outwit and outlast" your fellow Americans from the time you're born. It’s a toxic way of life where even the apparent "winners" lose out. Is it any wonder so many people need to take boatloads of antidepressants just to make it through the day, and workplace shootings are so commonplace that they hardly make the news anymore?

We've created a society where there is nothing more than money and greed at the heart of every institution in American life. Is it any wonder the starry-eyed optimism of the sixties has given way to a society where a growing number of citizens don't fear, but actually yearn for collapse? Is it any wonder we’re culturally obsessed with zombies and vampires? They are the prefect metaphors for what we have become.

Yet we’re told by our ‘leaders’ that the only solution for all this is more growth. Do we really want to keep this malignant system growing?

Do we believe them when they tell us “there is no alternative?” Or that the alternatives are worse? Can anything turn this around?

Why has this happened? There are several reasons. One is we've created institutions that specifically designed to promote the most evil, greedy and sociopathic bastards among us. People rise based on the level of their own wickedness and lack of conscience. Greed for the almighty dollar is seen as the only motivating force and has insinuated itself into every facet of American life, squeezing out all other needs. We've also created institutions that are so big and impersonal that there is no accountability, and lone individuals and groups feel powerless to change anything. Gigantism is rampant and everything becomes "too big to fail." We've become utterly dependent on these dysfunctional institutions, locking ourselves into a self-destructive co-dependant relationship.  And finally, the art of manipulating public opinion has become so sophisticated and refined that the public are mere puppets obeying the whims of their puppetmasters. Protest movements are easily co-opted by the rich and powerful, and quickly dissolve into factionalism. Genuine opponents to the system are blacklisted and smeared in the media. Divide-and-conquer tactics and divisive social issues are used to play the working classes against one another while the elites grab an ever larger share of the wealth of society and insulate themselves from the consequences of their own actions.

Anyone who gets to the top gets there by carrying water for the interests of the powerful. There is no other way to get there. From businessmen to politicians to the military to the media, they’re all there because they played the game well. They did the right things and said the right things to help perpetuate this system. So why do we trust any of them?

We live in a society where any criticism of the corrupt systems bleeding us dry is "unpatriotic" and people who point out these thing are accused of "hating America." Who benefits from these attitudes? Who are the beneficiaries of this self-censorship? I think that patriotism is acknowledging the truth of our situation. No one can acknowledge the elephant in the room. It is not a sign of patriotism to keep silent any more than it is a sign of caring to sit by watch a relative drink themselves to death.

You don’t have to abandon all your worldly possessions and move to the desert, or take up arms in a futile struggle that’s certain to be crushed anyway. You don’t have to physically walk away, but you do have to mentally walk away. Then they have no power over you. Commit little acts of rebellion like planting a tree, growing a garden, buying from local farmers or pulling your money from the big banks and putting it into local credit unions. Your best tools are your honor, your integrity, your ethics, your spirituality, your values, your courage, your convictions and your compassion.

Only as belief in this system crumbles can a new one rise from its ashes. Stop giving your assent. Stop showing your support. Stop believing what “they” tell you, because every time their lips more they’re lying to you, day after day. They say cynicism and skepticism are vices but  they’re not vices when they’re entirely justified – they are virtues. The only thing that keeps all of these things going, and the only thing that sustains them is our own belief system. That is the most powerful tool “they” have. That is their most potent weapon. And it is the one thing, perhaps the only thing, that we can hold back. Think for yourself. Take back your life. They can control our bodies but they can’t control our thoughts. Assert your independence today.

They say those of us who oppose this system are extremists and radicals. Well I say the extremists and radicals are those that want to keep this lousy system going.

Thank you for reading.

7 comments:

  1. Nothing fails like success.

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  2. Thanks all. Please forward this to anyone you know who feels the same way but may not be able to articulate it. I guess it's my "mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" speech. Or my attempt to out-Kunstler Kunstler.

    I was afraid that this would come off as too strident. But the more I contemplated it, the more I felt that, no, this really is the case. I'm not going to pull punches, things really are this fucked up. And people need to put it out there.

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  3. I enjoyed this rant quite a bit. Thank you!

    Two quibbles:

    1. "Herbal supplements." I know the internet likes to hate on alternative medicine, but think of it this way: Herbal medicine is not a substitute for Western biomedicine. It is, literally, a supplement, and more to the point, it is a type of medicine and medical practice that can be performed easily and cheaply at home. Does it all work? No, and there are quite a few charlatans out there trying to sell you a bunk product. But the same can be said of "mainstream" medicine-- according to the DSM, for instance, anyone grieving over the death of a close family member for more than 2 months is pathological and probably needs Lexapro. The major difference is that charlatan herbalists are making less money than the charlatan MDs.

    And quite a bit (speaking from direct experience) of alternative medicine does work, and if it's effects are sometimes (not always) slower and subtler than pills, I don't consider that a bad thing. The ability to grow, process, and correctly use plants like yarrow, mint, or mallow is going to be critical for a lot of peoples' health in the decades to come.

    2. Jim Kunstler likes to go on about the piercings and tattoos too... I'm really not sure how they're evidence of civilizational decline. Cultural change, certainly, but beautification and body adornment has been a feature of every human culture. If our beauty standards have changed to permit more creativity with the human form, in part as a reaction against the stodginess of the culture that gave us Manifest Destiny, Taylorism, and the atom bomb, so much the better.

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    1. True, genuine herbal medicine is an important art and will become moreso. I was thinking mainly of energy drinks with secret hebal energy formulas (i.e. caffeine), those things at the attendant station when you buy gas (5-hour energy), and the sleazy ads on the back pages of newspapers (magic sex pills).

      Tattoos make me scratch my head. I know quite a few people with them, and I actually find them kind of a turn-on on girls for some reason, so I'm not against them at all. I'm thinking mainly of Juggalos, NBA stars and Wal-Mart people. They just look trashy and slovenly. In Western culture, tattoos and piercings have been signs of outcasts and people living on the margins, so what does it say that everyone's getting them? Is everyone an outcast now? Is it because it's the only way to assert your individuality in a world where almost everything is controlled for you from the time you're born?

      Surely it is a cultural change, otherwise the amount of people getting inked would remain steady over time? But what accounts for the change? Is it based on a true desire for ornamentation or is it just a fad based on the bandwagon effect? I have no idea.

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