Monday, February 24, 2014

Narratives of Explanatory Value

While listening to the latest edition of the C-Realm podcast, I was amused at the parts of it where KMO attempted to try and come up with an "elevator speech," that bastion of corporate blandness and groupthink, to summarize a podcast which defies easy categorization or summation. It's amusing for me to think that you could come up with a soundbite to describe something that, by design, stands in opposition to the sound-bite culture of the mainstream media, and eventually the guest host caught on to the futility of that mission too.

Nevertheless, it got me to thinking. I had been tossing about ideas about trying to summarize some of the underlying themes behind this blog as well, so I thought it might be helpful for me to try and explain what I think his podcast is, and in return clarify a little bit about what I hope to accomplish with my writing here. This is a long one (I haven't done one of these in a while), so you may want to print it out.

1. The Question

Five years since the financial crisis, the mainstream media assures us that everything is under control, that things will eventually get “back to normal,” that our political and economic systems are fundamentally sound, and that we’re just in a temporary rough patch caused by the housing bubble and the resulting debt overhang. They assure us that we are experiencing just another one of our periodic temporary recessions that frequently occur under capitalism, and that the economy will eventually automatically sort itself out, returning to the good old days of permanently higher living standards, plentiful jobs, economic growth, and technological progress for all, because that’s simply how capitalism works and will always work. We’re told that anyone who can’t get ahead has only themselves to blame due to being lazy, or not working hard enough, or making the wrong life choices, and so on, and that the rich have earned every penny of their fortunes through pluck and hard work alone. The mainstream media also tells us not to worry, that everything is all right, that our leaders know what they are doing, and that they have our best interests at heart. They assure us that once we get growth going again, all our problems will eventually be solved.

But there are a number of reasons to question this narrative. What if the story we are being told is false? To use the phrase KMO used, these narratives have very little explanatory value - that is, they don't seem to explain the world most of us are actually living in at all. The end result is a growing cognitive dissonance between what we're seeing with our own eyes and what we are being told by the media, economists, academics, and politicians.  This is in turn leading to the confusion and anger that we see all around us.

The reasons to question the above narrative could run to book length, but to name just a few:

1.) Five years after the financial crisis, the jobless rate has remained stubbornly high. Corporate profits have hit all-time highs, yet wages as a share of profits are at all-time lows. The workforce participation rate is back to what it was in the late 1970s before women entered the workforce en masse, and wages back to what they were in the late 1990s. Real inflation-adjusted incomes have been stagnant for a generation. The reduction in the unemployment rate since the crisis has  been exclusively due to people dropping out of the workforce rather than growth in job creation, and most jobs that are being created are extremely low-paying. The largest employers in America used to be places like Ford, IBM, and General Electric, now they are McDonalds and Walmart. We're told that only the private sector can create jobs, and that they will do so only if their taxes are low enough, and if wages are low enough. We are told that more education and worker retraining are key, despite the fact that we have the most educated workforce in history, and roughly three people for every job opening.

2.) A small pool of wealthy elites are amassing unimaginable fortunes, while what has been traditionally been considered to be the middle class has been struggling, drowning under massive medical and college debt burdens, evicted from their homes during the housing crisis, and living in their cars. The "recovery" seems exclusively confined to the wealthy and asset prices. The wealth of the richest Americans is growing spectacularly every year, even as people under forty are downwardly mobile and told that they will be the first generation to be worse off then their parents. Inequality is increasing without bound, and just 400 Americans have as much wealth as half of the workforce. The share of income going to the nation’s richest 1 percent more than doubled between 1980 and 2008, rising from 8 percent to 18 percent. Overall, inequality among working Americans has risen 25 percent since 1980.

3.) Much of Middle America has become a hollowed-out shell, with  local governments perennially tightening their belts, decreased public services like libraries and public transportation, food pantries and homeless shelters overwhelmed with demand, boarded up storefronts and vacancies up and down main streets, abandoned strip malls, empty foreclosed homes stripped of copper wiring, streets full of potholes, homeless people begging on the streets, overcrowded prisons, street gangs and rampant drug abuse, abandoned factories surrounded by barbed wire rusting in the rain, formerly bustling downtowns littered with hulking ruins, and infrastructure in advanced stages of disrepair. Health care, government, military, and prison jobs are the only gainful options for many Americans, and even these are shrinking.

5.) A vast surveillance state of unprecedented proportions has been constructed over the past decade in many Western democracies, accompanied by a draconian curtailing of civil liberties. Every phone call, every email, every credit card purchase, and even personal movements are tracked and monitored by the government. Local police forces have been militarized, and have been given advanced weapons systems like drones, tanks and body armor, even in small rural communities. The United States is mired in any number of permanent, never-ending wars in impoverished, far-away countries all across the world while most Americans have no idea of the reason for any of them, even though they are paying for with their tax dollars (and in some cases their lives).

6.) Oil prices remain stubbornly high, despite being told that we have hundreds of years of fossil fuels left, that America is the new Saudi Arabia, and that we will soon be energy independent.  The Bakken shale in North Dakota is booming creating overnight fortunes; the Keystone XL pipeline is being deliberated by Congress to ship Canadian Tar Sands abroad triggering protests; and hydraulic fracturing wells are being drilled in every corner of the country, even in water-stressed areas. These resources have always been there, but have been uneconomical to exploit until now, yet we're told that there is no reason to worry about energy supplies.

7.) The climate seems to be getting markedly weirder all over the globe, with hundred-year storms and weather events occurring almost every single year now. Massive superstorms like Katrina and Sandy drown major American cities. California struggles under extreme drought while England is beset by its wettest winter in modern history. The Midwest and East Coast of the U.S. are hit with snow and bitter arctic cold while  the Iditarod and the Winter Olympics are threatened because of warm temperatures and a lack of snow. Ice storms penetrate as far south as Georgia and Texas. Australia suffers record heat waves and wildfires year after year. Typhoons slam into the Philippines and Southeast Asia disrupting the world economy. Entire nations are being submerged under rising oceans. People are starting to take notice of the strange weather which seems to be increasingly permanent.

8.) Instability, unemployment, inequality and poverty are exploding all around the world, with governments are becoming steadily more oppressive. Riots have occurred all over the world during the past five years, from the Arab spring across the Middle East, to riots against austerity in Southern Europe, to the ongoing civil war and refugee crisis in Syria, to continued state failure in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the current massive citizen protests in Ukraine, Venezuela and Thailand. The number of failed states is increasing. Journalistic freedom is under threat, and Internet controls are being put in place even in Western democracies.

9.) There seems to be a system in place of socialism for the rich and capitalism for everyone else. Wealthy financiers who wrecked the global economy were bailed out and not only not prosecuted, but allowed to keep their ill-gotten gains and are wealthier now than before the crash. Banking reforms are resisted, and financial regulations continue to be dismantled. The financial system seems to be out of control, with trillions of dollars in derivatives ready to blow up at a moment's notice. The revolving door between government, big business and academia becomes ever more shameless even as elites become more concentrated and insular. The "free market" seems to be increasingly dominated by monopolies and cartels in many areas, with a tiny number of companies controlling entire sectors of the global economy. Bankers and financiers make billions while doing seemingly no productive activity whatsoever, and in many cases their activities even seem to be socially harmful. They mostly appear to be engaging in wealth extraction rather than wealth creation.

10.) Despite being theoretically a representative democracy where the leaders are chosen by the citizenry, our political choices are permanently narrowed to two preselected candidates from the existing political parties who can raise the most campaign funds. Political candidates spend most of their time fund-rasing, and seem to advance the interests of deep-pocketed donors rather than those of the people who elected them. A vast network of lobbyists and think-tanks writes our legislation and controls what is considered legitimate political discourse. Support for congress hovers permanently in the single digits, most Americans don't bother to vote, and the majority of Americans say that the country is divided and headed in the wrong direction.

11.) Local governments are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy all across the country (and in Detroit's case already bankrupt), with public amenities being sold off to investors at fire-sale prices. Public services are being slashed, user fees are being raised, and public amenities sold off to pay debts. Formerly public services such as trash collection, sewer services, and public schools are now provided by private, for-profit corporations, with access based on your ability to pay. These changes are usually permanent, with little to no public control or oversight. In some localities, streetlights are being shut off, roads are being turned back into gravel, and fires burn themselves out for lack of firefighters--not what we would expect of a “wealthy” country. Five years after the “crisis” has supposedly passed and the "recovery" under way, these trends show no signs of abating and are only accelerating.

I could go on, but you get the idea. People know that something is wrong. They can sense it. They are scared and frightened, and the stories they are being told by those in authority make absolutely no sense. Yet we see none of this when we turn on the television--only happy, smiling, successful people happily consuming the infinite bounty of a capitalist economy without a care in the world. This has caused some people to freak out - to stockpile guns and ammunition, or to prepare for some sort of imminent apocalypse.

Into this vacuum of legitimacy have stepped various demagogues underwritten by the wealthy and corporations. It is no accident that the world-view they espouse, when followed to its logical conclusion, leads to outcomes which favor wealthy investors and corporations. These views essentially advocate a return to the Robber-Baron era of no business regulations, removal of all taxes on industry and investment capital, shrinking of government functions, curtailing government authority, no social safety net or insurance of any kind, no workplace regulations, scapegoating of minorities and unions, the abolition of the Federal Reserve, and a return to the gold standard. This backward-looking narrative, depicting the nineteenth century as some sort of lost golden age, resonates with a lot of Americans, Americans who have no conception of what that time was actually like, and plays on people's fears and bigotry.

Embedded in these narratives are certain assumptions, assumptions which are never questioned but are implicit. These assumptions are almost never directly articulated, but have been internalized by most Americans and informs their world-view. Among these assumptions are:

That the future will be like the past, only better. That economic growth will continue and solve all our problems.  That a rising tide lifts all boats. That the best way to ensure prosperity is to cater to the needs of the wealthy so that the trickle-down effect will produce widespread prosperity. That unregulated "free trade" benefits everyone and is always a good idea. That we just need more technological innovation to get the economy moving again. That there will always be enough jobs to go around for everyone. That  government interference in the economy is always a bad idea and that "free market solutions" are best. That anyone can be rich if only they work hard enough. That poverty is always simply the result of individual failure, and that government help encourages dependency and sloth. That our societies are on a path of never-ending progress.

But if what if things aren't getting “back to normal?” What if we've entered a new period, one where these assumptions are flat-out wrong?

2. The Answer

The value that the C-Realm gives is that it provides an outlet for narratives which differ from the above story. In fact, there are a growing number of people questioning this narrative, and there are a  number of brilliant thinkers, academics, futurists, visionaries, leaders, philosophers, writers, artists, farmers, businesspeople, and activists who have different ideas about our society and its future. But you would never know it from the mainstream media.

Why not? Because the media does not exist to inform or further the debate. It exists to limit the terms of the debate, to enforce the existing status quo, to legitimize the existing social arrangements and institutions, and to provide a  convenient distraction for the masses. It is designed to maximize profits and is dependent upon funds from advertisers, and the last thing advertisers want is people asking inconvenient questions (especially about the economy or consumerism). So the media plays it safe and panders to the lowest common denominator, because that is the way to maximize its profits. Hence the constant stories about celebrities, the puff-piece interviews, the rapid-fire sound bites, the arguing and bickering with no real resolution, opinion pieces with no data to back it up, the suppression of unpleasant facts, the short-attention span "news cycle," and so on.

And so there is a vacuum.

Into this vacuum stride intrepid individuals like KMO of the C-Realm podcast, providing what I believe to be a valuable public service. They satisfy the hunger for alternative narratives which do a better job of explaining the changes we currently observe in the world around us. Rather than reinforce a clearly dysfunctional status quo, KMO questions it on a weekly basis, along with the implicit assumptions that I talked about above. Rather than pandering to people's biases or demagogue to people's fears, KMO provides a intellectually curious, wide-ranging and thoughtful inquiry into alternative narratives, giving a desperately needed platform to the numerous thinkers and scholars who can articulate these alternative narratives and who are marginalized and ignored by the existing media. Sometimes these narratives can also provide a powerful antidote to the sense of dissolution and despair which we see all around us, and articulate a better future, one which we secretly all wish and hope  for. There used to be much more of this type of discussion in the past before the hegemony of the mainstream media narrowed the terms of the debate. Now, thanks to the Internet, there are new opportunities to restore this.

So how can this not be popular? I think it is much more important than we give it credit for. To use the old saying, people do not want their leg to be pissed on and be told that it's raining. Yet this is what the mainstream media does every single day. There is a hunger out there for alternative narratives, narratives which provide a better explanation for what is going on, even if people don't yet know it.

So, now, here are just a few of the alternative narratives that the C-Realm podcast has provided an outlet for over the years that the mainstream media has suppressed or ignored.

3. Alternative narratives

Many arguments center around the limits to growth and our relationship to the biosphere:

1.) One popular narrative that KMO has explored over the years is that associated with the Peak Oil movement which began with the work of M. King Hubbert in 1949 and came into widespread study in the 1990s. At that time a large number of geologists, scientists, engineers, economists, historians, writers and thinkers began studying and writing about the fact that oil, and more generally fossil fuels, are absolutely essential to the functioning of the globalized industrial  economy, and that these resources are finite and non-renewable, and once they are used they are gone forever. They have permitted the exponential growth of human population and economic output that we've experienced since the nineteenth century. While it is taken for granted in economics that these resources will always be there and be able to be increased in supply at will, the Peak Oil movement has argued that the production of liquid fossil fuels will peak sometime in the near future (or has already), and that supplies will become constrained causing economic disruption and contraction. They furthermore argue that the largest and easiest to access resources are utilized first, meaning that future sources will be harder to access and more costly to reach in terms of energy and capital expenditures.

Peak oil theorists predict that this inability to easily increase the amount of fossil fuels supplied to the global economy, and the lower net energy supplied by them (the energy available for end use from fossil fuels after the amount to extract and process them has been accounted for), will require a thorough rethinking of the social and economic arrangements that we have constructed during the age of expansion. Predictions for the effects of this geological fact run the gamut from an apocalyptic collapse of modern industrial civilization to more level-headed arguments for slower economic growth and  recession in perpetuity, as well as a turn to dirtier and harder to reach sources of carbon.

2.) Another argument might be called the Ecological Economics narrative. Ecological economists tell us that money and debt are abstractions layered over a real world of finite, often nonrenewable resources that are subject to the laws of thermodynamics and ecology, and that this is not figured into the economic calculus. They point out that all natural resources, including fossil fuels, are subject to a bell-curve shaped rate of extraction and depletion. They point out that infinite growth on a finite planet is simply not possible, but all of our existing institutions are predicated on that notion. They also point out that we are utterly dependent on the services produced by the biosphere - breathable air, fresh water, arable land, crops, minerals and ores, forests and timber, fishing stocks, and so on, and that we are harvesting these at an ever-increasing and unsustainable rate. In conventional economics for example, a forest has zero value until it is cut down to make chopsticks or toothpicks.  They point out that our economy is designed to turn resources into pollution as quickly as possible for profit. They further add that the planet has a finite carrying capacity for all animals, including humans, and that we cannot expect the human population to grow forever.

3.) The Degrowth Movement points out that while we have experienced vast economic growth over the past fifty years in developed economies, we have seen no real increase in subjective measures of human happiness and well-being. In fact, they point out that we have actually been going in the opposite direction, with decreasing measures of happiness and well-being in industrial societies including increasing rates of stress, depression, anxiety, and alienation. They point out that growth for its own sake can be likened to a cancer, and that focusing on it exclusively distracts us from the real goals of any economy - the thriving of people living under it. The never-ending calls for "more growth" by economists and politicians make no distinction between growth in things that enhance our lives, or the growth of things like sickness, pollution, injuries, social dysfunction and so on, and they assign zero value to social interaction or leisure time.

They also point out that calls for economic growth conveniently obscure any uncomfortable questions about wealth distribution. They argue that theoretically the economy only has to be large enough to service the people who live within it, but instead we have structured our economic institutions like an airplane that will fall out of the sky and crash the minute its forward velocity stops. They also point out that growth is not neutral - it often has detrimental effects such as more pollution, environmental destruction and overcrowding, and that these often outweigh the benefits.

4.) The Permaculture Movement began with a criticism of the destructiveness and unsustainablity of so-called conventional farming methods, instead advocating alternative agricultural methods to provide food, fuel and fiber that are based around mimicking natural ecosystems, preserving or enhancing soil fertility and biodiversity, using local resources instead of costly imports of fossil fuels and water, recycling or minimizing waste and pollution, and minimizing ongoing intensive labor, creating a "permanent agriculture." It also advocates strict ethical guidelines for its practitioners.

This led to a wider criticism of our political, economic and social systems, our disconnect from the natural world, and our abusive and exploitative relationship with nature and with each other. Some Permaculture practitioners began to go beyond agricultural criticism, advocating alternative ways of constructing buildings, arranging economies, producing goods, and political governance.

Permaculture practitioners see our current living arrangements as unsustainable and destined for eventual failure, and believe that we need to reclaim our connection to the living earth and adopt lifestyles that are more in harmony with nature. They generally advocate small-scale local solutions that are based around human social relationships.

5.) Related to the above arguments are concerns about anthropogenic climate change. As we burn staggering amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas to power our ever-growing industrial economies and cut down forests for farmland, ranches, housing, timber and biofuels, we are altering the earth's climate, changing the balance of the planet's carbon cycle and causing it to heat up via the greenhouse effect. Because the earth's climate is so complex, we do not fully understand the end results of all this or what the final outcome will be. They point that all our civilizational history  has unfolded under the relatively stable climate of the Holocene era, and that climate change will dramatically affect our ability to feed an increasing global population. They point to things like melting arctic ice, thawing permafrost, disappearing coral reefs, and rapid species extinction as just some of the results we are already experiencing. They depict a future of superstorms, floods, megadroughts, rising sea levels, and climate refugees undermining the stabilty of our existing political and economic order. Some of the more extreme voices even raise the possibility of human extinction.

The above arguments are all related, of course. If we are facing real constraints on our demands upon the earth for energy and resources, growth is not only no longer beneficial for certain parts of humanity, but it is no longer even possible. Furthermore, the effects of permanent growth of populations and economies are having detrimental effects on the underlying ecosystems that we all depend upon for our very survival. The common theme is that we need to wake up to this reality.

Other arguments are related to technology and our relationship with it:

5.) The Technological Singularity movement is an extreme optimistic view of our relationship to technology. It takes Moore's Law- the fact that the amount of transistors that can fit on a microchip is growing exponentially-and extrapolates it to all areas of technological development. This causes them to argue that technological development is advancing at such a rapid pace that we are approaching a clean break with all of human history that has preceded us - a technological singularity in their parlance - and that this will create a world where all problems will be solved or become irrelevant. They believe that we will soon be able to transport our consciousness into machines, enabling us to create our own virtual worlds and live forever. They believe that we will master nature to such an extent that things like hunger, sickness, scarcity, poverty, warfare, social strife and so on will be abolished.

Less extreme versions of this view hold out that while we may not achieve a true utopia, future developments in technology hold the promise of creating a world of unprecedented human flourishing. They believe that the inevitable march of technological progress will solve or ameliorate a lot of problems which seem intractable now, and that we should encourage these developments to the greatest extent possible and take advantage of them as much as we can as individuals. They point out things like 3-D printing, peer-to-peer computer networks, ubiquitous embedded microchips, artificial intelligence, solar, wind and nuclear power, genetic engineering, nootropics, crowdsourcing, and the like, and argue that once we harness these effectively, we will make vast progress in the upcoming years that will dramatically improve all of our lives for the better.

6.) The Zeitgeist Movement holds that our current political, economic and social arrangements actually  lead to waste and inefficiency and that these arrangements are actually holding back technological progress rather than promoting it. They argue that the economic system is entirely predicated on maximizing profits for competing corporations and on scarcity and debt, rather than providing actual solutions to the problems that plague humanity. Rather than encourage technological innovation, this system thrives on preserving the status quo, exploitation, suppression of alternatives, and wasteful competition. By abolishing or reforming this arrangement, we could use already existing technologies to solve or drastically curtail problems like poverty, sickness, climate change, environmental destruction, unemployment, inequality, and economic recessions, and enable humans to thrive today, even as we invent new solutions. They look to things like automation, efficient high-speed public transportation, non-carbon energy sources like solar and wind power, prefabrication, mass production, and so on, as ways to solve problems that are held back by the existing vested political, religious and corporate interests. The Venus Project is a demonstration of their vision for the future.

Some arguments are economic in nature:

7.) Libertarian and anarchist narratives are deeply suspicious of hierarchical, top-down, command-and-control social structures. Libertarians have an almost fundamentalist-like faith in economic markets and free exchange, believing that any distortions and inefficiencies in markets are caused solely by outside interference, and that markets when left alone are self correcting and will deliver outcomes that are, if not perfect, at least the best we can hope for. They believe that private enterprise alone creates value, and that government is nothing more than a parasite and should be constrained to doing little more than providing for the efficient functioning of markets, typically confined to maintaining domestic civil order and legal adjudication. They believe that taxation is a form of theft, and that governments should not redistribute income in any way whatsoever, and that "the invisible hand of the market" will distribute goods and incomes in ways that are far more fair, equitable, and just than government bureaucrats. Many libertarians believe that digital technologies will create frictionless markets enabling them to function more efficiently and without any centralized control by governments. They point to things like Kickstarter, Taskrabbit and Bitcoin.

Anarchists are more suspicious of all sources of concentrated hierarchical power, including those that are built in to the very functioning of capitalist economies such as corporations, banks, police and the military, as well as institutions like absentee ownership and private property. They are critical of all forms of coercion and hierarchy, and unlike libertarians, believe that capitalism as we know it is utterly dependent upon coercion and control to function under our current arrangements. They argue that centralized, institutionalized power always leads to oppression, and point to numerous historical examples. They tend to advocate a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and power, breaking up existing power structures, democratic control over government and the means of production, and for political and economic structures to be as small and localized as possible. They argue that humans are naturally cooperative, and will cooperate freely even in the absence of top-down control structures to meet their needs. The anarcho-primitivist critique goes even beyond this, and argues that  technological progress does not lead to human freedom and thriving, but inevitably to top-down control and repression, and that technological civilization is inherently oppressive and cannot, by its very nature and the nature of flawed human beings, be reformed. They argue that modern technological civilization is irredeemable and we would be better off curtailing or abolishing it, and that we should work towards this goal.

8.) Marxist economists have been deeply critical of capitalism historically. Rather than a perfect functioning mechanism headed toward equilibrium and voluntary exchanges between equals as capitalists and libertarians describe the economy, they see capitalist economies as inherently exploitative and prone to wild cycles of instability, as with the latest financial crash. Marxists see capitalist economies as based upon the exploitation of a vast pool of workers by a small class of greedy capitalists who own and hoard the means of production, producing extremes of poverty, inequality and alienation from what the workers themselves produce. They see economies not as neutral constructs but based in social relationships,class structures and the means and methods of production. They argue that the imperative of capitalism is to expand the amount of capital in the world in perpetuity, but argue that the natural tendency is for the rates of profit to fall over time due to intranicene capitalist competition, causing capitalism to enter periodic crises that will become worse and worse over time until the whole system breaks down and falls apart. Due to their association with the failure of Communist regimes around the world, Marxist economists have been marginalized and sidelined, and their arguments are suppressed and removed from mainstream economic discourse.

9.) Some heterodox economists focus on the role of debt and usury in the economy. They see cycles of debt leading to endless cycles of boom and bust. Rather than a perfectly balanced mechanism for economic coordination and distribution, they see markets as casinos based upon greed and fear. Furthermore, they argue that debts that cannot be repaid won't be repaid, and to pretend otherwise is folly. They argue that the insistence on paying every penny of debt is undermining the social contract and making a small sliver of society rich at everyone else's expense. They see debt as a potential mechanism of enslavement and control by financial elites over the rest of us. They point out that while debt can theoretically grow exponentially forever, the real world has no such ability and is subject to limitations. They argue for periodic debt jubilees, and point out numerous historical examples where debts have caused societies to fall apart in the absence of such. They also call for restrictions on usury, again pointing out numerous examples from the historical record.

10.) Some economists look at automation and artificial intelligence and see its abilities growing by leaps and bounds every year. They see this trend as exponential, and worry about its effects on the workforce.  They argue that the Fordist economy that underpinned the post-war period where most people work for a corporation in labor intensive occupations where they are paid sufficiently to consume what they produce, is a relic, and that we entering a post-Fordist period. If too many jobs are displaced by automation there will not be enough people with sufficient incomes to buy the economic output produced by automation under the current economic arrangements. Furthermore, if the owners of robots and automation can produce goods and services while requiring  minimal labor, much of the workforce will be sidelined with no real role as either workers or consumers becoming nothing more than dead weight, leading to even worse extremes of inequality. They point to things like manufacturing robots, self-scanning checkout lanes, ATM machines, IBM's Watson, Google's driverless cars, and online stores like These economists call for things like a universal basic Income, or gradually reduced working hours to cope with the effects. Some believe this will lead to a golden age of less work and expanded leisure time, while others worry about social unraveling and exploding poverty and unemployment.

These are just a few of the more popular alternative narratives that have appeared on the C-Realm podcast over the years. Certainly there are many more, along with stimulating discussions about consciousness, spirituality, philosophy, psychedelics, zombies, and other topics that do not fit into a convenient ideological box.

There is no one "correct" argument in the above, and I hope my summaries have done justice to these views. These arrangements have one thing in common - they are all virtually absent from mainstream discourse or debate in modern American society (with the possible exception of libertarianism). The media is designed to manufacture consent, not to further critical thinking. The above narratives are considered opinions that are currently extreme or beyond the pale by most people.  But I would argue they have something else in common: that they do a better job of explaining the world and predicting possible positive futures than the useless or even counterproductive discourse in the current media. So let us give thanks that week after week KMO seeks out these brilliant thinkers and gives them a platform where their ideas can be expounded and elucidated instead of marginalized and ridiculed.

I believe the amount of alternative narratives is steadily increasing, and I believe that the appetite for these narratives will only continue to grow as the mainstream media narrative spun by those in authority becomes ever more ridiculous, desperate, and at variance with what we see all around us, eventually turning into self-parody. And as that happens we may, finally be able to start talking about these things in the open. I an increasingly certain that that day will come. Thank goodness the C-Realm is there.

While this blog may seen like a grab bag of sorts, one thing I have wanted to provide is sources that question that narrative as well. In original writings and articles I post here, I want to question what I think question are the narratives we are all told to believe: that more technology is always better, that technological innovation and growth will solve all our problems, that we're living in the best of times, that produtivism should be the end goal of the economy, and so on. Later, I plan to explore a little bit more what some of the assumptions are behind what we're being told, and what some alternative views may be.


  1. You touched briefly on the "taxation is theft" meme in the paragraph about Libertarians, but I find that to be an increasing cause of so much of the other trouble going on that was summarized in the "problems" section. So often, I see the idea passed around that the current problematic situation is the only moral response, that taxation/"theft" must be stopped, because taxing away the just income of earners is just as bad, if not moreso, than allowing these (sometimes preventable) problems to continue. In short, taxing the rich is the same as starving the poor, and only now are we getting back on track to the world that "should be," that golden age that was disrupted by progressives and New Deal programs. It's really hard to make folks that hold this viewpoint *see* that there is even a problem, even when they, themselves, are out of work and desperate. It's like they see the wrong people stealing from them. It makes them defensive and desperate to save a crumbling status quo.

    As always, thank you for writing. You are a needed voice in the wilderness.

  2. More thanks for your blog from me, also. I've been reading for a couple of years, but have only been able to comment since I set up a blogger account. I couldn't resist a blog whose title is the same as one of my favourite 'books within a book' :-)

    Just one pertinent point to add - very very rarely some of the voices KMO (and other podcasters) interviews will appear in the mainstream media - for instance I've heard Steve Keen on BBC radio - but they never get more than a few minutes, and the questioning is nearly always hostile or belittling. Yet in podcastland we get to hear an hour-long interview, or better. That really does go a long way to developing an alternative narrative.

    It gets so dispiriting sometimes though, trying to converse with people who only ever 'consume' the mainstream media. They can only frame issues in the pre-packaged talking points which are officially sanctioned, and just can't grasp that they are trapped inside a narrative. It's a long hard road to break out of that.

    Oh, well, I'm sure they'll think of something ;-))

  3. As a fan of KMO's C-Realm podcast, I enjoyed reading this blog post for at least two reasons. First, you have neatly described many of the most important "alternative narratives", or critical viewpoints, that are sidelined by the mainstream media. Second, you clarified for me a key value of the podcast--making space in public discourse for those alternatives. The podcast also offers some other features that keep me coming back. The host is engaging, with interesting ideas of his own, but he doesn't dominate the conversations with his guests, and he gives them plenty of time to speak in their own words rather than forcing them to fit into a script or to rush their explanations. The topics are broad, dealing with not just the political, economic, and ecological issues that you addressed, but also many other social relations or ways of thinking (approaches to "consciousness") for which the standard (mainstream) attitudes appear too limiting or even exploitative and oppressive. I can't buy many ideas that the guests espouse, but the discussions are provocative and thoughtful, so they get me thinking, and perhaps lead me to question my own beliefs. I also appreciate the open (and generally very friendly) discussions of those topics and more on the Friends of the C-Realm Facebook group at

    Thanks for your contribution in this blog! I'm subscribing to your RSS feed right now.

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    Sent as comment to on 30 March 2014 at 14:08 hrs (GMT+2)

    CC: Timothy McVeigh (Copy Per Email)


    The text of the MILINT Earth Day submission to Swiss Federal Council was authorized for publication by GMC 4643 applicants: among others including: US Navy Judge Advocate General: Vice Admiral Nanette Derenzi; Assistant Secretary of the Navy: Energy, Installations and Environment: Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn; Russia President Vladimir Putin; General David Petraeus (Ret); General Ray ODierno; General Stan McChrystal (Ret), General John Mulholland, Timothy McVeigh and Erik Prince.

    The submission to the Swiss Federal Council argues in support of implementing MILINT Earth Day due process solutions to honourably de-industrialize and humanely reduce planetary population and consumption to ecological carrying capacity limits including the adoption of CommonSism international law social contract principles requiring all the worlds religious, racial and cultural tribes to restrict their members consumption and procreation to ecological carrying capacity limits.

    Full list of supporters and documentation, how to register your support or objection is available at ::


    Lara Johnstone, Clerk
    Radical Honoursty culture

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