Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Elevator Speech #5--Believing in magic and the new dark ages

The real economy cannot operate on magic.  

My grandfather had a colorfully weird bachelor-farmer brother who loved to entertain us kids with his collection of aphorisms that passed for wisdom in his life. "Everything comes to him who waits--especially poverty," he once told my sister in all seriousness.  His big advice to me was, "There is only one thing you really must know in life and that is this: if you want a harvest in the fall, you must plant in the spring."

It is absolutely impossible to overstate the importance of that basic Producer truth. In a world where the Predators have elevated the "market" to iconic status, it is important that SOMEONE still understands all the steps it takes to actually get something to that market.  Within that simple and blindingly obvious Producer truth are the seeds of civilization itself.

Unfortunately, the Leisure Classes reject this Producer truth--starting with the rejection of the possibility or even the existence of Producer truth.  And because they believe in a world where nothing can be known, they turn to infinite manifestations of magic to describe their lives.  Some magical beliefs are relatively harmless--such as about 99% of all religious practice including the modern "New Age" practices.  

But some "magical" incantations are utterly lethal.  There are hundreds of them but the three most dangerous are:
  • Only the market can determine value
  • Effective society-wide planning is impossible because it impinges on the freedoms of those perfect markets
  • It is possible to have compound growth in a finite biosphere
One of the ironies of industrialization is that, over time, fewer people need to understand Producer truth.  If 2% of the population can grow all the food and 18% can accomplish all the manufacturing, that leaves 80% of the population quite able to indulge themselves in as many beliefs in magic as they can afford.  To fill this market, the range of magic output is stunning and now includes education and government.

When 80% of the population must devote their lives to trading in bullshit that has only the slightest link to anything a sane person would call reality, it is hardly an exaggeration to declare the coming of a new Dark Ages.  Given this reality, can the teabaggers or Fox News or post-structuralism come as a surprise?  Remove the gravity of Producer truth and the world becomes a place where one magical thought is as valid as another.

Of course, the biggest concern with a population trained to believe in magic is that the major problems like the end of the Age of Petroleum or climate change, the ones we would wish away if we could, are precisely the sorts of dilemmas that can only be solved by folks who have left their beliefs in magic behind.


  1. "if you want a harvest in the fall, you must plant in the spring"

    This is pretty much the crux of the biscuit. Fully understanding what this means is the secret to a happy life.

    We are now in a situation where people who planted, who did everything correctly, may not reap their harvest.

  2. "We are now in a situation where people who planted, who did everything correctly, may not reap their harvest."

    Absolutely correct! Thanks for this addition!