Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Socialized Loss for the Masses.

I've been getting all self-righteous over the bank bailouts, recently. I started off not caring too much, but have since managed to work myself up into such a froth that I could be used as shampoo.

I recently saw an interview with some guy on Frontline about the economy and how strongly people's perceptions fluctuate (more on this later). I'm always one to point out the stupidity of most people. Or, perhaps stupidity is too strong. Maybe contempocentric is better. Some study who's author is lost to bad memory found that a majority of people perceive time strangely. Namely, for the average person, events that are five years away are perceived identically as those six months away. Meaning that people only start thinking about events in a "is imminent" sort of way is after they start being less than six months off.

What this means is that people are fabulously good at not thinking about the past after events have passed and finished and events that are going to happen in the future. We're a fundamentally reactive species that exists in the "now."

This is obviously not an inherently bad thing. If we spent all of our time worrying about the past and future we'd go nuts. Being contempocentric to a degree is actually important. The problem is that humans take it to its limit and behave in a contempocentric way, while living in a world that allows consequences to carry on for decades. Behold climate change, credit cards, and over-eating.

But that also means that political winds will blow based on events that are only a year in either direction. Now back to that Frontline documentary. Some talking head pointed out how people get very conservative during good times and very liberal during bad times. Noam Chomsky talks about privatized gain and socialized loss, but he specifically attacks big business. And while that's true, the average person is the same way. They just have less clout than a big company.

When times are good, the conservative ideal of "succeed for yourself" feels great. "Keep your hands off of my money!" people will yell. But when the world turns, and they lose their job, they start crying for help. And sure enough, the people who have to help bail that previously-conservative person out will likely yell to stay away... that is until they lose their job.

This type of systemic hypocrisy is most rampant in those so ignorant that they have NO idea about how the system around them functions. They live in their little world, controlling their little things, thinking about stuff that's six months off and six months past. This type of person is no better illustrated than the man who yelled to "keep your government hands off [his] Medicare!" at a South Carolina (natch) town hall meeting.

I've uploaded that talk Chomsky gave on socialized loss. It's worth a listen.

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