The Big Squeeze, Part 3: The Quiet Rebellion: Civil Disobedience, Local Markets, and Debt Erasure   (January 29, 2011)

I am pleased to present Part 3 of a uniquely clear-sighted three-part series by frequent contributor Zeus Y. on the consequences of our corrupt financial-political Status Quo being exploited by a parasitic Financial Elite.

Part III: The Quiet Rebellion: Civil Disobedience, Local Markets, and Debt Erasure

The collapse of elite authority and rise of democratic civil disobedience will come, but I think it will look very different than most expect. Given the tumultuous play-out of current conditions, one might imagine comprehensive, violent upheaval. There will be widespread and numerous local and regional examples of violence, John Brown style uprisings, especially in the worst hit areas. However, the overall rebellion will be mostly “quiet,” I believe. It is likely to commence as something far more sedate and private than a global public bloodbath. Moreover, it will be driven less by principle than by practical recognition and necessity.

Eventually, organized creative resistance and alternatives will emerge, but they will stem from widespread exhaustion in both senses of the word as in “used up” (environmental resources gone, savings gone, pensions gone, employment gone, retirement gone, American Dream gone), and in terms of “fatigue”. People will become too damn tired emotionally, physically, financially, and psychologically both to fight and to continue supporting a system that is sucking far more than it is providing.

The rebellion will start as individualistic refusal and grow into something more interconnected, social, and affirmative over time. People will in increasing numbers stop paying their taxes and their mortgages, refuse to buy (stocks, goods, etc.), take their money out of banks, and so forth.

From an October 24 email to Charles Hugh Smith:

[Citizen rebellion] will [start as] a kind of civil disobedience that looks like apathy and complacence, but will be actually closer to disconnection and non-cooperation, and subtle sabotage one finds at workplaces with intelligent, productive, but poorly treated employees.  

These employees know they are getting screwed.  They know their bosses and owners are venal... They know they have no leverage to raise their wages, and that performance boosts on their parts will be rewarded with more exploitation and skimmed and highjacked productivity.  So what will they do?  

“Okay, two can play that game.”  You abuse me and my productivity.  I'll make it look like I am doing everything I'm supposed to, but I'm actually taking what I can out of the company, from office supplies, to internet time doing other things, to, you name it.  

I think [strategic] mortgage defaults might follow this same pattern… The salt-of-the-earth types still have some integrity and desire to “do the right thing” but if doing so enables them to get screwed more and rewards vicious behavior, the new moral mandate with integrity is to do the conventionally moral “wrong” thing, so as to punish the evil-doers and to prevent self-abuse.  

I described how this might evolve in another email to Charles Hugh Smith on October 13 in a post entitled “An Unintentional Prophecy” that extended a reader response I made to Gonzalo Lira’s well-known post on hyperinflation:

I have long argued (and laid out in some frameworks) how we are being forced in an accelerated fashion to move value from a material (including gold, commodities, etc.) to a non-material basis of meaning.  We have overcapacity technologically to produce food, but undercapacity to distribute it in a way the optimizes well-being rather than reinforcing misery.  "Disconnected" profit acts like a cancer, hypercharging certain parts of the system and impoverishing other parts.

You cannot eat gold, nor even commodities that are not in your refrigerator or your pantry.  What value do these have?  Since the central states and their paymasters (the financial elites) will fail, what takes its place?  Most of the scenarios offered are of a survivalist bent, but I see this myopic, constrained guess … rather than an outflow of keen, intuitive grasp of the possibilities.  

When Y2K came, the world did not end.  When New York City blacked out, people milled around… rather than storming the grocery stores.  Fact is, financial collapse will leave us to our own devices, and we will have to invent. We have some tools:  local currency, barter, microfinance, in which productivity can be linked back to (locally driven, globally linked) economic enterprise, and real quality of life can emerge as present- and people-directed, rather than future- and "disconnected profit"-directed, which (by and for itself) is nothing more than an agreement to exploitation and imbalance.  

Connected profit, in conjunction with people and planet (triple bottom line) can be transformed into a quality-of-life value-added marker, rather than a power grab and concentration.  We are coming to the big face-off between top-down control by those who would be gods over us and impose value on us, and bottom up creativity which recognizes that any “god” (energy, good, intelligence) comes up through us and is connected between us.  It is this “within” and “between” well-negotiated and exchanged that produces real value.  

We are reaching the limits of physical exploitation and growth (as shown by its effects on environmental health).  We need to transfer that growth and “frontier” mentality to non-scarce, non-material assets like learning, intellect, culture, music, community, family, creativity, human connection and interest.  This cannot happen until the grip of the former is dashed by its own means, by its own unraveling. This is now happening. 

This may look like pure idealism to some and capitulation to those observers needing cathartic overturn of the old system, but it will be in reality the acceptance of the death of an era, and the start of an open and creative building of the next. Quality of life must migrate by practical necessity from worth determined by material wealth and monetized value toward worth in which non-material harbingers of value— learning, community solidarity, multicultural experience and exchange, environmental advocacy, etc— become the mainstays of a good life.

Those websites talking about purely individual responses to catastrophe, for instance, those suggesting stocking up on physical silver and gold, and using it to trade for your necessities, will ultimately look foolish. How will this solve the systemic problem? What merchant will accept on faith that what you hold is real? Your “silver” ingot could simply be coated zinc. Is that grocer going to take out a test kit and a drill? Trade will be in currency, but mainly locally-based paper currency backed by local goods, faith, and productivity. Medium-sized cities (like a Madison, WI or an Ithaca, NY) near farmland and colleges with a well-educated progressive populace, farmer’s markets, and a vitally functioning social infrastructure and comity will probably do best.

This movement will be driven by the younger, Generation X and millennial generations. Educated, well supported, idealistic, pragmatic, socially and multiculturally experienced, (and with lots of time on their hands) they face a world in which they have few to no job opportunities, huge debts, deteriorated expectations, a polluted future, and increased burdens to take care of the older generations. They don’t believe the promises of future return they’ve been sold, nor should they.

In addition they are increasingly multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and global in perspective, less motivated or swayed by nationalistic or racist tensions. Their loyalties are more to their own interconnected experience than brands, flags, or classes. They are smart as a group and very able to work collaboratively and effectively as seen in their impressive participation in the Obama campaign (before Obama completely dismissed them).

Baby boomers may follow, but probably only after initially resisting, and trying to make the system work long enough so they can cash in their corporate 401(k)s and extract their welfare state entitlements. Additionally, baby boomers’ identity is more deeply motivated by heroic individualism over shared service. The boomers’ deep-rooted hope for the material American Dream is likely to extend the time line for a global coming-to-terms with an obsolete system, but eventually they will have to capitulate, find a renewed purpose, dust off their 60’s idealism, and reapply themselves.

On a grand scale the only way to erase counterfeit money and assets of hundreds of trillions of dollars is to erase the debts associated with those fake assets. (Let me underscore again, these are not “toxic” assets, they are fake assets.) In one way or another, this will have to happen. What about those homeowners who bought more than they could afford, will they get off scot-free? The answer is, “not entirely,” though full responsibility and accountability is likely to take on a new face.

Zeal for imprisonment of the fraudsters and the comeuppance of the loose spenders will likely yield to a requirement for defrauders and debtors to return fully what they have taken plus interest through financial compensation and in-kind pro-social work (not pennies on the dollars like the present situation). Though this would not exactly involve breaking rocks with a sledgehammer, it would help build up an infrastructure badly in need to renovation.

Forgiveness in general, and forgiveness of debt in particular, stand as virtues if they free us up to acknowledge, address, and learn from our culpability, start anew, and create forward. There will still be a necessity for systems of prosecution and restorative justice to prevent abuse. However, giving to society, whether to correct a wrong or to simply contribute as a concerned citizen should not be viewed as a punishment. It can, and should be seen, both as a social necessity and a personal avenue for fulfillment.

We will have turned the corner when contribution to our collective well-being is not seen as an obligation but an opportunity, and exploiting others is understood not as an opportunity but a crime.

By Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D., copyright January, 2011

The Big Squeeze, Part 1

The Big Squeeze: Part 2: Abused Fundamentals and Fake Markets: How They Play Out

Other recent essays by Zeus on

When The Market Has Cancer (June 19, 2010)

Unhinged: When Concrete Reality No Longer Matters to the Market (and What to Do About It) (May 15, 2010)

How the Credit Default Swap Scam Works (October 13, 2008)

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