Ending the Era of Stupid

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The author of this post is an anonymous Washington insider

I’m giving to Yves Smith and Naked Capitalism. You should too. And you should dig deep. What we are doing, together, is nothing less than composing a symphony of what will be an intellectual revolution.

What are we revolting against? The Age of Stupid.

Whether you call it the Era of Complacency, the Age of Stupid, or the Age of Greed, the decades from the mid-1970s until today rely upon a certain set of ideas. Bad ideas. Cruel ideas. Ideas about the nature of humanity, and the need for elites to brutalize the peons and each other to get what they want. Ultimately this is reflected in the God of this age, the financial market. Rigged and ripped and roaring with nonsense, this God is sovereign.

We see this with the New York Fed, and the most recent scandal, which is really just the continuation of a multi-year outrage Yves has been chronicling since 2006.

This era, though it looks dominant, is nearing its end. Because the ideas themselves are stale. Ideas matter. Yes, corruption and stasis have power, but it is ultimately the ideas, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, that sustains our culture. For decades, Wall Street was the high priest of this market God, and bankers deserved what they had because of their divine nature.

What we now know, and what Yves and all of you have helped unmask, is that this is a false idol. The phrase Too Big To Fail has shattered the keystone of this idolatry, the banks. Bankers may have what they have, and tech oligarchs what they have, and private equity barons can strip mine human beings, but this is by force and leverage and open scams, not through belief. Such systems are weak, as the Soviet system was weak in the 1980s. The bureaucrats do eventually lose their will to enforce immoral claims, as those claims become more and more expensive to enforce.

Systems like this don’t look weak, they just look unfair, a brick wall to justice. But that is the facade, the reality is that it is humans who hold up this injustice, and these humans are losing faith.

And what will bring this system down? You. I know it seems odd, and hopeful, and almost painfully lacking in cynicism. But yes, the answer is, you. And me. Whistleblowers. Professionals with integrity. The ideas, work, and details we put down in corners of the world like this, they matter. They shatter the false idol of monopoly, of the financier, of the private equity baron. They show that this class seeks to rule, through courts and bailouts and special favors and brutal policing.

This class also seeks to delegitimize and eliminate our centers of discourse. Naked Capitalism is an important center. Yves doesn’t get the credit she deserves, because if she did, it would validate the hollowness of our elites. But she is read. And admired. And feared. They want her to go away, because they want us to go away. But we won’t.

We cannot predict the end of the age of stupid, just as we cannot predict when the stock market’s upward ascent will reverse course. But in this corner of the world, we keep our ideas alive, flickering, until the kindling is dry and ready. That is what we can do. So subscribe. Keep this site going, keep our ideas alive.

One day, that wall will come down. And we will need ideas to create the living, vibrant, life energy that is brought forth. Those ideas will exist, here. If we can keep this flame flickering.

So give. That’s what you can do, today, to bring forth the end of the age of stupid, the age of complacency. That’s what I’m doing. Put your money into justice, into truth.


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  1. McMike

    “We have seen Weird Times in this country before, but the year 2000 is beginning to look super weird. This time, there really is nobody flying the plane. … We are living in dangerously weird times now. Smart people just shrug and admit they’re dazed and confused.

    The only ones left with any confidence at all are the New Dumb. It is the beginning of the end of our world as we knew it. Doom is the operative ethic.”

    – Hunter S. Thompson

    1. James Levy

      You worry most that deep down we’ve lost the will (what a quaint 19th century concept!) to carry on the adult task of maintaining a civilization, that the impulse is, as Thompson said, to embrace the doom. Life is hard. More is the point, life feels hard, it feels overwhelming, so why not just surrender to the void. That’s the ethos we’ve got to fight, more even than the ethos of mindless materialism and greed that governs all facets of our establishment culture.

      1. Lambert Strether

        There is the saying: “Pessimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.” But Gramsci wrote that from a fascist jail, where he was to die. (An actual jail, not a metaphorical one.)

        But I’m not sure I agree with that statement now. I think there can be a tendency to become invested in the idea that we are at the mercy of vast impersonal forces, rather than in looking for openings and factors that work in our favor. That’s disempowering and paralyzing. Golem XIV says in today’s must-read post:

        To me this conclusion and the whole traducing of democracy that I hope I have shed a little light upon is as Orwellian as it gets. Is there hope? I think there is more hope now than at any time in my life.

        The Over Class is already scared and is forcing ever more draconian measure upon and ever more angry populace. It takes an ever more militarised and violent State to do it They require ever more hysterical scar-mongering, ever more foreign enemies and ever less regard for the ideals they claim to champion. The Over Class have no answers to any of the global systemic challenges. We know it, they know it, even their supporters who continue to support them more out of fear than hope, know it.

        So where is my hope?

        I go back to a far older writer than Orwell, to Gerrard Winstanley, one of the great leaders and heroes of the English revolution. He wrote that “Freedom is the man who will turn the world upside down.” Since Winstanley’s time this idea of turning the world upside down has been used to frighten people in to rejecting any idea of radical change. It has been used to cow them in to listening to the priests of “The Rule of Law über alis.” Yet Winstaley was speaking of something our leaders have forgotten. What Winstanley knew was that the people of his time felt their lives had already been turned upside down long before the revolution. And when your life has already been turned upside down and your hopes already ransacked then what do you have to fear from radical change? Nothing.

        Winstanley was as ordinary as you or me. Yet he helped start a revolution which is ours to take up. We have unfinished business. And the time is now.

        And that is what Paulsson and the Over Class are beinging to sense and fear. And it is why they will lose and we will win.

        So, the PayPal button is to your right.

      2. McMike

        That’s not how I read the Thompson quote at all.

        I am not suggesting that we ought to surrender to the void, neither was Thompson. Merely observing that the operative ethic, the leading narrative and response, has been to do so. The quote itself came from a person who steadfastly refused to surrender to the operative ethic and called on all of those who cared not to either.

        Besides, I was really just riffing of the era of stupid headline.

        1. just bill

          I have concluded that nothing else will do but to help as many other people personally as I can. Talk has always been cheap. With the Internet it is really cheap.

          And I remain utterly pessimistic, having spent thirty odd years getting familiar with all the issues endlessly debated by those presuming to know all about them.

          1. optimader

            Bingo.. act local, eat well, continue learning, cultivate practical skills and common sense and ALWAYS question authority.

  2. GuyFawkesLives

    Some of us can’t give.
    Because we have become the modern minutemen defending our country from the enemy.
    We are homeowners who are challenging the bankers in a court of law. And for some of us, that means writing our own pleadings, living off the charity of others, and sacrifice. Why do we do it? Because we all know that the bankers are attempting to steal our nation’s land without any right to it. We do so because we still believe in due process. We do so because the bankers are this country’s enemy and we are on the front lines……and we are making the ultimate sacrifice. We sacrifice our lives and our families for this country.
    Yet, we live lives full of quiet desperation.

    There needs to be a fund-raising push for us modern minutemen.

    1. susan the other

      Something I wish everyone in this country understood is the construction of contracts. It is a super-basic concept. When a contract is signed it incorporates, as law, everything specified in it. And the most “recent” changes to the contract carry the most weight. So if you sit down and read your contract carefully and make some little strike-outs and additions with your initials (very low tech) those strike-outs and comments have precedence over the body, or boilerplate, of the contract. So if everyone wrote their own “exceptions” to a contract which is otherwise draconian and unilateral and therefore you can’t accept its terms unless you modify it before you sign it, etc. – then the banks would be in an even worse position than they already are because they have the unprecedented arrogance to shred the note.

      1. GuyFawkesLives

        You imply I don’t fucking know anything about contracts. Thanks for rubbing salt in the open wound.

        It is “nice” people like you that I want to bash in the face.
        Guy, the “Nice” Guy

  3. Ray Phenicie

    Tied to the age of stupid is a blind partisanship that idolizes the president (or Prime Minister) in power. One can look at the terms in office of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the great harm both performed with their propagandizing and budget cuts; these were directed at social programs. Their fans roared with enthusiasm as the victims of rampant, wrongheaded capitalism tore the safety net from those falling out of fortune as jobs were lost and working class wages demonized The demonizing of those safety net programs centered on welfare queens who were ostensibly sitting at home on a pretty cushion eating bon-bons and riding around in El Dorados. Of course the vulture venture capitalists who eviscerated the economic backbone of both countries were encouraged and lauded because their clever maneuvers garnered some individuals yearly incomes of hundreds of millions while the workers of the devastated entities were pauperized.

    We have much the same going on today with Barak Obama who carries water for the lords of the realm on Wall Street; he has yet to make fiery speeches, as did FDR, to point out these evil vampire squids. The man is incapable of raising his blood pressure to use the bully pulpit he has to accomplish what needs to be done. I see a character flawed with concerns about doing the right thing for the mighty and powerful and an all too willing temperament to side swipe the peasant and cast them aside to further degrade their situation. In short, the man is a sycophant.

    1. Ray Phenicie

      “Their fans roared with enthusiasm as the victims of rampant, wrongheaded capitalism tore the safety net from those falling out of fortune as jobs were lost and working class wages demonized”
      convoluted sentence.
      Should read
      Their fans roared with enthusiasm as the victims of the cuts were allowed to fall without a safety net, these unfortunate millions were then demonized as being the cause of the larger social problems caused by unchecked and unbalanced capitalism.

  4. fresno dan

    “Because the ideas themselves are stale. Ideas matter. Yes, corruption and stasis have power, but it is ultimately the ideas, and the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, that sustains our culture. For decades, Wall Street was the high priest of this market God, and bankers deserved what they had because of their divine nature

    “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”


  5. Denis Drew

    IT’S THE AGE OF POWERLESSNESS. I dropped this comment in different specific contexts on Angry Bear and Economist’s View this morning — it’s becoming my one-note-tune.
    * * * * * * * * * *
    As I always say: “What would Jimmy Hoffa say?”

    Then big answer — the only overall answer — is legally mandated, centralized bargaining (as in for all) — which is the only way to rebuild democracy (assuming we ever had it) both economically and politically. Which will team equal financing and lobbying with 99% of the vote.

    IOW, become Germany-West.

    Only way to change the culture — all of the culture — and potentially overnight. Only way means there is no other way. Just mention it out loud and everyone will line up early to vote for any politician who promises to institute it.
    * * * * * * * * * *
    My personal path through powerlessness as a Chicago taxi driver: one 30 cent increase in the per mile rate between 1981 and 1997 (16 years in case you suspect a misprint) — at which 1990 midpoint the city began building subways to both airports, opening up unlimited limo licenses, putting on free trolleys between all the hot spots downtown — all progress, fine and good; but why did it have to add 40% more taxicabs at the same time?

    Ditto in NYC where I came from. In 1974, after the last successful strike, the fare was raised (I’m going to use 2004 dollars) $2.25 a mile. Taxi union then dissolved by lease system (independent contractors). By early 2004 the per mile had dropped to $1.50 (in the only place on earth and in history where wealth was (is) a plateau not a pinnacle, the island of Manhattan). Lease fixed-payment for shift meant all deficit came out of employees’ ends. Raised to $2.00 a mile in 2004 (after US per capita income rose from $18,000 to $28,000). Stuck there in 2004 dollars.

    Today’s Chicago fare: $1.80 a mile — a sickening 50 cents below 1981’s (raised) fare in 2014 dollars!

  6. kevinearick

    Systems: Qualitative &/or Quantitative Analysis

    False assumptions begin with the assumption that you know the questions to ask. Free speech is not a Constitutional afterthought, and children are not wired to ask why, by accident. Why should you accept majority jurisdiction?

    Freedom of individual thought and resulting action is considered unnecessary, undesirable and dangerous, so it is illegal, sayeth the majority, as its closed system of civil law implodes into arbitrary complexity, measuring itself as GDP. Socialist or Capitalist, the idea is that those who control natural resources and/or capital stock can print their own money and you cannot, that an irrational market outlasts all intelligent investors.

    No matter how many deficit and debt prone consumers band together, they cannot produce a surplus, which is why they must hunt you down, while competing for smaller, lower quality tiles, at ever higher prices. My small town teachers never demanded my pledge of allegiance, because it is internally inconsistent, and can only lead to fascism. Back then, Nazi Germany wasn’t something you had to read about in a textbook written by committee.

    No matter how much debt the majority prints, it cannot get the Internet to do anything else, surprise, because it is several generations behind the development curve. The not-so-secret to harvesting passion and profit is that laborers, capable of completing the circuit, are few and far between, precisely because the majority seeks a cheap imitation, an arbitrary short cut, which is neither rare nor necessary.

    Laborers balance their physical, intellectual and spiritual lives, to seek the unknown, creating wealth in the process, and the only way you can do that is to have children, which is what you were designed to do, whether you choose to believe that God, the planet, the universe, Martians, or anything else initiated the process. Humanism, the idea that a collection of humans can control this planet, or even themselves, is absurd.

    DNA is gravitational in that it sets up frequency bandwidths to separate the species, within which each has multiple frequencies available. Charles Manson and crew, Boehner and crew, and Krugman and crew can only assume that everyone else is insane.

    Your dream threads are different frequencies in relatively closed loops. Whether your ‘conscious’ state is reality is a matter of debate. Ultimately, the critters fear losing their collectivist conscious precisely because they practice so many. Ever wonder why somebody couldn’t see something in another, when it was obviously normalized?

    In a world of preemptive assumption, get them before they get you, preferably without them knowing it, multiple personalities, especially bipolar, is considered an advantage, because it disrupts the thought patterns of others. Divide and conquer for toys can only lead to the Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb the rest of the world, with children thinking that they are playing a game of drones on a computer anonymously.

    The majority of DNA is always dying, slowly or quickly, and a minority is always growing. In a sink or swim world, with the innate ability to tread water, you don’t want to trust the critters on rafts drinking Mai Tais circling the drain, telling you to get in line to make rafts for a living, hoping you will stop their descent.

    Only the Edisons are working on Internet developments and their derivatives, and they still don’t understand electricity, because no mythology of feudalism, on a business card or the back of an envelope, gets you there. That oil is going right back into the ground, and Edison needed help getting that light bulb to work.

    If you have a choice between quality and quantity, choose quality and you will produce both. The reality for most, following the last herd into History, is quantity at poor quality, the only result of which is bankruptcy. An empire cannot sustain quality of its own volition.

    Quality, or qualitative analysis, is the root, or backbone. Quantity, or qualitative analysis, is the branches, or dress. The outcomes, leaves with seeds, are the feedback. All subsystems are closed relative to the supra-systems surrounding them, except those that employ a positive feedback loop as a negative feedback loop, soil and seed, producing an output gap within a double-sided mirror.

    The Internet is a magnet, implicitly collecting gravity, in the global port cities where the navies build their primary extortion toll booths. Juveniles, unable to grow their own food and build a generator to complete the circuit, hiding in the basement, playing computer games in their pajamas, waiting for their parents to die, all becoming increasingly irrelevant, anxious and self-destructive by the day, is an outcome.

    Empire wipes out the lower middle class, exchanging imported toys for domestic wealth, by dropping relative interest rates for an upper middle class created for the purpose, in artificial demographic cycles until it can’t, ending in fascism. Labor lets it do so, until it reaches the necessary oxygen content to ignite the chain reaction.

    Discount that which is in between you and the unknown, to bridge the gap. Life is always and everywhere a test of intent. Good versus evil is beside the point. All governments fail, only to be followed by repeating the false assumption of scale.

    You are never going to make the gate building illusions of grandeur with arbitrary knowledge for competitive advantage, instead of building your self, where/when you will find others doing the same. Choose to be effective, unless you have some use for gravity, an increasingly efficient chain of duration mismatches.

    Let the feudalists majority fiddle with laws, banks, currency or any other derivative, while the new world order burns, same s the old world order. An empire is a bomb, which destroys itself.

    Government has its uses, but raising children isn’t one of them. Only a couple, a man and a woman, wed to the purpose, can sustain production, and the majority destroys itself trying to prove otherwise every time. Feinstein and Boxer intend to burn down what remains of America, but the landlords are going to find out that hell is not labor’s problem, when it’s far too late.

    Equality among ignorant, jealous and greedy slaves in a bipolar world is not an economy. Funny, the Internet accelerated the majority’s debt, and you got a free university. That’s life.

  7. scraping_by

    Stupid is useful. Look no farther than out Peace Prize leader, who is unashamed to start whimpering at the first criticism. The largest and most expensive intelligence apparatus the world has seen, his fallback position is always ignorance. He may be as helpless and clueless as he presents, but thinking so requires a long leap of faith.

    Then there’s aggressive stupid, usually presented as unshakable optimism. A favorite of direct salesmen and our previous president, deliberately ignoring and shouting down contradictory facts is functionally stupid. Substituting slogans for study looks and smells like being unable to grasp real world data.

    Intellectual fields are fond of arrogance, the personal form of stupid. Sneering at anyone outside the sandbox is the first line of defense against those who would recognize that the theory doesn’t map onto the reality. A special knowledge removed from reality becomes stupid when it moves out of the glass bead game. But the world is still lousy with experts.

    Stupid is functional, if you’re into something that otherwise doesn’t work. Even if it’s not used as a smokescreen (and it often is) as long as the end state isn’t what you want, stupid can maintain an otherwise appalling status quo.

  8. Sufferin' Succotash

    I agree that the Age of Stupid is probably drawing to a close. But I’m afraid there has to be one more bout of Acute Imbecilia (2014 & 2016 elections) before the [“Asbestos”] curtain falls.

  9. jgordon

    I would take care when throwing around the word “stupid”. While admittedly the system we have now is stupid, some would consider various policy proposals various outlets like to suggest to be equally as stupid as what they seek to replace.

    Personally, I would define “intelligent” proposals as those that don’t engage in wishful thinking that relies on new technologies or monetary ideologies, or whatever, to come along to solve our problems. History is replete with failing civilizations that really really tried super hard to appease the angry deity or nature or what have you, and then failed anyway. So the first condition of an intelligent policy would be that is doable today, without an extravagant changes to society hitherto unheard of technologies required for implementation. To my thinking, that is the first test then to determine if a policy recommendation is stupid or not. Much like when I’m taking a photo of an animal and the eye is not perfectly in focus–no matter how much I like/love the photo otherwise and how time consuming or difficult it was to get, that is the first test that determines whether or not it is trash. Many elaborate and apparently attractive theories/ideologies should likewise be trashed because of their failure to meet the necessary precondition. “Well it would work if only…” = trash.

    Next I would determine whether or not a set of policy recommendations (with regards to economic policy here) incorporate the expectation that economic growth will be negative and that we have a whole mess of pollution and required ecosystem restoration from here on out to contend with. Also there is the matter of decommissioning all of the nuclear reactors to deal with as well which probably deserves its own special category. Of course per the first condition, belief in new technologies, ideologies, etc, to solve these problems is not acceptable.

    This would naturally tend to make policies that encourage less less activity in the population, less consumption, adoption of appropriate technologies, local/home production of food, water, shrooms, shelter and other vital goods necessary for life as “not stupid” and those proposed policies that do not explicitly encourage that kind of thing as “stupid” (For purposes here “stupid” is a catch-all word that has a subcategory of “delusional” included in it). Well since such an interesting word was chosen to be used in the post title here, I decided to write a bit on what it meant to me. That’s all.

  10. Lambert Strether

    More on the era of stupid. This piece fits in with the Golem XIV series with this by the Archdruid:

    The Senility of the Elites
    The longer a given elite has been in power, and the more august and formal and well-aged the institutions of its power and wealth become, the easier it seems to be for the very rich to forget that their forefathers established themselves in that position by some form of more or less blatant piracy, and that they themselves could be deprived of it by that same means. Thus elites tend to, shall we say, “misunderestimate” exactly those crises and sources of conflict that pose an existential threat to the survival of their class and its institutions, precisely because they can’t imagine that an existential threat to these things could be posed by anything at all.

    The irony, and it’s a rich one, is that the same conviction tends to become just as widespread outside elite circles as within it. The illusion of invincibility, the conviction that the existing order of things is impervious to any but the most cosmetic changes, tends to be pervasive in any mature society, and remains fixed in place right up to the moment that everything changes and the existing order of things is swept away forever. The intensity of the illusion very often has nothing to do with the real condition of the social order to which it applies; France in 1789 and Russia in 1917 were both brittle, crumbling, jerry-rigged hulks waiting for the push that would send them tumbling into oblivion, which they each received shortly thereafter—but next to no one saw the gaping vulnerabilities at the time. In both cases, even the urban rioters that applied the push were left standing there slack-jawed when they saw how readily the whole thing came crashing down.

    The illusion of invincibility is far and away the most important asset a mature ruling elite has, because it discourages deliberate attempts at regime change from within.

    So, really, “optimism of the intelligence, optimism of the will.”

  11. Rosario

    Good luck all. Though I believe more than one historical person has informed us that human stupidity is infinite. Though aiming for the impossible in this case couldn’t be anything but positive.

  12. downunderer

    Nice to see there’s another Archdruid JMG fan around!

    This stupid talk bothers me, because it is, well, circularly self-defining: stupid. ‘Stupid’ is being used here as an absolute, but all reality is necessarily relative. Without ‘stupid’ for contrast, there could be no ‘smart’ and vice versa. Discussing or desiring either element of the usual pairs like good/evil, hot/cold, up/down without the other is beyond stupid, it is nonsense, inconceivable, and therefore should also be unspeakable. There are serious fine distinctions to be made all along the coordinate axes that join such terms when discussing any reality, and reality is in any case multidimensional and not just a bipolar classification.

    We need a detailed mechanistic analysis, like NC usually provides (and like the Archdruid did) of the ways that certain people, movements or ideas are (or become likelier) to behave in ways often oversimplified with the labels ‘success’ or ‘failure’. Not just a one-word pejorative or emotional lament.

    1. Kurt Sperry

      Some value axes are analytically, to use an engineering term, anisotropic–they are significantly more informative than others. For judging societies, my favorite simple metric is how they treat the most disadvantaged and vulnerable, their young, their elderly, their poor, racial and cultural minorities, dissenters, those accused of crimes and prisoners, the sick, the disabled and so on. Civilization is largely about how these issues are dealt with, whether done compassionately and respectfully or callously and cavalierly.

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