The Age of Wishfulness
The Age of Wishfulness is winding down. The genii is running out of oil. Necessity approaching, as the power of oil to hold it at bay loses force. This is both a great tragedy, and a great opportunity, though not in the knee-jerk positivist way we have grown accustomed to finding Silver Linings behind every adversity.
A great tragedy, great suffering will come of this. A great opportunity because a yearning for truth will lose its hallucinatory unreality once the age of wishfulness loses its hold. It will no longer be an aberration to doubt that something-for-nothing cannot be a basis for how we live our lives.
A surprising challenge has been a difficulty communicating with many people I would expect to be natural allies. Bright people, connected, with successful careers. They see the same problems arising, they look for ways to proceed. Yet, when I attempt to break through the levels of wishfulness that encase their life expectations, that cushion their world views, they balk. The natural tendency in this situation is to back-off, soften the message, find a more palatable route towards making connection. Following an expectation that only once a connection is made, no matter what the level of co-option required to reach it, only then may we be able to gradually get to the point.
I’m beginning to doubt this tactic. To doubt its entire premise. It smacks of enabling. Makes no sense anymore.
When the greatest difficulty lying between where we are, and some action that may lead to a better result, is the sleep-walking attitude of our most capable people in face of deep existential crises; then how can coddling that sleep-walking be part of an effective course towards removing this block?
We see this attitude everywhere. It has grown out of the infantilization at the heart of consumer culture. It reflects the level to which narcissism has been elevated into a defensible norm within this culture.
Lest anyone think I am unfairly targeting their particular brand of consumer culture – one of the most widespread symptoms of this trend has been a defensive self-victim-hood embraced by the nominally powerful to cover over their inability to be effective. All of the worlds cultures today are subsets of an over-all consumer culture today. Whether a particular group is benefiting or subjugated, their assumptions are all grounded in the tenets of consumerism. Boosters and opponents, all in a merry dance around a world-view they will defend or oppose in a polar attraction.
Most, hell, all of my contacts have been on the booster side. Among people who have in large part benefited, as the term is normally applied, from the leading edge of consumerism. I’ve been in this clad myself, would not have survived to adulthood, would have been literally inconceivable without the conditions that prevailed in The Oil Century.
I attribute my own perspective to accidents of birth, certain traumas of early life that gave me a particular combination of qualities and experiences that have shaped my viewpoint, my instinctive perspectives, from an early age. Many of these early experiences could have been fatal, physically or psychically. By some accident, and luck, I survived.
What this has given me has been a gift. So far none of it shows. It has led to years of self-induced marginalization. By some accident this has helped me see through the too-good-to-be-true. Given me a long experience in not having my way. Led to a high tolerance for the unpleasant. Left me with a low tolerance for wishfulness.
Communication. We use this word to describe a panoply of activities. They coalesce around the act of transferring information. As with so much of our language the word has been buried within a consumerist mindset. Communication is now a profession. There are courses, experts. As with every other honest human impulse that has come under the consumerists’ sway, communication has been co-opted, twisted from its honest meaning, reduced to jargon.
A tenet of communication, considered as a subset of marketing, is that we always make it easy for a mark to hold onto his assumptions. Seeking to modify behavior by manipulating us unwittingly. To frontally question assumptions is to court disaster. In the complex physics of propaganda and manipulation, there are countless paths. We may annoy, cajole, entice our way to success, but the laws of the enterprise don’t allow for open challenge.
Having lived our entire adult lives, brought up in the infantilizing precincts of primary and secondary education; we have not only become accustomed to these rules, but demand they be maintained. We have lost the ability to face any challenge to our assumptions without taking it a personal attack on the core of our being. We react as though such a challenge would destroy us. A form of kryptonite to which we have no immunity.
People suffering hypothermia relate how hard it is to resist the wish to fall asleep. Cold's most pernicious effect, a sapping of the will-to-live. Self-preservation evaporates. Our strongest wish is to fall asleep. A powerful instinct. This may be one of those final mercies built into our bodies. When struggle is no longer useful, this wish for sleep takes over. A final mercy in truly fatal circumstances. A tragic waste when it is jumped to as a hasty conclusion when there is still fight left in us.
What is true in the solitude of one’s final moments happens within group dynamics. The ancient Greek idea of Pan. He spread a delirium of frantic paralysis, a useless thrashing replacing effective action. Panic is to be feared. Its effects worse than the crises that brought it on. It is a powerful force, requiring great effort to resist. Resistance must come from within. A trait we must develop. A sign of maturity.
Received wisdom insists we avoid panic. We are instructed not to cry “Fire!” in a theater. This has its place. But what if there is a fire?
This admonition to avoid panics is convenient. If we want to manipulate others. If other people are objects to us. It is in our interest to sway them to our will. Panic is, by nature, uncontrollable.
Fetishizing an avoidance of bad news, so as to "avoid panic," is useful in deepening and maintaining an infantilization of those we seek to manipulate. A panic about panic, a cultivation of an aversion to the very notion of the unpleasant. Placing the protection of our wishes as the ultimate good, maintains a malleable population, up to a point.
We are at the edge of a precipice for the constituency that has built up around the accident of access to convenient, abundant fossil fuel. Those who have settled within a successful accommodation to these conditions are in the most difficult position vis letting go of habits that have succeeded in the past. It is unfair – there are worse things – to impute nefarious motives to their actions. They resist abandoning what has worked for them in the past. The result of this is an effective block against adapting, accommodating to new realities. Realities that will make themselves felt, whatever our wishes.
Anyone who’s been in a dysfunctional relationship knows how much energy gets sucked into a vortex. Mincing around minefields of delusion generated up by an addict and his enablers. The mechanism here is the same. The answers to dealing with it in the society at large can also be the same.
Bring delusions to light. Make the delusional maintenance of the lie uncomfortable to maintain. Don’t engage in arguments, acting as though delusion were a reasonable position. Firmly resist any engagement in this way. It only perpetuates the power of the delusion. Treat the delusion as a lapse of reason.A relinquishing of responsibility. Reward putting the delusion behind them. Expect to be treated as an adult. Treat them as adults, as subjects, not an objects.
There is so much to be done. So much can still be done.
Each moment that passes, doors close. We lose potential fields of action. Our horizons close in.
The longer we struggle to maintain our wishful insistence. Resisting being thoughtful, mindful, pro-active, adaptive. The greater the tragedy ahead.
It is wishful to expect something-for-nothing.
Abandoning this attitude will not remove obstacles, or eliminate bad outcomes on its own. I will help us face our challenges as actors. Engaged in our fates. Not mere objects on which greater forces act out their whims.
Scratch through the prickly, brittleness of the wishful, and you just might find the heroic. Not as that term is qualified within fantasy. As it has always played out in reality. When people stand up to their plight, eyes open to what is at stake, making truthful efforts on their own behalf.