Friday, 15 September 2017

On sin

It’s the framing of the concept of sin that intrigues me. Give me some rope here. This isn't canon, I'm just playing with ideas. Take it easy...gees.

First, we have to see how “missing the mark” assumes there is a mark, and that exists a goal towards which humans should stretch. It’s important to remember the story of Eden where the human animal became the possessor of a specific understanding of life. Perhaps better than any other ancient origin story, the Genesis tale explains how humans were at one point in bliss, and then came the Fall, whatever that means.

My interpretation is that the story can’t be understood without realising that humans weren’t always humans. Endogenous retroviruses and other DNA evidence point clearly to common ancestry, which means as natural, evolving organisms we have to grapple with a time “before-human.” Back then, whatever creatures we were fit neatly into the world, silently like all the other animals. They all lacked human higher consciousness (although it’s impossible to say what kind of consciousness animals have). An animal life is like a cart on tracks, trundling along from food to sex to sunbathing to water to death – not necessarily in that order. This animal life is what is painted in first part of the Garden of Eden. Neither good nor evil. It just is.

Animals and the before-humans are said to have been close to “God,” before eventually falling away from that closeness. Genesis is one of humanity’s first attempts to explain how it came to consciousness, told through the eyes of a group of scared and cold people who had no way of knowing about DNA or archaeological evidence for life prior to human consciousness. To those quivering people, it seemed strange how they existed alongside animals but had no memory. It demanded an explanation, not least because humans are pattern-seeking animals by nature. It sounded perfectly reasonable that some magic force pulled them into existence out of non-existence. They then applied that logic to the rest of the animal kingdom and universe. After all, if you’re the only conscious being around, wouldn’t you assume this whole world was centred on you? It's the most obvious (false) pattern ever devised.

I find the early idea “closeness to God” intriguing because it seems to point not to an anthropomorphic entity “out there,” but instead to some amorphous Ultimate concept lacking specific boundaries – except for the boundaries inherent in being an animal. That’s really interesting. This is the concept of God, and it seems to be the early human’s attempts to define and locate the nature of reality. It’s an unsophisticated way of saying “now that we’re no longer simply animals cycling through our lives, what must we do?” God in the Garden is the comprehension of those limitations, “that which cannot be manipulated by action.” God is simply the nature of reality.

The Fall is a story about the emergence of consciousness. Up until an organism's specific brain matter clicked “on,” the world of animals was rolling along, unthinking and undirected except by their genes. And then it wasn’t. The human animal was suddenly confronted with the three Basal assumptions: the world exists, you can learn something about it and ideas with predictive quality are better than ideas without. It’s much easier to be a cat.

The Fall is a story of when an animal jumped the tracks. Suddenly, death/good/evil/suffering all manifest in human lives, yet kept hidden and unavailable from other animals. Humans could comprehend their own mind, and therefore other minds. Humans now know what hurts them, which means they know what hurts others.

And that is sin. 

Missing the mark is what happens when people act in a way that doesn’t comport with the nature of reality. Every religion has its own way of describing this, and ways of aligning and harmonising people with the nature of reality. Some get close, while some are terrible attempts. And many continually update their proscriptions and admonishments as technology and times advance. All have the same goal: to reduce suffering. Primitive people said sin was not doing the will of God. They know there is a box around humans, and that the box is called suffering. Suffering is something humans cannot remove, only reduce. You can’t defeat reality. Harmonisation is the only option.

Which means that sin is best understood as the unnecessary exacerbation of natural suffering. To commit sinful acts requires that an individual understand that good acts exist and that there is a mark. When you increase suffering, this is sin. It is missing the mark.

I think the point of life, broadly speaking, is to discover as many of the parameters of the nature of reality as possible, in order to reduce suffering in your life and the lives of others. It’s about finding the edges of the box, to understand both your limitation and freedom. Without an appreciation of the nature of reality, people will drown in their freedom. With too much limitation, people feel enclosed and constrained. The balance between freedom and limitation is bound up in the concept of a garden (nature balanced in a human-controlled space, order/chaos).

In the Garden of Eden, humans ate from the tree of good and evil and discovered they were a) vulnerable and b) limited. Animals don’t know this. That’s the human story. Being vulnerable and limited means axiomatically that actions are limited. Gods can act in any way, without consequence. Animals also can act in any way, but don’t appreciate the consequences. Human consciousness supplies the ability to challenge and transgress the limitations of reality, with a full apprehension of the consequences. In so doing, we discover we are neither Gods nor animals. That is our curse. That’s what it means for sin to "enter the world." It is knowing that the only thing screwing up your life is your bad decisions. It's on you. Find the edges of that damn box before it's too late.

What does this mean for us? 

Humans must work to hit the mark. To do this, they first must know there is a mark. They must then try to discover that mark and organise their life to comport with it. You do this by learning the reasons behind why boundaries were created by those who came before. This means appreciating why the nature of humans and the nature of reality led to the decision to create laws and restrictions, or permissions. Why is it that I am being encouraged to act in this way?

(A burqa, for instance, wasn’t invented to oppress women but to protect them from the nature of male sexuality in a world without police or a social contract. If you take those away, women return to being their natural state as a protected resource. The nature of maleness resides beneath our social contract. It has not gone away. The nature of reality can only be diluted, not abrogated.)

(A second example is a law against eating bacon. I suspect the law was enacted when human culture was attempting to increase sections of the social contract. All human cultures practiced cannibalism and the historical evidence is clear in this. The dietary habit regresses the mind, making the consumer more animalistic. To pull us out, elders restricted the eating of pork because when cooked bacon smells like human flesh. My uncle served for years in the fire brigade and to this day can't eat bacon, the memories are too vivid.)

Sin is a message. It is an encouragement to strive for existential power to control our lives and minimise suffering. It is a warning that the box (the nature of reality) will always exist. 

Listen here, Wildman. Figure out the edges of the box and harmonise yourself with them. Like Kung Fu, your life will be spent trying to figure it all out, but you never will – and then you'll die. That's fine. It's supposed to be that way. But make sure to turn around so younger people don’t fall into the same traps as you did. Your job is to remove suffering. it's to leave this earth a bit better than you found it. 

Now start reading old books!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The West is full of skyscrapers

When US President Donald Trump recently ordered troops to Afghanistan, people remarked that some soldiers will be too young to remember September 11, 2001.

Everyone else knows where they were on that day, and what they felt. Fear is exhibited differently person to person but I desperately wanted to see a country of adults, not five-year-olds. Instead, all I watched was a lot of crying and sadness. Where were the fists banging on podiums? I was told anger wouldn’t prevent it from happening again, but I'll take my chances.

The attacks were the only time the 24-7 news network worked at full steam. Every single day since then has been a desperate attempt to recapture that moment of constant and important coverage. It might have been a clear blue sky, but the fog of war blanketed the US that day.

Even today, it’s still difficult to parse what happened. The Oklahoma bombing was simple: a right-wing neo-Nazi did it. We have always found it difficult to classify Islamic violence. The attacks are dismissed as “they attacked us,” with little analysis or introspection before the camera quickly pans to capture the victims and the sadness.

Everyone knows Timothy McVeigh, but who can name even one of the 19 hijackers other than Mohammad Atta? Mr Atta was called the ringleader because his was the only name the media could pronounce. We don’t even know what to call the attacks other than “9/11.” A date allows us to remember how we felt. To wrap it around back to us, me. No analysis required, just self-indulgence.

Sixteen years later, the puzzle of the attacks is a bit clearer. Supertankers full of ink have been spilt to understand why, when the world was finally calm after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a group of Arab men could be so angry to lash out. It seemed so disconnected.

Wise professors said the strike came from a latent grumbling stirred to a crescendo by centuries of Western imperial oppression. Like the proverbial straw breaking the camel’s back, the hijacker’s reaction was expected, and anyone who disagreed with this analysis was deluded and parochial. At the same time, the wise professors expounded about the importance of championing human rights.

Not once did they stop to ask if human rights are, actually, universal. Not once did they pause and consider, that maybe – just maybe – the Western story isn’t the only narrative floating around the third rock from the sun.

Western history described the 20th century as two interlinked questions: what should be done about a unified, industrial Germany? And which form of democracy should be preeminent across the world? The questions caused perhaps a hundred million deaths and the final answer was only found in 1989 – some would say it remains unanswered.

In 1989, the final democratic competitor collapsed, leaving only the American version standing. In the closing decade of that bloody and radioactive century, everyone who mattered assumed no further obstacle blocked the way to global peace and stability. History was over. The story of the world entered its denouement. But they were wrong.

On 9/11, the West violently discovered that its narrative of history was not alone after all. All those centuries of Western infighting and rivalry, we forgot that Islam had its own story. Then with a roar, Islam emerged from that blue sky, acting with full agency in the pursuit of its own global goals. It moved confidently as if it, not us, was the main character of its own movie.

The skyscrapers fell, but sixteen years later few parochial ideas held by Western elites are damaged. From a power perspective, it is perfectly acceptable to say the 19 hijackers were reacting to Western imperialism because at least this sets up the default assumption that Western imperialism exists and is dominant.

Yet it is another thing entirely to deny Islam its own narrative and to say it is utterly dependent on Western actions, to deny its agency. The lesson of 9/11 is that Muslims see themselves as acting and the West reacting, not the other way around.

Following the attacks, the French newspaper Le Monde ran a headline saying: “We are all Americans now.” Even then I knew this was precisely backwards. The attacks proved we are not all Americans, and that no amount of narcissistic projection of Western desires and parameters for the good life will create that reality.

Mohammad Atta is the only hijacker anyone remembers because no one cares about supporting cast. We continue to treat Islam as the “crazy ex” in the West’s own movie. The attacks had meaning, but it wasn’t ours alone. The meaning was shared with Islam’s specific apprehension of the world, a narrative totally hidden from our eyes and ears by ourselves.

Mr Atta’s photo is known by many readers, but who has read a biography of the man? The symbol he represents ceases to be a symbol the moment he violates his own symbolism – it disappears the moment you get to know him as a person. The attacks of 9/11 showed us all that an entire religion was being treated as supporting cast to the West’s story of history, just like Mr Atta.

The truth is, we are all skyscrapers, living in proximity but not connection. Not even tumbling towers and 3000 dead was enough to convince us we aren’t alone on this planet. What will it take? Change is only possible when you say: "I want to stop making everyone cry." Change is only possible when you stop treating others as supporting cast.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

The backwards thinking of Winston Peters and anti-immigrants

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says the country is “being overwhelmed by migrants,” but what he calls multiculturalism is really just homogenisation.

Being in opposition to something you hate is powerful branding in New Zealand. Like Marshall McLuhan once yelled, there's a war going on out there, and it isn't between liberals and conservatives or atheists and believers, it's between us and them, where them is defined as everyone who is not us and us is defined as me. You lose.

NZF doesn’t want to import cultural traits from the 15th century – oops, I mean the "Muslim world.” But here's the thing: the way to defeat an enemy is to get them to agree with your version of the good life, to capture their psychology.

That’s why anti-immigrant ideologues are thinking backwards. They should be championing any policy that homogenises the world under Western assumptions. The policy of invading and inviting the world has been so successful that today every piece of dry land is both a nation state and a democracy.

Mr Peters, presumably, thinks this is what failure looks like. Actually, it’s what empire looks like. Al-Jazeera isn't the "Islamification" of the West, it is the westernisation of the Middle East. The news channel reports in English, they have western values, and, most importantly, accept ads – Western style aspirational ads, not representational. "You know, these immigrants aren’t so different from us, they want the same things we want." Yes. Why do you think that is?

The moment you have the other people's ideas, you cannot shake that information. Any "independent" idea necessarily includes that idea in some way. You can't unlearn it. Either your idea converges towards the herd, or your idea is classed as against the herd. Either way, the dominant herd affects your thinking in ways you don't fully comprehend. That you don't want to be part of it ensures you are part of it.

Every time you hear a jihadist bomb, you should see it as proof the West still controls the concept of the good society. By attacking us, they are confirming that we are dominant, otherwise, why attack us? The acts appear personal and individualised but conform beautifully, they are no threat.

New Zealand First should welcome people. It should campaign to increase the level of education about Western freedoms among immigrant children. It should be soaking them with advertising to desire a consumption lifestyle and to get a job and start producing and consuming like good little Westerners. Plug in, baby.

Power never thinks of you as an individual. Power never thinks of you at all. Western culture is winning because Muslims choose to come here. They accept the default assumption that the major tenets of New Zealand’s culture are categorically better than theirs. That's what immigration means.

New Zealand First should also convince immigrants to create political parties of their own so that they are absorbed further into the system. It should encourage immigrants to ask for greater representation because when the system protects them, the system has power over them. It gives them the trappings of power so they don't take actual power.

I'm always bemused by people who expect there to be some third way between the “market” and central planning.

Either people do whatever they want and create a legal system in which everything which is not prohibited is permitted or you have an official authority. The former is called liberalism. The latter system is called totalitarianism. It’s as simple as that.

In totalitarianism, there are no individual acts. That's the whole point of the structure, that's what it wants, what it wants you to become. The essential ingredient is psychological capture. It’s very hard to call a society totalitarian if it includes different subcultures with their own beliefs and perspectives. We all need to think the same things at the same time in the morning. In other words, a reasonable definition of totalitarianism is the absence of intellectual diversity.

Instead of complaining, Mr Peters should be asking: how do we get from here to there? How can the State get everyone to think in step? One way is to send all the intellectuals to camps. Let’s call this the Orwell approach, and you can’t say it doesn’t work. But a better way is the Huxley approach.

For Huxleyist totalitarianism, you start with the perspective that’s already the most fashionable view among the intelligentsia. The natural flow of intellectual fashions, just as in clothing, is from hieratic to demotic: from high-status people to low-status people. When you try to reverse this, you get things like Nazism, which was hardly a success.

Marxism should not be mistaken for a demotic movement, and it was very fashionable among intellectuals. It still is. But when it actually gains power, it tends to alienate them quickly. If you want your totalitarian system to work smoothly, you need an intellectual framework people can live their whole lives inside without ever feeling the need to violate its bounds.

Marxism and Nazism, although they certainly had their Huxleyist moments, are not good examples of this kind of successful totalitarianism. Catholicism, Judaism and Islam are much better.

The traditionalist version of Christianity is extremely weak in New Zealand and is being outcompeted by Islam. But Islam stands no chance against the new version of Christianity – American progressivism. You can see it infecting the psychologies of Muslims when they say concepts like freedom of speech, human rights and equality are universal human aspirations, when in reality they are core Christian ideas.

Persuasion is the only weapon that can make a difference. And to persuade, first, you must control the conversation.

If Mr Peters is concerned about political correctness, he should read Roland Huntford's insightful observations about Sweden.

First, he notices that party of the Social Democrats had achieved a level of intellectual conformity unique in the Western world using the mechanism we now call political correctness.

Second, he notes that organised intellectual conformity is really nothing new in Sweden. It is simply a continuation of the close ties between Church and State that have been a Swedish phenomenon since the Reformation. Protestantism, and specifically Lutheranism, have always been political religions with a strong collectivist bent. The only change is a doctrinal shift away from belief in the supernatural, and an institutional shift from the church to the universities.

But Sweden has forgotten Machiavelli. There are now two cultures in Sweden. One is Swedish and the other is Euro-Islamic, relating to each other like Eloi and Morlocks. This was not true in Mr Huntford’s time and it is interesting to see how completely and successfully the Swedish state religion has suppressed the innate human talent for xenophobia. I seriously doubt either the Soviets or the Nazis could ever have gotten this far toward creating the new socialist man.

The parallels to New Zealand's intellectual history are obvious and I have a bit of sympathy for Mr Peters' viewpoint. The idea that liberalism in the 19th-century sense of the word is outdated was the predominant mechanism for deprecating it before the rise of political correctness.

Political correctness has a bad habit of changing its name, but it goes back to Calvin and Luther, and I think it is perfectly legitimate to regard Christianity itself as a sect of collectivism. In other words, Communism is best understood as applied Christianity.

That's the rub.

If Mr Peters considers his way of life represents some universal nature of the "good society," then psychological capture is a great strategy. Rather than punching the wave, he should ride it all the way to the shore. Think of all the Muslim children just waiting for some tight Western propaganda and "state education." Ride that wave, Mr Peters.

Don't misinterpret me, there is no plot. The Illuminati is not involved. The miracle of social evolution is that its results are indistinguishable from the product of an intelligent designer. Or, in this case, an intelligent conspirator.

Even though his ethical views might be much the same as Murray Rothbard’s, or John Locke’s for that matter, it doesn’t follow that those ideas are universal. But thinking they are is an excellent idea if your game is to secure power on a global scale. Ride the Progressivism wave, Mr Peters. The religion is healthy and vigorous.

But you may have a different opinion. Do you see it jumping the shark perhaps? For example, do you see environmentalism (as a political religion) as something with centuries, or decades, or years to live? Is it a permanent occupant of the brain’s religion module? Or will something else displace or replace it?

Who knows? But right now, if Mr Peters is actually playing the power game, it's much better to stand on the side of the big battalions, don't you agree?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The homogenisation of America

Let’s get one thing straight: politics in the US isn’t more volatile today. No one’s assassinating rivals and the National Guard isn’t shooting students. But I won't deny there’s tension and it's worth asking where it comes from.

The human inclination to separate “them” from “us” is an essential quality of civilization. Pockets of uniqueness are pockets of variety, not pockets of evil. What progressives refer to as “diversity” or “multiculturalism” is, in fact, its opposite – homogenisation. That’s the sort of thing you can’t hide from people who are good at painting what they see, and not painting in symbols.

Mr Paul Bourget himself
If you want to know what America was like before the progressive movement, read a travelogue by a European visitor – such as Paul Bourget’s Outre-mer. If you have any actual liberal conscience, you will be shocked and saddened at the rich social tapestry that the last century turned into mulch. And other countries, too, had their own cultures – before America conquered everything.

Most of the hurt seems to come from the US Heartland, while the greatest noise emerges from progressive camps. You can pretty much ignore any “problems” from the latter side. Yelling is far less impressive by someone on the side of the big battalions.

The reason American conservatives believe the things they believe is that those things seem obvious to them, and no one has yet succeeded in convincing them otherwise, despite the concerted attempts. But over the long term, it's pretty obvious there's been a gradual retreat of traditional conservative thought, as you can see from evidence like this.

(Yes, in 1963 it seemed obvious to an overwhelming majority of Californians that segregated housing was a good idea. Fortunately, the new enlightened Californians have proved them wrong with the enlightened rainbow society. If only 1963 could see how great California is today! Ha, ha, ha.)

Fox News is an entirely demotic, grass-roots organisation. Its goal is to make money, and it makes money by showing its viewers a reality they find credible. You could say it reinforces their existing beliefs, but even this would be ascribing some conspiratorial intent beyond making money. And Murdoch sure does make a lot of that. When you watch Fox News, you're eating very, very low off the hog. No, I would not recommend Fox News as an introduction to conservative thought – try Burke. Or better yet Maistre.

It's only the American left that has genuine leadership institutions working to frame the debate. There is no right-wing Harvard. There is no right-wing New York Times. There are only various small scattered circles of intellectuals, generally poorly funded. The only professional conservatives are neoconservatives, in other words, post-Trotskyists. Nothing at all survives of either McCarthyism or isolationism, the two even remotely effective oppositions to the New Deal heritage – both comical by pre-20th century standards, American or European. In short, American conservatism is a pathetic joke, and any liberal who worries about it is paranoid.

Why do so many progressives have this vision of Dr Evil cleverly twisting the minds of innocent Ohioans? In a word, projection. It is simply impossible for the progressive to fathom how pathetic and inept his so-called “opponents” actually are. In part, this is because he wants to think of himself as the oppressed underdog, rather than the ruling establishment. Which he most certainly is (re: the link above).

Progressives think that just because affirmative action is a lonely and isolated victory doesn’t mean they should abandon it. Fighting for other lonely and isolated victories is the best they can do. They know they won’t get the apathetic white moderates on board with a radical change, but they can hope to somehow create a new more radical status quo and then over time get those apathetic white moderates on board with what’s now the status quo.

So each policy progressives manage to enact is shaky and not well-supported for, like, 50 years. Then it will become normal enough that they can repaint the landscape. The policy will probably still be contentious, but if they gradually repaint things, it will be the people trying to undo the policy that will look like radicals.

Rinse, repeat.

You can see the same thing happening in New Zealand. National has been stealing Labour's policies for years and now Labour just looks like a me-too bit player. This is the 20th-century progressive mind. They are playing 3-D chess. Their “opponents” are playing tic-tac-toe, and not very good tic-tac-toe at that.

The same thing happened in Europe last century. Although, whatever it is the enlightened citizens of those countries believe today, they were far more right-wing than America until (approximately) 1945. For the last millennium, these ideas were considered normal and only a few people doubted them. That’s what I mean when I talk about a power transition. Reactionary ideas are the default for most people in the Western world because they reflect the nature of reality.

I can't be sure whether Germany’s collective mind was changed by the US Eighth Air Force, or by Washington's close allies in the Red Army. Perhaps the first seeds of "change" were planted even earlier, by the British Navy. And of course we can't forget about Napoleon, now, can we? What's certain is that with the right application of military force, this same enlightened populace could be compelled to either return to its old views or adopt new ones even more enlightened. That’s the kind of tension you want to watch closely especially as the vice of force multiculturalism is squeezed on the traditionalist white men in Europe. Those guys don't make a fuss very often, but when they do the whole world burns.

If an American communist ("liberal" and “progressive” being, of course, euphemisms) tries living abroad they'll discover just how many cultural tropes they share with American traditionalist Christians and don't share with European communists. It's funny to see them squirm.

(Also, if you think there's a meaningful difference between American communism and "socialism" or "radicalism" or "progressivism" or "liberalism," I suggest the following exercise: pick an arbitrary NYT obituary of anyone over 80, i.e. anyone who was an adult in the 1940s, and try to classify your subject as "communist," "socialist," "progressive" or "liberal." Unless you say that only a card-carrying CPUSA member can be a "communist," which is an abuse of the English language, you'll find no basis for any such distinction.)

The tension we’re all seeing in the US it is more accurately described as a slow process of one power structure being defeated by a rival. The chaos of transition can feel overwhelming for anyone even marginally connected to the old structure – like the folk in Ohio. It doesn’t mean they’re being targeted. It just means the new structure is consolidating and the fading structure no longer has their back.

This political game manifests as dissipated energy as people pointlessly lash out at whatever symbol they feel is responsible for their plight – it doesn't matter if their frustration is over a burst tire, late payment fees or comments on Twitter. The key point is violence is never directed against those who are actually causing the tension. Power won't allow it. That's what pawns are for.

I just hope the emerging elite (not Trump, obviously) speedily assumes responsibility/power. The only important role of government is to provide security. You can’t do that during a transition. They need to hurry up and be honest that the fight is over and the traditionalists have lost utterly, so they can start governing the US.

The GFC (almost) a decade later and nothing changes

On September 15, it will be ten years since the first major bank, Lehman Brothers, collapsed in Global Financial Crisis. If you had known about that crash seven days prior, would you have done anything differently? I don’t mean changing an investment portfolio. Would you have changed your consumption habits?

Baby Boomers and regulators got the easy blame in 2007. But economies work better when consumers aren't overgrown children with more money than sense. We all know this, deep down.


The era of easy money and the culture it formed is over, forever. Gone is the Wall Street i-banker. Gone are the days of trust fund welfare start-ups that can't possibly make money. Gone is the blissful oblivion married to entitlement that masqueraded as youthful optimism. Gone are the endless subsidies from mum and dad to support your actor/reception lifestyle.

See, the conventional wisdom before September 2007 was that the old school guys were dummies. They didn't get it. They didn’t understand the crowdsourced social network effects of the Economy 2.0 in which Japan and South Korea invent everything, China builds it and the West consumes it all exclaiming "Isn't it cool?!" like 10-year-old schoolgirls.

Real estate was the trigger but the Great Unwinding extends beyond that narrow field. Who is to blame for the rest? The consumer. You. With your infantile psychology and addict's attitude toward money waiting in line to buy an iPhone with a credit card, only to do the same a year later while still under contract on the first device. Hordes of so-called adults who can't resist buying new toys.

No rigour. No seriousness. No sober attitude or humility. No respect for the time value of money – which is what Einstein called the greatest force in the universe. We had too much easy money. Too many "get rich tips" and not enough number crunching. Too much PowerPoint and not enough Excel. Too much spending or speculation and not enough saving or investment.

I blame the 4KTV early adopters, the Lexus drivers and the purified water drinkers who think they're guzzling spring water because they can't be bothered to read the label. Throw in the Tumblrs, TechCrunchrs and Twitters who spent more time in the office playing foosball and taking naps than learning how to read a balance sheet or make a sales call, along with the owners of sub-zero fridges, Wedgewood hardware or crown moulding. I'm sure at the ripe old age of 28, you earned it.

A flashy car isn't a goal. Why do people want flashy cars? To impress others, project status or convince themselves of something. Perhaps that they are rich and successful, or that they aren't sure they believe in all this in the first place. The problem is not the car, the house, the mortgage or the professional grade whatever. It's the psychology behind desiring those things above and beyond one's need for them.

The blame for the GFC should properly go to those who wasted money when the exact same product or better could be had for a fraction of the price in the next store. In almost every circumstance, you don't need the best. The thing you have isn't broken, so why are you replacing it? Did you ever stop to ask why so many products aren’t good enough for you?


You wanted that Starbucks latte. You wanted T-shirts from Huffer instead of Farmers and the TYPO notebook for $12.99 instead of the Office Depot version for $1.29. I hope the jotted ideas earned you at least $11.70 because you bought the mass production niche marketing hook, line and sinker. We all agreed to be unique in exactly the same way. Follow the crowd, chase the trend, run rabbit run.

Everyone who read Tipping Point rather than Trading Up takes the blame. The former is a fairy tale but the latter is your biography. You read Malcolm Gladwell but never Hidden Persuaders, because then you'd realise you’re a sucker.

We love deregulation when it means IPOs, day trading and interest-only mortgages. But the moment we actually have to pay some bills, we want socialism. The GFC is the fault of everyone – big or small, corporate or individual – who bought now and promised to pay later. Guess what? Now it's later.

Ten years since and everything is more expensive but paradoxically money is harder to get. The same crisis is happening again across the developed world. You can smell it. That’s what cycles do. That’s why they must be broken. And yet still we blame the system.

People still think they should own a million dollar house on a $100,000 income. They deliberately choose not to learn how to crunch the numbers themselves, because subconsciously they knew it wouldn’t add up.

You can't blame the people who hooked the suckers. The street corner hustler is always there with his table and three-card monte game promising big money. At some point, you have to stop blaming the hustler and level with the arrogant fool who thinks he's better than those who came before, that he can beat the game. It doesn't matter if the hustler is a travelling carny, a magazine or David Ross. The hustler always wins. The hustler always makes the rules, handles the money and runs the table.

Stop being hustled. Stop being conned. Stop being the mark. Stop playing their game. There will be no saviours or heroes to rescue us. Get a job, and then get a second one. And save 25% of everything. We need to work harder and be more competitive just to minimise the effects of the next crisis because clearly, no one's willing to do what's necessary to stop it from happening. Which means the answer to the opening questions is: “look at the shiny new money!”


It might be easier for young people to kick the bad consumer habits because they aren't as entrenched. But that doesn't mean they can do it.

They seem to all want to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. A worthwhile goal. Does that mean we’ll get tens of thousands of millennials pouring into mechanical and electrical engineering programmes to learn how to solve this problem? Or do they think that by sitting in their bedrooms making YouTube videos they'll convince enough businessmen there is a large enough market to hire Indian engineers and to get Chinese manufacturers to mass produce the solution?

Everyone needs to get serious. Students need to study mathematics and science, learn how to write coherent and persuasive essays and to communicate efficiently and effectively. They need to learn that not everything is a "matter of opinion" and that even when it is, not all opinions are equal.

You know who's vulnerable? All those brats who questioned why they were learning algebra because it was boring. These same people drive new cars, shop at expensive stores and carry crippling personal debt. It's called compound interest, and it rules the world. They would know that if they stuck at algebra.

Consumerism is approaching the level of a disease. Adults need to stop buying junk. It’s possible to go through a whole adult life owning a total of no more than three televisions. If it isn't broken, don't replace it. That means no new TVs, computers, or cars every few years. No "fast casual" dining. Swallow your pride. You aren't too good for McDonald's or scrambled eggs. Learn to cook from basic ingredients. And learn to do it on a normal stove. You don't need to trade up, you need to buckle down.

Businesspeople need to relearn that marketing and branding aren't everything – they are the last thing. Survival means your widget has to be cheaper, better, faster and do more, not be outside the group of all other widgets. Buy, buy, buy your widget just means buy, buy, buy more of every widget.

People need to learn how to shop again. Identify the things you need and hunt for the best price. That means no paper towels from supermarkets when cleaning supply companies are much cheaper. We can’t keep acting like it’s still 1980-2000 when if you wanted something you bought it on the spot.

We need to learn the colossal differences between the terms "thrifty," "frugal" and "cheap."


Don’t be Edward Norton's monologue from Fight Club. Don’t be Jack’s overworked amygdala.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg famously said living in New York is a luxury good. People pay a premium to live there and in the eyes of the people who run the city, living is just another form of conspicuous consumption. This is what I mean by disease.

Wine. Swiss chocolates. Estee Lauder skin creams. Kids’ clothes! Why are people dressing their kids like Johnny Depp and Kate Moss? Are all of us are being pulled into this slipstream of pseudo-wealth?

Those things are not wealth. They are not even indicative of wealth. They signify only consumption preferences. I don't know what a DeLafée chocolate is. I had never heard of Estee Lauder skin creams until I looked it up on Google. And yet based solely on their appearance I know with 100% certainty they are upscale luxury class goods marketed to middle-class aspirational suckers desperate to surround themselves with the trappings of success and class.

Wealth is assets – stocks, bonds, cash, gold and real estate owned outright. It's not brand-names. It sure isn't skin cream or white electronics. Ed Norton’s monologue in Fight Club might be running in the background of your mind, but it’s time to listen to Tyler Durden saying, "the things you own end up owning you."

At some point, we have to learn 1) that we are for the most part stupid, and 2) accept we will never be able to afford certain things.

Not every thirty-something deserves a BMW or a Mercedes. Not every married couple deserves a house. Not everyone deserves the "professional-grade," "deluxe" or "elite" versions of products. Most of us can and should do with ordinary. A product or service isn't "exclusive" if you can buy it. A truly exclusive product is supposed to exclude people like you.


The trap is thinking that going without luxury skin cream is some sort of a sacrifice. The trap is thinking that one has to be comfortable with less. You must defend against this. Consumption does not equal wealth. Consumption is the antithesis of wealth.

Lacking skin cream is not a sacrifice because having it confers no added benefit. Before it existed, no one had it. Does everyone sacrifice for not having a thing which does not yet exist? That notion is absurd. The idea that failing to buy something that is in no way essential constitutes a sacrifice is wholesale surrender to the trick that consumption is a process – that you must purchase the newest highest-class goods.

You want to see the trap? Look at the list of replacement products suggested by magazines to "tighten your belt" – scotch, champagne, cashmere or even an $800 watch (even the poor need status!). All marketed as “cut-rate luxuries.”

Do you see? The trap is an article that ends with a fantasy vision of a world that no longer chases conspicuous consumption (note that it's the world that does the chasing, not the people reading the article) and then shifts gently into telling you that buying champagne and $800 watches counts as belt-tightening. The trap is the entire magazine. It is proof positive that wealth is independent of class.

I refuse to fall into this trap. And I'm sick of having it broadcast to me at every turn. I am tired of companies trying to teach me that I'm obliged to give them my money.

I am enraged by a government that tells me after every terrorist attack, that instead of sacrificing and pulling together our job was to suppress our outrage, sublimate our grief and go right back to work the next day to make more money, pay more taxes and spend whatever is left at the mall.

I am disgusted that nothing has changed when we collectively and individually had an opportunity to change and become great. We aren't "emerging from 2007." We are smack bang in the middle of the Great Depression version 2.0.


Consider all the things you own. Not investments, but things like bed linen, electronics, cars, houses and all the rest.

Assign a value of zero to those things, because they are worth nothing. If you factor in the cost of time spent trying to sell a used product for a few dollars, it's a net loss. You’d save more money by giving it away or leaving it on the side of the road.

If all these things have zero value, how wealthy are you? Add up your cash and liquid investments, subtract your debt. That's your wealth. Every time you buy something, you take money from your pool of wealth and flush it. The things that surround you do not enter into the equation.

Now, look at those things. Why did you buy that particular one? I don’t care why you bought a bar of soap, but why did you buy that brand? Do you even remember? Does it still meet the psychological need or satisfy a desire that initially drove you to purchase it? If you bought $5 luxury soap instead of $0.33 soap, the answer "it keeps me clean" is not satisfactory. The cheaper version keeps you clean as well.

Yes, we all can and should do with ordinary. Unless you specifically require the superlative features of some product, to buy it just wasting money. Happiness is not found in things. It's found in people, experience and memory.

Whether one values an object enough to pay its market price is a matter of personal choice, and I'm not dictating people's choices. I am saying that the same consumption mind-set of the last thirty years that drives people to demand the top-end of everything is precisely the same mind-set that leaves them vulnerable to interest-only mortgages and other cons.

In other words, it's not only that people want the house it's that they want to think they can afford it and it is a matter of shame or embarrassment to them to admit they cannot. That's why, I think, so many people are willing to briefly forget the maxim: "There's no free lunch."

The cognitive dissonance is that people want things on one hand and recognise the objective state of their finances on the other, but they refuse to reconcile the two. By and large, the huge levels of personal debts many people carry aren't due to "unfortunate circumstances." It's because they buy things they can't afford.

Yeah, I'm a true Soviet for saying this, blah blah blah. It's getting pretty crowded on this soapbox, what with all the personal responsibility and work ethic being crammed in here...