Crazy for Comfort
During the last Great Depression, financially desperate people ended up entering convents, seminaries, prisons and mental hospitals, when homeless shelters had no room for them. If the goal was three “hots and a cot,” being admitted to an insane asylum allowed you to eat well, sleep off the streets, and get free medical care. And most of those admitted didn’t have to feign their afflictions…being homeless remains an extremely stressful life circumstance.
Pushed Off the Tightrope, but Ignoring the Net
Social security “safety nets,” put in place by F.D.R., have changed some of the options available when facing difficult economic times, especially for those with psychological disorders. We now have Social Security Insurance, (SSI) for the truly impoverished and disabled among us, and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), an economic survival option for the previously employed working- or middle-classes.
The challenge today is to learn how to identify the need for and to accept help with emotional problems quickly, and to recognize that not doing so could mean taking an economic as well as psychological hit.
You do not need a long history of hospitalizations to qualify for SSDI, and this fact surprises many. “Extreme” impairment is not a requirement, either.
Mental distress impacts earning potential, and getting help in a timely way is economically as well as emotionally smart. A colleague of mine said she expected most of her clients to improve their earning capacity as a logical outcome of working with her.
Disability Payments You’ve Been Paying For All Your Working Life
But if despite your best efforts, your emotional well-being deteriorates, you need a licensed provider to help you document the type of help you’ve been getting, and the “functional impairment” that requires you to tap into the existing economic insurance policy you’ve been paying 8.4% of your income, (perhaps as much as $9000. a year for…) all of your working life. That insurance policy is SSDI.
And time is of the essence, because you’ll need financial resources to wait it out. SSDI payments often kick in 2-4 years after you’ve apply, but the payments back-date from the time of the initial application. For many, this means getting a check for between $15,000-$20,000, even after all expenses are paid. That can truly ease the pain of mental distress. And your benefits will continue until your retirement, as long as your impairment continues to be documented, typically every 3-5 years.
Knowing Your Options
This post is about knowing your options. My readership is a group that by and large values financial independence, and has a deep distrust for all things governmental. But they also plan for the worst, and are deeply pragmatic. The “sin qua non” of mental health is often the capacity to sort out reality from illusion, figure out who to trust and who to be suspicious of, and determine ahead of time actions that will help you, from those that can prove more damaging.
So here is information to tuck away in case you ever need it.
I’ll begin by discussing the differences between SSI and SSDI, and the related increase in both unemployment and disability claims. I’ll go on to describe the professional players (lawyers & psychologists) who usually assist people in filing these mental health insurance claims, and provide an overview the required steps to document a “functional mental impairment.” Next, I’ll looks at different social and economic attitudes of those applying for SSDI vs. SSI, and the impact it has on their overall financial well-being. My work in the inner city over the last three years helping clients get SSI will inform this discussion.
I will end by arguing that those in the working- and middle-classes are often the most reluctant to seek psychological care when they develop functional emotional problems that impact their working life. This is unwise, not only from a social and emotional perspective, but also from a financial one. No one with a work history and financial assets should impoverish themselves before seeking government assistance, because you have directly paid into these funds through FICA contributions, and these funds are designed to buffer you from this very situation.
Unlike the urban poor, who use government monies as a baseline income, the middle classes errs in the opposite direction. They refuse available resources, and instead spend down their savings and retirement. Their invisible illness often negatively impacts their professional relationships. Only in desperation, when all other resources are exhausted, do they consider what has been available to them all along.
Had they been more pro-active, and known their options, they might have prevented the catastrophic hit. I provide a story of one entrepreneurial family who prevented financial ruin as an example of how this can be done.
What is SSI and SSDI?
Social Security is a federal insurance plan that pays for someone’s “total disability” including mental health impairment. “Disability” under Social Security, is based on your inability to engage in consistent productive work. The difference between SSI and SSDI, is in who pays for it, and whether the applicant has “resources” (e.g. cash, a home, cars, or investment accounts) or not.
Resources and Who Pays
Think of SSDI as ‘Worker’s Disability.’ Paid out of the Social Security trust fund, it is available to those who have worked and paid 4.2% (or 8.4% for the self-employed) included in FICA taxes, for a required minimum number of years. The amount of SSDI payout, is linked to your employment history, is paid out of workers’ tax contributions. Eligibility does not take into account one’s assets. Owning assets does not affect your eligibility for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
SSI, on the other hand, is a need-based program for people with low income and few resources. Individuals can apply for SSI if they aren’t insured for SSDI, or are insured for SSDI but are only eligible to receive a fairly small SSDI monthly benefit. A person may potentially be eligible to receive both SSDI and SSI. This is known as a “concurrent disability claim.” Currently, the cap on assets for SSI is set at $2,000 (or $3,000 for a couple). But some assets, like the house you live in and the car you drive for basic transportation, aren’t counted toward the cap on assets.
Substantial Gainful Activity
Being “disabled” means being financially, as well as physically or mentally disabled. “Substantial Gainful Activity” is work that monthly brings in over a certain amount of income. The amount changes year to year. Make more than that amount per month, and SSA says you “are able to engage in competitive employment in the national economy.”
Disability Rises with Unemployment
Here is a chart that shows REAL unemployment statistics, courtesy of Shadow Statistics:
Now let’s look at the rise in disability:
Appeals Tell the Tale
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (27 Jul 2012):
“…the latest available data from the federal courts show that in June of this year there were 860 new SSID (not a typo) Title XVI lawsuits filed, most under US Code Title 45 Section 405 which allows for judicial review when Social Security supplemental security income (SSI) benefits are denied. The number of filings for each of the last four months (March through June 2012) is higher than for any other month in the past five years. Overall, the data show these filings are up 19.4 percent from a year ago and up 62.6 percent from levels reported in June 2007.” (emphasis added)
These are tough times. And how does that compare to pre-2007 numbers?
Social Security claims that “the share of the U.S. population receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) benefits has risen rapidly over the past two decades, from 2.2 percent of adults age 25 to 64 in 1985 to 4.1 percent in 2005.”
Three in 10 workers between the ages of 18-64 will be disabled, according to SSA.
Why Are Lawyers Involved?
Disability is a steady stream of income for lawyers, who are able to collect up to 25% of all back-payments owed to the filer, starting from the date of first filing, should they win the claim, with a cap of $6000. That adds up to considerable money, as lawyers can handle quite a few claims at one time. The lawyer charges nothing up front to the disabled person, so the cost of entry is low. And attorneys who do nothing but disability cases know how to approach the claim, to maximize the odds that their clients win these claims. They will usually aim for winning 80-95% of the cases they take, so if they take your case, you probably have a solid chance of getting disability.
Therefore, charting SSID, or law suits arguing for disability clients (SSI), is a quick and accurate feedback mechanism for charting the rise of SSI filings.
What Do Psychologists and Other Mental Health Professionals Do?
In the case of those who are filing for mental impairment, they typically fall into those qualifying for SSI, and those qualifying for SSDI. In the agency I worked for, we only took SSI cases, because we only accepted publicly funded insurance.
Those aiming for SSDI will typically want to hire a private diagnostician, rather than go to a public mental health clinic (although many public health clinics take all types of insurance). You want to ask them “How many workman’s comp and SSDI/SSI assessments do you do a year, and do you measure your success rate?” In my agency, we seldom had a client who was ultimately found ineligible (but that may also be due to the multi-problem families we worked with.) I believe there was one in the three years I was there, and that case was currently on appeal.
What to Expect from the Psychologist
Psychologists conduct an interview, and perform a diagnostic assessment. This provides the Social Security Administration (SSA) with psychological testing, such as IQ tests, Projective or neuropsychological instruments, to document the nature and extent of the functional impairment. It is best if the psychologist conducting the evaluation is not the same professional who is treating you on an ongoing basis. Many psychologists do nothing but these types of assessments to be used in disability cases. They know how to write an effective report that meets SSA requirements. A comprehensive psychological report, which clarifies the current diagnosis, and documents functional impairment is required to make a clear case determination.
There are nine diagnostic categories that qualify a person for disability because of mental impairment: Organic mental disorders (12.02); schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders (12.03); affective disorders (12.04); mental retardation (12.05); anxiety-related disorders (12.06); somatoform disorders (12.07); personality disorders (12.08); substance addiction disorders (12.09); and autistic disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders (12.10). Each of these, with the exception of mental retardation and substance addiction disorders, requires both a statement describing the disorder(s), including a set of medical findings such as those diagnostic tests given by the psychologist, and a set of impairment-related functional limitations.
SSI Recipients in ‘Deep Poverty’
The case I’m presenting below isn’t an actual person, but it is a composite description of hundreds of families very similar to Ms. James’, that I supervised over my three years working in the inner city with those in deep poverty. We classify families as living in “deep poverty” if they have three elements: (a) severe poverty – an income less than half the median income for poor families; (b) long term poverty – being poor for 5 years or longer; and (c) concentrated poverty – living in a neighborhood in which 30% of families are poor (Wilson, 2005):
Ruby James, (26 years old), has been out of work for 6 years. She is intelligent, but functionally illiterate and probably has an undiagnosed learning disability. Her children, ages 2, 5 and 7, are all on social security disability (SSI) for various reasons including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism, and physical disability. Each child has a different father. The oldest child’s father, Mr. Clarke is drug addicted, and there is a restraining order against him by Ms. James for domestic violence. The whereabouts of her second child’s father is unknown. The youngest child’s father is in prison.
Ms. James is currently fighting with her mother over custody of her three children. Her mother, Ms. Thompson, has charged that her daughter is an “unfit parent,” as she alleges that there is no food in the house, and that her daughter is once again living with her former partner and father of her oldest child, Mr. Clarke. She further alleges that her daughter sometimes leave the children home at night alone, “to party with friends,” claiming that the 7 year old is left to “babysit.”
Ms. James denies living with Mr. Clarke. She admits that she is clinically depressed, (the basis of her own current disability claim). She is, according to her own report “a caring and devoted mother.” Ms. James counter-alleges that her mother is fighting for custody of her children “only to get their benefits.”
Ms. James’ children’s benefits, in addition to her aid to dependent children, food stamps, public health care, and subsidized housing costs, are her only sources of income.
All-Out War on Black and Hispanic Men
Her boyfriend, Mr. Clarke, is not working, and if he is living with her, he is another drain on an otherwise overtaxed family system. I was left convinced after my three years working in the inner city, that there is an all-out war against Black and Hispanic men in this country. The education they get in this city is abysmal, and the pressure to stay safe by joining gangs is enormous. The availability of decent jobs is negligible. When they could be found, they were often secured by others through nepotism or outright prejudice. Often, the inner-city applicant lacked even the most basic of job skills. As a result, the intact family, where the father is present, caring, and not abusive, is exceptionally rare in this clinic population. Fathers are essentially absent, abusive, or imprisoned. That is the norm. And it convinced me that families need two loving parents.
Domestic Violence a “Bad Reason” to Land in Prison
Ongoing domestic violence is also quite possible, as her mother alleges, and witnessing that violence puts her children, as well as Ms. James, at risk. Women in these communities expect adult men to spend at least some time in prison. Children visit family members in prisons from a young age. Domestic violence, however, is considered a ‘bad reason’ to be there, although it is often tolerated in the relationship. Children also witness violent murders commonly, and attend funerals of loved ones they’ve lost.
It is the traumatic norm.
Ms. James may also be correct that her mother could indeed have complicated reasons, including financial motives, for wanting custody. She’s raising several other grandchildren, is herself on SSI, and feels she “has the time” and greater “skill” to raise her daughters’ children.
A Seriously Broken System Turns Children into Economic Assets
Conservatives rail against this type of social benefit payout, and it has become “politically incorrect” to paint such a dreary portrait of the lives of those living in “deep poverty.” There is no question in my mind that the system is seriously broken, and serves no one well, including the infrastructure of service providers and state workers that now do home-based services. It is a multi-generational problem that needs multi-generational intervention. In a down-turning economy, this help is unlikely to be forthcoming. What we see in this “Culture of SSI” is that this insurance becomes seen as a sole avenue for financial stability, and given how meager this allotment is, families fight over children who have SSI, as valuable economic resources.
Be that as it may, in a time of increasing economic turmoil, and rising costs of living, the inner city is becoming a nastier place to live, and a tough place to work for those charged with helping families like the James’. In my last year at this agency, I saw many more incidents of violence or threats of violence toward clinicians than in any other previous year.
Regularly, I was asked to review psychological testing reports and co-sign paperwork for those being evaluated for mental health disability.
I have come to realize that in contrast to the “Culture of SSI” as a foundation of economic security among the urban poor, many working-class and middle-class families in trouble have no idea how SSDI works, or that they might be eligible for it. There is larger stigma about seeking out mental health services among the working and middle classes than among those in ‘deep poverty.’ This could be a financial mistake.
Those who actively seek treatment when in distress, even if only periodically, create a ‘paper trail,’ which enables them to easily accumulate all of the necessary documentation, should a ‘marked’ impairment in cognitive or psychological functioning arise. Those who are more economically successful, better educated, or have a prior history of unbroken prosperity often wait before they get help.
Take this hypothetical case example:
Ralph Albertson, and his wife, have run a small business from their home successfully for many years. However, during the economic downturn, they were unable to sustain it at a viable level. The couple began first to live off their savings, and finally their retirement income, hoping the economy would “turn around.” The impact to his suffering business took a severe toll on Ralph. He became clinically depressed, and at the urging of his wife, was treated by a psychologist, and referred to a psychiatrist for medication. Despite these interventions, Ralph never fully recovered his capacity to work.
He filed for SSDI.
In order to qualify, he was referred by his treating psychologist to a colleague, who gave Ralph six common psychological tests. His psychologist helped Ralph get his paperwork in order, and contact a disability attorney. Ralph was referred to an attorney, because he was self-employed, and these cases can sometimes be difficult to win. Ralph was granted SSDI, after a long waiting period, and two appeals.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) denies 65 percent of the initial claims filed, and appeals are the norm. It also can take a long time to go through the system, on average two to four years.
This application and income, although not a large amount to the Albertsons, cleared the way to other benefits, such as state offered health insurance, food stamps (SNAP) and fuel assistance, that the Albertsons might not otherwise have been aware they were eligible for.
What does “residual impairment” mean to Ralph, who works in his own business from home?
While Ralph is able to continue working in his business, even after receiving SSDI, and the couple continues to receive monthly income from it, Ralph is no longer as effective as he used to be. Once a capable trouble-shooter of customer complaints, for example, Ralph no longer has the “patience” to cope with these calls. He has had to hire part-time help.
While he has “good periods” where he is feeling hopeful and effective, these are punctuated by deeply depressed mood, where he “talks incessantly about economic, environmental, and energy declines that are”, in his words “sweeping the country,” according to his wife. When he’s better, he’s a tireless worker in his community in the Transition Town movement. When he’s not doing well, he barely functions. During these dark periods, he works actively to manage suicidal thoughts, with the help of his therapist.
How Long Does SSDI or SSI Last?
Ralph is 47. At this age, if he continues to be eligible, he will receive SSDI benefits until his retirement. The Albertsons would prefer to be off of SSDI payments, and have a successful business once again. But Ralph and his wife have found out what many poor recipients have discovered: the jump in their income must be quite substantial, if they are to maintain their current ‘subsidized’ lifestyle. This is no easy task in this economy.
Simple, Sustainable Living
The Albertson’s lifestyle is by no means a lavish one. Most would not even call it a “comfortable” income, but the Albertsons have paid off their modest home many years ago, insulated it well in preparation for tough times, cook from scratch, and for environmental reasons, are not avid consumers or intentional tourists. They even have a wood stove, and harvest their own firewood.
This modest, lower-stress existence has helped Ralph enormously. When his mood, concentration, and attention improves, he is able to work effectively at his desk, and accomplish his work. He will engage easily in meal preparation and housekeeping during these times.
Consistency of Functioning a Key Consideration
These periods of better functioning are not a problem for SSDI, however, because these improvements are not consistent. Consistency in “residual functional capacity” (RFC) is important, to prevent his depression from impacting his ability to do “substantial gainful activity” (SGA). Without his wife and part-time help as back-up, the business would not continue to function, and this has been made clear to SSA.
He demonstrates that need for continued assistance by faithfully attending his therapy appointments, despite these emotional ups and downs. His psychologist is able to give accurate and competent documentation that attests to his need for continued disability payments, when his review comes up every 3-5 years.
“Marked” vs “Extreme” Impairment
Ralph is not a severely impaired individual who is regularly hospitalized for his condition. Social Security Adminstration is clear that this is not a requirement:
“Where we use “marked” as a standard for measuring the degree of limitation, it means more than moderate but less than extreme. A marked limitation may arise when several activities or functions are impaired, or even when only one is impaired, as long as the degree of limitation is such as to interfere seriously with your ability to function independently, appropriately, effectively, and on a sustained basis. See §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a.”
“We do not define “marked” by a specific number of different behaviors in which social functioning is impaired, but by the nature and overall degree of interference with function. For example, if you are highly antagonistic, uncooperative, or hostile but are tolerated by local storekeepers, we may nevertheless find that you have a marked limitation in social functioning because that behavior is not acceptable in other social contexts.”
Stopping the Downward Economic and Psychological Slide
If Ralph’s situation doesn’t sound serious to you, if you feel he is “bilking the system” for benefits, it is likely that your own idea of living in hard economic times is accompanied by an elevated tolerance for depressive symptoms as an “acceptable reality of modern life.” Clearly there is a correlation between depression and stress, as there is between unemployment and increased alcohol consumption. But clinical depression is not the same as feeling “bummed out” or “blue” about a loss of income.
Stop-Gap Answer for an Ongoing, Deteriorating Economic Climate
The question remains how many of us would be as pro-active as the Albertsons and take the steps necessary to contact a professional and seek help in a similar situation? And how many psychotherapists would be familiar enough with the SSDI process, or integrate the necessity of economic help, as part of their treatment plan? In Ralph’s case, that help was not totally successful in alleviating his symptoms, to enable him to return to his previous high-level functioning. If it did, he might have found other ways to generate income for his family, even in these financially challenging times.
However, his lingering depressive symptoms, which impact his capacity to function in this present hostile economic environment, prompted his psychologist to encourage Ralph to consider SSDI, as a stop-gap measure to alleviate his family’s ongoing and deteriorating economic condition. And SSDI was successful in helping Ralph to keep his home, as well as his sanity, intact.
The Shame of Reaching Out
Ralph had steadily paid into FICA, 8.4% of his income, once he became self-employed. Still, it took supportive counseling before Ralph could see that it was the economy, not his entrepreneurial skills, that were failing, and to accept depression as a diagnosable mental disorder, not a personal weakness.
SSDI now serves as a financial support, partially restoring the steady income that both the economy and Ralph’s depression has taken away from him.
Unwillingness to Accept Crippling Emotional Distress
In fact, one might argue that the Albertsons have actually adjusted quite well to their circumstances, by being unwilling to accept Ralph’s depressive symptoms as a “normal” reaction to economic hard times. And there are many indications of this intelligent adjustment to difficult circumstances:
- Ralph is still happily married;
- He’s resisted the lure of abusing drugs or alcohol to cope with his depression, and;
- He has maintained his community contacts.
He should be applauded for being pro-active.
If we were to ask him what he thought of this experience, he might say something like this:
“I wouldn’t recommend depression to anyone. I felt so terrible, I wanted to die to stop it. I can’t see anything positive in my life, past or present, including my wife, when I’m depressed, and I used to take it out on her, but I’ve learned how not to.
She was the one that insisted that I get help. I was resistant because it was the worst possible time to shell out money for something I’d always considered a waste of time and money I was also ashamed of what I considered a personal failure, and the last thing I wanted to do was talk to someone about it. But now I’m glad I did. If I hadn’t, I would have continued like that for… I don’t know how long, and eventually our savings would be gone and we’d have to sell our house. And I’d keep telling myself to “snap out of it,” but I never would. I couldn’t on my own.
I know it sounds bad, but I have more freedom now to live my life in a more normal way. I can respond to the pressures more realistically now, and take a break when I need it. There are some days I sit in the sun or take a long walk, rather than sit in the office, because I that’s all I can do, and I don’t beat myself up over it anymore. And the chunk of money, over $18,000 when it finally came through, after the lawyer was paid, really came in handy.”
Forward Into the Past
There is a time, and many say it is coming soon, when families like the Albertson’s will have no other recourse but to sell their house and remain as destitute as any family once found roaming the country during the 1930’s in search of work, with their possessions loaded onto their station wagon.
But that time is not now.
If you, or someone you know is suffering… is just not getting through the day without enormous effort, encourage them to get them help, and keep careful records, when they do. If their functioning is impacted in a marked and prolonged way, consider disability as a financial, as well as a therapeutic option.
The financial life you save might be your own.
In the past 18 months it has dawned on me that I have been caught in one of the oldest cons in history, the shell game. This shell game is of a different sort. Let’s call this one the Crisis shell game.
In this game each shell is marked with an “E” standing for Energy, Environment, or Economy (which also includes that other “E”, Europe).
The game has been called by a much older name perhaps more fitting; “thimblerig”. The game is rigged and never can be won. The play of the “game” is simple; a pea or small ball is placed under one of three walnut shells, and they are shifted around several times into various orders, so that the person playing has to guess which shell conceals the object. Guess right and you double your money; a wrong guess you lose your money. Usually there are several “bystanders” who the player has just witnessed “win”.
The only problem is that the pea or object is not beneath any shell at all; it has been palmed by sleight of hand early in the game by the game operator. At the end, after the player has guessed the wrong shell, the operator slips the pea, unseen, underneath one of the remaining shells to prove to the player that he simply had picked the wrong shell.
The Crisis shell game is different though; it is played daily with a whole nation of people. Every morning when I look at the news headlines and I see a Crisis “pea” placed under one of the three “E” shells. Then the bystander media, politicians and various gurus rounded up for the day start moving the shells around, while we try to guess which shell the crisis is underneath for that day. All the while, the paid “bystanders” are shouting that the crisis is under this shell or that shell, trying to influence us to make bad choices. If we reach for the shell representing Energy, voices cry out a resounding “NO, we have 100 years of the stuff left”. If we reach for the shell representing Economy, we get another “NO, we are recovering nicely”. Reaching for the third shell representing Environment, we get another “NO, global warming is a political idea, not fact.”
We then find ourselves frustrated, we pick a shell at random, and of course there is no Crisis pea beneath it. The skilled operators of public opinion have hidden the “Crisis pea” and manipulated us to expend our emotional capital. They cleverly place the “Crisis pea” under one of the other shells, with sleight of hand, and tell us that is where our crisis really is for today. After a while, with all the emotional capital expended, the player eventually wanders away to watch whatever reality show is on TV at the moment. The game operator has achieved the goal, separating you from your emotional capital, so you will not come back to question the shell game more closely. Our response is not to research further information about where the “Crisis pea” is really hiding, or if indeed there really is a “Crisis pea”.
The problem with this is that it leaves us deficient of the emotional capital needed if such a crisis is indeed hiding in our future. As skillful as the manipulators are at concealing the “Crisis pea” from us, there will come a point when the “Crisis pea” can no longer be hidden from our view. The greater issue is that we may find in the end that there were indeed crisis peas beneath each one of the shells. When we are confronted with that possibility, it can overwhelm our ability to cope.
What should we do? First realize that the operators of the Crisis shell game are counting on our gullibility and lack of understanding of issues, to sway us to place our emotional capital in the care of one group or another, without asking too many questions. Secondly, they want us trust everything that the “innocent bystanders” are shouting, without question. Thirdly, all shell games have one single purpose; to separate the player from his financial resources. The Crisis shell game will accomplish the very same thing. It allows the manipulators of the game to convince us to place more financial resources out on the table in the form of extra taxes, fees or service costs to accommodate removing the “Crisis pea” from beneath the shells.
At some point when the “Crisis peas” swell to the size of oranges, they can no longer be concealed underneath the shells. The amount of financial resources needed to remove or reduce the “Crisis pea or Crisis peas” will be greater than we can bear. The manipulators of the game will not be able to play the game when any “Crisis pea” becomes too large to palm. The people who played the Crisis shell game and lost will be extremely upset when they realize that the game was rigged.
I think that “Crisis peas” are swelling rapidly underneath all the shells today. The politicians and media are having a harder time moving the peas and shells fast enough to keep us guessing. Many will be confounded when they realize that the rigged game distracted and delayed them from making better choices.
The elections held here and elsewhere after the “Crisis peas” no longer can be hidden will be most interesting.
In the dark ages as a lad, I attended many of the “horror” or “monster” movies of the time. There were such notables as “The Thing”, “Them”, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “Godzilla”, “The Blob”, “The Tingler”, “Kronos”, “The Creature from Beneath the Sea”, and many others. Today’s audiences would consider those movies more comical than horrific because of the crude special effects of that day and time. Today’s audiences require several gallons of fake blood and body parts before the movie can be even remotely considered as a “horror” movie.
But one common ingredient between those movies of yesteryear and today is the same. That is the background music. It alerts our minds that something really sinister is about to happen. The background music is not itself notable, in fact it is notable in that it isn’t really noticed during the movie. Still it is there. As the tension builds in the plot, the music becomes louder and louder, causing us to sit on the edge of the seat, afraid to look, but afraid to turn away. The music tells us subconsciously to stay alert something horrible may happen. Our inner voice wants to yell “Don’t open that door!”, “Don’t get out of the car!”, “Don’t go see what made that noise”. Common sense tells us this is time for flight, not mere curiosity. In the movie world, an expendable actor or actress ventures forth to investigate the noise or phenomena that is just off screen( usually at night). The background music rises almost overwhelming the senses. Then the expendable character sees nothing and the background music goes silent, allowing us to let down our guard. As players begin to return to a place of safety, the monster strikes. Then the music begins to rise again as the previously unknown monster now goes after the stars, who miraculously escape to spread the alarm.
So what does that have to do with “Peak Oil Blues”? Last fall we were being treated to a lot of daily background music that kept rising in volume. The music accompanied some of the visuals we saw in the media. Some was anecdotal about a layoff here, a business closure or failure there, a neighbor whose house was foreclosed, or who lost a job. The music in our minds kept us on the edge of our seats. It seemed like we couldn’t open the newspaper or turn on the TV without some ominous image or story seeming to suggest that a horrible economic or energy monster was about to strike us in our prime. Suggestions of countries collapsing, whole economic systems evaporating right in front of our eyes, leaving us victims of this unfolding horror movie, were daily occurrences. These visions drove the background music to an even louder intensity. You could almost feel the tension in the air tapping you on the shoulder. Anxiety levels were rising along with the background music. The Occupy movement gave evidence that something was wrong.
Then in mid December it happened. What? Nothing! We looked around and the background music had gone silent. No longer was the music rising to the stories of diesel shortages in the northern plains and Canada. No longer did the music accompany the stories of Eurozone collapse, or Chinese economic problems. We breathed a sigh of relief and coasted through the holidays feeling free of worry over what might be out there in the night.
But did the economic and energy monsters really decide that our politicians, technology, and media were a force too formidable and slink off into the night? I don’t think so. Just within the last week noises have begun emanating from the bushes out in the darkness of the future. And the noises were not made by rabbits looking for food. First we heard the noise of the World Bank forecasting that 2012 would make 2008/2009 look like child’s play. Then another bush rustled and we heard the noise of the Nigerian oil industry on strike. And the bushes around the Middle East still continue to rustle. All we can hope for is the monster rustling in the bushes isn’t as large as the sounds it is making in the dark. Perhaps it is a really clumsy monster!
I don’t think the economic and energy monsters have gone back to hiding to plan a new strategy. I think they still remain in the bushes nearby, waiting to pounce at any moment. The old saying over the centuries has been “the calm before the storm”. I think we are now in that calm right before either or both monsters re-emerge to confront us. If you are preparing for this oncoming storm, that is great, you need to redouble your efforts. If you aren’t preparing, you need to start. You can’t effectively battle “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (was the “Black Lagoon” an early reference to a lake of oil??) with a set of car keys and a bunch of nifty cell phone apps.
The silence of the background music during this brief calm should provide incentive sufficient for us to begin or continue to prepare ourselves for less energy, less money, less security, less food, less mobility, less comfort, less convenience, to name a few.
Those who fail to prepare themselves will be the expendable actors in this drama.
2008 Re-Do ?
“There’s not a single Westside station listed here for less than $3.99 a gallon,” said Johnson, a 28-year-old Los Angeles homemaker, after she pulled her Prius into a Mobil station in Santa Monica and found regular gas selling for $4.09 a gallon. “That’s just shocking.” Source
The average price nationwide is now $3.43. The last time we saw prices that high was in October of 2008.
You remember the summer of 2008, don’t you? Here are a sample of news articles:
DALLAS — It’s a scene that gas station workers say is becoming increasingly common and frightening: Customers angry over gas prices nearing $3 a gallon storm in and decide to take it out on the employees.
“They just yell and scream,” said Selam Berhe, assistant manager at a Dallas Tetco station. “They think it’s only us that are high-priced.”
Incidents of consumer anger and gas-station crime have made headlines across the country, including the murders of gas station owners in Alabama and Houston by drivers attempting to steal gas.
Berhe recalled the particularly belligerent behavior of a man who ranted about the prices to everyone in the station.
“He walked in the store and said, ‘Do you work here? This is ridiculous,’ ” Berhe said. “He was telling each and every customer. I was like, I don’t make the prices.” Source
That quote was from August 2005, when Texas gas prices jumped from $1.80 to $2.56 in one year.
I think it’s a rip-off myself, but we can’t do anything about gas prices.” Customer
“Most people seem to deal with the price changes well.” Gas station worker in Manitoba
“We are all optimistic that prices will come down…” “It’s kind of scary,” “I can’t believe it. It’s just horrible.” Source
Across the country, everyone is feeling the dull pain of rising gas prices. “It’s hard to pay for gas when you don’t have a job.”
“For people just to get to work, it’s just too much money altogether,” he said. “We’ve got mortgages and bills and kids to take care of.” The cost to fill the tank on his Hyundai Sonata is “outrageous.”
“You can imagine what the company’s fuel bill is like. I’m putting in 700 litres of diesel and I do this every day,” he said. “Let’s just say they’re not chasing us down the road to give us a raise.” Source
Creeping Poverty on the Expressway
You can say that again.
According to Shadow Statistics, the rate of inflation has ranged from 6-13% per year since 2008. Even using the lowest figure as a yearly base, how many of us are making 18% more than the last time gas prices soared? Most of us have probably lost income over the last three years. The good news is that just 2 percent of companies are planning across-the-board salary freezes in 2011, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and 31 percent in 2009. Still, even those getting pay raises seldom got more than 2.5-3%, and this year will be no different.
The US population has become dramatically poorer as they face into the next petroleum price shock that promise to stay with us for a very long time to come.
It’s $8 a gallon now in Germany, and all appears quiet both there, and in the US.
Any opinions why?
At the height of WWII, Abraham Maslow proposed a “hierarchy of human needs,” often depicted as a pyramid, where it was necessary for one need to be fulfilled in order to meet the next. By the mid-1950’s he had written a book popularizing this same idea. The theory is that lower needs, like food and shelter, capture our attention until they are met. Thereafter, “higher” needs, referred to as “self-actualization,” can then be attained.
Maslow’s notions became popular with marketers at a time when the USA was king. We were one of the few industrialize countries left untouched structurally by the ravages of war. Industry and advancement was an unquestioned good. Oil flowed freely, and the GI Bill offered returning soldiers a chance to take advantage, to “self-actualize,” as they never were able to before.
WWII also gave a tremendous boost to the field of psychology, as many tests were developed to rank, measure, and place thousands of people along an imaginary grid of ability, intelligence, and leadership qualities. In addition, the end of the war also gave a boost to clinical psychologists, who found a new group of patients, left violently impacted by the War, either through their experiences abroad or here at home, and now with new economic resources to spend in order to “better themselves.”
When we no longer had to concentrate on physiological need, the argument went, we humans could begin a journey toward self-discovery. “Safety” (securing your ‘stuff’) could be reached after physiological needs. Once that was secured, “Love and Belonging,” became a need to be realized. This was followed by “Esteem” of self and others, and finally, “Self-Actualization.”
All but the last group were considered building blocks- “D” or deficiency needs, necessary for self-actualization, but arising from deprivation. In contrast, self-actualization needs were “B” or “being” needs, “growth” needs, where notions of morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, freedom from prejudice, and “acceptance of the facts” allowed people to be free of the worry of what others thought, now possessing the capacity to live up to their “true potential.”
The distribution of wealth in the US, at the time Maslow wrote, was dramatically different than today. Today, one percent of the population continues to expand their wealth, while the remaining ninety-nine percent sink, making us now an “Underdeveloping Nation.”
- Does one set of needs have to be met before the next can be satisfied?
- Does one improve one’s marginal existence first, or does developing community facilitate this improved standard of living for all?
- Do we need to secure more “stuff” in order to build community?
- Do poor people lack the capacity for creativity or self-pride?
- If you are “busy putting on your oxygen mask first,” do you forget that a larger system supplied you with that oxygen mask to begin with?
- Is property a more basic need than friendship, family, or sexual intimacy?
- Does sex always precede sexual intimacy?
- If we, in the wealthier countries, have the “foundations” for self-actualization, don’t we have an obligation to lead the rest of the world to do the same?
- If some of us (wealthy/industrialized) have a superior grasp of the “facts” isn’t it our duty to shape reality for the remainder of the planet?
- Are we so certain that bio-systems have no role to play in our self-actualization, that we destroy them without thought?
Development is about people, not about objects. Manfred Max-Neef
These notions of human “nature” have led to increasing poverty throughout the world, not to prosperity and self-actualization. While marketing theories have used Maslow’s work to promote increased consumptive patterns, this approach has resulted in massive debt and ecological devastation.
An alternative view proposed by Manfred Max-Neef, rejects the “hierarchy” notion, choosing instead to focus on a constellation of universal needs that are integrative and additive. These include:
- Idleness (Relax)
- Subsistence (Survive)
- Freedom (Choose)
- Affection (Love)
- Identity (Belong)
- Protection (Protect)
- Understanding (Understand)
- Creation (Create)
- Participation (Stand Up)
Greed should be among those who have nothing. No. The more you have, the more greedy you become… Manfred Max-Neef
Chilean economist Max-Neef, proposed that human needs are few, finite and classifiable.
While the strategies may change in an attempt to meet them, the needs remain constant throughout the world, and at all times throughout history. In sharp contrast to a hierarchy, these needs are interrelated and interactive. This model replaces the notion that humans are driven by insatiable needs for consumption, replacing it with a notion of “satisfiers” which can either be genuine or false.
Max-Neef points out that an attempt to satisfy one need can inhibit or destroy others. For example, an ‘arms race’ satisfies the need for protection, while destroying the need for subsistence, freedom or participation. Materialism can express identity, while removing time for relaxation or subsistence of the biosphere. We have to learn to calculate the real costs of our needs, not just the obvious price-tag.
Formal democracy, which is supposed to meet the need for participation often dis-empowers and alienates; commercial television, while used to satisfy the need for recreation, interferes with understanding, creativity and identity – the examples are everywhere. Source
In contrast to satisfiers that violate or destroy, others are “synergic” where two or more satisfiers cooperate together for an even more gratifying outcome. Think of examples such as preventative medicine, group sing-a-longs, or breastfeeding. Every implementation of a satisfier has to be examined through the lens of its capacity to provide multiple benefits, or antagonisms to other satisfiers. In other words, we need to grasp the trade-offs. An essential feature of needs satisfaction is the evaluation of its benefits and costs.
While Western psychology has had a decidedly individual perspective, that model no longer fits the situation we’re facing. Embracing “Maslow’s Hierarchy” no longer fits the problems we are confronting. We have to get, on a cellular level, that run -away economic growth is no longer a possibility. We either get, or reject, our place in the biosphere. It isn’t some romantic notion. It is preparation for a life that’s dramatically different from the one we are living now.
You learn extraordinary things living among the poor.
” The first thing you learn [from people] in poverty is that there is an enormous creativity. You cannot be an idiot if you want to survive. Every minute you have to be thinking: “What next? What next right now? What can I do here? What’s this? da da da. Your creativity is constant. In addition there are networks of cooperation, mutual aid, all sorts of extraordinary things, which you no longer find in our dominant society. .. which is individualistic, greedy, egotistical, etc.
And sometimes, it is so shocking that you will find people happier in poverty than you would find in your own environment. Which also means that poverty is not just a question of money, it’s a much more complex thing.” Max-Neef Video Here
These are more than the words of an idealist. This is a comprehensive model of human “being”, a psychological view of humans that extend back well before the oil age, and will, if we survive, extend well into the future. Like Max-Neef, I listen to the stories of the poor, stories of survival, creativity, community. Unless we collectively begin to grasp the fundamental nature of this truth, and reject Petroleum-informed models of individualism–a belief that only wealth can bring tolerance and creativity–we will handicap ourselves beyond our imagination.
Over the past year I have been engaged in negotiations with my former employer concerning the amount of my pension. I thought I had an iron clad case. I possessed company documentation from several years back. It clearly specified at the time of the conversion of the plan from a traditional defined benefit plan to a cash balance plan, that if I was over the age of 55 at conversion time, which I was, at retirement you could choose to take the amount of the traditional plan if it were of greater benefit than the cash balance plan would pay. Surprise, surprise. That provision, which was put in place several years ago, was no longer part of the current plan, and as such, my plan documentation was just words on paper, no longer valid. After getting legal counsel, it was obvious that my iron clad case was less durable than wet tissue paper. What I found is pensions are not regulated, and there is no guarantee of benefits until the day you sign to accept your pension. Not only did my company reserve the right to change the pension provisions at will, the practice is widespread throughout the corporate world. Today the pension amount on which I had planned has been drastically reduced from what I thought it to be, to over 40% less than earlier provisions allowed.
I began thinking about how much we assume that something will be valid for us today or in the future. We trust a piece of paper because it seems to promise value long term. Once we start the peak oil decline, how many additional pieces of paper in our lives will continue to deliver value to us personally? As if the proverbial light bulb went on in my brain, I began to realize that I had structured some of my life around promises on paper that may not be sustainable in a declining economic/energy environment.
In my wallet are pieces of paper we commonly call money. Eighty years ago, one could take a five dollar bill to the bank and exchange it for a five dollar gold coin. That ability was removed by more words on paper that eliminated the possibility of your owning gold during the depression. The dollar remained tied to the fixed price of gold until the early 1970s, when that connection was broken by more words on paper. The dollar in my wallet was still a valid measure of value as long as the people regulating the monetary supply maintained accurate tools to measure and regulate the supply. Now it seems that the regulators have begun flooding the economic system with more dollars in an effort to restart something that may not be restartable. Today I am not so sure that the piece of paper in my wallet will mean the same thing 3 years from now.
Also in my wallet are insurance cards for auto, health and life coverage. Insurance is predicated on taking in premiums on policies, investing those premiums, and paying off claims when they arise. Their business model is for the economy on average to continue growing, so that ongoing investments will continue to provide sufficient income to cover the cost of claims and corporate operations. I don’t know that they have a business model for the continually declining economic environment that will accompany energy decline. Does this mean that you shouldn’t carry insurance? Absolutely not. But you need to think in a different way about the promises on paper. You shouldn’t live today without setting aside tangible assets for tomorrow. Depending upon words on paper to sufficiently support you tomorrow may be a faulty assumption.
Look about your lives today and ask the difficult questions. How much are you planning your future based upon man made promises on paper, that may not materialize, or may be severely devalued when you reach your point of greatest need?
I will personally continue living utilizing all the value derived from the words on paper for as long as it lasts, but I am formulating plan B just in case it doesn’t. It may be in the future the only paper conveying value may be toilet paper; you may be able to trade a roll of it for something you really need!
How to Be Maladaptive: Fourteen Tips for Mental Activities Guaranteed to Enhance your Misery during Bad Times
Those who learn about Peak Oil, climate change, and economic hard times show a series of short-lived symptoms of stress over several months, but these are normal and expected reactions to these stunning findings. Roughly 50-60% of adults in North America are exposed to traumatic events, but only 5% to 10% develop maladjusted PTSD and related problems. What sorts of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors promote the development of longer-term traumatic reactions? Read on:
1. Mess with your sense of agency:
Put yourself into double-binds where you are either totally responsible for everything that happens to you or totally helpless to modify the course of events.
“I’m Totally Responsible!”
If you choose this route, you should entertain any and all thoughts that suggest your culpability and negligence or that will intensify your feelings of guilt and shame: “I should never have gotten into so much debt! What could I have been thinking?!? I am such a loser!”
Let others in on your asinine behavior, prepping them with lines such as “wasn’t that really stupid of me?” Choose people (such as those who hate debt) who will be more than happy to assist you in believing that you are, indeed, a loser, lazy or stupid. Their help will reinforce your thinking, making this a particularly easy option to accomplish.
“I have no control!”
Or, if you prefer to be totally helpless, repeat “I have no control over anything,” whenever you begin to feel a sense of direction, possibility, or purpose. This should be repeated like a mantra. “I have no control over anything. I have no control over my feelings or thoughts. I have no control over my actions. I have no control over (fill in the blank.)” Focus on ignoring the basics that are most impactful to people right after a disaster, such as food, water, shelter, coordinating the reunification with loved ones, and health care supplies. Don’t think out possible outcomes, alternatives, and the like. Remain as ignorant as possible to the areas of control you do have.
2. Perfect your paranoia:
Don’t let down your guard! Be hyper-vigilant, ruminating, and brooding.
3. Focus on the personal “unfairness” of the situation:
Make yourself the victim:
“I’m a walking target!” “Other people have it better than I do. Why is my life so much worse than everybody else’s?” “Why do I have to have problems other people don’t have to have?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why me?” “Why now?”
Look at others whose situations appear better than yours and envy or blame them. “That jackass! He’s an idiot! What did he do to deserve a doomer retreat in the hills and a Prius while here I am stuck in a crappy suburb driving a gas-guzzling SUV?” You have to be capable of lots of self-deception to do this one well; rationality is your enemy. If they have no retirement accounts, resent them that they’ve got nothing to lose if the market crashes. “Ya, sure. It is easy for them. They’ve never had anything to lose, so what do they care!”
If you have ever engaged in sports or watched them on TV, you will have incorporated the winners and losers mentality, the competitive drive, which will assist you in this endeavor. Just feel your “Inner Loser;” this will motivate you to feel victimized, because after all, we all want and deserve to be winners.
Believe nothing positive will result from the experience.
4. Assume you are worthless or incompetent:
Emphasize how incapable you are of dealing with the new reality and how you can’t rely on yourself for anything. Reiterate over and over that you have no skills and couldn’t, for example, grow a garden if your life depended on it (and when you realize your life does depend on it, go on to Number 5).
Believe that anything you do to try to mitigate the effect of hard times will be inadequate, wrong-headed, and counterproductive. See yourself as continually vulnerable and dwell on how your inability to cope will bring you and your family to the brink of utter destruction and beyond.
Reject any attempts at goal-setting as fruitless and if you do make a “Goal, Plan, Do, Check” approach, lose the list or don’t follow through with it.
5. Engage in “head in the sand” behavior:
Persistently pine for the days when you were ignorant of what was coming and believe that this ignorance was bliss.
Better yet, refuse to believe any evidence of current financial, cultural, political, or environmental degradation or devolution. When you have to come up for air, be sure to keep your eyes and ears covered; after all, as long as you can’t see or hear it, it is not a reality in your world. TV is safe to watch, even the nightly news.
6. Don’t allow yourself to feel bad:
Instead, medicate stress
Drugs, alcohol, sleep, or lots of ice cream (or chocolate, if you prefer) and any other avoidant behaviors you can devise. Then, assume that you are overreacting to the stress that everyone else is effectively coping with better than you. Use more drugs, alcohol, sleep, and sweets to keep yourself from feeling bad about that. You will have bought into a perfect circle of feeling bad, self-medicating, feeling bad, self-medicating…
Ignore relaxation-based interventions such as controlled breathing techniques or mindfulness strategies that have proven to be effective. Ignore your ‘body wisdom.’
7. Focus on what other people think of you:
Be preoccupied with their opinions of you and be sure to assume the worst.
If there are people in your life who think well of you, you must discount their opinions, cut them short, reject a complement, look down, and walk away with a scowl. It should be obvious they either don’t know you very well or they aren’t very bright. If they do know you well and they are bright, assume you have hidden the worst from them. Focus on the people in your life who you imagine think badly about you; hyper-focus on them. Then, be angry or rejecting toward them for what you imagine they must be thinking. As you acquire more evidence for their negative opinions, obsess even more. And, finally, allow what you imagine they think of you to dictate your behavior, so that you are acting counter to your own intuitions and truths. This will help to divorce you from your internal beacon of what is right or wrong and will cause you to flounder about in indecision and confusion. It will cause you to distrust yourself. It will also help to deaden you emotionally.
8. Project future doom:
No matter how bad things get, always assume the worst is yet to come.
If you still have a job, imagine joblessness. If you still have family who love you, imagine their death or abandonment. If you are hungry, imagine starvation will soon kill you. If you are cold, assume you’ll freeze to death.
This is the slippery slope option. Climb up and start on down. Make no distinction between “then and there” and “here and now.” Overgeneralize. Assume an endless state of doom, a huge on-going collapse that will keep you in a permanent state of terror. See yourself as the father in the movie “The Road” who never reaches the coast. Imagine not only what might happen, but how you will be particularly susceptible, vulnerable, AND helpless to impact it. Don’t try to rein in your imaginings; really let yourself go. Share these flights of fantasy with your nearest and dearest, especially those with tender sensitivities. This will hasten your abandonment and bring you evidence that you are right. And it is always nice to be proven correct.
9. Convince yourself that you are on your own:
Assume no one is safe, predictable, or trustworthy, especially those closest to you.
Include your spouse, relatives, and best friends. Better yet, assume that everyone is acting against your best interests. Give no one the benefit of the doubt. Twist something you overheard into a damaging accusation of you. Be courageous in your convictions. If you can find no bad intentions or untrustworthiness, you can at least believe that everyone around you is stupid and/or ignorant and makes bad decisions, so that you would be unsafe if you followed their ideas or advice. I mean, chances are excellent that those closest to you are incompetent and worthless, since they are associating with you, so that makes it doubly imperative that you rely on no one but yourself. And, I know there must be some people of your close acquaintance who are moody, volatile, changeable, and just flat out wacky. Assume you must come up with all the answers by yourself, must do all the work yourself, are all alone in the midst of a maelstrom with no anchor.
Ignore those who have survived hard times and don’t listen to their accounts of how they felt and what they did to survive. Grieve and memorialize in private, assuming no one could possibly help you by engaging in social problem-solving or exploring meaning.
10. Be vigilant against change:
Believe nothing good will come from any attempt to improve any situation.
Counteract any thought that there could be positive benefits from making changes by projecting even worse outcomes for those actions. Be vigilant. Vigilance in this instance implies rigidity. Stand unbending; do not sway in the breeze like a tree. Rigidity means not just rigidity of posture; it means not just rigidity of action; it also means rigidity of thought. Keep your same beliefs, your same opinions, your same values, your same routines, your same activities, your same skills, your same abilities regardless of what changes in your outer world. After all, those changes are always for the worst, aren’t they? You’ve got plenty of evidence for that; just marshal your data and start spouting. It follows, does it not…that change is a bad idea in ALL instances? Rigidity is the way of the vigilant future warrior who makes war against the future.
11. Be guided by meaninglessness:
Believe that life has lost all meaning and value.
Most of us have some family or cultural history, and some have religious faith to bolster our self-confidence. Reject these as meaningless to the situation at hand. Assume your higher power has rejected you. Wallow in depressive “What’s the use?” thoughts while lying on your bed and staring at the mottled ceiling. Count the cobwebs in the corners. When your loved ones try to roust you out of bed, tell them to leave you alone; fight with them; drive them away. If you are of a studious inclination, read Nietzsche; embrace nihilism; throw out your moral principles; lose faith in everything. Or, alternatively, if you haven’t got the energy to give up, watch TV. The twin goals of propaganda and distraction will dull you. Embrace shallowness, and allow meaninglessness to permeate your environment and your thinking.
12. Perfect the fine art of blame:
Whenever anything bad happens, don’t waste your time trying to come up with solutions; instead, ask whose fault it is.
Blame others by actively targeting your anger. Whose fault is it? The government’s fault? The oil companies’? The corporations’? Your employer’s? Your in-laws’? Your spouse’s fault? You can while away many happy hours in this pursuit. Surround yourself with other people who share your villain, so you can reinforce each other’s beliefs. “Those g-damn mother-f-king sons a-itches! If it weren’t for them, we’d still have a good life. We’d still have jobs; we’d still have houses; we wouldn’t be living in this tent city waiting for the next measly food hand-out.”
But, in the sad event that you can find no one else to blame, turn your hand around and point your finger at yourself; at least that way, you can feel guilt, shame, and humiliation and won’t lose out entirely. Whatever you do, don’t plan to take any action or cause any trouble. Just complain. It’s easier and safer.
13. Shun social support:
When facing crises, deny to others that you are experiencing any negative feelings. Make up weird excuses as to why you are crying, kicking things, refusing to leave your room. If you get on a weirdness loop and stay on it, you will soon feel really crazy, and then you will act crazier, and then you will feel even crazier and, well, you get the picture. Or, alternatively, blurt out your feelings and thoughts without regard to the setting, picking the most unsupportive people to confide in, thus guaranteeing that they will fail to understand or empathize with you.
Cultivate an air of indifference, criticism, and “you’re an idiot” reactions to others. When they act in like manner to you, use that as evidence that you were correct in your loner stance.
Don’t tell your story about what happened to you and how you felt about it. Assume you have nothing to learn from others and nothing to offer them.
14. Control every emotion & thought or none of them:
Actively attempt to control all unwanted thoughts either by dissociation, suppression, by engaging in repetitive undoing behaviors, or through magical thinking. Alternatively, lose it emotionally.
Think positively no matter how negative the situation may seem. Let nothing less than perfect sunshine enter your consciousness. Use addictive substances, if necessary, to paint reality with a rosy glow; stick with your normal routine even though, by any objective standards, it has become irrelevant; continue to believe nothing bad can happen as long as you don’t believe it can. Assume you are going crazy if you are unable to dissociate, suppress, or otherwise keep at bay these unwanted thoughts. At all costs, refuse to think about the possibility of lack of abundance, discomfort, deprivation, insecurity, pain, disease, or the death of yourself or a loved one.
Refuse to come to terms with any aspect of reality; this might lead to living in the here and now and enjoying the time you have, which is certainly not maladaptive behavior and, therefore, cannot be allowed.
If you can’t control all of your thoughts and emotions, try to control none of them. Model emotional dis-regulation. Laugh hysterically; then, cry pitifully. Demand attention for no real reason. Make a nuisance out of yourself by taxing everyone’s patience and then crying out “Everybody’s mad at me!” Freak out under pressure, lose it over the slightest difficulty. (“We’re all going to DIE!) Refuse to accept what is right in front of you and show little tolerance for things not being perfect. Focus on the past or the future, but don’t focus on what is immediately in front of you. When things begin to calm down, stir them up again by doing dangerous or thrill-seeking or sensation-seeking actions because “nothing matters anyway…”
But if you aren’t really into being miserable…
In a real crisis, survivors keep their heads while other people are losing theirs. They set important personal goals and take incremental, purposeful actions to achieve them. They not only offer help to other people, but they seek help themselves when they need it. They engage in acts of kindness, connect with others, and don’t reject help. They tell themselves they can get through it, while acknowledging full well that they may not make it. They believe in themselves. They see all experience as offering them something they can learn from. They aren’t afraid to look at awful feelings, the worst in themselves, and still believe in the best they have to offer. They actively prepare themselves for what they can realistically do, and prepare to the best of their abilities, incrementally. They aren’t afraid of change, because they accept that it it inevitable. They savor daily pleasures that they never knew were valuable before the disaster. They see the disaster as having unexpected benefits like bringing people closer, accepting responsibility for other people, recognizing their personal limitations, and how things could have been worse than they turned out to be. What is important to them changes. They see new possibilities and goals to work on. They learn about strengths they never knew they had, and chose life instead of death. They don’t see themselves as ‘victims,’ and they don’t expect other people to rescue them. They see their survival as having a purpose, and accept the responsibility to keep alive the memories and stories of those who did not make it. They don’t see themselves as heroes or villains even when they did heroic or less than positive things. They can put to words or in some other form of expression what happened to them without minimizing or hiding important parts. They have learned how to be compassionate with themselves as well as others. Their religious beliefs have been strengthened, not weakened, and they appreciate their lives more than ever before.
Footnote: Donald Meichenbaum, professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, wrote a great article on resilience in children and adults facing traumatic situations. This post owes major credit from his section “A Constructive Narrative Perspective of Persistent PTSD.”
In order to effectively explore family mental health within the context of Peak Oil, climate change and economic collapse, one important aspect is family household finances. Examining a family’s household finances, involves encouraging members to look at their priorities and how they go about making vital life decisions. How we develop our notions about money is most often as a result of, or in reaction to, the lessons taught to us by our families-of-origin.
In this blog entry, I’ll introduce a list of questions you might consider asking yourself or writing and reflect on, involving what sort of messages you got growing up about money. These questions are useful to consider whether you are now economically stable or you’re currently facing hard times.
Communication about Money
1. Does my family-of origin talk about money? Not talk about money?
- Karen’s family never spoke about money directly. The only time she ever heard it referred to was when her father would insult someone’s poor manners for bringing it up. In her current relationship, it is tough to talk to her husband about her changing concerns about money now that she has become Peak Oil aware. She feels like it somehow makes her “crass” for wanting to make this the focus of a serious conversation, and she’d be better to just make the right decisions on her own, without ‘making it a federal case.’ Nevertheless, her husband is often angry at her for making decisions about money he doesn’t agree with and wants to know why she didn’t bring it to him first to discuss it.
2. If my family talks about money, is it only with certain people? In certain contexts? In certain ways? Is this different for men and for women?
- In Jacob’s family, his father is the ‘expert’ about money, and the extended family would often consult him and ask for his advice. HIs wife is outraged that Jacob will bring their most intimate household financial decisions to his father, and often implements them without consulting her about her opinion. Jacob replies that he is only asking for his father’s ‘advice’ and, deep down, is insulted that his wife is questioning his own financial acumen. No one, especially not Jacob’s mother, would question his father’s authority about money management.
3. Do people in my family fight about money either directly or indirectly? Is this different for men and for women?
- Every Christmas, Clare’s parents had a major blow-out. It wasn’t until much later in life that Clare realized that it had something to do with the lavish toys and gifts her mother bought everyone for the holidays.
4. What is the value and meaning of money in my family? (e.g., self-esteem, ‘dirty,’ power/control, success, etc.) Are values different for men and for women?
- Despite having substantial savings, Tom never refused the chance to work overtime in his company. For him, making as much money as possible was his way of demonstrating his love for his family, and proving his own self-worth. As a result, Tom had very little time to enjoy getting to know his children or his wife, and complained that they treated him “like a paycheck” and nothing more.
5. Does my family worry about not having enough? If so, is this “reality” based or would they worry regardless of how much they have? (“deprivation mentality”) Is this different for men and for women?
Harry’s father often talked about ‘being broke,’ but at other times would demonstrate his wealth by purchasing an expensive cars or gift for his co-workers. It was always unclear to Harry just how much money his family had, because his father got angry at the grocery bill, but at other times, spontaneously took the family out to dinner.
6. Did I believe that my parents could buy me anything I really wanted and needed?
- Jenna never had to work for money while she was in college. Her parents wanted her to concentrate on her studies, and provided her with spending money whenever she asked for it. While she never ‘abused the privilege,’ she always had the sense that she could have received a lot more, if she needed it.
7. Did I associate money with not seeing either of my parents because they were earning money?
- Michael seldom saw his father because he was “always working.” When his father died, the substantial inheritance his father left to him, sent Michael into a depression, and a deep longing for the man he never knew.
8. (If applicable) Did money impact my parents when they got divorced? Was I triangulated between my parents about money? Did I believe one of my parents was wealthier than the other and “withheld” money that was rightfully due to the other parent?
- Kelly loved her father but felt guilty for wanting to stay with him during school holidays and over the summer. Her father had remarried, and at his home, Kelly had her own room, use of a car, and other things that would be unaffordable ‘luxuries’ at her mother’s apartment. Her mother often complained that her father was “cheap” and didn’t give her enough money to live on. Kelly felt that in some way, she was getting the wealth that her mother should be getting.
9. How do members of my family think about:
- a. Public service vs. self-interest
- b. Promptness vs. procrastination re: bill paying on time
- c. Hard work vs. indulgence/”entitlement”
- d. Busyness vs. leisure time
- e. Consumerism vs. thrift and preservation
- f. Entrepreneurial vs. salaried employment
- g. Risk taking (financial/other) vs. safety
- h. Work/money as a way of defining successful self
- i. Self-made vs. indulged
- j. Budgeted vs. unplanned use of money
10. Are any of the above different for men and for women?
- Frank worked all through high school to afford a car, while his younger sister, Margie, was given a brand new car by her parents, who even paid for her auto insurance.
11. How would my family define their socioeconomic level?
- Bill’s family called themselves ‘middle class’ though they rented an apartment in a working-class neighborhood, drove used cars, and both had a high school education and manual labor jobs. His parents thought Bill was ‘wasting his time’ wanting to go to college and would not fill out financial aid forms, despite being qualified to receive it.
12. Does my family live within its means? Is this different for men and for women?
- Hank believed that he was from a financially successful family until his father died and his mother was forced to sell the house and move into an apartment. Hank realized that both of his parents had been living deeply in debt, and the news shocked him.
13. Do any of the following kinds of money conversations with my family currently (or historically) make me anxious:
- a. How much I make
- b. How much any other family member makes
- c. How much I spend
- d. How much any other family member spends
- e. How I make money
- Oscar was taken aback the first time his father-in-law asked him how much he made in income each year. He realized that this wasn’t a question his own father would ever ask him, and was uncomfortable answering it.
Tina refused to loan her little brother any more money until he accounted for the money she had already lent him. Her brother felt she had no right to that information because it was “his business.”
14. Do men and women in my family react differently in conversations about the above topics?
Megan’s mother acted “like an idiot” when the subject of money came up in ‘mixed company.’ This was in spite of her being the person successfully keeping the financial books in the family business.
15. Who controls the money in my family-of-origin?
Larry’s father kept his mother on a “shoe-string” food. She complained to Larry about it and about how upset she was at not being able to serve “decent meals” in her “gourmet kitchen.”
16. Is money used to cushion against loss? Demonstrate equality? Handle anger? Is this different for men and for women?
- When Zach’s parents died, each sibling received the exact same amount of money from the inheritance.
17. Did I have an allowance as a kid? Was it automatic or did I have to do chores to earn it? How strict were my parents regarding money earned? What was I expected to pay for with my allowance and what came with being a member of my family?
Bernadette was from a wealthy family and attended a private school some distance from her home. Each week-end, as her driver took her home, she wrote up her “expense account summary” demonstrating, to the penny, how she had used her allowance. This was expected of her before she would receive her next weekly sum.
18. Did I have more or less money as a kid than my peers? Did it set me apart?
- Peter’s parents were both teachers that highly valued education, so had saved to send him to a private school. While they dressed him appropriately, he did not wear designer clothes like his peers, own a car, and his family didn’t travel to warm climates on school breaks or ski in Aspen like his peers.
19. Are any of my siblings on ‘Economic Life Support?’
- Rebbecca’s sister was given the down-payment by her parents to buy her first home, they helped her furnish it with “decent” furniture, and helped her when she fell behind in her car payments. Her sister’s husband was given a job in the family business, and they both attended Sunday dinners with her folks. Rebbecca was offered many of the same benefits, but considered her sister “a kept woman” and could see how her father treated her sister’s husband (like a ‘door mat.’), so refused their help.
20. Am I protecting someone in my family by either minimizing my success or protecting them by not being as successful as I’m able?
- Kevin was considered the ‘loser’ in his family, despite having an advanced degree, a nice home, substantial savings and a loving family. His brother, the “success story,” in fact, had a substance abuse problem, and was often unemployed, but when he
- work was in a “flashy” business and would brag about how “well connected” he was.
21. If I were more successful or advertised my success more, how would family members respond? Are rules about advertising success different for men and for women?
- Samantha seldom referred to herself as a ‘doctor,’ or offered medical advice, despite her medical degree. She felt it would be ‘inappropriate,’ and her siblings were not above telling Sam how ‘entitled’ she was and how she thought she was ‘better than’ they were.
22. Have I generally worked harder than my siblings? My parents? Less hard? About the same?
- Walter’s three jobs supported not only his own family, but helped out his parents and siblings as well. Walter often got into fights with his wife about this, because she believed that nobody in his extended family tried very hard to get ahead, and expected to be bailed out by Walter whenever they got into a financial jam.
23. If members of my family knew everything about the way I earn, spend and manage money, what would they be pleased with? Upset or disapprove of? Is this different for men and for women in my family of origin?
- Derek’s family mocked him for his Peak Oil preparations, and overtly asked him whether he had better things to spend his money and time on than gardening? They seemed offended that he refused to go on vacation with them, and believed that if he’s “stop spending his money on foolishness” that he’d be able to “really enjoy himself” as they did. Derek realized that if his family knew the extent of his preparations, he’d get a lot more “grief.”
24. Are there obligations connected with money/success? Are these different for men and for women?
- Despite not liking the neighborhood, Bok felt obligated to live there because it fit his station in life. He was upset to realize that his choice of house, car, dress, even his wife (!) was dictated by his level of financial success, instead of his personal preferences.
25. Does my sibling position affect my or my family’s expectations of me regarding money/success? Have I gotten less or more than other siblings because of this position?
Everyone expected George to be an accountant like his father and to conduct his life much the same way. He was almost finished with his license before he realized that he hated the idea of working with numbers, and dramatically changed direction, much to the horror of his parents.
26. How much support/sabotage did I get in my family for autonomous decision making? Was this different for men/women?
- While Ginny’s parents claimed to be supportive of her getting a college degree, they “forgot” to pay her first semester’s tuition, and expected her to live at home, despite the fact that the college was a 4 hour drive.
Fredrick could choose to wear any of the clothes his mother had purchased for him. If he purchased his own clothes, they would ‘disappear’ shortly after washing.
Next post: How does money affect us today?
Fewer and fewer people are happily employed, according to Derek Bok, former President of Harvard, in his latest book. The only thing Americans hate more than working is commuting, but when he considers how we can get happier, he suggests doing less of neither. Being an unhappy worker seems to be a normal, natural condition, but is it? Our hidden history of working together says it is not.
Part of the puzzle in figuring out why income alone doesn’t make people jolly can be resolved by examining the active protests that happened when Americans moved from being self-employed to becoming employees. The revolt is part of the hidden history of cooperatives and communialism in America, written in a riveting book by John Curl called “For All the People.” This book goes a long way to answer the question of what people did during times of trouble.
A funny thing happens on the way down the limited resources slide: People get increasingly greedy or people become more cooperative, collective and communal.
Think of it this way: we’d have pretty dumb genes if, in a group of 100 people, we were all looking to be ‘top dog.’ What we truly despise is being ‘bottom dog.’
Today, few people understand the meaning of my tee-shirt that reads: “Work is the blackmail of survival.” Today, we understand that “work” means “employment.” This would not have been so two hundred years ago.
For the American living before 1800, a ‘wage slave’ was a mere step removed from an actual slave. To be an employee was one step above indentured servitude. You did it when necessity demanded, but only for as short a period of time as possible, and then returned to become more independent—your own boss.
The story of how we became ‘wage slaves,’ and the multiple revolts against this station, is a fascinating one, and part of our ‘untold history.’
In 1800, few worked as wage-earners. By 1870, over half the workforce were employees; by 1940, over 80% worked for someone else and in 2007, 92% accepted a salary. If increasing wages don’t satisfy us, it is, perhaps, because deep within our souls we recognize the fact that ‘wage slave’ is a ‘low dog’ position, a vulnerable and dependent state.
A wage slave is “someone who feels compelled to work in return for wages in order to survive.” The notion that wage work is coerced by social conditions, and is actually a form of slavery, is a notion that arose early in the transformation of wage-earning, 1836, as women in Lowell became millworkers.
From that point onward, “early American workers planned to accomplish their liberation from wage slavery by substituting for it a system based on cooperative work and by constructing parallel institutions that would supersede the institutions of the wage system.” Curl p.3
By the 1880’s the population had reached 50 million, and by 1886, 1 in 12 wage-earners over 15 years old (1 million) were members of the Knights of Labor. Their goal was not simply to improve working conditions and wages, but “to raise members out of wage slavery entirely.” Opposition to wages took the form of protective and mutual –aid organizations, including unions, cooperatives, and parties.
Farmers were an essential aspect of this movement. After the Civil War, many small farmers:
“…effectively became financial captives to the railroads, middlemen and bankers, with most of their land in mortgage. To fight back the greatest farmer associations of the 19th century—the National Grange in the 1870’s and the Farmers’ Alliance in the late 1880’s—also organized extensive cooperative networks that today would be considered counter-institutional.”
The Farmer’s alliance had “over three million members, opened the first of an extensive network of cooperatives that they planned as the agricultural backbone of a newly structured cooperative economic system.” They were, in the words of historian Michael Schwartz, “the most ambitious counter-institutions ever undertaken by an American protest movement.” Curl, p. 5.
When the Great Depression fell upon the American public, Self-Help organizations sprang up as a “spontaneous mass movement” and became a part of daily life for many people. By the end of 1932, there were self-help organizations in over 37 states with 300,000 members (equivalent to 2.1 million people today). Their work involved direct exchanges of goods and services (partially in cash), cooperative production for sale or trade. The largest group, in Seattle, WA, the Unemployed Citizens League (UCL) had twenty-two local commissaries around the city where food and firewood was available for exchange for every type of service and commodity from home repairs to doctors bills. Local farmers gave unmarketable fruits and vegetables over to their members to pick and people gained the right to cut firewood on scrub timberland.
In Pennsylvania, not a jury in the state was willing to convict the 20,000 unemployed miners who formed cooperative teams and trucked out and sold coal on company property. Company police attempting to stop them were met with force.
Today, over 120 million people in the US are members of 48,000 cooperatives, about 40% of the population. Yet, remarkably, there are only 300 worker cooperative businesses.
We stand on the cusp of one of the bleakest periods in human history when the bright lights of a civilization blink out and we will descend for decades, if not centuries, into barbarity. The elites have successfully convinced us that we no longer have the capacity to understand the revealed truths presented before us or to fight back against the chaos caused by economic and environmental catastrophe. As long as the mass of bewildered and frightened people, fed images that permit them to perpetually hallucinate, exist in this state of barbarism, they may periodically strike out with a blind fury against increased state repression, widespread poverty and food shortages. But they will lack the ability and self-confidence to challenge in big and small ways the structures of control. The fantasy of widespread popular revolts and mass movements breaking the hegemony of the corporate state is just that – a fantasy. Chris Hedges
“Worker cooperatives offer a way for people to get out of the boss system entirely, and to reorganize their lives on a different basis. They still offer this today. They proffer group self-employment to people without the resources to start a business alone. They empower their members through internal democracy and increased job security in place of the typical hierarchical command. Cooperatives provide innumerable goods and services at cost. Beyond the benefits to the lives of the individual members, worker cooperatives–and all cooperatives–offer numerous other benefits to community and society.” Curl
Is the rarity of worker cooperatives a natural outcome of global capitalism or was it destroyed by a coordinated effort by those in opposition to this form of business? Read For All People for one answer. One thing is sure: as the price of oil continues to rise, we’ll have decisions to make about how we want to spend our time and provide for our needs.
As we consider the possibilities, we can take heart that we have a long history of rejecting or reluctantly accepting the role of “employee”.
Our Daily Bread
Unable to secure Hollywood-studio backing for his Depression-era agrarian drama Our Daily Bread, director King Vidor financed the picture himself, with the eleventh-hour assistance of Charles Chaplin. It demonstrated this spirit in a fictional rendition called “Our Daily Bread.” This film clip will give you a flavor for the kind of spirit that captured the cooperative movement during the Great Depression here or the entire film here.
If you enjoy that movie, you may want to purchase the film which also contains numerous other shorts about actual cooperatives and environmental damage that contributed to the Great Depression.
Here’s a link.
The revolution has not been televised or written in our history books. It will not be televised or written about in the future, unless we do so. If you want to see change, you have to join others who are collectively making it.
For your own selfish reasons.
For your own collective ends.
My next post questions the notion of the “Selfish Gene.” Are we biologically selfish, or is this a misunderstanding of Dawin’s work on sexual selection? Stay tuned.