Getting beyond my Göring Moment

14 Oct

They say that during the final days of the war, Hermann Wilhelm Göring spent his time ingesting vast quantities of morphine and frisking in a big bucket of jewels.  As the sociopathic illusions of the 4th Reich came crashing down around the Nazi elite, Göring secured comfort by immersing himself in the most luxurious environment he could assemble.  As I sit, glued to the news, witnessing an unprecedented collapse of the world as I have always known it I have an uneasy feeling that I am having my own Göring moment.

On my return trip to Vancouver I got upgraded to First Class.   This was either divine intervention or (more likely) due to the persuasive talents of Mandi in our office.  Either way, I’m generally more of an economy class type.  I strive for the added 4 inches of legroom that the bulkhead offers but I’m usually reluctant to spend my investors’ money on my own pampering.

On this trip I got lucky. 

As I follow the world’s implosion I find it disquieting to be surrounded by such luxury.  This is the kind of experience that can fuck you up.  After a while you find yourself getting frustrated that the extendable leg rest doesn’t automatically move out faster, that the selection of free newspapers is woefully inadequate, that the business class lounge simply won’t due.  The life of a first class traveler comes complete with airline issue pajamas, all you can drink, eat and read pre flight and during your trip. In the lounge, Elite Traveler Magazine provides a guidebook for the super wealthy.  Find out where you should buy your custom yacht (forget that mass produced crap).  And never mind all that nonsense about lining up to get on board.  With my newfound status the line-ups were short and the ticket people were much better looking.   I could get used to this.

The thing is, you do get used to it.  Henry Ford once said that money doesn’t change a person, it unmasks him.  He’s right.   When I was living through the Web 1.0 bubble I knew many people who rode the journey from pauper to multi-millionaire.  If you’ve ever seen this happen you’ll recognize the calm gaze that comes upon a person who’s made this transition.   In an instant, the mundane, middle class woes of having to make a living, to be accountable to someone else, to hold down a job, to dread financial hardship all evaporate and expose, below the surface, the serene, transcendent glow of someone untroubled and detached from the perils of life as most of us know it.

And as I sit in First Class, am waited on, provided with fine food, a selection of wine, and perhaps some dessert (the lemon sponge I am told is excellent) I am reminded of another bubble.  This is the bubble of luxury that insulates one from the threats of home loss, job loss, insolvency and all the petty things that consume the mental space of Joe six-pack.

Recently I heard about a service suitable for very few of us.  With said service you can easily avoid the hassles of potential catastrophe.  If there’s a hurricane headed your way or a brush fire burning out of control, put your mind at rest.  The private jet will soon be at an airport ready to whisk you off to a tropical getaway while the whole thing gets sorted out.  And don’t fret about your spectacular home.  It will be covered in fire retarding foam by private fire fighters and protect it from the crude, trashy flames.  (Smoldering remains are so ghetto.) You will be saved and it’ll give you time to get that mani’ you’ve been putting off.

This is the bubble that is so seductive and blinding in its opulence.  This is the bubble that all of us in the western world have been mortgaging our future and maxing our credit cards to climb into.   This is the world of conspicuous consumption that has driven us to borrow record dollars so that we can feed our insatiable appetite for better service and a higher quality of luxury.  And this is what has undermined us because the future is now and we mortgaged it yesterday.  Instead of investing in productivity and building real wealth we have amused, entertained and pampered ourselves into believing that we are better and richer than we really are. 

We have established a system of economic apartheid with ourselves on the good side of the wall but we’ve cheated our way into the zone of privilege.  And now that wall is coming down: the bubble has popped.  We have lost the instruments of derivation, the generous credit, the loans from China, the laundered morality of offshore slave labour that built our televisions.  We may yet lose more. 

As the leader of the free world recently said, ‘This sucker could go down’.  But this sucker will not spare the people who now surround me nibbling at crustless sandwiches and listening to pan flute soundtracks with noise cancelling headphones.   Like the silent sound waves that come from the whirling engines that push us through space at 700 miles per hour, the physical, material world will soon uncancel the silence those who ride at the front of the plane have enjoyed.

The scaffolding that holds the super wealthy above the rest of the world is starting to wobble.   Under the present scheme most bank deposits under one hundred thousand dollars are insured.  This protects almost all of us.  But what will become of those with more?   Will the top 1 percent become just another statistic?

No one will be spared if what comes is a decade of darkness.

But is there some good that could come of this turmoil, chaos and ruin?  Maybe we’ll return to a saner world, the one our grandparents inhabited, where the measure of a man wasn’t the size of his SUV or the flatness of his television.  Perhaps the correction isn’t simply a market correction.  Perhaps it is not just stocks that we’ve over valued but a purely consumer driven culture.  Maybe the declines we should be horrified by are those that represent our fish stocks, fresh water supplies and topsoil. These are the declines that have resulted because of our economic growth to date.  With every tree we cut down we are one tree poorer but a few GDP points stronger.  But if the environment were listed on the NASDAQ it would be well off its highs.  Our present course could not have continued forever.

Perhaps a reinvented world will emerge that’s not based on the narcissistic consumption of junk designed for obsolescence and built by near slaves in hidden, toxic factories. These are ugly days but perhaps like a well applied treatment of botox, this episode will pass, the poison will work and we will emerge from this transformation a more beautiful world.

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