More Tipping Points for Social Unrest: American Psychology and ‘Gestalts’


By: wendydavis Tuesday August 23, 2011 11:03 am

A related diary looked at the metrics of food and energy costs as a preconditions and/or predictors of civil unrest and revolution, different institutions having tracked the numbers as about 40% of total income per person and/or the population at large.  Math can be useful as a predictor; most of us love charts and graphs that illustrate what we need to know to drive a point home.

But numbers and statistics can be sticky wickets, inaccurate models, leaving out the intangibles that may be even more causative drivers of events and major changes; these are far harder to track by their very nature.  And yet, I’m about to give it a go, as absurd as it seems even to me.  Up front I’ll admit to my belief that Americans just aren’t like other people; sorry for the bias, but…there it is.

I’ve been picturing the many components of American thought, conventional wisdom, beliefs, tropes, memes, yada, yada…and the conflicts and variants in each…as balloons aloft, with strings hanging down from them, within my reach, but I’ve been feeling frustrated lately that grasping different ones, and braiding them into any coherent form was too great a task for me.  But this morning I had a Tada! Moment, and it came to me in a flash that I could borrow a variant model of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s ‘Stages of Grief or Loss cycle’ as a framework; hope it works.  And I will appreciate any light you all can bring to the discussion. [Update needed here] The ‘loss’ I picture is the loss of our democracy, our adherence to the Rule of Law, a hopeful financial future, an increasingly two-tiered system of justice, hope that we can afford to send our kids (or grandkids) to college; privacy,  racial equality; those nice-sounding goals ensconced in the preamble of the Constitution.

Here’s the overview of the model; I’m going to mix them up a bit, jettison a few; it’s my post, after all…  ;o)

  • Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the bad news.
  • Denial stage: Trying to avoid the inevitable.
  • Anger stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion.
  • Bargaining stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
  • Depression stage: Final realization of the inevitable.
  • Testing stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
  • Acceptance stage: Finally finding the way forward.

The term ‘gestalt’ I reckon as follows; any of you who may be closer to Perls, Jung, Reich or others, may take issue.  But in my background, it came to mean a reordering of a person’s consciousness or awareness that was provoked by new knowledge entering a thinking person more viscerally, or in feeling people, a more focused sort of rational  cognition. And for each person, when the deck of their various information- cards were provoked into a reshuffling, an ‘Aha! Moment’…was known as a gestalt. Shorter: an awakening to a more fulsome whole.



For the purposes of this discussion, I’ll use the grand shock of the Twin Towers as a starting point, and briefly mention that a stunned nation claimed, or maybe did for a few days or weeks, coalesce into a ‘whole’ in its fear and loathing, and paid homage to empathizing with those lost in the attack, along with a burgeoning nationalistic identity.  Many of us grew leery of that trend early on as the theme Don’t fuck with America; we will root you out and kill you led to lies, a bombing campaign; them more lies, and a war most of us cheered on in our need for revenge.  In our collective fear, we surrendered our civil liberties, our adherence to the Rule of Law, and our Nation’s Soul and any guiding moral principles that were still standing then.

We all know the ugly story only too well, and its use here is that it was the arguably first episode in the Shock Doctrine-esque series that has since been pummeling our collective souls, pocketbooks, moral sensibilities, national cohesiveness, cognition, and even language and icons: yellow ribbons, American flags, Blue Star moms, weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds, hero, the viability of torture, for God’s sake, and endless ‘tests’ of ‘Patriotism’.  But the worst for me was the immediacy of the hideous fear of ‘the other’ that ensued: Muslim/Christian, Left/Right, War/Anti-war, protect the planet/rape it for profit, etc.

Forward now to March 2008: the global markets panicked over the failure of the Fed’s bailout of Bear Sterns to calm the markets, and led to the realization among the investor class that the banks were completely inter-connected by then. In mid-October, Hank Paulson called a meeting of the Nine Big Banks to the Treasury Department, and ordered them to sign a one-page deal that eventually led to multiple trillions upon trillions of our tax dollars being spent to buy toxic holdings, fund zero-interest loans, and guarantee trillions of dollars worth of bad paper…all in the name of stabilizing the world economy and protecting American pensions. Swing yer partners…and do-si-do.

Further shocks came when those who’d been forced into 401K’s rather than the safety of pensions, checked them, and said Oh Shit.  More came as their houses lost value, and their jobs were made redundant, foreclosures became common, fewer had access to decent health care; and you know the rest.

Anger and more shock on the Right:

President Hope and Change was elected, and the Right and conservative Indies had another shock: ‘their country’ just elected a big-government African-American Socialist who hated white people and free market capitalism, and who aimed to regulate them into poverty, raise their taxes, and fuck up their chances at the American Dream. They are the same people who’ve stunningly often voted against their own interests; they were mostly knee-jerk visceral tribal voters, the ‘which candidate would you rather have a beer with’ voters.

And they jumped straight to Anger stage, which passion was ably harnessed by the Chamber of Commerce, Koch Brothers and others, knowing they were ripe for the brand of demagoguery that could get more corporate puppets elected to the federal government.

And Obama helped them out mightily: he focused on health insurance reform rather than mortgage fraud and foreclosures or job creation.  Fatal mistake, IMO.

Denial on the Left:

Too many on the left were slow to grasp the import of Obama’s early Cabinet choices,  keeping Bernanke at the Fed, bringing in Mr. ‘I am not a regulator’ Geithner to Treasury, his Republican military appointments, security, keeping in place the Republican Party loyalists at the DoJ; on and on, making excuses that his moves were meant to calm the public; the Nation’s Father stroking us bipartisanly. We hoped he didn’t really admire Reagan’s transformational power, we hoped he didn’t mean to up the war in Afghanistan, yada, yada…

Many on the Putative Left are still stuck there, unable to feel viscerally what a con-man Obama is, and how far he serves the Corporate Oligarchy and Multinational Greed and Power Class.  They still want him re-elected, or say they do.  They spend their time devising re-election strategies, and claim they hope that the Progressive Left can move the Prez…further left; ‘a few baby steps would be good’.  IMO, their reliance on cognitive thought in defense of Obama (even wrong-thinking) hampers their acceptance of new information: they lack the visceral, gut reaction that causes progressives to fire their imaginative thought and activist solutions.  Shorter: their brains can tell them the status quo is better than the alternative.

But for some, the strong denial they have shown for so long is starting to show cracks; the facts of Economic Terrorism (thanks, Robert Dumas) are starting to filter into their skulls on joblessness, massive rentier corporate profits while wages have stagnated since 1973, and economists are forecasting a double-dip recession or acknowledge that this really is a depression for far too many Americans. So far their Anger has been directed at progressives who have been really angry for a couple years.  That may soon change.

Austerity: Further shocks

The masks are now coming off.  We are increasingly aware that neither legacy party nor our President has our backs, and in fact are intent on stealing the last remaining revenue streams from us and hoisting them to the 2%-ers.  People are getting that the Banks really do own the place.

Corporate profits are massive, while increasing millions are unemployed, many for over two years, and no help is on the way.  Over half of the nation’s mortgages are underwater, but Wall Street dictates that even a small transaction tax is ‘too burdensome to business’.  A huge majority favors taxing the wealthy, and opposes cuts to the social safety net; their voices are ignored.  Millions of children go to bed hungry now, and their parents don’t know if or from where their next meals will come.

We see on our teevees that the social contract has been truly been broken (thanks, fairleft) by neoliberal corporate economics around the world, and that people who have worked hard and played by the rules all their lives have futures of desolation in front of them.


Hmmm…Up Jumped the Devil was my first thought.  As our President Hope OBomba and both parties via the new Supercongress are poised to bargain away our futures, status quo Dems seem to believe we can both Win the Future!™  by electing a few more liberal Dems to Congress::::::::::::::::::hell; I can’t even finish the thought.  We’re supposed to ask for crumbs while they tell us to eat cake, and Share the Sacrifice/Gotta Get Deficits Under Control: and that’s the Democrats, Goddess help us!

Never mind the Right; they’re in the driver’s seat now, but still bitching about Obama; go figure.  They don’t need to bargain…yet.


How not?  As the sense of betrayal of the broken social contract becomes more visible, more internalized and visceral, depression will be widespread.  I can’t do a Left/Right spread on this one; I know people are scared, baffled, and upset by the speed at which all this has hit us.  Soldiers are committing suicide at an alarming rate; we have no idea how many suicides this economic suffering has caused.  Over 200,000 farmers in India have taken their lives in the past decade.  Unbearably sad.

We know that Americans are taking a whole hell of a lot of Big Pharma’s pills to stave of depression, sleeplessness, and the effects of poor mental health.  I’d add that if you’re not depressed at least part of the time, you’re simply not paying attention.

Testing ‘realistic solutions’ and Acceptance:

Allow me to jettison these stages; all bets are off, IMO, for reasonable, polite, conventionally realistic solutions.  The lies are being uncovered, and what’s left is harsh as hell to accept.

War doesn’t bring peace; they’re killing our planet and food and crop seeds with impunity; they’re poisoning our air and water; government’s function is to protect fraud and advance profit for the uber-wealthy; the massive differential in wealth distribution will not stand, never has in history. The Empire is dying, and more dangerous than ever in its death-spiral; there will be more not-wars as NATO and AFRICOM continue their marches; ‘winning wars’ is a dated concept, and no longer the point.  The amorality of our federal government is killing us slowly; there will be no economic recovery without a massive jobs stimulus, and all the President carried with him to Martha’s Vineyard was his briefcase full of blues, and maybe a signed first edition of The Audacity of Hope. We will have the future we create for ourselves; and I have no idea what that might look like.

DWBartoo said it right the other day:

“…for if we do not embrace the fact that human beings have an inalienable right to protect themselves and their society from precisely the concentrations of wealth and power which neoliberal corporations, indeed from corporate power and wealth of ANY stripe, represent then democracy and any rational, reasonable, and sustainably humane society and form of governance CANNOT survive.” [snip]

The “at large” reality also has implicit within it the recognition that there ARE many more of us than of them … and “their” ONLY power comes, ultimately, from tyrannical threat and provision for massive assault, physical, emotional, or psychological … upon the rest of us.

This truth, for so it is, renders ANY appeal the powerful may or might make, to “order” or to “larger purpose”, but thinly veiled threats of fascism and ruthless, heartless “control”. [snip]

We, the rest of us, far outnumber the would-be Masters and their would-be minions …

And, of a truth, THIS is our time and our world far more than theirs.”

Love to you all; build community where you can.  Educate your neighbors about what’s going on; they know there’s a bad moon rising, and they need to get ready for a shift.


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