24th September 2008 | Draft
Credibility Crunch engendered by Hope-mongering
"Credit crunch" focus as symptom of a dangerous
- / -
Hope-mongering: blowing bubbles of confidence and
Varieties of hope-mongering
-- God as a focus of hope-mongering
-- Incitement to sacrifice as hope-mongering
-- Hope-mongering in expectation of intangible values
-- Technical hope-mongering
-- Military and security hope-mongering
-- Mis-selling and misrepresentation as hope-mongering
-- Political hope-mongering
-- Systemic hope-mongering
-- Hope-mongering by the financial system
-- Luck: gambling and lottery hope-mongering
-- Hope-mongering through postponing fulfillment
-- Relationship hope-mongering
-- Hope-mongering through distraction
-- Hope-mongering through reframing
-- Exceptionalism as hope-mongering
Dangerous neglect of underlying patterns
Overpopulation shunning mindset: the most dangerous form of hope-mongering?
The drama of the financial crisis and "credit crunch" -- sufficient
cause for grave concern -- is presented here as exemplifying underlying cognitive
patterns that should be cause for even greater concern. It presents a case
for looking at environmental overshoot "through" the
cognitive framework of the financial system -- the systemic role of its actors,
instruments, concepts and dynamics, as well as how long and short-term risk
is managed in a context of both fear and hope-mongering, as engendered by fact
and rumour, and variously exploited. [The implications are also explored
in a subsequent document: Systemic
Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future
As what history may see as a foretaste, the financial crisis is therefore
to be understood as a magnificent, only too realistic, metaphor of institutionalized
approaches to international risk management at this time, notably as articulated
just before the full crisis in The
of a Risk Manager, 9 August 2008). Despite the overshoot
possibilities indicated by the Club of Rome in Limits
to Growth (1972), the
opening sentences read:
In January 2007, the world looked almost riskless. At the beginning
of that year I gathered my team for an off-site meeting to identify our top
five risks for the coming 12 months. We were paid to think about the downsides
but it was hard to see where the problems would come from. Four years of
falling credit spreads, low interest rates, virtually no defaults in our
loan portfolio and historically low volatility levels: it was the most benign
risk environment we had seen in 20 years.
The remedies to emergent crises,
as failures of risk management, may also be seen as metaphors of strategic
propensities. In this case emphasis has been placed on "injection" of liquidity
from a source that in some ill-defined way is "meta" to the system in crisis
-- a curious term in a society with a pervasive drug problem in which "injection"
may indeed be framed as a remedy. More curious is the widespread belief that
humanity can be "bailed out" by extra-systemic processes, whether by "God"
(framed by some as the "opium of the people") or by "human ingenuity" (of
the quality that gave rise to the crisis in the derivatives market). These
issues are epitomized by the fact that there is indeed a risk that the next
president of the country exemplifying these propensities will be someone who
welcomes the possibility of complete civilizational collapse as a means
of evoking a divine "bailout".
Much is made of doom-mongering -- of which the legendary Greek Casandra is
confusingly proposed as an archetype, embodied in such terms as Casandra
This label is applied in situations in which valid warnings or concerns are
dismissed or disbelieved. Such situations are readily, and even deliberately,
confused with situations in which articulating warnings is used to attract
attention and to manipulate others to the advantage of the doom-monger. This
is epitomized by the tale of the Boy
Who Cried Wolf. It has notably been used to justify budgets for large public
projects, ranging from defence to physics experiments.
In both situations people are challenged to work out what
credibility is to be given to the warnings. This challenge is exemplified in
the current promotion of terrorism as a threat -- supposedly exceeding in
significance many other situations faced by humanity and the planet (Promoting
a Singular Global Threat -- Terrorism: strategy of choice for world governance,
2002). Casandra, given her knowledge of future events, has effectively be taken
up as the mascot of the international futures movement for such reasons.
The focus here is on a complementary challenge, however, namely how
to determine the credibility of those who engage in hope-mongering for which there is no
convenient Greek archetype, nor any well-remembered tales -- although the tailors
in the tale of the Emperor's
New Clothes might be understood to exemplify the activity of hope-mongerers.
Hope-mongering may of course be used as a counter-measure to the doom-mongering
of modern Casandras.
|Politics of fear: Sustainable hope vs Sustainable
|Long after the real threat of German invasion had passed, Churchill kept
alive a pretence. He knew that defence against descending Nazi hordes sustained
the illusion of useful activity among millions of British citizens who
might otherwise have slumped into despondency and inertia.
The Guardian, 29 September 2008)
Hope-mongering: blowing bubbles of confidence and
This is a relatively little used term, despite the frequent occurrence of
the phenomenon to which it refers. Tentatively it might be defined as the process
whereby efforts are made to ensure that people rely on hope that all will be
well, despite the difficulty of the circumstances they are experiencing --
and seem to have every probability of continuing to experience for an indeterminate
There is of course a valid aspect to the process of such encouragement for
those seemingly without hope. Building and sustaining hope clearly have their
place, notably in response to desperate conditions -- as do boosterism, puffery and
positive news management.
Hope-mongerers may even be understood to be "lenders
of last resort" -- offering access to reserves of trust and confidence.
A notable example is the invocation over centuries by the Jewish people at
the conclusion of the Yom Kippur service and the Passover Seder: Next
year in Jerusalem. The question in what follows is
how is appropriate reliance on hope to be distinguished
from dysfunctional and abusive hope-mongering (Being
Positive Avoiding Negativity: management challenge of positive vs negative,
If development, whether personal or collective, is in some essential way dependent
on "blowing bubbles" of hope and confidence in the future, then great care
is surely required in distinguishing the conditions when creating such dependency
becomes dangerous -- if not potentially disastrous. Bubbles tend to burst,
especially when they exceed critical dimensions of sustainability.
In a period when the world is challenged by global warming, it may ironically
be appropriate to focus on the dangerous levels of "hot air" associated with
hope-mongering and the bubbles of hope it engenders.
The challenge is determining at what point is the
process of hope-mongering being deliberately, or inadvertently, abused to
ensure reliance on a mindset or belief system which constitutes an unhealthy
response to the condition. Especially problematic is when this is deliberately
undertaken in the interest of those proposing hope -- who thereby derive advantage
from the enhanced confidence in which they are then held by those who have
no other source of hope.
In its problematic sense, hope-mongering is therefore an abuse of confidence
and trust. However, given the intangible nature of trust, there are few conditions
in which such abuse is clearly recognized and rightfully condemned. The following
section (which readers might choose to scan or skip) provides an overview of
the variety of forms of hope-mongering in order to identity a dangerous underlying
pattern discussed thereafter.
The question is, other than the traditional economic
bubbles and the
financial bubble that recently burst, what are the other
bubbles on which concern might be usefully focused? What other bubbles are being "blown"?
|Crisis of the Mind (Paul
Hope, of course, remains -- singing in an undertone...
But hope is only man's mistrust of the clear foresight
of his mind. Hope suggests that any conclusion unfavorable to us must be
an error of the mind.
And yet the facts are clear and pitiless; thousands
of young writers and artists have died; the illusion of a European culture
has been lost, and knowledge has been proved impotent to save anything
whatsoever; science is mortally wounded in its moral ambitions and, as
it were, put to shame by the cruelty of its applications; idealism is
barely surviving, deeply stricken, and called to account for its dreams;
realism is hopeless, beaten, routed by its own crimes and errors; greed
and abstinence are equally flouted; faiths are confused in their aim
-- cross against cross, crescent against crescent; and even the skeptics,
confounded by the sudden, violent, and moving events that play with our
minds as a cat with a mouse . . . even the skeptics lose their doubts,
recover, and lose them again, no longer master of the motions of their
Varieties of hope-mongering
These are considered under the following headings. Readers may choose instead
to go directly to the discussion of the nature of a dangerous underlying
pattern discussed thereafter.
God as a focus of hope-mongering
Irrespective of arguments regarding the problematic consequences of belief
in any invisible deity (cf Richard
God Delusion, 2006; Christopher
Is Not Great: how religion poisons everything, 2007), more challenging
is the politicization of religious belief -- especially by those who seek religious
credibility by condemning those who articulate secular views. Again it is not
a question of whether or not politicians acknowledge the merit of spiritual
belief but rather the deliberate use of that belief for political ends, to
achieve power and to elicit support from those who sincerely hold such beliefs.
Such problematic use might be seen as taking three forms:
- claims made by politicians that advocated policies or outcomes are a justification
for hope because they are in some way pursuant of the
will of deity or have the blessing of deity, notably by invoking that blessing.
This invocation ranges from formulaic use of "God Bless America"..
Under this cover, politicians may then engage in killing on a massive scale,
as has been evident in the faith-based positions taken by George W. Bush
and Tony Blair in occasioning hundreds of thousands of deaths -- as a means
of implementing God's will. The implication may be that whatever the outcome,
taken in the name of God, it necessarily has the benediction of deity and
is therefore a basis for hope.
- claims made by religious authorities to elicit similar support by raising
hopes that actions, or lack of actions, are consistent with the will of deity
who will then necessarily ensure a beneficial outcome -- in the longer term
if not immediately.
- claims condoned by religious authorities that certain
otherwise questionable actions are in accordance with the will of deity and
therefore justification for hope irrespective of the outcome. These may range
from incitement to kill as made by Reverend Pat
Robertson (calling for the assassination of the president of Venezuela,
Hugo Chavez on 23 August 2005),
or by Sheikh
Salih Ibn al-Luhaydan, the most senior judge in Saudi Arabia
(declaring in 12 September 2008 that the killing of owners of immoral satellite
broadcasting channels to be permissible [more]).
It may be evident, by implication, in failure by religious authorities to
condemn such initiatives on the part of other religious authorities. On a
larger scale this is to be seen in the religious approval of crusades or
jihads against suitably demonized unbelievers.
The general implication is that "all will be well" and that there
is no justification for abandoning hope -- unless one is an unbeliever. This
forms part of the pattern of binary logic: you are either with with us (as
a believer) or against us (as an unbeliever). Within this framework, provided
the blessing of deity is suitably invoked, hope is held to be appropriate --
whether or not any effective action is taken. It may be within this framework
that religious conversion is exhorted -- offering the hope that the person's
soul will then be saved and a place in heaven will be assured (cf Strategic
Opportunities of the Twice Born: reflections on systemic camouflage of mass
deception, 2004; Varieties
of Rebirth: distinguishing ways of being "born
This pattern is notably evident in the calls for hope on the part of the faithful
by supreme religious authorities such as the Pope. In July 2008, for example,
the Pope called for "a
new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption
which deadens our souls and poisons our relationships" [more].
In September 2008, the Pope indicated that the Virgin Mary 'invites
us to live like her in invincible hope, refusing to believe those who claim
that we are trapped in the fatal power of destiny' [more].
The expectations so evoked
may be suitably conflated with framings of the life hereafter -- and expectations
thereof by the faithful, as has been so fundamental since Ancient Egyptian
times. Any form of suffering, effectively condoned by religious authorities,
may then be reframed in terms of a later compensatory reward in heaven. Indeed
suffering may then be treated as an appropriate, even desirable, religious
discipline when undertaken deliberately (as in mortification
of the flesh) or
as an opportunity to be welcomed in the hope of acquiring merit for a future
Of special concern is the manner in which hope is raised in truly desperate
situations in which there is every case for abandoning hope -- as in the final
phases of a terminal illness or in the face of imminent disaster. How
appropriate is it then to encourage people to "cling to hope" rather
than envisage some other course of action?
Incitement to sacrifice as hope-mongering
A particular manifestation of hope-mongering is the promotion of the expectation
that by sacrifice, whether of oneself or others, hope for the future may be
Again this is evident amongst the authorities of several sectors:
- politics: in the case of politicians, and their leadership,
the argument is that sacrifice is a means of defending and advancing the
values of a country. A sacrifice for the fatherland or motherland, whether
of oneself or others, is promoted as a means of engendering hope for future
generations. This may be done with the greatest of cynicism, deliberately
eliciting hope that the sacrifice is justified
- religion: in the case of religious authorities again, the argument is that
this is a means of advancing "God's plan". In this sense martyrdom
is to be welcomed and praised. In many religions sacrifice, even human sacrifice,
has been seen as a means of placating divinity and as a justification for
hope in a favourable response. Incitement to suicide bombing may be framed
in this way -- possibly with the argument that one will go "directly
possibly also to enjoy the pleasures of "72
- military and security services: those in the military are expected to sacrifice
themselves, when necessary, in defence of their country and its values --
and possibly irrespective of any collateral damage or the unfortunate need
to use "dirty tricks" or inhumane treatment. Such a sacrifice is promoted
as worthy in terms of the hope it engenders for those in whose name it is
- business: the successful launch of any enterprise, and
its development under challenging circumstances, is typically associated
with calls for sacrifice -- notably amongst the workforce in terms of their
working conditions or the need to sacrifice through downsizing in order
that it should remain viable. Business also may justify its use of "dirty
tricks" in terms of hopes
for a fruitful outcome -- if only for shareholders.
In each case the benefits of sacrifice may be promoted in terms of the hopes,
beyond immediate suffering, for better conditions for the next generation --
achieving "belt-tightening" on the part of others for the immediate
benefit of hope-mongerers.
Hope-mongering in expectation of intangible values
Other than the religious justification, the actions taken in the cases
be variously undertaken in the name of intangible values framed by terms such
as "democracy", "peace", "happiness" or "freedom".
These purport to indicate hoped-for conditions of individual or collective
well-being, even though their significance in practice has proven to be inherently
elusive. In its own righht "hope" may be considered in the same terms. Their
elusive quality lends them to description in terms of complexity theory as
"strange attractors" (Human
Values as Strange Attractors, 1993). Just as hope-mongering implies
that hope may be "bought", it is also approriate to explore whether other values
might be bought and sold (Human
Values "Stock Market": investing
in "shares" in
a "value market" of fundamental principles, 2006).
It might be said that, like deity, this elusive quality is highly conducive
to the actions taken in their name -- which are thereby beyond question. As
with the Peter Principle,
the highest values would seem to be articulated and defended by those whose
respect for them in practice is seemingly both questionable and beyond question.
Upholding these values as a focus for hope, and defence of them, becomes a
means of disguising initiatives which detract from them.
Of particular interest is the case of "development" or -- better
"sustainable development". As with other intangibles, reams are
written about it and the conditions indicative of it. It is somewhat ironic
that sustainable development is now associated with the "dematerialization" of
the economy. As is evident in its financial underpinning processes, it is increasingly "virtualized"
-- effectively acquiring the virtual nature of "democracy", "peace",
and "happiness". All of these are confusingly conflated
into a sense of well-being in the name of which various initiatives are hopefully
promoted. Given the questionable results in practice, "veloping"
might even be creatively explored as an alternative (Veloping:
the art of sustaining significance, 1997).
This cynical hope-mongering is especially evident in the case of the promises
made -- and systematically broken -- in response to the extreme development
challenges in regions such as Africa. The example of the G8 is striking in
Many of the challenges currently faced by humanity are reframed as challenges
with which it is hoped that technology may be expected to deal -- as evident
in the case of global warming, the food crisis and the energy crisis. Much
is made of "human ingenuity" and its capacity to respond to such crises.
and representatives of industries associated with relevant technologies,
are articulate in promoting such possibilities and in encouraging reliance
on the remedies to hand, in the pipeline or which may yet be discovered --
especially when they constitute an unthinking extension of current business
models. Obvious examples are genetically modified food products, geo-engineering
and nuclear fusion. The focus on solutions, calling upon existing expertise
and predispositions, is significant in the manner in which it precludes debate
on other possibilities challenging existing mindsets.
It is however useful to recognize the extent to which "investment" in
such technologies can be appropriately recognized as an exercise in hope for
a fruitful outcome. In this sense promotion of such solutions, which often
evoke controversy, needs to be understood as a form of hope-mongering often
with little consideration for the Precautionary
Specifically those accepting such approaches are called upon to hope that:
- they will indeed
produce what is promised -- despite considerable experience with problematic
implementation of large-scale projects involving new technologies,
whether in terms of delivery delays, cost-overruns or unforeseen difficulties
- there will be no unforeseen downstream effects
on the environment -- despite considerable experience with such difficulties,
as with nuclear power, large dams, introduction of species
- the arguments made are indeed well-made and not simply a means of disguising
- the technologies will not result in problematic synergistic processes with
other such solutions, notably as a consequence of the increased dependency
on higher degrees of complexity whose implications it is a challenge to understand,
whether or not such understanding is sought
- the technologies that receive funding do indeed constitute optimal responses
and have not simply been selected through dubious project evaluation processes
-- despite considerable experience of the problematic processes through which
projects are selected and the manner in which the evaluation process may
be distorted in support of other agendas
Such hope-mongering is associated with a call to believe increasingly complex
chains of argument justifying theories in support of technical solutions --
some of which may even require hundreds, if not thousands of pages, even challenging
their credibility in the eyes of other specialists, as discussed elsewhere
of connectivity: how much "moonshine" in any conjecture?, 2007).
Perhaps the most fundamental feature of technological hope-mongering is the
confidence attributed to future human ingenuity -- which few would choose to
question even if they were able to do so. This has been best articulated by Thomas
Ingenuity Gap: how can we solve the problems of the future? 2000)
with a call to wake up to the fearful possibility that blithe trust in science
and technology map be misplaced. For him, human ingenuity may indeed not be
capable of coping with the emerging crises of population growth and environmental
None of this is to deny the capacity to produce technical solutions in response
to uncertainty and complex dilemmas. The question is how inappropriately and
prematurely. This is best characterized in well-known phrases such as that
is a simple answer to every question and it is usually wrong" or that variously
attributed to Will Rogers and H
L Mencken 'There is a simple solution to every problem - and
it is always wrong". This has in turn been variously paraphrased, for example: "For
every human problem there is a solution that is quick, simple, inexpensive --
Some solutions may well constitute a potential exemplification of the Postcautionary
Principle -- as variously evident in the compilation by the Edge
Are You Optimistic About?: Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good
and Getting Better, 2007).
|We lean ever more heavily on experts. But who can we now trust? Corporate
PR has become so sophisticated that it's almost impossible for most people
to tell the difference between genuine science and greenwash, or real grassroots
campaigns and the astroturf lobbies concocted by consultants. PR companies
set up institutes with impressive names which publish what purport to be
scientific papers, sometimes in the font and format of genuine journals.
They accuse real scientists of every charge that could be levelled at themselves:
junk science, hidden funding, undisclosed interests and inflated credentials.
(George Monbiot, The Guardian, 23 September 2008)
Military and security hope-mongering
This may be partially seen as a form of technological hope-mongering. The
most striking historical example is provided by the ongoing military intervention,
and related security activities, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Much has been made of the incredible sophistication of the military technology
deployed in those arenas and the vital and unquestionable importance of further
development of such technology to ensure control of future insurgencies of
any kind. Security and surveillance systems have been implemented worldwide
as a consequence -- incidentally undermining radically those individual freedoms
that were the basis for the claims that such deployment
has been in defence of those very freedoms.
It is indeed the case that the initial intervention in Iraq, through use of
such technology, achieved its immediate objective. It is however also the case
that those promoting the use of such technology have proven to be challenged
beyond all expectations in "building the peace" thereafter. Much
has indeed been made of the fact that the mightiest military power in human
history has been prevented from achieving its wider objectives by a bunch of
under equipped primitives in one of the most impoverished regions of the world.
Despite the allocation of unprecedented financial resources to the task, the
initiative has been unable to win the "battle of hearts and minds".
The different phases of this process have been witness to every form of hope-mongering
-- ranging from early claims for immediate success, to cautious claims for
a continuing degree of success, to promotion of the notion that the only hope
lies in a permanent foreign military presence. As noted by military historians,
the early arrogant "gung ho" claims with respect to Afghanistan offer a magnificent
example of failure to learn the lessons of history.
The question is whether this form of hope-mongering offers lessons for arrogant
technological hope-mongering in other arenas -- or will these too turn out
to be "Afghanistans"?
Mis-selling and misrepresentation as hope-mongering
The examples are indicative of an underlying mindset of mis-selling (or over-selling)
and misrepresentation. In the case of the military this has long been a characteristic
of arguments made in support of defence appropriations.
The pattern of hope-mongering is more widespread however, as indicated
by the following examples:
- building construction: this is best exemplified by the manner in which
hopes are built into construction projects for the Olympic Games. Typically
initial proposals, hopefully presented to elicit approval, have subsequently
resulted in cost overruns of such dimensions as to place the host city in
financial difficulties for years, if not generations, to come. Other projects
have later proven to have been completed using faulty technology leading
to collapse of the buildings or the early need to replace them
- information technology: there are numerous examples of massive computer
projects, hopefully promoted by government with the complicity of the contractors,
which have proven to be a disaster, requiring either their cancellation or
unforeseen further investment over a period far beyond what was initially
- medical research: solicitation of funds, notably private
funds, for health research is notably framed as offering hope for loved one's
and the vulnerable. In many cases this solicitation has been demonstrated
to be associated with questionable -- even cynical -- agendas on the part
of medical research laboratories. Other cases demonstrate the traditional
process of promoting the sale of
"snake oil" remedies to the hopeful -- perhaps the clearest example
- insurance: this has always offered striking examples of
mis-selling to those hopeful of protecting themselves against unpredictable
disasters, typically leading to the discovery that the risks were not as
effectively covered as claimed (due to exclusions "in the small print").
This highlights the need to recognize the "small print" implicit in any initiative
sustained by hope-mongering.
- advertising: this has always constituted a focus of mis-selling
and misrepresentation. The business of advertising might evenbn be said to
be selling hope. As exemplified in an ad of the past: Buy a Buick --
something to believe in. The adverstising industry is however also quote
sensitive to the counter-productive consequences of hope-mongering.
Of special interest with respect to hope-mongering are so-called pyramid selling
or Ponzi schemes in terms of the manner in which hierarchies of hope are effectively
constituted to drive the process, as discussed elsewhere (Presenting
the Future: an alternative to dependence on human sacrifice through global
pyramid selling schemes, 2001).
The promises made by political parties in seeking election offer numerous
examples of hope-mongering. It is the essence of campaigning for election to
make promises in response to the hopes of people for a better life and an appropriate
response to the injustices they experience.
It could be argued that politics is an invitation to hope extended to the
electorate, despite the absence of guarantees -- or the intention to address
that hope after election. Hope may figure explicitly in framing a candidacy,
as in the case of Barack Obama (The
Audacity of Hope: thoughts on reclaiming the American Dream,
Politicians could readily counter the charge of hope-mongering if their track
record on achieving power did not provide so many examples of broken promises.
They may indeed have good arguments for failing to fulfil promises made --
reasons which they chose not to foresee in making their original commitments
in any "contract" with the electorate. It is typical of hope-mongering that
such "contracts", notably in litigious societies such as the USA, are not worth
the air time in which they are articulated.
This tendency is even more problematic in the case of statesmen representing
their countries in international fora where commitments are made to assist
those in need. The prime example is provided by the failures of the G8 to fulfil
solemn commitments to assist developing countries, notably those in Africa. The
G8 might well be framed by many as an archetypal hope-mongering institution
given the manner in which it so successfully manipulates expectations.
examples are provided by programmes of intergovernmental agencies, deliberately
evoking hope -- notably those promising "health for all", "jobs
for all", " education
for all", etc, even with commitment to a specific date ("by the
year 2000"), provided it is beyond the mandate of those making that commitment.
Progress on the UN's Millenium
Development Goals (2001) offers further examples.
Again it might be said that the essence of the leadership offered by statesmen
is intimately associated with hope-mongering -- providing every justification
for accusations of misleadership, as argued elsewhere (Emergence
of a Global Misleadership Council: misleading as vital to governance of the future?,
2007). Ironically, much has been made on the web of the "neocon"
abbreviation for neoconservatism in relation to "con artist" and "confidence
trick". The probability is however as great that their hope-mongering was
as much a matter of self-deception -- as illustrated by the much-cited quote
reported by Ron Suskind (Without a Doubt, The New York Times, In
The Magazine, 17 October 2004):
We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while
you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again,
creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things
will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be
left to just study what we do.'
It would indeed be instructive to compare the kinds of hope-mongering offered
by extreme examples of modern statesmen, as with the following:
- George W. Bush:
there is no question about the degree of hope that he engendered, notably
to his faith-focused constituency in the USA. This was a major factor in
sustaining hopes for the successful outcome of intervention in the Middle
East, with the aid of the Coalition of the Willing. His primary commitment
to the war against
terrorism (as articulated in Sptember 2008 to the UN General Assembly) continues
to be unquestionable -- despite the cost in resources to the American people
and in the lives of the citizens of those countries, for which he finds no
cause for apology or regret. His government has (hopefully) sustained the
largest public debt in American history and ensured the deregulation of US
financial market in the hopes that it would regulate itself, a market now
requiring the largest bailout in American history -- against the traditional
policies of his party. The US national debt under his administration has
risen to over $11 trillion.
- Robert Mugabe: again there is no question about the degree of hope that
he has sustained amongst his supporters over a 28 year period, despite increasing
impoverishment to starvation levels and a level of hyperinflation unprecedented
in the world -- an estimated high of over 11 million% in July 2008.
In retaining a degree of confidence from his supporters, his primary focus
of concern is the vulnerability of Zimbabwe to the intervention of US and
UK interests (as indicated in his power-sharing speech of September 2008).
By contrast a major challenge in the various proposals made by the alternative
movements -- explicitly claiming to offer genuine hope for a sustainable
future -- is the extent to which these too are characterized by a significant
degree of hope-mongering. At what point does the hope-mongering in support
of socio-economic alternatives lose its credibility -- by conforming to the
triumphalist pattern of those whose policies it is hoped to replace? Is the "bubble
capacity of the World
Social Forum to be fruitfully compared with that of the
Forum -- a delightful contest of competitive "bubble blowing"?
Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre, 2007).
The failure of one model in no way guarantees the adequacy of another for
which people are enjoined to hope -- and in which they are then expected to
invest as urgently as the calls for financial bailouts. Especially
problematic however is the capacity of the "dark knights" to exploit
hope-mongered situations to play with the confidence and hopes in alternative
systems with as much efficacy as they do in conventional ones (The "Dark
2002). Hope may be transmuted into tragedy as suggested by a poetic adaptation
The Charge of
the Light Brigade (revised in celebration of current global strategic management
|Dangerous pendulum: TINA and TINATTA
Of special relevance at this time is the
framing of any alternative to discredited approaches -- given the tendency
towards binary logic and triumphalism, and despite the argument of Madeleine
Belief, Trust: this economic orthodoxy was built on superstition, The
Guardian, 6 October 2008):
Whilst "TINA" may have been discredited, there is huge potential
for a backlash of "TINATTA": There Is No Alternative
To The Alternative. It is the need for a binary, triumphalist
pattern of arrogance that requires attention.
We are now witnessing the collapse of this absurd economic orthodoxy
that has dominated politics for nearly 30 years. Its triumphalist arrogance,
its insistence on orthodoxy, has been comparable to Soviet communism
in its scale. For two decades, we've been told "Tina" -- "There is
Especially problematic in a context of political hope-mongering in societies
claiming to be democratic is the manner in which the population is encouraged
to believe in an appropriate outcome to a "due process" which is
typically designed to preclude such an outcome -- forcing groups to engage
in undignified protests and demonstrations worthy of the Stone Age, framed
as such, and repressed for that reason. The pattern of hope-mongering is notably
evident in deliberate efforts to encourage feedback ("your voice will
be heard") through mechanisms
which have no hope of being able to process the volume of that feedback --
other than by arbitrarily selecting isolated items as a token indication that
due consideration is being given to the "voice of the people". The
institutional response to the Irish "No" vote exemplifies the challenge
for European democracy.
It is no wonder that those "beyond hope" then resort to "terrorism" -- then
to be carefully reframed as distinct from "legitimately" fighting for some
form of freedom from injustice, as is praised in the historical processes of
emergence of many current sovereign states.
Clearly government does successfully implement a wide range of institutional
responses to the needs of people. These large scale systemic initiatives may
indeed be considered successful by many who benefit. However it is important
to recognize the way in which the very existence of these initiatives is presented
both to evoke the hope that they will respond to those needs when called upon,
and to deny or disguise instances where they fail to do so. For, as institutions
requiring funding (typically by taxpayers), they have a vested interest
in claiming success and continuing to monger hope where this may be less than
The challenge is evident in cases such as the following:
- justice: hope has been instilled in most people that,
if there is ever the need, the system of justice will not fail them. As those
with direct experience of the operations of this system frequently indicate,
the justice they get is not what they had been led to expect. Issues may
range from complete miscarriage of justice, to failure to incriminate those
for which there is evidence of guilt, to failure to respond to perceived
injustice. A sense of the degree of hope-mongering by
representatives of the system of justice is to be recognized in the phenomenon
of under-reporting of crime by those who do not expect to receive the justice
- education: formal education has been framed as a gateway
to opportunity and as such has become a focus for the hopes of many. The
reality for many has been that, irrespective of the years they devote to
this process, it may not ensure them the access to the opportunities they
had been led to expect. Many with the highest degrees are underemployed or
find their education unrelated to the realities with which they have to deal.
To what degree is the system of education then to be understood as a process
of hope-mongering -- promoting possibilities for many without consideration
as to whether there is any possibility of realizing them in practice, other
than for the few?
- employment: strong cases are made for employment opportunities,
provided people conform to particular requirements -- whether education,
experience, location, attitude, etc -- as a key to well-being and advancement
in a world framed in economic terms. The continuing crises of severe unemployment
and underemployment suggest that much of this discourse constitutes an exercise
- health: much is made of the marvels of health care. However
it is very evident that a significant percentage of the population does not
have effective access to these marvels. Health care systems are unable to
respond to the level of need. The promotion of their capacity, especially
when people are obliged to contribute to them without being able to benefit
from them when in need, suggests that there is a high degree of associated
- pensions: there are many pension schemes to which people
may be obliged to contribute, or to which it may be strongly recommended
that they do. The reality is however -- in a society vulnerable to inflation,
failure of pension funds, or arbitrary government decisions with regard to
them -- that pension security may be highly questionable, especially in a
society vulnerable to high inflation. The promotion of such schemes, and
the security they are expected to offer on retirement, may therefore also
be seen as an exercise in hope-mongering.
- utilities and emergency services: the supply of water,
electricity, gas and sewerage is readily assumed and promoted as a dependable
feature of modern living as a consequence of economic development. The possibility
that these services might not function due to shortages, accidents or politically
motivated cuts is easy to forget. This is evident in the case of emergencies,
such as flooding, where it is only too obvious that the response is inadequate.
Recognition of future risks in this respect, such as those due to climate
change, is also easily avoided. Any promotion of belief in the status quo
-- especially when emergency preparedness is inadequate -- is therefore
effectively a form of hope-mongering.
Given the increasing importance of public relations and news management for
government institutions, it might well be asked to what extent their activity
may usefully be understood as hope-mongering -- especially when budgetary
constraints inhibit their capacity to fully meet recognized needs.
Hope-mongering by the financial system
The succession of increasingly dramatic crises in the financial markets, initially
triggered by defaults on subprime mortgage loans in 2007, offers a glaring
example of hope-mongering. As has been repeatedly declared, the financial
system is based on confidence and trust -- notably in the guarantees traditionally
offered regarding any "promise to pay", and the backing asserted
to be associated with such guarantees. The focus at the time of writing is
on "rebuilding confidence"
in the financial system.
It is however useful to observe where hope-mongering took place -- and how
it contributed to the breakdown in confidence in the financial system as
it had been known to that point:
- marketing of subprime
mortgages: it has been made clear that the process
whereby cheap mortgages were offered to people in the USA, desperate for
housing but unable to afford it, can be usefully described as hope-mongering.
Purchasers were reassured by sellers, justifying their hopes, that they could
safely engage in such transactions. It is now recognized that sellers were
irresponsible (possibly criminally so) in failing to make purchasers more
fully aware of the process in which they were engaging, or to be sufficiently
diligent in refusing more risky mortgage loans -- as is the practice in
many countries. This is a form of mis-selling.
of the derivatives market: financial derivatives have been
an exercise in financial creativity of the highest order, reliant for their
profitability on mathematical understanding accessible only to the few. The
profitability was however obvious to those exposed to its potential, encouraging
those responsible to enable engagement in that market to the fullest. The
complicity between those with the understanding, together with fund managers,
shareholders, financial journalists and academic commentators, was such as
to develop and sustain a bubble of confidence in this process over an extended
period. Who was hope-mongering to whom? Or is such a bubble best to be understood
as a process of mutual hope-mongering -- necessarily rejecting any precautionary
- risk management:
those directly engaged in investment of their own funds, or those of others,
are necessarily intimately involved in the process of risk management in
pursuit of maximum profitability. Whether in convincing themselves, or their
clients, of the acceptability of a risk, there is necessarily a degree of
hope-mongering. As best recognized when gambling, there is a process of self-persuasion
whereby one is convinced -- possibly against the odds -- that the hoped-for
profit will result from the transaction. Financial high-flyers -- as with free
solo climbers who forego
ropes, harnesses and other protective gear while ascending (relying only
on physical strength, climbing ability, and psychological fortitude
to avoid a fatal fall) -- are those capable of psyching themselves into confidence
in navigating risks others would tend to avoid. Such self-directed hope-mongering
is to be admired -- provided it does not exploit the resources of others,
as so clearly demonstrated by Nick
Leeson, whose unsupervised speculative trading in 1992 caused the collapse
of Barings Bank, the United Kingdom's oldest investment bank.
- "talking it up": with respect to currencies, other financial
instruments, or investment possibilities, there is a well-recognized process
it up" (Talking
Up the Dollar, 12 June 2008; Bush
Talks Up Dollar as He Heads to Europe, 10 June 2008; IMF
Chief Talking Up the Dollar, 8
October 2007; Talking
Up the Dollar, 20 July 2001). This process was in evidence during
the financial crisis of September 2008 when spokespersons of financial institutions
in immediate danger of collapse endeavoured to reassure investors that their
investments were safe and the institution was sound -- specifically to discourage
withdrawals. The beginning of that historic week even saw US presidential
candidate John McCain stating, in a much publicized phrase, that the economy
The invitation to have confidence in a vulnerable institution, especially
by those informed of its degree of vulnerability, can be most appropriately
described as hope-mongering. It is especially problematic when it makes light
of the risk to the life savings of the most vulnerable people.
Luck: gambling and lottery hope-mongering
For many the process of financial investment bears a strong relationship to
that of gambling, whether or not a measure of skill is understood to be involved.
In gambling any process whereby people psych themselves up to believe in a
profitable outcome can be fruitfully understood as personally directed hope-mongering
in which the person chooses to indulge. More problematic is the context created
by a casino complex, where its own profitability depends on its capacity to
nurture the client's hope in financial gain. In this sense hope-mongering is
the essence of the gambling business -- and more generally any business based
Participating in a lottery may be similarly understood in terms of hope-mongering,
whether it be the personal indulgence in the belief that one may finally win,
or the publicity of the lottery promoter nurturing that belief.
More generally, there is the extremely widespread belief in luck and what
it may bring. The intimate relationship with auspicious omens provides every
opportunity for personally nurtured hope-mongering. More questionable is the
manner in which belief in the auspiciousness of occasions -- or the purchase
of some product or service that "brings luck" -- is cultivated to
the advantage of others who benefit from any such action in the hope of gain.
This may then be understood as hope-mongering.
In relationship to any form of gambling, and the expectation of benefitting
from luck, of particular interest is the process of a "confidence
is the attempt to defraud a person or group through gaining
their confidence and then exploiting it. As such it may be understood as a
form of hope-mongering -- with a specifically envisaged sting. Hope-mongering
might well be understood as a form of confidence trick.
Hope-mongering through postponing fulfillment
Hope is intimately related to a desired future condition, hopefully to become
manifest in the immediate future. The sense in which the condition may be brought
to fulfillment, and when, therefore offers many opportunities for hope-mongering
as the following indicate.
- procrastination, notably as typical of politics, or individual
requests for an increase in salary, calls upon hope-mongering skills. These
are used to ensure that the desired future remains a credible possibility,
whilst justifying the need for delay. Labour unions are especially sensitive
to this form of abuse.
- excuses for failure in any task may also be fruitfully presented with the
aid of hope-mongering skills, inspiring confidence that the task will be
duly completed at some later time
- having a child may be seen as a means of guaranteeing
a more fulfilling future, as the child ages into an adult (possibly as
a source of care and
assistance), whatever the immediate challenges of bringing it up. The question
here is the degree of self-delusion associated with this process and the
degree to which this is promoted and sustained by relatives and friends,
irrespective of circumstances -- through hope-mongering.
- acquisition of skills, possibly through formal education (as discussed
above), may be undertaken in the expectation that these will result in (competitive)
advantages. Again this may be undertaken with hope sustained by others, including
those providing the skills, in a manner usefully recognized as hope-mongering
- use of certain products, whether health and/or cosmetic
products, stimulants, or recreational drugs, may be seen optimistically as
a means of achieving a desirable condition, whether or not this is actively
encouraged by others through a process of hope-mongering. This would also
be true of cosmetic surgery and the fashion industry in general.
This is a particular, and widely recognized, example of hope-mongering through
It is evident wherever relationships are entered into with an intention that
may be explicit or implicit. Obvious variants include:
- interpersonal relationships: here the most typical example is offered by
the dynamics of flirtation, courtship and the possibility of intercourse.
This may well take the form of a mutually enjoyable game in which both parties
indulge in various forms of hope-mongering, encouraging expectations of fulfillment,
or indulging in fantasies about such fulfillment.
- parental relationship with children: as a special example
of an interpersonal relationship, in which patterns of expectation and behaviour
are formed. The process whereby children are invited to behave in a prescribed
way with the prospect of future reward -- "if you are good" --
might be seen as the archetypal form of hope-mongering
- entrepreneurial relationships: here it is the dynamics
of networking, cultivating contacts, and closing in on a deal. During this
process the hopes and expectations of the other party are cultivated, indeed
it may be the successful presentation of such possibilities -- through hope-mongering
-- that leads to conclusion of the deal.
- diplomatic special relationships: here it is the relationships between
countries that are cultivated, with the diplomatic art being to trade short
term concessions for possible advantages in the longer-term -- as exercise
in hope-mongering. An important example is provided by the "special relationship"
between the USA and the UK -- who has been kidding whom?
Hope-mongering through distraction
Entertainment, recreation and amusement offer a means in the moment of avoiding
concern with conditions for which people otherwise yearn. This is the Roman
insight into the merit of "circuses". Longer-term hopes are magically
transmuted into immediate satisfactions. The challenge of longer-term hopes
is met by their transformation into more easily supplied satisfactions through
which the other desires are forgotten (if only for the moment).
Where the hopes are for relief from "bad things", entertainment
is indeed a valued distraction through which they "go away". Recreational
drugs and substance abuse may be seen in this light -- as with competitive
sport, exemplified by the Olympic Games.
Of particular interest is the question whether the effort to focus on "good
news" and to avoid attention to "bad news" is to be considered
as effectively an exercise in hope-mongering. Related to this is the role of "yes
the entourage of people of authority -- offering them a cocoon of positive
reporting on their achievements, popularity, future success and legacy.
Most challenging is the use of various distractions of this kind to facilitate
forgetting historical parallels and the lessons that might otherwise be learnt
from them. In this sense hope-mongering is the self-deluding process of promoting
the illusion of triumphing over historical experience -- as is increasingly
evident in Afghanistan.
Hope-mongering through reframing
This is illustrated by the well-known tale of the person searching under a
lamplight in the street at night for keys that had been lost outside the lighted
area -- because it was easier to look under the light. The real challenge,
being more problematic, is consciously or unconsciously reframed -- but in
such a way as to avoid its resolution. This might be termed personalized hope-mongering
-- promotion of the hope that the keys are where it would be convenient for
them to be.
This approach might be seen as characteristic of the use of many tools,
models and strategies through which problems are tackled. It is exemplified
by the adage:
If all you have is a hammer, then any problem looks
like a nail. Consultants may well adopt this approach -- hope-mongering
to clients that the proposed approach is the most adequate and appropriate.
Specialization may be seen in these terms, framing the scope of a discipline
or methodology to effectively exclude parameters that are problematic so as
to transform the problem from a "hard problem" into one that is "amenable".
Disciplines may even deliberately avoid hard problems for this reason -- and
discourage attention to them -- at the same time promoting the appropriateness
of the discipline. This is then a form of hope-mongering. The very authority
of the discipline, and those with its expertise, then engenders hope -- authority
as hope-mongering through the expectations it engenders.
Of particular concern is the manner in which systemic
issues -- requiring a comprehensive set of tools and insights -- are inappropriately
reframed into narrower frameworks. This is indicative of situations in which,
through a form of "conceptual gerrymandering", boundaries of relevance
are inappropriately defined for convenience -- anything beyond the boundary
then being understood implicitly as irrelevant to the challenge at hand.
For those faced with the challenge of governance of complex systems, the offerings
of specific disciplines, and consultants with their particular models, poses
a continuing problem of how to respond to their hope-mongering. On the other
hand, for those seeking to avoid responsibility, use of a narrow range of expertise
from the most eminent authorities may be readily used as an excuse for not
responding more effectively top more complex problems -- where the situation
is beyond the capacity of such a limited skill set.
Responsibility for what proves to be higher orders of complexity is thereby
framed as deniable. Implicit denial of this possibility in governance, and
the associated incompetence, then constitutes a form of hope-mongering by those
claiming to be responding effectively to the expectations of the governed.
Exceptionalism as hope-mongering
A particular example of hope-mongering through reframing is evident in some
forms of explanatory exceptionalism.
Most striking are cases where a set of similar problems is observed but these
are deliberately, or inadvertently, framed as isolated cases with no systemic
implications. Treated as "anomalies"
there is then no case for other levels of explanation. Each is then considered
to be appropriately treated on a "case by case" basis. This approach
is especially helpful when there is a major need for "damage limitation" and
avoidance of systemic implications.
Striking examples in recent years have been offered by:
- sexual abuse by clergy
- violent and inhumane treatment of civilians and prisoners by military personnel
- infringement of health and safety regulations by industry
- tax avoidance, tax evasion and exploitation of loopholes by the wealthy
- extinction of individual species
- certain forms of urban violence (knife crime, school shootings, etc)
In each case considerable effort may be devoted, during damage limitation,
to ensuring that any cases are indeed seen in isolation. Hope is then engendered
that they are indeed exceptions and that there is no cause for wider or deeper
"reassurances" by relevant authorities under those conditions may
then be usefully understood as hope-mongering.
The process through which a set of such exceptions is transformed into recognition
of a previously unsuspected systemic challenge is worthy of attention. This
is the domain of the poorly recognized discipline of "anomaly research" which
specifically addresses the question as to whether an anomaly is an indication
of a more systemic problem. Curiously, however, "anomaly research" has
itself been marginalized by being associated primarily with the questionable
preoccupations of the "alternative" and "pseudosciences".
Dangerous neglect of underlying patterns
The above indications point to the merit of
considering how the current focus on the "credit crunch" and
the major dramatic challenges to the financial system effectively obscure underlying
patterns of systemic neglect -- of which the "credit crunch" is
merely a symptom. Such underlying patterns are necessarily even more disruptive
of cognitive equanimity and "business as usual".
Frame control: The crisis with regard to the financial system, and identification
of who is responsible, is especially interesting as an illustration of contrasting
responses to frame control:
- exceptionalism: as dramatically illustrated by the widespread incidence
of sexual abuse by clergy over decades (if not centuries), this was most
successfully framed in terms of exceptionalism and isolated "bad apples".
Any implication of systemic problems, calling into question the authority
of the church and its hierarchy, was successfully quashed in official inquiries
and their recommendations -- whatever the conclusions drawn by
the faithful and the wider population. It was the "bad apples" who were to
be blamed in a process reminiscent of scapegoating.
- systemic dysfunctionality: any discussion to date regarding
who or what is responsible for the financial crisis and the credit crunch
has carefully focused on its systemic nature -- as emphasized, for example,
by Jean-Claude Trichet,
president of the European
Central Bank. Some blame has been temporarily attached to traders who
have engaged in short
selling as a form of speculation
that allows a trader to take a "negative position" in a company,
although this process has been framed as necessary to ensure a healthy market.
Ironically (by comparison with abuse by the clergy) the genuinely problematic
transactions are termed "naked
short selling" and those engaged in this process are to be held
responsible (by implication only) for significant destabilization of the
financial system, hopefully to be otherwise presented as healthy (whatever
token regulatory measures are deemed appropriate). The process of providing
disproportionately high rewards and bonuses to those responsible for the
operation of the financial system, or complicit in its operation, is embarrassing
(in dialogue with the uninitiated) but not considered indicative of culpability
by those associated with the system. Although, as indicated by Nicolas
Sarkozy, president of France, the very fact that certain
individuals were so rewarded would seem to indicate very clear recognition
of who was responsible for excesses in the system (from which many profited)
and the disastrous consequences for others.
Here it is evident how responsibility is avoided by two seemingly distinct
processes, one in which individuals are blamed and the other in which the system
as a whole is to blame. There is no question in the first case of considering
the degree to which the system is to blame and none in the second of considering
the degree to which individuals are to blame for what some might term "financial
crimes against humanity" -- although some may be isolated as scapegoats
(even as "Nasty financial war criminals", who will reeive a slap on the
wrist and a golden handshake).
Despite the dimensions of the financial disaster, there is even a sense in
which anything problematic in the organization of the system can be reframed
in terms of system dynamics. Interesting in this respect is use of the judgement-free
of "turbulence" in the market to describe the crisis (such as by Alistair
Darling, UK Chancellor
of the Exchequer). Such a metaphor frames the crisis as an act of nature,
if not an Act of God, clearly beyond human responsibility, whether individual
or collective -- possibly to be understood as a cyclic problem like exceptional
flooding or hurricanes. As with one view (increasingly deprecated) of global
warming, the financial crisis is then in no way to be considered a consequence
of human activity.
In its own effort to relativize the dimensions of the crisis, The
Economist (27 September 2008) compares the cost of bailouts from various
recent financial crises as a percentage of GDP: USA (1988, 3.7%),
Finland (1991 (12.8%), Sweden (1991, 3.6%), Mexico (1994, 19.3%), Japan (1997,
24.0%), S Korea (1997, 31.2%) -- the current crisis then being relatively
trivial at an estimated 5.8%.
Dysfunctional pattern of thinking: However, as indicated
above, the real challenge is not the particular crisis of the financial system.
Many have commented on its problems, and their implications, over past decades
-- and been completely ignored by those complicit in its processes or responsible
for them. The real challenge lies in the pattern of thinking which sustained
that particular system and denied its problematic nature -- in a massive act
of hope-mongering. The question is whether that pattern of thinking is actively
denying the existence of other systemic challenges and repressing consideration
of their potential implications -- namely sustaining a pattern of hope-mongering
in other areas.
In this sense, is the subprime crisis, and its consequences
for the financial system as a whole, to be considered an indicator of a dysfunctional
mode of thought in which humanity collectively engages at this time? Alternatively,
should that crisis of confidence, framed as a "credit crunch",
be seen as a metaphor for what might be better understood as a "credibility
crunch" -- credibility
being intimately related to creditworthiness?
It is appropriate to note the repeated references to "confidence" and "building
confidence" in relation to the financial crisis. The financial system,
as with the monetary system, is indeed based entirely on the confidence through
which credit is accepted and "liquidity" ensured in an otherwise "frozen"
system. Their analogues may prove especially significant for the future.
The justification for exploring such systemic parallels is indicated by comparison
with issues relating to climate change as notably reported by Tony Macalister
must be turned to green benefit, The Guardian, 23 September
There were marked similarities between the lack of transparency and action
on complex lending risks that had wreaked havoc in the banking community
and the kinds of dangers being stored up by corporate and political inaction
over global warming... governments and business leaders have massively underestimated
the risks posed by rising sea levels and changing weather patterns --
any costs associated with moving to a low-carbon economy were... "negligible" compared
with the costs of doing nothing. The banking crisis meant the rules of engagement
by governments had changed completely.... The same system of "force
majeure" was needed to tackle climate change through new eco-taxes,
and help to supplement carbon trading.
On the other hand Jim Kunstler (World Made By Hand, 2008) writes:
What the mainstream is truly missing here en masse is that another tsunami
is building right behind the finance fiasco, and that it will render moot
the whole reeking cargo of schemes and wishes that comprises the Great Bail-out.
I am speaking of the global oil problem. In fact, the problems in banking
and money currently roaring in the center ring of the world circus, can be
described categorically as a product of the oil problem -- since oil is the
primary resource of industrial economies and therefore the motive force behind
our ability to generate "wealth." Without reliable and ever-growing
supplies of oil, there is no industrial growth, and without industrial growth
things like capital investment instruments lose their legitimacy. That is
why the Frankenstein family of Ponzi securities was invented in the first
place -- to compensate for the demise of industrial growth by creating wealth
out of... nothing!
But, if the sophisticated economic and financial models, developed with no
concern for cost by banking and investment institutions (including the IMF
and the World Bank), were unable to predict the liquidity crisis and provide
adequate warnings, how credible are the arguments of economists and others
regarding other potential crises -- notably those relating to non-renewable
resources and population overshoot?
|International Tribunal for Financial Crimes
Those who are held to have engaged in crimes against humanity typically
act legally according to the laws of their own country. They helped make
them. Those of the Nazi regime tried for war crimes in the Nuremburg
Trials would not have been
found guilty within their own legal system. The current financial crisis
is being effectively framed as the responsibility of no one in particular
-- although a few minor actors may be presented as scapegoats.
profited extensively by the processes that engendered the crisis are
not held to be "guilty", in fact the bailout will respect past contractual
obligations to them however excessive their provisions may be. Were the
contractual obligations of those tried at Nurmeburg respected? How much
harm to humans is required before those deemed responsible are considered
to have acted criminally against humanity? How is that determination
made? Are they simply those who profited disproportionately by their
complicity in concealing "toxic" risk? Does such misrepresentation
not constitute a crime? Does incitement to such misrepresentation not
constitute a crime?
Given that $700 billion can be so readily found to bailout those whose
business model has failed so disastrously, how come no such funds are
available to those living dangerously below the poverty line -- in the
USA or elsewhere? At what point does the failure to assist such people
itself become a crime against humanity? How is that determination made?
When there are millions of
deaths by starvation?
What other risks are being managed in a similar
manner with similar arrogance? Should the current approach to such risk
management now be considered criminal? How will bailouts be made when
their disasters strike?
How is it that so few parallels are drawn with the mortage lending disaster
in the USA in the 1980s involving the Savings
and Loan Association -- for which the bailout cost a variously estimated
$0.5 to 1.4 trillion?
Overpopulation shunning mindset: the most dangerous form of
The case of overpopulation is especially
interesting in the light of its parallels to the subprime crisis. As argued
Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient
truth, 2008), imprudent religions encourage unchecked production
of children by gullible parents -- when the possibility of sustaining their
ecological footprint is increasingly risky. Through a process of hope-mongering,
parents are effectively deluded into "financing" this
endeavour through a form of "ecological mortage" guaranteed by those
religions (acting in the name of divinity). Populations are being encouraged
to borrow non-renewable environmental resources beyond their probable means
to repay -- or that of the generations they are thereby enabled to engender.
As with irresponsible mortage lending, no mention is made of caveat
Overshoot Day, 23 September, marks the day in 2008 when humanity begins
living beyond its ecological means. Beyond that day, humanity moves into the
ecological equivalent of deficit spending, utilizing resources at a rate
faster than what the planet can regenerate in a calendar year. It is of course
to be expected that in 2009 it will be earlier in the calendar year.
Like the financial institutions (prior to the subprime crisis), many religions
offer every assurance that all will be well -- deprecating arguments to the
contrary -- vigorously ensuring that they are not effectively debated (Begetting:
challenges and responsibilities of overpopulation, 2007). Given
the moral authority of those religions, and the support they elicit from voters,
governments are also discouraged from questioning the quality of the "financial
offered. The quality of those "instruments",
in ecological terms, therefore goes totally unquestioned and unchallenged.
Any argument for
"transparency" is immediately challenged, as with the need for any
The metaphor offers a final twist in that the mortgage pledge only ceases
when the obligation of the borrower dies (hence "mort")
-- either when the obligation is fulfilled or the property is taken through foreclosure.
Presumably it will be Gaia (acting in the name of divinity), as the "lender
of last resort", who will "foreclose" -- ejecting humanity from
its environmental home as being ecologically uncreditworthy.
interest within this metaphor are the meanings that might be attributed to "prime
rate", supposedly the rate of interest in lending to favoured customers.
In environmental terms, it might it be understood as the rate appropriate to
healthy system renewal -- to sustainability -- as opposed to the "subprime"
rates at which populations are encouraged to borrow? When will the era of "population
triumphalism" be challenged -- or by what form of force
Is the threat of a population crisis what the current
focus on the financial crisis, or the climate change crisis, inadvertently
obscures -- if not deliberately? This possibility is confirmed
by the manner in which efforts to analyze the evolution of the world problematique,
as pioneered for the Club of Rome in 1972, are themselves undermined in an
academic context. As shown by Graham Turner (A
Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality,
CSIRO, 2007), the original study provoked many criticisms which falsely stated
its conclusions in order to discredit it. Despite the repeated substantiation
of its conclusions, including warnings of overshoot and collapse, recommendations
of fundamental changes of policy and behaviour for sustainability have not
been taken up. One of its principal areas of focus was population.
Ironically, in any comparison between the systemic financial crisis and
the emerging resource crisis arising from unsustainable population levels,
the repeatedly criticized short-termism of
policy-makers may be usefully compared with short
selling. As an analogue, the merits of such short-termism are appropriately
to be contrasted with "naked short selling". This has yet to be
clearly distinguished in policy terms -- perhaps as "blinkered" policy-making,
irresponsibly avoiding systemic implications, and therefore worthy of immediate "regulation".
Given the implications of population overshoot and the manner in which they
have been systematically denied, it is supremely ironic the urgency with
which the US administration, notably through George W. Bush, repeatedly stressed
in September 2008 the need for immediate action to accept the proposed financial
bailout package -- with warnings of chaos, financial meltdown and severe dislocations
if it was not approved.
|As markets plunge, banks fail and traders panic, the core principles
that have underpinned western economic and political culture for a generation
have been thoroughly discredited. Less than a month ago the invulnerability
and inviolability of unregulated global capitalism was common sense.
The system that leaves half of the world living on less than a dollar
a day, with some so impoverished that they are eating mud cakes and selling
their children into bondage, was apparently working well. To suggest
otherwise was to be dismissed as extreme.
But such orthodoxies can collapse even faster than markets... Good sense
demands a thoroughgoing reappraisal of a system that's in a state of collapse;
common sense requires we subsidise it in perpetuity for fear that it breaks
down. That sounds like nonsense.
(Gary Younge, America
has a terrible headache, but it seems that no one wants to cure it, The Guardian, 29 September 2008).
The question above concerns how appropriate reliance
on hope is to be distinguished from dysfunctional and abusive hope-mongering.
Modelling credibility crises of the future: The current financial
crisis and the associated credit crunch, triggered by subprime lending and
accumulation of "toxic debts", help to make it very clear that humanity
has gulled itself into a process of living on borrowed time. Attitudes
to the population explosion and its implications for resource usage have been
cultivated in a bubble of confidence continually reinforced by hope-mongering.
This has encouraged a frenzy of unregulated speculation in pursuit of personal
gain -- by some at considerable expense to others. The opportunities to exploit
environmental resources have multiplied endlessly, enabled by ever-increasing
ingenuity. This is usefully modelled by the development of the tremendous
complexities of the derivatives market -- with its minimum transparency and
its dissociation from any sustaining reality. These developments have engendered
ecological deficits beyond the capacity of most to comprehend -- if any even
considered it relevant to do so.
The dimensions of the sudden financial crisis have been totally unexpected
by those most implicated in hope-mongering and denial of its possibility. They
may well prove to be relatively minor by comparison with the probable consequences
for human society of the imminent crash engendered by population overshoot
and imprudent strategies of resource exploitation. It is appropriate to note
that as with the crash of the financial system, this too has been widely predicted.
The current urgency of the pleas for a
"bailout" is made by those most committed to a mindset
of unregulated speculative use of limited resources. The proposed bailout --
and the effort to stampede decision-makers into approving it -- can be seen
as presaging the manner in which any "solution" will be proposed to any future
environmental crisis, whatever dramatic form it takes. It is therefore indicative
of the nature of the response to the underlying emergent challenge, the highly
problematic consequences of the simplistic remedies that will be available
at the last minute, and the burden it will place on future generations.
As an indicative model of a future "credibility crunch", the "credit crunch"
draws attention to consequences of a complete erosion of confidence and trust
in the institutions and authorities that have been so complicit in the hope-mongering
processes by which the crisis has been engendered. In this respect, the fact
that both funds and markets have been "frozen" by the crisis is suggestive
of how even non-financial and informational transactions would be "frozen"
by any future more general crisis of confidence. The loss of "liquidity" now
experienced in financial terms may then translate into a more dangerous
loss of flexibility in both socio-economic and psycho-social systems -- with
Recognition of dangerous underlying patterns: Beyond the
financial crisis, it is therefore even more vital to identify other -- even
more fundamental -- systemic processes that are also effectively based on "confidence".
Are they vulnerable to a form of "subprime crisis" as a result of
questionable "lending" -- through hope-mongering? A number of candidates
for consideration are identified above. But the prime candidate, worthy of
the most careful attention, is overpopulation -- in relation to the capacity
of humanity to live within its planetary means, and especially in the light
of the many analyses of "overshoot" and the manner in which such
warning signals have been authoritatively considered to be of no significance
Archetypal hope-mongering: It is with respect to any such systematically-denied
underlying challenges that hope-mongering becomes most clearly evident in two
distinct forms, whatever population levels are reached:
- creative responsive of human ingenuity: as noted above,
the challenge with respect to this form of hope-mongering has been explored
Ingenuity Gap: how can we solve the problems of the future? 2000)
who subsequently recognized the inevitability of collapse of civilization
as it is currently known (The
Upside of Down: catastrophe, creativity, and the renewal of civilization,
2006), as with Jared
Diamond before him (Collapse:
how societies choose to fail or succeed, 2005). For technocrats,
as discussed elsewhere, this is the prime reaon for optimism (In
Quest of Optimism Beyond the Edge -- through avoidance of the answering process,
interesting in any comparison with the financial markets is the degree of
creative ingenuity, of the highest mathematical order, that has been employed
in the development of the derivative market -- held specifically to be one
of the systemic factors that resulted in the financial crisis.
- hope-mongering and rapture: as noted above, equally significant
if not more so, is the degree of influence on faith-based governance of the
widespread belief in some form of rapture,
or divine "bailout". Is this "bailout by God"? This
is notably a factor in the US presidential campaign at the time of writing.
In a sense the more fundamental or dramatic the complex of problems faced
by humanity, the higher the probability of such intervention from a faith-based
rational strategic responses may therefore be readily set aside in a celebration
of short-termism worthy of the financial markets. But what if it proves to
by Allah" as the lender of last resort -- with a different conception
of "Wall Street"? The
final crisis is both a matter of prophecy and to be welcomed for the future
it will then enable, as discussed elsewhere (Spontaneous
Initiation of Armageddon: a heartfelt response to systemic negligence,
2004). Is God appropriately to be instrumentalized as a sophisticated form
of luck-cum-bailout device, responsive to praise and appeals?
Credibility: In whom should one have confidence when authorities have abused
trust to such a degree -- and with a minimum of humility and self-criticism?
The intellectual brilliance of the best and the brightest, and their supporting
institutions, is now completed dissociated from the hopes that might otherwise
be appropriately placed in them. It is their very "ingenuity" that
engendered the crisis. It is in this sense that hope-mongerers need to be seen
as operating like the mortage brokers that engendered the subprime crisis through "toxic
loans". To what extent do "lobbyists" perform a similar function
-- as "pushers" of the hope-drug in a drug-dependent culture?
Given the role they are called upon to play, should the UNDP Human
Development Report or the Human
Development Index also reflect the degree of reliance on hope, the
incidence of hope-mongering, and the extent of broken promises made to populations?
A precedent has been set by industry in various countries having an "index
of business confidence" or an "index of consumer confidence".
Concerns with social capital have resulted in an "index of confidence
in institutions" and an "index
of confidence in the employment market".
After the bursting of the bubble engendered by the dynamics of an unregulated
financial system, what other bubbles may soon burst -- equally unexpectedly
and with what implications? Although a specialist in mathematical
finance and an early pioneer of complex financial derivatives, the perceptions
of Nassim Nicholas Taleb ( The
Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable, 2007) are particularly
relevant to the bursting of such bubbles. This argument has been further developed
in an associated paper (Systemic
Crises as Keys to Systemic Remedies: a metaphorical Rosetta Stone for future
In lieu of any other apology?
Editorial conclusion by The Economist, 20th September 2008: Ten
short days saw the nationalisation, failure or rescue of what was once
the world's biggest insurer, with assets of $1 trillion, two of the world's
biggest investment banks, with combined assets of another $1.5 trillion,
and two giants of America's mortgage markets, with assets of $1.8 trillion.
The government of the world's leading capitalist nation has been sucked
deep into the maelstrom of its most capitalist industry. And it looks
This is a black week. Those of us who have supported financial capitalism
are open to the charge that the system we championed has merely enabled
a few spivs to get rich. But it helped produce healthy economic growth
and low inflation for a generation. It would take a very big recession
indeed to wipe out those gains. Do not forget that in the debate ahead.
Editorial of the Financial Times, 27th September
praise of free markets: a flawed but precious mechanism.
The financial system has reached the point of maximum peril. After years
of profligacy, banks have all but stopped lending to each other as the
US Congress decides whether to extend support. If the unravelling of
the banking system continues, the economic consequences will be dire.
Yet there is an even greater risk: that the politicians now contemplating
Wall Street's follies draw the wrong conclusions and take the wrong
decisions, losing their confidence in markets altogether.
|Is this bubble-blowing at its best -- under difficult
What level of economic disaster, if any, would induce The
write an Apologia per vita sua -- as theologians used to understand