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Economic Mood Swings and Emotional States of the Union ( 0) Printer friendly page Print This
By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III). Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Monday, Aug 22, 2011

Fearlessly the idiot faced the crowd, smiling
Merciless, the magistrate turns 'round, frowning
and who's the fool who wears the crown

- Pink Floyd, from "Fearless"

You are about to order lunch and the waiter has a sudden panic attack about the availability of salmon. Suddenly, what was a $19.95 entrée becomes $29.95. Later that day, after popping a Xanax, the waiter is relaxed and smiling, so the next person to order salmon cops a deal at $9.95.

Sound ridiculous? This is apparently how world stock markets operate nowadays, as the following headline, like a description of a 1950s sci-fi B-movie, shows: "Share markets plummet as fear returns"1

Other emotional states get blamed, too (my bolds): " 'People are nervous about the outlook for the global economy,' Grant Lewis, head of economic research at Daiwa Capital Markets in London, told the BBC." And, "Worried investors deserted riskier assets and sought out havens for their cash." And, "US investment analyst Jack de Gan, chief investment officer at Harbor Advisory, said: 'If there's stress in major European banks, it will affect US banks too.' " And, "Virginie Maisonneuve, head of global and international equities at Schroders Investment Management, told the BBC: 'The essential point is the lack of confidence in the future, so companies are holding back on hiring.' But the article's title highlights The Return of Fear, like the "Creature from the Black Lagoon."

Are we really expected to believe that creature-like, tail slapping water swings -- up 500 points one day and down 300 the next -- are based on random emotions? And if so, how is this fear calculated, and who does it start with?

And what of those who must ward off fear getting the best of them: Where is the next meal coming from? How do the bills get paid? Is the stream clean enough to drink from?

Consider further all the money, all the tax dollars spent on national security (at the expense of basic services that help people's lives), with so little discussion on how worth it or wasteful it is. The premise, of course, is: without such protection you might not have a life. (Scary stuff, huh?) But at what point does such questionable reasoning bow down to the basic needs of food, shelter, health services, jobs . . . ?

Add to the mix the War on Terror, more accurately called War Of Terror, and a pattern emerges. Fear, whether deliberately pumped-in with systemic fervor or the naturally occurring kind that each of us must wrestle with in our psyches, is a powerful emotion.

A Catch-Phrase We Can Release

All of the above harkens back to a widely quoted statement, uttered with patriotic conviction by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his first inaugural address in 1933: "So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."2

Hang on there, Mr. New Dealer, fearing fear still amounts to being fearful. By the way, how does one fear fear? Is it like fear of the unknown? Perhaps it is like the free floating anxiety of psychiatric jargon. And if we have nothing to fear except fear itself, then should we have no fear of nuclear power, oil pipelines, almost endless wars? Some fears are not the unwarranted panic kind, rather the more rational from experience type. Perhaps those are better called concerns, worries, or issues, but if the heart is racing and one wonders whether survival depends on staying or going, seems best to admit it is "fear," and, by doing so, help transform it into courageous action.

But wait, maybe FDR was correct. "Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts...". Gosh, sounds like a good chunk of the behavior of the military-industrial complex, national security state, and world's stock markets all rolled into one scary behemoth.

Listening to a radio show a few months ago, this writer learned that oil prices are essentially ruled by what is called "geo-political risk factor." For example, if it looks like country "A" may soon be in the throes of a revolution, thus jeopardizing typical oil production and distribution, the price goes up so as to cover potential future loses. "More water?" asks the manic-depressive, salmon-gambling waiter.

This economy of emotions flies in the face of the discipline of acting in spite of one's feelings, and not because of them. At times, one may feel nervous, scared, or tired yet take right action anyway. With the mood swing economy, however, emotional whims serve as a scapegoat -- someone gets spooked, and the rest of us pay for it at the proverbial pump. But how genuine is the spook? Seems more a case of calculated efforts to control the till.

Confronting Ourselves, Confronting Others

Poet, painter, co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti cites Kent State as a turning point of the American fear factor mood swing. On May 4th in 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard ". . . fired 67 rounds over a period of 13 seconds, killing four students and wounding nine others, one of whom suffered permanent paralysis."3 The unarmed students were protesting the United States Empire's invasion of Cambodia. In Chris Felver's bio-documentary, "The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti," Ferlinghetti says: "Revolution of consciousness happened in the '60s with expansion of consciousness, but the political revolution never happened, it was aborted, I think after Kent State that was the end of it . . ."4

In his song, "Ohio," Neil Young paid his respects and let the People know, "We're finally on our own":

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Who's the Scariest One of All?

In his essay, "Confronting the Military-Industrial-Complex: The MIC at 50," Bruce E. Levine refers to lack of action for change as due to "demoralism and defeatism," a collective sense of being worn down over the years.5 (Ask the Native Americans about how to deal with that!)

Which comes first, fear or depression, would make for an interesting psychological study. In any case, the following statistics add fuel to Levine's assessment: "About 10% of Americans — or 27 million people — were taking antidepressants in 2005, the last year for which data were available at the time the study was written. That's about twice the number in 1996 . . ."6

To rephrase FDR, by adding some wisdom from Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung: 'We have nothing to fear but our shadow self.' That is, until one can face and not be afraid of one's darker side, the opportunities to inaccurately project the cause of one's fear onto others become almost endless. (Empires avoid mirrors like the plague!) There may well be reason to be afraid of someone or something else, but it is typically much easier to determine if the fear is justified IF one's home front is emotionally clear.

Greed often gets top billing for much of what ails the economy and thus the world, yet greed and fear seem to have an odd way of feeding off each other. "King Kong vs. Godzilla"?

Turning one's back on the sick game and walking away from it is one solution. Confronting it head on, another. Finding some sort of middle ground, or as Buddhists say, Middle Way, yet another. The formula for how many people doing what, so as to reshape world affairs for the better, remains to be seen.

With the Tar Sands Pipeline protests7 already in action, "Occupy Wall St."8 and other peaceful world protests at financial centers slated for September 17th, plus "The Military Industrial Complex at 50" conference in Charlottesville from September 18-20,9 let's hope that the world and its People are ready for a time of peaceful, non-violent change.

Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is an essayist and resident poet on Axis of Logic. In addition to his work as a writer, he is a small press publisher and Turtle Islander. You can contact him via his literary website.



  1. Share markets plummet as fear returns

  2. F.D.R.'s First Inaugural Speech: Nothing to fear

  3. Kent State shootings

  4. The Coney Island of Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Also, a more recent documentary by Chris Felver, "Ferlinghetti."

  5. Confronting the Military-Industrial-Complex: The MIC at 50

  6. Number of Americans taking antidepressants doubles

  7. Tar Sands Action

  8. Occupy Wall Street. A worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics

  9. MIC at 50
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