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Superliminal messages, or: The Earth blew up, and you just haven't noticed!

One day in the 8th grade, I decided that I didn't want to be just another statistic. I decided that I was going to stand out. I attempted to accomplish this by saying weird things. I had a tendency to suddenly exclaim, "Spontaneous combustion rules!" Another of my favorites was to suddenly grasp a friend and say:

"The Earth blew up, and you just haven't noticed! You know how subliminal messages are so subtle that you don't really notice them? Well, this is SUPERliminal. When the Earth blows up while you're standing on it, that's pretty damn obvious, right? In fact, it's SO obvious that no one noticed it happened! We've all been blown to bits, but we just aren't aware of it!"

As you can see, I attracted a lot of girls in middle school. :P

So yeah, ridiculous concept, right? Haha, dumb joke. Could never happen. Well...

I was reminded of it by this article called U.S. Is Bankrupt and We Don't Even Know It by economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff. I also recently watched I.O.U.S.A., a documentary that prominently features former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker telling us that our fiscal, trade, and savings deficits are out of control. (It also talked about a "leadership deficit", but I found that part hokey.)

I thought I.O.U.S.A. was a bit lacking in descriptions of what will actually happen if we don't do anything about it. It spends most of its running time convincing us of how huge these deficits are without explaining why huge deficits are bad. But then the economic collapse of Greece happened, and that gives us a taste. Kotlikoff does explain what will suddenly happen one day when the pyramid scheme our country is running stops working:

The first possibility is massive benefit cuts visited on the baby boomers in retirement. The second is astronomical tax increases that leave the young with little incentive to work and save. And the third is the government simply printing vast quantities of money to cover its bills.

Most likely we will see a combination of all three responses with dramatic increases in poverty, tax, interest rates and consumer prices.

I read this, and my first thought was, "So basically, we're screwed. Yay." Pretty defeatist. No one wants to admit that such a huge problem exists. Most people don't even get that far and just assume the problem isn't a big deal, or that it will go away. I admit there's part of me that believes that still. It's human nature. People don't want to suffer any austerity measures. Any politician asking for that would be committing political suicide. Who's going to vote for both fewer services and higher taxes? People can't imagine how huge a problem this is. Climate change faces a similar problem. People deny it because they can't imagine such extensive effects to society.

Both problems are so massively huge that we can't see them. They're "superliminal"! But then, neither really matters, of course, since our planet has already been blown to smithereens, and we just haven't noticed!

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 12, 2010.

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