So Cappy Cap recently linked to an old post of mine, The F You Fund and sent a whole bunch of traffic my way...which reminded me that I owe him one. He sent me a review copy of Enjoy the Decline back in January, and I have yet to write my review.
And I'm still not going to.
Well, not really a standard fare book review (though I do recommend it, it's an easy but thought provoking read worth the time and money), like the one I gave for Athol's Married Man Sex Life Primer.
Instead, this will be a blog post about the ideas, opinions and concepts of our Rumpleminze-drinking, ballroom-dancing, cigar-smoking, economist and eternal-bachelor writes about in his book and my own experiences here in Hawaii as I too have endeavored to enjoy my time in this epoch of civilization's decline.
Indeed, Captain Capitalism's book reads to me like a summary of the realizations I've come to on my own throughout the history of writing here at this blog.
But dire as the situation may be, there is some hope. Genuine hope, not the hope that is found in presidential speeches and pablum. Hope that is practical, real, and will yield results. However, this hope comes from the only place real hope can come from – within – which means we have to focus on ourselves and what is within our control to realize this hope and capitalize on it.
This is the main theme he presents on how each and every one of us finds ways to get the most out of life despite increasingly harder economic times and the breakdown of social cohesion in our increasingly fragmented, atomized, rude and crude society. The first step in the process of enjoying the decline, is to recognize the following:
1. A environment that has changed on us rendering our previous plans impotent
2. A situation we are powerless to control
3. A situation that requires we change our psychology to understand it
4. A situation that requires we change our behavior in order to make the best of it
Ah yes, these 4 points chart quite well with my own experiences of the past decade. My B2B sales career that had been earning close to 6 figures in commissions went down the tubes when the housing bubble popped. I went bankrupt because I thought the good times would never end, that my career trajectory was on an upward track, and I kept buying stuff I didn't need, with money I didn't have.
After a short period of unemployment, found myself resorting to physical, manual labor trade work to make ends meet. All of that time and effort I had sunken into attaining a college degree and the experience of over a decade working in my former desk jockey vocation amount to nothing in the new reality of Hawaii's job market in our current global Great Depression 2.0.
Economically, I've never been worse off. I work a physically demanding job that leaves me exhausted on a daily basis, and we are now living paycheck to paycheck just trying to keep the utilities on, gas in the car and good, wholesome and nutritious food on the table, and good quality booze chilling in the fridge. But, for a number of reasons that Cappy explains in detail, I can honestly say I've never been happier. There's more to life than money...and it's a lot more enjoyable when you've managed to get almost all debts cleared and to live (nearly) debt free.
I'm past the point of trying to get back on track with what was once my former long term goals (a big house in an UMC suburb with new cars) when I was at the peak of productivity in what is now essentially an outdated and outmoded business. If there's one thing I've come to realize about today's Brave New World Order, it's this: the only folks who are thriving right now in this economy, are the corporate entities who are making their money selling goods and services to the Government.
Small businesses and entrepreneurship are under siege on all fronts in today's corporatist economy. All of the small businesses I know of are barely managing to keep afloat, and a large number have been closing up shop. That was basically the story of the small company I worked for. When Cappy writes, " A situation that requires we change our behavior in order to make the best of it," I smile a little.
I had no choice but change my behavior and re-focus my time and attention on more rewarding pursuits. I was forced to re-evaluate what was most important in life and to take enjoyment in things outside of the materialistic, consumerist paradigm.
Gone are the days of eating out at fancy restaurants on a regular basis. Gone are the days of going out every sing weekend to nightclubs and bars and spending hundreds of dollars on alcohol and food. Gone are the days of paying for all the premium cable TV packages. Gone are the days of going out to the movies or ordering Pay Per View sporting events. Gone are the days of mindless shopping as a recreational activity. Gone are the days of hopping on an airplane and taking weekend vacations on a whim. Gone are the days of buying expensive and elaborate gifts for friends and family. Gone are the days of upgrading to the latest phones and electronic gadgets, of buying the latest video game consoles and new release games. Gone are the days of buying CDs, DVDs and Books on a regular basis.
These days, it's all about conserving, re-using, recycling, repairing or learning to do without. Of finding entertainment in the simple things in life that don't require cover charges, service tips, minimizing recurring subscription fees and debt financing big ticket items.
More importantly, it's about investing your time and energy into the thing that truly pays the most dividends in terms of overall life satisfaction. Cappy sums it up perfectly:
With a thorough understanding of what is happening to our country, we need to turn our focus from acceptance and adaptation to one of enjoying life and enjoying the decline. Because no matter how bad things are and no matter how bad things are going to get, we still need to make the most of it. To do this we need to sit and ponder what really matters in life. What is most important in our lives. What is going to bring us the most amount of happiness. Thankfully the answer is quite simple and not up for debate.
Some people will disagree. Some will say riches, some will say wealth, some will say health, but those are all wrong answers. The correct answer is "other humans." The reason why is that out of everything on this planet, humans are the most interesting, entertaining, dynamic and intellectual things we'll ever run into.
Yes. Spending time with friends, family and close acquaintances. People you care about, because you KNOW they care about you.
This is great news in that the largest threats facing all Real Americans are not social, but rather political and economic. The government may be able to take away your money, but it can’t take away your friends. The government may be able to destroy the labor market, but it can’t stop your children from hugging you. And the government may be able to force you to work until you’re dead, but it can’t stop somebody from loving you. In other words, take away all material wealth and economic opportunity, the government cannot take away the one thing that makes life worth living – human interaction.
This is the essence of Cappy's advice on how best to enjoy the decline. I concur wholeheartedly.
What makes friends arguably the most important people in your life, is that they don’t have to hang out with you. They choose to hang out with you. Unlike the family you were born into, your friends aren’t “honor-bound” by blood or social mores requiring them to spend time with you. They consciously decide to spend some of their finite, precious time with you. That’s not only a great thing, that’s a very humbling thing. Out of everything in the world those people could be doing, out of everybody in the world they could be hanging out with, for whatever reason they consciously and purposely chose you over all those other things. This is why you should not only be incredibly grateful for your friends, but why they should play a pivotal role in your life. Because without friends, your life is quite hollow, which is all the more reason we need to learn how to appreciate them and incorporate them into our lives.
First, realize how unique and personalized your friends are. While you can’t pick your family, you can pick your friends. This effectively makes them your own “personally built family.” It also makes them the most important thing you’ll ever build.
This is the point I got to. When the economic times where high, and I lived like tomorrow I would always be able to bring in more money, and I would always have the resources to pay for my recreations, diversions and consumption patterns, I had a much larger group of friends and acquaintances I regularly hung out with.
As the economic times got tough, casual relationships with people pretty much fell apart. Friends who's favorite activity was spending hundreds of dollars a weekend on nightlife stopped making any efforts to stay in touch when we kept turning down invitations to go out with them like we used to.
For some, we attempted to get them to do other activities with us to maintain the relationships. Many of them were not interested. More specifically, those of our former friends (well, not that we had any bad falling outs, we just don't stay in touch anymore) who either worked for the State Government or large multi-national corporations who have not experienced any financial hardships, did not want to give up on their lifestyles of conspicuous, wasteful consumption, and they weren't interested in doing different activities with those of us who could no longer afford the nightlife barfly lifestyle.
Conversely, we have a smaller, much closer and tight-knit social group of friends that we hang out with now, and we all share the same values when it comes to wasting money in pursuit of recreation. For the price of one person's drink tab at a Honolulu Bar, we now buy a case of beer and a bottle of whiskey and get together in the back yard and play music. There's one thing I notice about these relationships we have with our friends - we all treat each other like family and we all trust each other completely. We have all known each other for a number of years, yet we never get bored of each others company. We all have each others back, and when one needs help, we are all there to do what we can. These friendships are profound, and infinitely more satisfying then the superficial friendships of those who's only common value was getting sauced on overpriced drinks in a deafening nightclubs with shitty music every weekend.
Cappy's got that one perfectly right. Find and choose high quality, interesting people to be your friends, and form a family with them based on trust, respect and shared interests, and you will find it much easier to enjoy the decline.