In an Insane World, Madness Looks Moderate & Sanity Looks Radical

Caitlin Johnstone targets status quo bias, arguing that this psychological glitch reinforces the U.S.-centralized empire and blocks the way to necessary change. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden presents former President George W. Bush with Liberty Medal, Nov. 11, 2018, Philadelphia.

By Caitlin Johnstone

There are no moderate, mainstream centrists in the U.S.-centralized empire. They do not exist.

It’s not that moderate, mainstream centrism is an inherently impossible position. In a healthy world, that’s exactly what the predominant worldview would be. But we do not live in a healthy world.

There are no moderate, mainstream centrists anywhere in the tight alliance of nations which function as a single empire on foreign policy, because that functional empire is built upon murder, terrorism, exploitation, oppression, ecocide and the stockpiling of Armageddon weapons.

People who support the status quo of this empire are called “moderates,” but, just like the so-called moderate rebels of Syria, they are in fact violent extremists.

This is the reality of living in a world that is profoundly psychologically unhealthy. If you make a career out of facilitating wars which cause explosives to be dropped from the sky on top of innocent human beings causing their bodies to be ripped to shreds and buried in rubble, then you are treated as an exemplar of ideal leadership and rewarded with prestigious positions in politics, punditry, book publishing and think tankery. If you oppose those same wars, you are marginalized and smeared as at best an extremist whack job and at worst a literal traitor conducting psyops for a foreign government.

Because the plutocratic class owns the political class which advances depraved plutocratic agendas and the media class which normalizes and justifies those agendas, a mainstream consensus has been forcibly manufactured that maintaining the oppressive, exploitative, omnicidal, ecocidal status quo is a good and sane thing to do. Voices which point out that this is bat shit crazy are marginalized and ignored when possible and smeared and demonized when necessary.

The ability of our plutocratic rulers and their lackeys to do this is the only reason why defenders of the status quo get to call themselves “centrists” and “moderates.” It’s not because their position is middle-of-the-road in any way whatsoever, it’s because they stand in alignment with the consensus that has been deliberately artificially manufactured and shoved into the mainstream by sheer force of narrative control.

This consensus manufacturing is then carried home by a glitch in human cognition known as status quo bias, which causes us to tend toward holding to the familiar as a default preference and perceive the risk of losing what we have as far less favorable than the reward gaining something better. Psychology Today explains:

“Research from Kahneman and Tversky suggests that losses are twice as psychologically harmful as gains are beneficial. In other words, individuals feel twice as much psychological pain from losing $100 as pleasure from gaining $100. One interpretation is that in order for an individual to change course from their current state of affairs is that the alternative must be perceived as twice as beneficial. This highlights the challenges we may face when considering a change to our usual way of doing things.”

(U.S. Air Force, David Tracy)

When military members are considering their choices as their contract comes to an end, many consider re-enlisting simply because they are unaware of the many opportunities that exist for them. Even when we understand our current path is no longer beneficial or no longer makes us happy, we must still overcome the natural urge to stay on the path unless the alternative is sufficiently attractive. In order for us to readily pursue an alternate path, we must believe that the alternative is clearly superior to the current state of affairs.

The status quo effect is pervasive in both inconsequential and major decisions. Oftentimes we are held back by what we believe to be the safe option, simply because it is the default. Bearing in mind our natural propensity for the status quo will enable us to recognize the allure of inertia and more effectively overcome it.

Status quo bias is further exacerbated in our current predicament by the fact that so many people are now so close to the brink of financial ruin and so terrified of what can happen to them if things change in a sudden and unpredictable way. The result of this is that now you’ve got the majority of people in the most dominant country on earth supporting the “slow incremental change” philosophy of so-called centrism, which in practice has always ended up meaning no change whatsoever. Meanwhile our ecosystem is dying and the U.S. is escalating nuclear tensions with Russia and China and everyone’s getting more and more crazy and miserable under the oppressive and exploitative status quo.

Did you ever climb a tree when you were a kid and get stuck because you were afraid to climb down? It’s a common experience for a lot of us. You get lost in the joy of the climb and so pleased with yourself in how well you’re doing, then suddenly you notice that the branches are getting a lot thinner and the wind is starting to sway you back and forth, and suddenly you look down and get terrified.

Maybe you called out for your mother and she came out and told you to climb down, calling up “Well you can’t stay up there!” And you knew she was right, but in that moment the idea of looking down and letting go of the thin branches you were clinging to felt so much scarier than just staying put in your precarious and unsustainable position.

That’s exactly where we’re at right now with status quo bias in our current predicament. People know things need to change, but they’re in such a precarious position that the risk of change feels far too scary to take the leap and force a deviation from our trajectory toward disaster.

But that is our only choice if we are to survive as a species. We know we were able to climb down from whatever trees we got stuck in as kids, and we know that our mother was as right then as that small inner voice inside us is now: we can’t stay here. We’ve got to wake up from the status quo narrative management and find a way to get down from our precarious and unsustainable position to the stable ground of sanity.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium.   Her work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking her on Facebook, following her antics on Twitter, checking out her podcast on either YoutubesoundcloudApple podcasts or Spotify, following her on Steemit, throwing some money into her tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of her sweet merchandise, buying her books “Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone and “Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.”

This article was re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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24 comments for “In an Insane World, Madness Looks Moderate & Sanity Looks Radical

  1. robert e williamson jr
    July 9, 2020 at 18:08

    Caitlin again impresses me with her super efficient use of words that deliver the message so clearly. I’m amazed by her at times.

    What she has delivered here is some valuable insight and the ensuing comments by others are refreshing also. I left a comment at another site earlier today after reading story referring to the fact that one should either speak up or shut up. I’m thinking I need to expound on the theme of my comment here and now. Maybe it’s the timing I don’t know.

    I have a nagging fear that an event is unwinding before our very eyes and for many of the reasons listed below no one, or not many want any part of discussing or otherwise acknowledging the occurrence because of the ensuing implications.

    Well screw that it’s time to speak up. Everyone needs to wake up and smell the death in the air.

    Let us suppose we are 30-50 years in the future and history has recorded that the “Great Covid-19 Plague” of 2020-2022 claimed somewhere between half million and a million and a half lives.

    [ NOTE: at an earlier date I wrote here that I suspected between .5 and 1.5 million live would be lost when all is said and done. ]

    Hopefully this will not happen but for the sake of my comment I’m saying it does happen.

    What if a few years down the road the current government apparatus is researched and analyzed , which will no doubt happen, and result in the general consensus around the world that the failure of the leadership of this country during this plague by design or default resulted in a genocide against the poorest of Americans. Because in effect what is happening is just that. “Res Ipsa Loquitur , “The things speaks for itself”. It is what is if you are one of the poorest in the good ole US of A, but the dead aren’t speaking up.

    It would not be the first time something of this nature occurred in this country.

    I suppose I will hear from many that I must be mad to think of the current peril of all in this nation was somehow allowed or facilitated by the current leadership of the this country. I’m not the one who is mad here, believe me.

    The facts will show then as they do now that either way the end result of lack of leadership and neglect by both parties and the courts resulted in thousands of deaths and the destruction of the countries economy in the process which created larger numbers of the “New Poor”. The genocide is not the only cause for outrage here. The government of this country is also ultimately responsible for the deaths of what will likely be hundreds of doctors, health care workers and first responders also.

    So will this incident be considered simply an unfortunate result of bad timing? I think not, not according to the evidence I see. A clearly racist president pursuing clearly racist and right wing agenda that is directed the weakest members of our society including children.

    I think the leadership in Washington D.C on both sides of the isle needs to be pressed on this issue. RIGHT NOW! It is a timing thing.

    I will be contacting my Senator immediately after I leave here. Everyone needs to learn and understand why so many people are dying right now. We need to ensure we try something new here when dealing with this tragedy. Like the truth.

    What would Robert Parry say?

    Thanks to CN

  2. Susan
    July 9, 2020 at 15:09

    The Five Universal Laws of Human Stupidity: 1) “Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.” 2) “The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.” 3) ” A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.” 4) “Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.” 5) “A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person.”

    I truly believe this nation’s government was founded on these “Universal Laws”…

    • Skip Scott
      July 10, 2020 at 11:08

      Whenever you are amazed at the stupidity of the average person, just stop and think. Half of them are even dumber than that.

    • robert e williamson jr
      July 11, 2020 at 17:14

      That’s right kids , “Never underestimate the power of large groups of stupid people.”

      I can’t claim any credit here I saw this as a caption under a picture of the nations capitol.

      Scott is right again, a person of average intelligence, is directly in the middle of the bell curve, half of the rest are smarter and the other half are dumber or more stupid or at the least not informed enough to make an intelligent informed decision.

      Mmmm, might be onto something here.

    • VallejoD
      July 13, 2020 at 09:54

      The tragic fact is that 100 is the MEDIAN IQ.

    July 9, 2020 at 09:44

    In the photo, George Bush’s medal looks like something they sell in toy aisle at the Dollar Store.

    “We’ve got to wake up from the status quo narrative management and find a way to get down from our precarious and unsustainable position to the stable ground of sanity’

    I’m sorry, but as someone who has thought about and written about these matters for many years, i do not see how waking up from the status quo can change much.

    It would require rather large events to make even a dent in the American system of plutocratic government running a costly global empire for the benefit of the very plutocrats who pay for the government.

    The entire government is wedded to the system. None of them has any reason to upset what they are benefiting from.

    A huge set of changes are required from election reform and tax reform to the military and security services and more.

    You can only get an FDR if some set of terrible conditions comparable to the ones that sent him to power occurs.

    • Joe Lauria
      July 9, 2020 at 13:18

      Have you forgotten that there is a pandemic devastating the nation and a massive uprising against racial injustice? How much more terrible do you want the conditions to be?

      July 9, 2020 at 13:47

      To Joe Lauria…

      No, thank you, I have not forgotten.

      I just don’t see much in the way of fundamental change in these events, so far. Statues toppled and names changed are not fundamental.

      We’ll see in the post-pandemic-economic crisis world ahead.

      Genuine change in the American system requires almost cataclysmic events.

    • Joe Lauria
      July 9, 2020 at 14:32

      The pandemic and its economic ruin plus police violence are cataclysmic events and toppling statues is not merely symbolic. It is a revolutionary act, a repudiation of the forbearers of those who rule today, who are feeling the heat. Cynicism comes cheap.

      July 9, 2020 at 15:09

      To Joe Lauria…

      I really try not to be a cynic.

      But that is quite a task when it comes to America.

      We’ll just have to see how events turn out.

      The changes are encouraging but small compared to the magnitude of the problems.

      Power is power, no matter how granted, and I don’t see the Pelosis or McConnells or Shiffs or the Pentagon or or the CIA feeling the least insecurity.

      Indeed, when Biden is elected, the Establishment will feel a quiver of pleasure.

      It will be reconfirmed. for a period, the awful Trump having been reduced like a dragon under St George’s sword.

    • Paora
      July 9, 2020 at 19:43

      Tariq Ali’s book ‘The Extreme Centre’ I mentioned in a previous comment closes with this famous Lenin quote:

      “…[I]t is not enough for revolution that the lower classes should not want to live in the old way. It is also necessary that the upper classes should be unable to govern in the old way.”

      You are correct to emphasise the importance of objective factors but I agree with Mr Lauria that this should not be an excuse for defeatism. Understanding these factors should instead become a guide to action, seeking out the weak points in the Neoliberal order (of which structural Racism and a collapsing health care system are prominent examples) and hastening the day when the Extreme Centre cannot hold.

    • VallejoD
      July 13, 2020 at 09:56

      And the DNC instead gives us Joke Biden.

  4. DVD
    July 9, 2020 at 06:49

    a cat has 9 lives , us fewer.. we have climbed ourselves into a position where we cant back down, but forward seems impossible too -except make things worse – i have always thought of the global situation as being in a state of stasis – an intractable bind – where no one dare makes a move unless they bring down the house of cards. The virus has only aggravated the situation … setting the u.s against china, gutting out the worlds economy, dragging us further & further into a mire hopelessness ,,, as you would know, now that melbourne is in lockdown 2 and there is no end in sight,

  5. Paora
    July 9, 2020 at 04:32

    I like Tariq Ali’s concept of the ‘The Extreme Centre’ (Verso 2015). You can’t have any kind of real Centrism in an class society where the interests of a tiny plutocratic minority are diametrically opposed to the interests of the rest of humanity. After the demise of the USSR and the degeneration of traditional Social Democratic parties in the West and National Liberation movements in the developing world, our Neoliberal rulers believed they could paper over these contradictions using propaganda control (in the West) or raw power (for the Rest). But despite the lack of effective political resistance, the contradictions remain and sharpen over time, leading to more and more extreme measures and intolerance for dissent over time in order to maintain this illusory Centrist consensus. That’s a pretty glib summary, so check out the book.

    Neoliberal propaganda has a way of making us feel that we are stuck in the tree alone. It’s a lot easier to climb down once you have tbe support and helping hands of everyone else up there, plus a brave few already on the ground.

  6. Anonymous
    July 8, 2020 at 23:31

    We live in a Lannister world – the truth is what those in power say it is. Progress might as well mean “increasing adherence to strict religious principle” in a few decades, as sanity already means “conforming to geocentric norms” on levels that I personally do having been raised by an antisocial/frequently clueless immigrant father who had me committed, as an adult, under the pretense of suicide attempts that didn’t happen for pissing him off.

    The status quo will change – to whatever’s convenient for those in power in generations down the road from now. Change is always painfully slow without rebellion, and you can bet your hopes and dreams that this country has made sure that the kind of rebellions you see in other nations will not occur here any time soon.

    • Anonymous
      July 8, 2020 at 23:32

      Herp derp click post, I meant to say “…levels that I personally know”.

  7. Joe Tedesky
    July 8, 2020 at 22:22

    Hold on I’ll get a ladder. Great article Caitlin Johnstone!

  8. Aaron
    July 8, 2020 at 19:42

    It’s certainly a factor in our decisions. I have a more pessimistic and cynical opinion recently. And that is, that most people are somewhat aware of the extremism that’s been happening, and they, as a majority have tried to vote for more left-leaning leaders, but the elections have been stolen in various ways. I think we forget and forgive too many of these crimes. Gore by all accounts beat Bush. And I’ve also heard, that according to the Constitution, in a contested election, the House should have decided the winner, but instead it erroneously was decided the the court. And I think voter suppression and disenfranchisement and worse could be why Trump is President, and I definitely think Sanders would have beaten Biden if the votes were counted correctly in the beginning, and four years ago he was undermined from winning during the whole campaign by his own party and media elites. I really think the “will of the people” is not being reflected in the outcomes in many elections. There’s all kinds of fraud and mistakes and it’s hard to prove it all. I mean consider in the pandemic, the risks and difficulties of closed voting stations and hours-long lines is literally swinging the outcomes and it’s all part of their plan to steal elections. Again, we see over and over that the “will of the people” isn’t what is manifested. That’s why the protests were so huge, people know what’s up, they feel it, they live it, most of us even hate the status quo, but they don’t know what to do, they try to change with voting, but it’s all rigged, there seems to be no way to overcome that inertia past a tipping point to create systemic change. If I want a third party candidate to win, they are on the ballot, but they are not allowed on t.v. debates, and are hamstrung and can’t win therefore. It’s not truly a democracy anymore. We get two shitty choices – 1) bad and 2) worse Because we see in polls that folks are very worried about climate change, they want Medicare for all, and no more trillion dollar wars to protect Israel’s interests, so how is this not reflected in the leaders’ platforms? I think the only answer is that votes are not being counted correctly in a multitude of ways. And progressives are locked out of the fair and complete process to have a chance. The rich have put up roadblocks for every path to real change, money is power, and they can do it with their super wealth. Hypothetically, if progressive groups somehow came into 100 trillion dollars, they would find it easy to change the status quo. Everyone has their price. The only difference between the change and the former inability to change was the money. And Citizens United decision made that even so much worse. I think actually what we think of now as the status quo, is very radical. Bush and Biden giving each other medals is truly a radical and extreme kind of power elite. And those that are supporting Trump/Pence are beyond extreme. Trump was ingenious to flip this in his favor, think about it, “Make America Great AGAIN” – in other words, a warm welcome back to that comfortable status quo before our country went down the tubes. But he is all about the opposite in many ways, he’s very extreme, but in his rallies he rages against “the radical left”, even though it’s him that is radical, but in the minds of his followers he’s just restoring the normal, wonderful Americana that we lost. It’s like we live in a disorienting maze, each way we turn, there is something blocking the way out, so we turn the other way and get lost in another direction. We are lost, we don’t know where the “center” is anymore and it’s hard to make sense anymore, and I think it’s all by design.

    • July 9, 2020 at 17:43

      Well said. The despair is palpable. The poor and middle class don’t read or don’t care because they can do nothing about all this. The left is “pretending” to care. But they are being used to upset and destroy for those that long term see this as an advantage to take real power. The left are being used and when they find that out I wonder what they will do. I have said for years that the people want the same things wether they are democratic or republicans and that we needed to build center but this is not allowed and we are constantly being forced apart by the medium used today. The media is so corrupt and will do exactly what is needed to keep their jobs. Thats why it is such a refreshing breath of clean air to read Caitlan. She says it truly and I hope that she continues to do so. But I don’t know how many read her story and understand it and how we are living in such a very very dangerous world where people disappear and are forgotten.

    • Homer Jay
      July 12, 2020 at 12:25

      Thanks Aaron, I’m often amazed at how the public has been baffled regarding the factual sabatoge of Bernie. This was revealed thoroughly by Wikileaks publishing of the DNC/Clinton/Podesta emails. Also by Greg Palast during the 2016 primary (i.e. the DNC not counting independent votes in the CA open primary). This year we know from a few brave whistleblowers that votes were being reversed against Bernie (see Blackhawk Co. in Iowa). Then the clear display of consolidation behind Biden when Bernie was winning despite all efforts to thwart him. Yet when I point this out to my Dem friends they regard it as conspiracy theory rather than conspiracy fact. I reply asking if they believe that the police murders which just so happen to be caught on camera, are the only ones that are happening. Well the state can’t take away all cell phones. They have been able to send a chilling message to any who dare pull the curtain to reveal the inner workings of our corrupt political system. No need to go into detail here as the torture and prosecution of Julian Assange has been well documented.

      As the late great Bill Hicks observed:

      The world is like a ride in an amusement park and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are…. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that…you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok… but it doesn’t matter…because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want.

      It’s only a choice.

  9. Greg Schofield
    July 8, 2020 at 19:12

    A good analogy is to be treasured forever, the child in the tree is this moment.

    Well done, not just the analogy, but in pointing out fanatical madness that is main stream. The ‘western world’ has divided into two camps, only one has a voice, but the other… that grows in silence needs supports.. The middle has gone, a new ‘middle’ has to have new ground, nothing can be done with corporate power except in abolishing it. Where is our common-wealth?

  10. Squirel
    July 8, 2020 at 17:51

    Dear Caitlin, I have been reading and enjoying your articles for a long time, and this one is beautiful. I love the ending:
    as our Mother told us “We can’t stay here” ! It is the most basic motivation for change and hope it will happen.

    • DH Fabian
      July 9, 2020 at 14:30

      The proverbial masses (us) strongly disagree about what changes are most urgently needed. Liberals call for free college for the middle class, while the masses are far more concerned about being able to secure adequate food and shelter to keep going.

    July 8, 2020 at 17:18

    “But we do not live in a healthy world.”

    Good God, yes.

Comments are closed.