Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recession, Apocalypse and Hipster Futures

"The photo was taken December 7, 1978 in Albuquerque, New Mexico before the company moved its offices to Washington. The people in the photo are (from left to right, starting at the top) Steve Wood, Bob Wallace, Jim Lane, Bob O' Rear, Bob Greenberg, Marc McDonald, Gordon Letwin, Bill Gates, Andrea Lewis, Marla Wood, and Paul Allen." Image/Text Source: Museum of Hoaxes.

Remember the poster of the original members of Microsoft Corp. in 1978, which challenges investors' ability to recognize future trends? Museum of Hoaxes comments on the Baby Boomer board's future worth:
If you had chosen to invest your money with this bunch of scruffy looking characters back in 1978, you'd be quite rich now. But how rich did the people in the photo become? Here's their estimated wealth, listed in descending order:

Bill Gates: Still with Microsoft as it's chairman and chief software architect. His fortune is somewhere in the range of $50 billion.

Paul Allen: Left Microsoft in 1983 but remains a senior strategy advisor to the company. Worth around $25 billion.

Bob O'Rear: Left Microsoft in 1983. Is now a cattle rancher and is worth around $100 million.

Bob Greenberg: Left Microsoft in 1981 and then helped launch those Cabbage Patch Dolls that were so popular in the 1980s. Last time anyone checked, he was worth around $20 million.

Jim Lane: Left Microsoft in 1985. Now has his own software company and is worth around $20 million.

Gordon Letwin: Left Microsoft in 1993 and now devotes himself to environmental causes. Is worth around $20 million.

Steve and Marla Wood: They both left Microsoft in 1980 and Marla then sued the company for sex discrimination. They're worth around $15 million.

Bob Wallace: Left Microsoft in 1983. Worth around $5 million.

Andrea Lewis: Was Microsoft's first technical writer. Left the company in 1983. Worth around $2 million.

Marc McDonald: Was Microsoft's first employee. Left the company in 1984, but recently rejoined the company when Microsoft bought Design Intelligence, the company he was working for. Has the honor of getting to wear badge number 00001. Probably worth at least $1 million.
Nothing has changed since 1978. It is equally difficult to recognize today's counterparts of Microsoft Corp.'s scruffy characters.

2012: Would you invest in this man? Image Source: Bike Co.

This post is about two things: the tanking economy and the Internet-based underclass who will be architects of a future society in the post-recession wreckage, if they are lucky.

First, the tanking economy. Yesterday, the market plunged in another general global loss of confidence. The Wall Street Journal summarized the rat-a-tat-tat of headlines: Moody's downgraded the ratings of fifteen financial firms with global capital markets operations; Asian markets sank over fears of a "deepening global economic slowdown"; US stocks suffered the second worst day of 2012; for the EU, the advice was to dump Greece, and save Italy and Spain; and tech stocks slumped in a broad sector retreat. Following yesterday's Wall Street nosedive, Aussie stocks opened down today. Business Spectator: "The Australian stock market extended its losses at noon on the back of disappointing economic data from China and Europe and a move from the US Federal Reserve's to slash its growth forecast for the United States." The psychological atmosphere in the financial sector yesterday was one of anxiety, worry, frustration and thwarted premature optimism.

In other words, the recent economic recovery was only a middle part of a double-dip recession; the economy passed through the calm eye of a storm and is now hitting the wall on the other side. This argument demolishes the fiction that the recession ended in 2009, when it is in fact still ongoing. Today's drop was predicted by Charles Nenner, a former Goldmanite who remarked in March 2012 that the stock market rally in the first quarter of this year - the best since 1998 - would peak in April. He promised (here) that the rally would be followed by a plunge, which is now occurring.

Nenner is a financial analyst who envisions economic events primarily in terms of cycles. He focuses on time as a central determinant of financial patterns. From a Forbes interview:
Navin: The readership of Forbes is largely oriented toward fundamental analysis. What would you say that could persuade them that the study of price patterns is useful?

Nenner: Well, first, let me say that people think too much in terms of price and not enough in time. Cycles are about time. What has occurred in the past in a recurring pattern can be projected into the future. That’s the nature of cycles – which comes from the Greek word for circle. In 2007, we saw a crash coming and mentioned it to our clients, and we published economic indicators at the end of 2008, showing that a low would be reached in March of 2009. This shows that cycles and technical analysis works. ... [T]his type of cycle analysis also works extremely well for months-in-advance kinds of decisions, in addition to analyses for the next 3 or 4 days, or weeks. My work is used by big institutions, family offices, hedge funds, traders, and brokers all over the world. We don’t manage money, nor are we brokers – so we can give what we can consider to be honest, scientific, unbiased advice. So-called “fundamentals” have nothing to do with it. In fact, we consider cycles to be quite fundamental in the truest sense of the word, since they work across all data series – stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, and economic indicators.
Just over a year ago, back in March 2011, based on this analytical method, Nenner predicted (in a video posted by Fox Business) that 2012's market decline would accompany a major war in late 2012-2013. Business Insider:
"It doesn't mean that we go down immediately, it can take a couple of months. And if we would close in on 1356, which we're pretty close, we're 1% away."

And if we close before 1357, we're in trouble, he said. But don't get too scared, because "the market looks reasonably stable at the moment.["]

His general opinion of the state of the market is pretty neutral too. He says, "So what I think we're at in the beginning of 2011, most of the gains have been taken."

... And then he dropped a bomb.

The question was, What would trigger the DOW dropping to 500?

Nenner replied, "Well, I don't want to depress you, but I should tell you that I also do war and peace cycles and it shows that were going to have a major war at the end of 2012, beginning of 2013. And I think that's going to do it."
The world wars in the 20th century were preceded economic depressions, although for some reason, I have not seen comparisons between the economic downturn prior to World War I with the Great Depression that was the forerunner of World War II (see a list of 20th century recessions in America, here). Rather than arguing endlessly about Keynesianism, it would seem sensible instead to notice that parallel, and compare economic policies and conditions such as bread riots and inflation in the periods before 1914 (for example: the 1913 Federal Reserve Act was passed to cope with a recession) and 1939. Nenner does not mention historical instances of economic collapses prior to major conflicts. But he is presumably referring to past precedents.

Most commentaries do not consider war as a possible outcome of prolonged economic troubles. Instead, they focus on downward mobility. Politicized pieces either blame Big Government Spending or Evil Big Banks. Either way, both perspectives worry about collapsing middle classes.

Image Source: Godammit I'm Mad.

For the past 10 odd years, growing out of long precedents, but touching on the dot.com collapse in the early 2000s and the Occupy movement in the early 2010s, a middle class subculture known as hipsterism has reflected downward economic trends for increasingly displaced members of the middle classes. For hipsters, downward mobility is the new upward mobility; they wear their disenfranchisement as a badge of pride. These people are primarily Gen Xers and Gen Yers (people in their twenties and thirties during the 00s), known for their counter-culture anti-mainstream attitudes and retro clothing. Sometimes, they are counter-counter cultural and anti-retro dressers. The key attitude is contrarian.

In an infinitely marketed and media-mediated world, hipsters are preoccupied with being 'real' and not 'fake.' In the search for true individuality, genuine identity and unique experiences, they are caught in a post-Postmodern vicious circle of rejecting anything that is accessible to mainstream culture.

Image Source: Forbes.

Unfortunately, the Internet now makes everything accessible to mainstream culture. And mainstream culture is associated in the hipster mentality with the whole collapsing economy - the establishment that has failed and let them down. In order to locate a 'real' identity in this downward slide, they have to live in the future.

True hipsters pride themselves on their preconsciousness. A real hipster would be so far ahead of the curve that he or she would not know (or admit) that he or she was even a hipster. Someone 'hip' could not identify with anything that was not totally obscure and ahead of our time. In many cases, what is way ahead of our time is the unexpected resurgence of something from the past. Millennial hipsters are retro-minded futurists. They are fatalistic, cutting-edge anti-conformists.

All well and good, except that through the 2000s, hipsterism became a mainstream fashion trend, which by definition is impossible (and embarrassing) for true hipsters. The hipster crowd are saved from their dilemma by a new post-Postmodern layer of experience. It turns out that anyone excoriated for being a hypocritical hipster, or anyone who would follow a hipster how-to guide, could never be a genuine hipster. Anyone who would pop up in the MSM (like the character on the Time Out cover above) labeled as a 'hipster' - would in fact be a crypto-hipster.

The hipsters' trademark denial of the hipster label is an interesting Generation X and Y ploy against negative labeling. Considering Generation X was a group nearly ruined by the external imposition of a false negative label during another recession in the early 1990s, this Millennial self-label has a built-in subversion mechanism. It is an anti-label label. No one labeled with the label could actually ever bear the true label.

By now, it would seem that hipsters are a dying breed. Not true. Only the shabby chic crypto-hipster was stamped out on reaching the popular mainstream consciousness. At the heart of the Millennial hipster attitude, there is an interesting pro-capitalist capitalist critique. This paradoxical ethos shows how dispossessed members of the middle classes are reconstituting themselves as a group with new economic profiles and behaviours. It turns out you can't buy this ethos. And if you could, it would be so new that you had not heard of it yet. By the time you heard of it, it would be over. This is a tale of a hyper-accelerating culture and infinitely varied economic paths.

A Guardian interview sees the key to the paradox as a critical rehashing of the economic standards of the past in revolutionary, ever-new terms; the hipster takes back cultural flotsam and jetsam that was ruined when it went mainstream and repossesses it in futuristic terms:
Mark Greif, a New York English professor ... traces this hipster's recent history back to the post-punk DIY movement of the 80s.

"Back then there was this insistence on something like an alternative to capitalism," says Greif, "an opposition to major labels and pop; you could make your album on a small unknown label and it would only be sold for cheap. Youth culture had this quite hopeful notion that it was possible to make your own art and distribute it, in order to evade this wider commercial sphere." By the early 90s, these ideals had foundered; grunge bands signed to major labels and Kurt Cobain had killed himself.

"What is meaningful about the hipster moment, 1999 and after," says Greif ... "is that it seems to be an effort to live a life that retains the coolness in believing that you belong to a counter-culture, where the substance of the rebellion has become pro-commerce." ...

"It seemed to revolve around the desire to reproduce as rebellion these things that had formerly been part of the mainstream market," says Greif, citing the art-gallery porn by the likes of Richard Kern and the conspicuous consumption of meat while in the company of vegetarians as two examples. "There's this idea that they are the agents of change, the true revolutionaries, where the revolutionary change is to . . . make exclusive the pleasures that had potentially belonged to anyone in the past, to celebrate the upwards redistribution of wealth." ...

Not all hipsters arrive in the big cities flush with cash, but they almost always possess some cultural capital, usually a university degree and refined upbringing. They can use this to prevent themselves from ending up on the bottom of the pile, even if their only means of upward mobility are snarky putdowns and a working knowledge of the Smiths.

"It becomes a defence mechanism, if you're 'declassed' in a city, to stop yourself from winding up at the bottom," Greif argues. "It's about social positioning, how to mark yourself out as different or exclusive in a democratic society, where it's quite easy to buy the consumer trappings of success." ...

"The hipster," Horing suggests, "is the bogeyman who keeps us from becoming too settled in our identity, keeps us moving forward into new fashions, keep us consuming more 'creatively' and discovering new things that haven't become lame and hipster. We keep consuming more, and more cravenly, yet this always seems to us to be the hipster's fault, not our own."

Horing also raises an even less-palatable notion: '"If you are concerned enough about the phenomenon to analyse it and discuss it, you are already somewhere on the continuum of hipsterism and are in the process of trying to rid yourself of its 'taint'."
This trend highlights three things. Firstly, hipsters share a flexible, and typically Millennial perception of time, which has grown out of the conditions created by the tech revolution. Hipsters use of the Internet to reject or modify technology with the revival of past, and the search for future, cultural trends. Secondly, they would not necessarily admit it, but they are anti-levellers; they try to regain or reassert their depleted social status by shifting a cultural vacuum forward in unusual and unexpected areas of the economy and society. It is almost a gnostic creed of special, privileged knowledge and rising hierarchies. This kind of activity breeds knowledge trades out of nothing. Hipsters will generate new areas of economic activity, and ultimately, new economies. Thirdly, they have a fraught relationship with the real and the unreal. By definition, that tension keeps them moving into unknown areas of regeneration and destruction. The goal posts are always shifting.

These hipsters would not see themselves as 'hipsters.' The world's best kept secret are dispossessed people who are out there, semi-consciously and semi-suicidally lighting fires in No Man's Land. How this curious bid to rebuild the post-recession economy and society will fare in Nenner's possible disaster of World War III is another story.

If you're not reading this post on Histories of Things to Come, the content may have been scraped and republished without attribution or the original author's permission. Please let me know by following this link and leaving me a comment. Thank you.


  1. Fascinating post that deserves a lot of traffic and attention. You've enlightened me on so many things. The other day, a friend of mine tweeted, "I wonder how long until the hipsters start hating the OKC Thunder." It was retweeted a number of times.

    The comments by Nenner are very disturbing...

    Did you know Neil Howe is blogging again? He has a long post up about the economy, also. I passed his post along to my husband and asked him to read it and tell me how we brace for the future. I'll be sending him this one, too, because our response to the coming future is to make adjustments before the avalanche hits. I read a lot every day and this is the most concerned I've been in five years of blogging about Generation X. Now, I know the angst I feel is probably that coming war. Gut-wrenching. We don't have many more boys to send...

    Also, I find cycles interesting. I wish I could extrapolate and parlay the methods to come reach some analysis about my own life and future.

    I had a question - does the sustainability movement/front-yard garden/grow-your-own food movement, etc., fit in here somewhere? Also, homeschoolers? The hyper homestead is a signpost, too, I think.

    Thanks for writing this. I'll be sharing with my network.

  2. Thanks very much Jen, for your comment and sharing this post. As for war, we will see if Nenner is correct. It seems to me a bit soon to be predicting World War III by the end of this year. For some reason I cannot fully explain, I would have said 2016, not 2012. No one can really predict the future.

    My impression from reading pre-WWI history is that a number of pre-conditions for a large conflict can be circulating for a decade or two before said conflict. But it takes the perfect unhappy combination of circumstances, events coming together in just a certain way, to start the domino effect into war. In other words, the descent into world war depends on sheer chance, which no one can accurately foresee.

    I have read commentaries that suggest that the Iraq war was a localized conflict intended to preemptively prevent or delay a world war. It was a policy of small quasi-imperial wars to prevent one big war, a release of steam in the pressure cooker, if you will. Another way of looking at Iraq and Afghanistan, however, would be to see them as the Millennial version of the Spanish Civil War - as dress rehearsals for a larger conflict.

    Regardless, the economy's health (or lack thereof) is a key indicator of potential conflict.

    On Howe: while it is true (as I've mentioned in this post) that there are some cyclical aspects to history, his generational turning notion is facile and historically inaccurate. He brings a deterministic view to history, and subscribes to the notion that history can fit a preconceived model, which it cannot do. He would do better to go back to demographics and discuss the huge youthful populations in developing countries, such as India and China, and their fatal policy of aborting female babies, which has caused a dangerous overpopulation of young males. That is a precondition for war. ...

  3. ...

    I would not identify with any of the labels he uses about generations, or accept the predictions he makes in association with those labels (which reflect clicheed Baby Boomer opinions). The historical phenomenon to note with him is not the content of his analysis, but its form; his generalized and unquestioned use of generational labels and his idea that these labels give rise to historical cycles is itself a cultural historical fact which can be analyzed.

    Again, the problem is using any label makes one subscribe to that label. But the point here is to assess mass media labeling of groups of people and to understand how and why they work, without necessarily subscribing to them. This is why the hipster anti-label label is one perfect answer to the Boomers' relentless mass media categorization of demographic groups (first of themselves, then of their successors and predecessors), which has been going on for forty years, with ill effects. I would not bother with his interest in how special Millennials are or should be. Like any generational group in truth, Millennials are a highly differentiated group who should resist such generalizations.

    On Boomers and the cliches around them, as the 'Me Generation': many Boomers did indeed subscribe to mass marketed group labeling of themselves and used it as a form of collective empowerment. This is not universally true, but the cliche of a driven collective mindset is partly true. You can see it in Howe's unquestioned acceptance of generational labeling as a viable primary way of understanding individuals' identities. This assumption is something that has shaped media, politics, and marketing on the Boomer watch. Many of them consciously and unconsciously imposed falsely-generated horizontal affiliations (eg age, gender, class) as part of their social revolution. They then imposed those affiliations on other groups as a point of comparison with themselves to further entrench their consolidation of social status and financial security.

    By contrast, to understand Generation X and Y, as far as they can be conceived in group terms, I would avoid these horizontal Boomer-sourced labels and look for vertical social and cultural alignments - family, religion, reassertions of traditional collectivities and values in new forms. This might be where your homeschooling and sustainable movements originate.

  4. I should add that 'I would not identify with any of the labels he uses about generations' in the way he uses them. This came up in comments on your blog. It's not that generational labels are completely false. Of course, people find common cause with those in roughly the same age group. But there is a big difference between having your generational identity falsely branded by a mass media machine and sold to you like just another brand - Coca Cola, Nike, Twentieth Century Fox, Apple, Evian - and internalizing that false branding - and existing in that mass society, somehow recognizing common experiences that were part of the mass media machine's message, and tenuously carving out an individual existence that is quite different from what that branding exercise promised. That is the point of concern. You've said often on your blog that the Gen X reality diverges from the Gen X label, *even when* that reality conforms to depictions in film like the Breakfast Club or the Matrix or whatever. It's a paradoxical and difficult relationship with mass media that seeks to manipulate those forms of communication and overturn them at the same time.

  5. Whoa. I forgot how intricate and detailed your posts were. (I almost called it "Heavy". Ha. I won't send this to my relations, but I will post it on twitter.

    I wanna say something about Hipsterism here, but damned if I know what. -J

  6. Oh yes, I forgot. I would say the 2012-13 war, if it happens, would be with Iran. -J

  7. I think a lot about the mass media machine because PR, marketing and advocacy are the fields in which I work professionally. I'm always amazed at how different my own consumption habits are compared to what all the "studies" reveal.

    To the Anonymous person who thinks the post is heavy - I think about this. How we are becoming conditioned for bite-size and biggie everything. Bite size information I can easily chew and biggie information like infographics and photos that are entertaining and fun. This post is heavy only in comparison to the blogging and internet culture. It took this blogger many years of reading, writing, studying and research to be able to craft a post like this and then provide analyses. I study search engine optimization and sites that post articles like this are starting to get rewarded by higher search engine results. People want quality information that's been vetted, and I think Google understands that too often what has appeared in top 10 search results is fit for the Internet landfill. Anyway -- didn't mean to go off on a tangent. I'm just amazed at the blogs that do well with traffic and those that don't. I'm happy to being a shift in this regard.

    As far as where will war occur. I would not discount Europe and Mexico. The future cannot be predicted and people will only accept misery so long. My big takeaways from this post and a couple from Howe on the economy - are that things are not going to get better as we (I) define better: more disposable income. Things are not going to get better, but we have a choice: we can become better people. We can consume less and be better stewards of whatever it is we have.

  8. "Internet landfill" - really good! There is such a flood of data and opinion in the mass media that contemplation (even if flawed, heavy or incomplete) is lost. WRT Howe, it's not that he doesn't make valid points, it's that I'm tired of a particular perspective dominating everything. The past 40 years gradually turned Boomer culture and opinions - the angles they took with particular questions - into a monolith. For another example, see Anne-Marie Slaughter's article in the Atlantic on how women can't have it all. She assumes that Boomer experiences determine the whole question. Her personal experiences become generally projected by the media machine upon the whole reality of professional women everywhere. I felt there was an enormous emptiness behind her piece.


    There's no voice from the other side of the mirror. Looking at that article, if there is some meditation on alternatives, it doesn't receive media attention, and hence might as well not exist.