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Bubbles In Our Midst

July 3, 2014

Humans tend to wreck what works in search of profit. In the early 17th century the Dutch found tulips to be desirable and bought every and any bulb they could find. The price went up to the point where Wikipedia notes “At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.”

Of course That tiny, fetish-driven market crashed, financially ruining thousands of investors and speculators.

The manic desire to surf the crest of any wave makes all innovation possible. Without that desire every building would be a few stories tall, have a lot of trim and you would be reading this on paper. But, seemingly inevitably, we take a good – scientific, aesthetic, financial, functional – and overfocus it ’till it collapses of its own absurdity.

Our necessities: food, shelter, clothing – might be seen as unhype-able essentials. Everybody needs sustenance and protection from the elements. But unlike the tulip, the requirement of use facilitates hype in a way that makes the basic absurd.

Fashion creates a desire for wearable tulips. The calculated hype of a color, skirt elevation or neckline is objectively based on nothing. My garb of shorts/socks/shirt costs about $35 new and I wear them ’til they become (or sometimes after they become) rags. A few, a very few, people I know wear clothing that very few others do, and costs 10x what my Ur Shroud does – and those wearable tulips becomes unwearable with the next fashion statement.

Each “trend” is a bubble. My brother had a Nehru Jacket he wore once. My wife had any number of shoulder-padded garments, I bought white football Spotbuilt cleats in 1972. Then they disappeared as they became common. As Yogi said, “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there”

Foods explode in hip appeal only to whither off the menu: kale chips do seem to be jumping the shark, and the Crispy Cream Donut has left the building. These may be harmless fads – when does a fad become a bubble? When it has economic consequences that distort value: last week I reached for a 4oz bag of Kale chips until I saw a $3.49 price tag: bubble burst for me.

America’s core imperative was, and may still be, self-empowerment. That is perfectly symbolized in the single family home, sitting on a piece of the earth – owned, controlled, and enhanced by the owners. Waves of building and buying were followed by troughs of over-building, over-pricing and under-performing as an asset.

The last burst bubble of house value was worldwide and nuclear in nature – toxic to the point that rental urban housing is becoming hyped as a new bubble: based as much on hipness as sustainability, it clearly makes sense when you are standing in a 6 year deep crater.

The huge stakes poker of buying a home on the premise it will be your retirement plan seems permanently dead, for now. The last engorgement of desire-driven overblown value delusion has created a Post Traumatic Bubble Burst Syndrome that echoes the reason tulips are now affordable (if you don’t buy them at White Flower Farm). Even essentials have a limited market when they cost to much.

But belief systems create bubbles that sustain themselves, through think and thin, and that’s often a good thing. Darwin believed in evolution as a idea before he could validate it, but after decades of churning rumination, he created a reality based theory. Democracy was a cool unrealized idea for millennia, and despite its absurd permutations its grown to control much of the way humans organize themselves.

Religion, is by definition, faith in potential that is not evident. It’s bubble can overcome any number of nihilistic expediencies. Giving food away when it makes sense to hord, caring for the contagious when it makes sense to quarantine, giving away the stuff you spend your life creating and preserving are not based on calculation, even the calculation of buying your way to heaven means you believe in the faith bubble that heaven exists.

Scientists are adamant that Climate Change and Dark Energy/Matter are absolutely, positively Not Bubbles: but in truth every leap beyond proof to find extreme value in the appeal of a tulip, a place to live or an idea has to have a bubble to evince the hell-bent devotion of promotion that makes dormant desire explode into extreme devotion.

The deeply religious may be very uncomfortable describing evangelical rapture as a bubble, as it can be seen to undermine the validity of its transformative, essential truth. But eating, being warm, un-rained upon and safe create bubbles every day, they pop, but food shelter and clothing are not optional trends.

When appurtenance is confused with reality, bubbles blow big: flowers are beautiful, but no tulip was worth years of salary, no home will ever be what was promised in 2006, and no belief system can justify the killing of innocents.

Meeting requirements is not what most of us think is the endgame. The highest grade would be a C, we would eat Ramen Noodles every day, and live in a dorm, wearing my wardrobe.

We want more, but sometimes that means we expect too much.

Sent from my IPad

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