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Change And The Process of Transformation, By Charles Hugh Smith

There is a key difference between change and transformation.

We often speak of “change”–as a potent political slogan, as a permanent feature of life, as a “good thing”–but we rarely speak of the often-wrenching process of change. I think the reason is self-evident: change often involves loss.

This is why Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief –denial, anger, bargaining, resignation and acceptance–have become an increasingly mainstream model of the process of coming to terms with the losses of declining asset valuations, a devolving economy and a lower standard of living.

But change is not just about loss and grieving, though it may include those attributes; it’s also about transformation. While I am sympathetic to the process of accepting losses, it is the process of transformation which motivates and inspires me.

That the Status Quo–dependent on ever-rising debt and asset values, on cheap, abundant energy, food and other resources–is unsustainable, is self-evident to all not firmly lodged in the cocoon of self-deception and magical thinking known as denial. It follows that the Status Quo will devolve or implode within the next 10-15 years, and be replaced by some other arrangement.

Precisely what that arrangement will be is what I term the Great Transformation. The proper way to think about this great social and economic transformation is to think of personal transformation, for as correspondent Bart D. recently observed, “society is a fractal function of the individuals of which it is composed,” which boiled down to its essence means the process of transformation scales up from an individual to a household, group and eventually to an entire culture in a self-same fashion.

In other words, the process of transformation is essentially the same all along the spectrum.

Transformation requires a person face that their fantasy-self–the one who always makes a good decision, is always in control, always caring and selfless, etc., is not real. The person must then come to terms with their real self, which includes positive traits and also all those elements which are difficult to accept because they are not god-like strengths but very human frailties: weakness, selfishness, indecision, fear and a host of other unappealing faults.

This is also true of entire societies. As a nation, we cling to a fantasy version of the U.S., as a powerful, “can-do” innovative country of limitless wealth and freedom. The reality is much less attractive, and yet rather than face up to the darker aspects of America we are in a stage of denial saturated with rage.

In our fantasy view, iPads (made in China) are proof of our god-like innovation; so deep is the appeal of this magical thinking that we are blind to the reality that we are mired in failed policies and tragically outdated ways of thinking; innovation in mainstream healthcare, education, governance and the rest of our key structures is essentially non-existent. We are a bloated, high-cost, rigid, fragile, fractured society frozen in a profound political disunity strongly reminiscent of the Roman Empire just before its collapse.

Just like the ancient Romans, we cling to magical thinking, as if a glorious past will magically repeat itself without any effort or sacrifice on our part; rather than confidence about the future, our primary emotion is fear, and our primary defense is denial.

Measured by the dominance of self-serving Elites, we are nothing but a large-scale banana republic, a simulacrum of democracy with limitless high-quality official propaganda masking an economy and political machinery completely ruled by a tiny, utterly self-serving financial and political Elite. Just as in banana republics we once scorned, a shadow system of governance actually rules, while a phony facade of “democracy,” “rule of law” and “liberty” is propped up by a servile mass media of bought-and-paid-for toadies.

Individually, we have surrendered our autonomy for complicity in the charade: We want the Savior State to keep paying our bills, and we don’t care how it does so. We are terrified by the possibility that the Savior State might implode, even as we recognize it is also a dangerous force of oppression dominated by a self-serving financial Elite.

The typical first reaction to this unwelcome reality is anger, triggered by an awakening self-loathing: we only “like” the fantasy self and the fantasy nation, and we actively dislike and fear the weak, vulnerable, anxiety-ridden real self and the high-cost, rigid, conflicted, incapacitated, fear-driven real nation.

The process of transformation boils down to integrating the various conflicted parts of the self into a complete being that is accepted and nourished for what it is, a dynamic mix of impulses, habits, tropisms, thoughts, emotions and actions.

On a social and national level, we must accept that self-indulgence and passive acceptance of debt-serfdom and political servitude are not successful models of transformation. We have no models for decentralizing our economy and consuming less resources; we will have to invent them, and that is the innovation we desperately need, not the childish “innovations” of distracting tech toys.

The person who has never gone through this profound process often fears what will be uncovered; ironically, we fear the discovery of our true self, and cling to the fantasy-self which is fundamentally the cause of our problems and anxiety.

In other words, we fear the process that will make us whole and bring us a grounded well-being because at the start of ther process, the end result is unknown. The leap requires self-confidence and faith. The person–and the society–grounded in realistic appraisals and self-knowledge is not afraid of transformation or the stiff challenges of the future; the self-aware person meets the future with confidence, and has no desire to cower in denial and spew the rage born of abject insecurity.

If we want to move forward to a healthy realism, then we have to move beyond denial, magical thinking and the self-loathing that comes with recognition of our weaknesses and anxieties.

As a nation, this will require accepting that we can no longer consume unlimited supplies of energy at low prices, and print unlimited sums of paper money to support our Elites and asset prices. We must accept that allowing the nation to operate for the benefit of a self-serving Elite is not serving the interests of the lower 99.9%.

One of the key stages in the process of change is to accept responsbility for where we are right now, and fashion a realistic response. Offering some ideas on what constitutes a realistic response and plan of action is the subject of my books Survival+ and An Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled Times.

We are not victims, helpless, or trapped. There are things we can do to improve our resiliency, sustainability and well-being. We can opt out of supporting the Elite-dominated Status Quo, and actively pursue parallel, decentralized modes of enterprise and living that are not complicit in the domination of the nation’s destructive financial and political Elites.



5 comments to Change And The Process of Transformation, By Charles Hugh Smith

  • Leon Night

    Nicely written.

    But the hope for a “soft landing” is apparent by the suggestion that we can get there from here by making a few adjustments.

    The author, while speaking in Kubler-Rossian terms, is himself still in denial about how deep this rabbit hole really goes, and about how much the survivors will need to shrink in order to squeeze through the door into a new reality.

    He is still reflecting his first-stage of grief.

  • Actually, if you are a consistent reader of Charles Hugh Smith, you will see that he is NOT in denial and really does see how deep the rabbit hole goes. That’s why I post something by him almost every day in the Daily News Digest.

  • Bonnie

    Charles Hugh Smith writes some terrific analytic essays.

    However when he says:
    “We have no models for decentralizing our economy and consuming less resources; we will have to invent them, and that is the innovation we desperately need, not the childish “innovations” of distracting tech toys.” I would
    like to say that innovation seldom, if ever, comes from the middle, i.e. the status quo. It comes from the fringe and bleeds inward until a critical mass is reached. I suppose those of us who accept that “growth” is no longer a solution to our financial situation can be considered the fringe. And I can see “green shoots” of those models, even in this red state where I live being developed. More people growing their own food, more local
    farmers markets, more people downsizing even when they don’t have to, buying local, are just a few examples. As
    members of the fringe it is in our best interests to water
    these shoots when we see them and stop obsessing on fear.

    Well those are my thoughts for what they ae worth.

  • Leon Night

    To Carolyn: CHS suggests that as a society. or as a nation, we can begin to think and to operate in new ways and thereby transform the status quo.

    While he may call this a ‘transformation’, what he is describing in this article is ‘change’ (Unless I’m reading him incorrectly, as you suggest)

    My intuition tells me that after the dust settles there will no longer be a society or a nation as we know it; there will be nothing left to ‘transform’. We will be driven in the beginning by our primitive instinct to survive. We will be pushing ourselves forward for a long time until we reorganize and begin to pull ourselves into the future.

    Unless the transformation is so deep that it becomes a metanoia effecting the entire world’s population, our great great great grand children will find themselves right back in this position in another five hundred years or so. Without metanoia, there won’t be transformation; there won’t even be change. There will only be a repeat of the dark ages to be followed by a renaissance, followed by an enlightenment, followed by an new industrial revolution, etc. That is not transformation, or even change. That is simply an interruption.

    Until CHS begins to write about the necessity of a fundamental shift in human consciousness, and describes IT as tansformational, then he can’t yet see the bottom of the rabbit hole.

    Only a metanoic bifurcation of human consciousness will prevent this terrible injustice from ever happening again, and you (as a student of the psyche) should understand this better than most.

    He also says that we are not victims, helpless, or trapped. While this may be a common view of the upper middle class of first world America, Third world America will readily admit to all three.

    For example, their jobs and their homes are gone through no fault of their own. They might be helpless and living somewhere under a bridge.

    These are the ones who have experienced all five stages of grief in the context that CHS has framed it. He is still obviously nurtured by his status into a denial of the real situation facing us, which is appropriate to his economic class.

    When he and his family begin their new lives under a bridge somewhere, then I’ll listen to him speak about transformation and the five stages of grief.

  • roger

    Humans make their destiny but
    don’t control it. Cohesiveness
    is not in human dictionary

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