I spent a week in Bogota, Colombia. It was easy. It was easy for me because I had friends, translation and money. I had places to go and things to do. As I could, I spent time in upscale and downscale locations very much in proportion to the way I do in my home town of Los Angeles. I conducted business with my colleagues. I ate in restaurants. I hired cars to get around. I slept in a comfortable queen sized bed with multiple pillows. I charged my phone. I connected to wifi. I put on short pants and brown shoes and walked through the neighborhood. I familiarized myself with the place, and in pursuing a somewhat ordinary set of routines, I was able to compare that place with other such foreign places I have visited. I have visited several dozen American cities and a few overseas including Zurich, Sydney, Milan, London and Paris.
Bogota is different because it's middle class is nowhere near as affluent as the middle class of Los Angeles and those other cities. And with my understanding of my own position relative to the American middle class, (which is at the 'frequent flyer' level) I make certain observations and judgments about the others. I would call this perspective the 'walking economy', and from that point of view I can make a few reasonable determinations.
The Mystery of the Middle Class is pervasive in my thoughts. I have concluded that what is most different about today's world is the number of people who live away from wealth and destitution. My uneducated guess is about 4-5 billion out of 7 billion, but that's because I am thinking about literacy. When it comes to actual income, I trust the numbers of Pew. Pew tells us that 13% of the world is middle income and that about 29% of the world is middle income or better. So the immediate thing about this mystery is that so many people can read and this affects how they can be governed. How do you lead billions of people who can read for themselves? You have to have ways of dazzling them or of compelling them. The interwebz provide the dazzle and compulsion is the same as it ever was. That means a lot more propaganda and story-telling, political narratives and bodewash are required for the peaceful transition of power. I sense this acutely in the US. We imbue far too many narratives with social and political significance. And within the context that more than half of us are high income on the global scale, more of us believe our narratives are economically justifiable and right. This is why we hate each other. We cannot stand when the other guys get to hold the flag and clap the erasers.
What if there were only 20 million expertly skilled people who were actually capable of running the world? Would you be on that team? How much of the information that they used would you be capable of accurately understanding and interpreting? When the bankers banked, when the soldiers soldiered, when the engineers engineered, when the surgeons did surgery, how could you actually remain informed? What would be your responsibility to them? This interface is being renegotiated through computer mediated communications and it's generally pretty sloppy and subject to abuse. And so the faith of the general public, the common man, is being undermined, and that generates discontent which is self-fueling. So the mystery of the middle class is compounded by the natural forces of dissonance and the generated forces of disinformation as well as sloppiness.
What people need to know is different from what they feel they need to know in a situation of distrust and counter-narratives. This dynamic is accelerated to the point of 'eclexia', in which people become so broadminded as to become uselessly judgmental and broadly critical of that broad set of inputs they consume with vigor. At some point they fall to a level of studied cynicism. I think American citizens have fallen to that point after a period of snarky eclexia. This cynicism is useful to the point of independence, and I fall heavily on the side of that. For me, the fundamental value of individual liberty requires some of that studied cynicism. But hand in hand with that is the necessity for circles of trust. This is what I pursue and observe others similar pursuits. I watch how we at once pay lots of attention to information we must receive, process and somewhat distrust, while openly sharing that information with those people we very much trust. This is the new organization. This is the new neighborhood. These are the people we must trust to have our best interests at heart by sharing common values and purpose so that we can make communal sense of information in a world we distrust to organize and protect us from the top down. What therefore we need to know comes from our networked peers. We need to know trusted people. What we feel we need to know is everything that the ruling class says we need to know, which we must take small bites of until we have our own experts in our own networks. Why? Because we cannot trust the old order to provide enough security and knowledge in a world of billions of networked, literate actors like ourselves. They don't know us, and they don't trust us. They just tell us what they think is good for us, without actually sharing. When the message is "Please don't try this at home", we know they are forbidding our education, and ultimately our self-determination. We need to be able to experiment, take our own chances among ourselves with people we trust.
The entire first world is rather like a second world in this regard. Everybody understands cities, traffic signals, internal combustion engines, planes, trains, automobiles, electricity, clocks and maps. We understand shopping, money, budgets, costs and profits. We understand hospitals, courts, schools, police, food stands, fire departments, churches and parks. All of us have all of these things with more or less luxury signaling attached. The first class passengers get to the destination city at the same time as those in steerage. But what about the ruling class, the 1%? Are they even playing the same game?
I think they are. But I also think that there are a new set of transgressors who through technique or technology are breaking the old guard's safeguards. Asymmetric war is forcing change. Digital currency is forcing change. GMO is forcing change. Soldiers have to soldier differently. Bankers have to bank differently. Politicians have to politick differently. Preachers have to preach differently. Scholars must re-evaluate their schools. So we watch to see what old comforts can survive.
This is the new middle class dilemma. Our children are not in such a hurry to learn how to drive. Maybe that's a job for a computer monkey. Our children are not in such a hurry to own a house. Maybe that's a job for a renting startup so they can live with their friends and trusted circles. We in the US have 20 flavors of motorcycle and 100 flavors of car. Maybe that's an over-investment whose significance is not as much as we think it is. Our banking relationship with that one giant mega-bank may not be what we really need.
When I think about my retirement, I think about simple second world locations where I can easily understand the paradigms of the 20th Century because they are still clearly in place. Places where there are only 2 flavors of motorcycle. Where the entertainment takes place on stage in a theatre with live performers. Where the food is grown locally and everybody knows how to cook it. Where gold jewelry works at the pawn shop. Where even if I can't literally read the language of the writing on the wall, I understand it because of its context.