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Great Expectations – not necessarily a great thing

Among the best and worst things we do is the creation of expectations. We do this so easily and automatically that we rarely consider the result. Anticipation of outcomes is one of the better things we do; through anticipation we avoid accidents, errors, misunderstandings, and difficulties. The power (and problem) with such anticipation may be readily seen in the realm of “magic” where so many of the “tricks” are mere misdirection away from the anticipated result. Expectations toward anticipation are thus generally positive.

The creation of desired outcomes, that is the specific type of anticipation that is either focused upon personal purpose or individually desired results, create a more problematic outcome – disappointment. The creation of highly desired (“great”) expectations will often result in great disappointment and great disappointment is the core of great unhappiness. Thus, we should learn to be more careful in the creation of expectation.

Expectations are often pushed upon us. From our parents preferred career choice to our concept of a “clean shave”, we are subjected to external definition of what we should expect. Nowhere is this larger than in our expectation of “success” – the great social paradigm that we create without sufficient intent or rationality. Indeed, for the most part, our social expectation of “success” is controlled by the marketplace and marketplace factors. From infancy throughout adulthood we are constantly being told – directly and subliminally – what “success” is and how important it is that we be successful. But then, such success is rarely achieved and even when it is, it is never as satisfying as we’re told it will be.

In part, this is because we’ve defined success as being successful – a self-serving cycle that is ultimately meaningless and false. In our social paradigm, we cannot be successful unless we seek some socially valued result and actually achieve it. Indeed, we are often reminded that the result outweighs the means or methods. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when people are deemed successful because they got rich and powerful by cheating, lying, or abusing. The problem we’ve created is multi-faceted: we’ve equated success with both the wrong criteria and type of outcome.

So long as are we continue favoring expectations of success based upon wealth and influence, we will produce just that – people who are rich and powerful who may or may not care about how they got that way and who may or may not have any other expectations. As bad as that is, it’s not the worst result.

The system cannot offer such a result to more than a small minority of people; meaning that the vast majority of people cannot achieve this “success”. Many of them will accept limited success because they had some understanding of both their person limitations and those imposed upon them. Others will rationalize their “failure” and achieve some level of acceptance based upon their “fate”. But many will suffer disappointment, disillusionment, and disparagement due to their “failure”. This will be the cause of the next “Great Depression”.

While the next great depression may be economic, its root cause will be “great expectations”. We are already rolling down that path and it doesn’t seem as though we have any brakes. We have recently hit the first major bump in the road – the economic crisis of 2007. Overconsumption, greed, and malfeasance were the key outward causes of the meltdown, but the real crisis began with two obscure problems: false expectations and failed expectations. Both are complex and it is not the purpose of this essay to deal with them. Two short examples may suffice to explain what is meant.

A key false expectation that has now become deeply ingrained in our social psyche is that taking wealth from medium to low income people and giving it to rich people (the “trickle-down” concept) is positive, productive, and necessary. At no time in human history has this theory been applied so “successfully” as it was from 2000-2007. And yet, despite the obviously disastrous results, many continue to advocate that our success depends upon this model. They are generally oblivious to the losses and suffering caused by the model because the rich got richer and the influential became more powerful – their expectation of “success”. This is only one of many false expectations that led to our near collapse.

Failed expectations are a different sort of problem – their results are longer term and more widespread. Ultimately however, the outcomes of failed expectations are far worse than those caused merely by false expectations; we’re dealing with large scale social collapse (as in revolutionary) and long term outcomes such as extinction. Yes, what I’m saying is that failed expectations can and will lead to the demise of the United States and the end of the human species. I’m not saying that this is necessary or even likely. There are many possible scenarios and I will offer just one…

The failed expectation of “success” being based upon accumulation of wealth and influence has three prominent long-term outcomes: overconsumption, corruption, and social depression. It should now be clear that our overconsumption has led to potentially disastrous environmental results. Not only have we failed to address those results (some still deny them), we have done little (nothing) to address their cause. This result in itself may prove fatal for our species – we may have already passed the “tipping point” of irreversible ecological damage. It is obvious that we have reached new levels of corruption – global corruption by immortal entities (corporations). I’m not opposed to corporations, but we have to see their risks: corporations now have global reach and influence and when they are fundamentally corrupt (as in having and creating false or failed expectations), they can cause harm at unprecedented levels. We have no historical model for overcoming such corruption and the historical means for dealing with such no longer exist (as in armed revolts).

But the result of failed expectations that I fear the most is social depression. Ultimately, the vast majority of people will be “failures” under the current failed expectations. As the expectations have become greater and more deeply imbedded psychologically, the resulting depression must become greater. We cope with such depression through drugs (in the broad sense) and distractions. The outcome is easy to predict: productivity will decline, consumption will increase (as a ratio of productivity), meaningful caring will dissipate, and society will decline. One does not have to look very hard to see that we are well immersed in this decline now.

For those who do still care and have some greater expectation, I propose a new approach to solving the problem: stop trying to repair the results and attack the causes. First and foremost – and relatively easy to fix – are false and failed expectations.


RVW Nov. 2010








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