Pricking the Bubble of Global Complacent Complicity


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Hyperdimensional insights from the physics of bubble blowing, bursting and collapse?


Readily admired by children, the beauty of bubbles exercises a peculiar fascination. There have been many uses of the bubble metaphor in relation to recent financial and economic crises (financial bubble, the housing bubble, etc). An extensive definition of a financial bubble is offered by the Financial Times Lexicon, and of bubble (economics) by Revolvy. Related terms include asset bubble, speculative bubble, stock market bubble, liquidity bubble, price bubble, and real estate bubble. There are also many references to collapsing bubbles and bursting bubbles — also part of the fascination for children. Controversial references may be made to the commodities bubble and to the population bubble.

Less evident are the references to the manner in which collapsing and bursting is achieved using the pricking metaphor in that connection (John Cassidy, Pricking the Bubble, The New Yorker, 17 August 1998;Tim Iacono, Pricking Bubbles, Financial Times, 5 November 2009; Kevin Drum, Pricking Bubbles, Mother Jones, 7 July 2009; Carol Iannone, Pricking the Bubble, Research Gate, December 2011; Howard Davies, The Trouble with Financial Bubbles, The Guardian, 19 October 2015). Beyond description though the metaphor, the question of how has also been addressed (Wolfgang Munchau, How to Prick Bubbles, Financial Times, 26 October 2009; Dina Medland, Pricking The ‘Bubble’ Of Banking By Calling The Sector To Account, Forbes, 24 February 2014). Arguably however, this understanding of a “prick” is totally inadequate, if not naive, given the nature of such bubbles and how they are sustained.

There is even concern that maybe such bubbles should not be pricked, arguing for the appreciation of unpricked bubbles. Within mainstream economics, many believe that bubbles cannot be identified in advance, cannot be prevented from forming, that attempts to “prick” the bubble may cause financial crisis, and that instead authorities should wait for bubbles to burst of their own accord, dealing with the aftermath via monetary policy and fiscal policy (The Perils of Pricking Bubbles, The Economist, 14 May 1998; Howard Davies, Should we Prick Financial Bubbles? World Economic Forum, 20 Oct 2015; John Authers, The Importance of Bubbles that Did not Burst. Financial Times, 10 February 2017; John Galt, Neel Kashkari Argues Against Pricking Financial Bubbles, TheoTrade, 23 May 2017). Are bubbles “bad”? Despite any recognition of it being an illusion, is any process sustaining it to be so framed?

Although frequent reference is made to the importance of such bubbles and of their continuing emergence, it is less than clear that any effort is made to identify the set of bubbles which are currently evident or potentially emergent. Although it is recognized as a systemic phenomenon, the phenomenon is not explored systemically. In how many domains can socioeconomic and related bubbles be currently recognized? Whether bad or not, it is now foreseen that future bubble collapse will be even more catastrophic (Tyler Durden, ‘The Everything Bubble’: why the coming collapse will be even worse than the last, ZeroHedge, 17 May 2017; Adam Taggart, The Mother of All Financial Bubbles will be Unimaginably Destructive when it Bursts, The Market Oracle, 15 February 2017).

More intriguing is the seeming dependence on a bubble-like process. Is globalization the process of “blowing a bubble” of immense proportions — or fruitfully recognizable as such? The process of promoting credibility in collective agendas, most notably in the case of “talking up” currencies and economic prospects, readily lends itself to framing by the metaphor. The widespread quest for agreement and the need for consensus, can be understood in that light, despite its illusory quality as separately argued (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011). There is some irony to the contrast between any bubble-like consensus and use of a seemingly distinct metaphor, namely solidarity. Is the solidarity — for which appeals are so frequently made — to be understood as equally bubble-like? Should global civilization be explored as a bubble — given the risk of its collapse and the curious dependence on its growth? Should the quest for sustainability be explored in terms of ensuring the viability of a bubble?

The argument here is less concerned with the credibility accorded to the metaphor with respect to socioeconomic phenomena but rather to its relevance to any elusive sense of consensus. More especially the concern is with the manner in which it usefully characterizes questionable processes of complacent complicity. Are there illusions — “myths” carefully created and sustained — which merit recognition as bubbles of a kind (Cultivating the Myth of Human Equality: ignoring complicity in the contradictions thereby engendered, 2016).

What of the myth cultivated by so many that “we have never had it so good”? Is the complacent dependence on non-renewable resources to be usefully explored as a bubble? To what extent does humanity need bubbles and to enable more to be blown? The question can be explored otherwise in relation to the internet and assumptions regarding the desirability of filter bubbles to sustain confidence in particular world views (Eli Pariser, Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble: what the internet is hiding from you, 2011; Holly Green, Breaking Out of Your Internet Filter Bubble. Forbes, 29 August 2011; Engin Bozdag and Jeroen van den Hoven, Breaking the Filter Bubble: democracy and design. Ethics and Information Technology, 17, 2015, 4).

More generally, and even more problematic, is the complacent complicity in the systematic depredation of the ecosystems of the environment. There is a bubble-like adaptability to any shocking news about the percentage of species forced into extinction, or the proportion of people suffering from various conditions of deprivation and injustice. Do such bubbles, as cocoons, offer a cushioning effect otherwise recognized as psychic numbing?

If there is indeed a case for “pricking” some bubbles, missing from that metaphor is how a diminutive “prick” is so dramatically effective in ensuring the collapse of a relatively massive bubble — and its evident global integrity. What is a “prick” in a knowledge-based civilization overwhelmed by fake news? Clearly it is not a new fact, nor is it the renewed promulgation of any inconvenient, as by Al Gore truth (An Inconvenient Truth, 2006; An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, 2017). Bubbles are bouncily resistant to such pressures, as climate change has so clearly demonstrated (An Inconvenient Truth about any inconvenient truth, 2008).

Given such questions, is there anything of psychosocial relevance to be learned from the extensive research on the physics of bubbles regarding the particular nature and efficacy of a “prick” as it might relate to complacent complicity? Could new insight be derived into what is intuitively recognized as a “bubble of hope”, a “bubble of meaning”, a “bubble of joy”, or a “bubble of pleasure”? Is there any possibility that this might be relevant to new understanding of widespread recourse to psychotropic drugs or to the extremes of radicalism?

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