What Is Survival Mode?

Part One: The What and Is

When we wonder what any thing is, which is the famous ‘philosophical’ activity, actually caution is recommended. Why? It’s because of this amazing dynamic: asking whether or how something exists is also believing or presuming (at least for the moment) that it does exist. The dynamic is captured somewhat by the italicized ‘is’ within the first sentence above, in the phrase ‘what any thing is’: 

    • stress on the ‘what’ would seem to privilege the ephemeral, material characteristics of the thing

    • stress on the ‘is’ puts our attention upon the essence of its existence, or the primordial aspect of existing in the first place

So, before we leap into a critical discussion about this questionable, so-called phenomenon, ‘survival mode’, we probably should make sure we’re not referring to a chimera, not wasting our attention on the nonexistent. 

Deconstructing the ‘What’ Part

The preliminary, existential belief-pattern baked into a ‘What is _?’ question may be only a notion, or a hypothesis that the named referent exists. Yet any such believing invests provisional existence in that thing (and so did naming it). This maneuver allows for the thought-process that seeks out the probable status and traits of the thing (its ‘what’-characteristics). This is a miraculous but peculiar mental move that the mind performs all of the time – without us necessarily being conscious of it. 

Perhaps, to think about existence we must grant existence. 

Even more interesting, this kind of thinking grants both the preliminary existence of the imagined, named thing in question, and, in so doing it implicitly grants reality to existing itself. Conceiving the immanence of Existence is the very DNA, so to speak, for the total phenomenon of world. And with that phenomenon, which grows variegated fast, the existential and phenomenological plot thickens considerably.

‘What Is _?’ Questions Do Way More Than Name a Thing

So, let’s check: is ‘survival mode’ a real experience in consciousness, therefore an actual phenomenon, something you and me know about directly? – or, is it a psychiatrist’s abstraction? – a sociologist’s hypothesis? – a comedian’s joke?

At this point, it would help to have the basic, lexical, and figurative meanings of ‘survival mode’ restated, unpacked, characterized, maybe along these lines:

State of desperation. Struggle to live. ‘Working poor.’ ‘Starvation wages.’ ‘Flight or fight.’ ‘Hand to mouth.’ The poverty trap. Subsistence-myopia. 

If we now have an inkling of what is meant by this idiom, survival mode, and, we feel confident that it indeed is a real, lived phenomenon, then it’s fair to ask forthrightly what it is – and then of course, why would anyone care about it?

Looking Beyond What Toward Is

Given the numerous and various ways to quantify and qualify survival mode – the most basic, socio-economic phenomenon itself – it seems safe to go ahead and assume all the minutia of its manifestations in our lives as Americans during the pandemic, added to all the other disasters, in order to gauge its relative proportions as a socio-cultural phenomenon.

This compounded disastrousness is why it seems useful to just summarize it all as The Disaster, which also includes suffering the cruelty of unsound leadership.

The brunt experience of survival mode (food insecurity, for instance) aligns more or less with catastrophic poverty – particularly the type that is brought on by getting dumped by employers, or, losing the sort of work that is dependent upon stable economic conditions (such as the sprawling Hospitality sector). 

Closer to the Real

So, survival mode is part and parcel, especially right now, with the disastrous public policy currently governing our norms, and expectations, of work, mainly. On that basis, we might say that for any American to suffer survival mode (which also includes vicious psychological symptoms) just exposes empirically, if you like, a disaster for the entire society. Worse, it is arguably an unnecessary and avoidable disaster, just the collateral damage from militant corporate lobbying and inhumane public policies. 

The most cynical gaze at this predicament might even guess that some corporations are conditioned to treat cheap labor and the missing mandate for workers’ rights as part of their rightful spoils from lobbying so damn hard, and a valuable part of their ROI from lobbying in the first place. This kind of social abuse has become a norm – which is a grave problem.

From an aerial position, this scenario of a society desensitized toward the experience and even the existence of survival mode – where privileged classes actually live off the labors and misfortune of the ‘have-not’s – is plainly cannibalistic in terms of the human spirit.

Yet in order to reach the essence of the phenomenon, beyond the emotions attached to it or its political sphere, let’s appreciate its complexity but then bracket it all out. The entire empirical dimension of poverty and of survival mode can be presumed, and just kept in stasis off to the side for the moment.

Digging Deeper

Finally, we’re approaching the questions of how and why a society could harbor and accept the phenomenon of survival mode – which is a social crisis when seen clearly – in which underprivileged people experience material poverty and impaired, worsening health (even while indentured by ‘jobs’). 

No honest humanist could get too familiar with this phenomenon, let alone accept it – and again, it helps to detach and see it from above, which can de-familiarize it. What is the root phenomenon? – and, the essence of that root? For example, is the root phenomenon of survival mode simply fear (for all involved, even the oppressors)? Is it helpful to think of the essence of fear as a lack of confidence rather than in terms of any particular oppression, of which to be fearful?

Let’s propose that the essence of this problem is not a flaw in people’s natural curiosities, or a lack of willingness to be affluent enough to follow their real interests in life. Let’s propose that the problem is not that ‘poor’ people can’t manage cash, or that they are weak humans who can't deserve much. Functionally, the problem of survival mode lies in the exclusion of certain people by others who have more power (too much for the underprivileged to overcome). And the essence of that exclusion is getting misnamed and misidentified (as ‘workers’) and segregated as such, in order to be held back, separated from the opportunities that the rich provide for themselves and take for granted — according to a double standard.

A basic rationale of this oppression is the infantilization of people who happen not to possess much money: they are blamed for immaturity, for being uneducated, assumed irresponsible or dumb, not ambitious or desirous enough for profits (‘under-achievers’ within Capitalism) – all of which uses bogus slanders to cover up the real conditions of systemic, 'trap'-like poverty.

Removing our personal filters of interpretation, past memories, emotional reactions, and incomplete knowledge exposes more and more of the is-ness, and less of the empirical facticity of a thing’s phenomenal existence. And what we’ve been proposing is that this facticity stems from existing itself, anyway, in the universal sense, rather than particular reasons for how and why it could manifest locally and uniquely – which involves an endless sea of data.

Part Two: Existential Confidence