Bigger Than Revolution (longer version)
War, poverty, racism are killing many of us. And now ecocide is about to kill ALL of us. Corrupt plutocratic governments are doing almost nothing to help. All these problems – war, plutocracy, and so on — are inevitable consequences of two root causes, hierarchy and property, as I’ll explain. And those two root causes are linked, as each perpetuates the other.
These problems cannot be reformed away, so to survive we must overthrow the system; we must replace hierarchy and property with horizontalism and sharing. That’s much bigger than a revolution, bigger than just a change of leaders and laws. It’s an awakening in all of us, a change in how we see the world and each other; it’s our biggest cultural change in 10,000 years. It can only happen if it gets overwhelming popular understanding and support. The rapid spreading of good ideas rarely happens, but it is possible, and it is our only hope now. So please share this message widely in social media.
Part A: Climate Apocalypse.
Nonlinearities are speeding up global warming, and it’s about to kill us all. The rich will learn that they can’t eat money. Some crop failures have already begun. Most of us will die of famine in about a decade, and the rest will roast a few years later, if we continue on our present path. Can we change course? Some say it’s too late, but I say that’s not certain. We don’t know what tomorrow’s research may make possible.
What are the huge changes that we need? Well, let’s start with the geophysical changes; at least those are familiar by now. We need solar and wind power, bicycles, mass transit, telecommuting, and carbon-neutral or carbon-negative food production. Also, we must expand climate-related research, and end the military’s carbon exemption.
Thus, we know what sort of geophysical changes are needed. In fact, we’ve known for decades. But our politicians have been doing almost nothing about climate, because they get big donations from fossil fuel companies. The 2015 Paris Climate Accord was merely an agreement on what temperature to wish for. We must take the decision-making power away from the profiteers and give it instead to people who actually care about the well being of society.
We now turn to the less obvious part of the problem, the part that requires a great awakening: WHY is political power in the hands of the greedy? How does this whole political thing really work? No one has all the answers about politics, but I will discuss some essentials that too few people are talking about.
Part B: Plutocracy.
Democracy, rule by the majority, is often praised as an ideal, but really it is far from that. The majority cannot make wise choices when we are all misled by the lies of the corporate news media. And for 51% to ride roughshod over 49% is a poor settling of disagreements. Far better would be a society of caring, understanding, and consensus. I’ll come back to that.
Anyway, we don’t really have a democracy. We have plutocracy: rule by the rich. That has been folk wisdom for a long time, but it was proved statistically by Professors Gilens and Page in 2014. They showed that, regardless of elections, our public policies have a high correlation with what the rich want and zero correlation with what the general public wants.
Gilens and Page’s data only goes back a couple of decades. But if we get away from jingoistic propaganda, we see that the USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its founding in land theft, genocide, and slavery. In fact, we humans have been ruled by the rich ever since the invention of private property 10,000 years ago.
And that’s not hard for us to understand once we wake from the matrix of lies. The “Citizens United” decision merely restated what has always been true: Money is, by definition, the power to get other people to give you what you want. Money IS influence. Money will find its way through or around legislators as surely as water will find its way down a hill. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class.
Part C: Destructive Economics.
What public policies do the rich want? Even the rich will be killed by the collapse of the ecosystem, so I don’t think that collapse is their intention. Rather, it is an externality, an unmeasured side effect of the mindless pursuit of short-term profit. The plutocrats are trapped in this crazy rat race as much as the rest of us: Each plutocrat can only focus on the short-term profits that keep him in power and ahead of his rivals. That is why politicians impose austerity, enriching their big donors at everyone else’s expense.
There will be a few exceptions. Each capitalist is a human being, and so it is possible for him to wake up, to care about something other than profit. But don’t depend on these exceptions, for they will be few. Far more common will be greenwashing — that is, corporations pretending to care, as a marketing ploy. Do not be fooled: The laws of the market do not change. As long as our economy is based on competition, a corporation can only survive by putting profit ahead of all else.
Now here is the big surprise — here is what few people ever mention: Even without their control of the government, the rich would still be getting richer at everyone else’s expense. That is because if we don’t share, we must trade — for labor, food, rent, interest, everything. And trade, even when honest, increases inequality, by giving greater profit to whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position. I have discussed this in greater detail elsewhere. In fact, we may understand politics and government better if we view them as a branch of commerce — namely, the buying and selling of influence.
Inequality has become enormous, separating us into plutocracy and poverty. Poverty brings homelessness, hunger, and lack of healthcare. To end poverty, we must end trade; we must replace it with sharing. No, you won’t need to share your toothbrush or your house. But let’s work together, and share the ability to get a toothbrush or a house.
And don’t speak to me of independence and rugged individualism – we are all actually interdependent. Even Robinson Crusoe brought to his island some tools and knowledge developed by other people.
Capitalism is defended by many falsehoods, which can be either lies or mistakes. Here are six of the most common:
- “The market is efficient and wise.” — The truth is that the market doesn’t compute unmeasured side-effects; those will kill us all if continued.
- “Capitalism is the source of science and technology.” — It’s true that capitalism and modern science began around the same time. But giving capitalism credit for science is like giving me credit for Tom Petty’s music — we were born in the same year. Anyway, technology can be used for good or ill, depending on who controls it. The existence of nuclear weapons is proof that our society has been clever but not wise. We need to wise up, quick.
- “Capitalism is democracy.” — The truth is that most capitalist workplaces are little dictatorships; that’s why we hate Mondays.
- “Our pursuit of profit does not interfere with honesty.” — Actually, corporations have often lied about their products.
- “Competition and the pursuit of private advantage are the best motivations for innovation and hard work, because people are basically selfish.” — Actually, modern sociologists say just the opposite of that: We are motivated better by cooperation and shared benefit.
- “What you are advocating has been tried before, and it has never worked.” — Actually, the history books are full of lies, distortions, and omissions. Are you sure that your sources are reliable? Democratically elected socialist governments have worked just fine until they were overthrown by the USA and other capitalist invaders.
Part D: Alienation.
Power corrupts, as we see in police brutality, prison torture, and wars based on lies. But even for people without power, our culture has become uncaring: Our delusion of separate lives and our institution of separate property perpetuate each other. Competition kills empathy, leaving fear, hate, madness, random shootings. People don’t shoot their friends; we should all be friends.
Summing up: If we don’t share, we get inequality, corruption, extinction. The old world is tearing itself apart and can’t be fixed. We have no choice but to live in a new world of caring and sharing. We have excellent selfish reasons for becoming unselfish.
Marx gave a simple formula for the economics of a caring world: “from each according to ability, to each according to need,” without any quid pro quo. It will be an enormous change, but it’s possible. For 200,000 years we were hunter-gatherers, sharing everything as equals, and genetically that’s still who we are.
Part E: Revolution.
Some things can’t be done gradually, such as lighting a candle or getting pregnant. And we have no time for gradualism: Every day, the climate problem becomes more difficult, and unjustifiable wars kill a few more people; we can’t get those days or people back.
Still, if our revolution is too small, based on too little understanding, we’ll just be wasting time we can’t afford. For instance, if we overthrow the plutocrats without changing our culture, then that culture will quickly generate a new batch of plutocrats, as it did after 1776.
Reforms will not suffice. “Reform” is the cleanup you call for when your foundation is sound and your society has merely strayed into corruption a bit. That’s not where we are. Our alleged principles of “democracy” and “independence” are inadequate and misleading, as explained earlier. Currently our society’s real foundations are hierarchy and property.
What kind of revolution?
The ruling class will not relinquish power voluntarily. They used violence against us at Occupy, at Standing Rock, at Black Lives Matter. They rigged the primaries against Bernie; that is clear from the exit polls. They are torturing Julian Assange for revealing their crimes.
But our response should not be violent. Research published in 2008 by Stephan and Chenoweth showed that nonviolence has been far more successful than violence in bringing political change, regardless of how much violence the old regime uses in its attempt to stop change. Chenoweth has continued making videos on the subject.
Our proper tactic mostly consists of getting attention, spreading the truth, recruiting more people. Street marches and other public demonstrations are fun and helpful, but they’re not enough, and I don’t know what comes after them — maybe a general strike. Extinction Rebellion is doing a good job of bringing attention to the climate problem, but they are not addressing the underlying socioeconomic problem.
People are underestimating the internet’s potential for spreading awareness. When you see a really good video, article, or other communication, recommend it to other people.
I’ll close with a list of links that I recommend. First, my own leaflets and videos can be found at https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/#leaflets. Second, the corporate (“mainstream”) news is full of lies and distortions; here are some non-corporate sources that I recommend:
Current Affairs, Counterpunch, Greanville Post, Popular Resistance, Grayzone, Black Agenda Report, Common Dreams, RT, Truthout, Portside, Caitlin Johnstone, Richard Wolff, Jimmy Dore, Ted Rall, Lee Camp, Howard Zinn.
And third, following are some recommended videos. Each video title is preceded by its (length, in minutes) and [popularity, in views].
- (27)[19K] “What liberals need to understand” by “The Finnish Bolshevik”
- (55)[31K] “The Case Against Competition” by Alfie Kohn
- (11)[45K] “Drive: The Truth About What Motivates Us” by Dan Pink
- (9)[266K] “Why hierarchy creates a destructive force” by Robert Sapolsky
- (13)[308K] “The success of nonviolent civil resistance” by Erica Chenoweth
- (75)[392K] “Iraq for Sale” by Robert Greenwald
- (6)[1.8M] “Corruption is Legal in America” by Represent.Us
- (11)[3.1M] “The Empathic Civilization” by Jeremy Rifkin
- (144)[4.6M] “The Corporation” by Joel Bakan et al.
- (6)[23M] “Wealth Inequality in America” by “politizane”
- (160)[25M] “Zeitgeist: Moving Forward” by Peter Joseph
2021 Jan 3, version 1.61. Underlined words and phrases are links to related materials.