Well, not everything, but the most crucial things. In brief: We need to overthrow capitalism, or else climate change will soon kill us all.
(This essay is still being revised, and suggestions are welcome. This essay is intended mostly for my newer readers; people who have been reading my work for a long time will find little or nothing new here. This essay combines slightly shortened and/or improved versions of the main ideas from a number of my earlier essays, while eliminating the overlap from those essays. Some of those earlier essays will soon be removed from my collection. If I eventually make this new es say into a video, apparently it will be around 1/2 hour long.)
Linked table of contents:
IS IT SERIOUS?
Yes, it is serious. We’ve had wars, poverty, racism, sexism, random violence, and other unnecessary cruelties for thousands of years. And things are getting worse — it’s not only serious, but urgent. The climate apocalypse will kill everyone if we don’t change our ways quickly. It will kill even vegan permaculturists, even rifle-toting preppers, even the uber-rich in their luxury bunkers.
If we wait until the damage is visible, it will be too late. We have to act on the basis of what we scientifically know is coming, rather than on the basis of what we can see has already come.
Don’t be distracted by all the headlines about floods at century’s end. I expect famines and total extinction by 2040, if we stay on course. I think we may pass the point of no return by 2025, but some climatologists say it’s coming sooner, and some say we’ve already passed it. Many people do not see how big and fast is the doom racing toward us, because they have not understood the nonlinear effects:
- Global warming includes many feedback loops, some of which will continue even after civilization collapses. For instance, warming => ice melt => darker surfaces => more sunlight absorbed => more warming. Such a process may begin small, slow, easy to overlook or deny — but the bigger it gets, the faster it grows. Already the temperature is rising faster than plants and animals can adapt.
- The ecosystem — the circle of life on which we all depend — can bounce back from small disturbances, but a bigger disturbance can cause collapse. We are passing through several tipping points which cause abrupt partial collapses. For instance, methane is a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide. As the Arctic gradually warms, it is slowly releasing some of its immense store of frozen methane. But when the temperature reaches a certain level, the rest of the methane may be released suddenly.
Climatologists and geophysicists know what biochemical measures we should be taking: less fossil fuel, less meat, more trees, more biochar, etc. — there’s a long list. But we aren’t taking those biochemical measures, just as we aren’t ending war or poverty. That’s because the rich are in charge, and taking those measures won’t make them richer. Each of them says “I’ll let someone else worry about that.” In the past their wealth has always protected them from the consequences of their actions, and they haven’t yet realized that this time is different. That’s why our governments are doing too little, too late. The sellout is bipartisan: When asked about climate legislation,
- the Republicans say “never,” and
- the Democrats say “later,” which has the same effect.
The problem is not one of biochemistry, but of politics, economics, sociology.
IS IT ALREADY TOO LATE?
Some people, looking at the accelerating pace of global warming, believe that it’s already too late, that we’ve already passed the point of no return, that climate change is certain to kill us all quite soon. “We’re f***ked,” they say.
I have a different view, and based not on different data about climate, but on a different attitude about certainty. It goes like this:
It looks like you and I still will be alive for at least another year or two. And we don’t know what we might still find in that remaining time, if we keep looking and trying. In fact, we can’t know what it is that we haven’t discovered yet, what it is that we might still discover:
- Maybe we’ll breed a hardier phytoplankton.
- Maybe we’ll find a better way of planting trees and biochar.
- Most important of all, maybe we’ll find a way to wake up billions of people and get them to Do The Right Thing, get them to cooperate with the climatologists and geophysicists, get them to overthrow the capitalists who are destroying the world. (More about that later in this essay.)
- Maybe we’ll find something, think of something, that no one has thought of before. Maybe we’ll find a solution, a way out of this mess, a way to keep our ecosystem going.
Or maybe we won’t find a solution, and we will be extinct very soon despite our best efforts. See, I’m not claiming that success is guaranteed. I’m only claiming that failure is not guaranteed either. It can’t be, because we don’t yet know what is possible.
On the other hand, if we stop looking and trying, then failure is guaranteed. So I urge everyone to keep looking and trying.
ASSESSING THE PROBLEM
It’s not a small problem. We won’t find a simple fix, a mere reform, a return to our old illusion of normalcy. Our inaction on climate has the same cause as our wars, poverty, racism, etc. The cause is hard to see, because it is deeply embedded in our culture, and has been for 10,000 years. Native Americans called this madness wetiko when they saw it in individuals, but now our entire culture is infected. We need to end capitalism, but that’s an understatement and an oversimplification. We need to
end property and hierarchy, replacing them with sharing and egalitarianism.
Individual efforts and kind intentions are not enough; we must change our institutions. This essay is all about
- what that change means,
- why it is necessary and urgent, and
- why and how it is possible.
The climate problem is global — it ignores national boundaries. The way of life that we must change is global too, despite superficial variations from nation to nation. Aside from a few isolated indigenous tribes, all of us humans live in houses or apartments, drive cars on roads, talk to each other on telephones, and — most importantly — sell our labor to buy material possessions which we own separately. Those common arrangements shape how we see the world. This world is ending; it will take great effort for us to envision a different world and bring it into being.
WAKING TO THE TRUTH
Sleeping on the road to destruction.
We must “take the red pill” and wake to the truth, like Neo in The Matrix.
We are surrounded by falsehoods, both intentional (lies) and unintentional (mistakes). All our wars are based on bipartisan lies. Nearly all of what we are told by history books, corporations, corporate news media, and corporate government is false.
- Some falsehoods are merely assertions about historical events — for instance, some people still believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was unprovoked and unexpected.
- Other falsehoods are conceptually much deeper — for instance, that our society will become more pleasant if the 51% can order the 49% around, or that the so-called “Defense” Department actually has something to do with defending us, or that it makes sense for most of us to be working for bosses.
But awakening will not be easy. It is hard for us to see our own culture; it consists of the assumptions that most of us share.
- Some beginners, seeing through one or two of the falsehoods, believe they’ve seen it all, call themselves “woke,” and look no further.
- Some are oblivious to systemic problems, and focus on blaming individuals.
- Even worse, some people do not wish to wake at all. They prefer to continue believing whatever they have believed since childhood.
A person’s waking may be triggered by a combination of political events and personal events. We may know nothing of the latter. But if we keep our message out there, it will be seen when that person is ready to see it. The old saying,
“when the student is ready the teacher will appear,”
may be better understood in this longer form:
“When the student is ready, he or she will finally notice the teacher who has been there all along.”
Americans apparently have very short memories. Here is one typical example: In 2002, the mainstream news pundits assured us that Saddam Hussein was a terrible brutal dictator, that he had WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and intended to use them, that invading Iraq and replacing Saddam would be cheap and easy, and that we would be greeted as liberators. Well, the USA did invade Iraq, but all those reasons turned out to be lies, to varying degrees. Saddam had no WMDs, and Iraq turned much worse without him; a million Iraqis died in the aftermath. The “experts” who led us to war were wrong about everything. But here is the short memory part: The “mainstream” news quickly forgot those mistakes, and resumed treating those liars as “experts” for subsequent invasions. (By the way, the real reason for most of the invasions was that the countries were planning to sell oil for something other than US currency.)
Before the internet, we had only a standardized mythology. We’re a little better off now: The internet is a chaotic mixture of truths and falsehoods, but now at least we have some possibility of piecing together the truth. Still, you must recognize that we all have different trusted sources for what we believe to be facts, and that trust — like friendship — cannot be won through debate. (Here is a link to my own favorite sources, by the way.)
Seek simplicity, but be wary of it. We can only understand reality through our models of it, but they are simplifications. Try to familiarize yourself with many models — a road map, a topographical map, and an aerial photograph are useful in different situations.
Different people have different interpretations for the same situation, resulting in different policies. For instance, does poverty result from laziness? Or from discrimination and lack of opportunity?
Thomas Pynchon said, “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” People holding different views may be asking the wrong question; a different question might hybridize their views. Try to question everything, including your own choice of questions. “Cui bono” is a particularly useful question; that’s Latin for “who profits” (or “follow the money”). Listen at least a little to the seeming crackpot, the fellow asking odd questions that never occurred to you.
Mary Doria Russell said, “Wisdom begins when you discover the difference between ‘That doesn’t make sense’ and ‘I don’t understand’.”
Malcolm X said, “Don’t be in such a hurry to condemn a person because he doesn’t do what you do, or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.”
No one has all the answers, not even me. Indeed, if someone had all the answers, we’d already have world peace; clearly we’re not there yet. A common failing among us prophet-wannabes is that we don’t understand our intended audience well enough to get them to listen. Peace can only be achieved through consensus, not imposed by force, so mutual understanding is necessary. It’s only likely to happen if we care about one another.
It is our moral duty to:
- find out what we can of the truth,
- eventually become sure enough of our beliefs to act on them, and yet
- remain open-minded enough so that we can still change our beliefs when new facts come to light.
Seventeenth century philosopher Descartes began his reasoning by looking inside his own mind: “I think, therefore I am,” he said. As for me, I begin by looking inside my own heart:
We humans are all one flesh and blood; Hitler and Gandhi were our cousins. We all have the same good and bad things inside us. Look for the best things inside yourself and your friends; take those as a model for the kind of world we want to make.
Descartes thought his reasoning was pure, but really no reasoning ever is. Logic merely shows us the consequences of our assumptions; it cannot choose the assumptions. Most of us are not consciously aware of our assumptions, the values and goals we have chosen, nor of the alternatives that we could choose instead. If we even notice our assumptions, they seem “obviously true” to us. Different things are obvious to different people, and even that fact is not obvious to some people, so don’t be reluctant to spell out in detail whatever you’ve discovered.
Why am I writing this? Here’s a quick biographical note: I’m a retired professor of mathematics, and the author of a textbook on logic. For most of my life, my political views followed the mainstream in our society, and it didn’t occur to me to question them much. When I was 55, several events — some political, some personal — jolted me into thinking and questioning. Since then I’ve been learning more, and I have felt compelled to write and rewrite, to tell people about the new things I’ve seen that differ from mainstream thinking. I’m sure that hundreds of people all over the world are writing ideas similar to mine, but perhaps mine will be the first of these that you run across. I’m still basically a math teacher: I have come to see that capitalism doesn’t add up, and I’m trying to explain that fact to more people.
NATURE VERSUS NURTURE
Though I am simplifying, I will divide human development into three phases:
- 300,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago: From our beginning, we were hunter-gatherers. We lived in small, sharing, egalitarian tribes, and cared about each other. That’s still what we feel in our guts, what we hear when we listen to our hearts. That’s still the basis of our notions of honor and kindness. That’s still who we are, genetically; that’s still our nature. All our changes since then have been merely a cultural overlay.
Then came The Fall From Grace, when humanity was expelled from paradise. The Book of Genesis says that happened 6000 years ago, upon the discovery of “good and evil.” I think that may be just a slight misremembering of an event that actually happened 10,000 years ago, the invention of “mine and yours.” That was made possible, but not necessary, by the invention of agriculture.
- 10,000 years ago to the present: We have accepted hierarchy and property as normal; they are deeply embedded in our culture. Ownership is everything; I’ll say more about that below. This culture is currently our nurture. It has made us competitive and uncaring. We still see acts of kindness, but they are in spite of our current institutions, not because of them. The conflict between nature and nurture is a source of anguish inside each of us, but it’s worse than that: Our current culture is destroying the world.
- Our future: If our species is to survive much longer, we must change our culture. The growth of knowledge is irreversible, so we’re not going to give up modern technology, but we need to become wiser in its use. Modern technology connects us all, and the global ecosystem cannot be subdivided, so we cannot return to localism or small tribes or hunting-gathering. We must become one big tribe, sharing and cooperating as equals. The goal is not independence from each other, but harmonious interdependence. I don’t know in detail how eight billion of us can do that, but we can and must find a way.
In our present culture, ownership seems very real. Any material object, such as an apple, has volume, mass, color, smell, and an owner. That seems like a physical trait. But really it’s only a story in our heads, and we can change the story. Don’t be misled.
The materialism of our culture makes it inevitable that we will feel empty inside. Indeed, if you value others only according to what they have, then you will end up rating your own worthiness by the same criteria. Even if you have much, you will know it to be contingent rather than essential — i.e., you could lose what you have, and then you would become unworthy by your own standards. The meaning and value of your life thus hang by a thread; that is an insecure life. And in this fashion, too, you will be unable to accept love from yourself or anyone else; that is a lonely life.
When someone says “humans are basically greedy and selfish,” he is mistaking our culture for our nature. This mistake was promoted by 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes. He said that humans would naturally be engaged in a “war of all against all,” making their lives “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” unless their society were held together by a strong central authority. In Hobbes’s society, that authority was an absolute monarch. Hobbes’s analysis has been popular among among monarchs, and among authoritarians in general.
Authoritarians — both leaders and followers — are people who mistakenly believe that someone must be “in charge,” or else society will crash like a boat without a helmsman. This belief encourages hierarchy. I made up a joke about that:
Three authoritarians are shipwrecked on an island. What is the first thing they do, even before looking for shelter, food, or drinkable water? Answer: They elect a president.
Robert Altemeyer’s book on authoritarians is available free online, and I think it’s quite good. Altemeyer, a professor of psychology, investigated the subject extensively, and he estimates that around a quarter of our society is authoritarian; I hope that we can reduce that number through education.
Power corrupts, as we see in domestic violence, workplace bullying, police brutality, prison torture, army atrocities, and political lies. Our governments and corporations promote pollution and wars for profit; thus our leaders are liars, thieves, and mass murderers. Yet we honor them as distinguished statesmen; it’s a national Stockholm Syndrome. Locking up our psychopathic plutocrats is not enough to protect us: If we do not also change the culture that generated them, it will quickly generate a new batch of psychopathic plutocrats.
Incidentally, the USA is not the “land of the free.” We have more people locked up than any other nation, both in absolute terms and in percentage terms. And punishing people does not heal them. But if you can’t make people obey, at least you can make their bodies obey by locking them up; that appeals to authoritarians.
The corporate news media, owned by authoritarians, tell us that anarchy means chaos and destruction. But the truth is that “an”+”archy” means “no”+”rulers” — that is, friendship, egalitarianism, anti-authoritarianism. Like peace, it cannot be imposed by force; it is a cultural change that can only happen voluntarily. I don’t want to go into more detail here, but Gelderloos’s book is quite good and is available free online.
Historian Lynn Hunt’s book “Inventing Human Rights” and her hour-long video on the subject deal with some changes that our culture went through in the 18th century, in France, Britain, and North America. Hunt’s examples should convince anyone that culture does indeed change sometimes. Hunt says that one of the causes of the 18th century cultural changes was the slightly earlier development of the epistolary novel, which was effective in teaching empathy to many readers.
A 9-minute video by psychologist Robert Sapolsky describes how one troop of baboons accidentally changed from hierarchy to egalitarianism. If baboons can do it accidentally, I think we humans can do it intentionally.
How can we know what human nature really is like, when it is always overlaid by one culture or another? Well, a major disaster sweeps away all our usual daily routines, at least for a while, and perhaps what remains is our true nature. Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Paradise Built in Hell” investigated how people behaved after several major disasters: the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, etc. Hollywood would tell us of survivors fighting over scraps of food, because that story makes good box-office, but it’s just not true. Solnit found that after disaster people actually go out of their way to help each other. An exception is police, authoritarians using guns to “restore order.”
And don’t forget the Christmas Truce of 1914. People really do prefer peace, when their rulers don’t manage to prevent it.
Jeremy Rifkin’s book “The Empathic Civilization” collects lots of evidence that we are basically a social animal, an empathic species; we are happier together. (Thus there are excellent selfish reasons for becoming unselfish.) Rifkin says that throughout our history we have gradually learned to live in ever greater population densities — tribes, then towns, then great cities — and to get along with each other better. Here is a link to an interesting 10-minute video about that.
CAPITALISM: ENDING TOO SLOWLY
Capitalism can’t last much longer, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most blatant one is automation, which is taking over more and more jobs. That means fewer humans have the money to buy goods and services produced by the robots. A capitalist can only get rich if other capitalists pay good wages.
But if we simply wait for capitalism to collapse on its own, that crash will cause great collateral damage. Indeed, it may destroy the entire ecosystem and kill us all. And also, if we wait, in the meantime capitalism will continue to cause war, poverty, ecocide, and other unnecessary torments.
The discussion in the next few sections should make it clear that the problems with capitalism are not superficial problems that can be cleaned up through mere reforms. No, these problems are inherent in the basic principles of capitalism — or, in fact, the basic principles of owning property and organizing our activities hierarchically.
So, instead of waiting, let’s end capitalism intentionally, by making more people aware of the many ways that it is an abomination.
CAPITALISM: BAD MOTIVATION
Robert Reich has good intentions, but I disagree with him about a lot of things. About five minutes into his film “Inequality for All,” he says, in agreement with many people in our society,
“Some inequality is inevitable. If people are going to have the proper incentives, to work hard, to be inventive, that’s the essence of capitalism, and capitalism does generate a lot of good things.“
But that’s already three things that I disagree with him about:
- I don’t think inequality is inevitable. We could learn how to share everything instead. (Like the healthcare systems in Europe, Japan, and Canada, which work much better than that in the USA.)
- Inequality is not needed as an incentive. A much better incentive is “I want to make life better for the people of my community.”
- And Reich is giving capitalism credit it does not deserve for “a lot of good things.” Everything that can be done with capitalism, can be done better without it. Capitalism is often given credit for modern technology, but that’s just because capitalism and technology began around the same time. Would Reich give me credit for the music of Stevie Wonder and Tom Petty? After all, I was born in the same year.
What about money as a motivation? Well, sociologists have found that money motivates menial work, but demotivates creative work — that is, it makes people less interested in doing creative work. And rewarding people for good behavior merely trains them to like rewards, not to behave well.
Our society worships competition religiously — that is, we hold it in highest regard but without any scientific basis. But anything that can be done competitively, can be done better cooperatively. I recommend Alfie Kohn’s lecture on this subject.
Competition is often justified by comparing it to playing a game. But the board game “Monopoly” lives up to its original purpose of showing the downside of capitalism: The game always ends with all the players but one totally impoverished. Our real world economy is too much like that. Elizabeth Warren, currently a presidential candidate, said that she wants our economy to become “a level playing field,” but “a level killing field” would be more accurate — we’re struggling for our lives here.
David Graeber, an anthropologist, explained that competition actually encourages corruption:
“The market is supposed to work on grounds of pure competition. Nobody has moral ties to each other other than to obey the rules. But, on the other hand, people are supposed to do anything they can to get as much as possible off the other guy — but won’t simply steal the stuff or shoot the person. Historically, that’s just silly; if you don’t care at all about a guy, you might as well steal his stuff. In fact, they’re encouraging people to act essentially how most human societies, historically, treated their enemies — but to still never resort to violence, trickery or theft. Obviously that’s not going to happen.”
Elizabeth Warren said that she likes “capitalism, but without the corruption” — as though that were possible. She wants the motivation of private profit without the excess of gluttony, but I think she has not analyzed this deeply enough. I would restate her wish this way: She likes greed, but without the greed.
Advocates of capitalism hope to harness greed and put it to good use. But stories about a contract with the Devil always end badly, because his lawyers are more devious than ours.
I don’t make an exception for “Mom and Pop stores.” Excusing little capitalists is like permitting alligators in the swimming pool if they are small and promise to stay that way. And anyway, Mom and Pop don’t really like fighting off Wal-Mart and Amazon for their livelihood. They’d welcome the socialist revolution — they’d be glad to turn their store into a distribution center, and address people’s needs instead of their money.
CAPITALISM: RULE BY THE RICH
Money IS influence, so it will find its way around or through any legislation and any legislators. (Carsie Blanton says it “flows around obstacles naturally and efficiently, like water around a stone.”) Rather than serve as checks and balances on each other, the wealthy and the politically powerful merge. Gilens and Page proved statistically in 2014 what most of us already knew: Regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t. The rich rule; that’s called plutocracy. The USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its founding in land theft, genocide, and slavery, and we can’t end that by electing better plutocrats. Most so-called “representatives” end up representing their own interests. James Madison, the chief author of our constitution, wrote (though not in the constitution) that it was important
“to keep the spirit and form of popular government with only a minimum of the substance,”
and he wrote that the primary goal of government is
“to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.”
The 2010 “Citizens United” court decision merely gave official approval to what was already an established fact, an inevitable consequence of our economic system. The sellout is bipartisan; the two money parties differ only in their style of lies:
- The Democrats say “we’re putting the people first”; this fools the blind voters.
- The Republicans say “we’re putting the plutocrats first, but it works out better for everyone that way”; this fools the stupid voters.
The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. But that will require a very different economic system, as I will discuss in the next section.
CAPITALISM: INCREASING INEQUALITY
Many people in our society think that it would be good to have just a little bit of economic inequality as motivation. I disagree — see my earlier remarks about competition — a healthier motivation is the desire to be useful to the community.
But in any case, “a little bit of economic inequality” isn’t possible. If you have any inequality at all, it grows enormous, as has happened in our society. The USA is the leader in inequality, but other “developed” countries are catching up. A few people are fabulously wealthy, while everyone else is struggling to get by.
That happened, not by accident, but by features built into our economic system. It’s like the board game “Monopoly,” which always ends with all the players but one totally impoverished.
It’s partly because the rich are not prosecuted for their thefts, but it’s more because trade of every sort — for labor, food, rent, loans, whatever — increases inequality. It does that by favoring whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position.
And so-called “voluntary trade” often really isn’t. Ask any migrant farm worker or any member of the so-called “volunteer army” whether he wishes he could find some other job.
We are paid, not according to how hard we work or how much we produce, but according to how much we control. Your supervisor makes more money than you do only because he’s standing between you and the money. The head of your company makes hundreds of times as much money as you do, but he’s not hundreds of times as smart or hard-working. In fact, you’ll never meet anyone who is even three times as smart or as hard-working as you are. Jobs are kept precarious and wages are kept low despite ever-rising productivity.
George Monbiot said, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.”
The only way to avoid this enormous inequality is to end trade — i.e., to share everything. I think that’s what Martin Luther King had in mind when he talked about “the beloved community.” It’s certainly what Marx had in mind when he talked about what people need and what they can produce. You see, people vary greatly in what they need and in what they can produce, and there is no correlation between those two quantities. In a society where people care about each other, the only sane arrangement is that each person will receive from the community what he or she needs, and each person will produce for the community what he or she is able to produce, with no connection between those two quantities. More briefly, in Marx’s words,
“from each according to ability,
to each according to need.”
But in our present culture, people do not care about each other, and that’s insane, and it’s no wonder that the world is tearing itself apart.
Admittedly, sharing would be a radical change, but the alternative is an even more radical change: the imminent extinction of our species (discussed in the next section).
CAPITALISM: ECOCIDAL EXTERNALITIES
We’ve been told that the market is “efficient,” but that’s the opposite of the truth. The market might be efficient regarding the costs that are actually measured, but market transactions have enormous unmeasured side effects, called “externalized costs,” or “externalities.” These costs are paid not by buyer or seller, but by the community and the ecosystem. Like a bull in a china shop, externalities are far more destructive than constructive. The problem is not technology, but the unwise and uncaring use of technology. No modern corporation would be profitable if it had to pay its true costs; thus the market is highly inefficient. If the ecocide continues a bit longer, all of us will die, including the people making money in the market. Markets are short-sighted, because must CEOs compete at offering short-term profits to investors.
Privatization is killing the ecosystem. And yet most discussions in economics are arguments over whether one method of not sharing is better than another method of not sharing. And such arguments tend to be complicated, to obscure what is really going on. Open any conventional economics textbook and you’ll find that it’s full of equations. It’s all wrong, not in the math, but in the questions that were chosen and the assumptions that were made at the beginning before any math was applied.
CAPITALISM: ALIENATION AND HATE
Privately owned workplaces are little dictatorships. That’s why we all hate Mondays. Capitalism only brings freedom to the handful of people who own the workplaces.
Beyond a few basic necessities, our possessions do not increase our happiness; they only encumber us. Worse, they separate us from each other. Your loss is not my loss, and might even be my gain.
The market makes us all commodities to be exploited or discarded. Private gain becomes an incentive for lies, theft, and mass murder (e.g., unjustifiable wars).
Competing against you, I can easily be persuaded that you are different from me, that your difficulties are your own fault, and that my difficulties are your fault too. Thus we get racism, sexism, homophobia, austerity, Zionism, imperialism, and other forms of bullying; the USA is the world’s greatest bully. And every day we see a beggar on one street corner, and a mass shooting on another. The beggar is not the shooter, but the beggar displays the separateness driving the shooter mad.
As technology advances, nations and individuals become more capable of destroying others. No surveillance can protect us from a suicidal madman. We’ll only be made safe by a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind, so that no one =wants= to hurt us. But when people are asked about such a culture, ironically, most of them say “oh, personally I’m in favor of that, but most people would never go along with that.” Evidently, our biggest obstacle is that most people don’t know what most other people want. We need to tell them.
REVOLUTION IS NOT ENOUGH
The plutocrats are fools: They will destroy the entire world, including themselves, in their pursuit of another short-term profit. We are fighting for our lives.
It is helpful to distinguish between “reform” and “revolution.” A reformist believes that our society is based on sound principles, and our problem is merely that we have strayed from those principles into corruption; a bit of tweaking can bring us back on track. The revolutionary believes that the fundamental principles are wrong, and must be replaced altogether. For instance, as I described earlier in this essay, Elizabeth Warren believes that capitalism can be made to “work properly,” but I believe that would be like cancer “working properly.”
Many people are calling for “nonviolent revolution.” This phrase has different meanings, and some of the meanings are naive. The ruling class will use violence against us, whether we revolutionaries use violence or not. Our rulers routinely beat or kill whistle-blowers and nonviolent demonstrators, and/or lock them up for long sentences, torture, enormous court costs.
If it were only a question of morality, I would say that we are justified in responding with violence. Mark Twain expressed this very well, in his defense of the French Revolution:
“There were two ‘Reigns of Terror,’ if we could but remember and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passions, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon a thousand persons, the other upon a hundred million; but our shudders are all for the ‘horrors’ of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty and heartbreak? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief terror that we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror – that unspeakable bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”
Still, revolutionaries would be wise to remain nonviolent for as long as possible — not for moral reasons, but for strategic reasons. The establishment has more and bigger weapons than we do. We will only defeat them when we have the people on our side — at which point we won’t really need much violence anyway. When the masses are on our side, we can just say to the rich “we will no longer honor your pieces of paper,” and suddenly they will no longer be rich.
Moreover, the use of violence may increase authoritarianism, and ideas introduced through violence do not necessarily last long. (For instance, the French beheaded much of their aristocracy in the 1790s, but by 1804 they had an emperor.) And many of the people who we are trying to awaken, people who have not yet understood the bane of authoritarianism, will be alienated if they see violence used by anyone other than “the proper authorities.” Our main task is not in fighting, but in educating.
The word “revolution” usually means millions of people in the streets, demanding at least a change of leadership and a change of the distribution of power and property. We do need that, but we need more than that.
The question is, what kind of change? I’ve explained earlier in this essay that we need to end both hierarchy and property. Those are enormous changes. To implement them will require enormous vision and understanding, an enormous awakening; we must see the world in a new way. That is bigger than what the word “revolution” usually means.
To change our culture, we must see it more clearly. Before we get millions of people into the streets, we will need millions of conversations. That may take a while; it won’t happen instantly. But that is how we will make the revolution happen. Carry a sign. Hand out leaflets. Whatever.
But the revolution won’t happen this week. So, while I’m preparing for it by trying to spread ideas (such as this essay), I’m also supporting Bernie Sanders’s campaign for president. Until we’re prepared to do some real work outside the system, I think he’s our best chance to stave off extinction of our species. I’ve written about that elsewhere. For that too, carry a sign, hand out leaflets, whatever.
Be well. Good luck to us all.
2019 Aug 12, version 3.12.