For our first 200,000 years, humans were hunter-gatherers, mostly sharing as equals and friends, cooperating as a team. The only way one could “get ahead” was to bring the whole community ahead. Genetically that’s still who we are; any changes since then have just been cultural. I’m simplifying a lot here, but the big cultural change came 12,000 years ago, with the end of the ice age and the beginning of agriculture. That made it possible – not necessary, but possible – to stop sharing as equals, and that was our big mistake. It’s hard for us to see it as a mistake, since private property is now such a fundamental part of our way of life. But ever since then, we’ve had
inequality, poverty, serfdom, corruption, war,
and many other unnecessary cruelties. And now we’re racing toward extinction: Global warming is accelerating more than the corporate press says, and accidental nuclear war is becoming more likely. Our only chance of survival is a return to sharing as equals. How will we do that? I’m not sure; we all need to talk about that a lot more. This essay is about why we must do that.
Really, it’s not just about property – it’s about hierarchy too. Property and hierarchy are the two main institutions through which a few people have power over many other people. We must end both of those institutions. They are somewhat equivalent: Each contributes to the other.
But property misleads us more, because it is more personal: People see property as something they can hold onto, separately from other people. When people begin to own a little bit of property, such as a house or a small business, they become less eager to change the system, less able to see reasons for changing the system. They may even believe that our rulers are like themselves, just bigger.
But it’s not like that. Our rulers are different. They have real power, and they abuse it.
Power corrupts, and power attracts those who are already corrupt. Psychopaths have no empathy, no conscience. Examples of abuse include bullying, prison torture, and police murder. And most of all, the USA’s many many wars based on bipartisan lies to make a few rich men richer. The press may present our politicians as dignified diplomats, but really they are mass murderers, horrible monsters. They kill millions, and bring great suffering to many more. They claim to be protecting freedom and democracy, but really this is just about protecting and increasing their own power.
But climate change and nuclear brinkmanship take this to a whole new level. Those are about to kill billions, perhaps everyone, even the rich. Why are the rich doing this? Here is one possible explanation: They don’t have a choice. Our economic system forces the rich to compete against each other for profits. Those who lose the race, cease to have influence. And that’s short-term profits, because their investors are fickle and follow the fastest growth. So capitalism doesn’t do long-term planning. That’s why Earth is now on fire.
What we really need to do is change our culture and our socioeconomic system. But first we must see the current system more clearly. It’s hard to see. We are surrounded by a great mythology, and it fools most people.
The so-called “mainstream press” is really the corporate press. Its owners are the same people who own nearly everything, and they don’t want change. They lie, mostly by omission. Here are three major omissions:
1. They often omit historical context. That fools the public, which has the memory span of a goldfish.
2. In any “he said, she said” story, the corporate press does not investigate whether the quoted material is actually true. And if there are two sides to a story, their tone of voice may suggest that one side is entirely believable and the other side isn’t.
3. They never discuss the real basis of our society, nor the very different world that is possible.
I read many sources, mostly non-corporate sources, to get the truth – about a war, a pandemic, or whatever. The non-corporate press is small, and you have to know where to find it, but it doesn’t lie for profit.
Now, here are six of the myths perpetuated by the corporate press:
Myth 1. “We are free.” If we repeat that enough times, we stop seeing what is right in front of our eyes: Our workplaces are dictatorships. They objectify, exploit, and discard us; that’s why we hate Mondays.
Myth 2: “We live in a democracy.” Sure, we even get a sticker for voting. But the truth is that, regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want, and the rest of us don’t. That was proved statistically by Gilens and Page in 2014. In effect, the rich rule. That’s called plutocracy.
Myth 3: “All those countries we’re attacking, they were about to attack us.” Think about that one. I’ll wait.
Myth 4 is whatever empty promises the politicians currently are making. For instance, they are doing little or nothing about ending poverty or ending climate change, because neither of those is a way to make the rich richer.
Myth 5: “Competition brings out the best in us.” Not true. Anything constructive that can be done competitively, can be done better cooperatively. And dog-eat-dog competition against each other for our jobs, for our very survival, is making us all crazy. It’s no wonder that demagogues are popular and random shootings are frequent.
Myth 6: “Markets are making the world a better place for us all.” That’s wrong in at least two ways.
First, trade gives greater profit to whichever trader was already in a stronger bargaining position, and that makes him stronger still. So inequality increases, creating poverty and plutocracy.
And second, market transactions have harmful side effects, called externalized costs. These are borne not by buyer or seller, but by other parties. For instance, air pollution is the biggest cause of climate change, which is about to kill us all.
In summary, the world is being destroyed by the institution of separate property, which we have mistakenly viewed as the foundation of “normal life.” We need to return to sharing.
That will be a huge change, but not completely unprecedented. In addition to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, sharing was practiced by the early Christians, as recounted in the book of Acts. In the 20th century, inspired by Karl Marx, several nations tried different kinds of sharing. Most of them were eventually subverted by the USA, but a few are still intact. And today, several organizations are advocating new models for sharing, including Food Not Bombs, Resource Based Economy, and Moneyless Society.
And here’s one more precedent. Most baboons live in hierarchies of dominance and bullying. But neurologist Robert Sapolsky observed one tribe of baboons that switched to egalitarianism accidentally. We must make the same change intentionally.
Our first step must be to spread awareness and understanding about these matters. Please join the conversation.
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2022 Sept 2, version 1.01