The Root Problem (leaflet)

(Read the essay, or watch the 4 minute video version here in this little box, or on its Youtube page, or full-screen.)

I wrote this leaflet to distribute at many different rallies – against war, poverty, racism, sexism, greenhouse gases, etc. All those are symptoms of one disease, our culture of separateness. It includes capitalism, but it’s much older; our fall from grace was the invention of private property 10,000 years ago. Now it’s about to end, one way or the other: Our species is heading toward extinction if we continue to live separately, or paradise if we finally learn to live together.

The evil doesn’t originate in individual greed or some other personal moral failure, and it’s not just in our rulers. It’s in all of us, in our culture, in the so-called “American Dream”: You keep your stuff in your house, I keep my stuff in my house, I don’t need to care about you, and I can’t afford to care about you. No wonder public shootings have become commonplace. But in addition to crushing our souls, any market economy also is materially unsustainable:

If we don’t share all our goods, then we must trade some of them. At first glance, that seems a win-win deal: Each of us gives up something she wants less for something she wants more, so we both profit. But most of the profits go to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, thereby making that person stronger still. As economist Thomas Piketty’s extensive data shows, increasing inequality is normal in capitalism, not an aberration. A simpler model is the board game Monopoly, which always ends with all the players but one totally impoverished – even if no one cheats, so that’s built into the principles of the game, not just a result of “corruption.”

In time, economic inequality grows enormous. Gilens and Page’s 2014 study shows quantitatively that the USA now is a plutocracy, not a democracy. Just a few people own and control nearly everything. They control our workplaces, which is why we hate Mondays and why progress brings us layoffs, not leisure. They control the government, so we can’t repair the rules. They control the “mainstream” news media, and so we are deceived — partly by lies, but more by omissions: People can’t imagine that another way of life is possible, because they’ve never seen any hint of it, except perhaps in leaflets like this one.

Power attracts sociopaths, but even people who start out normal are corrupted by power, as the Stanford Prison Experiment showed. Our top politicians are mass murderers, basing wars on lies. That’s an argument against any concentration of power, not just that of the market; we should replace hierarchical government with peer-to-peer networking.

Buyer and seller may both profit from a market transaction, but other parties are adversely affected without being consulted. These externalized costs are not reflected in market prices, which therefore are far from true costs; markets have none of the efficiency claimed by their fans. Externalities are enormous – they include war, poverty, and more recently ecocide; we’re about to go over a climate cliff.

The time has come to choose between extinction and caring. “Imagine all the people sharing all the world,” John Lennon sang. Join the conversation – we’re all needed on the planning committee.

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eric oct 20144 May 2015, version 3.04. Underlined blue phrases are links to related material. The pdf version fits on two sides of a half page, making it suitable for a leaflet.

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