The Root Problem 10,000 BC (leaflet)
For 200,000 years we were hunter-gatherers, and teamwork was essential for survival. We shared everything of importance, and cooperated without hierarchy. With no private advantage, there was no incentive for corruption; one could only “get ahead” if the whole community got ahead. Genetically that’s still who we are: We’re still capable of sharing without hierarchy.
But 12,000 years ago, when we started farming, we also began separateness, hierarchy, and property, which I’ll discuss. Those have caused essentially all our problems. Have we any chance of fixing things, after all this time? Yes – first, because we’re now more aware of and more articulate about these evils, and secondly, because we must fix things: Nuclear war or ecosystem collapse may soon kill us all.
By “separateness” I mean the delusion that my well being doesn’t depend on yours. But in truth, we are social animals. From cradle to grave, we see our lives in terms of our relationships with others. Even a hermit lives with the memory of his mother – and hermits are rare.
Hierarchies, in our workplaces and our so-called “representative” government, concentrate power. Power corrupts: Authoritarians beat their families, bosses bully workers, guards torture prisoners, police shoot the poor, politicians lie to start wars, and the corporate news repeats the lies. We should replace hierarchy with horizontal networking.
Property is so deeply a part of our culture that we can hardly imagine life without it. We don’t share, so we must trade – for food, rent, labor, everything. But trade increases inequality, because it gives greater profit to the trader who was already in the stronger bargaining position. Inequality in our society has grown enormous, creating poverty and plutocracy. Trade also produces externalities, unmeasured side effects not paid for by the traders; those include war, poverty, and ecocide.
Property separates us from one another. Privately owned workplaces are dictatorships; that’s why we hate Mondays. Competition makes us all commodities to be exploited or discarded. It kills empathy, leaving racists, sexists, and other bullies. Homeless beggars on street corners remind us that no one cares for them, or for us. Every week some loner shoots up a school. But we don’t shoot our friends. Why can’t we all be friends? Let’s create a culture that leaves no one behind.
Having more than you need won’t make you happy or secure, but being part of a caring community will. We can no longer afford the rich, who always want more.
Money IS influence, so the wealthy class rules, and the only way to end that is to not have a wealthy class. That requires an economic system not based on trade and profit. Changing the economic system so fundamentally requires a mass movement – not to persuade our rulers, but to overthrow them.
And that, in turn, requires lots of leaflets like this one. Culture change can’t be forced; the first step is to get more people talking about it.
2018 Oct 23, version 5.01. The leaflet takes two sides of 1/2 page.
Capitalism is killing the planet (leaflet)
Our extinction is closer than most people realize, because they don’t understand feedback loops, tipping points, and the madness driving our rulers.
A feedback loop has consequences that are also causes. The bigger the loop gets, the faster it grows. An example: As polar ice melts, its white surface is replaced by dark soil or water. Less sunlight is reflected into space; more is absorbed by the earth as heat. Thus, still more melting. This and many other feedbacks hasten global warming. They will continue even if civilization collapses; our only hope is to stop the loops before then.
A tipping point has gradual causes and abrupt one-way consequences, like when you lean your chair back too far. There are many ways the climate may change suddenly. Here is one: Frozen under the Arctic is lots of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. Warming, a little of the gas has begun burping out. Soon the rest may be released in one great belch, and the subsequent reflected heat will roast us all.
The fifth planetary mass extinction killed the dinosaurs, along with most other life on Earth at that time. Since then, the world’s temperature has oscillated a few times, but never so fast as it’s rising now. Meanwhile, we’re cutting down all the forests, and filling the oceans with plastic and the rivers with oil. Plants and animals, unable to adapt this fast, are dying off; we’re now in the sixth mass extinction. Soon our crops will fail, and the rich will discover they can’t eat money.
Science might still save the ecosystem, but it isn’t being used. The 2016 Paris Climate Agreement covered goals but not methods; nations only agreed what to wish for. Plutocrats block any reform that would reduce their short-term profits. Gilens and Page proved statistically that, regardless of elections, the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t. Our so-called “democracy” is a sham.
If we don’t share, we trade. That favors the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him still stronger, increasing inequality, creating plutocracy — that is, rule by a small wealthy class. And power corrupts, as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved.
Externalities are the unmeasured and unpaid for side effects of trade, such as ecocide, poverty, and war. The market’s “efficiency” is a lie.
And on the personal level, separate property makes separate lives, replacing empathy with alienation. Instead of caring for our neighbors, we end up using them or even shooting them.
Inequality, externalities, and alienation can’t be reformed away, because they are not just superficial corruption. They are inherent in the very notion of trade, and can only be ended by sharing. We need not just kinder hearts and smarter regulations, but an entirely different economic system. That, in turn, requires a radically awakened public. The first step is to talk about it.
2018 April 30, version 1.10. The ODT file prints on two sides of a half page.
Capitalism, the Root Problem (leaflet)
For 10,000 years markets have caused bullying, wars, poverty, plutocracy, corruption, and more recently ecosystem collapse, which is killing us all. All of that can be explained in terms of alienation and inequality.
Alienation. Capitalism alienates us from work. Privately owned workplaces are dictatorships. A few of us – nurses, teachers, firefighters – find meaning in our jobs, but most of us take home only a paycheck. That, not laziness, is why we hate Mondays.
Capitalism alienates us from side effects of our actions. For instance, oil’s buyer and seller don’t pay for global warming. Wars, poverty, and ecocide will continue as long as someone profits from them.
Capitalism alienates us from each other. Separate property creates separate lives. Seeing the homeless beggar on the corner reminds us that no one cares. Competition destroys empathy, leaving racists, sexists, and other bullies, some of them killers. We’ll only be safe in a caring, sharing community that leaves no one behind, so no one wants to hurt us.
Inequality. If we don’t share, we trade. But that gives greater profit to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still. Inequality increases, creating poverty and plutocracy, reinforcing hierarchy.
Hierarchy corrupts, as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved. We see that all around us: Authoritarians beat their families, bosses bully workers, police shoot the poor, and presidents lie to start wars. Hierarchy and property feed each other, so they must be ended together, replaced by egalitarianism and sharing.
The first step is to get more people talking about it.
2018 Mar 6, version 5.07. Underlined blue phrases are links to related materials. The leaflet takes two sides of 1/3 page.
Three evils of capitalism
The three most conspicuous consequences of capitalism are poverty, war, and ecocide.
- Poverty could be eliminated if we would only learn to share, as did the early followers of Jesus in the book of Acts.
- War is mass murder based on lies, making politicians rich.
- Ecocide means “killing everything.” It’s accelerating because corporations lobby effectively against any laws that would cut into their short-term profits. Ironically, they’ll have no profits at all after the planet is dead.
Ecocide has become worse in recent years, but all three of these conspicuous evils have tormented us since the invention of property 10,000 years ago. They come to us through three subtler evils: inequality, externalities, and alienation.
- Inequality. If we don’t share, we trade. But that gives greater benefit to the trader who was in the stronger bargaining position, thus making him stronger still. So trade concentrates wealth into few hands. And wealth is power, and the Stanford Prison Experiment proved that power corrupts, making all evils possible.
- Externalities. A trade negotiated between buyer and seller can affect a third party in harmful ways. These externalized costs include poverty, war, and ecocide.
- Alienation. The market makes us all into meaningless commodities to be exploited or discarded. We can’t care about others while competing against them. Thus each of us is alone. That anguish makes all evils possible.
In conclusion: Private property is killing us; we need to figure out how to share. The first step is to get more people talking about it.
2017 Oct 8, version 2.03. Underlined blue words and phrases are links to related materials. The video is 2 minutes long.
A Different Vision
“The world is facing terrible problems, but it’s not too late for us to solve them if we work together.”
That’s what a lot of political activists say. I agree about working together, but I have a very different view of what the problems and solutions are. Most activists identify the problems as
war, ecocide, climate change, unemployment,
poverty, racism, sexism, corruption, fascism, etc.,
but I will explain that those are just symptoms of a deeper disease, the root of all evil, hierarchy and property, two institutions that most activists don’t see as problematical at all.
Some will think that I’m just being intellectual, idealistic, unrealistic, and utopian. In a self-assured tone, they’ll explain
“We need to deal with climate change right now; we can dream later about fantasies like sharing. People can’t imagine that kind of change right now, it’s neither necessary nor possible.”
But I’m going to explain why a really big change is both necessary and possible; people will want it when they understand it better. Until we address hierarchy and property, our efforts on symptoms such as war or climate change will be as unproductive as Sisyphus’s efforts to push his rock up the hill.
And for tactics, most activists will turn to
demonstrations, petitions, fundraising,
elections, and maybe revolution,
as though our task is merely to marshal the forces we already have to support the ideas we already have. But I see all of these tactics as premature: They should be left for later steps. Before we rush into a “movement,” we must think deeply about its goals; otherwise its results will be temporary and superficial, or worse. And if we somehow manage to jail the crooks but we don’t change the culture, it will quickly generate a new batch of crooks.
What is really crucial now is leaflets, discussions, teach-ins, consciousness-raising, getting people to awaken, to understand what is causing all our problems and crushing all our solutions. We may not be able to end hierarchy and property immediately, but we need to immediately begin thinking and talking about it. Talking now about our long-term goals will improve both our long-term and short-term results, and will speed them up.
My vision is simple and yet difficult — simple in that it has few moving parts, but difficult to understand because it is unfamiliar, foreign, altogether alien. It is far outside what most people have been thinking about; it contradicts assumptions that have been deeply embedded in our culture for 10,000 years. How we see the world and our relationships determines what kind of lives we will have. I am calling for a new way of seeing and living – and we really have no choice, for our old way of life is ending. Sapolsky has shown that even baboons can change their culture accidentally; surely we humans can change ours intentionally.
Hierarchy concentrates power, and power corrupts. We see that all around us: Authoritarians beat their wives and children, bosses bully workers, guards torture inmates, police shoot the poor, and the rich start wars to make themselves richer. Our politicians are liars, thieves, and mass murderers, yet we honor them; we are caught up in a global version of Stockholm Syndrome (a psychological bond between hostages and captor).
The Stanford Prison Experiment proved that power corrupts: Student volunteers were tested for normalcy, then divided randomly into guards and inmates for a two week mock prison. Before that time was half up, the experiment was halted, because the guards began abusing the inmates.
The alternative to hierarchy is horizontal networking, otherwise known as anarchy, which means “no rulers.” The corporate news media, owned by our ruling class, claims that anarchy is chaos, like a boat with no one steering, but they are lying: Society is not a boat. The most visible example of horizontal networking is the internet, which is leaderless. In particular, Facebook is mostly leaderless, though it has over a billion participants. We have few historical examples of anarchism as “government” because it is usually stamped out by nearby authoritarians. For instance, in 1939 Franco’s fascists crushed the anarcho-socialist democracy of Catalonia.
What is our true nature? Perhaps it is revealed when disaster wipes away our everyday routines. Hollywood shows people fighting each other for a scrap of food, but that’s rare in real life. Rebecca Solnit’s book “A Paradise Built in Hell” studied the aftermaths of several great disasters – the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco, the attacks of September 11 2001, and so on. In each case people came together to help one another in any way they could. Despite the pains of the disaster, survivors later had fond memories of community. We can create that community without that disaster.
Property looks complicated because our culture has lied about it in many different ways. Economics is the comparison of different methods of being selfish. But they’ve all been disastrous.
Capitalists try to take credit for scientific innovation, but that’s a lie. Scientific research would work a lot better if it were more cooperative and less competitive. In fact, nearly all of our technological gadgets have originated in university and military laboratories where the scientists are paid in a fashion much more like socialism than like business.
Keynes derided capitalism as “the astonishing belief that the nastiest motives of the nastiest men somehow work to create the best of all possible worlds.” Advocates of the market claim that it promotes the industrious and punishes the lazy. But the truth is that the market rewards the few who control it and screws everyone else. Advocates of the market claim that we can all be good little businessmen, honest and respectful to each other while pursuing our own separate interests and separate lives. But the truth is that the market replaces honesty and respect with theft and abuse, because that’s where the incentives are.
Even in a voluntary trade, where both traders benefit, the one who was already in a stronger bargaining position benefits more, becoming stronger still. Thus inequality increases, and wealth is concentrated into fewer hands. And wealth is power and influence, so the market creates plutocracy, which means rule by the rich. And power corrupts, as I discussed earlier. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class, and that requires an economic system different from our present one.
We’ve been told that markets are efficient, but that’s a lie. Market prices are far from true costs. The market pays only for extraction, not for replacement or cleanup. Market transactions externalize some costs – that is, harmful side effects are inflicted on some third party who was never consulted in the trade negotiations. Conventional economics textbooks gloss over these externalities as though they were minor, but in fact they are enormous; they include war, poverty, and ecocide.
Some people blame modern technology, but technology can be used for good or ill. It’s largely ill, in a society of selfishness and externalities. Oil spills poison our water, and fracking causes earthquakes. Over time, exploitation becomes more efficient; for instance, slumlords now have computers.
To maintain short-term profits, fossil fuel companies have lied for decades about global warming. It’s now accelerating faster than most people realize; we’re about to go over a climate cliff. The rich will discover too late that they can’t eat money and that there are no profits on a dead planet.
We’ve been told that humans are greedy, motivated only by selfishness. And that’s probably true of a few humans who don’t understand themselves very well. But sociologists have found that, once your basic material needs are met, more material goods will not increase your happiness. In fact, more material goods will separate you from other people and thereby decrease your happiness.
A few of us – teachers, nurses, firefighters – have jobs that feel meaningful. But most of us in a capitalist economy get nothing from our jobs but a paycheck, if we’re lucky enough to have a job at all. That lack of meaning, and not laziness, is why we hate Mondays. Privately owned workplaces are little dictatorships.
But the present system can’t last much longer: Robots are displacing humans faster and faster. It’s not yet clear what economic system will replace the present one. The transition will be painful if we don’t plan for it in advance.
In the meantime, one person’s loss is another person’s gain, and we can’t care about each other while competing against each other. In the market, we’re all commodities to be exploited or discarded. And that callousness spills out of the market into the rest of our lives. The market kills empathy, making possible racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. Look at the many homeless in our streets; clearly we are not acting as our brother’s keeper. Someday soon this indifference may catch up with the rest of us: Some suicidal madman may build a germ warfare lab in his basement and kill us all.
Property and hierarchy feed and perpetuate each other. Business and government merge; there is a revolving door between them; they are not “checks and balances” on each other. The rich buy influence over government, while legislators pass laws to assist their own investments.
Conclusion. The only thing that can make us safe is a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind, so no one wants to hurt us. We can be friends instead of rivals. To change our culture, we must see things in a new way — we must see more clearly what is happening all around us. We must spread the best ideas we can find.
2017 Dec 31, version 2.05. The 11 minute video is based on a slightly earlier version of this essay.
Why the World is Crazy (leaflet)
For thousands of years, religions have told us “love your neighbor,” and most of us have tried that. Nevertheless war, poverty, and other cruelties continue, recently magnified by modern technology. Soon we may all die by nuclear war, runaway warming, or a plague released by some suicidal scientist.
The unkindness all around us is not in our nature. It is in our culture, which we can change. Our efforts for a better world are subverted by hierarchy and property, institutions that we mistakenly accept as normal.
Hierarchy — including so-called “representative democracy” — concentrates power. Power corrupts, as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved. We see it at every level: Authoritarians beat their children, men abuse women, bosses bully workers, guards torture inmates, whites lynch colors, and police shoot the unarmed. The rich and powerful start wars to make themselves richer, and lie to cover it up – yet we honor them with statues; we suffer from a national Stockholm syndrome. The solution is to replace hierarchical coercion with horizontal networking, throughout all our activities.
Property, too, concentrates power. Trade increases inequality, which is now enormous; Gilens and Page proved we are ruled by the rich. Corporations don’t pay for externalities, unmeasured side effects of trade, including war, poverty, and the collapse of the ecosystem, which is coming bigger and faster than most people understand. Our jobs lack meaning; that’s why we hate Mondays. We can’t care about others while competing against them. Lonely selfishness is not superficial corruption that can be reformed away; rather, it is the basis of our economic system and our whole way of life.
But we’re all alike inside, so look within to see the better world that is possible. We’ll be made safe by a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind, so no one wants to hurt us. The first step is to get more people talking about it.
2017 July 26, version 3.01. Underlined blue words and phrases are links to related materials. The leaflet fits on two sides of 1/3 page. The video version is 3 minutes long.
End Plutocracy (leaflet)
is 4 minutes long. The leaflet
fits on two sides of ½ page.
Part a: Plutocracy is now.
Some people fear we may soon lose our democracy. But they’re out of date. We’ve already had plutocracy, rule by the rich, for decades or longer. There’s now proof of that:
In a 2014 research paper, university professors Gilens and Page put aside methods such as elections and lobbying. In decades of data, they statistically compared the preferences people have expressed in polls with the outcomes, the public policies that actually get signed into law. They found that the rich end up with the policies they want, and the rest of us don’t.
Business and government have merged, rather than act as checks and balances on each other. And the plutocrats use their power to perpetuate their control.
Part b: The plutocrats are monsters.
Corporations have often paid starvation wages, and beaten or killed union organizers. For decades, the cigarette companies and fossil fuel companies knew what harm their products were doing, and lied about it.
And the USA has been at war nearly every year of its history, killing innocent people for lies and profit, not for defense. And when the truth later comes out, there are no prosecutions. The wars, bank bailouts, and other crimes of government have bipartisan support, so most of our politicians are con men, bank robbers, and mass murderers. And yet we treat them with respect, like some national Stockholm Syndrome.
Power corrupts. That was finally proved in 1971 by the Stanford Prison Experiment. Student volunteers were tested for normalcy, then divided randomly into guards and inmates for a two-week mock prison. Within six days the guards were abusing the inmates so severely that the experiment was halted. Outside of experiments, in real life, we see power corrupting at every level. Bosses bully their workers, guards torture their captives, police shoot the poor, and the rich start wars to make themselves richer.
Evidently we should restructure our society, replacing hierarchies of power with horizontal networking.
What can we do about this? Reformists believe laws could separate legislators from lobbyists, clean up elections, and so on.
But I have my doubts about that. After all, it’s the plutocrats who determine which bills become laws, and which laws get enforced. The plutocrats are not likely to vote themselves out of power. Money IS influence, regardless of what the Supreme Court does or doesn’t say about that. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class.
But that’s the opposite of where we are now. Today’s divide between haves and have-nots is enormous: The richest six people in the world now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion people. An imbalance that big didn’t just “happen.” It’s been growing for a long time. Growing inequality must be a basic feature in our way of life. Evidently trade favors the trader in the stronger bargaining position.
How should we change our economic system? Let’s get more people talking about that.
2017 Dec 22 version 8.11. Jump to: Part a: Plutocracy is now ● Part b: The plutocrats are monsters ● Part c: Remedies This page can also be accessed as http://EndPlutocracy.org.
Plutocracy and Separateness
is 9½ minutes long. An abridged version of the text is formatted for a leaflet
that fits on two sides of ⅓ page.
First of all, this is not about Trump. This is bigger than Trump. In fact, this is huge.
Part a: Systemic problems.
Racism, sexism, homelessness, oil spills, climate change, war, etc. Reformists generally work on just one of those problems by itself, as though it could be cleaned up without changing everything else in our lives. But if you treat the symptoms without addressing the underlying disease, the symptoms will keep coming back, and new symptoms will appear, too.
What is the underlying disease? I’d say it’s our culture of separateness, but that’s hard to explain. I’ll come back to that later.
A better place to start is plutocracy, rule by the rich. That’s a good approximation, and easier to explain.
Mostly, I’m recommending the same old tactics — marches, leaflets, viral videos, and so on. But when you go to a rally — for healthcare, Standing Rock, or whatever — carry a sign saying how that problem is caused by plutocracy. And this new campaign requires more educational efforts such as teach-ins.
Setting a good example is not enough. Brainwashed people may not learn even from their own experience, unless we explain what’s going on.
This educational campaign will broaden our view of all the issues. For instance, homelessness can be ended by a guaranteed basic income, but then anyone could quit a job he hates. That would change the balance of power in every workplace, in ways the owners won’t like.
Part b: Plutocracy is now.
Some people fear we may soon lose our democracy. But they’re out of date. We’ve already been ruled by the rich for decades or longer. There’s now proof of that:
In 2014, Gilens and Page, of Princeton and Northwestern, published “Testing Theories of American Politics.” Here is their idea:
This country decides public policy by elections, petitions, lobbying, bribes, assassinations, etc. But those are hard to measure. Let’s put those aside, and just look at which public policies actually get signed into law. Statistically compare those outcomes with the preferences people express in polls.
And here is what Gilens and Page found in decades of data: The rich end up with the policies they want and the rest of us don’t, regardless of elections or other trappings of democracy.
Part c: The plutocrats are monsters.
Corporations have often paid starvation wages, and beaten or killed union organizers. The cigarette companies knowingly poison millions of people, and lied about it for decades. Exxon has known for decades that its product is wrecking the climate, and that will kill billions.
And the USA has been at war nearly every year of its history, killing innocent people for lies and profit, not for defense. And as the truth gradually comes out, there are no prosecutions. The wars, the bank bailouts, all the crimes of government have bipartisan support, so most of our politicians are con men, bank robbers, and mass murderers. And yet we treat them with respect, like some national Stockholm Syndrome.
What can we do about this?
Reformists believe laws could separate legislators from lobbyists, clean up elections, and so on. I have my doubts about that.
After all, it’s the plutocrats who determine which laws get passed and which of those get enforced. They are not likely to vote themselves out of power.
Money IS influence, regardless of what the Supreme Court does or doesn’t say about that. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. But that requires big changes in our economic system.
Part d: Radical economics.
Economic inequality in the world today is enormous. The richest six people now have as much wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion people.
An imbalance this big didn’t just “happen.” We need to change something really basic in our standard operating procedures.
I think I’ve figured out what it is. You can see it in the board game “Monopoly,” which always ends with all the players but one totally impoverished. It doesn’t depend on cheating, though certainly that would speed things up. It just depends on private property, as I’ll explain.
And I’m not saying give away all your property tomorrow. Most of us, including me, don’t know how to live without private property. We need to figure that out together, and I’m now going to explain why.
If we don’t share, we trade — for food, labor, rent, whatever. That looks harmless, because it’s voluntary; we trade only when it helps us both. But it doesn’t help us both equally.
Suppose I’m wealthier than you. I have lots of options. I could find someone else to trade with. I could trade some other day. Whereas you — you’re poor, you’re desperate, your child is sick, your rent is due, you need this trade right now.
Evidently I’m in the stronger bargaining position; I can set the terms of the trade. Probably I’ll set them to help me as much as possible, though that may help you very little. And that’s how inequality grows.
Another drawback of trade is externalized cost. That’s the side effect on someone other than the traders. It includes war and ecocide.
Part e: The psychology of separateness.
The problem is not just in our rulers, but in our culture, in all of us. You keep your stuff in your house, I keep my stuff in my house, and that’s the so-called “American dream.” But that separates us, so I don’t need to care about you. In fact, I can’t afford to care about you, because the system makes me compete against you. Your loss may be my gain. It’s an unfriendly culture.
Baboon culture generally is unfriendly too. Primatologist Robert Sapolsky has a Youtube that begins with a big baboon hitting another baboon, who swats a smaller one, and so on. Each baboon except the last gets to feel a little control over his life.
Maybe that desire for control is why, in our own society, there is so much bullying — sexism, racism, nationalism, and just random shootings.
Power corrupts. That was finally proved in 1971 by Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment. Student volunteers were tested for normalcy, then divided randomly into guards and inmates for a two-week mock prison. Within six days the guards were abusing the inmates so severely that the experiment was halted.
Outside of experiments, in real life, we see power corrupting at every level. Bosses bully their workers, guards torture their captives, police shoot the poor, and the rich start wars to make themselves richer.
I don’t think all this cruelty is inherent in human nature. It’s just our current culture.
Later in Sapolsky’s baboon video, he talks about one group of baboons that accidentally changed to a culture of friendship, of not hitting. If baboons can change their culture accidentally, then we humans can change ours intentionally.
It would help if people learned a bit more about psychology. They’d be less inclined toward hierarchy if they knew about Zimbardo’s and Sapolsky’s work. They’d obey, conform, or punish less readily if they knew about Milgram‘s obedience experiment, Asch‘s conformity experiment, and Johnson‘s punishment experiment. And they wouldn’t focus so much on money if they heard Pink and Kohn on extrinsic motivation.
And separateness makes technology dangerous. Soon some suicidal madman may build his own germ warfare lab and kill us all.
We’ll only be safe in a world where no one wants to hurt us. Let’s make a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind.
2017 Dec 22 version 6.41. Jump to: Part a: Systemic problems ● Part b: Plutocracy is now ● Part c: The plutocrats are monsters ● Part d: Radical economics ● Part e: The psychology of separateness
SHARING or EXTINCTION (leaflet)
We’re facing many threats, but ecosystem collapse is the one that’s certain if we don’t change our ways. We’re already in runaway warming, with floods, droughts, and super-storms. Watch for famines, plagues, and more refugees. Exxon and Koch spread disinformation, and people don’t understand feedback loops and exponential growth — I’ve written more about those elsewhere. Continuing this path will make us Road Warrior within one decade, and extinct altogether in two.
The good news is, we may still have a chance, if we quickly make drastic changes. Phase out fossil fuels, plastics, over-fishing – and beef, a big source of methane. We need more trees, biochar, solar, wind, recyclables, and biodegradables. Invest heavily in sustainability research. It’s worth a try.
The bad news is, plutocrats are blocking those changes, to protect their investments. The 2014 research of Gilens and Page showed our democracy is a sham – really it’s plutocracy, rule by the rich.
Plutocrats do whatever makes them richer; they see ecocidal side effects as someone else’s problem. They even lie to start wars for profit. That’s because power corrupts, as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved. Power comes from both property and hierarchy, which are not really separate: Big business and hierarchical government merge, rather than keeping a check on each other as claimed.
After 10,000 years of property, we hardly notice its drawbacks. For instance, it necessitates trade. That looks harmless, and helps both traders. But it’s more helpful to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, thus making him stronger still, increasing inequality, ultimately creating poverty and plutocracy.
Moreover, property separates us, making us defensive selfish bullies, competing, not caring. Privately owned workplaces are little tyrannies, so we all hate Mondays. And technology keeps improving; soon every madman will have his own germ warfare lab.
But – good news, finally – we CAN end plutocracy. Some people claim that we can’t, that humans are basically greedy and authoritarian, but that’s just our current culture. You can see our true nature in any kindergarten: children learning “share and don’t hit.” For adults that requires an enormous awakening, but perhaps one will be triggered by the threat of extinction.
We need a culture of caring, sharing, and non-hierarchical networking that leaves no one behind, so that no one wants to hurt others. Such a culture is like peace: It can’t be imposed by force. It can only be adopted voluntarily, through inspiration, education, and building friendship and trust. The first step is to get more people talking about it.
2017-01-01, version 3.14. Underlined blue phrases are links to related materials
Property is Ecocide (2½ min)
Feedback loops are SPEEDING UP global warming. If we don’t halt that, watch for famine, collapse of civilization, death of most humans, I’d estimate by around 2030.
But that collapse won’t halt the feedback, some of which is now independent of human activities. (For instance, the melting of polar ice reduces reflectivity and so increases the planet’s capture of sunlight.) Continued warming will collapse the ecosystem. Humans and most other species will go extinct, I’d estimate by around 2040. The billionaires in bunkers are fools: They’ll emerge to nothing but ashes.
It might not be too late to fix this. We know what changes to make in our technology. But we’re not making those changes; that’s a SOCIAL problem.
Most governments are doing too little, too late. That’s because they’re owned by plutocrats, especially oil companies, who make immense short-term profits from current arrangements. Recent wars are over the petrodollar; “humanitarian intervention” is a lie.
Part of the problem is that the plutocrats are NOT a united conspiracy like the fabled Illuminati. Each plutocrat is in this only for himself. Each says to himself, “I just want to make a quick buck right now; I’ll let someone else worry about saving life on Earth.” Yes, they’re selfish, but not a lot more than ordinary people in our society — each of whom says, “I just want to buy my own home; I’ll let someone else worry about that unlucky beggar on the street corner.”
Private property separates us, replacing cooperation with competition, which is NOT a good thing. Moderation and reform are not possible: Capitalism is devious like the Devil and grows like cancer. The only solution is sharing and caring. We need a worldwide ecosocialist revolution. The first step is to explain this to everyone.
2019 June 9, version 1.03.
10,000 Year Revolution (2 min)
We must start living in a new and different way, or else we’ll all soon be killed by climate apocalypse. It’s coming much bigger and faster than most people have understood — see how suddenly the exponential curve rises. Averting extinction requires lots of big changes, including the end of oil and meat, but those are blocked by oil companies, meat companies, etc. We can’t vote those obstacles away, both because (a) the corporate news media keep us ignorant, and (b) regardless of elections, only the rich get the public policies they want. Money is influence, so the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. That requires a very different socioeconomic system, for hierarchies and markets both concentrate power. Power corrupts, as we see in domestic violence, workplace bullying, police brutality, prison torture, and unnecessary wars. The market is not efficient — its unmeasured side effects are ecocidal. Our culture of separateness and competition brings alienation, loneliness, mass shootings, poverty, racism, sexism, and other cruelties. We must end hierarchy and property, though that’s hard to imagine. Perhaps we don’t have to copy our hunter-gatherer ancestors in every respect, but like them we can and must figure out how to share everything as equals, and leave no one behind. That will be our biggest change in 10,000 years — bigger than a “revolution,” it will be an awakening, a metamorphosis. It will be joyous.
2019 Sept 7, version 3.08.
Revolt or Die (2 min)
Imminent doom. Global warming is coming bigger and faster than most people realize, because they don’t understand its feedback loops and tipping points. I expect famine by 2030 and our extinction by 2040. Billionaires emerging from bunkers will find only ashes.
What remedies? Consumer choices won’t halt the apocalypse. We need quick huge national and global action. But…
Insane rulers. Our governments are not acting. Someone profits from ecocide, like war and poverty. Each plutocrat thinks, “I just want to make a quick buck for myself right now; let someone else save life on Earth.”
Immovable government. Reforms won’t happen. Regardless of elections, the rich get the policies they want and the rest of us don’t; statistically we have no democracy. Money IS influence, so the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. That requires a very different economic system.
What kind of revolution? If we merely change rulers, our sick culture will quickly corrupt the new rulers. This culture of hierarchy and property has tormented us with war and poverty for 10,000 years. But for 300,000 years before that we shared as equals; the whole world was the commons. We must relearn that view. Tell people.
2019 July 6, version 1.09. The leaflet fits on two sides of 1/4 page.
The rich are killing the world (4 min)
Climate is changing incredibly fast. Arctic methane will bring famines and the collapse of civilization, but even that won’t stop the feedback loops. The temperature will keep rising, bringing ecosystem collapse and global extinction. To avert those, we need big changes fast.
The Arctic began melting a few years ago. That should have been a wake-up call to ban oil. But instead our insane rulers, concerned only with short-term profits, rushed to grab Arctic oil.
Power – from money, elections, any source – corrupts: Authoritarians beat their families, bosses bully workers, guards torture prisoners, and police shoot the poor. Our rulers start wars for profit; they murder millions for oil, water, and other resources. We need to replace hierarchy with horizontalism.
Democracy is a sham. Gilens and Page’s 2014 statistics proved the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t. Money is influence, so the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. That requires a wholly different economic system, which in turn requires widespread understanding. (So I hand out leaflets.)
How is property at fault? Well, as we don’t share, we must trade — for money, labor, food, rent, everything. Trade favors the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still. Inequality grows huge.
Buyer and seller negotiate, but other parties bear “externalities,” unmeasured side effects. Those include war, poverty, and ecocide. Thus the “efficiency of the market” is a lie. And privately owned workplaces are dictatorships (which is why we hate Mondays).
But the sickness is in all of us, in our culture. The market makes us commodities to be exploited or discarded. Competition separates us, killing empathy. Insecurity engenders racism, sexism, austerity, imperialism, and other kinds of bullying. “Getting ahead” is an incentive for all evils. Homeless beggars on street corners remind us that society doesn’t care. Every week some lonely man shoots up a school. But we don’t shoot our friends. (Can’t we all be friends?)
We’ve fought over hierarchy and property for 10,000 years. But for 300,000 years before that we lived as equals and shared everything of importance. That’s still our true nature; we can return to it. The first step is to get more people thinking about it.
2019 April 19, version 4.23. The leaflet fits on two sides of 1/2 page. The original version was created for the September 2018 climate march.
What Progressives Don’t See
Progressives are fooled by the corporate news media, who are paid to lie about wars, climate, economics, everything. Progressives believe the abuses in capitalism can be removed through reforms; they haven’t realized that the abuses are capitalism. A simple analysis will show that inequality, externalities, and alienation are terrible evils inherent in every version of capitalism.
INEQUALITY is enormous in our society. That didn’t happen by accident, nor solely by cheating (though certainly the cheating is massive). It’s like the board game Monopoly, which always ends with all the players but one destitute. Markets naturally increase inequality, by giving greater benefit to whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position. Thus wealth is concentrated in a few people, who gain power and are corrupted by it. Everyone else gets poorer; the 99% experience hard times despite rising productivity. The market’s “opportunity for all” is a lie.
EXTERNALITIES are the unmeasured side effects of trade. These costs are borne by the public; no corporation today would be profitable if it paid for its externalities. They are enormous; they include poverty, war, and ecocide. War is mass murder for profit, not “defense.” And ecocide, if continued, will soon destroy the climate and the ecosystem, and kill us all. The so-called “efficiency of the market” is a lie.
ALIENATION: The market makes us all commodities to be exploited or discarded. It says “every man for himself,” and pits us against each other in merciless competition; we see the casualties begging on street corners. Your loss is not my loss, and might even be my gain. Desperation kills empathy, inviting sexism, racism, austerity, imperialism, and other kinds of bullying. And every week some angry, lonely man shoots up a school. Capitalism is lethal in the hands of psychopaths, and capitalism creates psychopaths. Greed, devious as the Devil, grows like cancer and can’t be harnessed.
Aside from property, our other root problem is hierarchy, which also concentrates power. The USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as democracy ever since its founding in land theft, genocide, and slavery. Lust for power motivates racism, sexism, etc.
Hierarchy and property can’t be made healthy through reforms; they must be ended altogether. We need to replace those institutions with horizontalism and sharing, respectively. This will be a huge change, our biggest in 10,000 years. But without it the climate apocalypse will kill us all — an even bigger change.
If we jail the plutocrats without changing the culture that spawned them, it will quickly spawn a new batch of plutocrats. We need the right kind of revolution. That will only happen when the 99% see what is really going on. Tell them.
2019 July 4, version 1.23. The leaflet version is no longer available. The video is based on an earlier version.
How and Why We Must Revolt
The HOW may be hard to do, but it’s simple to describe: Our rulers lack our consent, but they need our acquiescence. When they lose that – when enough people see what is really going on – then the plutocracy will fall. So we simply must raise awareness, and recruit many many people. Communicate in whatever way you’re comfortable: Write a leaflet, a book, a song, a play, give a lecture, film a video, have a conversation online or in person. Street demonstrations will bring more attention to your communications. Personally, I like leaflets; pass this one along if you like it. We must reach consensus on how and why to revolt, what our goals are, what kind of system we want to replace the present one. We don’t have time to do this twice, so we’d better not omit anything.
WHY, in brief: War, poverty, ecocide, and other cruelties cause great unnecessary suffering. We need big changes that the plutocrats won’t and can’t provide. To retain power, they rig elections, so we must overthrow them. In more detail:
The wars are mass murders based on lies to make a few rich men richer. The US Department of so-called “Defense” is no such thing.
Subjugation and apartheid turn into genocide. Bigotry infects and divides us, misdirecting rebellion..
The poverty is artificial scarcity. For instance, in the USA are many homeless people but far more vacant houses. The thought of joining the unemployed terrifies workers and keeps them in line. Our distribution system is designed not for human need but to make the rich richer and more powerful.
Economic inequality has grown huge in our society. That didn’t happen by chance – it’s built into our economic system: If we don’t share, we trade – for labor, money, food, shelter, interest on loans, political influence, everything. Trade favors whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position, thus making him stronger still, increasing inequality. Coercion and deception, when present, are just more “bargaining tools” making a trader still stronger.
So trade increases inequality, creating a small powerful wealthy class. And power corrupts; the plutocrats jail whistle-blowers and rig elections (as we see from exit polls). There is no separation between money and political power, since each can buy the other. So the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. That will require a very different economic system.
We’re told that our society is based on sound principles like freedom and democracy, and we’ve merely strayed into superficial corruption. If that were true, and if ecosystem crash weren’t so near, then mere reforms might suffice. But we’re out of time, and currently the basic principles of our society actually are “might makes right” and “every man for himself.” We need to change our principles.
We urgently need change to halt the climate apocalypse. It is happening bigger and faster than even the IPCC says. The ecosystem is about to collapse, killing us all. We may still be able to stop it if we change everything, but our rulers are doing very little. So-called “green capitalism” can’t save us: Ecocidal externalities are inherent in every kind of capitalism. That crucial fact is not understood widely enough.
Why do our rulers behave so badly? It’s not just because they are sociopaths (though they are). It’s also because they are all competing against each other. Each can only concern himself with the short-term profits that keep him in power. If he falls behind, he’ll be replaced. So he says to himself, “I’ll let someone else worry about saving the world.” Thus the plutocrats cannot deliver change. Big corporations profit from the status quo, so they use their influence to avert any legislation for real change – not simply because they are greedy (though they are), but also because they are compelled, by competition and by their legal charter, to maximize short-term profit, disregarding or even concealing any harm they do. They are as trapped in this crazy train as the rest of us. Only a revolution can bring the change we need.
Links to related materials at http://LeftyMathProf.org.
2020 June 4, version 1.22. The leaflet version fits on two sides of 1/2 page.
Capitalism Doesn’t Add Up (old, long version)
(Read the essay, or watch the 8 minute video based on an earlier version of the essay, here in this little box, or on its Youtube page, or full-screen.)
When I retired from teaching college math, I began to apply my reasoning skills to politics and economics. And I was surprised to find that the world around us is entirely different from what we’ve been told. In particular, capitalism is all wrong. If it were a calculus exam, I’d mark a big red “F” across its front page.
The crucial math skill in this instance is not numerical computation, but simply the training to notice when someone makes unwarranted assumptions. The terrible current state of the world economy stems from erroneous assumptions about culture and human nature that mainstream economists and politicians make at the beginning of their reasoning, before they ever get to their numerical computations.
We’ve been misdirected away from the truth by news media that, as Chomsky has said, encourage lively debate within a very narrow range of views. For instance, as I write this, the corporate news is again filled by the perennial argument between deficit hawks and Keynesians:
- The deficit hawks say the interest on the national debt is growing to a crushing size. They advocate reining in the debt by cutting back on government spending (particularly on social services).
- The Keynesians advocate increased government spending, to stimulate employment and get us out of recession, after which we can start paying down the debt.
Neither side mentions the broader issues:
First, the debt can never be paid off. It’s like the game of Musical Chairs, in which there are never enough seats for everyone. Our money is created as bank loans that grow with interest, so the paper economy of debt has grown far larger than the “real economy” of goods and services, homes and roads, factories and farms.
And rising unemployment is inevitable under capitalism. Here is why: Under any economic system, people gradually figure out better ways of doing things, and so they produce goods and services using fewer hours of human labor. That would mean reduced hours and increased pay for us all, if we were all valued members of the team. But under capitalism there is no team. As productivity rises, some workers are laid off and the owners of the workplace pocket their salaries. With more unemployed competing for fewer jobs, wages fall. That alone would warrant the failing grade I mentioned earlier, but there are plenty of other failures in this system too.
Our workplaces are not democracies. Consequently most of us are doing work that is not interesting or meaningful to us, nor helpful to society; it is merely profitable to the owners of the workplace. Thus, most of us hate our jobs. That’s not inherent in all work; for instance, the teacher, nurse, and firefighter may feel good about what they accomplish. We need to restructure our economy so that all jobs are as meaningful as theirs. But that won’t happen under capitalism.
And I’m not talking about “unfettered capitalism” or “corporate capitalism” or “predatory capitalism,” as though capitalism itself were fundamentally sound but we’d recently strayed from it. No, capitalism itself is vile in its fundamental principles, in what it is supposed to do.
Private property makes trade necessary, and the market inevitably concentrates wealth and power into ever fewer hands. That’s because any market transaction may profit both traders, but it gives greater profit to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still, increasing inequality. It’s like the board game of Monopoly, which begins with everyone on a pleasant shopping spree; it ends with all the players but one destitute. It may be a “fair” game in the sense that everyone starts with an equal chance to be the one survivor, but it’s a terrible design for the world economy.
Large corporations pay a public relations department to make them look community-minded, but that’s only an appearance. They are compelled, by competition and by their legal charters, to maximize immediate profits by any means available, disregarding or even concealing whatever long-term harm may result. So-called “market solutions” often are worse than the problems they claim to solve.
Wealth buys government, and erodes its way through any regulations. Winning elections requires expensive advertisements, so our votes merely choose which wealthy candidates will rule over us in their own interest; elections elicit our preferred answers to the wrong questions. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class.
The market claims to be efficient, but it is only efficient regarding costs that are measured and borne by the buyer or seller. Its unmeasured side effects on everyone else are immensely destructive. And when people lie to start a war, that’s mass murder. War, poverty, ecocide, and other torments will continue as long as we are ruled by profit. The ecosystem is dying, not because of technology, but because of profit-driven technology. We have little time left to change things before the ecosystem collapses completely, killing us all.
And all of that is just the material side of capitalism; its spiritual side is devastating too. We’re often told that any alternative to capitalism would be unrealistic because “human nature is basically greedy and apathetic,” but that’s backward: Capitalism actually causes the greed and apathy all around us, and brings out the worst parts of human nature.
Power seduces and corrupts: Bosses bully workers, guards torture prisoners, police shoot the poor, and the rich start wars. Perhaps it’s because the powerful justify their power to themselves with some invented histories or philosophies, and then come to believe in those inventions.
Some activists blame our troubles on the personal moral failure of a few greedy individuals. And, yes, those few are willing agents of evil. But the root problem is not capitalists — it’s capitalism. It’s our culture of separateness, which is inside all of us, not just the ruling class. It is inherent in the seemingly harmless middle-class life to which most of us have aspired. To exorcise it, first we must understand it:
Private property creates separateness: You keep your stuff in your house, and I keep my stuff in my house. Your loss is not my loss, and might even be my gain. We’re incessantly told competition is good for us, though just the opposite is true. No wonder bullying is widespread, and our society is hooked on antidepressants.
We’ve hoarded for 10,000 years, and it’s hard to imagine any other way of life. But for 100,000 years before that, we shared everything of importance; we can still find our way back. Nothing less will save us from extinction; nothing more is needed to guide us to utopia. When enough people see capitalism for what it really is, it will end. Join the conversation – we’re all needed on the planning committee.
— — — — — —
2018 July 29, version 2.02. A newer, much shorter version of this essay can be found at https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/capitalism-doesnt-add-up/.
Reforms Are Not Enough
Reformists think our way of life is based on sound principles, and the system just needs a few tweaks, a little cleaning up. They’re wrong. We need an entirely different system.
Reformists are good people. They fight against poverty, injustice, war, ecocide, all sorts of evils. But their efforts fail: The evils reappear in new forms faster than any whack-a-mole reforms can remove them.
That’s because reformists see poverty, injustice, war, etc., as unrelated problems springing from nowhere. But those problems — too numerous to overcome separately — really are symptoms of a single underlying root problem: the concentration of power. That problem takes many forms which go unnoticed; they’ve been accepted as part of normal life for thousands of years.
(Thousands of years?? Do I sound like a crackpot, offering the “secret wisdom of the ages” like tiny ads at the back of magazines? But don’t stop yet. Unlike those ads, I’ll present my entire message for free.)
People are too often corrupted by having power over other people. We can see that in domestic violence, workplace bullying, police brutality, prison torture, army atrocities, and political lies.
Obviously, hierarchy concentrates power. Our government and other workplaces are organized in authoritarian hierarchy. We need to replace that with horizontal networking, also known as cooperation and friendship.
A high position in the hierarchy is largely interchangeable with property: Each can be used to obtain the other. Money is influence, so rule by the wealthy class will only be ended when we no longer have a wealthy class; that requires a very different economic system.
Our present system concentrates property. Indeed, economic inequality in our society has become enormous, and that didn’t happen by random chance. How did it happen? Well, if we don’t share, then we must trade — for labor, food, rent, everything. (In particular, debts with interest are a trade of money now for more money later.) Trade favors the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still, thus increasing inequality, creating poverty and plutocracy. Our society has enough resources to feed the hungry and house the homeless, but that’s not happening because it wouldn’t make the rich richer.
The market is often praised for its “efficiency,” but that’s a lie. The market is, at best, efficient only regarding measured costs and benefits. It has large unmeasured side effects that are borne by community and environment, not by buyer and seller. These externalities include all the evil symptoms — poverty, war, ecocide, etc. In particular, capitalism is inherently ecocidal, and so “green capitalism” is impossible. Indeed, the fundamental principle of capitalism really is every man for himself, and to hell with the commons.
Protests against wars have diminished in recent years, as the government has improved at lying. But the Department of so-called “Defense” is no such thing. The wars are all for profit, and so most of our “honored and distinguished statesmen” of both major parties are actually liars, thieves, and mass murderers. Weapon makers get a huge markup. US oil companies get oil for low prices, or else see their competitors reduced to rubble. Members of congress get big donations from all the companies involved. The wars are aimed primarily at destroying countries whose leaders have challenged the “petrodollar,” an arrangement that says oil can only be traded for US dollars (thus generating interest for the Federal Reserve). The USA has been an imperialist plutocracy thinly disguised as democracy ever since its founding in land theft, genocide, and slavery.
Poverty is useful to capitalists. The employer can say to his workers, “if you don’t like your low wages and bad working conditions, there are a hundred poor people waiting outside to apply for your job.” Privately owned workplaces are little dictatorships; that’s why we all hate Mondays.
If we jail the plutocrats without changing the system that spawned them, it will quickly spawn a new batch. Plutocrats may be willing agents of evil, but the source of evil is the economic system itself. The system compels plutocrats to compete against each other for short-term profits and to think of nothing else; that’s why they are destroying the ecosystem on which even they are dependent. We’re all prisoners on this crazy train, all needing a revolution to free us, though some have more comfortable cells.
The alienation is in all of us, not just our rulers. Property separates us, and sets us in competition against others. They become commodities, to be exploited or discarded. Empathy is replaced by fear, giving rise to racism, sexism, xenophobia, imperialism, authoritarianism, etc. The homeless beggars on street corners are constant visible reminders of society’s callous unconcern. And every day some lonely man goes berserk and starts shooting.
In summary, private gain is an incentive for all kinds of evil. That incentive would be removed if we ended hierarchy and property; then one could only “get ahead” in ways that advance the entire community. We need revolution, awakening, metamorphosis to a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind. That’s the only way we’ll end war, poverty, ecocide, and all the other cruelties that reformists have been ineffectively protesting against. Tell everyone. And hurry, because the climate apocalypse has already begun.
2019 Oct 10, version 5.05. The leaflet fits on two sides of one page.
Ending Capitalism Is Not Enough
The economy, the ecosystem, and our social fabric are all collapsing. And if we just lock up the crooks in charge, but we don’t change the culture that generated them, it will quickly generate a new batch of crooks. Reforms might clean things up if our society had merely strayed from good principles; but actually our society is based on bad principles which need to be replaced altogether.
When a short explanation is called for, I just say end capitalism. That’s a good start, because whether people agree or not, at least they know approximately what I’m talking about.
But that’s too simple. War and poverty predate what most people would call “capitalism.” And in the 20th century, some countries freed themselves from capitalism, at least nominally, but they still weren’t utopias. So, ending capitalism is not enough.
Spiritual pep talks won’t suffice to make our culture kinder and gentler; to change our way of life we must change our institutions. Specifically, we need to end hierarchy and property, because — as I shall explain — they are the root of all evil, the incentive behind all crimes and cruelties. That claim will startle most people, for hierarchy and property are deeply embedded in our culture, and it is hard to imagine living without them. We have accepted them as normal for 10,000 years, since long before the earliest of biblical times. But we were free of them for 200,000 years before that, and we can be free of them again.
Reformists claim that hierarchy and property have merely been used improperly, but really they have no proper use. They concentrate power, and power corrupts, as we see in workplace bullying, domestic violence, police brutality, prison torture, army atrocities, and the money in politics.
Hierarchy is how we organize government and most of our workplaces, but it doesn’t have to be. We should replace it with horizontal networking, also known as anarchism, or friendship.
As for property: If we don’t share, we trade — for labor, food, rent, everything. That favors the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still, increasing inequality, which is now huge in our society. Money IS influence, so the rich rule; that’s called plutocracy. The USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its founding in the enslavement of Africans and slaughter of indigenous people. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. Thus, we need to end trade; we need to replace property with sharing.
People at the top get there by chasing power and short-term profit, and only pretending to care for anything else. They don’t care what lies they tell, or who gets killed by the unmeasured side effects of their actions, because they don’t bear those costs. Thus the so-called “efficiency” of the market is a lie. To protect their profits, our rulers block news and legislation about those side effects. Governments aren’t doing what they could to end war, poverty, or climate change.
And climate change, if continued, will kill us all sooner than people realize, because they don’t understand feedback loops and tipping points. The world is being poisoned, not by technology, but by unwise technology. We are all downstream, and there really is no “away” where you can throw things. We need to redesign everything to be reusable, recyclable, biodegradable, organic, and carbon-neutral. Individual efforts, though admirable, aren’t enough — we need society-wide changes in our culture and infrastructure.
Whatever can be done competitively, can be done better cooperatively. But property separates us, and the market makes us rivals and kills empathy. We become commodities to be exploited or discarded. Building friendships and labor unions becomes hard, so our rulers easily divide and conquer us. The wealthy, competing against each other, put the screws to their employees: Wages are low in spite of rising productivity, jobs are scarce and temporary, and pensions are stolen. A really strong social safety net will never be implemented by capitalists, because that would permit low-paid workers to quit jobs they hate.
Automation is accelerating, because robots are becoming cheaper than human labor. That would mean more leisure if we were sharing its benefits. But instead it means layoffs and pay cuts, as its benefits go to just the owners. A capitalist can only be rich if he has lots of paying customers; ironically, that depends on other capitalists paying them good wages. These trends cannot continue much longer. One way or another, our economic system is headed for big changes.
Homeless beggars on street corners are constant visible proof that our future is unsafe and no one cares about us. Thus we come to fear the Other, anyone we don’t know or control. We seek control over our own lives wherever we can find it, so the strong bully the weak through sexism, racism, austerity, imperialism, and other kinds of hate. And every week some desperately lonely and confused man shoots up a school or church. But we don’t shoot our friends. Can we all be friends? That is our true nature, but it’s crushed by our present socioeconomic system.
To change our culture, we just need to see it more clearly. The first step to a better world is to get more people talking about it.
2019 March 12, version 3.10. The leaflet fits on two sides of a single page. (Original version 2018 Jan 14.)
Eric Explains Everything (2019)
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:
CLIMATE: 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.
CLIMATE: 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(S)
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
I’ve often heard liberals say “I don’t resent the rich — they earned their wealth — I just object if they use their wealth to exert an unfair amount of influence over our lives.” That is wrong, in many ways. The rich did not earn their wealth (as explained in the next section), and it is inevitable that the wealthy exert extra influence (explained in the next paragraph). Moreover, they mainly use their influence to make themselves still richer, without regard for how that is done and what effects it has on other people. Often those effects are abominable — for instance, the rich profit from unnecessary wars.
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 18, version 3.13.
Global Eco-Anarcho-Zen-“Christian”-Commie Revolution
(Read the essay, or watch the 20 minute video version here in this little box, or on its Youtube page, or full-screen.)
We need a global eco–anarcho–Zen–“Christian”–commie revolution, and soon. I’ll explain all seven parts of that phrase. Together they constitute an enormous change, but anything less won’t suffice. The economy, the ecosystem, and the social fabric are all collapsing; life as we have known it is ending. If we are to continue having any lives at all, they will be so different as to be unrecognizable. Come with us to the world that is being born — we can’t get there without you, and the old world is dying.
(0:44) GLOBAL. Revolution in the USA is pivotal, because this military superpower has propped up dictatorships all over the world. But ultimately the revolution is global — the ecosystem does not notice national borders, nor should our human family. Those borders are drawn by politicians who tell us “the people on the other side of this line are different.” But in truth, our cousins on the other side are just like us; it’s the politicians who are different. Billy Bragg, in his version of The Internationale, sang “end the vanity of nations — we’ve but one earth on which to live.”
(1:27) ECOLOGICAL. The ecosystem is in big trouble, and so are we, since we depend on it. Ecocidal destruction is much more advanced than most people realize. Toxic spills are everywhere, apocalyptic runaway warming has begun, crop failures are raising food prices, and the ecosystem is growing more fragile as it loses diversity. We may already be too late. If there is still any chance of our avoiding the extinction of our species along with most other species on earth, it will be through immediate immense remedial measures and drastic changes in our way of life. With each day’s delay, hundreds more species go extinct, thousands more people lose their future, and millions or even billions of dollars more are added to the cost of the remedial measures that are needed.
Those measures must be guided by scientists, not by the plutocrats whose exploitations have brought this catastrophe upon us. Those wealthy and powerful people have shown their careless stupidity ever more clearly. Just think: When the burning of fossil fuels began to melt the Arctic, bringing us a step closer to the extinction of all life on earth, humanity should have reacted by banning further use of fossil fuels. But our ruling class instead exclaimed “oh goody! now it will be so much easier to extract fossil fuels from the Arctic!” and they began squabbling only over their shares of the new profits. Their greedy unconcern will continue until we stop them, or until they kill everyone, including themselves. They’ve been driven insane by the market, which can only see things in terms of short-term profit; I’ll say more about that in a moment.
(3:18) ANARCHISM. Many people have been led to believe that “anarchism” means disorder, chaos, violence, and destruction. But it was the authoritarians who told them that.
Authoritarians have an overly pessimistic view of human nature. Seventeenth century philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that people are basically greedy and selfish, and they will engage in a “war of all against all” unless held in check by the iron fist of a king. The authoritarians would like you to believe that a society without a strong central authority will crash like a boat without a helmsman.
But society is not a boat, and sociologists have found that people are more empathic than selfish. Generally, people would rather cooperate than fight. It is only our rulers who send us to war.
Breaking down the word, “an-archism” just means “no-rulers” — i.e., no leaders, no authoritarians, no coercion. Generally that means no violence. And that doesn’t mean disorder. Indeed, an anarchist society is very highly ordered, but it’s a voluntarily self-organized peer-to-peer network, not leader-centered, not a hierarchy.
“Majority rules and minority obeys” is a poor system, to be used only as a last resort; we’d be much better off with more caring, understanding, and consensus. And representative, indirect democracy hasn’t worked — it concentrates power among too few people, which corrupts them, and which simplifies explanations of problems too much to permit effective solutions. We should try participatory, direct democracy. And no, I don’t have a clear and detailed blueprint of how that will work; we’ll have to figure that out together; that’s what democracy means. Indeed, for me to give a detailed plan in advance would be pretty much the opposite of anarchism, wouldn’t it? But Occupy Wall Street, Porto Alegre, the Zapatistas, and the Odonians have given us some models to start from: we come not to take power, but to end it. And agreeing on the details will be easy, once we’ve passed that big first step of understanding that the goal is not me, but we.
(5:49) ZEN. I’ve chosen that word to indicate that we need a better understanding of our own human nature.
Our goal in revolution is to create a world of greater happiness, so let’s give some thought to what really makes us happy. Buddha warned us not to get too caught up with material possessions. It’s true that we need a few essentials, such as food and shelter. But beyond that, sociologists have found, additional possessions are just encumbrances, and barriers that separate us from one another.
The separation of my property from yours might seem harmless, because we’re accustomed to it. But it has been our undoing, for it generates the illusion that our lives are separate, that my happiness and well being need not be your concern. Other people become our rivals and potential threats, and this makes us less happy. Empathy is replaced with apathy and sociopathy. Externalized costs become possible, and cause great damage. What protects the world, and also makes us happier, it turns out, is to see other people as friends. Buddha advised us to treasure our connections with other living beings.
We imagine that having more money will give us some degree of control over our lives, and will make us feel secure, but it doesn’t. It’s not reliable. All that money won’t do us any good if the economy collapses, or if we’re put in prison when the political wind changes, or if our health fails. Absolute security is not possible in this world, and the pursuit of it just makes us feel less secure. However much we get, we’re going to want more. For instance, my tiny little retirement income is enough for me to get by, but now I’m worried about my planet’s ecosystem. Buddha advised us to learn to live with some uncertainty in our lives. “Life is like a surfboard,” he might have said, if he had lived near a good beach.
Buddha also warned us to beware of dichotomies, many of which are illusions — particularly the dichotomy between what is inside us and what is outside us.
The delusion that we humans are separate from nature is one of the reasons the ecosystem is dying. And the delusion that “those people are different from me” — racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.– is a cause of great suffering.
But I want to discuss another dichotomy that is less understood: that between the 99% and the plutocracy. If we overthrow the plutocracy without changing our culture, that culture will quickly generate a new plutocracy. The culture is not just in the plutocrats, but in all of us. It’s especially in our economic system, in which we’re all participants. The seeds of our destruction are in the so-called “American dream” to which we’ve all aspired — car, house, spouse, two kids, steady job, and, most tellingly, a fence separating our yard from the neighbor’s, the separateness that I already cautioned against. We need to change our own way of life too, not just the lives of the plutocrats.
(9:12) “CHRISTIAN.” This won’t matter as much in other parts of the world, but in the USA most people see themselves as Christians. We need a revolutionary change in what we understand by the word “Christian.” Jesus’s message has become encrusted with ritual and hierarchical authoritarianism. We need to return to the simple, anarchistic peace and love of the earliest Christians.
Here in the USA, Paul’s message of faith has won out over James’s message of works, perhaps because faith is easier than works. Many USers feel that they don’t need to actually do anything about (for instance) feeding the poor, as long as they feel strong loyalty to the Jesus brand. Well, I don’t know how to prove to them that they’re mistaken, but I feel very strongly that they are.
And even feeding the poor is not enough. Archbishop Câmara, of the Liberation Theology movement, said
When I feed the poor, people call me a saint. But when I ask why there is poverty, people call me a communist.
I would add that we already have saints; we need more people asking questions. Faith and works are not enough; we also need to understand what is going on around us.
Here in the USA, many people have been told that the teachings of Jesus and Marx are incompatible. But that’s not so. Those men both preached caring and sharing; they hoped to see the world transformed into the Beloved Community that Martin Luther King often spoke about. Together we can build that community.
(10:55) COMMUNISM. This may be the hardest part to explain, because the misconceptions about it are so deep and so widespread. Our lives have been based on private property for 10,000 years, and now it’s difficult for us to recall how we shared for 100,000 years before that, difficult for us to even begin to imagine living differently than we do now.
Anarchists of the left and right both call for individual freedom, and for a knowledgeable public voluntarily choosing its own fate. But we on the left and right have different opinions about what that knowledge would be, and what voluntary choices would result from it. Anarcho-capitalists claim that the market is beneficial to society, and that a well-informed public would embrace the market. But we commies are convinced that markets destroy freedom, and are extremely harmful to the world, and that people would avoid markets like the plague if only they knew the truth. All the propaganda of capitalism is the opposite of the truth; I will now give several brief examples of that.
- Capitalism is not democracy; few people get to vote on how their workplaces are run. And sharing does not have to mean Stalinist authoritarian dictatorship. Indeed, I explained earlier that I advocate anarchism, which is the opposite of authoritarianism. Look at the voluntary sharing in Acts 2:44 in the New Testament, or in Free Spain before it was crushed by Franco’s fascists.
- Greed, selfishness, and apathy are not inherent in human nature; their current prevalence in our culture are consequences of capitalism and consumerism. The terrible abuses we see all around us today, often described as “corporatism” or “vulture capitalism,” are not aberrations; they are inevitable consequences of the basic principles of capitalism.
- Sociologists have found that personal monetary gain is not the best motivator of creativity.
- The market does not reward hard work. It rewards those who control the market. When progress brings higher productivity, the gains are pocketed by the “owners” of the workplace, and some of the workers get laid off. Thus capitalism is job-destroyer, not job-creator. With more unemployed competing for fewer jobs, wages go down.
- People are not lazy. They are quite willing to work hard at meaningful jobs in which they feel useful and appreciated — but such jobs are few under capitalism.
- Markets increase inequality, by favoring whoever is in a better bargaining position. The rich reward themselves with rents on our homes and workplaces, interest on our debts, and a huge bite out of any money we might scrape together.
- Garrett Hardin’s famous diatribe, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” got the facts exactly backwards. The commons is destroyed, not saved, by privatization. This was explained by Economics Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrum, whose ideas are the basis of the textbook Sustaining the Commons, now available free online.
- Markets are terrible at planning for the future, because CEOs must compete against each other in offering quick profits to investors.
- Market prices do not reflect true costs. In particular, they don’t reflect subsidies that big corporations extract from taxpayers through corporate control of government, nor do they reflect externalized costs such as poverty, war, and ecocide. Such externalities are inevitable in any market economy.
Marx proposed that we replace capitalism with this simple principle:
From each according to her ability, to each according to her need.
Of course, to make that work, we’d all have to really care about one another, and that would be an enormous change. But without it, I don’t think we’ll survive much longer.
(15:20) REVOLUTION. Some people fear that word, because they associate it with violence, destruction, and losing everything. Revolution does mean great change, but it doesn’t have to involve violence. Indeed, violence is a poor tactic for revolutionaries — most of its successes are temporary, because it only changes leaders, not culture. For instance, the French proletariat beheaded much of their aristocracy in the 1790s, but by 1804 Napoleon was emperor.
Of course, the plutocrats routinely use violence to hold onto their power. But it would be foolish for us revolutionaries to respond in kind, for that is a contest we cannot win. Our revolution must be one of ideas — we must make all of society aware of what is really going on, and what changes are needed. When our numbers become overwhelming, then the plutocrats will run away.
What makes it a revolution, and not just reform, is that it can’t be done through “working within the system.” Electing supposedly “better people” to represent the plutocracy will not make it any less a plutocracy. And even if we somehow manage to elect non-plutocrats to represent us, they cannot solve the problems inherent in indirect, representative rule.
Reformists call for small, gradual steps, but those won’t work. Some things can’t be done gradually. You can’t be partly pregnant. A complex system may change gradually within one stable configuration, but it can only change rapidly in going from one stable configuration to another. Some of the ideas that we need are like lights without dimmer controls: They’re either off or on, and we need to turn them on.
Reformists don’t see what is really going on. They believe that the fundamental principles of our society are sound, and the problems all around us are merely the result of having strayed from those principles; they believe some minor adjustments should fix everything. They’re mistaken; they haven’t looked carefully at the principles. The principles themselves are vile, and the problems all around us are their consequences.
For instance, some reformists believe that a carbon tax will reduce the use of fossil fuels. But our rulers are plutocrats who have excelled at evading taxes.
And some reformists believe that a constitutional amendment can get the money out of politics, even without any changes in the economic system. They believe that a super-rich class can continue to exist and yet somehow be kept from exerting far greater influence than the rest of us. That’s absurd.
We need radical change, which means getting at the root of things. I’m not talking about just a few trillion dollars of stolen money, or a few wars whose histories have been falsified, or a few colossal spills of toxic waste, or cruelty to women and minorities. Those are just symptoms.
I’m talking about our basic understanding of the world — things that go unnoticed, as part of the background of our perception. The truth is hidden in plain view, right under our noses; to see it, we need to focus our vision in a new way. It’s startling but simple: The emperor has no clothes. The revolution is revelation, like Neo taking the red pill and waking from The Matrix.
If cultural change happens at all, it’s not through legislation and coercion, but through inspiration. Learning to live together in harmony is the revolution, and it begins with sharing ideas about how the world works. Join the conversation — we’re all needed on the planning committee.
If you find this essay interesting, then pass the link along to other people. The text version at
includes links to related materials; they’re the blue underlined phrases.
— — — — — —
4 Sept 2013, version 1.72.
Too many people don’t know what is really going on (though quite a few of them think they do). Unending poverty and wars, run by a lying and immovable plutocracy, based on an unworkable and insane economic system and myths of individualism, all connected, all unnecessary. And now that system has brought us ecocide, which is about to kill us all much sooner than almost anyone realizes.
We no longer have time to mess around, talking about inadequate reforms that won’t even happen. We need to get down to the business of revolution.
The first and greatest step is to get more people talking about revolution — about what kind, and why. Join the conversation. Join a discussion, do a teach-in, post a video, write a book. No, on second thought, we may not have time for a book — write a leaflet instead.
Violence is not the main tactic I have in mind. Changes imposed through violence may not last; lasting change is voluntary and comes from understanding. Our rulers use violence to suppress the truth; see how they have imprisoned and tortured Julian Assange and other whistle-blowers. More than guns, we need a revolution of ideas. If we spread our ideas quickly and widely enough, the old regime cannot suppress all of us. When you read ideas that you like, repost them — or better still, restate them in your own words.
(1) REFORM vs REVOLUTION (1:45 in video)
Reformists believe that everything can and should be built in little pieces, but they are wrong. The many problems we face are connected, so we can’t solve one except by solving them all. We need a total change in our economic and political system.
Moreover, the change must be based on an improved understanding. Reformists believe that
“our society is based on sound principles such as democracy and freedom, and we have merely strayed superficially. We just need to sweep out the corruption, in order to get back to those sound principles.”
The reformists are wrong. They have misunderstood democracy and freedom. They have misunderstood what is the real basis of our society.
- Our “democracy” is an illusion; we are actually ruled by the rich. I’ll say more about that later.
- And “freedom,” or “independence,” is as absurd as a dog on the moon. We humans are social animals living in a complex society; thus we are interdependent for both psychological and material essentials. What we need is not separation from one another, but harmonious, horizontal, cooperative, non-hierarchical relations with one another.
- The real basis of our present society is private property. And property increases inequality, as I’ll explain later. Inequality is now enormous. That has terrible consequences such as poverty, war, ecocide, extinction. We need an altogether different foundation for our society.
I fear that we may have a revolution too small, one that changes too little. If that happens, then we will need yet another revolution, and we don’t have time for that. If we merely lock up our corrupt rulers without changing our culture, then our culture will quickly generate a new batch of corrupt rulers. We must change our culture; we need to understand the world in a new way.
And now, in case any of my audience is not yet convinced, the remainder of this essay is a list of some reasons to revolt.
(2) LIES (4:16 in video)
The world is not as it appears. We are surrounded by a seamless matrix of falsehoods. By “falsehoods” I mean both intentional lies by people who know better and accidental mistakes by people who don’t. Major factions of liars call each other liar, and some people are fooled by one of those factions.
The world’s biggest lie is that the world’s problems can’t be fixed, and that you should accept things as they are. Don’t let anyone tell you that.
A handful of companies buy and sell and control everything, and they lie in every way that serves their profits. And their lies are mirrored by the government that they control, and by the “mainstream” news media that they own – FOX, CNN, NYT, MSNBC, NPR, WaPo, etc. Even our fictions – the stories that we watch for entertainment – are lies, in that they perpetuate our basic assumptions about our way of life, so that imagining any other way of life becomes difficult.
But the internet is reaching maturity. Through it, for the first time in thousands of years, we may become able to see and say what is really going on. The internet is a mixture of truth and lies, but that’s a big improvement over the unalloyed lies we had before. Get your news from non-corporate sources. Here are my favorites: Popular Resistance, Current Affairs, Counterpunch, Greanville Post, Grayzone, OffGuardian, Black Agenda Report, RT, Common Dreams, WSWS, Caitlin Johnstone, Richard Wolff, Jimmy Dore, Lee Camp.
(3) ECONOMIC INEQUALITY (5:58 in video)
Economic inequality in our society has become enormous. We have a few very rich people, and a huge and growing number of people in dire poverty. That didn’t happen by accident. Here’s my explanation:
If we don’t share, then we trade — for labor, money, food, rent, interest, everything. A voluntary trade only happens when both traders profit — but generally there is greater profit for the trader who was already in the stronger bargaining position. That makes him stronger still. Thus, trade increases inequality, so the only way to avoid enormous inequality is to share everything. That’s my explanation.
Our society has the resources to end poverty, and to provide healthcare and college for all. But that’s not happening. In our present system, things only happen when they make the rich richer.
Most people are not lazy. The real reason we hate Mondays is because our workplaces are little dictatorships.
Automation is accelerating. It increases productivity, and that ought to mean more leisure for all of us. But instead it means greater profits for the handful of capitalists who own the machines, and fewer jobs for everyone else. Competition for the remaining jobs grows desperate, so employers can reduce pay, and then even some people with jobs are homeless. Thus, technological progress is making our lives worse. That’s not inherent in technology; rather, it’s inherent in capitalism.
But this trend can’t continue much longer. Fewer employed people means fewer customers able to buy the goods and services that the robots are producing. What the crash will be like, and what the next system will be like, depend on our planning for them.
(4) ALIENATION (8:11 in video)
Property separates us, and competition destroys empathy. Your loss is not my loss, and might even be my gain. If you’re not just like me, then it’s easy for me to blame you for your difficulties, and to blame you for my difficulties too. Thus we get racism, sexism, imperialism, austerity, and other kinds of bullying. Thus we get theft, assault, random shootings, and all-out war. We will only be made safe by changing to a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind, so that no one wants to hurt us. Anything that can be done competitively, can be done better cooperatively. But in a kinder world, plutocrats would lose power, and so they take no steps in that direction.
The basic principle of capitalism is “every man for himself, get all you can, and to hell with the commons.” The so-called “efficiency” of the market is a lie, for the commons is being destroyed by externalities, unmeasured side effects of the market. Externalities are not paid for by buyer or seller; rather, they are borne by community and environment. Thus capitalism is inherently ecocidal; I’ll say more about that soon.
(5) PLUTOCRACY (9:45 in video)
Plutocracy means “rule by the rich.” It is essentially the same as oligarchy, “rule by a few.” The political class and the monied class have always been one, since influence and money buy each other.
That we are indeed ruled by the rich is evident to anyone who looks around. For instance, look at the enormous difference between official results and exit polls in presidential primaries. But a statistical proof was published by Professors Gilens and Page in 2014. They said, disregard all the intermediate steps, and simply compare
- what people want (as measured by polls) with
- what public policies we are actually getting enacted as laws.
Gilens and Page found that the general public has essentially zero influence on laws, even on issues where the general public has a strong consensus. But they found that rich and powerful individuals and corporations do get the policies they want. The rich do rule.
The data used by Gilens and Page covered only the years 1981-2002, but a study of history makes it evident (at least to me) that this has been going on for much longer. The USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its “founding” in land theft, genocide, and slavery. That won’t be ended by electing better plutocrats.
In fact, we’ve been ruled by plutocracy apparently for 10,000 years, ever since what I would call “the fall”: the invention of hierarchy and private property. Those two institutions are now deeply embedded in our culture, and it is hard to imagine life without them. But they are just a cultural overlay, not our true nature. We lived without them for 200,000 years before the fall, sharing everything as equals, and genetically that’s still who we are.
Money is influence; it can find its way through or around any kind of regulations. Thus, the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. That requires a very different economic system.
It would be a mistake to think that the plutocracy is a unified hierarchy like the fabled Illuminati, carefully planning everything that happens in the world. It’s not. Indeed, if the plutocrats were like the Illuminati, then they would say, “come, let us take steps to save the ecosystem, on which even we depend.” They have not been taking such steps; I’ll discuss that in a moment.
Rather, the plutocrats are an unruly mob, constantly competing against each other and trying to steal from each other, even waging wars to kill rival gangs of plutocrats. Any capitalist whose concerns stray beyond “competitiveness” and short-term profit will fall behind, and soon will no longer be a player in The Great Game; he will be replaced by other capitalists. Our rulers will not and can not take down this destructive system; only we the masses can do that.
(6) WARS (13:26 in video)
We need revolution throughout the world, but most of all in my own country, the USA, which has become the most destructive force in the world. Over half our national budget goes to the military. All the wars are based on bipartisan lies to make a few rich men richer. This means that most of our “distinguished, honored statesmen” – our highest-ranking politicians and business executives – are liars, thieves, and mass murderers. They have killed and maimed millions of “foreigners,” and destroyed the homes and workplaces of millions more.
Smedley Butler was, at the time of his death, the most decorated marine in US history. But in 1931, when he retired, he began speaking out against the military. He said that he had been “a high class muscle man for Big Business … a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism … raping half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.” He later turned his speeches into a short book, “War Is A Racket,” which can be found in bookstores and online.
George Orwell’s novel “1984” was published in 1949. It depicts a totalitarian government that lies about everything. Its military branch is called the “Ministry of Peace.” Shortly after that novel was published, the US Department of War was renamed as the Department of “Defense,” but its mission was not changed.
A national border is a line drawn on a map by politicians, who then say “the people on the other side of this line are different.” But really the people on the other side are our cousins; it’s the politicians who are different.
The wars have killed millions, but climate change may soon kill all of us.
(7) CLIMATE APOCALYPSE (15:31 in video)
Ecocide is everywhere – plastic in the ocean, oil in the rivers, and most of all carbon dioxide and methane in the air. The climate apocalypse is growing faster than most people see, because they don’t understand feedback loops and tipping points, and because the oil companies have lied to them for half a century.
A feedback loop is a process whose consequences are also causes. For instance, global warming is melting Arctic ice. That is both releasing methane and lowering the planet’s reflectivity. Both of those processes cause more planetary warming, completing the loop. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic.
Since consequences are causes, the bigger a feedback process gets, the faster it grows. The resulting exponential growth is unfamiliar to us, and so it catches us by surprise. It starts off small and slow, easy to overlook or deny. But eventually it gets bigger, and soon after that it’s enormous and growing explosively.
Species can’t evolve fast enough to keep up, and so they’re rapidly going extinct. The ecosystem is losing diversity, and thus becoming fragile. At some point it will pass a final tipping point and simply collapse, starving us all to death. But first, rising food prices will cause the collapse of civilization.
Some preppers believe they’ll do just fine after civilization collapses. But they’re mistaken. Some of the feedback loops – including the ice melt that I mentioned earlier – will continue raising the planet’s temperature even after civilization collapses. Our only hope of avoiding extinction is to halt global warming while we still might be able to make an organized effort, before civilization collapses.
We know what steps need to be taken – replace fossil fuels with solar and wind, ban Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation meat, develop mass transit, etc. — but we aren’t taking those steps fast enough. The problem is not engineering, but politics. Governments of the world are doing far too little, too late. That’s because they are ruled by the biggest corporations, who profit greatly from the status quo and want no changes in it. For instance, the oil companies knowingly lied about climate change for half a century, and they have great influence over governments.
And there is less time left than most people realize. Crop failures, deadly heat waves, and the melting of the Arctic have already begun, and the storms and fires are worse every year.
Over and over, the IPCC’s predictions have been too low on the severity and speed of climate change. So when they recently said we must turn things around by 2030, I figured 2025. And “turning things around” can’t be done overnight, so we must begin now. Now we must choose between revolution and extinction; we no longer have time for any other options.
Tell everyone what is really going on. Good luck to us all.
2020 April 22, version 2.38. Here are direct links to section headings: 1 Reform vs Revolution, 2 Lies (including my favorite non-corporate news sources), 3 Economic Inequality, 4 Alienation, 5 Plutocracy, 6 Wars, 7 Climate Apocalypse.
Paradise or Extinction
The climate apocalypse is coming bigger and faster than most people realize. It’s about to kill us all, as I’ll explain. We’re also threatened by poisons in our air, food, and water, and by the growing likelihood of nuclear war. But all these problems originate in the same malfunction of our culture; I’ll focus on the climate problem as it is most certain.
There are measures we could take to avert extinction, but we’re being stonewalled by our rulers, who are more concerned with short-term profits. Our governments and corporations can’t be reformed, and must be overthrown, because their idiocy is not superficial: It’s embedded in the fundamental design of our institutions. In fact, it’s in all of us, not just our rulers. It’s in our socioeconomic system, our culture, our way of seeing the world — as I’ll explain.
To survive, we need a global awakening and metamorphosis, our biggest cultural change in 10,000 years, much bigger than a “revolution,” much deeper than just ending capitalism.
That change, necessary to avert extinction, will also solve most of our other problems. We’ll awaken to a much better world than we had imagined was possible: a world where all are friends, everyone has enough, no one is on top, no one is left behind, and we plan the economy together for the best for everyone. I would describe that better world as paradise, but some religious people may interpret it as Rapture.
1. Our Imminent Doom
Global warming is a feedback loop: Some of its results are also causes. Consequently, the bigger it gets, the faster it grows and the harder it is to stop. That’s exponential acceleration, which I’ve graphed here in orange. It starts out small and slow; that’s the nearly horizontal portion at the left end of the curve. Eventually it grows large enough to be visible. Soon after that, it’s enormous and growing explosively; that’s the nearly vertical portion at the right end of the curve.
We’ve just entered the visible portion. Floods, droughts, crop failures, rising food prices, famines, mass migrations of refugees have already begun. If we continue on our present course, we’ll soon see the collapse of civilization, the end of any sort of organized human activity, I’d guess by 2030. At that point, most of humanity will die quickly (starting with the poor). Only a few preppers and billionaires will still survive. But it doesn’t stop at that point.
The few surviving humans might believe they can wait out the apocalypse. Preppers believe that Nature will heal herself once most humans are gone. Sorry, no such luck. Global warming was begun by human activities, but some of the feedback loops are now independent of human activities. For instance, the melting of ice lowers the planet’s reflectivity, and so speeds the warming.
Thus, even after civilization collapses, the planet will keep getting hotter, faster than plants and animals can adapt. Soon the entire ecosystem will collapse. Humans and nearly all other species will go extinct, I’d guess by 2040. The many headlines warning us of sea rise are missing the point.
2. Addressing the Climate Emergency
To avert extinction, we must try to halt global warming while that still might be possible, while we still have some organized capabilities, some civilization. We’d better hurry.
We’ll need to plant more trees, and build more solar panels and windmills. We’ll need to redesign all our products to be local, reusable, recyclable, organic, biodegradable, and carbon-neutral or carbon-negative. We’ll need to breed hardier phytoplankton and fund other kinds of climate-friendly research. We’ll need to ban industrial meat and other sources of methane. We’ll need to quickly phase out fossil fuels, long before we have enough renewable capacity to replace them; that means we’ll need rationing. We’ll need more telecommuting and more public transportation. We’ll need to retool all our infrastructure, all our industries; it will be a bigger change than the preparations for World War Two.
But all these changes are presently blocked by our socioeconomic system, so we’ll need to change that too. The obstruction is bipartisan, by the way: The Republicans say “never” but most of the Democrats say “later,” which amounts to the same thing.
Choose carefully among the climate rebellions: Some of them are promoting “Green Capitalism,” but that’s an oxymoron; any kind of capitalism is madness. And if Elon Musk escapes to Mars, he’ll bring the madness with him.
3. A History of Madness
For 300,000 years we lived as hunter-gatherers. The archaeological evidence suggests that we lived as equals, without hierarchy. We shared everything of importance, and claimed nothing as private property. That’s still who we are, genetically. Most of us like to cooperate whenever we can; that’s still basic human nature.
All our changes since then have been cultural. Our biggest cultural change was 10,000 years ago: We discovered agriculture, and we settled in villages and later in cities. And then we took a wrong turn: Urban life did not make hierarchy and property necessary, but it made them possible, and we unwisely adopted those institutions. And today most people still accept hierarchy and property, unaware of the great damage those institutions cause. It is difficult for people to see their own culture. It’s as invisible, unnoticed, unquestioned as the air we breathe.
Hierarchy concentrates power into a tiny ruling class, which corrupts.
Property necessitates trade, which increases inequality and thus concentrates power too. The desire to acquire private wealth and power is incentive for all sorts of evils. Political and monetary power are to some degree interchangeable: Each can be used to acquire the other, and so business and government merge, despite any claims that they check each other. For 10,000 years we’ve had one plutocracy after another; that means “rule by the rich.” Money is influence, so the only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class; that requires a different economic system.
Trade also has externalities, unmeasured side effects that are enormously destructive. One side effect is ecocide, which is now killing the whole world. Thus markets and competition really are not efficient.
Despite rising productivity, most of us are experiencing hard times; the hardest hit can be seen begging on street corners. And property and competition separate us from one another, killing empathy, giving rise to racism, sexism, austerity, authoritarianism, war, bombings, shootings, and other cruelties.
Those evils are inherent in any system of ruling and owning; they cannot be cured through regulations or reforms. And moderation is no solution; a little bit of capitalism is like a little bit of cancer. But hierarchy and property are deeply embedded in our culture; it is hard for us to imagine life without them. Getting rid of them will be an enormous change.
This culture of ruling and owning may have begun in the middle east (see Genesis 1:26). It spread by the sword, to cover most of the eastern hemisphere. Then Columbus brought it to the western hemisphere as well. Native Americans had occasionally seen a similar disease in individuals, and so they had a name for it: wetiko.
The current manifestation of property is capitalism, which has additional problems of its own. It cannot exist in a steady state, and so it is constantly disrupting people’s lives. A capitalist system must grow at least 3% per year, or else it will collapse into recession or depression. But the planet is not getting any bigger, so “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron. Eventually the system will collapse; but will it take us all down with it?
Hierarchy and property could have continued tormenting us for millennia more, but around 300 years ago things got even worse: We invented modern science, and began developing modern technology. That magnifies all our capabilities for good or ill. It has been mostly ill because, steered by wetiko, we have used technology unwisely. Technology is now poisoning our planet, while arming madmen high and low with terrible weapons. The countdown clock is ticking: We must end this socioeconomic system soon, or it will end us.
A cultural change can’t be imposed by law or force. It only occurs voluntarily, when people see their old culture more clearly.
4. A World of Lies
We’re surrounded by lies, especially here in the USA. Nothing is as it appears. The 1999 film “The Matrix,” though depicting a different set of lies, dramatizes how extreme can be the disconnect between what we see and reality. But in that film, the lies are imposed on people physically. Here in our own world, the lies are only imposed culturally: People see what they are taught to see.
Some people have seen a little of the truth, and think they’ve seen it all. They glibly call themselves “woke,” and they may stop looking further. These people may be the hardest to awaken.
For instance, some activists blame all our problems on the Federal Reserve or other aspects of our monetary system, which makes a few rich men richer at everyone else’s expense. If only those activists would keep looking, they’d discover that every part of any market-based economy makes a few rich men richer at everyone else’s expense. Trade — for labor, food, rent, whatever — increases inequality, by giving greater benefit to whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position.
Corporate news is full of lies, supporting both major parties. And even our entertainment is full of lies, in the background assumptions implicit in every fiction. Television dramas show little of the desperation of our real lives, as we struggle to hold onto jobs we hate. Television and movies depict the military, police, FBI, CIA, etc., as our protectors, while in real life they are actually authoritarians protecting the rich and powerful.
Our history books depict the USA as a brave land of freedom, but really the USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its “founding” in land theft, genocide, and slavery. Statistics show that the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t, regardless of elections.
In the novel “1984,” the military branch of the totalitarian government is called the “Ministry of Peace.” Shortly after that book was published, the US War Department was renamed as the “Defense” Department, but it has nothing to do with defense. Rather, it is all about profitable weapons sales, the theft of resources, and the destruction of market rivals and political independents. The name change has fooled many Americans into believing that their military is on the right side of every war, but in fact our military has been routinely propping up dictatorships and overthrowing democracies that posed no threat to us, wherever this suited the owners of our government. Over half our federal budget is spent on wars, all based on lies, all making a few rich men richer at everyone else’s expense. Our honored statesmen of both major parties really are liars, thieves, and mass murderers.
5. Plutocrats and Climate Change
The ruling class is not on our side, and this is particularly evident regarding the climate apocalypse. For half a century oil companies have been lying about global warming. Thirty years ago President George H. W. Bush was concealing scientist James Hanson’s climate reports. A few years ago, when the Arctic started melting, that should have been a wake-up call to ban fossil fuels, but instead our rulers began planning to extract fossil fuels from the Arctic.
The attitude of the ruling class toward the climate apocalypse is puzzling. After all, they are destroying the world that makes them rich, and they are destroying the future of everyone including themselves and their own children. I’m not sure why they are doing that, but I can suggest a few possible explanations:
- First of all, you have to understand that a few of the plutocrats are making immense profits from fossil fuels.
- Maybe some of the plutocrats figure that they won’t live long enough to see the end anyway, and they don’t care about their own children. They are sociopaths who only care about enjoying fabulous wealth for themselves in the here and now.
- The plutocrats are not really united — they are in cutthroat competition against each other. Each of them is thinking, “I just want to make a quick buck for myself right now; I’ll let someone else worry about cleaning up the mess.“
- Climate activist Bill McKibben explained that the oil companies need to leave most of their proven reserves in the ground. He may have overlooked the fact that in our current economic system, a corporation cannot simply walk away from most of its assets. We must distinguish between a corporation and its employees. If a corporate manager says “we shouldn’t be making a profit this way, it’s bad for the world,” he will just be fired.
- In the past, the plutocrats’ wealth has protected them from the consequences of their actions, and they believe that will happen again. They believe they can hide in a luxury underground bunker, wait out the climate apocalypse, and then come out again when all the fuss is over. (They’re mistaken.)
- Finally, politicians are a bit lacking in imagination. The changes we need for combating global warming are bigger than anything the politicians can imagine to be possible. And they don’t want the embarrassment of introducing impossible legislation.
6. A Better World
It doesn’t have to be this way. We can have a world where we’re all friends and no one is left behind, where everyone has enough, and we all plan for the future together. We just have to replace hierarchy and property with horizontalism and sharing, respectively.
The first step is to talk about all of this, and get more people to understand it. Feel free to write your own essay, or hand out copies of mine. My latest revision is at http://LeftyMathProf.org. You can find the transcript of this talk there, including links to related materials.
The second step is to “get organized” for some sort of “bigger-than-revolution.” I’m less clear on what that means, so this essay is still somewhat incomplete. I need to learn more about horizontal networking; I’m including a few links on that subject in the transcript for this talk:
Good luck to us all. Viva la revolución.
2019 June 7, version 4.41. Links to section headings: 1. Our Imminent Doom. 2. Addressing the Climate Emergency. 3. A History of Madness. 4. A World of Lies. 5. Plutocrats and Climate Change. 6. A Better World.
Three Destructions and Three Destroyers in Capitalism
Capitalism is causing war, poverty, and ecocide, which are about to kill us all. That’s not just random chance — these destructions are built into the very foundations of capitalism, and so they can’t be reformed away or healed like some superficial corruption. The problem is not limited to corrupt capitalism, crony capitalism, corporate capitalism, or any other kind of capitalism-with-an-adjective — it’s in every kind of capitalism; it’s in just plain old capitalism.
But really, I’m using the word “capitalism” as an approximation. It’s not quite right — war, poverty, and some mild forms of ecocide are all about 10,000 years old, much older than capitalism. We need a better explanation of the root problem.
Some people get away from the system analysis; they just blame our problems on bad rulers. And that explanation fits, with only a little stretching:
- The wars are all based on lies,
- the poverty is due to bad distribution, and
- our rulers are doing too little about ecocide.
But that explanation really just relocates the question. What causes bad rulers? If we simply jail the bad rulers without changing our culture, it will quickly generate a new batch of bad rulers. We need to change something in our culture. But what?
I would start by pointing to what happens when some people have a lot of power over other people. Power corrupts, as we can see in schoolyard bullying, domestic violence, police brutality, prison torture, and war atrocities. That’s all “might makes right,” which seems to me a good definition of fascism. We need to restructure our society so that power is not concentrated in a few people.
Power is concentrated mainly through the institutions of hierarchy and property. We need to replace those with horizontalism and sharing, respectively. Hierarchy and property aren’t really very different — each can be used to buy the other. But it’s hard for most people to see anything wrong with them, because those institutions have been the foundations of human society for 10,000 years.
Revolution or Extinction (2:50 in the video)
Due to feedback loops, global warming is speeding up exponentially. That means it starts off small and slow, easy to overlook or deny; but the bigger it gets, the faster it grows. After a while it is enormous and growing explosively. Even the death of most of humanity won’t halt those feedback loops; the temperature will continue rising and will snuff out the last of us.
We might still be able to avert this apocalypse if we make drastic changes to our way of life, but we’d better be quick about that – crop failures have already begun. Things keep turning out worse than the IPCC’s predictions, so when they recently said we must turn things around by 2030, I figured 2025. And we can’t turn things around overnight, so we’d better get started now.
To halt global warming we’ll need deep changes in our way of life, both individually and through our governments. But our rulers are doing far too little, too late. They can’t be persuaded to change their ways — their policies are dictated by our economic system, as I will explain. And they rig the elections and the news media, to retain their grip on power. So we have to overthrow them.
Call it “revolution,” but perhaps “awakening” is a better word. The main thing holding us back is widespread belief in the lies of the corporate government and the corporate press. We must spread awareness and understanding throughout the 99%; then overthrowing the 1% will be easy. But we have little time left for this revolution, and we haven’t time to do it twice, so we’d better not omit anything.
To change our culture, we must understand it better. I’m going to discuss some important intermediate phenomena which are caused by capitalism/property/hierarchy and which cause of war/poverty/ecocide. These intermediate phenomena are externalities, inequality, and separateness. I’m calling these “destroyers,” for lack of a better word. I’ll explain how they are inherent in the system, and can’t be reformed away. To stop them, we’ll have to overthrow the system, and replace it with something entirely different.
Externalities (5:35 in the video)
Any trade is negotiated between buyer and seller. But the trade may affect other parties who were not consulted, such as employees, the community, the ecosystem. The side effects are outside the concerns of the negotiators, so they are called externalities, or externalized costs. Generally they are unplanned, unmeasured, and destructive. In particular, carbon pollution in the atmosphere is the main cause of global warming. This is happening because the basic principle of capitalism is
“every man for himself, get all you can, and to hell with the commons.”
Thus the commons – including the ecosystem – is being destroyed.
The commons is the shared area, like Sherwood Forest in the tales of Robin Hood. When humans first appeared on this planet 200,000 years ago, there were no owners, and all of nature was shared area. Though land has been resold many times, every parcel of land originated in a theft from the commons. That observation is close to what Proudhon meant by “property is theft.”
A living whale has no market value, but the parts of a recently killed whale are worth a great deal of money. That’s typical. All the world is being privatized, monetized, and chopped up into little bits under capitalism. The ecosystem cannot survive this abuse; it is being killed — but it was never seen as a living thing. Under capitalism, nature is viewed as “raw materials,” which are priced at their extraction cost, not their replacement cost.
The often praised “efficiency of the market” is a lie. The market’s calculations can only consider measured costs; they omit externalities. Thus, overall, the market is terribly inefficient. It may even result in our extinction.
Inequality (7:51 in the video)
Economic inequality in our society has become enormous. A few people are super-rich and getting richer, and everyone else is getting poorer. That’s not happening by accident – it’s built into our economic system. I’ll explain that increasing inequality is the inevitable result of not sharing. That fact doesn’t seem to be widely understood. The following explanation of mine is a slight variant of Piketty’s 2013 analysis:
If we don’t share, we trade – for labor, money, food, shelter, interest on loans, everything. In and of itself, voluntary trade appears harmless, perhaps even beneficial. But trade is more profitable to the trader who was already in the stronger bargaining position, so it makes him stronger still. Thus, trade increases inequality. And think of deception and coercion merely as additional bargaining tools. The strong use their advantage to increase their advantage, another example of “might makes right,” so we might even say property is fascism.
How does inequality affect government? Well, wealth is power and influence. Thus we arrive at plutocracy, which means rule by a small wealthy class. We can’t end that by electing better plutocrats. It will only end when we no longer have a small wealthy class. That requires sharing, as I explained a few moments ago.
Our democracy is a sham that helps our rulers hold onto power. Exit polls show that the elections are rigged. The corporate news media keep us misinformed about the issues. Statistics show that the rich get the public policies they want and the rest of us don’t. The USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its “founding” in land theft, genocide, and slavery.
In fact, all the world has been ruled by the rich for 10,000 years, ever since the invention of property and hierarchy. But for 200,000 years before that we lived and shared as equals, and genetically that’s still who we are. So plutocracy is only our culture, not our nature.
The plutocrats are destroying the ecosystem, but it’s not a conscious intentional plan. Indeed, if the plutocrats were a unified hierarchy, like the fabled Illuminati, they would say to one another,
“come, let us save the ecosystem, on which even we are dependent.”
But the plutocrats are doing almost nothing about the climate problem. Evidently they are not unified — in fact, they are all competing against each other. Each individual plutocrat is concerned only with his own short-term profits, which keep him in power. He says to himself, “I’ll let someone else worry about the ecosystem.” And that’s not surprising. After all, even if the reformists were right, and selfishness somehow could be made sustainable, why would anyone bother?
Corporations are compelled, by competition and by their legal charters, to maximize immediate profits by any means available, disregarding or even concealing whatever long-term harm may result. The biggest corporations – particularly those that sell fossil fuels – are dependent on the status quo, and want no alterations in it. So they use their influence to block any legislation for change.
The only way to really end corruption is to end its incentive, the pursuit of private advantage. We must create a society in which the only way to get ahead is by bringing everyone ahead. To do that, we must overthrow the whole economic and political system. That will take all of us.
And how does inequality affect the relation between the individual worker and his or her boss? Well, even relative poverty means that someone else controls your life. Our workplaces are dictatorships; that’s why we hate Mondays. People at the top have creative jobs with flexible hours. People at the bottom have meaningless drudgery in unpleasant and often unsafe conditions, designed solely to make the people at the top richer. The market makes us all commodities to be exploited or discarded.
Capitalists don’t want poverty to end, because it keeps wages low. You can’t ask your boss for a raise, because he’ll reply that there’s a long line of unemployed or low-paid people who would love to replace you.
That situation is aggravated further by automation: Machines are taking more and more of our jobs. That would mean more vacation for all of us, if we were all sharing the benefits of automation. But we’re not. A few people own the robots, and they get rich. The rest of us get layoffs. We compete ever more desperately for the few jobs that remain, enabling the bosses to lower the salaries of those jobs.
Separateness (13:35 in the video)
Property separates us. That’s built into 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 in fact I can’t afford to care about you.
Competition kills empathy, but we have a culture of competition, at work and at play. Your loss is not my loss, and might even be my gain. Anything constructive that we do competitively, could be done better cooperatively; but that option isn’t offered to us.
Under these circumstances, it is easy for me to believe that your problems are your own fault, and my own problems are your fault too. Believing that is easier for me than facing up to the fact that my own downfall may be next, the system is unjust, and I don’t know how to fix it.
These circumstances give rise to racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other kinds of bigotry. These circumstances give rise to greed, lies, authoritarianism, imperialism, austerity, and other cruelties. These circumstances give rise to random shootings in churches, schools, theaters, etc. As technology advances, more powerful weapons become available to all of us. Soon, suicidal madmen will be able to 3d-print guns in their basements; gun registration laws can’t protect us.
We’ll only be safe in a culture of caring and sharing that leaves no one behind, so that no one wants to hurt us. Of course, it is not enough to preach love and kind intentions; we must actually change our institutions and our way of life to reflect our caring. Then artificial scarcity will disappear, and we’ll find that we have plenty enough to go around. Then we will be paid not according to how much we produce or how much we control, but how much we need.
It’s ironic that if you ask people, most of them will say “sure, I’d be glad to be part of a caring, sharing world, but most people will never go along with that.” You and I just need to get “most people” talking with each other. Join the conversation.
2020 May 25, version 3.30. Direct links to the four section headings: Revolution, Externalities, Inequality, Separateness.
Waking from the Ancient Madness of Ownership
Part 1. INTRODUCTION
Our culture is self-destructive, and that’s not recent. For thousands of years we’ve endured wars, poverty, and other cruelties, all unnecessary. And now the madness is about to kill us — all of us — with a climate apocalypse, which is coming much bigger and faster than most people realize. These problems can all be traced to a practice that we have long accepted as normal: the practice of not sharing with our cousins. To avoid extinction, we must awaken to an entirely new way of relating to each other.
Here’s an outline of the discoveries that I’ll discuss:
Part 1 is just this introduction.
Part 2: Climate change is coming much bigger and faster than we’ve been told; it’s like we’re about to fall off a cliff. We could do some things to halt that, but we’re not doing enough of them, because of madness in our political and economic system.
Part 3: For ages, our lives have been based on private property, and now it’s hard for us to see anything wrong with that or to imagine any other way of life.
Part 4: If we don’t share, we trade. Trade, even when honest, increases inequality, concentrating wealth and power. And power corrupts.
Part 5: Capitalism is ecocidal: Its side effects kill everything. That’s inherent in every version of capitalism; it can’t be reformed away.
Part 6: Property and competition make us insane. They enable loneliness, fear, hatred, racism, sexism, bullying, random shootings, war, etc. But we accept these as normal.
Part 7: Money is influence, so we have plutocracy — that is, rule by the rich. The rich might save the world if they were an organized conspiracy of slave drivers, but unfortunately they’re just an unruly mob of thugs.
Part 8: We need two revolutions — a long-term one to make the deep changes we really need, and a quicker one to keep us alive long enough to develop the long-term one.
And now the details.
Part 2. CLIMATE (2:42 in video)
Corporate news media keep telling us about flooded cities in the year 2100. But I’m more worried about fire and famine by 2025 and extinction by 2035. Larger parts of the world are burning every year, crop failures have already begun, and the whole process of climate change is speeding up.
Al Gore’s slide show got a lot of people to start thinking about climate change. He’s one of my inspirations for this slide show, but he didn’t go far enough. UN climatologists and corporate news media say too little about feedback loops and tipping points. I’m a mathematician, but I’ll put this in nontechnical terms:
- A feedback loop is a process whose consequences are also causes, like rabbits making more rabbits. There are many feedback loops in global warming; here are two examples:
- Excessive heat kills plants, releasing carbon, whose greenhouse effect causes more heating.
- Warming melts ice, so less sunlight is reflected, so Earth warms more.
- Feedback loops cause exponential acceleration. The exponential curve starts off small and slow, easy to overlook or to deny. But the bigger it gets, the faster it grows. After a while it’s big enough to be seen by the naked eye. And soon after that it’s enormous and growing explosively. That curve won’t level off by itself. Carbon-neutral is not enough — we need to go carbon-negative.
- A tipping point is a threshold level where things change abruptly, in some cases causing a system collapse. You’ve experienced this when you’ve leaned back in your chair a little too far, and suddenly found yourself on the floor. There are lots of tipping points in global warming. Here’s a big one that may be coming soon: Frozen under the Arctic is a huge store of methane, a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide. Already the methane is slowly seeping out into the atmosphere. It may be abruptly released in one huge burp when the Arctic gets just a little warmer.
So the apocalypse is accelerating. We haven’t much time left. If we’re going to dodge extinction, we’d better hurry.
We know what changes are needed. But individual efforts, such as improved lightbulbs and improved cars, barely make a dent in the problem. Mostly we need changes in public policy:
- Ban deforesting.
- Ban fossil fuels.
- Ban meat raised by methods that generate lots of methane.
- Switch to regenerative agriculture, to sequester lots of carbon.
- Use more telecommuting and more public transportation.
- Redesign all our technologies to be carbon-neutral or carbon-negative before, during, and after their use.
- Expand the relevant research.
And so on.
We know what must be done. But we aren’t doing it. That’s because money is influence; the governments of nations are owned and operated by corporations that profit from the way things currently are.
And most climate activists don’t see the underlying problem. For instance, Bill McKibben of 350.org seems to blame the oil companies for how they’re adding to the climate problem, but they’re just doing their job: In our present economic system, their job is to make as much money as they can for their stockholders.
So we need a different political and economic system, and we need it in a hurry.
Part 3. PROPERTY and its HISTORY (6:45 in video)
Kind intentions will not be enough to fix our culture. Our attitudes and our institutions perpetuate each other. And our institutions are more tangible, so I’ll focus on those.
Some people would blame our problems on capitalism. That’s a convenient simplification, but it’s not strictly accurate. By most definitions, capitalism is only a few hundred years old; it’s the most recent form of property. Most of our problems — war, poverty, racism, sexism, etc. — are much, much older than that. An exception is the rapid destruction of the ecosystem, which is quite recent; I’ll say more about that later.
Our culture of private property covers nearly all the world. It has minor local variations, but it really is one global culture: Nearly everywhere on Earth, we travel on roads, we talk on cell phones, we live as “nuclear families” in houses or apartments. Most important of all,
we trade our labor for money, which we trade for material necessities, which we then “own.”
Some people yearn for a past golden age that they think they remember from just a few decades ago. But they are mistaken. The USA — the one nation I’m really familiar with — has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as a democracy ever since its “founding” in land theft, genocide, and slavery. And this social system, which 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes called “the war of all against all,” has been going on much longer than that. I would agree with Stephen Dedalus, who said: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.”
But it wasn’t always this way. Our culture of property only began about 10,000 years ago. For 300,000 years before that, we lived as hunter-gatherers, and shared everything as equals. Genetically that’s still who we are, and a few isolated indigenous tribes have managed to continue that sharing. I’m not advocating a return to hunting-gathering, but we can return to the sharing, and I’ll explain that we must.
Property is so deeply embedded in our present culture that every material object’s “owner” seems as real to us as its mass, volume, or color. But ownership is not an objective fact of physics. Rather, ownership is a story inside our heads, like a bad dream. It’s a story that we agree upon, though it was initially imposed on us by violence, and it’s still maintained through the threat of violence.
Incidentally, nationhood is a similar bad dream. A national border is a line drawn on a map by politicians, who tell us the people on the other side are different. Actually, the people on the other side are our cousins; it is the politicians who are different. I’ll say more about politicians later.
I would not blame all our problems on property. Rather, the concentration of power is the root of all evil. Power corrupts, as we see in domestic violence, police brutality, prison torture, corporate fraud, and all the assorted crimes of politicians. Power is concentrated through property, but also through hierarchy. Those two institutions can be studied separately. But to a large degree, they are interchangeable, because either kind of power can be used to obtain the other. In this discussion, I am focusing on property, because it is more tangible.
Part 4. TRADE & INEQUALITY (10:53 in video)
Inequality has grown enormous in our society. That didn’t happen by accident. It’s built into the system, as I’ll explain.
If we don’t share, then we must trade — for money, labor, food, rent, everything. Every transaction in our economic system can be viewed as a trade. Even loans with interest are a form of trade: money now for more money later. The rich defend trade, saying
if I have something you want, and you have something I want, why shouldn’t we trade? Such trades are the essence of freedom.
They are describing trade as an isolated incident. And trade seems innocuous; most people don’t see anything wrong with it. But I’m going to talk about its long-term consequences.
It’s a lot like the board game Monopoly, which you’ve probably played at least once. In the beginning of that game, all the players have money in their pockets; everyone is on a shopping spree. No one feels threatened. If only life could go on this way forever! But the seeds of destruction are already contained in that pleasant beginning. The rules lead inexorably to a grim ending, where one player owns everything, and everyone else in the world is totally impoverished.
In the real world, a voluntary trade occurs only if both traders benefit. For instance, when a farm owner hires a bunch of migrant farmworkers, he pays them very low wages. The farmworkers benefit by avoiding starvation for one more day; but the owner benefits by getting rich. Thus, both traders benefit, but not equally. Trade favors whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position, thus making that trader stronger still.
So inequality increases, and that effect is inherent in the fundamental structure of all markets; it can’t be cured through mere reforms. And this phenomenon doesn’t depend on the monetary system — inequality would increase even from barter. The only remedy is to end trade altogether, and share everything.
Inequality would increase even if the trade were honest — even if there were no fraud, theft, extortion, or political influence. But trade is too seldom honest. To understand why, it may be best to view fraud, influence, etc., as tools of the market. Part of what puts a trader in the stronger bargaining position is the trader’s ability to wield these tools or to resist these tools. Generally, such abilities come from already being wealthy, and making clever use of that wealth.
A big corporation can afford a team of lawyers more easily than can a single consumer or a small business. For instance, Monsanto routinely sues a small farmer if some of Monsanto’s patented poisonous seeds blow onto the small farmer’s land. This differs from an armed stickup only in form, not in substance.
Part 5. EXTERNALITIES (14:25 in video)
A trade price is negotiated between buyer and seller, but that price doesn’t reflect a variety of unmeasured side effects. Those affect other parties who didn’t get to participate in the negotiations. Those side effects are called “externalized costs,” or “externalities,” because they are outside the considerations of the negotiations. Studies have shown that no modern corporation would be profitable if it had to pay for all its externalities. The basic principle of capitalism is
“get all you can, every man for himself, and to hell with the commons,”
and that’s why the commons is being destroyed — including the ecosystem, on which we are all dependent. And destruction of the ecosystem is speeding up, because modern science magnifies all we do, for good or ill.
Apologists for capitalism claim that the accidental side effects of commerce are random, like a coin flip, and so they could be either harmful or beneficial. But in practice the side effects are about as beneficial as the random movements of a bull in a china shop.
Don’t trust so-called “market solutions” to climate or any other problem. So-called “green capitalism” is a lie. What makes a company rich is not making a product better, but persuading people that one’s product is better. The coal and oil companies lied for half a century. The only really trustworthy solutions are those which do not involve profit for anyone.
Part 6. INSANITY (16:12 in video)
Property separates us from each other. You keep your stuff in your house, I keep my stuff in my house, and God help the people who have no house, because no one else will help them. Your loss is not my loss, and may even be my gain. The market makes us all commodities to be exploited or discarded; we are valued only for what we own or produce.
We are forced to compete for our lives; those who lag behind can be seen begging on street corners. Competition kills empathy, and then we find it easy to blame others for their problems and for our own problems too. This enables racism, sexism, bullying, random shootings, austerity, authoritarianism, nationalism, imperialism, etc.
This culture of madness began in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago, with the invention of separate property. It spread by the sword throughout the Old World, and then Columbus brought it with him to subdue the western hemisphere as well. Native Americans already had seen this sickness occasionally, not in a culture-wide phenomenon, but in individuals, and so they had a name for it: wetiko.
We are told that competition brings out the best in us, but actually it brings out the worst: lying, cheating, stealing, murder. To give capitalism credit for science is as foolish as crediting me for Tom Petty’s music (because I was born in the same year). And competition is unnecessary: Anything that can be done competitively, can be done better cooperatively.
We would like to have jobs that are meaningful and creative, jobs that make the world a better place. Perhaps teachers, nurses, and firefighters experience that, but few others do. Most workplaces in our society are owned by just a few people, and most of our jobs are structured primarily to make those rich people richer. Privately owned workplaces are little dictatorships. That, and not laziness, is why we hate Mondays.
We are told that the market pays us according to how much we produce, but actually, the market pays us according to how much we control. Your boss is paid hundreds of times more than you, but he’s not hundreds of times smarter or more hard-working. Rather, he’s standing between you and the money.
And machines are taking the jobs. We can’t stay ahead of them through education, for they are getting smarter faster. If we were sharing the benefits of automation, it would mean leisure for all of us. But the machines, like the workplaces, have just a few owners, and so automation means layoffs for most of us, and soon all of us. Paradoxically, the owners will have no paying customers for the goods and services that their robots produce. Thus, the present economic system cannot continue much longer. What will replace it, and how smooth or rocky the transition will be, depends on whether we plan ahead.
In a caring society, we would be paid not according to how much we produce or how much we control, but according to how much we need. We’d follow the prescription that Marx made famous,
from each according to ability, to each according to need,
with no correlation or connection between those two quantities. And that’s not giving and receiving — that’s sharing, because we’re all in the same boat. But our current society is not one of caring, and that’s why we have public shootings and the world is tearing itself apart.
And by the way, I am not advocating — as Jesus did — that you should single-handedly give away all your possessions. The “war of all against all” cannot be ended by unilateral surrender. It’s a cultural change that we all need to do together. It begins with many conversations.
Part 7. PLUTOCRACY (20:42 in video)
Money is influence. Thus we get plutocracy, rule by the rich. That has long been apparent by anecdotal observation, but also recently it has been proved statistically. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not HAVE a wealthy class. That will require a very different economic and political system.
The injustice, poverty, and wars all around us are unnecessary, so most of our so-called “representatives” are really liars, thieves and mass murderers. Our laws are written by the rich to favor the rich. Anatole France summed that up neatly:
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.
And the system is perpetuated by the corporate media. They slant all their news stories in ways that favor the present system. Even our entertainment is full of bias in the background assumptions implicit in every fiction: Almost always, Russians are brutal thugs or devious spies, and American soldiers are heroic; any exceptions are pointed out as unusual.
The rich are fools about climate. They are overconfident because their wealth has always protected them from the consequences of their actions. They’re too unimaginative to realize that the climate apocalypse is different. They’ll emerge from their luxury underground bunkers to find only ashes, and they’ll discover they can’t eat money. But we can’t wait for that; to survive we must overthrow them long before that.
Or maybe the rich aren’t fools. Maybe they are trapped on this crazy train every bit as much as the rest of us, and the real problem is that they aren’t unified:
You see, if the rich were unified in some hierarchical conspiracy, like the fabled Illuminati, then they would say to one another,
“hey, let’s not destroy this ecosystem on which even we gods are dependent.”
And the top-ranking plutocrats would give some orders, and steps would be taken to halt the climate change, and the world would be saved.
But it’s not like that. Really, no one is in charge. The plutocrats are all competing against each other for short-term profits. Each one says to himself,
“hey, I just want to make a quick buck for myself right now. Let someone else save the ecosystem.”
Any plutocrat who concerns himself with the future will fall behind in the race, and will cease to be a plutocrat, and will be replaced by other plutocrats. Indeed, if we manage to lock up the entire corrupt plutocracy, but we leave the culture still based on private property, then it will continue with trade, which increases inequality, which will just create a new corrupt plutocracy.
Individual plutocrats are willing agents of the evil, but they are not its source. The real problem is not individual capitalists, but the system of capitalism.
Part 8. TWO REVOLUTIONS (24:05 in video)
Let me first briefly restate where we are. Climate-wise, we’re about to fall off a cliff, killing us all; we have very little time left for remedial actions. And remedial actions are blocked by our crazy plutocracy, so we need a revolution to overthrow them. And we don’t want to just replace them with a new crazy plutocracy, so we need to end the institutions that cause plutocracy. Those are the ancient institutions of hierarchy and property, in which we have believed for 10,000 years, not realizing that they were the causes of war and poverty and all our other ills. Ending those institutions will be an immense cultural change, our biggest in 10,000 years; we’ll awaken to peace and love. But that spreading of ideas will take a great deal of time, which we don’t have. At first glance, it appears we are f*cked.
But I see some hope in a two-pronged approach. We already have decentralized work going on simultaneously for two revolutions — a quick infrastructure change and a slow cultural change — by two different but overlapping groups of people.
- The slow cultural change is to end hierarchy, property, and plutocracy. Its first step is lots of conversations. If you like this video, recommend it to people. I think this revolution must be completed by about 2030. And I think it will succeed, if the ecosystem doesn’t collapse first.
- The quick infrastructure change is to delay the collapse of the ecosystem. We must redesign all our technologies. This revolution must start getting results by around 2022, or we’re all doomed.
The quick infrastructure change may require negotiating with plutocrats, because overthrowing them would take too long. But in this process, don’t let the “green capitalists” fool anyone — their scams would squander time we can’t afford. And our work to save the ecosystem will only last if the slow revolution also succeeds, so don’t let the plutocrats stop us from spreading the ideas of cultural change.
People working on one revolution don’t have to be working on the other. But of course, they mustn’t block the other.
Here in the USA, I’m endorsing Bernie Sanders’s 2020 campaign for president. I see that as our best hope for the quicker revolution. Among the candidates who have any real chance of winning, he’s the only one taking climate seriously enough; he’s also the best candidate on all the other issues. He’s spreading some of the ideas we need, more effectively than any socialist party has done in years. As a major candidate, he’s already putting his bully pulpit to good use; as president he’ll have a bigger bully pulpit. He understands — and has stated — that his main task as president is not to negotiate with other politicians, but to rally the public around an agenda that they already agree with. Support Bernie as though our lives depend on it, because they do.
2020 Jan 24, version 3.34. And that’s probably the final version, now that I’ve finished the video.
Reform or Revolt
War, poverty, ecocide, and other atrocities are all unnecessary, all worse than depicted in the news, all fabricated with bipartisan lies to make a few rich men richer. These atrocities kill millions of us and oppress billions. We will all be killed by ecosystem collapse or nuclear war if present trends continue a bit longer. We need big changes in a big hurry – but what kinds of changes, and how? Reform, or something more radical?
- Reformists believe that our democracy is adequate, or at least they believe that no better system will be possible in the near future. And so they work within the existing system to gradually improve the world however they can.
- Radicals have other views; here is one radical view. Our democracy is plutocracy in disguise. It is incapable of making the immense changes we need. The need is urgent, for we are on the verge of human extinction; there is no time left for gradualism. We must find some way to change the system, and soon.
Initially, we don’t have to choose between reform and revolt, for they begin the same way: A growing awareness leads to a movement, holding meetings, making signs, marching in the streets, handing out leaflets, listing demands, recruiting more people. Recruitment succeeds if the message is one that people are ready for.
But ultimately our message must include a discussion of our long-term vision and goals, for those shape our short-term efforts. And so this leaflet discusses how and why our socioeconomic system has gone so horribly wrong.
Different perceptions. How is it that the reformist and radical see the world so differently? Well, we have different trusted news sources. Trust, like friendship, cannot be won through debate.
Reformists follow “mainstream,” seemingly authoritative radio, television, and newspapers. Those are the corporate news media: They are owned by the same plutocrats who own the banks, insurance companies, weapons companies, etc. Plutocrats twist the news to serve their own interests. Part of that twisting consists of conscious, intentional lies, but much more of it is simply perpetuating myths that the plutocrats themselves believe – for instance, that the rich are wise and deserve their wealth and influence.
The deception of the public is aided by the public’s short memory. Some economic or military policy may turn out to be entirely wrong, but the corporate press doesn’t dwell on that fact, and the policy’s supporters continue to act as “experts.”
Radicals, on the other hand, have a wider variety of news sources. We choose our sources carefully, based on what we’ve seen, read, and thought.
Plutocracy. Regardless of election results, the rich get the public policies they want, and the rest of us don’t. Thus we have plutocracy, rule by the rich. That reality has long been widely believed, but it was proved statistically in 2014 by Professors Gilens and Page. Plutocracy is also called oligarchy, which means rule by the few – that’s the same thing, because the rich are few.
Our rulers figure that we won’t rebel if we don’t see our chains, so our plutocracy is disguised as democracy. However, a real democracy would be only a slight improvement. After all,
- We can’t vote wisely while misled by lies of the corporate news media; we need news media that are not privately owned.
- Moreover, 51% riding roughshod over 49% is not a prescription for harmony. What we really need is a culture of caring, understanding, and consensus that leaves no one behind.
Corruption. Power corrupts, as we see in domestic violence, workplace bullying, police brutality, prison torture, military atrocities, and the many crimes of politicians and corporate executives. Let’s look at corruption in government:
Our mythology tells of a barrier between government and business, preventing our elected officials from personally profiting from their positions. That myth is false; actually there is a revolving door between government and business. Our top politicians are rich, and they or their spouses have big investments in the very corporations they’re supposed to be regulating. Their election campaigns are funded by the corporations. They appoint corporate executives to high positions, award big government contracts to their friends, and later retire to jobs as lobbyists for the companies they’ve befriended.
Our mythology also says that our politicians are kind humanitarians, serving the common good of the people, debating among themselves only about how that is best done. This myth is entirely b—s—. Actually our politicians and corporate executives are mass murderers, for their lies generate war, poverty, and ecocide. But that shouldn’t be surprising: Our society is organized in competitive hierarchies, a natural breeding ground for sociopaths.
The evils of competition. The plutocrats compete against each other. Indeed, if they were united in conspiracy, they would say to one another, “come, let us take steps to save the ecosystem, on which even we gods are dependent.” Indeed, corporations currently are rushing to look environmentally conscious. But that’s all just greenwashing. After all, the laws of the market haven’t changed: To survive competition, corporations still must put short-term profit ahead of all else. Consequently, their externalized costs are destroying the ecosystem; that shows the plutocrats are not united.
If the benefits of increasing automation were shared, we could all have more leisure time and higher pay. But instead, automation means layoffs, because the 1% owns all the machines. We, the 99%, must compete against each other for the few remaining jobs, just to survive. And so our workplaces are dictatorships, and we are commodities to be exploited or discarded; that’s why we hate Mondays.
The sickness is in our culture, in all of us, not just our rulers. Despite the threats facing all of us together, separate property gives us the illusion of separate lives, and our competition for survival kills empathy. That leaves fear, greed, hate, lies, bullying, madness, random shootings. The mass shooters are friendless, so our separateness makes us victims of each other. Our separateness also makes it hard for us to rebel against the plutocrats.
How did things go wrong? The concentration of wealth results in plutocracy and all its corruption. But how did wealth become so concentrated? That phenomenon has been too consistent, and has become too big, to be attributed to a fluke or a few thefts. It must be something very fundamental in our economic system. Here is one simple explanation:
If we don’t share, we must trade – for labor, food, rent, interest, influence – for everything. Trade brings profit to both traders, because the commodity being sold is worth more to the buyer than to the seller; otherwise the trade wouldn’t happen. But trade increases inequality, by giving greater profit to whichever trader was already in the stronger bargaining position.
When did things go wrong? The data of Gilens and Page go back only a few decades, but the USA has been a plutocracy calling itself democracy ever since its founding in land theft, genocide, slavery, and indentured servitude. Indeed, plutocracy – and war and poverty – are much older than the USA; they are as old as the greed of ancient kings.
But the threat of nuclear or climate apocalypse is more recent. It is that same ancient greed, but magnified by modern science and technology.
What kind of change do we need? Some people associate the word “revolution” with violence. Perhaps “awakening” is a better word for what we need; it’s all about spreading ideas. Our rulers suppress dissent violently, but our response should be as nonviolent as possible. Violence may alienate the very people we are trying to awaken and recruit, people who are only beginning to understand what is really going on.
It’s not enough to throw out the plutocrats. If we do that without changing our culture, that culture will quickly spawn a new batch of plutocrats, as happened in 1776.
Modern science and technology have magnified ancient cultural problems, bringing us to the brink of extinction. It’s our biggest threat in millions of years. To survive, we need to awaken to a very different culture, our biggest change in thousands of years. We need everyone to see what has been right in front of us all along – though it will look unfamiliar:
We’ve been tormented by plutocrats since the invention of private property 12000 years ago. But for 200,000 years before that we cared and shared as equals; genetically that’s still who we are. That’s still what we teach our kids, still where we turn in times of crisis. Let’s replace hierarchy with horizontalism, and property with sharing. That’s the only way we’ll end war, poverty, and ecocide. That’s the only way we’ll survive. In fact, it’s more than just survival: Our reunion will be joyous. Join the conversation; help spread the word.
2021 May 22, version 3.01. Underlined words and phrases are links to related materials. The leaflet fits on two sides of a legal-sized (8.5″ x 14″) page.
Trade Increases Inequality (older, longer
In both the USA and the world, economic inequality has become enormous, far greater than most people believe it to be — and that in turn is far greater than they believe it should be. Here are a couple of statistics:
- The world’s six richest men have more wealth than the poorest half of the people in the world. (Ecowatch 2017)
- The combined wealth of the world’s richest 1% is more than twice the wealth of the poorest 88%. (Oxfam 2020)
This great inequality has terrible consequences that I’ll talk about later. But what causes the inequality? Here is an explanation in just two sentences:
If we don’t share, then we must trade — for labor, money, 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.
We’ll look at those two sentences in more detail; a simple diagram will help in the explanation.
By “trade” I mean any voluntary exchange. Here are six different kinds of trade:
- a sale exchanges money for goods or services;
- barter exchanges some goods or services for other goods or services;
- rent is money traded for temporary use of space or equipment;
- employment exchanges money for labor;
- a loan is money now for more money later; and
- lobbying, or bribery, trades anything for influence.
All those trades increase inequality by essentially the same principles, though with different labels. The labels are simplest to explain in the case of a sale, so we’ll look at that kind of trade in detail.
Our seller and buyer have picked out an item of interest — for instance, a particular car — and they are negotiating the purchase price. We’ll look at that negotiation.
Not all prices are negotiable. Here in the USA, when you walk into a grocery store to buy apples and oranges, there is no negotiation. But really you are doing a sort of negotiation in choosing which store to walk into, and in choosing whether to buy apples, oranges, both, or neither. Ultimately, that choosing is just a more complicated version of the haggling for a car. It is based on the same economic principles, and it has the same long-term results. Those principles and results are more obvious in the case of the car, so let’s focus on that.
The buyer wants the car, for whatever reason. Perhaps she needs a car for work, or perhaps she simply likes cars. But her money is limited. So even before the negotiations begin, she has already decided on some maximum price that she’s willing to spend on this car. That’s the blue line in the diagram. That’s what the car is worth to her. She probably doesn’t reveal how much that is, because she hopes to get the car at a lower price; that’s the orange line. Then she is paying less than the car is worth to her, so she’s coming out ahead. The difference is her profit; that’s the first red line.
And what about the seller? She has to cover her costs, so there is some minimum price that she is willing to accept for the car; that’s what it is worth to her. That’s the green line. She won’t say how much that is, because she hopes to get more than that. That is, she hopes to get more for the car than it is worth to her. The difference would be her profit. That’s how she makes her living.
If the buyer doesn’t have enough money, or if the seller is asking for too much money, then the sale doesn’t happen. A sale can only happen if the car is worth more to the buyer than to the seller – that is, if the blue line is higher than the green line. Then the purchase price, the orange line, can be anything between those two extremes. In which case each trader makes some profit.
At this point, the capitalist jumps into the discussion and says,
See? A voluntary sale happens when both traders profit. Isn’t free trade wonderful? It’s mutually beneficial! It makes the whole world better! That is the essence of freedom!
But the capitalist is mistaken. Free trade is not wonderful, for reasons that will soon be made clear.
Now we introduce a third red line, at the right end of the diagram. It is the distance between the two extreme price levels. It’s a constant, in the sense that it doesn’t change if we move the orange line up or down. But look: That third red line is the total profit, the sum of the buyer’s and seller’s profits. When the two traders negotiate the purchase price, they are agreeing on how to divide the total profit. That division process is not mutually beneficial: One trader’s profit decreases if the other’s increases.
Can it ever happen that the two traders profit equally? Yes, if the purchase price is exactly halfway between the maximum and minimum prices. But that rarely happens, for a couple of reasons. First, each trader wants to maximize her own profit, so she’s not likely to reveal her chosen extreme value to the other trader.
And second, generally the traders are not in equally strong bargaining positions. Let’s look at that.
- One trader — maybe the buyer, maybe the seller — might be in a poor bargaining position. Her rent is due, her child is sick, her refrigerator is empty, her bank account is overdrawn, and she has no one else to trade with. She needs this deal desperately. She’ll accept this deal even if it brings her very little profit, perhaps just barely enough to survive for another day. That is the fate of migrant farmworkers selling their labor, for instance. It’s not wonderful.
- The other trader might be in a very strong bargaining position. She has money in the bank, food in the freezer, lots of trading partners, and her house and car are all paid off. She is in no hurry about this deal. She can afford to wait for a better deal. She’ll go through with this deal only if it brings her a very big profit.
So, the trader who is already in the stronger bargaining position gets the bigger profit. That makes her bargaining position for future deals even stronger. Thus inequality increases.
Of course, the increase may be small, and there may be exceptions. But the overall trend is that inequality increases. As I write this, the newspapers are full of stories about the “K-shaped recovery” — the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. A little inequality becomes a lot; it has become enormous in our society. And that has terrible consequences. Here’s a link to a website explaining how inequality causes poverty, homelessness, hunger, fear, hate, plutocracy, corruption, racism, wars, ecocide, global warming. And global warming is speeding up, and may kill us all quite soon; some crop failures have already begun.
To survive and to make a better life, we need to give up trade, give up private property, and figure out how to share everything. You don’t need to share your toothbrush or your house, but we need to share the ability to get a toothbrush and a house. Is that possible? It’s hard for us to imagine such a world; private property is deeply embedded in our culture; we’ve been ruled by it for 10,000 years. But for 200,000 years before that we were hunter-gatherers, sharing everything as equals, and genetically that’s still who we are. So yes, it may be possible.
It’s important to tell everyone about this.
Latest revision 2021 Jan 7, version 3.25. (Original version June 2017.) I’d like to work Piketty and Boghosian into this essay, but I haven’t figured out quite how. A newer, shorter version of this essay was posted later at https://leftymathprof.wordpress.com/trade/.
Insert next here
Insert next here