The Great Awakening
(My use of the phrase “the great awakening” is entirely different from the use of that phrase by Q-anon and other right-wing organizations.)
A GREAT AWAKENING is a big cultural change, when everyone sees the world in a new way, and we all change our way of life. It’s bigger than revolution, more than just changing laws and leaders.
We’ve needed change for a long time, because our socioeconomic system is tormenting and killing millions of us through poverty, war, racism, and other cruelties. Recently the need for change has become urgent, because the system is about to kill us ALL in nuclear or climate apocalypse. We haven’t much time left – the world is on fire, so be properly alarmed. We’re in the endgame now.
We need to change the system at its very foundation. That’s going to take all of us, or most of us anyway – a few of us can’t do it. We change to a new culture only by seeing the old one more clearly and seeing through it. I won’t rule out self-defense, but in other circumstances violence is a poor strategy: It’s less than we need if there are only a few of us, and more than we need if we have recruited most of society. Furthermore, violence may impede recruitment efforts: It may alienate people who have only been reading the corporate press and haven’t yet understood what is really going on.
This essay will fit together some simplified bits of history, economics, sociology, and politics. Some of these bits may be new to you, because the corporate media never mention the real basis of our socioeconomic system, nor the very different world that is possible. That’s so even for the science-fiction future that we watch for entertainment: more gadgets, but still the same socioeconomic system.
By the way, as replacements for the corporate press, here are a few of my own favorite news sources: Black Agenda Report, Counterpunch, Greanville Post, Popular Resistance, RT, Common Dreams, Truthout, Caitlin Johnstone, Richard Wolff, Jimmy Dore, Ted Rall, Lee Camp.
Part 2. Our early history.
For our first 200,000 years, we were hunter-gatherers. Archaeologists and anthropologists say we lived and shared as equals. We were all interdependent, so one could only “get ahead” by bringing the whole community ahead. Tribal cultures customarily discourage, and eventually exile, anyone who sees his interests as separate.
Sharing is still what we teach our kids today, and still where we turn in times of crisis. Genetically, we’re still the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Any changes since then are merely cultural and can be undone.
We made big cultural changes when the last ice age ended 12,000 years ago. Among our new practices were farming, hierarchy, and private ownership. Hierarchy and ownership were a big mistake, as I’ll explain.
Part 3. Concentrated power.
Between government and business is a revolving door, not the barrier described in our myths. High rank and great wealth are interchangeable, in the sense that either one can be used to obtain the other. They are two forms of the same thing: concentrated power.
Power brings corruption. We see that in domestic violence, workplace bullying, killer cops, prison torture, military atrocities, and politicians constantly inventing new crimes. Corruption goes both ways:
- On the one hand, power corrupts the powerful because they no longer need the approval of others, and they cease to care about others. They start to believe the justifications they’ve invented for their privilege.
- On the other hand, power attracts those who are already corrupt. Sociopaths are greedy, deceitful people who enjoy stepping on others; they are the champs at climbing a competitive hierarchy.
Hierarchy obviously concentrates power. Ownership also concentrates power, though that may be less obvious. For thousands of years we have CONSISTENTLY been a few kings and many paupers. That can only be due to some simple and fundamental defect in our economic system. So here is a simple explanation:
If we don’t share, we must trade, in money or in barter. We must trade for food, labor, rent, interest, influence – for everything. A trade happens when both traders can profit – that is, when something is worth more to a buyer than to a seller. That seems harmless enough. But generally the traders don’t profit EQUALLY. It’s a zero-sum game, in that the sum of the two profits is a constant. More profit goes to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, making him stronger still. So trade, even when honest, INCREASES inequality. That’s the simple explanation.
Of course, dishonesty can further strengthen one’s bargaining position, as can coercion and many other factors. Your boss makes more money than you, not by being smarter or harder-working, but by standing between you and the money. The rich get richer, and everyone else is left behind. The only way to reduce inequality is to replace trade with sharing.
The word “earn” has two very different meanings – “acquire” or “deserve” – but the rich think those are the same. Balzac was right when he said that “behind every great fortune is a great theft.” That fortune is preserved by “property rights,” a mythology enforced with guns.
Part 4. Not democracy.
The rich rule; that’s plutocracy. Regardless of elections, the rich end up with the public policies they want, and the rest of us don’t. That has long been obvious, but it was PROVED statistically in 2014 by Gilens and Page. Wealth is influence, and it can find its path through or around legislators as surely as a stream can find its path down a mountainside.
The rich get what they want. And what they want is to continue this system that makes them rich at everyone else’s expense. They will block any real change; they have even said so. The corporate media discourage any discussion of change, by dismissing its advocates as extremists or crackpots.
A real democracy wouldn’t be much improvement anyway: We can’t vote wisely when bipartisan lies, echoed in the corporate press, are misleading us. And we can’t agree on much when, thanks to property separating us, we don’t care about each other. And if we throw out the plutocrats without changing our culture, this culture will quickly spawn new plutocrats, as happened in 1776.
Gilens and Page’s data only go back a few decades, but the USA has been a plutocracy thinly disguised as democracy ever since its founding in land theft, genocide, slavery, and indentured servitude. A glance at history shows that plutocracy began long before that, with the greed of ancient warlords. The only way to end rule by the wealthy class is to not HAVE a wealthy class – but for that we must replace property with sharing, as explained earlier.
Part 5. Great evils.
Our socioeconomic system creates great evils. The most obvious of those is war. War causes death and great suffering for millions of our cousins overseas. All the USA’s many wars are based on bipartisan lies to make a few rich men richer. The Department of so-called “Defense” is misnamed: Our soldiers may BELIEVE they are the “good guys,” defending their country and freedom, as depicted in our tv and movies, but more truthful sources reveal that they’ve been overthrowing democracies and propping up dictatorships. And “sanction” is a euphemism for SIEGE, an act of war that kills many; the US government uses these sieges freely and justifies them with evidence-free accusations. And it’s the whistleblowers, not the war criminals, who are imprisoned. Our top politicians are mass murderers; if the public understood this we would gather our pitchforks. The two money parties agree on the wars, which are far away and don’t affect most U.S.-ers directly. So the corporate press says little about the wars, and most U.S.-ers hardly think about them.
Alienation, another great evil, hurts U.S.-ers more directly. But we have grown so accustomed to it that we’re hardly conscious of where the pain is coming from. Our workplaces are dictatorships that objectify, exploit, and discard us; that’s why we hate Mondays. We are all performing without a net; every day a few of us fall to illness, bankruptcy, homelessness. We are forced to compete for our very survival; it’s “every man for himself.” That kills empathy, leaving fear, lies, greed, hate, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, madness, random shootings.
The problem is not just in our rulers, but in all of us, in our culture, in our so-called “American Dream” of separate property. The institution of separate property and the illusion of separate lives perpetuate each other, despite our shared threats such as global warming and pandemic. Our separateness makes it difficult for us to unite to change the system. The awakening we need is for more than just survival: The end of our separation will be joyous.
Part 6. Evils enlarged.
The scientific revolution began around 400 years ago. It hasn’t changed our socioeconomic system: We still have greed, war, etc. But technology magnifies all we do, good and bad. The bad includes weapons and pollution, and consequently we are now racing toward extinction in two different ways.
First, technology magnifies weapons. Many times, we’ve already come close to a war between two nuclear powers. That war WILL happen eventually, if the arms race continues – it’s just a matter of time – that’s a fact of mathematical probability. Some politicians speak of “winning” such a war, but that’s madness: The drifting radioactive fallout would kill everyone within a few years. The continuing nuclear arms race proves that humans have been clever but not wise; we need to wise up. We can only be made safe, from nuclear war or even from local shootings, by a culture of friendship.
And second, technology magnifies pollution. We are poisoning the world and heating it up. Feedback is speeding up the warming EXPONENTIALLY. Some crop failures have already begun. When those increase, famine will kill most of humanity. A few people think they’ll survive the collapse as hunter-gatherers or as low-tech farmers, but they are mistaken. You see, even after the collapse, some of the feedback will STILL continue – for instance, loss of ice means more sunlight absorbed by Earth. So the temperature will STILL continue rising; after a while that will kill EVERYONE. Even the rich will run out of canned food. Our only hope is to PREVENT the collapse, by planting billions of trees or blocking the sun, or some other method being researched. We need the research done by scientists who were NOT hired for someone’s private profit.
The destruction all around us should be blamed, not on technology, but on technology MISUSED. Technology magnifies not just the bad, but also the good. For instance, if the benefits of automation were shared, we would all have more leisure and higher pay. But instead, automation means layoffs, because the machines are “OWNED” by the 1%; they force the rest of us to compete for the few remaining jobs. We cannot hope to wake the 1%, but waking most of the 99% may suffice.
Part 7. Working within the system.
Beware of greenwashing and other propaganda. Politicians and corporations say whatever sounds good, but they rarely keep their promises. They are trapped on this crazy train as much as the rest of us, though they have more comfy cells. To get elected, politicians MUST raise campaign funds, so they are indebted to corporate sponsors. And to survive competition and stay in power, any corporate executive MUST give first priority to the short-term profits that attract investors.
SOME OF THE SYMPTOMS: ableism, affluenza, ageism, alienation, animal abuse, apartheid, apathy, arsenic / lead / pesticides / plastic in food / oceans / rivers / tapwater, authoritarianism, bullying, censorship, climate apocalypse, corruption, cruelty, debt, disinformation, domestic violence, ecocide, evictions, exploitation, extinctions, fascism, fear, Federal Reserve, foreclosures, fracking, genocide, gerrymandering, global warming, greed, hate, homelessness, homophobia, hunger, imperialism, inadequate healthcare, injustice, Islamophobia, jingoism, killer cops, lies, litter, loneliness, mass incarceration, mass shootings, media consolidation, military-industrial complex, nativism, nuclear meltdowns, oil spills, pedophilia, plutocracy, poverty, racism, rape, sexism, sweatshops, tampered voting machines, two-tiered legal system, unemployment, wage theft, war, wetiko
Reformists aren’t much better. They try to bring change while working within the system, but the system itself needs changing. They believe and perpetuate much of market mythology. Reformists try to solve one or another of our many many problems, without understanding that those problems are all just symptoms of hierarchy and property.
Incremental progress is only an illusion: Any reduction in the symptoms will be only temporary, as long as the underlying power structure remains intact. For how many decades have we been right where we are? Incremental reform is as futile as the labor of Sisyphus. Furthermore, by diverting attention away from the big picture, reformists delay the system change we really need.
Part 8. Conclusion.
Caring and sharing is the solution, but I don’t mean just our feelings and intentions; I mean our institutions too. We must replace hierarchy and property with horizontalism and sharing, respectively. Awareness IS growing; we just don’t know whether it is growing fast enough. Join the conversation, and help spread the word. Call a meeting, carry a sign, post a video, write a song, write an essay, or repost THIS essay if you like it.
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2021 Aug 5, version 1.24. The video is based on version 1.23. The leaflet fits on two sides of a legal-sized sheet of paper.