What’s the opposite of “now”? Contrary to what many people believe, it isn’t “then”. There never was a golden age, which if we’re regressive and nostalgic enough about, can be restored to its former place in our lives. This seems to be a belief, though, that has brought people that promise a return to a golden age (e.g. “make America great again”, “take back control”) to positions of power.
The uncomfortable truth, unfortunately, is that they will never be able to deliver a former golden age. It never existed. The best they can hope to do is to create some kind of pastiche of a fictitious, rose-tinted, golden age, but rendered in modern day reality. Whatever confection they concoct, though, it will be thoroughly counterfeit.
So, if the opposite of “now” is not “then”, what is it? I submit that the opposite of now is to imagine a world where the realities that are currently manifest are instead replaced by alternatives. If “now” is a barren, austere, depressing time, then the opposite of now is a fruitful, abundant, uplifting world.
The problem is that no current political party has dared to describe the opposite of now, except by reference to the past. It’s as if they lack the will, the courage and the imagination. That may be because we’ve been progressively taught not to think critically. This lack of critical thinking capacity didn’t happen accidentally. It was deliberately engineered. The story of how that was accomplished is as horrific as it is distressing.
In a previous blog post, I mentioned the Powell memo, written in the early nineteen seventies, which was a blueprint for an assault, by big business, on its critics. In effect, it launched a militant war on critical thinking itself, waged by powerful, organised interests that didn’t want anybody to question the legitimacy of their actions, or express concern about how those actions might impinge on the lives of everybody else.
The privileged leaders of big business wanted to carry on, in any way they saw fit, like little, privatised tyrants. With no effective opposition, or even anybody to call attention to their egregious excesses, they would be free to do as they pleased. This was their dream and they have been incredibly successful at achieving their goals.
Powell, as a human being, appeared to me to have been a narrow-minded, bigoted, thoroughly indoctrinated elitist, with a world view that didn’t consider the “little people” at all. He didn’t question the fundamentals of the system he defended, from a humanist point of view. Instead, he preferred to defend a fatally flawed human construct; an edifice of biased, twisted and disturbing values, antithetical to humanity, so that elites like him could remain prosperous, entitled and opulent.
His blinkered view was that the obvious benefits of Capitalism must be preserved at all costs, irrespective of the damage that this system inflicted on the environment, justice and people’s lives. His perspective and fervently held belief was that critics of the system could be dismissed as misguided and ill-informed, lacking access to “balanced” information.
That he should have reached this patronising conclusion speaks volumes of his denial of the fact that many sentient, bright, informed people had found Capitalism deficient and wanting, in many significant ways, which required fundamental reform and urgent redress. They’d concluded, in the main, that the system was beyond corrective tweaks and needed to be replaced with something more benign and equitable, in its entirety.
Powell, in contrast, thought of the free enterprise system as beyond reproach – something that must be defended by fair means or foul, preferably by stealth to avoid the project being derailed or defeated, to protect free enterprise against being dismantled. He didn’t acknowledge the harm and damage wrought by the single-minded pursuit of profit, in any meaningful way. To him, it was an unthinkable thought.
In his report, Powell listed methods that corporations could use to silence those in, “the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals”, who were hostile to corporate interests. Variously called the “free enterprise system”, “capitalism” and the “profit system”, Powell held that the American political system of democracy, under the rule of law, was also under attack, often by the same individuals and organisations who seek to undermine the enterprise system.
At no point did it occur to him that the “rule of law” was a fundamentally violent construct, which tries to change minds and behaviour, through physical and psychological coercion. He was apparently not aware of other ways of maintaining societal order, without resort to force, fear and intimidation. He equated the current political system with democracy, when what he was advocating has, in fact, become a system that has completely disenfranchised the majority. We have a corporatocracy, not a democracy.
It has been demonstrated that it doesn’t matter what you vote for, the elites will always get their way, regardless. Corporate interests, via lobbyists and donations, carry much more weight, in deciding government policy, than the votes of individual, ordinary people. This is why the government’s policies are so often at antipodal odds with the will of the majority. The Western political system has proven to be wholly undemocratic.
The solution Powell called for, to protect the enterprise system, was the establishment of lavishly funded think tanks and conservative institutes. We know now that these think tanks and institutes exert excessive influence on the shape and complexion of government policy. They are all funded by corporate billionaires, but in true ashamed-to-admit-their-role fashion, rather than trying to win any policy argument on its merits; the cash is donated secretly, with the ties to corporations effectively denied and hidden. Instead of representing independent, critical thought, these think tanks are nothing more than mouthpieces for the interests of corporations. They don’t acknowledge it, but they represent the view from enterprise, invariably at the expense of ordinary individuals.
Powell proposed that ideological assaults against government regulation and environmental protection be directed at a mass audience, as if regulations didn’t protect workers against the reckless and harmful actions of corporations and the environment needed no protection from the rape and despoliation of Earth’s natural resources at all. Remember that under the capitalist system, the environment is considered infinite, limitless and provided without cost to corporations, as their right. Further, if a natural resource is destroyed, exhausted or driven to extinction, it doesn’t matter. If the habitat is rendered unfit to sustain life, Capitalism doesn’t care. In Powell’s calculus, if you can’t eat the food, breathe the air or drink the water, that doesn’t matter, so long as the enterprise system is protected.
To subvert the prevailing tide of criticism of capitalism, Powell advocated placing corporate-friendly academics and neoliberal economists in universities and banishing from the public sphere those who challenged unfettered corporate power. He singled out Ralph Nader by name. If this meant the destruction of promising academic careers, then so be it. Without a hint of irony, fake academics, obedient and subservient to power, were installed to take the place of real critical thinkers, just as they were in Soviet Russia, under the Communist regime. Low integrity individuals, dispensing a much lower quality of thought than the people they displaced, occupied positions of influence in the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals.
Under Powell’s plan, which was enacted by Chambers of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, organisations were formed, disguised as grass-roots, popular movements, to monitor and pressure the media to report favourably on issues that furthered corporate interests. Pro-corporate judges were placed on the bench (indeed, Powell became one of them). Academics were controlled by pressure from right-wing watch lists, co-opted university administrators and wealthy donors. Under the prolonged assault, the universities, like the media, were eventually disciplined into becoming compliant, banal and monochromatic.
What provoked this unprecedented attack on the ability to question and to hold corporate power to account? In Powell’s own words, “What concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.”
At no time did Powell stop to consider that perhaps this was becoming a mainstream movement for very good, legitimate reasons. It appears not to have crossed his mind that perhaps all of these people, far from being cranks and extremists, may have held a carefully considered view; the result of carefully weighing the evidence. He never admitted the thought that perhaps the attackers of the enterprise system were right.
Having decided that most people must be wrong, a priori, he proceeded to defend the indefensible, as if it were a law of physics or the natural order of things. Did this position own anything to his self-interest and desire to ingratiate himself further with the culprits? One can only speculate.
In his call to fight a covert battle against the populace, he used this rallying cry: “What has been the response of business to this massive assault upon its fundamental economics” (as if economics was delivered on stone tablets from God), “upon its philosophy,” (i.e. its value system of self-interest), “upon its right to continue to manage its own affairs,” (when it is really only a privilege, especially if it is at the expense of others) “and indeed upon its integrity?”, (as if a system founded on swindling and exploitation had any integrity to preserve).
Powell continued: “The overriding first need is for businessmen to recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival — survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.” Of course, the people had no freedom, beholden as they were to their employers as wage slaves. Only anarchy, an absence of a ruling class, gives you true freedom. Powell was right in suggesting, elsewhere in his report, that socialism unacceptably limits personal freedom, but he was utterly blind to how capitalism does so too.
He couldn’t have expressed his suggested solution any more clearly and succinctly: “It is time for American business — which has demonstrated the greatest capacity in all history to produce and to influence consumer decisions — to apply their great talents vigorously to the preservation of the system itself.”
This is nothing less than an appeal to corporations to use their well-honed mendaciloquence. Rather than uplifting humanity, corporations would instead sell them a false proposition. Claiming to be saving them, protecting them and edifying them, they would, in secret, actually be doing whatever was best for enterprise, irrespective of the true consequences.
Thus, all checks and balances were dismantled, with no protections remaining against corporate malfeasance. The people, it seems, were expected to take it on trust that corporations would act ethically and in the common interest, for reasons no better than unbridled personal greed.
This is how censorship, deceit, surveillance, control and propaganda all became permanent features of now. Big business waged a purposeful, silent, sustained, indefinite war on the minds of the little people. Critical thought was eradicated.
This is what we have now. You can readily observe it for yourself. But what could we have had, if the Powell report and its enthusiastic supporters had never waged such a calculated campaign to shore up the enterprise system, at all costs? What would the opposite of now look like?
Whereas academic critics have been marginalised, discredited, fallen into disrepute and been silenced, ensuring that we’re all dumbed down, the opposite of now would be thriving, vibrant debate and discussion by literate, well-informed critics, about other ways to organise human affairs that don’t suffer from the terrible deficiencies of Capitalism. Most people would read, would be well-informed and could engage in meaningful debate about how to improve the situation of humanity. Indignity and inequality would be in the process of being designed out of the economic system entirely.
Today, greed is worshipped as the greatest good, but the opposite of now would be a society that valued sharing and fair distribution, on a voluntary basis, so that no human was left destitute. This would be a personal responsibility, rather than conducted through a series of centralised, enforced taxations. Every living being would understand and honour their personal obligations to every other person, to ensure that terrible poverty was impossible.
Socialism would exist, but not in the top down, command and control sense it is generally understood (typified by Communism). Socialism would be a voluntary, bottom up, grass roots, local affair, ensuring that one’s neighbours had all the requisites of a good, comfortable and fruitful existence. Nobody would rapaciously hoard wealth, with so much surplus income that they barely possess sufficient imagination to devise worthwhile ways to spend it, as we see with bloated, spendthrift, conspicuously-consuming, multi-billionaires today. The opposite of the inequality and greed of now is generosity, gratitude and equity.
While we, now, have a disgraceful history of vanquishing and conquering other peoples, other species and other lands, the opposite of now is to nurture, co-operate and collaborate. Today, we force our ideas on others, violently, we take what is theirs and call it ours, we circumscribe stolen lands with borders that we police to keep immigrants out and we expect the conquered and vanquished to know their place and worship at our feet, no matter how much we mistreat them or steal from them. In opposition to this situation, a more enlightened humanity would understand that everybody is entitled to the things we claim as our privilege. We have no special, exclusive, legitimate claim to them.
Now, we promote and praise psychopaths for their ruthless effectiveness at exploiting and manipulating other people. We call them winners. The opposite of now is to see them as they truly are – emotionally damaged and deficient people, in need of pity, therapy and kept away from power. They aren’t to be trusted with it and certainly cannot be left unsupervised, to do as they wish to others, without recourse, as they are now.
The opposite of now is to humanely rehabilitate them, treat their neurological deficits (if they are treatable) or else isolate them from the rest of society, where they can do no further damage. That is not to say they should be forcibly locked in cages. They just can’t participate and share in a peaceable and non-manipulative society. We should all be wary and vigilant, in their occasional presence.
Today, so many people harbour very low quality thoughts as fundamental truths. They never question them. They lack the critical capacity to examine things they were told, by people they trusted and fail to raise the quality of their thoughts. Instead, they are beset and hampered by superstition, bronze-age belief systems, the post-fact society and the primacy of personal opinion over objective evidence. Outright lies are euphemistically called “alternative facts”, in true Orwellian fashion. These people are easily indoctrinated and manipulated, by the application of fear, doubt and uncertainty. They can be whipped into frenzies of blind hatred and blame storms, directed at minorities, the different and the vulnerable.
The opposite of now would be to learn and use critical thinking skills, to question what you are told, rather than obediently accepting it as fact, to eschew manipulation by appeals to base emotions and to carry much higher quality thoughts around with us, in our heads, free from superstition and supposition.
Nowadays, the arts and humanities have been defunded and left to rot. Arts and humanities education is withering on the vine and it has been largely replaced by utilitarian, vocational learning. Our imaginations have been consigned to use only in our hobbies and our empathy is never developed, for fear of getting in the way of being good, compliant, corporate tools.
The opposite of now is a thriving, flourishing, expansive arts scene, with humanities taking their proper and equal role to scientific and mathematical training. We’d be encouraged to think ethically about the things we do, in our working lives. The things we make, industrially, would have to pass the test of whether or not they were a net benefit to humanity. We wouldn’t do anything just because we could, because it was profitable. Instead, we’d only do what was beneficial.
The media has been thoroughly debased. This was achieved, in Powell’s words, through the following course of action: “Incentives might be devised to induce more “publishing” by independent scholars who do believe in the system. There should be a fairly steady flow of scholarly articles presented to a broad spectrum of magazines and periodicals — ranging from the popular magazines (Life, Look, Reader’s Digest, etc.) to the more intellectual ones (Atlantic, Harper’s, Saturday Review, New York, etc.), and to the various professional journals”. In other words, today, the media is totally controlled and stuffed with biased writings, to favour the interests of big business.
The opposite is a situation where independent thought flourishes, where writers publish with integrity and where the media is the guardian of the public interest, holding people to account. It would explain, rather than obfuscate and debate important issues, rather than issuing regurgitated public relations spin, celebrity distraction, exhortations to consume pointlessly and planted, disguised opinion pieces. In short, it would stop lying to us.
The zero-sum-game idea seems to be in the ascendant, today. This is the idea that if you have any, I have less. Therefore, to have more, I must take yours. This mindset does not admit to growth, even though growth is very the mandate of the Capitalist system. There must always be more (even when there cannot be). It seems logically contradictory that capitalist apologists have so little faith in the fundamental mechanism of capitalism – ever accelerating growth – that they feel the need to take from others, in order to have more.
The polar opposite of now is sharing and abundance. Realising there is enough to go around, without hoarding, taking from others, or despoiling the environment unsustainably, is rooted in the idea that technology, eventually, provides the abundance.
There was nothing in the physical world, during the Dark Ages, which prevented electricity and electric machines from being invented. All the raw materials were just lying around, unused. What turned those raw materials into electric motors, wires, heaters and communications devices, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were new ideas and lots of them. The Kings of the Dark Ages fought bitter, bloody battles to amass more power, control and wealth, but not a single one set his mind to inventing electric power. Think how much more powerful and wealthy a Dark Age King that possessed the secret of electric power transmission could have been. Instead, their zero-sum thinking meant they couldn’t imagine a world transformed by higher quality ideas. We make the same mistake today.
The Bronze and Iron ages didn’t happen because new materials were dropped to Earth from the heavens. They happened because curiosity and ingenuity were applied, along with serendipity and careful observation. There was no point arguing over spears and flint arrow heads, once swords and metal tools were possible. All that made them possible was thinking higher quality thoughts. The opposite of now is realising that, with better technology, we don’t need to fight and argue, to the death, over scarce resources. It’s just oil. We don’t need to choke and heat the atmosphere, with the resultant combustion gases, to supply our energy needs. We just need to think harder.
There’s mounting evidence that much crime and anti-social behaviour has its origins in significant childhood trauma. We know it, but do almost nothing about it. If anything, we reinforce it with more traumas. If we were to imagine an opposite alternative reality, we would, through kindness and care, reduce and perhaps even eliminate childhood traumas of the type that wrecks young lives entirely. It would require people that inflict trauma to heal from their own trauma first and to cease seeing younger people as prey. This is a breakable cycle, but we have to want to break it.
Evidence is telling us that drug addiction and substance abuse can be traced to different mechanisms for coping with stress. Some want to numb themselves and choose drugs that do this, while others want to confront their stresses with energy, head on, so they choose uppers and amphetamines. Stressed children are looking for a way to change their mental state, to cope with stress and chemicals seem to be a ready and easy answer. In Iceland, they are teaching kids to cope with their stresses with natural highs. Mindfulness training and meditation to cope with psychological pain they wish would hurt less and creative achievements and challenging sports, to create the buzz that the stress confronters need, to feel better. It’s working. Substance abuse is at record lows.
The opposite of now does not heartlessly punish and persecute addicts, but instead recognises the need for altered mental states, to cope with extremes of stress. It then provides chemical-free, harmless means for making those changes of mental state, in positive, productive ways. The kids are healthier, the system saves a ton of money it would have spent dealing with the effects of addiction and they feel they have achieved something worthwhile, in the process. Now, we’ve got the war on drugs – an ineffective waste of resources and humanity that seems to make the problem worse. It’s a war of attrition.
Too many in our society still believe it is acceptable to force somebody to comply with their wants through physical or psychological violence. They claim that, since they experienced violence themselves and it did them “no harm”, then it’s fine to dispense violence to others, in turn. Sorry. These people are not OK. They’re broken. Violence is never an acceptable way to bring somebody else’s ideas around to your own. It doesn’t accomplish that, anyway. It just creates resentment and silent insubordination. Nobody has the right to inflict violence on anybody else, for any reason, yet we delegate this power (which we don’t have) to the police, law enforcement agents and the military. All we do is perpetuate the cycle of violence.
The complete opposite to this is to be kind to each other unconditionally. Anger should never be vented by resort to assault of any kind – physical or mental. Violence should be seen for what it is – an ineffectual waste of energy and the source of seething resentments and further future violence. Violence doesn’t work. It might seem to offer temporary compliance, but it never actually does. Give it up. Disarm. Take off the violence authorisation costumes. This road leads nowhere good.
In the now, we’re still pathetically addicted to having strong leaders and governments that will violently keep everybody in line with what we want them to do and say and be like. We can’t imagine a functional world without governance. We refuse to take responsibility for our own actions and humanity and would rather be controlled, than have to exercise self-control.
The opposite situation is one where there is no ruling class, no enforcement and no arbitrary laws, designed mostly to protect property. There’s no theft and no crime. Property is respected. People, having realised that the price of true freedom and self-determination is to take responsibility for their own lives and actions and to act in accordance to their obligations to humanity, live productive, peaceable, self-determined lives, as they best see fit, with nobody to judge them or to try to “correct” them.
In the opposite to now, people realise that how other people live their lives is mostly none of anybody else’s business. You have no automatic right to impose your value system on them. If you wish to offer your value system as a model for living, then you must allow people to choose it voluntarily, or it’s worthless. Furthermore, you must persuade your fellow humans on the basis of the quality of your arguments. Imposition of your system, by military force and intimidation, only proves your system is baseless and illegitimate. You can’t bomb anybody into peaceful democracy.
Now, people live solitary lives, as selfish, isolated, self-obsessed individuals. We try to equate this to personal freedom, but it’s not the same thing as real freedom. The freedom to purchase any consumer good we can afford is a very meagre sort of freedom. The price we pay is loneliness and having nobody to call on, when we need help. We also tend to treat the rest of humanity as strangers, unworthy of our compassion or care. We turn refugees, desperate for a peaceful place to live, away at the border, to face a dreadful fate we don’t even care to imagine. We’ve become hard-hearted.
Real freedom means a community that you can belong to, which will help you, when you need help. It also lets you help others, in turn, thereby strengthening the bonds that tie the community together. There’s always somebody to talk to, nobody is excluded and you can depend on having something to eat and sufficient warmth to sustain you in the cold. The opposite now is people voluntarily spending their time helping each other out and ensuring universal inclusion.
With the frenzy to protect ourselves against the insecurity and precarity of the free market, most families have two parents working hard, just to stay afloat. There never seems to be enough money left, at the end of the month, but in working these hours, our fragile families weaken and fracture. We are absent parents to our children, farming them out to professional childcare workers and educators. We miss the best parts of having a family, through work stress and distraction, not to mention the sheer number of hours spent away from home and from each other. No wonder marriages fail.
The opposite of now is a society that recognises the value, economically and psychologically, of keeping families together, so that they can support each other and pass wisdom from elders to the younger members of the family. Families that care for each other, love one another and have the time to spend with each other, teaching, learning and just enjoying life, have a lot to recommend them and should be seen as something to aspire to. Families fracture due to external pressures and stresses and because one or more family members is carrying some scar from childhood trauma, or because they are desperate to make money, instead of tending to quality relationships.
Science has been terribly compromised and discredited, due to the influence of corporate money and intimidation. Otherwise reputable scientists have succumbed to the temptation to subvert their own research, to suit the agenda of big business. It is a fact that scientists funded, in whole or part, by big business are three times more likely than independent scientists to find that their funder’s product is both effective and safe. How can that be explained, other than by a lapse in integrity. As a consequence, you can’t believe science at face value, any more. Even the friendly family doctor has been caught out dispensing junk scientific advice, because the research was bent.
The opposite of now is community-supported scientific research, which retains true independence and can, therefore, reach conclusions that need to support and big company agenda. This science would be trustworthy and reliable and we could all see not only the results, but the source data and method, so that we could verify the science for ourselves. In actual fact, most science is not beyond the grasp of intelligent, motivated people, but ivory towers are built, fortified by pay-walled scientific journals and sector-specific jargon, to separate the chosen in the priesthood, from the lay. We don’t need to tolerate that. If the science cannot be explained to somebody of adequate intelligence in simple and clear terms, then the scientist explaining it doesn’t really understand it. That’s a pretty reliable litmus test.
As increasing amounts of wealth are siphoned off to enrich the wealthiest in society, social services, such as health care, facilities for the disabled, support the terribly injured, care for the aged, care for people with special needs, etc. are being pared to the bone and on, into the very marrow. The social safety net, created so that all citizens of the society could live safe and meaningful lives, irrespective of their random afflictions, without the fear of financial ruin due to sheer bad luck, is being dismantled systematically, so that it can be privatised, to create unearned profits to the rich monopolists that will inherit these public, common goods. Although they were built and paid for with our taxes, they are being sold as if they belonged to the government of the day.
The opposite of now is a just society that realises the best and most productive outcome for the economy is not to drive the unfortunate into penury, stress and premature deaths, but to create the conditions that enable everybody to live well, not just survive. An economy that has an imperilled, distracted, struggling workforce lacks the ability to thrive. It should be the first priority for community spending, not the last. If it weren’t for the waste and destruction of more or less permanent warfare, or preparations for it, then diverting the investment into these vital services would be more than adequate to provide for all. Today, we’re making people suffer and die, for purely ideological reasons, while we spend like drunken sailors on aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons and adventitious conflicts in far flung countries, to protect our claim to their oil and lithium reserves.
We’re under surveillance, constantly, we’re told, to protect us from terrorists whose names we’re never told and whose headquarters, strangely, can never be located. Google Maps has surveyed most parts of the globe, yet we’re led to believe that dark, sinister, evil forces remain a clear and present threat that nobody can find. We all know the only terrorists capable of staging significant terrorist spectaculars belong to the secret services of governments. They’re the only ones with the funding and infrastructure necessary. The truth is we’re under surveillance not to protect us from the terrorists, but to protect corporate interests from all of us. We’re considered to be the terrorists. Under the Powell doctrine, critical thought, dissent or people speaking against the interests of big business are to be watched and controlled. That’s why the government can access your personal browsing history, but members of parliament are exempted from being subject to the same law.
The opposite of a surveillance society is one where you own the access rights to your own data, you can control who uses it and for what purpose, you can rescind access at any time, for any reason, you may monetise it, if you see fit and what you read of think is none of anybody else’s business, least of all a private corporation or a government. What we have now is the very antithesis of privacy and self-determination. We have, instead, invasive intrusion, where your data can be misinterpreted (by algorithms, written with a corporate bias) and used against you, without you even knowing. It’s like being owned. Only slaves are owned.
What we have now is massive and growing inequality of incomes, outcomes and opportunities. The richer you are, the richer you get. The poorer you are, the poorer you become. What’s the opposite? A world where there is social mobility – where the poor can become wealthier, or at least enjoy a better standard of living. That would require that the richest cannot get any richer, which might be thought to be a disincentive to work harder and take risks. If the rich were only rich because they worked harder and took more risks, that argument might hold some water, but it isn’t the case.
To me, a guarantee that nobody fell below the level of a decent, comfortable life might be the better opposite of now. Similarly, if the wealthiest were prevented from becoming obscenely wealthy, at the point where no reasonable human being needed more money to meet their desires and needs for a good life, that might be more satisfactory. It’s all fraught with difficulty, though. The concept of a universal, minimum, basic, living income is important, nevertheless. If you can print money to bail out banks, the same money can be printed to support the lives of every citizen of Earth. They’d probably spend it into the economy in wiser, less harmful ways than banks, too.
Part of the solution, of course, may be to ask the fundamental question: why do you need to pay anything to anybody, for the privilege of remaining alive?
Having freed corporations and big business from any effective criticism, they’ve responded by behaving in an out of control fashion. Instead of honouring their social responsibilities, they get away with whatever they think they can get away with, which is a lot. There seems to be no ethical conscience or moral compass at the helm, even though corporations are just groupings of people.
Opposite to this behaviour is organisations that come together to achieve some goal, requiring a lot of human co-operation, which behave in a fashion that is mindful of their place in the world and the organisation’s interdependence with other human beings. Voluntary self-discipline, based on self-restraint and consideration for the organisation’s impact on the planet and its inhabitants is a corporate responsibility.
Now, there are actions and policies carried out by and on behalf of big business that are positively anti-humanity. They do things that harm humanity, directly and indirectly, but they have no qualms about doing so, because their mandate is to create profits and so-called shareholder value. Others would happily see large sections of humanity murdered, for the convenience of those that remain.
The converse is a population that recognises, with gratitude, the sheer unlikely miracle that every human being is. Edifying humanity, in the realisation that each and every member of the human race has capabilities far beyond anything we have been able to design, or will be able to design any time soon, is a more realistic viewpoint. They’re not machines; they are precious points of life, in a universe that seems very much devoid of life (at least in close enough proximity to us for meaningful interaction). Each human is unique and the loss of any one of them a tragic, irreplaceable loss.
We’ve been taught to loathe ourselves. We are prone to seeing ourselves as a viral plague, on the planet, worthy only of eradication. Our now is one where we regard humanity as a dubious benefit to the planet. In a contrary reality, we’d see ourselves as utterly remarkable and capable of great good, if allowed to express that good, unhindered by the distractions of economics and ego. Without the need to conquer and vanquish, or impose our wills violently, in the absence of greed, because the quality of our thoughts was raised, we’d come to be a remarkable occurrence – a piece of the cosmos that is self-aware and able to ask questions about itself.
In our present reality, we consume tainted food, water and air. These essentials for life have been variously adulterated for profit. The obverse of this coin is an alternative reality where there is no monetary incentive or material gain to be found, in spoiling the food, water or air. Organising human affairs around the preservation of the purity and integrity of the resources Nature provides, which we are dependent upon to survive, would be the priority, rather than profits or shareholder value. Imagine if our currency was, instead of money, the nutritional value of our foods, the welfare of our farmed animals (assuming we don’t all go vegetarian), the purity of our water and the freshness and quality of our air.
At this time in human history, organised unions of labour have been largely disbanded and eviscerated. They no longer have the power to keep corporate interests in balance with employee interests. The opposite of this is a time where freedom of association is a sacred right, where collective bargaining is permissible, where corporations do not act in opposition to the people that do the work that generates their revenues, but instead in equitable collaboration with those whose skills are needed.
Similarly, collectives of workers would act responsibly toward the source of their livelihoods and to protect their mutual endeavour from destruction. Workers, in this alternative reality, are not exploited; they are members of co-operatives, with the benefits generated by their mutual enterprise shared justly and equitably. What would disappear would be the rentier: the class of people that lives on unearned profits, derived from artificial scarcity and those idle folk that ride the backs of those that do the work, without contributing their own talents or skills.
In the imaginations of our current leaders, the UK would become a tax haven for grubby, dirty, dodgy money, generated by dubious means. It would become the closed-minded, self-serving, nasty, unwelcoming, insular, xenophobic home of small-minded, fixed-mindset bigots. The opposite is a nation that eschews corrupt enterprises and ill-gotten gains and has an ethical, empathic, inclusive, diverse, embracing approach to all of humanity. What would prevent hordes of people swarming to that land and swamping everything, until life here became miserable? The quality of their thoughts, the fact that their standards of living, where they lived, were no worse than here and where their resources had not been stolen by violent conquest.
Excessive immigration ceases to be a threat, when everybody has a decent life, no matter where they live. Why shouldn’t they have decent lives? What right has anybody to deny freedom of movement to any other human being, to live wherever they choose to live? The geo-location of your mother’s vagina, at birth, should not entitle you to deny a decent life to other people, whose mothers’ vaginas were less propitiously located, at the moment of their passage down her birth canal.
These days, any honest assessment would force you to admit that we are ruled by a deceitful, criminal cartel. Each newly-elected leader produces a fresh cavalcade of buffoonery, chicanery, stupidity, imbecility, megalomania, egotism, mendacity and negligence. It doesn’t matter which party, which country and which leader you care to consider. This isn’t something that can be fixed by choosing wiser, better leaders. There aren’t any. Even if there were, they would soon be utterly compromised and corrupted. The root of the problem is belief in leadership and a ruling class. It’s a delusion and will always be so.
The very opposite position is a world where there is no ruling class and no reliance on leaders. We would have to make society work without the violence, the weapons, and authority figures in their magic authority costumes. We cannot thrive, as a society, by continually relying on somebody else to do what we ourselves are responsible for doing. We’ll have to do it ourselves – all of us. Indolence is an option, but not one that leads to a healthy life or a healthy community.
Today, we reward indolence. It’s considered to be the very highest achievement, available only to those that have amassed plenty of money. Only they can live the life of opulent invalids. That’s a sterile life, devoid of opportunities for genuine achievement, self-improvement, creative accomplishment or meaning. The opposite of now is a society that prides itself on people continuing to learn, to challenge themselves, who never give up creating, while doing work that has meaning, rather than a fat pay check. Compassion is a valuable public good, as is kindness and empathy. They are not incidental to a good society; they are its foundation.
The free enterprise system that Powell was at such pains to protect, unconditionally, has turned delinquent. Big business doesn’t pay its way. It’s a free-loader. Being free from criticism for decades, it now weasels out of its obligations to the communities that it operates within. Through elaborate tax avoidance schemes and socialising the costs of their losses and failures, these organisations have become thoroughly parasitic. The wealth they aggregate is not redistributed and often repatriated, via shady tax haven accounts. They contribute little, if anything, to the upkeep of the infrastructure they brazenly depend upon, nothing to the education of the next crop of compliant human resources, pay no mind to the health and wellbeing of the people that share proximity with their enterprises and deny all responsibility for the care of the disabled, injured and elderly. They take, but never give. They get away with this because they’re big enough and because criticism has been stifled by design.
To the corporate balance sheet, everything possible is an externality. Those material things necessary for human survival are fully paid for by the “little people”, while the executives buy more fast cars, bigger ocean-going yachts, larger luxury property portfolios, private jets and helicopters and even their own, personal space flight programmes. Big businesses are, today, very poor community citizens.
What’s the opposite of these organisations? You can work it out for yourself. The opposite is organisations which operate for mutual benefit, which spend their profits back into the community, maintaining the roads, schools, hospitals, communications systems and electricity networks. They ensure that no citizen lives in destitution and want. They are not hedonistically bent on outrageous, conspicuous consumption, but instead act like responsible co-dependents. If corporations were spouses, we’d divorce them.
While people spoke kindly and nostalgically about President Obama’s time in office, his legacy is eight solid years of unceasing, constant war. During that time, he commanded forces that dropped 20,000 bombs, at a rate of more than six per day. Most of the drone strike victims, during his tenure, were not the intended targets. Instead of investing in roads, bridges, high speed trains, clean water supplies, resilient electricity grids, incorporating renewable energies and broadband access for the most rural and remote of communities, the common wealth was dissipated pointlessly on war materiel and waging lethal conflicts.
If you believe President Trump will behave any differently, you have not been paying attention to his actions, or his rhetoric. It will be just one more cavalcade of buffoonery, chicanery, stupidity, imbecility, megalomania, egotism, mendacity and negligence. That’s an inescapable feature of governance and belief in a ruling class. It always ends the same way and always will. Early indications only add weight this prophecy.
Competition and free markets did nothing to correct this insane aberration. If anything, they amplified the destruction and waste. The free enterprise system did not react with benevolence and benign action. Instead, it provided irresistible incentives to prey upon the disenfranchised. It left them without hope, the means to survive and any remaining belief in the political and economic establishment and status quo. This opened the door to a maverick. People are expecting him to save them.
A huge military-industrial complex, the biggest of all businesses, absorbed all of that government money without flinching and without a single pang of conscience. This is what Powell sought to protect from growing criticism and attack. I warrant that it would have been better for humanity if such parasitic organisations had been dismantled and the remains scattered to the winds.
This divergence between now and its opposite is not a new phenomenon. In the time of Tesla, he was intent on providing a means to raise humanity and give everybody warmth, light and comfort, unconcerned about his own material wealth. His competitors were ruthless robber barons, who had made their fortunes in highly unethical and questionable ways. This is not opinion or speculation; it’s documented fact. You can read the old books and verify this for yourself. The outcome is well documented too. Tesla died penniless, discredited and alone, while the money men founded gigantic banking dynasties. Humanity was denied many of Tesla’s far-sighted inventions. The free enterprise system chewed Tesla up and spat him out, leaving us all the poorer. Conquest won.
At the root of what is wrong with now – the single low quality idea that holds us back most – is what I call the conquest mindset. The conquest mindset is all about winning, defeating the opponent, taking, grinding the other guy into the dirt, it’s about trophy hunting and bravado to mask fragile masculinity. It is the desire to appear powerful, smart and in control, when you are nothing of the sort. The conquest mindset is what justifies the rape, pillage, destruction, genocide and theft of things other people hold dear. This single, terrible mindset is diametrically incompatible with cooperation and collaboration, both of which are necessary to establish a society that has no need of violent governance by a ruling elite. Cooperation and collaboration are the very foundations of personal freedom and self-determination. They’re the very opposite of now. Without them, we can’t have either.
Anarchy is not possible, or desirable, until humanity significantly raises the quality of its collective thought (at which time anarchy becomes optimal and ideal). Don’t hold your breath for those conditions to prevail, though. The quality of thought is apparently in terminal decline, at present. High quality of thought is a necessary, but insufficient condition for true freedom, self-governance and social cohesion. Those that equate anarchy to chaos and social disintegration are merely reflecting the low quality of thought evident everywhere today.
The opposite of now is an alternative reality, which we could have had and which we yet could still have, if we are prepared to change what we think; fundamentally and radically. It is the ideas we cling to that hold us back. Our dogged adherence to tradition, false assumptions about the terrible and unchangeable character of human nature and our belief that stifling criticism, critical thought and dissent would serve our interests best, has become an intolerable legacy. The current political situation has not served anybody’s interests well – not even those elites that have materially benefited. In reality, their secret, silent war on critical thinking has only imperilled them.
Powell was a deeply stupid man, for all his affectations and pretensions to the contrary. The Powell memo was chock-full of stupid ideas. Stupid people ran with it and stupidly enacted them. It led to stupid outcomes. We have become a species that behaves stupidly, globally, as a consequence. We do stupid things for equally stupid reasons. We’re living in the age of stupid.
Artists have a vital role to play in changing the situation we now find ourselves in. They possess the imaginative and expressive powers to describe the opposite of now, in lucid, tangible, appealing ways, showing how better systems of conducting human society might function and feel. We can paint the pictures, write the descriptions and visualise the obscure ideas. Our core skills are in ideation. We can bring imaginative visions to life and have the capacity to envisage and portray a better world. It’s up to us to make it obvious.
All we have to do, to break the spell of our collective, engineered stupidity, is to decide to do so.