By: Alton C. Thompson
Rob Urie (“an artist and political economist in New York”), in his recent “The Power of Plutocracy,” stated:
A social division exists where the rich and the politically connected have impunity for their crimes[,] while the police and the surveillance state are used as tools of social control and political repression against the rest of us. Were redress available through the established order, criminal prosecutions of culpable elites would already have taken place.
He then went on to state that “a set [of 5] of concrete economic proposals that would immediately improve the lives of those most affected by the current economic crisis, as well as those of the long-term dispossessed, exists without being enacted[,] and with no impetus for enacting them from either major political party.”
Urie then listed those “proposals,” and discussed each. The list:
- A government works program that would guarantee a job to every person who can work and who wants a job
- Medicare for all that would guarantee access to healthcare for all citizens regardless of their ability to pay
- Expanded programs of food security that would guarantee healthy, adequate and nutritious food for everyone in America
- Free access to public education for every American from pre-school through graduate school including trade school education that would feed the trades and the government works program
- Increased funding for the arts that would revive American culture and shift the cultural focus from joyless striving to facilitating a creative, peaceful and nurturing world.
“These proposals [,he added,] are designed to provide a starting point for political dialogue. They are not the collective views of Occupy Wall Street or any group mentioned in this piece.”
I must admit that I have no problem with any of the above five goals. But Urie, in recognizing the extreme inequality in this society—not only in income/wealth, but in power/influence—seems somehow to forget the relevance of that disparity; for if but a few in our society possess most of its resources, and have a degree of influence/power that is unprecedented, how on earth will it be possible to realize those goals? The short answer: It won’t be possible! Given this, what is the point of the “political dialogue” that he advocated (between whom, by the way?—members of the non-elite, between non-elite people and elite ones?).
What makes this listing, and the subsequent discussion of the items listed, so pointless, however, is his prior statement that “Were redress available through the established order . . . .” The “obvious” question that arises here relative to this phrase is: Given that he used the conditional “were” here, he thereby admitted that redress was not—I repeat, not—available—“through the established order,” that is.
Thus, on the one hand Urie demonstrated confidence in the “established order” by identifying, and then discussing, a set of proposals. On the other hand, however, by stating “were redress available through the established order,” he declared—if but tacitly—his belief that redress was not possible—an “admission” that then rendered his entire presentation pointless.
Urie is not alone in making recommendations that many would perceive as highly desirable—were they to be implemented. Usually, however, those who make such recommendations do not “slip” like Urie did and say—actually, or in effect—that “Oh, by the way, I fully realize that the proposals that I am about to make have no chance whatsoever of being realized, but I am going to offer them to you anyway!” If one perceives problems in the society, and is able to imagine how things should be, rather, one may feel compelled to publicize those ideas. But if one is incapable of “thinking outside the box,” one’s suggestions will be based on the (tacit) assumption that those suggestions can be implemented within the context of the Existing Order—the result being that one’s recommendations will be no more substantial than thin air.
This point should be obvious, but in case it is not, let me offer a few comments to support it.
Either our problems can be solved within the context of the “established order,” or they cannot be—and it seems clear to me that they cannot be. Why not? Our society has never been egalitarian, but seemingly has become more and more inegalitarian with each passing decade. It’s true that the blot of slavery was removed from our society during the nineteenth century—as a consequence of a bloody Civil War—but the “lot” of blacks (as a group) in our society is still not comparable to that of whites. And other minorities—ethnic (e.g., Hispanics), gays, etc.—are still not fully integrated into the society.
The principal way that our society has become more inegalitarian is in the incomes that people “earn.” But as that disparity has grown, so have other types of disparity—most notably in power/influence. The wealthier one is, the more power/influence is available to one. Power and influence need not, however, automatically accompany increased wealth—so that not all those who acquire great wealth use that wealth to gain power and influence. But many do, using that wealth not only to gain increasing control over the economy per se, but over government—thereby gaining further control over the economy. The recent (2010) Citizens United decision by “our” Supreme Court has enabled wealthy corporations to increase their presence in politics; and, indeed, it’s likely that more money will be spent on elections in the current election cycle than in any previous one in our history!
Now if people were to become wealthy with the motive of using the bulk of the money “earned” for philanthropic purposes, there would be little basis for worrying about increasing inequality: The wealthy, rather than being a problem for the society, would be the answer to most of its problems. Needless to say, however, such is not the case: One suspects that even those who are noted for their philanthropy engage in it for selfish reasons rather than out of a sense of duty, obligation; and suspects that most of those who seek wealth do so for selfish reasons. The irony here, though, is that they—not having read Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)—tend not even to be aware of the societal dynamics (rather than “human nature”) that are the basis of their competitive behavior and selfishness.
What those—such as Rob Urie—who have suggestions for improving society need to recognize is that the elite not only has the power—and motivation—to squelch efforts at societal improvement, but the power and motivation to destroy the lives of those who oppose it—whether by “character assassination” or other means (including outright killing). If it is clear that the proposals that one makes cannot, and will not, be implemented, the intellectuals (better termed prostitutes!) who work for the elite may not take notice. Which will make the person offering the proposals both safe—and irrelevant.
If, however, one believes—as I do—that the only real solution to our problems is societal system change, and one publicizes this idea, one may not be so safe. If one, such as the brilliant Philip Slater, writing in The Pursuit of Loneliness, presents a devastating critique of our society, offers recommendations for societal change, but it is not clear how those recommendations might be implemented, and if the elite’s lackey’s become aware of those recommendations, the author may be safe—because his/her ideas pose no real threat. But if someone were to offer ideas for change that were more clearly implementable, that someone might be in danger—if, that is, the ideas become known to the elite’s lackeys. Therefore, if one has some ideas for societal system change that would seem capable of implementation, that person is advised: Proceed with care!
I sense that many others in our society besides myself are in at least vague agreement with me that the problems our society has currently are so severe that the only answer is societal system change—they are in vague agreement with this position, but unable to articulate it, however. Were the possibility of societal system change made clearly known to them, many of them would embrace it, I believe. This raises the question, however:
How should those people be informed of this possibility, given that if one is too “open” in doing so, one will likely alert those who prostitute their intellects in the service of the elite, who will then use their pens to attack the idea savagely, and get their bosses to squelch any such efforts?
It would appear that we are in somewhat of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of situation. If one does publicize one’s ideas regarding societal system change, one runs the risk of alerting those interested in such change along with those against it; and given that those in the latter category have the power in the society, they may act to squelch efforts at societal system change—and, as a consequence, such change will not, then, occur. Planned such change, I should add, given that societal change will occur whether it is planned for or not—e.g., as a result of “global warming” within a few decades. On the other hand, if one does not publicize one’s ideas, the societal change likely to occur will probably be all of a negative nature.
If one has been writing about societal system change, and has not run into problems with the elite, this may be for one of two reasons:
- The elite’s lackeys have not become aware of what one has written—e.g., because one has not been writing for periodicals or web sites that have a large readership.
- These lackeys have become aware of what one has written, but have reached the conclusion that the proposals offered will never be implemented—so that they pose no threat to the elite.
How, then, should one proceed if one has what one believes are implementable ideas regarding societal system change, realizes the dangers involved in publicizing them, but is determined to see one’s proposals acted upon? It would seem that there are two possible courses:
- Attempt to make more people aware of one’s ideas, recognizing the risks that entails.
- Identify individuals who have wealth, or access to wealth, who might be interested in one’s ideas, and willing to support their implementation, and contact such individuals.
The second option would seem the wiser course—for there must be a few people “out there” who have not only wealth, but enough awareness of “climate science” to realize that we are living in precarious times, and that as “global warming” advances, they will not be able to escape its effects. Some such people may even have the intelligence to realize that although members of the elite may have an advantage in the early phases of the societal collapse that is likely to result from “global warming,” in the long run, however, they will have the least chance to survive.
It may very well be the case, in fact, that only the rich can save us, as Ralph Nader has argued. However, this will only occur if they (some of them, at least) come to realize that (a) few can be saved, but that (b) if they come to understand that whatever “salvation” is possible lies in creating a New Society within the Existing Order, and then (c) use—ASAP—their resources and power to work to create that New Society, it’s conceivable that many more humans will survive “global warming” than what some climate scientists predict (e.g., perhaps only 7% of what it is now, or even much lower).
At present, government is under the control of the elite, and is used to serve the interests of the elite. If, however, at least some members of the elite would “wake up,” they could use their resources, power, and influence not only directly to bring about change, but indirectly through their influence on government.
I fear, however, that I am only dreaming!
About the author: Al Thompson works (data management) for an Engineering (Avionics) firm in Milwaukee. Click here to mail him.