‘This Is a Battle Between What People Need & What Money Wants.’ How’s That Going to End?

Yves here. The protracted struggle over Biden’s spending plans, particularly between the business stooges moderates and progressives, is putting a spotlight on whose interests are being served by government. It’s become a little too obvious that ordinary people are getting the short end of the stick. But since there’s been no open revolt, expect the beatings to continue.

By Thomas Neuberger. Originally published at God’s Spies

“The news media are not independent; they are a sort of bulletin board and public relations firm for the ruling class—the people who run things. Those who decide what news you will or will not hear are paid by, and tolerated purely at the whim of, those who hold economic power. If the parent corporation doesn’t want you to know something, it won’t be on the news. Period. Or, at the very least, it will be slanted to suit them, and then rarely followed up.”
— George Carlin, quoted here


I want to put three ideas together and see if they synergize for you.

The Pandora Papers — How the Rich Stay Rich

The first is the latest tale of how the rich have organized the world so that only they are guaranteed success in it:

The Pandora Papers is a leak of almost 12 million documents that reveals hidden wealth, tax avoidance and, in some cases, money laundering by some of the world’s rich and powerful.

More than 600 journalists in 117 countries have been trawling through the files from 14 sources for months, finding stories that are being published this week.

The data was obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in Washington DC, which has been working with more than 140 media organisations on its biggest ever global investigation.

BBC Panorama and the Guardian have led the investigation in the UK….

The Pandora Papers leak includes 6.4 million documents, almost three million images, more than a million emails and almost half-a-million spreadsheets.

Stories revealed so far include:

• the prominent Tory donor who was involved in one of Europe’s biggest corruption scandals
the King of Jordan’s £70m spending spree on properties in the UK and US through secretly-owned companies
• Azerbaijan’s leading family’s hidden involvement in property deals in the UK worth more than £400m
• the Czech prime minister’s failure to declare an offshore investment company used to purchase two French villas for £12m
• how the family of Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta’s secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades

The files expose how some of the most powerful people in the world – including more than 330 politicians from 90 countries – use secret offshore companies to hide their wealth.

They all do it. They all help each other do it. And no one intends to stop doing it because that’s simply how they live. Things will work this way forever unless an outside force, like the French or Russian revolution, confiscates their property and redistributes it, making them live differently because they have no other choice.

I don’t think this is a rant. I think these are simply facts.

‘Just Make Sure to Serve the Donor Class’ — How the Rich Control the Government

The second is this fine catch by David Sirota on the reporting around the $3.5 trillion dollar Reconciliation package now before Congress:

Everything he says here is right, but the bottom line comes near the start. When corporate reporters explain this story, money and the use of it to corrupt is written entirely out of it. According to them, for example, the vulture capital industry doesn’t buy Josh Gotheimer. At most, it “influences” him.

Yet the fact is obvious: “[The reconciliation bill] is a battle between what people need and what money wants.” And this fact is also obvious: “Money is written out of the story.”

If all you watch is corporate media, the corruption of money will never be part of the tale. Which leads to this more general observation.

‘A Public Relations Firm for the Ruling Class’ — How Corporate Media Controls the People

I’m taking this point from the great George Carlin, though he’s not the first to make it. I’ve quoted him at the top, but let’s repeat it here:

The news media are … a sort of bulletin board and public relations firm for the ruling class—the people who run things. Those who decide what news you will or will not hear are paid by, and tolerated purely at the whim of, those who hold economic power. If the parent corporation doesn’t want you to know something, it won’t be on the news. Period. Or, at the very least, it will be slanted to suit them, and then rarely followed up.

In this media age, the professional and scientific manipulation of mass opinion through advertising and PR is, with a single possible exception, the greatest evil visited on the world in the whole of the Twentieth Century.

These manipulations work. Has Volkswagen’s systemically engineered cheating on emissions tests changed their bottom line? Not by one dollar, as near as I can tell. Has Ford’s decision to maim and kill people for dollars taken that company to its death bed? Not in the least. Ford, unlike its victims, has thrived.

No ill consequences will befall any corporation until the money that tells you they’re evil overwhelms the advertising dollars that tell you, Not to worry, folks, we really love you after all.

Back to Easter Island

I used to talk about an “Easter Island solution” to the coming climate crisis. It goes like this:

You’re a villager on Easter Island. People are cutting down trees right and left, and many are getting worried. At some point, the number of worried villagers reaches critical mass, and they go to the island chief and say, “Look, we have to stop cutting down trees, like now.”

The chief, who’s CEO of a wood products company, checks his bottom line and orders the cutting to continue.

Do the villagers walk away? Or do they depose the chief?

There’s always a choice…

Without a revolutionary approach, one that clean-slates the leaders of whoever holds power in government, there will be no meaningful change.

There will be change, and it will be meaningful in the margins, like better mileage standards for gas-burning cars, and meaningful for some or many groups, like DREAMers, perhaps, or working families in need of child care.

But there will be no meaningful change, change that solves the unsolvable for everyone. We will never get off the carbon economy, for example, because the masses, our rulers think, can always be kept at bay by advertising disinformation, constant PR to the contrary, and doomed-to-fail efforts to pretend to try. All because the rich, who rule us so completely that their control of government is virtually unchallengeable by normal electoral means, will never leave power absent being dragged from it.

As I said above, there’s always a choice, even if it’s not the one we’d rather have. We just haven’t taken it yet.

The Flood That Drowns Rich and Poor

It’s going to be interesting to see, in the next five to fifteen years, the methods the rich must use to keep their power when the climate crisis hits with full and majestic force. The coming chaos and revolutionary fervor that suffering millions and billions will bring to the table will each be world-historical in scope. What under those conditions will the powerful do, the very very few, to keep the very many from taking control? Whatever the result, none of our governments will survive in their current form.

Keep in mind, revolutions are not orderly, and this one almost certainly won’t be well led. Yes, from time to time, the world kicks out a George Washington, fit for the challenge of his time, a man who willing to fortify the republic he helped to build rather than just profit from it.

And yes, from time to time the world kicks out a Napoleon or Vespasian, a man fit to rule his time well, at least for the most part, even if that rule is decidedly autocratic.

But most of the time the world kicks out masters of chaos, egomaniacal destroyers and opportunists, people like Alcibiades of Athens, or Ronald Reagan, people who gain power in disgruntled times, and through their actions make the world worse for everyone. Reagan took a struggling country, the proto-neoliberal nation of the Carter years, a nation steeped in stagflation, and set in fatal motion the wealth machine that will soon destroy us all, including the machine itself.

If we don’t get off of fossil fuel in time, the rich will suffer with the rest of us the destruction they will cause. Our leaders won’t contemplate any measure that reduces their power, and we won’t contemplate forcing them to leave. Under those constraints, the problem has no solution.

The rich won’t stand down. Will the people stand up? On that one question hangs all of the rest of this tale.

 

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77 comments

  1. vlade

    While I agree with the spirit of the post, I have a very large objection:
    “Without a revolutionary approach, one that clean-slates the leaders of whoever holds power in government, there will be no meaningful change.”

    Revolution, while by now almost certainly needed in one form or another, is not a self-saving device. One has just to look at most, if not all, the revolution that ever happened, and see who came on the top of them, usually within less than a generation.

    Revolution for a revolution sake is a temporary measure that will create sacrifices, and, at best, can prepare the ground for a long term solution, but IS NOT a long term solution.

    The only long term solutions can, IMO, come from an engagement in the political world by substantial part of the community. Many people engage with politics only at the election time, and a substantial minority not even then. As long as that holds, any revolution will be just a temporary thing.

    Which is why most of the elites (whatever they are) that come on the top after the evolution try to disengage the populace (“trust us!”).

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, Vlade.

      Your family / ancestors and mine know this from personal experience.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      Indeed. When you look at countries that can be considered to be successful – or at least ‘more good than bad’, its rarely the result of an internally generated revolution, although you could argue that the French and US Revolutions were exceptions. A lot of successful countries seem to have based their success on recovering from an external shock, such as losing a major war – which has the advantage of helping get rid of a discredited ruling class, at least to some degree. Arguably, this is why so many European countries did well post WWII, both the losers and ostensible winners. In Asia, it seems significant that those countries that were devastated by war (Japan, South Korea), did better than those that slowly emerged from colonialism, or those who were never colonised. So shocks to the system can be good, just so long as… well, its not too much of a shock. There are of course plenty of counter-examples.

      But it does seem clear that unless you have a very strong underlying system of consent (such as the very northern lattitude countries – must be something to do with those freezing winters), then it is healthy to have a force majeure wipe away a good chunk of your betters. There does seem to be a significant roll of the dice as to whether the ‘right’ elites are swept away, and if there are better people willing to take the controls.

      But those who yearn for revolution – well, you need to know what that really involves. Sometimes it can take generations for the bitterness and wounds to heal.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The French Revolution produced a severe fall in the standard of living for the following 10 years, and it took nearly 100 years (the Third Republic) for France to achieve a durable democracy. It was politically unstable, with regime changes every 20 years, if not sooner, until then.

        Reply
        1. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, on reflection the French Revolution isn’t a great example, even if it did inspire a lot of radicals around the world for good or ill. The Cuban revolution was generally positive I think, but of course its hard to know what would have happened if the US hadn’t done its absolute best to cripple the country. But most South/Central American revolutions have gone sour to one degree or another. The record in Africa/Middle East isn’t all that great either.

          Thinking it through a little more, there are a few good examples of ‘semi-violent’ revolutions, such as the protests and riots in South Korea in the late 1980’s that generally led to a much fairer society. I do think that you need a lot of bottles to line up in a row for a revolution (violent or not) to genuinely turn things around for the better.

          Reply
          1. d w

            and while today we may wonder, the UK government had a major change a few decades ago, that removed the monarchy as being the one and really the only power. while they have their issues, just like every one else., though i do wonder if that was a revolution?
            now one the largest change from the mass death from the plague. up to that time, the lords and other elites, were able to do what ever they wanted. but after? not so much, there werent enough workers to do the work any more, and thus was born the impetus to solve the problem with technology. not saying technology in of itself is bad, its just what started to the degree of today

            Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          Well, if the French Revolution led to Napoleon, and Napoleon forced some secularization of “the civil law” in France and forced the Vatican into a “concordat” with Civil Authority in France; was that a good thing apart from the bad things Napoleon also did?

          Reply
    3. SteveD

      Hence the elegance of precarity – the non-elites so worried about losing any bit of what they do have that they lack the time and/or energy to engage meaningfully in said political world.

      This virtually guarantees that “fundamentally nothing will change.”

      Reply
    4. Anthony Stegman

      I disagree. I think what you call for is pie in the sky. People are busy trying to survive and simply don’t have time and energy to be deeply engaged in politics. In an ideal world we would expect our elected officials to be honest and serve all the people, not just those with money. That is still the ideal we should pursue. Towards that end we need to get rid of all those who are not honest and don’t serve us. The voting booth is not the way to accomplish this as is so very evident.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        Ah. So you’re telling me that say Nordics or New Zealand don’t exist, right?

        And, at the same time you say that getting rid (presumably via violent revolution) of current officials will automatically, regardless of how they are selected (except for voting, which you rule out explicitly) and overseen, get in a new crop of better ones.

        Right, I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whose’s pie is higher from the ground.

        Reply
  2. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    With regard to stooges, dear old Blighty has them, too, and the same issues.

    Have a look at: https://bylinetimes.com/2021/10/05/who-funds-red-wall-conservative-mps/.

    Some years ago, I was asked by a branch of the Labour Party, a favour for a friend / member, to speak about this and was accused of being anti-Semitic when I mentioned some examples of landowners, well known bankers, too, in my native Buckinghamshire funding stooges here and elsewhere, including their new branch in South Dakota.

    Reply
      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Ignacio.

        I detected a mixture of ignorance*, paranoia and a ritual smear to shut down opposing views.

        *I mentioned a former Tory politician whose family have been in the City and Parliament since the 1620s. The guy is a high church Anglican / Episcopalian. His name is unusual, but English. That provoked an accusation of antisemitism. At the time the former MP’s family came to prominence, Jews were banned from the three kingdoms, England, Scotland and Ireland. Cromwell revoked the ban on the 1650s.

        Reply
      2. Dick Swenson

        I don’t remember any discussion of octopi, but I do remember likening much financial engineering being undertaken by vampire squid.

        Reply
  3. The Rev Kev

    That cartoon may be understating what has been happening. As an example, the CARES Act back in early 2020 dispensed what, some five or six trillion dollars was it, to the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the country? And how much exactly ended up going to ordinary Americans? Pretty sure that it wasn’t half.

    The problem not yet understood by the elite class is that playing by a rule of “winner-takes-all” in their dealings with the rest of the population means by implication that when they eventually lose, they lose everything – and that includes their necks as well. And fleeing overseas is not a real solution either. They may find that the odd 70,000 US special forces will be repurposed to be doing more extraordinary rendition missions but not for terrorists but for them. Just sayin’.

    Reply
    1. Mike

      I would agree with you that eventually the ultra rich will reap what they sough one way or another. However there is another protected class between us and them… all of the hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats will protect the ultra rich (for their own sake) because they also need to keep their security in mind as well, think sweet government pensions. My point is our government is very strong, as far as I can tell this proposed revolution would entail more than 2 sides, at least a 3rd side involving them.

      Reply
  4. Jen

    I’ve spend a few days at the office this week and had my first “water cooler” conversation with a couple of co-workers in almost two years. The jumping off point was a monstrosity of a house down the street from our building that is nearing completion after almost 4 years of work. It’s at least 10K square feet, and the owners are a couple of retired alumns from our esteemed university. Just the two of them in that huge house, and probably not even there year round. First we talked about obscene housing prices – no one, not even tenure track faculty can afford to buy a house within 30 miles, rents are insane, etc. Then we got into income inequality, the great resignation of 2021 and the absolute rot that pervades our systems. My co-workers are not wild eyed revolutionaries, and they’re fed up.

    Yesterday I was on a zoom call with another group from work. That same damn house came up, and with it all of the issues that my co-workers and I discussed the day before. One of the women on that call has regularly organized fundraising parties for establishment democrats in our area.

    I introduced my younger co-worker to MMT the other day. Told him to read The Deficit Myth. He googled Stephanie Kelton and watched one of her you tube videos during his lunch break. Came tapping on my door right after, as excited as I’d ever seen him. Left him my copy of the book when I was in yesterday.

    At some point I will introduce him to the wonders of NC

    Reply
    1. griffen

      The scenario you’ve presented could conceivably happen at any well heeled US institution of higher learning. Could be Ann arbor or could be Chapel Hill.

      I lived in Chapel Hill & Durham for nearly 10 years, leaving in 2006. Last time back in February 2019, was hard to recognize much of the primary roads in and out.

      Reply
    2. PlutoniumKun

      Thats great – I’ve partially converted a few people by pointing them to The Deficit Myth and Stephanie Kelton. She does have a gift for communicating quite difficult concepts in a way that are very accessible to non-economists. Its not an easy thing to do to change someones mind on a topic they think is ‘commonsense’, but she has done it for a lot of people. I just wish there was a German equivalent.

      Reply
    3. rivegauche

      Great work, Jen. TY! Have been sharing for years myself, and several activist acquaintances have since taken on others and groups.

      They (and I still do) are now sharing knowledge with others about Kelton, Wray, Black, Naked Capitalism, and more (Grey, Harvey — “the cowboy economist”, Hockett, etc.). Some of my local activist acquaintances are well-placed — on the boards of activist organizations, working within the state Dem Party in elected state leadership roles, union leadership, and a former Congressional candidate who spread MMT “pay for” factual knowledge-economists while campaigning.

      I have Yves, Lambert, and the whole of Naked Capitalism’s guests and commenters to thank for educating me so many years ago.

      Reply
    4. petal

      God, if tenure-track profs can’t get anything within 30 miles, there’s no hope for me. I don’t know why I don’t just pack it in.
      I’ll have to take a little drive down the road to see this 10,000 sq ft monstrosity.

      Reply
  5. schlott

    I suggest a more fundamental rethinking of our human nature and circumstance is required. We all want a model of the system we live in which accurately predicts the future. It is fundamental to our human existence and facilitates our survival in the world. We build these models in our minds, and evolve/correct them continuously with the new information constantly made available to us. We use these models to make decisions – time to plant a tree or harvest fruit, build a castle or retreat to the mountain etc. We get confused when our model breaks down in new or unforecast circumstance. In our times the central banks, governments of the world, major news media and many corporations have evolved to coordinate the propagation of a false understanding among the population. They control everything with endless fiat, right down to the educational system so most are left with faulty models. They want compliant, obedient, and hard working peasents for the most part. They will pick and choose from among us for any they wish to join their ranks.

    Reply
    1. Tom Pfotzer

      To act effectively we need:

      a. Accurate situational analysis. How does the world _actually_ work?
      b. To know our interests

      We come to NC to perfect our situational analysis, and to help us discover what our interests are. We aren’t going to get this info from MSM, and probably aren’t going to get it from our peers / social groups.

      Think about how much effort it’s taken you to achieve A and B above. How many people can or will put in that effort?

      The tools we have available to us to achieve A and B are not up to the task. If NC is extraordinary, ask yourself “why?” How come there are so few NCs? Is there anything we can do to expand and improve A+B tools, so it’s less expensive to achieve?

      We need better tools. I suggest we consider building them. And thanks again to NC.

      Reply
    2. Susan the other

      It’s kinda like Jerome Rudd recently opined – that nobody knows what economics is actually describing – it has always been our best guess within a system that self-perpetuates nonsense for explanations but everybody goes along with it because it seems to explain things somewhat. (That nonsense might actually be common sense, but nobody can say, right?) And that if we really got honest we’d admit that we don’t know anything at all and that we are almost as dumb as stumps – but that would be tantamount to saying well, even though our methodology is totally nihilistic, lets just go with it. Nutty. But something needs to be said for admitting to this reality. I was pleasantly surprised to read about Rudd’s analysis in a linked article from the NYT. So, with that in mind, I think it is appropriate to say that if the NYT is looking at the ineffable fundamentals of “economics” then the revolution has begun. Maybe not revolution, maybe evolution.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        The process of change(TM) in society can be fruitfully compared with the processes generally used in the “Natural Sciences” to describe the mechanics of change.
        Roughly, we have “Steady State Evolution” versus “Catastrophic Evolution.”
        The first system is similar to electoral politics in the social sphere. Change is slow, but steady. The direction of that change is not determinative. The direction of the steady state system can be influenced. Thus, in politics, we have at the present time the dominance of “Money” in the process and thus the outcomes. Promoting change in such a system is slow and difficult. There are a myriad of obstructions to any major change in priority. So, Turtle Mode. Frustrating as all get out, but not obviously destructive.
        The second system is analogous to revolution. The changes are generally quick and severe. Such actions are not usually guidable by small cadres. The element of chaos inherent in the system is amplified and expressed. Thus, the final outcome is not predictable. Too many variables impinge on the process to ‘fine tune’ the process and results. The great strength of revolution is it’s scope and breadth of effect. “Things” are definitely changed. The real work of a revolution comes in the “picking up the pieces” phase near the end of the process. Organizing cadres capable of surviving the rigours of a revolution and able to keep the original ideological focus is the main task of any revolutionary group worth it’s salt. I’d call that Hare Mode.
        Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
        Stay safe!

        Reply
        1. Susan the other

          I was thinking that too, about how similar revolution and evolution are. One thing to think about is that some things are actually working pretty good, while others are so corrupt as to be hopeless. So, as an old friend used to say, How do we keep the good and get rid of the bad?

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            I was thinking along the lines of survivability of “good” and “bad” characteristics. In basic ‘scientific’ terminology, “good” and “bad” are not legitimate terms. Survival versus non-survival characteristics is more accurate.
            Taking the congeries of complex confusions that is our society today, I would note that both sorts of characteristics co-exist within the system. The outcome, considered as a systemic phase change, is determined by which ‘sort’ of characteristic has the greater influence on the processes that constitute the system.
            “..keep(ing) the good and get(ting) rid of the bad..” is the real problem. Just determining which is which is an almost Herculean task in itself. (Remember when the Democrat Party was the Party of the Working Man? [If it ever was.]) Finding discreet points of inflection is properly a task for historians. Predicting such factors is the work of “real” psychics. Such a task is often a plot point in Science Fiction Exhortatory Tales. (The scientist or scientists who predict the coming disaster and heroically race against the oncoming doom to save something of the Terran human civilization. Examples of this are many.)
            Basically, I am suggesting that chance plays an outsized role in human affairs.
            We are the playthings of insane Gods. That is the genius of Lovecraft’s invented cosmos. It speaks out loud a basic fear of thinking beings. That is horror in it’s basic form.
            Stay safe! Don’t let the squamous, gibbering, bedbugs bite! (Or wrap tenderly tugging tentacles around your toes!)

            Reply
  6. zagonostra

    Thanks for that George Carlin quote, very apropos of many social topics of interest being debated right now.

    Reply
  7. David Jones

    I cannot remember who said it but effectively he described The “terror” of the French Revolution which killed about 11000 aristocrats as a very small price to pay for 1000 years of feudalism and slavery.

    By the way how many are there in the 1% ?

    Reply
    1. Bryan

      Yes. Just as the millions companies and industries pay to buy politicians is a very, very small price to pay for the trillions that flow their way as a result. This can perhaps comfort them while they’re turning on their respective spits.

      Reply
    2. lordkoos

      US population is a little north of 330 billion, so 1% would be quite a few people. It’s really more about the .1% though, and that is a much more manageable number…

      Reply
    3. eg

      You may be thinking of a passage from Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”

      “THERE were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; 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 heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which 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 unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

      Reply
  8. Tom Stone

    Let’s see, give a species a large increase in available energy ( Easy oil) vastly increase food availability (Haber-Bosch and hybridized corn…) and you get what we have now
    Sigh, if only people weren’t so damn human…

    Reply
    1. John k

      It’s not human, it’s life. Breed more when food is available is a universal rule.
      Back in the oil drum days a commentator went by the handle, ‘are humans smarter than yeast?’
      We’re pretty far into overshoot, I’d say the evidence is clearly not.

      Reply
      1. witters

        “Breed more when food is available is a universal rule.”

        Well, someone should have told this to indigenous Australians: According to Bill Gammage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (Allan & Unwin, 2012), they managed their population levels at a level that enabled them to get through 500 year droughts without population collapse.

        Reply
      2. Tree Frog

        I think the system will collapse catastrophically. The collapse will be chaotic, global and almost simultaneous.

        It is not impossible that humanity might evolve through revolution – I hope it does. But the banana-grasping power elite will hold on to the banana at all costs – themselves and the rest of us.

        Reply
  9. John Merryman.

    The difference between a market economy and capitalism is that markets need money to circulate, as a medium, while capitalism assumes it to be a commodity to save and store. Blood is a medium, fat is a store. Roads are a medium, parking lots are a store. One is dynamic, the other is static. Mix them up and the system breaks down.
    Which goes to much deeper conceptual issues. Feedback with no circuit breakers. The medium became the message.

    Reply
      1. John Merryman.

        Though that depends on what the system is designed to do.
        Synchronization is centripedial, while harmonization is centrifugal. Nodes and networks, organisms and ecosystems.
        So if the intention is to gather everything into some laser like focus, that feedback loop is great, but if it’s just to send giant egos into low earth orbit, it’s a bit of a waste for the larger ecosystem.

        Reply
  10. Tom Pfotzer

    As presented, our alternatives are business as usual, or revolution.

    Others have noted that revolutions don’t always work so well, and that after a few decades, the situation pre-revolution returns: predators are right back at it, feeding upon the weak.

    This appears to be a fact – a durable consequence of the architecture of the human mind.

    The reason the weak are predated upon by the strong is because of the disparity in competence. Forget all the moralizing for a second, and just face up to the reality that strong predate because they _can_.

    To reduce depredation, the capacity delta between strong and weak needs to be reduced.

    There is one, and only one, way to do that: the weak must build themselves. Continuously.

    There is no top-down solution; it’s not going to happen, because it’s not in the interests of the top to equip the weak.

    If you think a revolution is possible here in the U.S. … may I direct your attention to the fact that everything you transmit, in electronic form, is observable. This apparatus didn’t get built by accident. The conditions which permitted the revolutions of the past no longer pertain.

    If the weak are to reduce depredation, they must effectively invest in themselves.

    We need more learning tools, and we need to _use_ those tools. We need to believe in ourselves, we need to take those actions which are possible to take.

    If you asked your friends “what’s our current economic, political and environmental situation, and what are your interests within that situation, and what actions are you taking to advance your interests in that context?”…

    How many could give an accurate and complete answer?

    After all your reading and thinking…could you answer that question accurately and completely?

    Reply
    1. tegnost

      If you think a revolution is possible here in the U.S. … may I direct your attention to the fact that everything you transmit, in electronic form, is observable. This apparatus didn’t get built by accident. The conditions which permitted the revolutions of the past no longer pertain.

      I agree with you on this. The tipping point, if there ever is one, is more likely to be a combination of unforeseen events that expose the rulers as incompetent at ruling, in spite of their competence at controlling. I don’t expect that will be a pleasant time to be alive since our supply chains etc… are so fragile, and so are we.

      Reply
      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Yes. So…since the entire economy is subject to all these weirdnesses we all know about and fear, and we know that with disruption comes opportunity…

        someone once said that “success is the intersection of prep and oppty”. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

        Ironically, that “prep” work – which anyone can do – also “preps” for the “normal case” of gradual eradication of the value of labor, and the gradual degradation of the environment.

        There are solutions, IMHO. Good ones.

        ====

        Yes, the surveillance state gives me the creeps. I can’t prevent it, but I can sure “not participate in it”. I call it what it is, and I encourage people to steer around, away from it. No good comes of spying on your people. Bad policy.

        Reply
    2. JeffK

      “…may I direct your attention to the fact that everything you transmit, in electronic form, is observable. This apparatus didn’t get built by accident. The conditions which permitted the revolutions of the past no longer pertain.”

      There is another side to our surveillance technology to quash revolution; the endless addictive video distractions that keep the masses mesmerized. Video entertainment is the ‘soma’ of our age. While I am inspired and challenged by your questions, I am given to despair because I believe that the percentage of Americans that can critically think, and have the fortitude to put thought into action, are much too small relative to the mesmerized who don’t. I think it will be the existential ‘shock to the system’ (internet down) that will awaken new leadership. This is what ‘circling the drain’ looks like. No amount of inspirational thought from the bottom up will have the power to overcome the inertia of the mesmerized masses.

      Reply
      1. Tom Pfotzer

        JeffK:

        Yes to the “soma” notion. Massive IV drip of soma. I call it TV dope.

        Next: I assert that “leadership” is a myth. There is no Moses that’s going to lead us out of this mess.

        May I further suggest we re-define “leadership” as:

        “A leader is someone that figures out what to do…and does it”.

        That definition of leadership has a decent chance of helping us.

        The Moses myth….not so much. Why? Single point of failure, too much load on one individual. One person can’t compensate for what millions aren’t doing.

        I agree re: inspirational thought. Insufficient.

        There has to be a lot of action. There are plenty of things an individual can do to execute on their interests. Fruitful, interesting, rewarding and long-term viable things.

        Edison: “innovation is 1% inspiration and ….”

        So we need to zero in on the doing we can do and get with the doing. That’s what I’m … doing.

        :)

        The masses will come along soon enough, once the easy gravy is eaten. The trick is for there to be enough people (a few hundred thou will do nicely) who are already pretty far down the learning curve, and can provide examples when those sheep finally show up. Not “leadership” – just examples.

        Laggard sheep will someday be bereft and lonely. Likely the sheep will turn to ForwardLooking and TookActionEarly people, and ask “how’d ya do it?”.

        FL and TAE would reply: “Ya wanna provide for yourself? Great. There’s a cook-book that ___(some leader-type people)___ wrote a few years back.

        It’s on the ____ (doesn’t exist right now)___ website. Good luck.”

        Last point: TV dope has made us really passive. We’re in a psychological rut – and I mean darned near all of us. We expect somebody/thing else to do the doing. The cool thing is that the sides of the rut are easy to breach, once the “breach” decision has been made. It’s fun.

        And (here’s a shout out to Drumlin Woodchuckles) ya get to Stick it to the Man.

        Reply
      2. FluffytheObeseCat

        I do not think the young are as “mesmerized” by media as we were by the TV 40 years ago. The common complaints here about how they are glued to their phone screens are usually expressions of age-based peevishness, not acute observations.

        The under 40 interface actively with their preferred media. They switch platforms rapidly. Which means they are a touch less dependent on it, despite its addictive, exploitative nature. We who are now in late middle age absorbed mass media passively during our formative years. I don’t know how this change may affect the mass behavior of the rising generations, but it is a considerable, subtle difference that is bound to have unforeseen effects.

        Reply
    3. Partyless poster

      I think those tools must be independent of corporate influence making it more of a challenge.
      The most depressing thing I see is how much trust people have in big business.
      Nowadays people can’t even talk to friends or listen to music without going through a corporation.
      And no one seems bothered by that.
      We need resilient (not net dependent) ways of communication that don’t go through corporate gatekeepers.
      The revolution wont be on social media.

      Reply
      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Excellent points.

        have to admit, tho, I have no idea how to communicate with a lot of people w/o using the Internet or phone nets.

        I definitely don’t know many people with whom I could have this conv in my own neighborhood.

        Jefferson and the Founding Cabal could just meet @ the tavern in Williamsburg over a brew, slip out the back into the garden for a private gabble, and then voila! a new empire was born!

        :)

        Reply
      2. outside observer

        Snail mail requires physical intervention to monitor, much more inconvenient. Perhaps that is why nobody up high seems to care about the dismantling of the USPS.

        Reply
        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          One thing millions of people could do to extend USPS’s lifespan a little is to cancel out their electronic billpay, and going back to getting bills by mail, and paying them by mail with a check.

          Maybe things like that will keep the USPS alive long enough for citizens to remove or change the current anti-USPS Congress and Administrations for pro-USPS Congress and Administrations.

          Reply
  11. Eclair

    ‘The Reconciliation Bill.’ By their names you shall know them, and this one was designed to fail. Or, at least, to be pared down to ineffectuality.

    One yawns upon hearing it pronounced. Must be filled with boring stuff, right? Reh Con Silly A Shun. It’s all a bureaucratic maneuver to tidy up loose ends. No one is paying any attention, because it’s very name tells us that it is of absolutely no importance.

    Reply
  12. Questa Nota

    There is an Easter Island component to life in these United States and elsewhere in the Pandoraverse. The general prole population is kept uninformed and enserfed, or rather has its attention diverted so as to not notice. Those with adequate justified means make their escape rafts from the figurative Island timber to new ends. The former may be trained to forget what made their country develop and the latter want to paper over or suppress from collective memory the more democratic populist alarming aspects.

    Noticing is hard to stop once you start, however the recent Facebook Foray toward greater sanctioned censorship ought to provide a warning. That will be followed by the Google Gambit of prohibited and reported search terms. If there were only some way to de-FAANG the snakes.

    Reply
    1. Synoia

      There is an Easter Island component to life in these United States and elsewhere in the Pandoraverse.

      Too true – and it is visible to all.

      It is called “Miming” Intelligence as we practice it has all the hallmarks of self destruction, and we started mining (and having mines become exhausted) somewhere around 4,000 BC.

      The Dinosaurs lasted for some millions of years. Humans in their current culture cannot.

      I suspect that intelligence as we practice it is relatively short lived, and that our resources diminishing now. Our shortages and inflation appear to provide a grim forecast.

      I suspect that Human Civilizations exist in a series of quasi-stable equilibria, and Covid appears to have kicked us into a transition to a different quasi-stable state.

      Quasi-stable equilibria are illustrated by stable periods punctuated by radical changes.

      Reply
  13. Joe Well

    In Kim Stanley Robinson’s book, The Ministry for the Future, there was not a full scale revolution, but sabotage and even targeted assassinations were the tools for activists (mostly from India).

    And the book got blurbed by Obama!

    (Note to feds: unlike Obama, I am firmly opposed to this.)

    Reply
  14. Mikel

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/jamie-dimon-e2-80-99s-reason-for-not-taking-a-pay-cut-from-his-2431-million-salary-is-pretty-rich/ar-AAPcGRq/

    ” My board decides what I make … They would be offended at me. They look at my comp as part of an umbrella — JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon

    That’s JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon offering up a reason why he should — in no way, shape, or form — accept a pay cut that would take him below his $31 million salary.”
    ______________________

    We’ve all known plenty of situations at corporations where the people doing the inventing, creating are not the ones most highly rewarded. The people like Dimon and those that are climbing that way get paid for the secrets that they keep and the moat they create around the ones toward the top of the pyramid. Not for their hard work and skills.

    The name of the movie slips my mind, but this rings true at the street level too – among gangsters. Someone has done some work in the home of a gangster as a favor to his wife/girlfriend. They try to decline the cash. The gangster says, “If you don’t take the money, we won’t be able to trust you.”

    The story of Easter Island: plenty of evidence to show they weren’t ignorant people who cut down their trees and then there was an ecological disaster.
    What happened there? The same thing that happened to Indigenous all over the world.
    There has been plenty of evidence. Here is one example:
    Start at the 33 minute mark:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GPNKUNYvvU

    Reply
  15. Wukchumni

    If you asked me to describe what America stands for now to the average citizen-a mission statement if you’d like, i’d have to plead ignorance.

    We’re looking at a combination of the French Revolution and what brought down Chaco Canyon. Civil disorder and climate change are a bad 1-2 punch.

    The pike was the preferred weapon in France while they made do with more crude lethal implements in our Southwest.

    Most everybody is seemingly ready to use guns if somebody tries to make off with your stuff, and as the supply chain issues don’t improve and in fact get considerably worse, we’ll start stealing existing stuff from one another, setting off a new normal for how low it is that we value human lives.

    The police will be completely ineffective by this point, and we’ll band together in armed groups for mutual protection with the leaders being ad hoc warlords who will take the place of politicians.

    There could hundreds if not thousands of these kind of do it yourself militias across the country, and eventually a few will rise in fame and/or infamy.

    The guns will never run out-but bullets will be an issue, but thankfully all of the enemies we’ve made all over the world bis a vis our violent actions against them militarily or monetarily will be glad to keep that particular supply chain going.

    Reply
    1. lordkoos

      I read that most of the bullets used by American police departments are manufactured in China, so one can hope.

      Reply
  16. Anthony Stegman

    I recall reading that one of our founding fathers (perhaps Franklin) said that revolutions are needed every 70 years or so. The reason is every regime (left, right, whatever) become corrupt and need to be swept out of power. This is no way negates the need for revolutions. Revolutions are a necessary part of the human existence. Lack of revolutions is why we are where we are today.

    Reply
    1. Susan the other

      Maybe that’s why evolution frequently happens in sudden jumps. Interesting thought. Vested interests, evolutionary vestments, would be a successful species, living by old habits even as it ossifies from lack of hybrid vigor or existential challenges. Congress comes to mind. Is there anything in the Constitution that forbids a competing legislative body?

      Reply
  17. Rod

    Very exciting to read a full throated Yves post about the nakedness of capitalism and the human predicament.
    Graceful prose for such a dirty and messy dilemma.
    thank you.

    yesterday, Henry Moon Pie posited, on the The Energy Transition Will Take Decades Not Years —
    my nominee for a partial solution to our dilemma is: change the worldview; change the behavior.
    which circles right back to MSM and their purchased messaging-v-what NC brings to the table for the discussion

    I can’t figure its place out yet, but my instinct tells me this is involved:

    The scientific definition of WORK is different in many ways from its everyday meaning. The definition of work in physics reveals its relationship to energy – whenever work is done, energy is transferred.
    https://byjus.com/physics/work/

    Reply
  18. Tommy S.

    Excellent post. Been screaming since the 90’s at fellow anarchists and socialists, that a mass based horizontal direct democracy org has to be built. ….and hell, leave out the revolutionary tag lines like tired trot orgs, do, and just do a ten point base…….bottom up participatory economics, real democracy, and federated orgs. At the least you would get crumbs…IF ‘we’ are a threat to power. As it is now…..’they’ don’t fear us at all. And as for just screaming for revolution, as leading to such horrible things….this isn’t the 1930’s, or the 1960’s…most people all over the world are not doing a Leninist, or maoist cadre worship…..quite the opposite……and the plans for a ‘new world’ are within the structure and ideology of the movements…..Even the year of general strikes in Bolivia, against a fascist USA supported gov’t, were not to restore some ‘leader’ or just to vote….but actually an assertion of power from the bottom up. Ask them.

    Reply
  19. rivegauche

    Revolutions of the angry and oppressed…

    I’ll recommend these books:

    October (Mieville)

    Emiliano Zapata, the Life and Legacy of the Mexican Revolution’s Iconic Leader (Guatavo Vasquez Lozano and Charles Rivers Editors)

    France: A History (Davidson)

    Reply
  20. Brooklin Bridge

    We may be in real trouble as a species. For some reason, greed and lust for power seem to be lacking as a solvable problem in genetics’ bag of tricks.

    Reply
  21. Mike Elwin

    The problem is our evolutionary inheritance. Much of our behavior–good and bad–is hard wired, inherited from all the species that came before us. Some human societies lean this way or that, cooperative or competitive, harmful or benign, just like our evolutionary ancestors.

    So what do we do? Western Europe learned to moderate itself after the carnage of two immense wars. Clearly, they’ve developed a more sharing society than ours. Aren’t outliers more sharing than ours, too? The major wars here haven’t had a benevolent effect, and we keep importing people who leave their societies behind in order to save themselves. That’s the American Dream, isn’t it?

    When you get right down to it, the US isn’t on the side of the angels and never has been. It’s one of the targets of global revolution, not an engine of progressive change. We woke people are/will be collateral damage. Among my friends here in the bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area, when we’re feeling gloomy we cross our fingers and hope we die before the coming apocalypse. Those of us with children are nearly distraught.

    What is to be done? There are an amazing number of people here who are intent on making the country more open and sharing. I think we can only join them and do our best.

    Reply
    1. Basil Pesto

      So what do we do? Western Europe learned to moderate itself after the carnage of two immense wars. Clearly, they’ve developed a more sharing society than ours.

      Not sure that, say, Greece or Spain would see it that way

      Reply
  22. elissa3

    Reduce consumption. One of the advantages of being older–70+–is reminiscing about what was considered a good, healthy life during childhood/adolescence. MUCH LESS stuff. I’m thinking of printing a simple badge on cardboard stock that I’ll wear in public. A triangle within a circle. At the points: WANT, NEED, HAVE ENOUGH. A creed that might temporarily collapse the economy, but might help to salvage the planet. Comments?

    Reply
  23. Tom Bradford

    My response to the opinion/rant above is: who is this ‘we’ of whom he speaks, and expects an uprising from?

    To my own mind, and I suspect the minds of most people, I’m wealthy. Not in the 0.1% certainly, nor the 1% of my countrymen, but comfortably in the ‘top’ 10% wealth-wise of my particular neck-of-the-woods. I have my own definition of ‘obscenely rich’ and wouldn’t raise a finger to rescue anyone I regard as in that category from the tumbrils, but suspect that to some at least of the folk I pass every day in the streets I would be rich enough to qualify for a tumbril which would make me hesitant to support any revolution. I don’t know how far ‘down’ the wealth ladder those feelings go but I suspect it’s quite a long way which brings to mind Jay Gould’s alleged remark, “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” In like manner, the ‘top’ 10% have good reason to hope the 40% beneath them have more reason to defend the status quo for their own sake than join the ‘bottom’ 50% against them.

    I’d suggest that a successful revolution needs two essential criteria to underlie them. The first is sufficient numbers with nothing left to lose and hence no reason to defend the status quo. The second is a ‘vision’ to rally around – a vision often promulgated by a charismatic individual or a ‘hard-core’ of visionaries who have established some credence and popular acceptance. Sometimes the ‘vision’ has a religious or semi/pseudo-religious, sometimes purely philosophical. The conditions were met in the English Revolution of the 1650’s, the US revolution of the 1770s, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, China etc.

    I don’t see either criterion met today. Many people are struggling, yes, but not enough have nothing left to lose. More significantly, I see no vision of an alternative being promulgated by anyone or group with sufficient clout to trigger enough of a following to achieve a critical mass. Capitalism and Communism both stagger on equally discredited by most, yet a coherent vision of a Third-Way has yet to appear that offers a way forward.

    The more likely trigger for substantial change, in my view, is one forced upon society as a whole that makes the status quo unsustainable. Climate change, a more lethal pandemic, an accidental nuclear war, a ten-mile wide asteroid all have the potential to wipe the slate clean, and the first three of those at least have too high a possibility of actually happening to feel comfortable about.

    It could, of course, always be done via the ballot box but I’d put my money on the asteroid as the more likely vehicle.

    Reply
    1. Tom Pfotzer

      I’d like to reinforce a point you made, but didn’t devote a lot of time to:

      A “revolution” needs a target to revolt toward. That target doesn’t seem to be defined, nor tested, nor agreed upon.

      The U.S. populace is more ready to jump over the moon than it is to conduct a revolution. At most, we could riot – e.g. express frustration.

      And that would be stupid, on many counts.

      If change truly is necessary, and in some respects it is, that change:

      a. Needs to occur in us before we can possibly expect it to occur in others, and
      b. Needs to be justified clearly, and
      c. An alternative must be articulated

      So far, the progress we’ve made is to feel, and express the feeling, that we need change.

      That’s a great start, but not nearly sufficient on any count to justify tearing down anything, or conducting a “revolution”. We have no replacements at the ready.

      Can we formulate the replacement? Of course, if we’re willing to do the work necessary.

      Have we done that work yet?

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        >>>The U.S. populace is more ready to jump over the moon than it is to conduct a revolution. At most, we could riot – e.g. express frustration.

        When you are taught American history, or at least, when I was taught it in school, the beginnings of the war also seem to be those perfidious, liberty hating Brits and the brave Americans valiantly fighting for their freeeedom! (Rolling eyes) Really, it was two people fighting over the driver’s wheel, getting too distracted, then driving over the cliff. If you use the unknown owner of musket that fired the first shot, the start was probably a real accident.

        The Lexington Bridge and Concord Green happened in 1775, twelve years after the end of the Seven Years War. In 1763, nobody was expecting a rebellion to occur just over a decade later. A successful war pitting the thirteen individual colonies against the most powerful empire of the time. Moreover, the reasons were really just annoyances and petty grievances that could have easily been dealt with, if the colonists were not paranoid, with a small group of radicals calling for independence and the British government apparently incapable of a having a reasoned, rational policy other than saying no, and using the military as the police, in ham-handed reprisals.

        Neither side planned on going to war, and with the exception of the very small number of American radicals, nobody wanted a conflict. Yet, even acting in good faith, trying to solve the crises that led to war, both sides inadvertently antagonized each other. The British leadership, their 1% in particular, insisted on treating the colonists as disobedient children, lawbreakers, or perhaps proto-traitors, instead of British citizens who had complaints, some of them perhaps silly, while others were very real.

        The ruling class treating those people like ours treats the disposables would be a good comparison. Then add that one of the reasons for the British government’s incompetence was its great corruption.

        For instance, giving the colonists representation in Parliament would have nullified of their solid grievances, but that would have weakened the various parties already in office. That, and the figuring out how many representatives three million people would need would bring up the rotten boroughs. Then there was the shortage of hard, physical money, which was why bottles of rum were used as a form of money. Rum that was made from smuggled British sugar and then smuggled to England because the tariffs the government imposed at the behest of the British sugar plantation owners and rum makers in England who gave generous donations to the members of parliament.

        Another issue was Parliament’s insistence that they get their money their way and not the old that had been done in the last war. The individual colonial governments were told how much money was needed from them and the separate legislatures then got the money and forwarded. Parliament wanted to tax the individual colonists instead of doing it the old way. I guess it was more important to insist on a right they could not enforce instead of just getting the money the old way.

        So, the arguing got worse, the British got more insulting and clumsy, while the Americans got angrier, and honestly too paranoid, seeing plots that did not exist. Finally, boom.

        Anyways, this is just a long winded explanation of why we might stumble into a third civil war even though nobody, especially most Americans want or are prepared for it. It does not help that the government is increasingly violating the Bill of Rights, making it a dead letter, as it was written by the survivors of that first civil war as a reaction to the many violations of civil rights by the British government using its military. Those violations, perhaps more than any thing else, was the cause of the conflict. One could think that our well educated “meritocracy” shorted themselves on their history classes.

        Reply
      2. Late Introvert

        I get challenged by my family on this.

        I say National Health Care, and all corporate money out of elections.

        Not exactly revolutionary, but would make a big difference.

        Reply

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