A companion blog, The Metacognition Project, has been created to focus specifically on metacognition and related consciousness processes. Newest essay on TMP: Goals and Problems, part two

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Tragedy of Wealth and Power

There comes a time for certain people who have, by whatever occasions, reached such a level of power and wealth that they seem, to them, to approach parity with the most powerful institutions in their ability to control events.  This means, along with other things, that these people tend to move against other power sources as a way to increase their control over the processes that give them power and wealth. [1] 

Those of us not in such a place have great trouble understanding the lengths that people will go to maintain power and the illusions of power.  For most of us this can be seen as having tasted an especially delicious food that we would very much enjoy from time to time. For the truly powerful it is the only food that continues to contain nourishment, the only food that will sustain them and they will do anything for it. 

Are the benefits of power worth the servitude to it?  Those in power must consume only power, are only allowed to think power, are only allowed to sleep power.  There is no sustenance, useful idea or rest in any other form. 

But even though they are trapped in their place as much as a slave is trapped in his, the place that they are in is an inescapable velvet trap with great influence on the lives of many many others: that is what power is about; being able to tell others what to do and make them do it.  And so the powerful tell others how they must live so that all illusions are maintained.  The trapped must trap others in their constant struggle to remain trapped. Eventually no action is too extreme. 

The present right-wing in this country is the political arm of such power; and we are watching as it is confronting its mortality.  Democracy is the Kryptonite to their superman illusions and certainties.  They are so close to not being forced to stay within the bounds of law, so close to being able to do it all, take it all.  They can see that democratic governance must effectively end as the next step in the growth of their power. 

It has been a long slog; from a low point in the 1930s, regaining momentum during the war, working the McCarthy scares only to be challenged by Eisenhower’s final revelations and young Kennedy’s idealism, all those GI bill soldiers getting educated, demanding dignity and knowing a bit about how to get it.  Civil rights! But wealth is a force to reckoned with; give it an inch and it really will take a mile. 

And wealth is something else.  It is not a person that you can name; it is slippery and amorphous.  An ordinary human can be drawn in, disassembled and remade; almost against their will, almost.  It is a condition with a thousand faces.  Humans have rightly feared it for thousands of years. 

The effect of absolute power cannot be imagined by the powerless and cannot be avoided by the powerful.  That is our dilemma.  We, the Great Many, cannot imagine that the powerful would be so cruel, would be so calculating with the lives of millions of their brethren, would sacrifice the very stability of life process for their wealth.  But they will and are. 

The right-wing are the cavalry, out in the open riding hard in support of wealth-power: slashing and burning, lying and stealing.  The rest of the army is marching this way and that, seemingly bumbling and unclear as to whose side they are on, but don’t be fooled; there is only one army on the field.  There is a powerful counter force, but it is like the weather, like the hills and rivers; it is us.  We are vast and vital.  We hold all the cards and yet are not allowed to play.   Our inertia may eventually win the day, though possibly at the terrible cost of losing the support of life giving environmental services. 

It is becoming more and more obvious, wealth must be limited to levels that are comprehensible to all people.  We must be able to see into the lives and livelihoods of our fellows.  It is not so much that a particular ratio is required, but that the consequences of wealth not create such differences that one person will routinely sacrifice another to attain it. 

We must act to invigorate those remaining in political power who will limit wealth by law and we must eject those who are wealth’s hand maidens in politics, media and law.  But don’t even think that this will be a fair fight.  It never has been and will not be now.  The Great Many, if they are willing to endure the struggle, can control and limit wealth by the simple expedient of withholding their respect, contributions and support; by becoming powerful in community and in their persons.  The wealthy will fight back by attempting to make such actions first painful and then illegal. 

The pithy quotations go back thousands of years in all languages that have been recorded, quotations that all say in essence: Wealth turns human beings into creatures that are dangerous to community, to place and to life.  It is time to, yet again, take this seriously [2]

[1] Humans are in the unusual position of having a very few extraordinary people lead the way…  It has become possible for an individual human to spend all of his or her energy in the pursuit of a goal, literally all of their focused energy on understanding some particular event, process or power; and then set the standard for all of human expectation and habit even as only a tiny few have mastered the new understanding.  This has happened over and over, step by step for thousands of years at a constantly increasing rate.  While this process has pushed us in discovery after discover and sped the process of change (what some call progress), it has resulted in greater and greater differences among people, differences that strain even further our capacity to understand and empathize. 

[2] Monetized wealth is a promise to use the earth’s resources.  A $100 bill is a piece of paper that promises resources will be taken, converted and delivered in that amount.  At this time the total promised wealth vastly exceeds that capacity of the earth to deliver over any time frame appropriate to human life.  We can expect to be witness to the anarchy of the attempts to resolve this madness.  Only our immediate and most thoughtful action will moderate it.

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