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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Wealth Wars

I hate that this essay has to be written.  I hate what it says.  I don’t want to believe it and hate that I do believe it, even in the face of all my desires for my children, for all children, and myself. 

In the long years of our human history there has been a constant theme from the earliest days, and in all lands, of what we call civilization.  It is the formation of an elite that gathers to itself the wealth created by the many people and adapts and manufactures the stories and conditions that allow them to maintain their power over the many.  Our history is the history of the struggles of these elites to dominate the masses and each other [who the elites are is considered at the end of this essay in an addendum]. 

For almost all of these last 8 thousand years there has been a great deal of room on the earth for the powerful to expand their influence – even if there were other humans and other species living simply on the land, they were easily removed.  Throughout this time there has been one primary process cutting through and across all and every complexity: the powerful take what they want without scruple. 

Looking back in history these conclusions seem obvious, but we are loath to see our present world in these terms.  Each period of time in history seems to see its own solutions as better and more nuanced than the crude power plays, wars and ego-driven cruelties of the past.  

But we can no longer enjoy that conceit.  The times, they are a-changin’!  There is no place left to go and the attention of the elites has of necessity turned fully to the form of the relationship that they wish to have with what they consider to be the captive populations that produce their wealth and whose sycophancy sustains their power.  The Great Many must be completely managed, in the new paradigm, for the elites to live on in the style to which they have become accustom and as the world goes through the unprecedented changes driven by human impact.  The consequences of the coming troubles are to be delivered onto the masses, not the elites. 

To that end a segment of the wealthy elite have declared war on the rest of humanity – not so much directly, rather on an ‘as needed’ basis.  It is a preemptive war; a war to prevent the masses from coming to a coherent understanding of the destruction that the elites have wrought on individual well-being, the social order and physical world in the process of accumulating and advancing their grip on power.  The second great movement of the war is to develop (through infrastructure, private or governmental, the distinction is of no consequence to the elites, law and common practice) the physical, coercive and information-control powers to dominate the masses as they respond reflexively to their worsening condition – even if they can’t organize effectively due to the first wave of the assault. 

This is not to say that clear lines can be drawn between the elite and the masses.  There are people who live in the domain of the elite and generally share their values and attitudes, but who retain a sense of the species relationship to the living earth. They are, however, beholding to the same processes that maintain the militant class-warring elites; and if they remain uncertain of their allegiance for too long, their potential for amelioration will disappear.  In general they cannot be considered in our understanding for the possibilities for our future. 

And there are those whose allegiance is to a bastardized version of elite values.  It is a typical human error: they see the mansion and other physical accoutrements of the elite lifestyle and assume it to be just a toss of the dice away; and so support their understanding of elite needs, fed to them by propagandists (who are them) bought by the elites for the purpose. 

Given the forces working to subvert our understanding, we must struggle to take a cold-eyed look at the events and their meanings that surround us.  There are first some simple tests to make. 1) Are the economic elites applying their vast economic resources to improve the lives of the people who have created that wealth: the miners, the forest and field workers, the mechanics, the day laborers, construction workers and on and on for hundreds of thousands of jobs from which the wealthy take, from each and every one, some percentage?  2) What are the most agreed-on projections for the future of human activity and impact on the earth and what are the responses to those projections by the economic elite?  3) Are there any meaningful (measured by success) efforts to use the vast accumulations of wealth to educate and inform (and reform) the world’s “civilized” peoples, to protect indigenous people and to support our understanding of the needs of the earth’s biophysical systems?  4) Is there any reasonable evidence that “we” are all in this thing together? 

The answers to these questions are uniformly negative.  There is a ‘race to the bottom’ in wages for productive work.  The rate at which both real and phantom wealth is collecting at the top is increasing.  Unemployment has been increasing, which means increasing by design as a way of reducing wages.  The elite publicly reject and deny the projections for human suffering and ecological damage and have spent huge sums, far in excess of philanthropy, to confuse and weaken mass opinion.  Elite preoccupation has been the domination of land and people for economic gain. 

No other conclusion will be possible a 100 years, 200 years, in an objective future than that the elites were, at the beginning of the 21st century, conducting a war on the rest of the humanity and the environment, trying to get as much of what they considered wealth as possible and to protect their status in a dangerous world. 

As a military commander would study maps, evaluate forces, allocate supplies, estimate the opposition and generally try to develop both factual detail and fact-based intuitive comprehensions of the situation, so we (in this case meaning those who wish to appreciate the strategic position of the great mass of human beings in the world) must determine the nature of the field upon which we are to struggle, what and who we are struggling for and against (even if it is sometimes ourselves), what talents and tools are required, what are our primary advantages, what are our primary disadvantages and how are we to maximize the former and minimize the latter. 

It is to the advantage of an opposition to remain invisible or at least shape shifting.  If the entities (people, organizations or processes) that are afflicting the Great Many can be clear to themselves what their goals are, control the arena of “action” and maintain order in their own ranks while at the same time keeping the rest of us, their targets, squabbling among ourselves, confused about the origin of our difficulties and disorganized, then the game is over.  We must actively begin the process of seeing through the feints and deceptions. 

Advantages and disadvantages 

The Elites’ advantages:


-institutional control of governance and media

-influence on sources of deadly force

-clarity of purpose

-small numbers that allow for conspiring communications and groups

-emotional distance from those who are harmed by their actions

-confidence in their privilege and superiority

-core groups of the elite are fully aware of the war, its terms and conditions 


-small numbers, requiring large numbers of the masses to serve their interests

-the constant attention needed to keep the masses misinformed and controlled

-lack of connection to biophysical Reality

-the inherent dishonesty that must be maintained in the relationship with the masses

-dependence on fragile systems often based in illusion 

The Masses’ advantages:

-vast numbers (both advantage and disadvantage)

-actual hands-on relationship with all of the tools of production, security and militarism

-capacity to withhold all behaviors and services that function the society

-capacity to outlast the elite in a direct contest of austerity

-capacity to physically overwhelm all protections that the elite might employ 


-vast numbers

-fear of disorder and system breakdown

-confusion of purpose

-lack of education and organization

-lack of infrastructure that could force consideration of interests

-Immediate biological needs are met by existing, and elite controlled, economic systems

-the masses are largely unaware that there is an organized assault on them 

In summary, the elite has power, wealth and control, as well as organization of purpose supported almost exclusively by the illusions that they hold about themselves and different illusions that they depend on perpetuating in the masses.  They are few in number so would be helpless without the support of a significant percentage of the masses; they are obsessively aware of this fact.  They are willing to visit unlimited suffering and death on people and ecosystems to maintain and grow their power. 

The elite cannot exist without the masses; there would be no productive activity to extract wealth from.  There would be no one to work for them and no one to adore and cater to them. 

The masses have the actual power in the form of all, literally all, direct productive activities, all food and water gathering, construction, transportation, manufacturing, etc.  But they have almost no national or global organizational strength.  The moment the masses realize that they can still do all the jobs that need be done and discard the illusions forced on them by the social and media power of the elite will be the moment when the elites sue for peace in the culture war; it will also be the moment when the masses realize with whom they have been at war. 

The masses can exist without the elite.  What they cannot do is live like elites and be without the elites.  May it not be a lesson too late for the learning. 

[Addendum] Who comprises the elite is not the major interest of this essay.  They are, however, people who find themselves in possession of what those around them value and are willing to use that momentary excess and advantage for themselves and against others; they are, in other words, people who would be considered anti-social and in need of guidance and watching in an egalitarian community.  All communities have had them and managed them as just one of the wide and complex varieties of human types that give  texture and adaptive strength.  The “civilized” world, with its large populations and great capacity to make wealth, has offered opportunity for such people to gather outside of the moderating influences of a heterogeneous community and to see their avariciousness as virtue, drawing many others into excess and loss of specieshood. 

First of all the elite are people who wish to be wealthy and powerful and who are willing to do what is required to be so.  This is certainly not everyone – the world is littered with the “remains” of those who were supposed to ‘attain these heights,’ but in some combination of not wanting and being unwilling were pushed aside; the profligate sons and daughters of great wealth are but one form of example; unwealthy writers of philosophical essays another. 

A major ingredient of power (and less obviously wealth) is convincing the main body of the population that its apparent possessor actually has it, and that the form of power and, by implication, the possessor are to be deferred to.  A telling example comes from an observation of chimpanzees in the wild.  A rather small and unimposing adult male discovered that a large metal can, when dragged violently through the forest and slapped, so impressed his community that he was treated with the deference due a dominate male – and so was, for a time, the alpha member of his group, until they saw through the ruse.  

Those of us without much power are seldom aware of the obsession with which the powerful watch for even the smallest opportunities to enhance the impression of their authority.  The corollary for wealth is the obsession with even the smallest opportunity for gain (the wife of a billionaire I knew always took all of the condiments from the table when eating out). 

*Obsession is a major symptom of mental illness.  The elite are obsessed.  The elite have, at least, one major symptom of mental illness.  

*Mental illness is disqualifying for responsible leadership.  The elite have symptoms of mental illness.  It is unwise to allow the elite into positions of authority. 

These two arguments set the stage for much of the behavior of the core elites; they must control reality if they are to fulfill their obsessions.  And so one of the reasons for the multi-millennial obsession with “human reality” defeating nature’s Reality.

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