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

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Future of Poverty 3

What is happening today – the “legal” stealing of the tiny amounts of ‘wealth’, actually the safety margins, of the many – is exactly what is to be expected in a world in which wealth creation is ending and the struggle to control a diminishing amount of real wealth is picking up speed [1].  The true nature of “economic” wealth becomes exposed along with the true nature of the sociopathology of the wealthy; there are reasons that the wealthy have been distrusted throughout human history.  A resuscitation of that distrust from its present coma would serve us well in this time. 

Our situation is this: 2 to 3 billions of people have next to no material possessions and few resources.  And, dangerously for them, they offer little to nothing to the economic systems that dominate the earth.  They have only their existence as living human beings to recommend them.  Their needs and value will get a very limited hearing in the halls of power.  The only concern they generate is how to move (remove) them to allow ‘productive’ use of the spaces and resources they currently occupy.  The words spoken on their behalf are no more than rhetorical flourishes like waves of incense floating among their departing souls. 

Of the remaining 4 or so billion, a huge majority are slave labor in one form or another to extractive industry, primary material manufacture or the industrial production of energy or consumer products.  They are slave labor because they have no option but to take the job offered and to do as they are told.  Increasingly, the compensation they receive is just sufficient to maintain life and basic levels of health; and increasingly, the ‘luxury’ of a self-directed life is removed by the need to devote more of their energies to work directed by others. 

This great number – nearly all of the 4 billion – cannot grow or gather their own food, supply adequate clean water, provide their own safe shelter or other protections.  They are completely at the mercy (actually lack of mercy) of the economic systems that control the delivery of these primary needs. 

The remaining millions of people – just a few millions – have the information and knowledge, the organization and lines of control, to keep the existing structures functioning.  In the world of appearances the Great Many have come to believe that these people, as individual persons, are necessary to maintain the flows of goods and services and to keep stable the value of the abstract tokens that are exchanged for those goods and services. 

Taking full advantage of their position of control, these few millions have collected for themselves vast amounts of the productive efforts of the Great Many.  Rather than organizing human productive capacity to distribute the rewards among the many people who do the actual work, these people have devised methods, arguments and legal structures to, first, collect large parts of the rewards to themselves and, second, to keep the others working as much as possible in the support of the first goal. 

It is true that almost all people will only work as much as is needed to meet their needs and then they will play; that is, they will enjoy life, spend time with family and friends, explore and study, create, rest, recharge; all the things that human beings should be doing with a great portion of their most remarkable lives.  But these activities, especially if they do not involve consumption, are useless to the few millions who only gain from the work of others.  And so, the Great Many must be made frightened and insecure; compensated at the lowest level possible regardless of the true value obtained from their productive efforts so that they will have to work to excess as the means to create excess. 

Billions of human beings are driven to work for the benefit of others in order to gain a minimum sufficiency for their own lives.  The wealthy few who parasitize the productions of the many have never had a sense of humor or humanity when challenged.  The list of atrocities committed in the name of economic domination rival those of religion.  From the mixing of blood in the mortar for the Great Wall of China to the Ludlow Massacre, from the savage slavery of Rome, the slavery of the New World to the conscriptions for the fields and mines of the third world, the economic elite have demonstrated their insane capacity to harm their fellow human beings for material gain.  

What will be their response to systematic loss of authority delivered from the environment by their own overreaching?  It will be completely predictable; the impoverishment of all and everything, human and natural world alike…and concomitantly themselves, especially so in a time when economic growth of the sort that supported them will have ground to its inevitable halt. 

The Great Many, try as they might, cannot collect together enough material wealth to, individually or as family sized collectives, protect themselves as the present economic systems enter their death spiral; this will, over the next decade, be recognized as either wishful thinking or cruel illusion.  401Ks, a couple of million in stocks, a closet full of canned goods (or long guns) will simply not do it.  These things are not the solution, they only speed us toward the uncontrolled failure of the systems that presently support us.  They are, of course, the “solutions” that the elite want us to pursue since they continue to be empowered by such foolishness. 

How we live has to change in ways that can support the Great Many and actively disempower the economic elite (even as times are hard and many may die in the process).  As long as the people are incompetent to supply and manage their most basic needs, then they are at the ‘lack of mercy’ of the elite.  As long as there is an apparent dependency on the opaque complexities of economic systems run by shadowy figures behind the curtains, the only way to go will seem to be with the values and substance of those systems [2].  But let true human communities form that can meet a significant portion of our own most basic needs and suddenly the human spirit revives and tells the overlord to ‘stick it.’ 

This is possible.  We know how. What we don’t have is the understanding that what we think of as poverty – what we fear as deprivation and suffering – can become equanimity, both material and psychological (or spiritual if you like).  Only by rejecting the material production and accumulation by which the economic elites control the masses will the Great Many be able to have the simplicity and competence to form the basis for a new kind of leadership, a body of people and a leadership that can ignore the elite and return them to their proper roles as ‘accountants’ who work for us rather than as our overlords.

Human societies have always had their useful bean counters, but when they come to dominate societies, and when the counting becomes more important than the humans that the counting is supposed to be done in the service of, we get what we have today.  It is time to return the bean counters to counting real beans. 

Simply challenging the elite without changing our own expectations – expectations that we have copied, though in an abbreviated and perverted from, from the elites – will only lead to more of the same or worse.  Enough people must begin to live in equanimity, must model for the rest the possibility of being materially poor without living in poverty of spirit.  It is through material simplicity that community can begin to be relearned as a way to meet many of the needs that we attempt, and most often fail, to meet with wealth. 

We will not grow our way out of the present dilemma; it is possible that this really is the moment when recovery will not mean, cannot mean, a return to what we have known, but must be about a real recovery of our relationship with Reality.  We must deny the wealthy the products of our effort by meeting our own needs with knowledge, work and community.  In such a new world the elite will have to make it on their own or join us. 

If we can begin to do this now, ‘this’ being a rejection of the excesses of wealth, the nascent formation of real communities and the denying of our consumption and labor to the elite, then there can be a cushion of material wealth to carry many of us through, up and over the learning curve with the least possible distress.  The longer we wait the less of a buffer we will have.  I think there is a chance; the thoughts and questions of millions of people are beginning to drift into these regions.  The alternative is too awful to even consider [3]

[1] The loss of real wealth is the result of costs increasing exponentially faster than production.  The loss of environmental free services is a real cost, generally unaccounted for, but nonetheless becoming a dominating factor.  Soil loss, environmental toxification, ecosystem instability, health consequences, environmentally driven economic instabilities, human rejection of present economic and political structures are all costs to existing wealth whether accounted for or not. 

[2] Somehow the Great Many don’t realize that they do all the work right now.  The elite do not add value, but are a drain on the earth’s resources, a disproportionate drain.  While the contributions of order and leadership supplied by the elites can and have been supplied in many different ways and at hugely lower costs, only properly tended soil can grow a bean.  Given a choice between a plate of ‘rules of order’ and plate of well grown and prepared beans, the hungry will always make the right choice. 

[3] But I will briefly: billions of people will be without food and water in all regions, north and south.  Armies will begin to act as entities devoted to their own preservation, will use their organization and powerful weapons with predictable consequences.  Millions of people will be on the move with regard only for survival.  Disease and famine will be the twin levelers of the human enterprise and a Dark Ages will form from the ashes.  I understand that this sounds crazy, but is in the mind of every clear thinking biologist, economist, social philosopher, etc., though, most will not tell us until later!

1 comment:

Michael Dawson said...

Let's hope the Middle East rebellion is a harbinger of this. Wouldn't that be ironic?