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, September 12, 2011

The Welfare State, part 3

“It is the caring of one person for another that matters: this is the easiest thing when it comes easily and the hardest thing when it comes hard.  We have been taken over in much, even most, of our ways by those for whom it does not come easily.  They fill those human needs with making it hard for others; they fill those needs by taking up as much of the world as they can, hoping that somewhere in all that they gather to themselves they will find what is missing, even as they deny that there is anything missing at all.” 

It works like this: I say the most stupid shit and you are required to include my smelly connivings in your presentation even if it is only to rebut them (there is a devilishly clever pun in there for those with a strong enough stomach for it).  Thereby, my terrible self-serving brain drool begins to take on some standing in the world of ideas.  If elements of my offerings are found to be useful, or even just fail to flush, they can become important in the support of some peoples’ immediate benefit – and so it is that bad ideas become institutionalized as standard wisdom.  Getting rid of them is like trying to stamp out worms.

Among the bad ideas with which we are currently infested: individualism, private property, wealth as a positive value, greed as an economic organizing principle, God-spirits as superior to human spirits, human exceptionalism in the living world, natural and necessary economic growth and ‘progress’, that communism and socialism are inherently evil and anti-human…  With these ideas as the forming basis of many of our actions, we can hardly go anywhere that isn’t wrong; to get to right we have to overcome the force of societal gravity.  It is amazing that we do as well as we do.

The natural outcome of these ideas working in synergy is unrestricted greed, war, enslavement of the masses and environmental destruction, in other words, modern life when we look worldwide [1].  The moments of weak and regional reprieve from the running of the Four Horsemen, times like several years following WWII in the US, Europe and Japan, come because the horrors are unmasked for a time – the bad ideas were seen for the floaters that they are, but only for a time and then it’s back to the Wisdom of the Fools.

In a properly functioning welfare state there would be some proportional relationship, and, vitally, a mechanism for the assignment of that proportionality, between the actions of the members of that society and its material community product.  Small “natural” communities do this as a major function of their design: “everyone” knows who works for the community and who works for themselves and the community as a whole passes judgment on each distribution of resources.  This can happen because natural human communities are small enough for everyone to know everyone else, everyone knows what excess looks and feels like and everyone knows what deprivation looks and feels like.  The tasks of community life are understood for their requirements of skill, perseverance and difficulty.  It could even be said that the community exists to give basis for the human experience and to distribute the material and spiritual resources that make that experience possible.

We have tried to do this proportionalizing with wages and prices in capitalistic economies, which have been rather well tested in various forms, and with various welfare schemes in socialist economies, not so well tested since they have been under constant attack by capitalist economies that see straightforward social functioning as a danger to the capitalist design.

We should have learned by now, and I think we have which is why it is so unrelentingly supported by the economic elite, that capitalism, unless strongly regulated by a socialist polity, will always resolve the distribution of resources into monopolies of abundance with the masses having nothing beyond what they can gain with the most incessant effort. 

The rise of the middle class in America from the 1940s to the 1970s was not the consequence of capitalism’s success, but rather a regulated capitalism running as the firebox and steam generator in the semi-socialist engine of the New Deal and the realized power of the ‘common man’ coming out of WWII.  But this was anathema to those humans who would be Gods in their own minds and Kings among their fellows.  The ascendancy, since the 1980s, of the capitalist lie that everyone can be a God and a King is producing the expected result: the middle and poorer classes have been stolen from and the material wealth of the community is collected into fewer and fewer hands.

A certain type of human aberration can, by violating the natural behavioral and emotional design of the human species, advantage themselves greatly for a time in a society that flirts with unfettered capitalism.  This ultimately destructive economic and “social” construction can, however, only either self-immolate or be replaced with a properly functioning welfare state.

A democratic socialist welfare state regulates everyone just as the chemical and physical reactions in a living body are all thoroughly regulated; just as every society regulates its members.  But the living body is not regulated by a totalitarian control center – it is regulated by the process of life; it is regulated on a model of collective sufficiency.  A cell that “wants to be free” of the restrictive controls of its parent organ and the living genetics kills the whole body by its “freedom.” 

This is the freedom that is cheered at Tea Party rallies, this is the freedom that is demanded by the corporate collective, this is the freedom that is cynically chirped by political marionettes.  There is no such freedom, there has never been such freedom and there cannot be such freedom – the freedom to do anything that one wishes with one’s ‘own’ body and “property.” 

The instant such a regime of this libertarian freedom is formed, the world is turned into those who serve it and those who are indulged by it – for the moment.  The poor, the untouchables, the immigrants, the black, the brown, the yellow, the red, the white, women, children, the sick, the displaced, the Muslims, the Christians, the Hindus, the Jews, the Irish, the Poles, the Gypsies, those who stray from sexual purity, all, and many more at one time or another, have been selected to act in service to the vision of someone else’s “freedom.”  If I have complete freedom of my own person, then someone must be designated to move out of my way.

What then can be, must be, the nuts and bolts of a proper welfare state in today’s reality? That is the question these words have been tracking down like a hunter stalking elusive game.  The beginning of that answer has to be that significant changes must be made.  The first and most important is the infusion of the idea that the only remaining repository of human sanity is in the masses.  The wealthy are hopelessly mad; they would destroy life on this planet to have a Bugatti Veyron, a bottle of Dom. Romane Conti 1997 and a supply of Yubari melons.  

The second is that, as dangerous and unreliable as it is, science is the only source of knowledge that can be counted on for the time being.  Studies show that the differences among human “races”, ethnic and other groups are all built from prejudice not reality.  The poor and other common folk are just as genetically gifted as the rich; almost certainly more so, since they are vastly more numerous and therefore the ‘tails’ of the normal distributions that contain them extend out much further [2].  There are thousands of well-established research findings that, if put into practice, would remake many of the difficulties that we face living, as we do now, in the thrall of a brutal and corrosive “tribal” economics.

If we can find, at least, some basis in sanity and some basis in knowledge, then we can go on to number three: Power needs to be vested in community.  Distributed power is essential, concentrated power will always go mad and bring suffering to the many.  Lord Acton was not the first to say it, but he said it well and true [3].  Only in fully formed communities can the psychopathic, the greedy, the antisocial and the mad, in general, function beneficially; in large groups they gather together and form governments, corporations and the clergy, and we can see the result of that!

These are devilishly difficult, even seemingly impossible, steps to be taken, but they are both essential and possible since they can be made just like real steps, incrementally, one at a time.  Each person who understands, each conversation that spreads the idea is a step.  If the Great Many can believe in their own value and power, if they have a foundation of knowledge that actually comports with reality and if some semblance of community begins to form (these are all the powers associated with unions and workers’ collectives) then the many can begin to demand and get something approaching their fair share of the community product. 

There is, of course, no perfect solution, if by perfection is meant that no one suffers, there is no injustice, virtue is rewarded and honest fully compensating relationships are formed with humans and nature.  But we can do much better as the power to initiate and limit action is more and more vested in the many and removed from the few.  It is only in the sanity of the masses and the knowledge revealed by the scientific method that veridical action is possible.  Properly compensating everyone and everything that contributes to the production of society’s wealth must be among the first goals for the application of these principles.  The next and last essay in this series will look at some problem issues not yet properly considered.

[1] Most (all?) reading this live in a bubble of exceptional abundance, but a dribble compared to the multi-millionaires and billionaires of global wealth, though still a highly distorted position in the world of $2.00 a day subsistence and utter powerlessness in the face of totalitarian political and economic conditions – the way of life for fully half of the world’s people.  More people live in greater distress today than in the history of the world, and the number will be greater next year and the next; this is also a measure of our progress.

[2] In a normal statistical distribution of chance probability the unusual is, of course, rare.  If a particular talent tends to occur in the population at about a thousand to one, then you would expect that among a thousand people there would be one person with that talent; among a million people there would be a thousand, but among that thousand a few would have that talent in some incredibly supreme form.  In a billion people a million would have that talent, a thousand or so would have it an incredibly supreme form and among that thousand a tiny few would have it in ways incomprehensible to all but themselves (since for every “wealthy” person there are thousands of poor and ordinary people, the greatest talent pool on earth is among the ordinary).  Wealth tends to select for the talents of mental compartmentalization and cruelty, not for the talents of compassion, intelligence and generosity of spirit; these remain among the poor and ordinary souls.

[3] The more complete text of Lord Acton’s famous observation: “I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did not wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”    Acton said many things of equal clarity.  This is both heartening and dismaying: the former that the truth can be seen and the latter because it has had so little consequence.

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