It is Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, and while Catherine is preparing wonders in the kitchen, and I am basking undeservedly in the glow of the fantastic olfactory byproducts, I thought I’d try to meet the day in words.
You don’t need me to tell you that this is an incredibly infuriated time – so many of my friends cannot stand to watch the news anymore, because their anger is so quickly enflamed. The weird thing is that absolutely everyone feels as if they are losing ground, and everyone feels righteous indignation.
Now, this isn’t a question we often ask – but just for the experiment, what if we step back for a moment and wonder whether everyone is right about that?
I don’t mean correct about the causes (which are invariably oversimplified, usually into an individual or group personification – though the problematic effect is actually produced by a system of legal and economic rules). I mean only that we may all be more reasonable than we think, in feeling bad about the loss of traditions and relationships which many considered to be important, solid and worthwhile.
Sorry – I know, using that word – “Reasonable” – to describe someone with whom you disagree, is itself almost a radical act now. But I insist, the single worst thing about this moment in time, is that everyone insists on explaining the motives of their opponents, in terms that strongly suggest they are subhuman.
That the left now does this just as casually and laughingly as the right, is completely heartbreaking to me. It doesn’t shift my sympathy from the workers and the poor one bit – but it does mean the left is doing a totally shitty job for both of those traditional constituencies.
Let me say another, to some, shocking thing – the difference between the left and the right is not in any way a difference of caring. Both sides keep insisting that the other side’s caring is insincere, and their politicking proves them hypocrites. Again – in a way – both sides, not just one – are fundamentally right on this.
Why? Because every single last one of us in the west – left, right, statist, libertarian, tightest conformist to wildest identity radical – have all fallen for the same wide-net (big-tent?) psychological trap.
To dissuade livestock
Not by accident, mind you. After the second world war, it was very well understood in planning circles, that popular passion could be dangerous. Having seen the quick rise of Stalin and Hitler, they recognized that such insane, brutal and amazingly damaging figures can arise anywhere, when the conditions of popular passion overtake reason, balance and compassion.
The result of their efforts (our tax dollars at play, at RAND, the Hudson institute, and many other early think tanks) was modern consumerism, our dominant, shared, universal, and almost entirely invisible religious faith (the television being the most perfect altar, to bring a preacher into every home).
The fact that we are still loyal, dutiful and even zealous devotees of this false idol, is why we all feel so dazed and powerless right now. Because the first invisible tenet of our faith in purchasable happiness, is a pact of ignorance and fundamental power-delegation.
To suppress very real pressures from the radical right, the radical left, racialists, religious extremists – to bring everyone in toward a more bland and manageable centre, they designed a basic compelling bargain:
We get a comparatively decent cut of loot, compared to most in the world – ‘they’ get control.
We’ve been living with this compact, and adjusted to it for so long now, that we actually think this is how people have always been, and loot is what people have always lived for – which is total nonsense. Sadly, historical ignorance is near total now (another part of the big bargain), so it’s impossible to even begin the discussion of what else we have been, and all the other things humans can live for and strive toward, honestly, with shared good will.
Thanks to advertising, we spend a lot of energy that ought to be devoted to humans, on stuff. And thanks to our big bribe bargain, we’ve swallowed two poison pills, which are only now starting to really trouble us.
We try our best to ingore them, really
First – we were always treating the rest of the world and the poor among us unfairly, to get our bribe-loot.
We tolerate our corporations doing this brutal work for us, because we like loot – left and right (bigger and smaller cut of the loot), that was always an immoral deal. We keep lying harder to try to justify this, but we’re still and always wrong in every way. Our consumption drives many elsewhere, who might live with dignity, into poverty, and many others still into death, by means as diverse as unsafe work conditions, and inescapable ruinous debt. The corporations are indeed objectively (in fact legally) psychotic, but it’s our unhinged appetites they satisfy, in order to keep skimming-off our power, and profitably mollifying us.
Secondly – we have invested our treasure, year after year, for decades now, in building up an ever more forceful state, with ever more intrusive means against the individual at it’s disposal, on the assumption that these tools will only ever be held in the hands of someone reasonable, fair minded, restrained by wisdom, role and purpose.
This assumption was proven conclusively incorrect at the turn of the century, and yet the investment and invasiveness of the state has multiplied steadily, ever since. Fighting isms, insead of facing climate.
And all this, even while the bribe model itself is clearly breaking down (banks do not give out almost free money for this many years in a row, unless they are coping with a protracted, and to them, potentially fatal crisis).
It is now widely recognized that too much of the loot-pile has been siphoned-off by the investor class, with offshoring and automation – and the desperation which this has caused in workers, as they watch the structure which they have been trained to believe they would be living inside (the big bribe) disappear, right before their eyes, is making them furious and irrational. Absolutely legitimately.
The reason that ‘rule of law’ was quite rightly judged one of the greatest advances in human civilization is precisely this – real rules allow one to defer immediate desperate competition, and instead engage in long term planning, building, cooperating. Advanced sharing behaviours, for long term mutual benefit.
In the absence of any solid ground upon which to build, general panic is unavoidable – and no one is ever at their best, when they have cause to fear for their future lives! This – my friends – is our inheritance – what all of us actually have in common. Our challenge, our dilemma and our duty.
Here’s the thing no one else will tell you today – that feeling underneath our fear, the helplessness? – it’s a scam – a headgame – a trick we have been taught to play on ourselves – tactically brilliant, but utterly false!
That voluntary surrender is bound up with our subconscious faith in the completeness and truth of consumerism. We are not forced into, but actively choose and keep choosing, this leash! (also an eco-noose)
What do we know with certainty, that we’ve all been ignoring like crazy this century?
The Earth is a finite system. Capitalism is already treating it very harmfully, and is based upon the principle of infinite and unrestrained growth (exactly like Cancer). Interest-based finance works in no other way (though it is by no means the only way finance can be done – just the dominant mode, at present).
So far, the ‘big’ alternatives to capitalist democracies have involved insane losses of freedom – which is not acceptable to anyone who has been raised with greater social choice. BUT – we have also proved something crucial, which we keep ignoring to our own great spiritual and intellectual loss.
Stuff does NOT make you happy. It just doesn’t. We’ve bribed the hell out of several generations in the west, to greater and lesser extents, and we are, as a group, more and more miserable, every year. Incomparably less happy than far poorer folks, in distant lands. Even at the height of our wealth and narcissism, many decades ago, huge numbers of people were in psychoanalysis, or else greatly aspired to be!
Why? Because consumerism was always wrong. Stuff was never going to make us happy – especially when we were getting it, by making other people overseas unhappy. We’ve been traitors to the poor of the world, all along – unbelievably bad karma!
We in the spoiled west are the ones who now know and can best prove that stuff doesn’t cure unhappiness – we also know that freedom is not to be traded-away for loot, and that we are in danger of losing it, because of our anger, hurt and factionalism. We’re now far more easily excited into doing-down opponents, than building up something of lasting value for all.
We know the party is over – we can’t exploit the earth or other people in that old careless way anymore – and we never did have those rights we have for so long presumed, since they were always tressspasses.
Which means it really is now on us to FIND HAPPINESS IN AND AS HUMANE BEINGS.
The overgrown state which now threatens our freedoms was created by our own outsize fear, and our greed for more than was ever fair to the poor (and ecologically, to our grandkids.) Like the corporations, for all it’s power to manipulate, confuse and seduce, the state still cannot exist except by our investments in it’s power – our proxies – so long ago delegated now, that we often forget they are our will and duty as citizens.
What do we want – where do we get it?
At thanksgiving we appreciate the people we are with, and share love for those we miss. We also remember distant ancestors and others who have made great sacrifices on our behalf, fondly.
Let’s add some that we’ve ignored too long, this year. Let’s appreciate the presence, rights and feelings of those who are justly scared and angry that so many of us are still defending the evil bribe – because it’s still working just fine for us, thank you very much. The displaced, the homeless. The ones overseas who won’t be able to feed their kids tonight, because of the west’s crazy unfair agriculture policies (that keep food cheap for us, while stealing it from the starving, so we can feed meat from cut-down rainforests, to our beloved pets).
Let’s say a solemn prayer for the still troubled Congo – to which country, everyone in every nation which has benefitted from cellphone culture should apologize, every single day of their lives (and send reparations).
Let’s appreciate that we’ve been given far more than we needed, and the necessaries were taken from others to get it to us, because our whims are still far more profitable than the needs of poorer billions. And recognize that our duty is to learn and then turn and teach the lessons of the foul bribe which we are no longer being offered (despite the hangover stupor, still very much present in our culture – and bound to linger for yonks).
The craving and the corrosion we should not have let in, and the hollowing distance that our petty wantings have raised between us interpersonally, sundering countless friendship and family bonds, even inside a generation. Dissolving away our greatest wealth, relationship, for shiny useless pyrites!
Let us thank the world for giving us a chance to do something real and helpful, after generations of pacified and complicit ignorance in the West, won at the cost of those who’ve never had option of ignorance or escape.
Let’s work on being the kind of people that the world could actually live with.
I mean the planet, people, animals. What sort of a being would that even be?
Not a normal westerner – a proud consumerist. Not a customer who was always right. Not someone with a whole lot of arbitrary and insulting opinions about how wrong everyone else was, and no initiative whatsoever to grow, and learn to do important necessary work, with others around them.
You know – an actual real live fully activated humane and responsible person.
Let’s be thankful we have that chance. To demonstrate that our great cost has won precious wisdom, at last.
Reality and purpose set before us, once again. A happiness won only through giving and being of use to others, not childish pride, and greed sated by holding-up poor kids at delegated knifepoint.
Do we still remember duty to our family in the world at large? Do I hear amen? (a’ women, also, to be sure).