Liberty Yell: We Live Here Now--2

By Matthew Sperling on Feb 12, 2013 at 12:22 PM in Liberty Yell

Liberty Yell: We Live Here Now--2

Dear Readers, Last night at almost midnight, I finished "Super Sad True Love Story" by Gary Shteyngart. Though the book may, at times, seem like two parallel stories--one personal and one political--the personal and political intersect throughout the book and especially at the end. This satire offers us a dark but mostly humorous view of our world as it might be within the next 20 years. So, it helped me to gather some of my thoughts and feelings and to share them with you, in the wee hours. Now, in the light of day, here's a follow up.

Francis Fukuyama almost had it right: It isn’t “the end of history,” but it is the end of history as we have always thought about it.

The spoils can no longer go to the victor, for there is no victory in destroying the world. Apparently, we do not even need to fire off salvos of the ultimate weapons, giving the planet a glow-in-the-dark radioactive apocalypse. We can commit multiple-bio-level genocide simply by carrying out the business of the still-evolving Industrial Revolution.   

We created the appearance of success by managing an environment which has made room for seven billion people. Water, coal, oil, gas, and, later, the atom, provided all the energy we needed to feed, clothe and house billions of people in ways which gave a lot to some and a lot less to many others. In the 300 years since Thomas Newcomen built the first piston-driven steam engine, the human population has multiplied 10 times, from 700 million to 7 billion.

The various politico-economic philosophies--capitalism, communism, socialism, democracy, dictatorship, oligarchy, etc.--have continued to be rooted in a narrative of scarcity leading to sufficiency, usually followed by greed. For the most part, human society contained "winners and losers." Our organizational chart called for an elite to rule and prosper, while leaving the vast majority--if that majority was lucky--the wherewithal to survive. The idea that the majority, by virtue of superior numbers, should rule instead of the privileged few became current at the same time technology lifted the burdens of backbreaking labor from many of the broad shoulders of humanity.

Just because self-rule by the majority became possible, and more and more people did work which required mental acumen instead of brute strength, it does not automatically mean we live in a society which is fundamentally different than the one in which our serf ancestors toiled unto an early death while our royal predecessors ruled by Divine Right.

In most of the world, the concept and practice of elite rule has simply been transferred from kings and queens to the exceptionally wealthy. The ownership of slaves may not be widely practiced as it was way down in Egypt land, but the vast majority, lacking elite levels of wealth, is still expected to do as it is told.   

Even in countries enjoying some form of supposedly democratic governance, questions can be asked about the distribution of wealth and power only as long as those questions are certain not to lead to any fundamental changes. Every now and then, to make it seem there is actual majority rule--and the big shots don’t always rule the roost--an individual or an institution is thrown under the wheels of the royal carriage/stretch limo/freight train of history, such as Richard Nixon, Ivan Boesky, Bernie Madoff, Moammar Qaddafi, Lehman Brothers, the Soviet Union, and various celebrities who are mostly popular facsimiles of prestige.   

The Information part of the Industrial Revolution has raised our awareness, but knowledge should not be confused with the ability to analyze and take action. Having something to think about isn’t the same as knowing how to think. We are not better people just because we are better informed.   

We could, for example, realize that our rights are disappearing from in front of our eyes, but we still might not lift a finger to restore to plain sight those safeguards and our dignity.   

This is supposed to be a democratic age, one in which there are increasing numbers of people with everything to gain from living in a progressive and truly free political system, but "being free" is often more theory than practice.   

Each of us acting alone or in small groups to do some good is better than nothing, but a more widespread unity will be required to place humanity and the planet on a more sustainable path. For this, we need to admit the error of our ways--everything we have done to lower the threshold for survival--then practice what we preach.   

There is not only no democracy without democrats, there will be no chance for survival until the majority acts on its own behalf. It takes more than freedom to be free.