My views have changed and morphed over the years. I’ve considered a wide variety of ideologies from Marxism to Objectivism (the latter is Ayn Rand’s “philosophy.”)
Sometimes there’s a pivotal event that changes your thinking. For Voltaire, it was the Lisbon earthquake, which killed tens of thousands of devout Christians as they prayed fervently on one of their holiest days. This solidified his cynicism about religion and religious institutions.
My “Lisbon earthquake” moment was the fall of communism. This forever altered my view of the nature of power and leadership. It wasn’t the only influence. My direct view of upper management as a temp in some huge corporations in the 1980s had an effect. So did my reading of Gandhi, King and (particularly insightful) Frederick Douglass.
I have concluded that, in most cases, powerful people and institutions are extraordinarily vulnerable. They believe in their power and those who are subject to their power also tend to believe. This illusion of power is the real source of their strength. It’s a mind game with the magician fooling both the audience and himself.
When the illusion cracks, no amount of guns, nuclear weapons or bluster can save it. The Soviet Union was a hollow shell for decades. Once this became clear to those under its dominance, the whole system collapsed spectacularly.
When I say the same thing could happen, and indeed may be happening, to corporate capitalism today, most people think I’m unduly optimistic. They are reasonable in that assessment because I do seem unduly optimistic.
There are four factors at play: overreach; blindness; systemic failure and emergence of fearless opposition.
Corporate capitalism appears to be at the height of it power, a tower of unassailable strength, flexing its muscles across the planet and consolidating itself into a monolithic trans-national empire beyond anything the world has ever seen. Protests seem to have little effect and corporate capitalism is aided by a substantial and dedicated band of “useful idiots” who support it.
Elections—our only recourse within the system—seems possible but unlikely to help because not enough of the right people vote, because the choices allowed under system are too narrow and because the electoral process itself has been weighted to resist substantial change. [People sometimes see my voting patterns as support for the system, but it’s more complex than that. See “Why I Am Voting for Gorbachev.”]
Furthermore, any cracks in the power structure are hard to see. In fact, we are witnessing an almost orgasmic joy as those in power steal trillions from the treasury, and perform an endless stream of cruel acts largely unimpeded.
How could this system fail?
The truth is, it may not. The future isn’t predetermined. But there are strong reasons to believe collapse may be near. There are four factors at play: overreach; blindness; systemic failure and emergence of fearless opposition.
But there is a tripwire, a line that exceeds the power of the powerful, and once that’s crossed they’re on their way out.
Overreach happens all the time but few see it. When someone in power has gotten away with something for a long time, he thinks he’s unbeatable and can get away with anything—so he goes for more. Because he hasn’t been stopped yet, everyone thinks he’s still unstoppable. So, recently the corporatists seized $1.7 trillion from the treasury for themselves and intend to “pay for it” by taking the people’s pensions (Social Security) and taxpayer-funded benefits. Social Security—once seen as the 3rd rail of politics—is widely now viewed as vulnerable and that nobody can stop the corporatists from seizing it.
Possibly. But there is a tripwire, a line that exceeds the power of the powerful, and once that’s crossed they’re on their way out. We may have already crossed the tripwire before the corporatists got around to taking Social Security. But they don’t see it yet. Neither do most of us.
Blindness isn’t just in politics. It’s everywhere power seems entrenched. It’s a kind of natural stupidity that comes to people who live a life of effort free success. Our current idiot president is an extreme example, but we abound in them. Most CEOs have a blindness, and believe in their brilliance when, in fact, they sit atop a structure built by someone else that is largely flourishing on inertia and suffers the usual random ups and downs of any system. But because a CEO sits atop this behemoth, he thinks he’s a genius. The same is true of powerful politicians. Basically, everywhere the people in charge are clueless and completely dependent on people well below who do all the work. But they don’t see that. They’re blind. And that’s one reason they can’t see their vulnerability or the probable upcoming collapse.
Systemic failure was obvious, but only in retrospect, when the Soviet Union collapsed. But only in retrospect. The Soviet system had failed and continued only under the illusion of power and durability. Like the Soviet system, the system of corporate capitalism—it’s absurd pretend “representative government”; it’s “free markets” and “free labor”; it’s alleged meritocracy, and all the attendant nonsense—are weak rationalizations to continue the charade. But the charade is wearing thin. Everybody knows that most people don’t want their healthcare taken away, that they don’t want their Social Security stolen, that they don’t want their tax dollars handed over to Wall Street and wealthy corporations. Everyone know that political parties and campaigns are funded by corporations and that our political institutions serve their funders, not the people.
But we still say, “if only more people voted.” And yet, we’re coming to the realization that the problem is much bigger than that. The system is failing so badly that it needs repeated bailouts to even survive. The 2008 bailout could have been the end—but conditions weren’t quite right. Conditions have changed and cynicism is deeper.
The really killer element, however, is the emergence of fearless opposition. And this is what finally happened. It’s the most unpredictable element and the critical last step for real change. And this happened in Parkland, Florida. Unlike most adults, broken and despairing even if angry, the Parkland kids are young, fresh and fearless. They haven’t been beaten down and are unlikely to be. In a few short weeks, they’ve shown their power and bloodied some formerly powerful members of the status quo. They skillfully wield moral force. Although their aim is limited to gun control, they will inevitably expose the weakness of the status quo—and others will take advantage of that weakness.
So, we now see not only a new effective nationwide movement of young gun control activists , but teachers strikes and more. These are not unrelated incidents. More and more groups will realize that the old order is cracking, that it can no longer enforce its will, that it has no credibility or moral force and that only guns can even attempt to sustain the old order.
And those that are charged with handling the official guns will be unwilling to kill ordinary people, to kill friends, to kill unarmed people who simply want to live a life of dignity. We live in interesting times but it’s also very possibly—I’d say very likely—a time of change for the better. We will face different challenges when this system collapses, and I’m concerned about them. But I still like our chances.