Mostly Screwed (part 2: power)

Posted on 26 October 2018

Mostly Screwed

Oh we are young,
But what will we inherit?
The Earth slips away.
Can we even bear it?

Why bring us here?
Support your own child.
Love what is meek, please.
Love what is mild.

We’ll learn the lessons that
You did not.
And we can be kind.

Bring back the love.

Oh we are young,
Our hearts are our gold
Old hearts are cold
So we must learn sharing

Why don’t you care?
We’re Earth’s own child
We’ll save what is meek,
We’ll save what is mild.

We’ll learn the lessons that
You did not.
And we can be kind.

Bring back the love.

“And We Can Be Kind” (lyrics)
~Katherine Phelps 2016

I wrote the song “And We Can Be Kind” the day after it was clear Donald Trump had won the 2016 presidential election. I then wrote one protest song after another. What had we just done to our next generation? What had we just done to anyone who is vulnerable for any reason? What had we done to all living things?

I usually start with a story when I write my musicals. This time Share: the youth issues musical began as a long tuneful yowl for everything that is worth saving in this life. All of our advancements in science, technology, and human engagement have given us power, power that could have been used to make a better world, but instead has been warped and twisted to serve the darkest human rapaciousness for control.

In the west we have been told we live in the best of all possible worlds. We live in a world where we have freedom, democracy, and the ability to better our lives.

In actual fact, we are losing on all three of these fronts across the globe. Michael Abramowitz, Freedom House’s president, says that “political rights and civil liberties around the world (have) deteriorated to their lowest point in more than a decade.”

Abramowitz further states, “For the 12th consecutive year, according to Freedom in the World, countries that suffered democratic setbacks outnumbered those that registered gains. States that a decade ago seemed like promising success stories–Turkey and Hungary, for example–are sliding into authoritarian rule…The challenges within democratic states have fueled the rise of populist leaders who appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment and give short shrift to fundamental civil and political liberties.”

There are reasons why this is happening now.

Boom Times

The post Second World War boom was both in childbirth and in wealth. The atrocities of WW2 shook people to the core. Worse, the atrocity of unleashing the vast destructive power of nuclear weapons loomed darkly over people’s heads with a sense of catastrophic finality. Many were made aware that they owed a debt of gratitude to the diversity of people, who despite their oppressed condition within our culture, agreed to lend their hearts, minds, and hands toward the success of our war effort. More than that, these people willingly gave their lives.

After being respected contributors toward international security, these individuals found it difficult to go home and return to a second-class existence. We seemed to have entered a world where potentially enough was available for all: if we cooperated, if we shared–things we agreed to do for the greater good in documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Women’s rights, black rights, and eventually gay rights became part of the public agenda in western nations.

The baby boomers were so numerous that when they were conscripted to fight in the Vietnam war, after observing the black civil rights movement, they knew exactly what to do. They took to the streets, protested, and won.

Marvellous! When the public finally engages with issues, we can make change! We are not at the mercy of governments, corporations, or an older generation entrenched in destructive attitudes.

But power is a tricky thing. The baby booners shouted for freedom. Yes, freedom from becoming killers in a senseless war, but also freedom to do whatever caught their fancy–freedom without responsibility for consequences.

I grew up in the generation that immediately followed this lot. We worshipped the hippies. We saw them as they wanted to be seen–the generation that broke through conformity, broke through inhibitions, and celebrated the unencumbered id. Because of their numbers, they could give themselves permission to do anything. Many continue to see themselves as trailblazers–and many were. Many also see themselves as the end of social evolution. I have had the honor of working with some amazing people from this era–close enough that I started seeing flaws and weaknesses.

In 1966 John Lennon of the Beatles said, “We’re more popular than Jesus.” A generation later in 1987 Ivan Doroschuk of the new wave band Men Without Hats wrote in his song “Walk on Water”, “They said we could walk on water…They said we were the second coming.” There is a word for this sort of self assessment: hubris.

When I was about to graduate from university I was given a book with the title Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow. Up until the 1980s the post war boom made it very easy for the previous generation to make money off the next generation. They were in positions of power and could use their position to make money off the sheer numerousness of the next generation. The baby-boom generation were also in a good position to make money off of each other. More services needed to be built in order to look after their wants and needs. It was all very simple for them. So simple that it seemed magical.

They could effortlessly believe that things came to them because they deserved it: either because they were the right sort of person (white, educated, American, middle class, etc) or they thought the right thoughts (magical thinking). Those of us graduating in the eighties found that the sales niche that was the baby boom had now been filled, and there was no room for us. We were told we couldn’t find work because we didn’t deserve it. Bantu Stephen Biko, South African anti-apartheid activist, has said, “Tradition has it that whenever a group of people has tasted the lovely fruits of wealth, security, and prestige, it begins to find it more comfortable to believe in the obvious lie and accept that it alone is entitled to privilege.”

The Concentration of Wealth

At the close of the US depression era and after the war, genuine strides were made toward wider distribution of wealth. The wealthy were getting wealthier off the backs of the baby boom, but so was everyone else. Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman write in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, “We find that wealth concentration was high in the beginning of the twentieth century, fell from 1929 to 1978, and has continuously increased since then.” In another article from this journal Zucman and Thomas Piketty write, “We find in every country a gradual rise of wealth-income ratios in recent decades, from about 200-300% in 1970 to 400-600% in 2010. In effect, today’s ratios appear to be returning to the high values observed in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (600-700%).” So, what happened to bring back a trend toward wealth concentration?

In 1940 the wealthiest 0.1% kept about 20% of all the money earned. The poorest 90% kept about the same. By the mid 70s the slice kept by the 0.1% had dipped to around 7%, while the slice kept by the 90% had climbed to over 30%. The wealthiest felt uncomfortable to threatened by an increasingly empowered public. This has happened on a regular basis throughout history. Their solution this time around was a political ideology that they then sold to others.

Sadly, it was an easy sell.

Marketing largely sells you stuff based on fear and/or ego. Their pitch this time was that the government is evil and greed is good. The government gave us Vietnam, the free market gave us incredible wealth. Seems pretty simple, yes? It’s an oversimplification that has led us into devastating times.

Those in power were able to bolster this outlook through Cold War fear campaigns. West vs East, US vs USSR, proved very convenient pairings. We were taught that our stuff was good: most especially capitalism and democracy. We were then taught their stuff was bad: most especially socialism and communism. We were then NOT taught what these terms meant nor where the distinctions lay. We are taught that democracy is about voting, but those votes have to mean something. When other bodies can intervene on a public vote and put someone, not given the dictate of the people into power, we aren’t really talking about a democracy any more. This is what the Electoral College is doing to people in the US.

Socialism and communism are not synonymous. We were told socialism is bad while some of our greatest allies, such as the Scandinavian countries, have been successful socialist countries for some time. We were told socialism is bad while having our own social services such as a free education. We were told socialism and communism are despotic, impoverishing, and remove freedoms. Capitalism, socialism, and communism can all be approached as economic systems which are attached to either dictatorial or democratic government systems. The very idea of communism from the beginning was that it would be democratic. Neither the USSR nor the People’s Republic of China have ever been truly communist and only very weakly socialist. In China you have to pay for medical health care. Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Australia, etc all have socialised health care. The leaders of various eastern countries offered social support to their poorest in return for putting them into power, then reneged on their promises. These words have become meaningless due to manipulation.

We have all been taught to want our slice of prosperity pie and to fear government getting in the way of that. So, we have been colluding with big business through our votes or lack of voting.

When we vote for the size of the state to be reduced, the number of people on public payroll to go down, the elimination of public education, healthcare, housing, transport, energy, etc we are voting away our power. When these things are transferred into the hands of business, you no longer have a say in how your world is ordered, and what is being done to you no longer will be as transparent. When was the last time you were able to vote a bad boss out of power? When was the last time the employees of a company were able to vote and say, “no” I do not want my company destroying the environment? When businesses control education and health care, your right to these things is taken away. Either you can pay or not.

Worse, when big business convinces us to vote away social safety nets, we aren’t simply punishing the poor for “being lazy”, we are taking away our own right to protest poor treatment by our employers, our right to change jobs, our right to fair pay and a safe working environment.

Here are the terrifying results of the prosperity pie campaign:

“Of the richest 400 people in the world. Ten years ago, their combined wealth was $1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion dollars). Now, after a world wide crash and all sort of bailouts, their combined worth is $2,000,000,000,000. They have doubled their money.”

“Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, according to a new report published by Oxfam.”

These people are wealthy beyond the needs of greed. This is all about power. One thing is clear from these reports, if only eight men own the majority of the Earth’s wealth then we can easily knock them over with a feather. No violence at all is needed, just the cooperation and goodwill of humanity. Yes, governments can be corrupted. We will always have to engage with our society to ensure it becomes and remains a place of kindness and mutual support. We need to find one another to do this and fast.

This is from a book I am writing on Wattpad.

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