Sources of Power

Posted on 01 November 2018

Problems arise when any group holds sources of power hostage. This hostage taking is used to put forward the agenda of a few at the expense of others and our planet. The questions we must always ask ourselves are: who gets to manage these sources, why are they managing them, and how are they using their considerable influence?

These sources are anything we need to exist as living beings within a civilised society:

* Weapons

* Natural resources

* Money

* Jobs

* Information, communications, and culture

Weapons

Weapons are an obvious source of power. They deal in death.

There is power in owning weapons, in owning the most destructive weapons, in building weapons, in stockpiling weapons, and in deciding who has access to weapons.

When people are fearful of one another, they may happily dispense weapons to a police force who they have charged to wield deadly power for their safety. People pay taxes and support laws to make this happen. Someone is then contracted to build the weapons. The police then have power to make lethal threats or outright kill.

People had the power to vote. Governments had the power to pay for weapons and issue them to their forces. Companies had the means to build weapons. Police officers now have a power of life or death. That’s four layers of power.

The most vulnerable layer in this power dynamic is the people. Governments or police could decide to take away a people’s vote and use their guns to enforce tax payment, so as to build more weapons.

When people are fearful of their government, they may make demands to have access to their own weapons. This stands to make weapons manufacturers very wealthy indeed. However, the instant those guns go off, we are talking about civil war. Civil wars tend to take a greater toll on human life than any other sort of conflict. The prosperity this brings the manufacturers gives them the power to pay government officials to do as they say. However, countries are devastated and become of less interest to the wealthy.

What the owners of weapons making companies want is for their country to go to war with other countries. In this way their country can take over someone else’s wealth and pass it on to the company. Even better is convincing other people’s states to fight, then sell weapons to both sides. This must be a carefully calculated game, so that those same weapons are not turned on the country of origin.

Our current arsenal is so powerful that we would only need to set off a few nuclear weapons and the whole world would spiral into environmental cataclysm.

Atmospheric scientist Richard Turco of UCLA has said, “Detonating between 50 and 100 bombs – just 0.03% of the world’s arsenal – would throw enough soot into the atmosphere to create climactic anomalies unprecedented in human history…The effects would be much greater than what we’re talking about with global warming and anything that’s happened in history with regards volcanic eruptions.”

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2006/dec/12/nuclearindustry.climatechange

Natural Resources

One of the nastiest things humans have allowed ourselves to do is carve up the world among ourselves, then slowly allow the pieces to devolve into the hands of a few. “This is mine!”

Because less and less can be deemed ours, we lose our right to our very existence.

“You can live, if you can afford to pay for my water. You can live, if you can afford to pay for my land. You can live, if you can afford to pay for the fruits of my land.” If you cannot pay, then your existence is at the sufference of those who have taken what plants and animals have shared for millenia.

In Australia there is a river called the Murray. It runs through three states. During the Millennium Drought, the worst drought Australia had seen in a thousand years, each part of that river was managed as if individually owned. Therefore the state where the source of the Murray could be found used all the water they wanted for their people and the growing of their crops. What was left of the water flowed to the next state, which had less for its people and crops, but took all they could of what they had. By the time the Murray flowed to the third state and out to the ocean, not enough water was making it through to ensure people, native plants and animals, or crops had all they needed.

These circumstances meant that the first state was the richest and most comfortable state and the last state was facing poverty and the destruction of its environment. These are all states of a single country! However, since that river was not managed as a collective resource (my river instead of our river) certain people and the environment were allowed to suffer. If those upstream agreed to more modest use of this natural resource, it is entirely possible that everyone would have had sufficient to avoid anyone suffering. This is why the Murray river had to become a Federally managed resource–in order to keep everyone’s needs in mind.

The Earth is a finite resource. We already have corporations grabbing at various resources in order to gain the power that comes from holding hostage that which other people need.

I did quite a bit of campaigning to stop Rio Tinto from taking San Carlos Apache sacred land. Using modern methods they found copper beneath that soil and felt it should belong to them. Their methods of mining will destroy the local environment…and they do not in fact need that copper at this point in time. They are hoarding in preparation for shortages. So, they found a way through the US Federal Government to just take the land without payment or consideration of the people who have loved and used it for hundreds of years.

When you have a tree full of apples, you can afford to let some people have more than their fair share, if everyone has access to enough. However, when certain people grab more than their fair share and deliberately make use of shortages, they are robbing you of your freedom and your right to a secure existence. They are preparing to bully you and your government through your desperation.

Money

Money is almost entirely abstract.

It is no longer a promissory note for a particular amount of gold. It’s just a means of keeping count of value. This can be done with bills, credit cards, or securely passing numbers between banks online.

Gold itself is of fictional value–anything could have been chosen to represent value–as long as it is desirable and scarce. We could be trading in caviar! Try walking into a grocery store and purchasing a shopping cart full of the week’s groceries with a lump of gold–not going to happen. Someone would have to determine if it was really gold, make a valuation, then upon receiving the gold find a way to use it to pay workers and suppliers. It’s all too much work.

They are likely to tell you to sell your lump at a gold market and come back with cash. Using gold only sounds like a good idea if you have plenty of it and it is of great value. If your lump is meant to only cover your purchases, it won’t be of much interest.

Whether people are saving money (hoarding it as a resource) or spending money affects the financial well-being of a nation. If people are circulating too much money too fast, then a country starts experiencing inflation. You may be able to afford a loaf of bread today, but tomorrow it may be overly expensive. If people feel the need for caution, or are simply without money, and very little money is circulating, then a country starts going into a depression. (Whoops! The “D” word. We don’t use that word anymore, because it is too scary and…well…depressing. The term is now “longterm recession”.)

Because it matters how many units of money are circulating in a country, many countries have a federal (or in the case of the US: semi-federal) reserve bank. These banks will release bills or hold bills, back banking loans, and set lending interest rates. Their job is to ensure the country’s inflation is low and employment high. However, these two ends can be in conflict with one another. Right now in the West we are experiencing both low inflation and low employment.

If many people feel insecure about what their future holds, they may start saving money “for a rainy day”. This can slow the circulation of money, meaning there is less money with which to pay people. Governments and companies may try to encourage people to go out and buy to correct for this. However, that only works if people actually have much money to spend in the first place.

If companies can find ways to have fewer workers and pay the remaining workers less, such as through third world sweatshops or robotization, then they can shift more of their money to the CEO and stockholders. CEOs and stockholders may then remove the money they have earned to offshore banks in order to avoid paying taxes on it. This means vast amounts of money are removed from circulation and aren’t coming back into circulation as either purchases or tax money.

When the country starts to fall into recession because of this removal of money, companies may cry poor. “Not enough of our goods are being purchased, so we must fire more people,” they will say while not acknowledging why people don’t have dollars. Then comes the sucker punch, “Governments should give us more money, so we can create jobs”. This may save a few jobs, but mostly it makes the companies wealthier at the public’s expense.

Under our current system we all need money to survive. However, money is managed such that it is very easy for some to have so much more as to endanger people’s lives and demand their obedience.

Jobs

Many groups, communities, and organisations need your work. They need people to distribute food to the poor, plant trees to clean the air, and even just share insights to help them make good decisions.

You need to find a job in order to make money and then to buy what you and your family need to survive.

Work does not equal money.

Work only provides money when you have people with the means to offer money in exchange. When only certain people have money, they get to choose what gets done in the world–whether or not it is in the best interest of humanity or the planet. This is not an issue among cultures where everyone pitches in and everyone shares.

One of the biggest lies we have been told in recent years is that there aren’t enough jobs.

The truth is we need all hands on deck in order to curb global environmental catastrophe and to save many people who will be suffering from its effects. There are loads of jobs.

So what’s going on here?

When jobs are the only means by which people can make money, then having the means to create jobs is power. People who wish to abuse this power and grab more power for themselves have a few means by which to manipulate people to achieve this.

First, corporate manipulators need an underclass. They need a whole group of people who are an object lesson as to what can happen if you lose a job. To look good companies may give to charities, but they will never give to any program that may actually systemically deal with the problems. They need workers to feel uneasy, even scared, about the consequences of acting out. To make things even scarier, they will do everything they can to remove social safety nets such as welfare payments. They will then do all they can to stigmatise people who rely on welfare. This is a form of propaganda whereby people feel less inclined to help the poor, even if it is in their best interest to do so.

When people are scared they are more likely to accept lower wages, greater work hours, and fewer work rights in exchange for security. These same people who are being mistreated will also fight for the existence of their abusive company, because they feel desperate and can see no other alternatives. Working longer hours also means they do not have the time to politically engage in order to change things.

Corporate manipulators love a slightly unsteady economy. It means they can bully the government. When people start threatening to change their voting alliance because they are facing a scarce job market, then big businesses can put the pressure on federal candidates, saying they could make more jobs available…if. They might as well be mafia members offering a protection racket with that “if”. The list they offer usually includes if the government: lowers corporate taxes, removes worker benefits, sells off public assets, and contracts out federal work.

Nothing says all paid work must be under the control of business. Businesses cry, “It’s unfair having you compete with us!” on the one hand and on the other urge for a “healthy competitive market”. Many countries have both private and public versions of various services: public and private schools for instance. When government does offer certain services, it sets a standard. When public health care is good, private health care had also better be good if it wishes to attract any business. Also in a democratic society government based work is more accountable and must be transparent to the voters whose tax money is paying people’s salaries.

If we rely on money to survive, then our governments are duty bound to ensure everyone, every last citizen, has access to the money they need, and opportunities to contribute to their communities. From 1935 to 1943 the US federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) pulled the US out of the Great Depression by employing 8.5 million citizens. Full employment was reached in 1942 and emerged as a long-term national goal around 1944. We can do this again.

Information, Communications, & Culture

Information, communications, and culture are the glue by which we hold a society together and hold it together over time. These ways that we bond with one another can also be used to enforce a certain type of society, where particular people are in control.

Information

Information is preserved knowledge. You may be familiar with phrase “knowledge is power”. The oldest recorded use of this phrase is in the Biblical book of Proverbs, but it has been used in philosophical treatises and a computer game.

If you know that certain stock is going to gain or lose value before anyone else does, that is power. If you are the only one with instructions on how to build a particularly destructive weapon, that is power. If you alone have the knowledge of how to make a drug that could save people, that is power.

During the Middle Ages guilds protected trade secrets, because for any particular guild, having these secrets meant their members could do more impressive things than those who did not. Magicians guilds, which still exist, insist upon the secrecy of their members as to how their tricks are done. Revealing their tricks would drive away audiences who could no longer enjoy being deceived. Also, those belonging to the guild are literally likely to have a little more up their sleeve than amateur magicians.

Trade secrets today are kept as patents or locked away in academic journals where the papers there are only available to those with sufficient money. In essence information is being held hostage so that only those with access to that knowledge can make a living from it. Sadly, keeping these secrets creates problems.

When the circle of people holding information about some process is small, they don’t have much input to expand upon that information. A small group of people may invent the wheel, but a larger group may start inventing the car.

When that knowledge is important to people’s survival, a reasonable question would be: “Does this information really belong to one person or to all of us?” If only one company has knowledge in how to make a drug to treat a particular type of cancer, is it really all right to let them use people’s desperation to charge a large amount of money? When they charge that sort of money is it all right to let all those who can’t afford it to die? If they do make it financially available to their own poor, is it all right to let them block its manufacture in other countries that may need it?

This is why it is of such concern about allowing some countries to be “information rich” and others to be “information poor”.

Communication

Communication is about the movement of information. Communication is about who we can talk to, whose information we trust, and whether or not what is said is true.

Communication makes it possible for us to share private information, but the very act can make us vulnerable to someone intercepting this information and using it against us.

Communication makes it possible for us to warn people that a storm is coming their way, when we have just experienced it.

Communication helps us to form friendships, form alliances, organise, and initiate action at a particular time and place.

Communication can also be used to manipulate us, making us think and feel things in order to direct what sorts of things we do. On Facebook Russian trolls are blamed for manipulating people on that social media site to vote for Donald Trump, or just give up on voting altogether when Hilary Clinton was chosen to run as the Democratic candidate instead of Bernie Sanders. However, standard outlets such as newspapers and television news have done the same thing.

If your media is concentrated into the hands of only a few people, and even fewer types of people, they are being given a disproportionate power to influence your understanding of the world. You are only being given one perspective and it is the perspective that most favors the people who are communicating it. These communications could be complete lies, but you will have a hard time knowing that since where ever you look, you will be seeing the same lies repeated over and over again.

Culture

Culture is like water to a fish. We are so deeply immersed in our cultures that we may not recognise when our understanding of life is cultural and not factual.

Culture makes it possible for us to preserve those thoughts, ideas, and behaviors we believe to be most important to us. This is why we have things like William Shakespeare’s works still printed, still read, and still performed more than four hundred years after his death. We continue to understand those plays because we have preserved much of how Shakespeare’s world was shaped. And yet, some of his plays are becoming meaningless because culture has changed, such as the relationships between men and women.

Sometimes culture genuinely helps us to bond through celebrations, creative experiences, and traditions of care. Cherry blossom festivals, harvest festivals, music festivals, etc. bring people together under exciting and joyful circumstances where we have a chance to see one another in a positive light, then later give us something we can collectively reminisce about. Even a funeral can bring people together in a constructive manner.

Stories are a particularly powerful part of culture. We learn what is expected of us through stories. We are given a cosmology of what the world is like and what we can look forward to throughout our lives. Stories can provide us with useful templates for who we want to become. But it only works if we are provided with sufficient and flexible enough templates that everyone can find what they need.

When the stories we are told are those where only the privileged have the power to shape their world, we may acquiesce to this state of affairs because we have not been given the means to imagine otherwise. Those who are bold may imagine a world where roles have been flip-flopped, but nothing much else has changed. If the world was unfair before, it continues to be unfair. This just reinforces the status quo.

Nothing is wrong with remembering how things were. It is even useful for understanding how things are. We also need the support to imagine better.

When television, film, and computer games are largely locked up by a few wealthy individuals sending out to the whole world only a small portion of all the stories that could be told, and so taking up people’s time such that they don’t look further, the world becomes very rigid, bland, and incapable of maturing. They have the power to hypnotise your thinking and cause you to lazily rely on their stereotypes, instead of understanding the world for yourself. It is important to not let culture drift into propaganda.

Culture is at its best when it is a living thing shared by everyone.

We should not fear power, but neither should we allow it to be abused. The most effective means to keep power from becoming toxic is by respecting everyone’s individual power. We have to stop wanting a disproportionate amount for ourselves. Sadly, our culture creates a fear within us which seems only quenchable through control. Hoarding power feels like a means to have that sort of control. Culture is probably one of the most important places to start making big change.

This is from a book I am writing on Wattpad.


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