The sound track to this post is Anton’s new track “not blowing smoke up your ass” .. you should let it play in the background.
Modern society is like a carefully calibrated engine. After centuries of experimentation, by the mid 20th Century most the raw forces of humanity were brought into a balance, to drive it forward, like a steam train whose engine contains a controlled box of fire, constantly fed and tended by the driver.
This balance has been recently lost in the USA, and many of us poets think the world order is at risk of returning to an anarchic state, an emergency like a world war, where power, the raw fire in the engine box, runs through society until it burns itself out. This is an unfamiliar world to us in the west, it is more of a wild west, where the good are not always victorious, the vanquished are not always the least honourable, and values like ‘goodness’ and ‘honour’ are mostly irrelevant to how events play out and the world is shaped—at least for a while.
When power decides the outcome of events, again and again, things ultimately tend toward chaos, empty of meaning—at least when judged through any moral prism of justice or righteousness. There is no all-powerful God looking down to put things right. The only value is that of power itself—power is the ruler—only through the lens of power does anything make sense. This kind of justice has been called “Might is Right” (originally the title of a book published in the 1890s which pushes social Darwinist ideas).
We are so used to a doctrine of fairness that underpins how our society works, that we are not ready for one where raw power in the form of money and weapons play a larger role in world affairs than they have for a long time. Of course this has been weakening for a while – the legislation of that name was removed in 1987 – and the strength of institutions designed to safeguard law and diplomacy have been drained by corporate interests and powerful families for decades. But we seem now to be entering a world where debts no longer need be repaid by the powerful (they are either disappeared for favours, or seem to endlessly balloon). Democracy no longer works if it conflicts with powered interests. Laws are applied, but they need reflect no moral code that we are used to living within.
If we take the lessons from a pre-enlightenment Game of Thrones type world, it could be that we are simply re-entering a natural cycle of power vying with power which is the inevitable ground state of things. Ultimately there is no value in weighing ethical considerations to events—the good will be crushed, or favoured, along with the bad. In medieval times, all could be explained as the will of God, with retribution in the life hereafter. But what higher sensibility do we turn to today?
A few people have now accrued massive personal power thanks to faults in our capitalist system, where personal qualities, like faithfulness, respect for truth and compassion have become a hindrance. Perhaps if the system was still designed given power to people with these society-preserving values, we would be entering a golden age. But instead, the system gave too much power to those who had the greatest selfishness, who manipulated markets and sold junk loans, who played outside the rules, and it has concentrated their wealth almost to the point that they are now a criminal class.
Power begets power, it is a blind force. This is perhaps still ok if its kept inside the corporate world—where the only value is that of the market value, and the losers can retreat to a social safety net. Corporate power finds the most efficient route to satisfy market desires, and it rightly values such efficiency. But in the wider society, and the governments that rule them, we have held our leaders to a different set of values since democracies began. We need society to reflect who we are as humans, and so we value peace and wellbeing of our community, we seek leaders who have values that we would seek out in our friends—courage, compassion, honesty.
Democracy was the system of ensuring society’s wider values played a role in electing its leaders. But if our leaders are not elected by us, because they use their personal power to become our leaders, they can base their decisions on whatever ‘values’ they happen to have. In their egocentric view of the world they are liable to govern only for those who resemble themselves—and so they start movements based on race, creed, nationality, with themselves at the centre. Everyone outside their circle is disposable.
It is no surprise to find that once they hold political power, those who have obtained their power through bluffing and bending the rules of the system, will continue to play that game in politics, applying their power to give themselves an irreversible political advantage, as well as financial kick backs. This is why they entered politics in the first place—and our political system was not protected well enough to prevent their entry. They have used their money to erode the firewall which kept financial power (money) from affecting the decision making at the heart of society.
They have been particularly successful now that a new tool is at their disposal—the weaponisation of the media, and social media—with which they are spinning a special fabric of reality to confuse us about what is really going on. I think many of us are still reeling at how successful this has been, and there are many stories of people who have lost their parents to fox news and alt-right memes. Perhaps their success is because they co-opted the experts—religious extremists, who have been spinning alternate realities to energise their supporters with a mixture of hate and fear for millennia (Christian extremists have taken a leaf or two from the jihadist rhetoric since 9/11)—and media moguls who are also experts at slurring their enemies and energising their readership with hate. They each have their own reasons, but they are all in alignment at the moment as the power of the state shifts into corporate hands.
Since 2016, Trump’s brand of corrupted corporate power is quickly spreading through US politics like a fire. It ignites everything it touches, through the three branches of government. It has no reason to preserve any particular ethical norm, unless it happens to align with its own interests for a moment. In geopolitics, it will use its power to advance its interests in the same way, ultimately militarily. I think it will burn out in the end, as it faces its own contradictions and pitches a battle with reality itself, but not before too much that we love is destroyed, perhaps forever.
For this reason, personal power—built with corporate money—must be taken out of politics. Money belongs in the marketplace, the engines which drive society forward, and at all costs it must be kept there. After the current crisis, we will need to reset society with better checks on how much power a single person can accrue and a clear respect of values like truth and compassion built into how our civilisation works. I have already written about how a worldwide society might be redesigned to enhance its democracy, and how we could find a value structure suitable for that new world. We will get there one day, but how much chaos must be endured in the meantime? How many people will die? And how much of our planet will be destroyed before the fire is put out?