The dogma that economic power is at the root of all evil must be discarded. Its place must be taken by an understanding of the dangers of any form of uncontrolled power. Money as such is not particularly dangerous. It becomes dangerous only if it can buy power, either directly, or by enslaving the economically weak who must sell themselves in order to live.
The Open Society and Its Enemies: Vol 2. Karl Popper, 1945
I grew up in interesting times. The first half of my young life was spent in Southern California in the waning days of the Vietnam War and its equally ineffectual social contemporary, the Peace Movement. “What do you want? Peace! When do you want it? Now!” was the angry chorus that accompanied the tie dyed floral festooned marchers of some of my most vivid early memories. And far from peace; what we got instead was the massive expansion of covert military action that took root in anonymous places across the globe with the likes of Oliver North and has metastasized into Obama’s sweeping doctrine of assassination drone diplomacy. Then my family moved to Pennsylvania where we lived among the religious conservative communities infused with doctrinal fervor to spare a select few of the throngs of fallen humanity from the fires of hell. “What do you want? Salvation! When do you want it? Before you might die in a car accident tonight on your way home from church so you better get it right now!” was the new refrain sung to the mournful meter of Just As I Am.
Whether it was the peace marchers that showed the government that a public informed of the scourge of a pointless war was too dangerous or the serial converts that fueled revivals to “Save the Lost”, the seventies and eighties marked a time when humanity’s sound-bite activism facilitated the tyrannical rise of uncontrolled power. From the tepid Tea Party evangelicals to dwindling Occupites to mercenary lords of corporate war, our uninformed militant impulses enjoy shorter half-lives these days with equal impotence. At present, more of humanity finds itself meeting Popper’s ominous warning “of enslaving the economically weak who must sell themselves in order to live,” than at any time before…, and their ranks are growing.
It’s easy to connect with the naked reality of our current paradox – a web-entangled information infested world where understanding is an endangered species – than when one spends a week in Papua New Guinea. Here, the simple transfer of knowledge – appreciated for its absence – unleashes genuine impulses to effectuate change. In the land of oil, natural gas, and gold, pirate corporations have preyed on those whom have been bypassed by the information super-highway and have enjoyed impunity by keeping both their local victims and their remote investors in equal blindness. Standing before an audience of 2,000 people just outside the capital of Port Moresby on Wednesday, in conversation with the most marginalized I shared information and pathways for action that neither their government nor the corporations who have fostered its enslavement were willing to address. And now there are 2,000 people who have been made aware that there’s an alternative to the abuse that has been commonplace. They stood, united in a moment, to be part of the change that they could all intuit to be possible.
There was a bit of irony that many of my colleagues were reading John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man on the trip we just completed. Perkins, like the serial converts of the evangelical movement decades ago, seems to celebrate his ‘conversion’ by recounting the wretched state from which he was redeemed. The refrain of his story is being aware of the carnage in which he participated but finding himself constantly seduced by the sirens of reward from his lords. Now, to be clear, I celebrate the fact that my recommendations of his book have enriched John (through his royalties). In it he cogently outlines the orchestrated hypocrisy of our hijacked bastardization of exclusive capitalism. It’s worth the read – particularly if you assiduously avoid reading the conclusion. Because tragically in the end, he offers the same helplessness that plagued his odyssey. Do something, he asks? Get people to read my book. Never a call to divest from KBR, Halliburton, Exxon, Bechtel and the like. Never a call to become personally known to (and in) the communities that have suffered at the hands of these despotic parasites. Never a call to actually use a fraction of your horded future security for a present intervention with those who have long been prey. You see, even the purveyors of ‘truth’ in our time create the illusion that ‘becoming informed’ is to have accomplished something to turn the tide. After nearly two millennia haven’t we learned that the canon “the truth shall set you free” has been the battle cry of those who most oppressively enslave? We don’t need ‘truth’, we need knowledge gained through direct human contact.
Popper’s fatalism suggests an inevitability that the Bretton Woods cabal will lead to the progressive enslavement of humanity’s innumerable most vulnerable. And regrettably, his postulate has held for over half a century. However what evidenced this week was that for the price of airfare, erasure of geographically advantaged ignorance unleashed a new narrative. Having trafficked humans in pursuit of wringing every ill-gotten profit into the coffers of the anesthetized sociopathic passive privateer, the human traffic that brings people into each other’s communities can disproportionately release the furies of opportunity and engagement.
In his social commentary film, In Time, Andrew Niccol has his villain callously state that for one to achieve immortality, many must die. Whether or not he meant to embrace the critique that the only contrivance afforded immortality in our time is the perpetual corporation, I cannot say. But Freudian or intentional, his observation is worth deeper reflection. Our more suitable humanity may be continue to be held at bay so long as we provide, through immortality, the “uncontrolled power” of the corporation. It is this institution that must be invited to serve a useful life and die. In our time, it is bloated, persistent corporations that kill and maim. It is bloated, persistent corporations that buy every form of government. It is bloated, persistent corporations that demand succor from governments while the governed are left to fend for themselves. And it is high time that we turn our collective attention to this autocratic abusive legacy of the Dutch and British and charter a new, mortal framework for our pursuits. In short, it’s time to reclaim humanity and all of its various pursuits for humans. Go beyond being informed – be engaged with the trafficked and share their humanity! You’ll never see the world the same again.