Can we find our way out of this dystopian maze?
by Tin-Can Jim
A friend recently told me that she had heard that over the past couple months sales of George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel 1984 has dramatically increased. I find it hard to believe that the uptick in sales of 1984 doesn’t have something to do with election of our new president, somebody who is so clearly unfit to hold such a powerful job. Some of his statements have been blatantly totalitarian, bigoted and xenophobic in nature. The fact that such an unqualified individual got elected to the most powerful governmental position in a democratic country has shaken us. It makes us wonder if the system has failed us or if we have failed the system? Have we been deceived into believing that we have the power to choose? Have we deceived ourselves into thinking we even still live in a Democracy? Have we given up on Democracy, or have we been manipulated by power, wealth into believing that we have any meaningful choices left? I don’t think we can blame it totally on public apathy or laziness, and we can’t blame it totally on the media, culture or propaganda. Either way though, it’s looking more and more like if we don’t do something soon a dystopian future maybe in store for us. I would even go a step further and say that we have been living in a dystopic society for many decades now. One must remember that what in part defines a “dystopian world” is the fact that none, or very few of it’s inhabitants knows that they are in fact, living in a dystopia . Many even believe it to be a Utopia.
I’ve heard interviews with Trump supporters who seem sincerely to believe that ‘the Donald” was chosen by God himself to lead America back to greatness, like it is a given to believe that America was ever a “Great” country. Is it possible for any nation-state to be defined as ‘Great’? To me, it seems simplistic in the extreme to some up any huge group of people with one word, be the word “Great”, “Amazing”, “Loving” or “Evil”. And at the same time as the Trumpist beam with glowing ecstasy, there are thousands upon thousands of people taking to the streets in resistance marches. Perhaps it is only now that the majority of the general public is waking up to the fact that the systems of organized living and economic structures in America are broken. Trumps election crystallizes this idea for both his supporters and his detractors. His supporters believe that a political messiah, like old testament Moses, will bring down an iron fist and lead us to salvation. I believe that the only way to change things for the good, is for humans to use reason, embrace compassion, have a healthy amount of skepticism and empathy, show tolerance and a love towards this world and the people who call it home. Now, of course none who breath are saints. I’ve breached the above list more often than I can count. But our President often times seems to not show any understanding of what the words mean, thus he can’t distinguish in himself when he has transgressed.
I would guess that the great divide now taking place among citizens of not only this country but in other modern countries is the result of capitalism heedlessly running rapid.
Let’s look at one hot-topic issue in the American discourse and see what conclusions can be drawn from them.
The gun control debate in America is a perfect example of the moral indifference and dysfunction that unleashed capitalism has wrought in this country. We know now for a fact that in places where more people are armed and where there is more poverty there is more firearms violence than where there is less poverty and where there are fewer guns. Yet even after the shootings at Sandy Hook, where small children were gunned down in a school, and there were a cascade of calls from the masses to have, at the minimum, mandatory background checks and bans placed on the sales of some assault weapons no laws are passed. I believe that even the majority of gun owners were in favor of many of these minimally restrictive gun laws. But the people in power, politicians and the weapons manufacturers who fund their political campaigns, felt they had too much money to loose by implementing even the barest minimum of gun restriction laws. So they did nothing other than condemn the violence. Many politicians even went so far as to say that what we needed to stop gun violence were more guns. What this amounts to is saying we can make more money if we sell more weapons regardless of the statistics and regardless of all the negative affects that gun violence has on society. To me it is an obvious example of how power and money can distort humanities moral balance.
We’ve come to a point now where it seems obvious that greed, fraud and deception are being rewarded in America. Poverty is being vilified. To become rich is to become legitimately above the law. To become poor is to become criminal. To be somewhere in the every decreasing middle is to be exploited. There is a vicious, divisive class war that is bubbling to the suffice of capitalistic America and we all pay a heavy price.
I believe that it is happening either consciously or unconsciously to most everybody regardless of their social, political or cultural status. It seeps and permeates through the ether of America. It hangs in the wind above the flowing rivers on whose banks the homeless have pitched their tents. It wisps down hundreds boarded up small town main streets. It hangs as thick in air in the board rooms of the financial institutions on Wall Street as it is in the crack houses of poor inner city neighborhoods. It’s releasing an odor that some are beginning to detect and every day it smells more and more putrid. It is souring the lubricating waters of integration, charity and love.
I think there is a deep pathological, psychological problem with the nature of power as it has manifested in the psyche of the US citizenry. We’ve been bombarded with propaganda our whole lives. Our beliefs have all been programmed into us by our parents, friends, the government, culture. Often times it is the belief that free markets are the way to free minds, but the truth is there is dark side to capitalism that has purposefully been swept under the rug. With all the wealth, the convenience, the innovation, the freedom of choices and of speech; with the exponentially expanding technological advances that capitalism has brought to the world, when looking at at it on a superficial level there appears to be no reason to question the greatness of free market economies. But as material goods and money have more and more become falsely associated with spiritual well being and success, as they are now unquestionably synonymous with power, as the huge acquisition of wealth has accumulated at the top of the social hierarchy, as the rich get richer, as more power has been placed by the system into the laps of the wealthy, a greater disconnect has taken place between economic classes.
The only way that the majority of the people come into contact with those in the stratospheric realms of the super rich is through images on screens. You will not be bumping into too many CEOs on the city bus. They’ll be flying high above in a private jet or blocked out from view by the tinted windows of their limos. You will not share a smile with them sitting in the grandstands at the ballgame. They will be above you in one the luxury boxes at the stadium. When you do see them on the screen it will be in only the way that they want you to see them. And as forces dictate, for good or for bad, they will only associate with you on their terms. Society conditions us into believing that we find ourselves where do at any given moment because of our own choices in life. I think it is more the other way around. Societal forces dictate where we are in life, be there such a thing as ‘free will’ or not. More and more it has been shown that your social standing in this country is determined mostly by the social status of your parents.
Upward mobility is decreasing. You have a much higher risk of slipping down than you do of clawing upward. Even worse, studies have shown that most American parents believe that the lives of their children will be harder ones and less prosperous than their own. This echoes a growing cynicism. I believe it is the result of regulatory policy that allows capital to be perpetually sucked upwards. I think that in order change we have to accept this fact: In order for a society to remain healthy there must be systems put into place that redistribute wealth so that everyone can be afforded an equal opportunity to an education, one that is free from poverty and one where justice is dispensed equally regardless of social status, race or wealth. Are such high goals possible to obtain? Maybe not completely but with all the resources that this beautiful planet has given us one would have to be morally bankrupt to believe that we shouldn’t be doing better than we are at providing for each other.
In the world now dominated by markets and commerce, nature itself is looked upon as a personal means to an end, including the nature of the human condition. That end being one of false need. Of course there are only a few homo-sapiens who accumulate most of this wealth. The vast majority of the people are used by the wealthy, intentionally or not. They use human labor like they use the natural resources that have been recklessly extracting from the Earth. Human labor has become just another commodity. In today’s world people, their muscles and their misery, are used like simple money printing machines. The powerful get the most out of them as they can, throw them out like garbage and move on to the next batch. This mentality trickles down to the garbage patch people. They are often times driven to compete and fight among themselves for the the right to be used, for the right to survive with a semblance of dignity. They’ve been conditioned by the corrupt system to believe that they must compete to have wealth and power too. “Just work hard and stay in a nice straight line. You can have all of this. You can become rich and then become happy.” This of course is a lie. The game is becoming more and more rigged in favor of the powerful. As wealth is accumulated upwards so power has been dragged along with it. A system of the monopolization of power has been established. It is a bubble of power that floats indifferently above the masses. It is in a shell of false tranquility, falsely removed from the fray of nature and the trials of petty survival.
The Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinburg said, ” In general, when left to their own devices, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things. It takes religion to get good people to do bad things.” I’d widen the net and say that almost any uncompromising and selfish ideology can lead good people doing bad things. I think history is showing us that the belief that unchecked capitalism is the end-all and be-all of economic systems is a dangerous another ideology. We can look back at slavery in this country as an example of free markets being used to promote hate, exploitation and racism. The cruelty of slavery was an example of wealth interest rising above moral interests. In the writings of Columbus we can see the changing of his perceptions about the native peoples of the island of Hispaniola. The justification of atrocities in the pursuit of wealth and power. When he first encountered the people of Hispaniola he was struck by their physical beauty and intelligence. He also saw that they didn’t have weapons and did not fight among themselves. He saw then that they wore decorations made of gold and gems. His main occupation after that was to acquire as much precious stone as he could. He did this by torture, coercion and enslavement. Now his tune changed, the “Indians” were suddenly lazy and untrustworthy, subhuman. The most comely women were taken as sex slaves. Both sexes were forced to work in the mines. Like all future slaveholders in the South he justified his actions by citing racist ideology.
Now we hear the talk of race and class fear mongering. Patriotism, nation exceptionalism and xenophobic rhetoric are being used to justify the grab for cash and to keep the military industrial complex churning out weapons of death to the “other”. A strange new manufactured truth is being thrown out over the masses. It’s a net of dishonesty that discourages any form of curiosity or skeptical inquiry. Wealth disparity fits like a hand in the glove in perfectly with class mistrust and fear.
I think that this physical and emotional disconnect between the classes of society is dangerous by its very nature. It stifles integration. It corrupts minds. It breeds greed, avarice, envy, mistrust, contempt and even hate. It lulls the powerful and rich into a lethargy of material excess and opacity. The garbage patch poor remain nakedly transparent in their dire need, in their envy and hopelessness. The decreasing numbers in the middle feel like they are being squeezed in a vice of chaotic forces that they have no control over. The chaos at the extremes are becoming a dangerous dichotomy, two festering sores on the psyche of humanity. They are, along with the vast ecological destruction that we are witnessing, sinister corruptions that unfettered capitalism has bread. I’m not in anyway suggesting that these negative forces and dynamics have not been with us since we started living in isolated groups. We still separate into groups and probably always will. But it seems to me that eventually, for the sake of survival as a species, we will have to all accept the fact that our own personal well being is intrinsically dependent on the well being of everyone else who calls this dust speck their home.
We have to find ways to integrate our own minds along with our collective minds. I believe it is possible to protect the rights of individuals; reward innovation along with honesty and constructive work. And at the same time incorporate utilitarian systems that spread well being to all. We have to bring about ways for us to create vertical integrity in our minds and in the way human society is structured. We must hold ourselves accountable as individuals and as a species. Ending poverty would be a great way to start. Health care, shelter and education for all should be made a priority. We must find ways to work together, be willing to admit honestly to our past mistakes and at the same time embrace our collective history.
Unfettered capitalism is a spiritual, psychological, economic and social malady built around competition, avarice and greed. We have forgotten that we share the same genes, the same planet. Together we must come face to face and confront this problem that has been subtly seething in our collective minds, and it may be only now, as we see such a disconnect from what we’ve been told to be true by the powerful through mass media and by the manipulating marketeers of religion and commerce, to what we experience with our own senses, that being, there maybe a bitter realization that dystopia is beginning to bubble to the surface. We’re beginning to see ourselves differently. The onion peels of hype, hope, fear and conditioning are being shed. Our eyes are getting moist even when we don’t know exactly why we cry. It is a slow unveiling, before our eyes. It is leaving us stunned and disoriented. We can continue on the course that we are on. One of dealing with this cognitive dissonance by continuing to blind ourselves with more excess, abusing drugs, hoarding money and soon to be bored of and thrown away material goods, collecting superficial relationships and meaningless check lists of experiences. Or we can look into each other’s eyes and accept the fact that we cannot be made well until all are well.