Thursday, 5 May 2011

No Borders, No Bosses. Part 3.

... In this community economics would be decentralist and Henry-Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque co-operative. Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath, they had been made for man, not (as at present… ) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved to them. Religion would be the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man's Final End, the unitive knowledge of immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahman. And the prevailing philosophy of life would be a kind of Higher Utilitarianism, in which the Greatest Happiness principle would be secondary to the Final End principle – the first question to be asked and answered in every contingency of life being: "How will this thought or action contribute to, or interfere with, the achievement, by me and the greatest possible number of other individuals, of man's Final End?"
Aldous Huxley in the foreword to the 1946 edition of Brave New World

No Bosses, temporal, spiritual, or financial.

At the end of my last blog on this subject I posed these rhetorical questions: “How might important aspects of infrastructure be handled? How would the railways run? How would the mail be delivered? How would hospitals function? How would justice be administered?

There’s an easy and ready-made answer, of course. “Let us take care of that for you – at a price, of course!” That’s the voice of market forces. It seems that there is always someone offering to do things for us. First we had the political class, and now we have Capitalism. Of course we could lapse into sloth and apathy and let them do just that, but don’t ever make the mistake that the offer comes from generosity. Any action, no matter how apparently altruistic, made by a political person or party has only one end – the getting or maintaining of power; any action, no matter how apparently altruistic, made by a business person or a corporation has only one end – profit. I’m sorry but that’s how it works.

We would find a way to run the railways, the mail, the hospitals, and the courts, because it would be necessary to find a way. Otherwise there would be chaos. Anarchists do not believe in chaos and do not believe in no structures – for too long we have let the Right get away with using the term ‘anarchy’ (which was once, certainly in Bakunin’s time, used where we now use ‘anarchism’) to equate to chaos and disorder; I dare say you could run to your Merriam-Webster, jab your finger at the page, and say, “But that’s what it says, right here!” There is usage, friend, and there is abusage! The running of essential services would be hard work, but it would get done. It would have to, and that’s that.

But hand it all to capitalism? Thomas Jefferson said of merchants: “Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute an attachment as that from which they draw their gains.” Capitalism, no matter how it may drape itself in the flag is not the stuff of patriotism. If patriotism were to be replaced by a general dedication to the good of all, a willingness to work within and participate in a flatter, more local structure with a highly participatory democracy, and within a network of cooperating communities, then capitalism would find itself at cross-purposes still with the common good.

There has never been, since the absolute monarchies of the Middle Ages, an institution more autocratic, more unaccountable, more antithetical to true democracy, more selfish, than the Business Corporation. You may argue that it is accountable to its shareholders. It is its shareholders. They are the Caliph, and the CEO is their Grand Vizier. Something that is accountable only to itself can hardly be said to be accountable at all. You may argue that it is accountable to its customers, who can choose to buy or not to buy. To that last I say: “Where have you been for the last century – the Moon?”

In 1957 – that’s more than half a century ago – American journalist Vance Packard wrote a book which has relevance to this day. It was The Hidden Persuaders. The review published in The New Yorker at the time said of it: “A brisk, authoritative and frightening report on how manufacturers, fundraisers and politicians are attempting to turn the American mind into a kind of catatonic dough that will buy, give or vote at their command.” The thrust of the book was to expose the hidden world of ‘motivation research’, the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers. Packard analysed marketing and political campaigns and TV programmes of the 1950s, and uncovered and demonstrated how the manipulative concept of ‘creating a market’ came to dominate the twentieth century’s corporate-driven world. It changed the way that advertising was viewed, but its lessons have been forgotten by consumers. It may have frightened capitalism for a short time, but certainly since the emergence of Reaganomics, Thatcherism, and the new Right, capitalism has reemerged with renewed confidence to dictate to us what we want to buy. So much for it’s being accountable to us!

Incidentally Packard, who died in 1996, also wrote The Status Seekers (about American social stratification), The Waste Makers (about ‘planned yearly obsolescence’ – a trick to persuade us not to buy durable goods but slavishly to grab ‘this year’s model’), and The Naked Society (about the threats to privacy posed by new technologies). He’s sitting up in heaven now saying, “See! See! I told you so!” as our every keystroke on internet sites is recorded, the phones in our pockets fix our moves by GPS, and the CCTV cameras track our every step. We’re down here wondering why we didn’t listen to him sooner!

Back to corporations. They are the antithesis of democracy. They are strictly hierarchical, and no decisions are made with reference to either customers or workforce (and in workforce I include all who work there up to a relatively high level of management, as the latter are merely functionaries and not decision makers). They are secretive; whilst demanding that government is ‘open’ and reveals its workings, its in-house instructions for dealing with business, its every move, corporations reveal nothing to anyone. Everything is private, secret, more arcane than even the inner workings of the Vatican or the ancient court of Byzantium. It is easier to probe the workings of freemasonry than it is to discover what actually happens within the average corporation.

In case you hadn’t gathered by now – Capitalism is not your friend.

It cannot and will not survive in a society where democratic participation has increased to its optimum level. It will fight tooth-and-nail to ensure that democracy, cooperation, and accountability do not increase. It is inimical to democracy. It is the natural habitat and domain of The Boss.

A recent correspondent came across a comment I made a few years ago, to the effect that crime was merely the extension of business to its logical extreme. He countered that by saying that whereas business was symbiotic, crime was parasitic. I don’t buy that distinction. At the very least the edges are blurred. We have seen that where corporations are bound by the laws of a society they will push for those laws’ ‘liberalisation’; if they have the opportunity, they will often find a ‘work-round’, a way of avoiding or even evading a law, some going as far as to break it covertly. A corporation will move its operation elsewhere in the world, if it can find somewhere where workers can be employed for half a bowl of rice, or where it does not have to comply with safety regulations. There is no scuzzy dictatorship to which it will not buddy up if favourable conditions can be obtained. Just because a business was founded in, say, Britain or America, it is not to be supposed that it feels the least sympathy with the citizens of the country of its foundation. It’s only motive is to exploit. Some corporations become so powerful that they can dictate policy and law to the countries in which they squat. In times of difficulty when, according to the principles of competition by which capitalism is supposed to function, they ought to fail, they can wring their hands, cry crocodile tears, and demand huge pay-outs from the pockets of the citizens. “We are ‘too big to fail’!” they cry. Some symbiosis!

Capitalism is a religion. Certainly in America it seems to occupy a cult status alongside and equal to the flag and church-going. It is assumed to be somehow divinely-ordained and protected, as though “I got mine” were a passage from scripture. Inconvenient Biblical admonitions such as: “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (KJV Luke 16:13), might as well not exist. In fact capitalism does not serve God; the existence or non-existence of God is an irrelevance to the world of markets and money, as the only supernatural entity upon which that world relies is the ‘Invisible Hand’ which rights the balance of an economy after difficulties. This ‘Hand’ defies rational analysis, as of course does any supernatural entity, but it is most devoutly believed in and worshipped!

The proper foundation of religion is in the experience of humankind – of an individual first and foremost, but also of a community of individuals gathered by a common inner experience – and the realisation that there is something in us all, but not necessarily of us all, that can raise us from the mud. I am aware that this is as intangible, as irrational if you will, as the ‘Great Hand’ of capitalism; but in its purest form it is a liberating force. Aldous Huxley, whom I quoted at the head of this entry, said of religion that it should be “… the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man's Final End, the unitive knowledge of immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahman.” Where religion is free, where it is a response in faith, a holding of all things in common, a love of truth, a love of the truth that “will set you free” (KJV John 8:32), then it is liberty indeed, and lives in that liberty beside those who are free not to believe. Where religion is an institution, where it has bosses to lay down the law, where it does not allow the unmediated access of the individual and of the community of individuals to experience of the godhead, it is slavery. It is in its institutional form in which religion is closest to statism and capitalism, in which it is an unaccountable hierarchy in which the laity have little say and in which the professional clergy hold the whip. Indeed the institution of religion has often been used to bolster the state and/or big business – look at the Protestantism of the USA, the Orthodoxy of Tsarist Russia, the Shia Islam of the mullahs and ayatollahs of Iran (is there a more blasphemous title than 'ayatollah' - 'mirror of God'?), to name three salient examples. Even political philosophies can take on religious characteristics in the name of power – Naziism and the personality cult of Adolph Hitler, the cults of Stalin and of Mao are notable examples, but more subtle and insidious is the glorification of capitalism in the West.

Religion can be a dangerous thing in the wrong hands. Not for nothing did Karl Marx say “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes”, not for nothing did the likes of Mikhail Bakunin say that once a person had given his or her autonomy into the hands of a supernatural authority, then he or she had as good as given away intellectual, moral, and political autonomy also. But what are the ‘right’ hands? Religion (or rather faith, as Aldous Huxley understood it) must be communitarian – the early Christian Church was a network of independent congregations held together by a bond of understanding and experience, where its ministers were servants (diakonoi) rather than masters, and in that set-up we find much of the template for a new society free of political and commercial control, for a society of libertarian municipalism, of common ownership, and of participatory democracy. This is the antithesis of capitalism, the antithesis of statism, the antithesis of political oligarchy, the antithesis of party-control, the antithesis of the sham of bourgeois democracy of the political class, the antithesis of hierarchical and institutional religion, the antithesis of the covert and the secretive world.

Friends, capitalism is dead but won’t lie down. It struggles and struggles against its inevitable demise. It rages, it blusters. It cajoles, it sneers, it has its hirelings and stooges, it has its devout propagandists and apologists. It is a lame duck. The king has no clothes. Capitalism in the 21st century can’t create wealth, can only create debt. The supply of the things that capitalism needs to fuel it is not inexhaustible. It must end. It must end because we want it to. No one can liberate us, we have to liberate ourselves. We will need to stop being dazzled by the pretty things in the shops, stop being what Marx called ‘commodity fetishists’ (he had a good turn of phrase, I’ll give him that). We will have to stop being led by the nose to the polls every four or five years, and we will have to reconstruct democracy from the ground up.

I know, I know – the arguments I have used in these three blog posts has not exactly been rational. They don’t have to be, because this is a polemical argument, not a rational one. At the moment I feel more emotionally engaged with the feeling of an impending capitalist cataclysm than I do intellectually engaged with Realpolitik. To hell with Realpolitik. Let’s take the world by the scruff of its neck and Get Real!


A word or two on the demise of Osama bin Laden. I won't be mourning his passing any more than I would mourn the passing of any fascist. I do mourn the fact that he wasted his life in the pursuit of hatred, but I also note that just because we were the object of his hate is no reason to consider ourselves perfect.

Here's a quotation from Clarence Darrow (elsewhere wrongly ascribed to Mark Twain) which seems to be on many lips lately: "All men have an emotion to kill; when they strongly dislike someone they involuntarily wish he was dead. I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituaries with satisfaction."


UK voters are at the polls today... something to do with a different way of selecting which members of the professional political class are going to 'represent' us. I won't be voting. It would stick in my throat.

No comments:

Post a Comment