Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's Happening (Short Version)

The crisis that we are presently undergoing has deep roots. It can be argued that it was an inevitable result of the way we found to cope with the invention of agriculture, which we call the Neolithic Revolution. Before that we were limited to a tribe of perhaps a dozen or so people who governed by talking themselves into a consensus. Everybody was pretty much equal except that the Shaman and the War Chief had executive power when they were needed.

After the Neolithic Revolution and until the Industrial Revolution the limits on population were removed and governance was by an elite: a secular elite who governed the state and fought other states and a religious elite who passed on God’s orders.

After the “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” the elite had gotten a taste for global tchotchkes but no army to get them so independent traders did. They, and the middlemen/bankers, got rich but were still non-elite.

Calvin solved this problem by inventing a new kind of elite appointed directly by God. The “Elect” proved their election by becoming rich.
In the world the Planters developed the slave-powered single-crop farm and got so rich they fought the American Revolution to become free of the bankers and traders in Europe. Then the Industrial Entrepreneurs fought the American Civil war to abolish slavery so that they could replace the planters as the elite.

They became decadent and left the factories to be run by their clerks and mechanics who styled themselves as “managers”, turned the stock certificates from documents of ownership to gambling chips in a casino called a Stock Exchange and became the new elite. In the first World War the government employees emulated the corporate bureaucracy so they were ready to become the elite when the depression came. That and the second World War kept the elite government bureaucrats (represented by the Democratic Party) in power till the new elite corporate bureaucrats (created by the “G.I.Bill” and represented by the Republican Party) became converted by Reagan. They retained power until 2008.

One might have expected that the next stratum of the lower middle class would have become upwardly mobile in the 1950-60 era, possibly as some phenomenon of the postwar explosion of computer technology, but that didn’t happen. If anything, the strata that were lower middle class and lower suffered some degree of downward mobility. The elite bureaucrats of both kinds have been aware that their own positions are at hazard.

The primary certification of upward mobility in the 20th century has been conspicuous consumption of tchotchkes. This is possible so long as this is limited to an elite that is of the order of 10% of the population. But there aren’t enough resources for the lower-middle and working classes to waste resources like the elite of western civilization do.

If we retain our attitudes and move toward a civilization that is egalitarian we will have class conflicts over resource shortages. If we retain our attitudes and do not move to become more egalitarian we will have domestic terrorism from the left as well as the right. Either one will be likely to bring on a “decline and fall”.

If we want to move toward a more egalitarian global society we will have to make waste, and especially conspicuous consumption, behavior that is considered “bad taste” or nekulturni. That will be very difficult to do.

The probable outcome is the “decline and fall of western civilization” which may result in a Utopia that is egalitarian, ecologically responsible and creative after we have passed through a chaotic “dark ages”.

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