SOCIAL EXAMPLES OF REAL CHANGE
By Roland Watson
I want to begin by commenting that when you look around the world, our problems appear to be never-ending. No matter what we do, we can't seem to solve them.
Part of the reason for this is that we are not approaching the problems in the correct way. We are deluding ourselves into believing that small measures - small changes - will be enough.
Using the framework that I presented in the last article, we are trying to achieve change using the tactics of reform, not revolution. But, we have failed to recognize that the change we want requires the transformation of dictatorial global systems, and that because of this nothing short of creating great pressure, and trying completely new approaches, in other words, revolutionary thinking, will work.
In this article, I'm going to examine - briefly - a number of problems. I will identify the global systems that are responsible, and then review how we need to change our strategy.
For the first example, I want to look at how different types of dictatorial systems are undermining our democracy. We saw in the last article that change of a political dictatorship, like China, requires revolution, and also - for China - that the advent of a popular revolution appears - for now at least - to be extremely unlikely. But, for countries that are democratic, many problems are also evident. The democracies are functioning poorly. The reason for this is that they are being undermined by dictatorial social systems, and which we are failing to confront.
The corporate system
The two systems that I want to mention here are economic and religious, and I'll begin with the first. Economic activity is now largely organized through the operations of corporations, which were established as a legal entity to limit the liability of their owners - their shareholders. Through the expansion in economic activity, though, many companies have become massive and financially powerful.
A corporation is a form of social dictatorship, with the Chief Executive Officer at the top. A company is structured into departments, and within each department there are many different levels. Each level is subservient to the one above. The employees must be obedient, and do what they are told.
Don't get me wrong. Companies have many positive outcomes. They are a very efficient structure to create economic production, which in turn satisfies many of our needs.
Nonetheless, the problem here is that companies have their own goals, really, there is only one goal, to make money. A political democracy has many goals, to oversee the civilized functioning of its national society. The complication is that the corporate goal often conflicts with national goals.
This wouldn't be a problem if corporations were carefully regulated - if they were restricted to what you might term economic space. But, they're not. They wander the corridors of government, influencing officials and legislators. Their influence then leads to legislation - laws being passed, and related enforcement patterns, which favor the companies, often to the detriment of the people.
The profit motive is brazen and bare. Without regulation, companies - some companies - will happily sell dangerous products, destroy the environment, exploit workers, and undermine local communities. They therefore need to be controlled.
In the United States, many people point to the Supreme Court's 2009 ruling in the Citizen's United case, which opened the door to unlimited campaign finance donations. This step allowed company lobbyists to expand exponentially their influence in Washington.
What few people realize, though, is that the problem lies deeper than this. The real issue is something called corporate personhood, through which companies have been granted many of the same rights as individuals. Even more, only a few advocates also know that corporate personhood actually dates to a much earlier Supreme Court decision, its 1886 ruling in Santa Clara County versus Southern Pacific Railroad.
The only way to end the detrimental corporate influence on democracy is to reverse corporate personhood, and for this reform can never succeed. Many government officials are beholden to their corporate sponsors, and will never tamper with their existential status.
There therefore needs to be a popular revolt, to demand - even in the face of this corruption - new legislation that overturns the Supreme Court rulings. As with China, though, it is difficult to see how this might take place.
Symptoms versus problems
One other point that this illustrates is that to accomplish real change, you have to address the underlying problem. Reformers often focus on trying to alleviate the varied symptoms that the real problems cause, not recognizing - or instead choosing to ignore - that unless these problems are solved, the symptoms will continue to recur.
Revolutionaries, on the other hand, have the courage to fight the deepest problems.
The second example that I will consider is organized religion. Organized religion is also a dictatorial system, because the religions state that they, and they alone, have the answers to the most important questions of life. You must follow them, or you will never be saved.
A democracy in turn has two basic positions on religion. First, religious freedom must be guaranteed. The people must be free to follow their personal beliefs.
Secondly, there is what is commonly referred to as the separation of church and state. This means that no single religion can be allowed to dominate the government. There are a number of reasons for this, but the foremost is that if a single religion is allowed to dominate, this generally leads to the denial of religious freedom. People who follow other faiths are persecuted.
Most established democracies have effectively separated religion from government. There has been a push in recent years by evangelical Christians in the United States to gain political influence, but they are being held back by the popular voice.
The problem is severe, though, in some of the newer democracies, particularly in the Arab world. Islam as a religion is openly opposed to democracy. Even though a number of Arab countries have overthrown military rulers, they have yet to successfully confront their religious theocrats. This is particularly evident with Egypt, and also nearby Turkey. These countries are facing one manifestation of the pattern that I mentioned before, that a new form of dictatorship regularly follows one that has been defeated.
To confront Islamic theocracy, or any other religious theocracy, the people, including the followers of the religions, must reject religious rule. It is obvious that any such rejection will require a revolution in popular religious thinking. Specifically, people need to tell their religious leaders: We are happy to listen to what you have to say about God, but please don't force us to live your way - under your direct and day-to-day control.
I want to mention a few other examples where fundamental change is required, and where reform will never work. First, there is the relationship between people and nature. Many people now say that they care about the environment, yet collectively we are continuing to destroy both habitats and species at a genocidal rate. The global system change that we require is to recognize that it is not enough just to change our personal habits. We need to give other species legal rights, foremost the right to life itself, and then work to see that it is enforced.
Another issue is poverty. Reformers have worked in many different ways, and places, to try to help the poor. Nonetheless, the population that is suffering from poverty never stops growing.
Probably the biggest underlying issue here is misogyny. As long as women are treated as second class citizens, and denied access to education, and birth control, the overall population, the main driver of poverty, will itself continue to grow.
Other problems, in the U.S. and elsewhere, include an inability to rein in Wall Street - financial speculators, and also the inability to deal with huge and growing budget deficits. Both of these situations again reflect the problem of undue corporate influence, but, for the deficit, there is another basic factor as well, and which does not stem from a dictatorial system. Rather, the issue here is democratic, and involves our free will. We have to decide, democratically, what we want the size and nature of our government to be. And, if we want the government to do a lot, we have to be willing to fund it, through higher personal taxes.
Finally, and as the reference to birth control indicates, there is also such a thing as issue dictatorship. How we might be able to revolt depends on the issue at hand. For instance, the inability to address gun violence in the U.S. is linked to the power of the National Rifle Association as a special interest, and this is again the problem of companies operating outside the economic sphere, since the NRA backs the interests of gun manufacturers.
I want to conclude this article by mentioning another arcane form, and which seeks to block us from engaging in revolutionary thinking and action. The voices that dominate our society, in the government, the media, and other institutions, refuse to even consider wide ranging options, on any issue.
For example, I once worked in Sweden, and when I did I paid a marginal tax rate of 77%. I also lived in England, where there is almost no gun violence, because no one has guns. I'm not arguing here that the U.S. should raise taxes really high, to end the deficit, or take away everyone's guns, to end the violence. I'm just pointing out that we don't even consider the possibilities. For problems this severe, we should consider all the possibilities.
This form is imposed on us by social institutions that are dictatorial and which control global systems. They are channelling us to use only the timid and weak steps of reform, in the full knowledge that through this they will never be forced to change.
As an example of this, for Wall Street, institutional voice after institutional voice tells us that markets should be completely free, without any government regulation at all. Now, they know that this won't work. They're not fools. There will be one crisis after another. But, they don't care. They will be the ones who actually cause the crises, and profit enormously as they do. But, their money will be long gone - hidden away - when things explode, and the government is left to pick up the pieces.
In the next article, I will consider real change for individuals: for you and me.