WE ARE THE SOLUTION
By Roland Watson
In the last article, I reviewed the general hurdles to finding social solutions that arise from our nature. There are specific issues as well, the first of which is simply the enormity of the task. But here, I am not referring to the modern world cult, or for that matter the widespread destruction of habitat and the extinction of species and traditional cultures. Rather, there are other trends and social characteristics that we will have to be confront as well. To start this article, I will list seven of them.
First, the human population is still increasing.
Second, we have vast military and police forces that are conditioned to killing. Moreover, through them, and also through our carnivorous consumption, almost everyone accepts the need for and the normality of causing death.
Third, although women have won the vote, men still control the power.
Fourth, the competitive basis of society is actually increasing in its severity. This is taking us further away from the cooperation and sharing that would lead to real equality, and it is also underpinning the increasing negativity towards and intolerance of other people.
Fifth, the invention of new technology is growing at a rapid rate, and with no effective controls.
Sixth, many institutions are still increasing in size and power.
And seventh, there is the sheer amount of inequality that is already programmed into the system.
Can we confront inequality?
I have reviewed the inherent unfairness of our social structures, and the related problem of labor allocation, that automation notwithstanding huge numbers of people will always have to fill distasteful jobs, while a select few get the best positions.
I have not yet covered, but will now, the astronomical gaps that exist in wealth. The differences that exist today in personal wealth accumulation are simply unbelievable. They are without precedent in human history. And, they are getting larger and larger every day.
The ancient Greeks believed that a just society would not have too many poor, nor too many rich. Geometrically, this is also the idea of a long, low rectangle. Of course, they also believed in slavery. Equality was to be the condition of citizens only.
To be clear, I am not advocating forced wealth redistribution. That is just more form and, in addition, almost all attempts to accomplish it in the past have suffered great abuse. I would note, though, that the main exception to this is the high tax rates in Scandinavian countries, and which largely have been successful in leveling their societies, and in a way that is advanced. These tax rates are also not forced, because the Scandinavian peoples have willingly agreed to pay them.
The ability to implement
What I am trying to demonstrate by this is that whatever solutions we try, they must be practical within today's constraints. Solutions are only as good as they can be implemented. They must be carefully planned, the results must be measurable, and the individuals responsible for them must be held accountable.
Indeed, another issue of practicality concerns the institutional tactics and values that I discussed in an earlier series. Institutions collude with each other, and the solutions must account for this. They must be designed to offset this collusion.
Furthermore, since certain institutions, particularly corporations, effectively function outside of national boundaries, some of the solutions will require international cooperation, either among the governments of nations, or among their residents.
It is also important to recognize that whatever solutions we implement, they will always be subject to some abuse. For example, some people in Scandinavia abuse the support provided by their governments. The goal, though, is not to eliminate the abuse - that is impossible - but to minimize it. "Zero tolerance" policies therefore are inappropriate.
Lastly, the solutions must take into account the absolute obsession that underlies our social problems. For instance, property developers, once they secure title to land, will never give up in their attempts to develop it. And, they will always attempt to develop it in a way that maximizes their profit, which guarantees that there will be many negative outcomes: that in many ways it will be against our best interests, and those of the other life forms that occupy the land.
Our only defense against the obsession of developers is to match it with a similar depth of commitment. We must fight as hard, or harder, to protect the environment, and our rights, and the rights of other species, as they fight to destroy it and to take them away.
Of course, it is not only developers that are the target. Governments always support developers, because of the promise of tax revenues and other kickbacks. To stop development, you have to fight this government support as well.
The role of democracy
Now, everything that I have discussed involves preconditions, and problems, and challenges. So as not to appear too pessimistic, we should recognize that these are the obstacles in our path to constructing an ideal world, which, frankly, is impossible. We can't create a utopia, but, we can improve our world. Through our efforts we can, and must, make things better.
A good place to start, then, is our system of checks and balances, the system that we use to limit the accumulation, and abuse, of great power.
The traditional idea is that we create a strong, democratic government, which then protects us from abuse from other social institutions, such as religions and corporations - and also, of course, from conquest by other nations. For example, the separation of church and state, which I already described, is a basic social check and balance. The reason for this is that if the two were to collude, their power would be absolute.
For corporations, the government, supposedly, protects us from their abuses, through regulation and the enforcement thereof.
We then have checks and balances within the government itself, to protect us from it. Most democracies divide their governments into three parts: executive, legislative, and judicial. They separate government power, to limit the power of any one part and, counterintuitively, to provide each part with sufficient power to offset the other two should they attempt to collude. It is worth noting that this is a very fine balance, and difficult to achieve.
In the United States, there is a further check and balance built into the structure of having both federal and state governments. Neither has all the power, and they tend to offset each other. Lastly, there is the check from the people themselves, through the power of the vote and, if all else fails, through the power of rebellion.
The failure of checks and balances
To return to the present day, and the issue of practicality, this imposing edifice notwithstanding, one of the biggest problems we face is that the system of checks and balances has in many important ways failed. In country after country, corporations are colluding with the government, so in many cases we are not protected from them.
Along with this, the media, which functions as an independent check on the government, and also to an extent on corporations, turns out to have no effective check on itself. Its security shield of freedom of the press, which does have tremendous value, since it guarantees the survival of its ability to criticize other institutions, also serves to protect it from all criticism of itself.
Also, in many societies checks and balances either do not exist at all, or through corruption or poor design, are completely inoperative.
It's up to us
So, what is one to do when the system - of checks and balances - that protects us from the overall social system, fails? The answer is that the solution lies with you.
We are now at the final level, the check that is provided by the individual, by us. It is the only one left. We must voluntarily choose to exercise our innate power to transform the system. We must act - I want to introduce the idea of activism here - to bring about positive social change.
You should not be intimidated by the word activism, though. Activism is as simple as casting a vote, such as against a politician who uses negative campaign advertising. Another example of activism is choosing not to buy a product that is advertised using fear, guilt, sex, or the idea that if you buy it you will be cool.
The next level of activism is simply to follow up these "acts" with letters, to the politician and the company, explaining your decision: that it is an insult to you for them even to think that you can be influenced in these ways.
Of course, activism continues from here. It gets more and more active. For an extensive discussion of the ends and means of activism, please visit the website activism101.org
To end this article, I want to make two simple points. You have probably heard the saying: "if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." In today's world, with so many problems being caused by form, including your form, this really is true. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Secondly, this is your world, and this is your life. The world needs your help. It needs to be changed for the better. And, you are the only one who can do it. But, this is not a negative responsibility, something that is unpleasant and which you might want to avoid. Rather, it should be fun.
This is your life, and you want your life to be fun. You want to be happy. So, have fun, change the world for the better, and be happy, really happy, at your tremendous accomplishment, as a result.
In the next series, I will examine the subject of education.
© Roland Watson 2014