(About a 9 minute read)
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” — Warren Buffett
One of the top five or six core issues running through-out all of human history has been the eternal war between elites and non-elites. That is, those who have the greater wealth, power, and control of resources and those who have the lesser wealth, power, and control of resources in any given society or economy.
In my opinion, anyone who is unfamiliar with the conflict is politically, socially, and economically ignorant. The primary or most significant conflicts in history have not been between competing systems such as capitalism and communism. Such conflicts are more clearly understood as battles between competing elites and between elites and non-elites.
The fact of life that Buffett so frankly talks about is unknown to all-too-many Americans. But the vast majority of those who are ignorant of it are non-elites.
Among my personal acquaintances in life have been a handful of multi-millionaires — a very few of whom are among my closest friends even today — and one daughter of an American family whose name is synonymous in many countries with wealth and power. I do not know of anyone from that group — save possibly one family — that does not teach their kids at least the basics about class warfare. Only non-elites don’t. Only non-elites are in denial of the facts of life.
The elites have always had power and resources, but the non-elites have had the numbers, the masses. Elites are acutely aware of what that means. Non-elites must be divided, pitted against each other, least they unite to over-throw the elites.
Of course, there must be elites now. Ever since we gave up our hunting/gathering bands to create the complex societies that almost all humans live in today, there has been a need to have elites to run them. A modern society cannot be run by anarchists.
Communism and the withering of the state are pipe dreams. The best the masses will ever achieve is a society in which they have some means of keeping the power of the elites in check. But will they ever obtain such a society?
I have become increasingly concerned about the most probable answer to that question. Forty years ago, I would have happily reported that “the long arc of history” — to borrow from Martin Luther King, jr — tends to favor the non-elites. That some day, we will most likely live in a society where most of us enjoy the freedoms we need to personally flourish.
But quite a bit has happened since those days. The least significant factor has been the rise of the new right in America and many other industrialized nations around the world. Historically, the right has been identifiable as the faction that favors giving greater powers to the elites, while the left has been identifiable as the faction that favors giving greater powers to the non-elites.
Of course, we are not talking about extremes here. On the extreme left, the communists have favored giving greater powers to non-elites only in theory. In practice, they have always set up and maintained tyrannies. On the extreme right, right wing libertarians favor — again, in theory — maximum possible freedoms and liberties for non-elites, but they propose no system that would not result in a tyranny. At the extremes, both left and right profess to free the people, but fail or would fail to do so.
It is only closer to the center of politics that the left generally favors non-elites, and the right generally favors elites.
However, it would be naive to think that the leaders on the left (i.e. the left wing elites) are any less concerned with their power and wealth than the leaders on the right. Power and wealth are so intoxicating and attractive to humans that almost no one who has them wants anything less than to have more of them. Leftist leaders may implement policies that favor non-elites, but they do so if and only if the non-elites in effect force them to.
You can see this in America today. There is a division on the left between the corporate Democrats like Clinton and the non-corporate Democrats like Sanders. The Clinton faction believes it can gain and keep power by advocating social issues such as LGBT rights, women’s rights, and minority rights. The Sanders faction believes its path to power is by advocating economic benefits such as tuition debt relief and a higher minimum wage.
The Clinton faction are the new style Democrats, and the Sanders faction are the old style Democrats. Currently, the Clinton faction is more powerful than the Sanders faction due to being funded by Wall Street and the financial services sector.
You see a second division on the right between the old style moderate Republicans and the new style radical Republicans. Only here, the moderates have basically lost the battle, except in places on the local and state levels. On the Federal level, and on most state levels, they have been all but extinguished by the radicals. The radicals generally favor corporate and religious elites, such as those in the aging fossil fuel industry, and Evangelical leaders.
Thus, the first thing that has changed in the past 40 years has been the rise of elite-favoring corporate Democrats and a new elite, the — again, elite-favoring — radical Republicans. In both cases, the sides are ultimately in favor of elites over non-elites.
But all of that is the least of my worries today. Of much greater concern to me is the rise of new technologies for controlling people.
A few hundred years ago, the never-ending battle between elites and non-elites was revolutionized when the English began to evolve, step-by-step, a representative government. Representative government can be seen as a weapon wielded by non-elites against elites. But war is a back and forth struggle in which each side often attempts to out-invent the other side. And, today, representative government has been answered.
It has been answered by two relatively new technologies. First, computers. Computers have made it possible to gather vast amounts of information about non-elites, analyze it, and warn their masters when someone gets out of line. Today, this is being done around the world, but especially so in China.
Within the past year or so, the Chinese have begun experimenting with identity cards that keep track not only someone’s identity, but their behavior. For instance, they allow the government to monitor whether someone has been a “good citizen” by picking up trash, or has been a “bad citizen” by littering. More over, the Chinese people must now present their cards to, say, board trains. If they have been bad citizens, they don’t get to ride them.
Obviously, computers can be tools for oppression. But there is a second technology that is every bit as bad or worse than computers.
That technology is much less well known by most people than computers. It began in the early 1920s with the founding of the American public relations industry by Edward Bernays. Bernays had the genius to see that the new scientific fields of psychology and sociology could be mined for techniques to control people both individually and en masse.
From it’s first relatively clumsy attempts to today the industry has gotten increasingly successful at controlling people. But few people nowadays know just how good the industry has become.
To take just one example. For sometime now, there has been a concerted and somewhat coordinated attack targeted at reducing the power of American governments to the point they can be controlled by right wing elites by undermining the people’s confidence and trust in them. This didn’t quite begin under Reagan in the 1980s, but it swung into full force then. Reagan was a tool of the “movement”.
Today, the campaign has been so successful that you hear from all sides government is to be feared and distrusted. Not merely closely watched, least it get out of hand, but feared and distrusted. People who believe that governments are necessarily incompetent and evil always fail to see how they are being used by elites to the private ends of the elites, which are not ends that are likely to benefit them.
Put differently, representative government originated as a weapon of non-elites against elites. It is now increasingly being threatened and undermined by new technologies wielded by elites. Once the elites have thoroughly taken control of it — and as Buffett pointed out, they are currently winning — we are quite likely to eventually see a Chinese style dictatorship in America.
It is interesting to me that we are today seeing what has happened in America happening around the world. That suggests to me that perhaps all the wrong people are learning from the American example how to subvert and then take over their local representative governments.
Practically speaking, the non-elites must do two things if they wish preserve their freedoms and liberties. First, they must educated themselves about what is really going on. Second, they must unite together in sufficient numbers to impose their political will on the elites. Unless they do both of those things, there is no hope for them.
The future of freedom in America — and not just America — seems bleak to me today. But I hope I’m wrong about that. Americans are a resourceful people that, if awakened to a task, can usually accomplish it — even if it seems impossible.
This post was inspired by a post about 1984 on the Coastal Crone’s blog, which can be found here.