There Is No Superpower

What if we progressives got our way? Suppose Bush was impeached or forced to resign for his wrongdoings, or suppose he so discredited the Republicans that they lost the presidency and both houses in 2008. Suppose the new leaders immediately ratified Kyoto, and radically reformed campaign finance, gerrymandering, voting machine and corporation law. Suppose environmental laws were restored to their strongest, and social and environmental travesties like NAFTA were scrapped. Suppose even that corporate subsidies were scrapped worldwide and government pork became unacceptable and impossible. Suppose Europe and Canada elected Green governments and ushered in bold plans to eliminate the use of non-renewable energy through a combination of alternative energy and serious conservation.

Then what?

The ten most intractable problems: Unaffordable health care, dysfunctional education systems, unsustainable energy and food systems, corporate psychopathy, lack of viable self-managed communities, the tragedy of the commons, overcrowding and overpopulation, poverty and violence, lack of innovation and loss of wilderness and biodiversity, would all still be with us. The oil that we conserve would be gobbled up by China and India, enabling them to prolong their reckless imitation of American profligacy a little longer. Corporation law reform would be bucked by addicts to the current overconsumption and overspending economy: corporate thieves would have to become cleverer (and they have more money to perpetrate their crimes than regulatory authorities have to fight them, so it is an unfair fight). Consumers who can’t get their fix of cheap, wasteful products would buy them on the black market, and finance them through usurers. Organized crime would start offering the things that the government tells us are no longer ethical or sustainable. “Pssst,,,wanna buy a Hummer, used only once by a little old lady, and I can get you gas for it at the ration price”. You thought the “war on drugs” was futile, wait ’til you see the “war on unsustainable consumption”. Governments, already pretty unpopular for telling people what they should and shouldn’t do, don’t stand a chance.

Because, you see, there is no superpower. There is not, and never has been, a government that has been able to push the world to do what it wants to do, to make people behave. From the Romans to the British to the Soviets, those that have had the most power have faltered and collapsed like overinflated balloons when they simply got too big to sustain the illusion that they were somehow in control. The people just said no. Sometimes it was the colonized who started the revolution, sometimes it started right at the centre, sometimes nature lent a hand, using plagues or disasters to tear a hole in the thin veneer of ubiquitous might.

There is no superpower in business, either. The mightiest coalitions of oligopolies have always fallen to upstarts who have exploited the complacency and arrogance of industrial dynasts and robber barons with disruptive innovations that met human needs that the giants no longer found profitable, and used them to infiltrate and then cannibalize the markets once thought unassailable. Even corporatists (like Mussolini and Salazar) who tried to merge governments and business leaders into insuperable bastions of power were toppled by those who realized the truth of Adam Smith’s famous saying “”the real purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens”.

And of course, as all but the most gullible know, there is no superpower watching over us from above, either. Those that are sure that the Rhapsody is going to happen just when things look at their worst, resemble no one so much as the broken gamblers who are sure that they just need one more bet, one more roll before their horse will come in, their number will come up, and they will be saved.

I’m not trying to depress you (really!) — the fact that there is no superpower is good news. It means that there is a chance that we, the people, can take back our world from the political and corporate and religious czars and tyrants and megalomaniacs and psychopaths who seem to run and control and be in charge of everything, and it means we can break their hold on their deluded and addicted followers. All we need to do is to refuse to recognize their power over us — no, to recognize that they have no power over us.

That means refusing to fight in their bloody and unjust wars, not for any side or any leader. That means refusing to obey their unjust laws. They can’t put us all in jail, and they can’t afford to kill many of us, since that just makes the resistance stronger.

That means refusing to pay outrageous prices for shoddy crap (file-sharers are just the first wave of this rebellion) and refusing to pay blackmail prices for essential goods (like healthy food, and medicines, and houses that last, and land and water and air that is not full of waste and poisons).

That means refusing to get into debt with them, refusing to become addicted to their products, refusing to fall into the trap of equating possessions with self-worth.

That means demanding that the common good come before private interest, that those who have obscene wealth share it with the destitute and needy, that decisions be made in the interest of the well-being of all, not the wealth of a few, and that bads be taxed instead of goods.

That means publicly repudiating and shouting down despicable and manipulative religious leaders of all denominations who prey on fear and ignorance and steal people’s money and bully the weak and the foolish and conspire with brutal governments.

The bloated, overstretched, scarcity-based power structure of our world is teetering. It is no match for our own community-based, consensus-driven self-governments, no match for sustainable, community-based generosity economies, economies of abundance and egalitarianism and conservation, no match for a society and a spiritualism based on caring for each other and for our world, and on collective well-being.

We have the weapon that brings all empires to their knees, the great equalizer. Knowledge, the truth. Listen to the words of the tyrants — the political bullies, the oligopolists, the preachers who claim to talk to the only guy even more powerful than they are. Listen carefully. You will hear the denials. “We are not losing the war on X. We are not to blame. Everything is not falling apart. We’re not failing. Things are not out of control. Things have never been better, and soon they will be better still. It’s just an isolated, a temporary setback. There is no choice but to stay the course.” Look closely, listen closely. See the doubt in their eyes. See the twitch, the fear that it is all unraveling.

We have them on the run already. They know that their power is all illusion, that there is no one in control. Their great fear is that you will find out.

That fear is about to be realized.

Illustration from The Emperor’s New Clothes by Margaret Tarrant

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12 Responses to There Is No Superpower

  1. zach says:

    I agree with your main premise.  Maybe you could say "majority rules."  Or for example start a site: "" where software runs the world through mass efficient consensus.However, I really dislike these sentences:It means that there is a chance that we, the people, can take back our world from the political and corporate and religious czars and tyrants and megalomaniacs and psychopaths who seem to run and control and be in charge of everything, and it means we can break their hold on their deluded and addicted followers. All we need to do is to refuse to recognize their power over us — no, to recognize that they have no power over us.In one foul swoop you have called all politicians, corporate, and religious leaders czars, tyrants, megalomaniacs, and psychopaths.  You have called all those who believe in these institutions (which is really a lot of people) deluded and addicted.  So who is "we?"  Who’s left?  You have isolated yourself.

  2. Interesting points, both in the essay and in the comment. I agree with both of you. I don’t think we need software to run the world; we need common sense, and we need people who stop abdicating common sense in exchange for a pre-designed set of values prescribed by someone else.The sooner we realize that we need to answer to ourselves and to the rest of the world, in the interests of what’s best for everyone rather than what’s best for ourselves or for those to whom we accede power over us, the better we can start to make the world, one step at a time.

  3. Cyndy says:

    All we need to do is to refuse to recognize their power over us — no, to recognize that they have no power over us.That was my first personal step to freedom, the day I recognized my parents had no power over me. Of course, it also meant I relinquished some perks, but it’s been worthwhile.

  4. Herbinator says:

    Great post. Still, WE need to have our interests represented.

  5. Mike says:

    Well, as a programmer and web developer, I *do* think we need software to run the world.In fact, the host of problems we face, combined with the global influence of such problems, suggests something I recall from the old magazine High Frontiers #3: find a solution in the solution box instead of the problem box. We don’t try to solve each problem individually, we try for a system change in which these problems become abated.There are real-world examples. As I understand it, prior to American entry into the first World War, funding was given to medical research so that US troops wouldn’t be slaughtered to the extent the European armies were. Such research proved useful beyond the battlefield, and resulted in a partial renassaince in medicine. Perhaps this had an effect in WWII, where (in ballpark figures, and from memory for military deaths only) the British had two KIA’s for every American KIA, the Germans had about 20 and the Russians over 50. Nowadays, as I understand it, US military policy is zero tolerance for US casualties, and, in fact, this was realized in the Kosovo campaign.And we all know about the technological advancements in circuits and computers spun off the space program.The future can bring precise mechanical and biological engineering, via nanotechnology and advanced biotechnology, and these present both opportunities and dangers, the latter expressed by such as Bill Joy. However, I truly believe that prior to these advancements, there remains much advancement possible in software, in communications, in group actions. An old book about education was titled _The Soft Revolution_; perhaps it’s time to revive this phrase to mean something else, but I prefer the term ‘Social Singularity’, which I define as the possible effect of global, instant, but asynchronous communication, to which some have related the term ‘Stigmergy’. In such, speaking and listening are separated; one communicates mostly (perhaps entirely) to a medium, then others, at their leisure, receive such communcations. We cease (for the most part) talking to each other (which is often talking past each other) and instead talk to the internet, then we listen to what the internet has to say, as we are prepared and ready for such information.In such a context, what most of Pollards’ communication seems to me, is plans for middleware. I’m thinking, why isn’t Dave publishing XML schemas or OWL ontologies or at least RDF triples to actualize his vision (beyond the newsfeeds)? Something folks can plug into existing systems and see how they fit, adapting the parts that make sense, and analyzing feedback to see what changes would make for a better fit. I assume the answer is related to skill sets, and I don’t berate Dave for not doing such (we all have our areas of interest and expertise), but perhaps he may someday partner with someone with the complimentary skills. Dave’s mission, after all, is to Save the World, and I don’t think writing essays is enough, I want details, exacting details, specific URIs: I want transparency and accountability for goverments, institutions, corporations, and (lastly) individuals.What’s fascinating to me is that (I believe) we can achieve such without the ‘hard’ singularity involving nanotechnology, advanced biotechnology, or artificial intelligence. Further, having a sort-of ‘soft’ singularity in place would seem to allow us to deal with the problems and issues of the ‘hard’ version. The government’s vision of risk abatement is clear: uniformed, armored, weapon-wielding, rubber-gloved troops, who may help you one day (wearing rubber gloves) and kill you the next, perhaps after some torture (rubber gloves again) and rape (maybe gloves, maybe rubbers). Problem-solving by killing. Problem not solved? Kill some more…I want to walk down a street in a new neighborhood, at night, and judge the risk via receiving a newsfeed summarizing the ‘mood’ of the street in the previous half-hour, I wantto know if there are terrorists about, I want to know if trusting some person is a mistake or opportunity. I want journalists at press conferences to ask *really complex questions*, involving terrabytes of data, and see politicians and pundits try to spin that. Given two-way fulltime communication with the internet, group actions would be possible: imagine what could be accomplished with millions of people sparing a few minutes to execute some task, incredibly complex tasks involving millions of steps that might, just might, help to Save the World in some small way.(We see examples of such mass group activities several times a day in the Muslim faith. I dunno if something similar has happened in the U.S. since Father Knows Best.)

  6. Mike says:

    Just a closing thought: obviously the challenge here is for all of us to become smarter, much smarter, and I see augmentation via internet and/or implants to become part of that. If you don’t want to participate, don’t worry, society still needs artists and entertainers, the world certainly need doers, and the revolution needs shock troops.

  7. says:

    Yeah, America – the Iron Fist and the Rubber Glove.

  8. Jeff says:

    “…recognize that they have no power over us.” I absolutely believe in this statement, that social power is never possessed by the ‘powerful’ but given freely to them by the ‘powerless’. I think the problem is that the majority has/?will? always abdicated their responsibilties to anyone willing to take it off their hands. I greatly appreciate reading your blog Dave, as it is refreshing to hear the voice of another rational, forward thinking individual. But… although I long for a world much like the one you are hoping we reach, I don’t see anything major changing at this point. The masses are just fine with things as they are. And even once they reach a point where things are not fine for the masses, it takes being pushed over the edge to a point where it is so bad that the personal sacrifice and (dare I say it…) personal responsibility is the lesser of the evils.And as has been shown throughout history, even after a social upheaval, things very quickly settle back down into a similar configuration where a small minority jump into the drivers seat and the rest sit back and watch out the windows as the bus goes merrily along.

  9. Mike says:

    “I don’t see anything major changing at this point” – JeffWell, technorati recently reported that 80,000 new blogs are started *every day*. Daily Kos recently reported growth rates of 5-10% *per week*. People are building the dendrites of a new global societal brain. Emergencies and disasters may be the electric shock that wakes it up.

  10. Wissbegieriger says:

    Well, The Emperor’s New Clothes is _not_ by Margaret Tarrant. It is by Hans Christian Andersen. She illustrated an edition.Dave, I get a lot out of your journal, strangely reactionary thing it is sometimes. I suspect, something like the person above, that it’s kinder to think of subverting our world into internally generated renewal than to blow up the institutions you so clearly don’t want to go back to – villages without variety can be suffocating too, and you have my ellow-feeling of course in any case. But every time those in thrall need our help really with something, there’s the chance to let some more recently recognised ideas in, and develop a little local truth together.I haven’t yet proved myself how well this can work,but it’s been worth chasing I think.

  11. Gideon says:

    Is bad government only a reflection of a social, moral and intellectual problem in the hearts and minds of the people who create these governments?Maybe we don’t really need a beter government; Maybe we need beter people? Whatever “beter” may mean in reality, and not just following some ideology. Then the question becomes: How can I improve myself to become beter, and help others around me to do the same? And how can “we” out-teach those who like being who and what they are?

  12. Cindy Strickland says:


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