Belligerent Egalitarianism

palin caribou
Republican VP nominee Palin shows off her kill to one of her daughters

If you watch people’s body language, you see a lot of power displays. Advertising is a form of bullying. Political conventions are orgies of power displays, as are wars and rapes and all forms of humiliation. The celebrity media (which is what most of the mainstream media have become) wallow in showing exhibitions of power. Prisons and mansions and titles and fences and chains and guns are all expressions of power.

Power becomes important only in times and places of scarcity, when it is used to allocate resources. Money is the medium through which this is done. In dysfunctional societies, almost all human energy is devoted to the use of power to siphon wealth (and with it power) from those who have little to those who have a lot and want more.

As soon as you see such societies as sick, and desperate, you can begin to understand why this is so. What we all seek and receive, in healthy, natural societies, is attention and affection. These are the ultimate media of exchange among creatures who are inherently social. But when a society comes under horrific stress, and faces desperate shortages of everything, from the bottom to the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, power becomes the medium by which all of those resources can be obtained and secured — including attention and affection.

For the rich and powerful to leverage that power into attention and affection, they need to control the media, the political and economic systems, and the educational system. The media, through advertising and propaganda, portray the rich and powerful, and the winners of fierce competitions for wealth and power, as deserving of attention and appreciation — even adulation. The education system is put to work teaching the young that hierarchy is beneficial, and that obedience and fierce competitiveness are the only way to succeed, the only socially ‘acceptable’ behaviours. Universities teach that business is all about leadership, the ‘management’ of ‘human resources’, and surviving only through ferocity and outperforming others, pushing others (‘competitors’) down to get ‘ahead’. Businesses reinforce this.

Those who don’t succeed in these ruthless political competitions are marginalized, treated as failures. And those who fail are blamed entirely for their own failure: They didn’t work hard enough, compete ferociously enough, overcome the adversity that was (totally unnecessarily) thrown their way. If they try to fight back, the rich and powerful will, through the media, label them ‘terrorists’, and gleefully kill, torture and lock them away.

We’re no different in this regard from the caged rats who, as the amount of food relative to population is reduced more and more, become more pathological, violent, competitive, fierce, antisocial, hierarchical and unequally wealthy and powerful. In a pressure cooker situation, even the most peaceful will kill to protect what’s theirs. And it is now in the interests of the increasingly pathological rich and powerful to make the entire world a pressure cooker. Those without power are kept under constant stress, worried about ‘not having enough’, and dumbed down from citizens to mere ‘consumers’ of the rations meted out by the powerful. Behave, and you’ll get more rations. Behave really well, and we just might let you be one of us.

So as I have grown older, I have become more belligerently egalitarian. I have grown to detest all manifestations of power, some of them obvious, some subtle, but all of them startlingly and increasingly visible in our modern society:

  • violence and cruelty of all kinds, physical, emotional and psychological
  • displays and exhibitions of dominance, submission and humiliation (including virtually everything produced in Hollywood and by the mainstream music corporations, and virtually all pornography)
  • manipulation, propaganda, coercion, seduction, lying, spin, bullying, power-based persuasion, advertising, PR, and empty rhetoric (talk radio, sermons)
  • psychopathy, and other means of inuring the human spirit against sympathy for and empathy with others
  • hierarchy, leadership, win-lose voting, obedience, slavery of all kinds
  • suffering, imprisonment, torture
  • power role-playing and abusive co-dependent behaviours
  • corruption, bribery, influence peddling, lobbying
  • competitions of all kinds, including wars, competitive sports, reality TV, debates, arguments, adversarial elections, most business performance appraisal and reward processes
  • weapons, armies, police forces, lawyers, sport-hunters, politicians
  • raids, threats, unreasonable laws and other forms of oppression, repression, suppression and intimidation
  • fences, private property, ‘no trespassing’ signs, private clubs, locks, titles, barbed wire, prisons, cages and other confinements, walls
  • indebtedness, homelessness
  • unreasonable expectation-setting

The idealist in me believes that, in a healthy, natural world, we would see, need, and be damaged by, none of this. But if you read human history, at least since civilization began, it is made up of little else. What the mainstream media, the film and music industries present, both as information and as entertainment, is made up of little else. We are surrounded, inundated, obsessed with these things. Perhaps most of us now think this is what life consists of, this is what’s important, this is the only way to live.

The novel I keep starting again and again to write, The Only Life We Know, is set in a future world, after the collapse of civilization culture and portrays the emergence of an astonishing diversity of small local human cultures, connected and belonging to natural ecosystems. These local cultures exhibit none of the manifestations of power listed above, because there is simply is no need for them, and because, in the absence of a need for them, the people of these cultures intuitivelyand steadfastly refuse to make room for them.

Some people have told me that, without any of the things bulleted above, it will of necessity be a boring novel.

I’m going to prove them wrong.

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8 Responses to Belligerent Egalitarianism

  1. Stephen says:

    Dave, thanks so much for this. It’s really crystallized a lot of what you’ve written and what I’ve read of yours over the past couple of years. It’s beautiful! :)

  2. David Parkinson says:

    I can’t remember if I mentioned this to you yet, but recently I read Robert “the other” Jensen’s astonishing book “Getting Off”, about the pornography industry. It was all about something that I knew: that porn is about fear and hierarchy and violence and domination and hatred. But it really hit home for me, and took those things from cerebral to visceral knowledge. A pretty tough book.And nowadays when I look at TV (very rarely), all I see are the cavortings of some not-very-smart but vicious primates. It’s all about dominance and submission, threats and contempt. I find it very unsettling to look at all that. We need alternative TV to show the positive potential of humanity… although the problem resides to some extent in the nature of the medium, being one-way top-down and driven by corporate interests.Interesting to think about how many of the symptoms you enumerate are either created (or hugely exacerbated) by the political structures of our society, esp. centralization and corporate domination. Many of these pathologies are as old as Adam, but made so much worse by the socio-ecological system that requires mass control and subservience to the non-human dictates of production and pointless consumption.

  3. Amy says:

    Your novel will not be boring, I’m sure, because even in the absence of all those things, your characters will continue to encounter adversity. And it is the workings of fellow human beings in the face of adversity, the choices they make and the character they reveal, that make for outstanding drama.

  4. David Parkinson says:

    … and when I came to the end of that little rant, I had to press the “Submit” button.This hierarchy shit is everywhere!!! ;-)

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if politics could be about genuine service and altruism rather than power? But power it all is. I lost my stomach for it — months ago, and that seems to happen at some point in every major election year. I wish we could just vote and get it over with now.

  6. mattbg says:

    The novel may not be boring, but it will be so fantastic that I don’t think it’d be worth reading. Is there any evidence in nature anywhere at all that these systems don’t apply to creatures on Earth? What you’re asking for is a complete neutralization of the natural instinct. If you go to the most faraway places and look at their early histories, even they have evidence of tribes fighting with other tribes for control of resources. And we’re meant to think that, in a time of resource depletion, we’re going to spend more time working on our bad attitudes?I think the time for your idea has come and gone. We had a window of opportunity where there was enough to go around and we would have kept everyone happy and tried to work on what you’re talking about, but I think the window is closing.Perhaps you could write your novel with a post-human species that came forth after human extinction. It might be a bit more plausible.Kunstler’s book (“World Made by Hand”) is a more plausible outcome for the human story, I think.

  7. Siona says:

    “But if you read human history, at least since civilization began, it is made up of little else.”Maybe that has more to do with the sort of history that gets written, not the actual (if banal) day-to-day lives of us commoners. It’s a matter of lenses, no? I can look at a tribe of chimpanzees and analyze it according to patterns of aggression and power grabs, or I can focus on the nurturing behavior between members of extended families. I can watch two prides of lions and document how a male will kill the cubs when he takes over from his predecessor, or I can wonder in amazement at the care the lionesses display for each other. And I can look at human beings and lament our wars and bloodshed, or I can attend to the countless acts of altruism and kindness I witness around me every day. And judging by that sentence above, it seems we have plenty of people documenting the darker sides. ;)Also, I love aged barrister’s comment on the media:

  8. Mariella says:

    ok… realistic human…always demanding the “impossible”…. I feel these impossibles are possibles in the here and now for those who allow it….

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