How Might We Undermine the PMC?

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a very long article that became the lion’s share of Chapter Two of Keith Farnish’s book Underminers. My article was about the Tools of Disconnection — the cultural mechanisms by which we became disconnected from each other and the more-than-human world, and hence willing and able to endure civilization and all the atrocities that it has perpetrated. The image from the article is reproduced above.

I think the article still holds up, though if I were to rewrite it today it would be a lot less strident and blame-y. We have conditioned each other, the only way we could have, and with the best of intentions, to live in a way that no wild creature would ever tolerate. In so doing, we have created, with civilization, a pressure cooker culture that, tragically, seems to bring out the worst in us.

The tools of our disconnection — our education system, the media, propaganda, marketing, political indoctrination, and just our well-intended conditioning of each other from childhood and throughout our lives (“If you want to succeed in this world, you have to do this“) — have, I would assert, led to behaviours that have made us physically unhealthy, chronically frightened, angry, distrustful, dissatisfied, and traumatized, so that we have been cowed into accepting a culture that has, in just a few millennia, horrifically overpopulated and desolated the planet.

The “management” of this utterly unsustainable culture, which is now rapidly falling apart, has required the evolution of a caste system, much like the horrific system that arises in groups of rats in similar conditions of ghastly overcrowding and scarcity. The top caste has been labeled (by Barbara Ehrenreich in the 1970s) the Professional Managerial Caste, or PMC.

The rest of us, across the political spectrum, comprise what has come to be described as the precariat, a neologism from proletariat + precarious, meaning a class of people who constantly feel vulnerable and frightened. They are also sometimes referred to as the preterite, an obscure word revitalized by Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow, which means those who have been passed over.

As Aurélien has described it, the PMC further consists of two parts: The first is what Aurélien calls the “Inner Party” which is the small group of white-collar professionals, mostly from rich families with inherited wealth and power, that controls most western political parties, the administrations that actually run government, the media, the military, the major universities, most major science and arts institutions, religious groups, NGO institutions, consultancies and “think-tanks”, the corporations that control industry and finance through their oligopolies, and their parasitic law firms.

A much larger part of the PMC is what Aurélien calls the “Outer Party”, which consists of those who imagine themselves to be, or aspire to be, part of the “Inner Party”, but who have never been invited, or because of behaviour unbecoming (like Noam Chomsky) have been “uninvited” from the inner circle. The process of invitation is informal, but you know if you’re in it by what you subsequently get invited to (exclusive events, op-eds in publications, cushy revolving-door political and corporate executive positions). If you don’t know whether you’re in it, you’re not in it.

As I and others have written before, the PMC is not a tightly-knit, organized elite. They are as confused, and sometimes as much in internal disagreement, as the rest of us. But they do collectively control most of the levers of power, such as they are these days — political, financial, economic, social, media, education, technology. So it doesn’t matter much (at least to the politicians) who wins western elections. The losers will dash through the revolving door to take on top corporate and “advisory” roles, and the winners will temporarily relinquish any private sector roles they might have to become the new voices of the PMC in government. Whichever party wins, while the faces will be different and more or less diverse, and the rhetoric will be different, attuned to keep the lower castes fighting among themselves to be “represented” in government, the policies will be substantial identical.

Those policies underlie an absolute and unshakeable belief by the PMC that they are destined to progressively take over management of the entire world’s political and economic systems, including those of any tiresome countries that toy with socialist ideas, and to rule forever in a way they believe is best for everyone (though given that there is never enough to go around, and there is less and less each year to spread among more and more people, that “best” is increasingly not very good for most of the precariat). It’s kind of the modern manifestation of the Divine Right of Kings: The lower castes would never know what to do with power, whereas the PMC is used to being in power and has (they think) the necessary skills.

Again, the PMC is not a cohesive group, and they have their disagreements. But what they do agree on is that power must remain with them and those who share their ideology. In many countries in the west now, you have two parties which regularly exchange power in a kind of formal pageant held each four years to see who gets to reign for the next term. I call them the Tweedles — the indistinguishable Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Alice in Wonderland. Both parties are controlled by the PMC both in their political and administrative structures.

So today we have the Tweedledum parties in each country blathering about how mistreated, ignored working (white, male) conservatives are suffering from an out-of-touch, “woke” ivory tower “socialist” elite which runs an oversized government beholden to Wall Street and which never listens to anyone else. And we have the Tweedledee parties in each country blathering about how something needs to be done about climate change, inequality, and various social injustices, and how the Tweedledum party is making everything worse in all these areas.

In almost every western country, these parties have alternated in power for the past 50 years, and the actual policies and actions pursued by them have been substantially indistinguishable. Each party bitterly attacks the other for its positions and for whatever raw meat has been thrown to the lower castes by the other party to keep the lower castes at each other’s throats, instead of confronting the PMC for their grossly incompetent mismanagement under both Tweedle regimes.

Meanwhile, the wars of Empire against “hostile” countries continue and grow endlessly in scale and danger, the lowering of tax rates for the top castes and PMC continues relentlessly, and the dismantling and privatization of government services continues, no matter which party is in power. The PMC is single-minded in their determination to take over the governance of the rest of the world so that they can impose their ideological fake western “democratic” political system on everyone, and not have to face bothersome opposition to the Empire’s mismanagement of our (now-crumbling) global political and economic systems.

You need a lot of money and endless power, after all, to properly manage the ignorant and unappreciative lower castes who are never satisfied with their lot, and who foolishly want more government services and fewer wars, which wouldn’t do at all for the plans of the PMC and the Empire. The PMC doesn’t want to serve the lower castes, it wants to rule them.

One of the tragedies is that the members of the “inner” circle of the PMC (I’ve known quite a few of them, and was more relieved than offended not to be invited “in”) really, sincerely believe that the world would be better off under their “management”. They live in a bubble — rarely encountering or hearing anything from the precariat, only what is reinforced by other PMC members in the circle. They are, mostly, colossally incompetent, underskilled and inexperienced rather than deliberately malicious, and are told within their bubble and by sycophant wannabes that they’re brilliant, so they basically have no idea how badly they’re fucking up.

The problem is, everything is falling apart. The plan, since 1945 at least, has been to centralize and consolidate political, financial and economic power under a single western-controlled Empire, which, with all opposition vanquished, would be administered with precision, skill and a modest degree of equity on behalf of everyone. It’s the famous, or notorious, One World ideology, pursued in various forms by empires since long before Roman times. The only alternative today, we’re told, is chaos (Blinken’s word).

But now, the globalized economy (and economic and political globalization, under Empire management, is an essential part of the plan) is horrifically overextended, drowning in debt, increasingly dealing with scarce resources, and teetering on collapse. Countries not yet captured by the Empire are not only resisting, they are increasingly rejecting the unipolar Empire, and insisting that they be allowed to govern themselves without the support and guidance of the PMC. And, oh yes, almost forgot, we are in the midst of a runaway ecological collapse of a kind not seen since before humans appeared on the planet, and climate change is actually not even the most critical aspect of it.

What is an Empire manager to do?

Well, the key is to keep the precariat scared, distracted, and fighting among ourselves, using the Tools of Disconnection in the chart above. The “deplorables” on the “right”, and the “dissenters causing violence and chaos” on the “left” (Biden’s words, last week — there’s that word “chaos” again), must be kept at each other’s throats, using issues (like abortion, racism and diversity) that the PMC doesn’t care about, since they don’t affect their Empire plans. And they want us to be very afraid of either one (but not both) of the Tweedle parties, and of every country that is not under the domination of the Empire.

Cory Doctorow says it’s time precaritize the PMC to make them feel as vulnerable and frightened as they have made us. He describes the absolute disdain the PMC feels and shows towards everyone else (including, increasing, those in the PMC “outer” circle.

They precaritize us, he says, by driving up costs for essential goods, driving up unemployment rates, and eliminating defined-benefit pensions and other worker benefits and protections, because otherwise, they feel, the precariat will all be just too lazy to work. And in the workplace, mass layoffs terrify those not laid off, forcing them to work even harder and keep looking over their shoulder. They make sure people have to have two or more jobs each just to pay the rent. They hike prices at twice the rate of cost inflation to keep workers scared. They sue customers and employees who dare challenge their abusive behaviour. They add junk fees to everything, because they can. They make employees sign non-compete, non-disclosure, and training repayment (TRAP) agreements to keep them in thrall. They push them to compete viciously against each other for a handful of bonuses and promotions. They buy up and shut down their competitors. They drive costs of everything so high that the average net worth of the precariat is less than zero, so workers are terrified of not getting their next paycheque. And they buy back shares with corporate profits, rather than using those profits to pay their staff a decent wage and benefits.

Cory says we have to make them as scared of us as we are of them. But there his article ends — he doesn’t tell us how to do so. Is it even possible? After all, they have all the power, even though they’re disorganized and constantly infighting. They have the wealth. They own the media. They restrict third parties from running for office, and use money, media and ruthless smear campaigns to discredit and ruin anyone who opposes them. And they close ranks and send in the attack lawyers when they’re challenged.

We have become economic slaves in an unregulated system of capitalism that leaves us, like feudal serfs, as wage slaves, with no leverage to ask for a fairer share of the wealth that our work (and the natural wealth stolen from other countries at such horrific cost) generates. And we are political slaves to a ‘fixed’ Tweedle system that offers us no choice except which ‘brand’ of war and ecological collapse we prefer, and which type of oppression of dissent we prefer.

Tim Morgan describes what economic collapse is going to look like over the next decade, and it’s a grim scenario. And he suggests the PMC knows what’s coming, and are securing their own situations in preparation, and leaving the rest of us, the precariat, in the dark, and passed over. When the alphas know there is not enough to go around, the game of hoard and distract (and what Tim calls pretend and extend) goes into high gear. And the Tools of Disconnection are ramped up in service of this.

Of course, it would be nice if the precariat could precaritize the PMC. But it’s not going to happen. Alpha rats hoarding in the overcrowded cage are not afraid of the lower caste rats cowering in the corners. And the possibility of the entire precariat working together to overthrow the PMC, end the wars and redistribute the PMC’s obscene wealth are just pipe-dreams. Most of the large outer circle of the PMC aspire to being admitted to the inner circle, not to overthrowing it. We have, most of us, been conditioned to be ashamed rather than angry about our economic struggles and precarity. We don’t even have effective labour unions anymore. The “conservative” and “progressive” factions of the precariat have been conditioned for decades to loathe and distrust each other. And, as Aurélien has explained, dreams of revolution are futile when there is no organized, established group in position to quickly fill any power vacuum. So, no, we’re not going to overthrow or even precaritize the PMC, much as some of us might like to.

But going back to Keith Farnish’s book, would it at least be possible to undermine them? Keith defines the term as follows:

The simple definition is as good as any: removing that upon which something depends for its strength. If you want to make a house fall down then start removing bricks from its base; eventually, if you remove enough bricks, the house will tumble to the ground. If the house is tall or top-heavy then you will need to remove comparatively fewer bricks. If the house already has weak foundations, or substandard construction, then you might not have to remove very many bricks at all. The same principle applies to anything you wish to undermine: a wall, a political party, a corporation, an entire set of principles by which a population carries out its daily life.

So how might we undermine the PMC as we head full-tilt into economic, political and ecological collapse? I think this depends on our personal situations, objectives, and risk tolerances.

In my case, my objective (or at least dream) is that we might be able to undermine the PMC’s stranglehold on power and wealth enough to (1) end the “endless wars”, and (2) radically redistribute some of the PMC’s wealth and power so the precariat has at least some more resources to use in facing the horrors of collapse. I don’t have any hopes beyond that.

For the most part, the things someone in my position might consider are as much about what to not continue doing as about what to start doing, and I think that’s a sensible, pragmatic approach. So some possibilities for me are:

  • Spoof the PMC. Often humour and satire will get more attention than anger, and there’s certainly lots to make fun of. Groups like Beautiful Trouble and pranksters like the Yes Men have shown the way. Some late-night comedy hosts who haven’t been ‘turned’ are also helping.
  • Shine a light on the PMC’s worst behaviours. Talk about them, write about them. Film them.
  • Refuse to vote for either Tweedle party. Spoil your ballot, vote for a third party, vote for “none of the above”, or do something more useful on voting day. Tell politicians you like that you’ll only support them if they run as independents.
  • Divest from, and refuse to invest in, PMC oligarchy companies or banks that invest in them.
  • Boycott PMC oligarchy companies: Refuse to buy their products, and refuse to work for them as employees, contractors or consultants.
  • Get out of debt (if you can). Buy and need less (if you can).
  • Unsubscribe from the most egregious PMC-controlled media, and, in conversations, challenge the bullshit they publish.
  • Deschool yourself and your kids.
  • Talk with members of the precariat who support the opposite Tweedle party, and stress your shared concerns and the awfulness of both Tweedles.

I’m trying to think of how we might co-produce a list of the worst offenders among the PMC (individuals and organizations) — worst offenders in terms of how ruthlessly they promulgate the Tools of Disconnection in the chart at the top of this post. Along with the list of worst environmental offenders and animal abusers, this might be very helpful in informally organizing a boycott of and divestiture from these offenders.

It might not take that much. The edifice is already cracking and crumbling in places. We’re not going to prevent collapse. But we might at least have a more equitable distribution of wealth going into it, and perhaps, if we can starve the war machine and redistribute the trillions it wastes every year pursuing the PMC’s ideological fantasies, we might at least fare a bit better in facing it.

We couldn’t do much worse than what the bumbling PMC has already done.

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7 Responses to How Might We Undermine the PMC?

  1. Martialis says:

    Hey Dave,

    What is in your opinion the more critical element of ecological collapse if not climate change? The mass dieoff of different species and eco systems ocurring?

    Thanks,

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Martialis: I’m not a biologist or ecologist, but the workshops that I’ve been to stress, in addition to climate change: loss of biodiversity, depletion of fresh water and soil, habitat loss, nitrogen/phosphorus overload, aerosol loading, ozone depletion, ocean acidification, pollution, and chemical/nuclear/other waste. I’ve seen charts by biologists (which I can’t seem to find at the moment) that show the current danger posted by each, and climate change is somewhere in the middle of this group of ecological problems.

    This report touches on a number of these: https://www.postcarbon.org/publications/welcome-to-the-great-unraveling/

  3. Ray says:

    Thwarting or at least thumping your nose at the “Elite” is probably worth the effort. At least it keeps one engaged while awaiting the Seneca cliff.
    For practical effect it comes sonewhat late in the day. The course is set and the great die-off will eventually also ravage the “Elite”. Nature doesn’t care much for proletariat, elite and other classifications.

  4. Jack Alpert says:

    Dave,

    Again, thank you for your clarity in presenting your views.

    I agree with your views that the PMC leads to bad ends and the visible mechanisms in place both advance this bad course and have little chance of reversing it.

    If perchance the distributions within the system were reset ( will and atrial Durant’s lessons of history) they would recreate themselves.

    What your narrative leaves out are the conditions imposed on civilization by the earth’s mass energy flows.

    When mass and energy flows constrain the path (create scarcity) all the individual and group behaviors you correctly outlined are triggered creating a death spiral.

    I am not suggesting I can implement a new plan for humankind to avoid all the tragedies you outline. However,
    I can imagine that plan.

    https://youtu.be/dYR5Ix-1wMs

    And
    I can imagine a transition path to get there.
    http://www.skil.org/position_papers_folder/PlanForUnwindingThePredicament.html

    Here is a 200 word taste.

    Part of our behavior
    is directed by beliefs.

    Part of our
    beliefs are delusions.

    Therefore,
    part of our behavior
    is directed by our delusions.

    Humankind’s existence is deteriorating.

    It’s a delusion that:
    if everyone was kinder
    our existence would stop deteriorating.

    It’s a delusion that:
    if we lived more simply
    less flying and driving
    our existence would stop deteriorating.

    It’s a delusion that:
    If we localize our supports
    and grew our own food.
    our existence would stop deteriorating.

    It’s a delusion that:
    if we stopped increasing the human footprint
    (2 kids per family max)
    our existence would stop deteriorating.

    It’s a delusion that:
    If we contracted population with
    one child families.
    our existence would stop deteriorating.

    All of these beliefs
    are delusions because:
    they don’t reflect —
    How fast
    the earth’s supports are decreasing
    Or
    How slowly
    population declines
    with less births.

    Existing beliefs and their resulting behavior
    won’t prevent
    environmental destruction,
    civilization collapse, and
    population die off.

    Preventing those tragedies
    requires
    not allowing those delusions to
    direct behavior?

    Civilization viability requires
    behavior that includes:

    having almost no children for 50 years

    Cleaning up the toxic infrastructure of our present civilization

    Building out an infrastructure for a small yet sustainable earth population.

    implementing an expanded social contract that:

    limits use rate of nature’s production,

    Stops non-recyclable use of non-renewing resources,

    maintains a constant population

    assigns property ownership to the next 100 generations. All present population are lessors

    limits conflict by limiting hierarchy

    Jack Alpert PhD Director:
    Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory http://www.skil.org
    jackalpert@me.com
    600 word summary of Jack’s work
    https://www.evernote.com/l/AAmZY0Hicy9KbLmuRpZRVAjtdR3UQC_bhEE

  5. Paul Heft says:

    I don’t think that “we” (whoever that may become) have a chance of ending the endless wars or redistributing much of the Inner Party’s wealth and income. They need to maintain their hopes for empire, they need to maintain a system that keeps them in control (to the extent they can control anything), and they will fight hard against anyone who tries to undermine that order.
    Still, I like your ideas for thumbing our noses at our rulers, since it might help more people become clear on what’s going on. A problem with divestiture and boycotts: while it might feel better to draw those lines (which might be fairly arbitrary), the poorest 50% or so can’t afford to participate, so it might turn into an occasion to shame those “deplorables”.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Agreed, Paul. There’s a boycott going on here of our largest grocery chain, but they have such a large market share that in some smaller towns and suburbs they’re the only place you can shop, or the only alternative is the very upscale grocers that few can afford. We do what we can: We look at our investment portfolios (if we’re lucky enough to have them). We tell our banks not to invest in or loan to certain major offenders, or else we’ll take our business elsewhere. If enough people do it it can make a difference.

    I’m really wondering if we can somehow collectively create and maintain an independent, monitored, curated list of the best and worst companies in each industry, publicize it widely, and encourage people not to buy from them, invest in them, or work for them. We might even get our kids involved in researching and maintaining it, since they’re the ones who will be most affected. May be too big a project for me to start in my burgeoning dotage, but I’d certainly be willing to pitch in and support it. The mutual fund industry has “scores” for companies on ESG (environment, social and governance), but from what I’ve seen they’re highly suspect.

  7. Andaréapié says:

    Three outstanding items here.

    Dave Pollard, thank you so much for your writing, your thoughts on the “Wicked Problem” of Global Industrial Civilization, your perceptions in general, and your writing on radical nonduality- for all that it bewilders me.

    The reference to the “Underminers”. Which I refer to and greatly appreciate.

    Jack Alpert’s comment and his YouTube videos, which I reference and share when I can.

    What wonderful material!

    Thank you so much

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