Vaster than Empires and More Slow

This post is going to be rather more controversial than most. I’ll be getting deep into politics. But this is at the forefront in my mind and conscience, and the shape of government and society is a spiritual issue for me.

The Fall of the Empire

trustyourfeelingsThe name of America tells a tale. Phonosemantically, the sounds in America seem to parallel the history of the United States. The first syllable, “a”, is pronounced “uh” and indicates both freedom and thoughtfulness, and is appropriate for the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. Its primary syllable, “mer”, is similar to the Middle English mere of mermaid, and Latin mare of maritime  — the sea“ — and suggests a manifestation of strength and power, appropriate for the military and economic strength of the United States as it extended its domain across the continent. The next syllable, “ric”, is similar to rich, reach, and Reich, and indicates solidification and containment of power, appropriate to America’s imperial ambitions. The final syllable, “a”, is pronounced “ah”, and indicates a return to Source energy. This corresponds to nothing in America’s history so far. We can only hope.

Furthermore, each phase of America’s history above corresponds to about one hundred years. The short “a” syllable pairs up with the end of the 1700’s; “mer” is the 1800’s, and “ric” is the 1900’s. Now we’re at the beginning of the final “a”, which means the American Empire — by which I mean our dominance in the economic and geopolitical sphere, despite the fact that our borders haven’t changed much since the 1800’s — should be ending.

And it is — though this may not be obvious.

For a hundred years, our empire has rested on the strength of the American military, which in turn has rested on the strength of the American economy. The economy has been strong because of a combination of peaceful borders and relatively free society.

Now our economy is starting to sputter. The dollar is dropping like a stone, more than most people realize.

Consider the price of gold, which has doubled in the past year or two. Has gold gotten so much more valuable? Has half of the world’s gold supply disappeared? No!

And think of gasoline, which has also doubled in cost. Is gasoline twice as valuable? Has half of the world’s oil wells dried up? No!

The dollar is losing its value. A dollar buys half as much gold and gas as it used to. And has your salary doubled in the last two years?…

It hasn’t??…

No wonder we’re all working two jobs!

But Why?

Why is the dollar falling? Because the government keeps printing money to finance its wars. We don’t pay nearly enough taxes to keep the war machine rolling, so the Fed lowers interest rates, making it easier to borrow; in effect, generating more money. And this lowers the value of the money already in circulation. The dollar falls.

Thus, when the government is spending more than it has, the value of the dollar decreases. It’s like an invisible tax. It’s a tax on everything — your income, your purchases, your savings — because it reduces the value of your money to pay for our Empire.

And when the dollar falls, and things get more expensive, what happens? Consumers don’t buy as much. (Or else they max out their credit cards and have to declare bankruptcy and then they don’t buy as much.) Corporate America’s profits go down. Fewer taxes are collected, and the government goes deeper into debt. The government borrows more and more money from other countries, which causes the dollar to drop further, which makes things more expensive, which decreases profits, which reduces government funds, so they create and borrow more money, which lowers the value of the dollar, which…

…creates a downward spiral. Things get crazier and crazier until finally…

Finally what? Well, we’ve seen what happens when empires fall. It happened with the Soviet Union in the 199o’s. Banks and businesses and governments fail, schools and libraries close, and there is widespread crime, unemployment, and privation.

Is this avoidable? Possibly, but we’ll have to shift course very quickly. The empire is going away; the only question is whether the landing will be hard or soft. To make a soft landing, we have to drastically reduce the size of our military, balance our government budget, and reform the monetary system.

Elections are coming up next year, and that’s our chance to influence the government’s direction. It may not be soon enough.

Parent and Parasite

I don’t think any American ever voted to have an Empire. None of us want to dominate the world. None of us wanted this mess. So why did it happen? And how can we keep it from happening again?

Some are inclined to blame big business for our situation. I think that this is a part of the problem, but a minor part. Corporations are soulless, machine-like entities that exist only to generate profit; but this means that they’re not necessarily evil, any more than any other machine that is soulless, and exists only for some simple purpose, like a hammer or a car. Corporations will act meaningfully and be good neighbors IF the market demands it AND government regulations (or lack thereof) encourage it.

The market is not an evil force, either; it simply consists of individuals and companies, and their resources and desires. Each of these actors may be good or bad, but in the aggregate they’re not an evil force (unless you think that people in general are basically evil). The market generally encourages corporations to be good neighbors, since corporations that get too big or too nasty lose business to competition. This is why McDonald’s offers salads and organic coffee nowadays.

How about government regulations? On the face of it, government regulation isn’t necessarily bad, either. After all, the government is controlled by duly elected representatives of the people, right?

But governments can be much, much worse than corporations. They have no competition to keep them in check; and they produce nothing at all of their own  — every dollar or service they provide is taken by taxes from someone else. They represent a huge source of coercive power.

As such, they are tremendously tempting. They’re tempting for individuals who have a taste for power, and they’re tempting for corporations — again, not because the corporation is evil per se (though they may certainly be led by evil individuals), but because it’s in the corporation’s nature to try to control sources of wealth. It’s what they’re designed to do.

…And Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Government is powerful; and therefore it attracts power-hungry people and organizations. The more powerful the government is, the more of a target it will be for the unscrupulous.

Many people believe that government is necessary — imperfect, but necessary, because (a) it helps to keep rich, powerful people and corporations from preying on the poor and weak, and (b) it can help redistribute the wealth and power of a society to make it more fair and equitable.

Of course, government can only do this if it is run by people who are basically good, and who are not allied with the rich and powerful. Otherwise the government simply becomes another tool of the rich and powerful to become even more rich and powerful.

And I’ve come to realize that a powerful government is always a tool of the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous. Given enough time, these people and corporations will worm their way into control. After that, forget about protecting the poor or redistributing wealth.

Suppose you think people are basically good, and left to themselves, maybe with some encouragement, most folks would do a decent job of being charitable and helping everyone raise up to a decent standard of living. Then what do you need a government for? A government will just attract the bad apples in the society, and they’ll use its power to mess everything up. (This is my view, anyway.)

Suppose you think people are basically self-centered and hard-hearted, and left to themselves, they’d never give money to charity, and income distribution would continually get more and more skewed. In this case, government still won’t help, because it’ll just attract the worst of the worst, the bottom of the barrel.

Either way, a strong government leaves the society worse off than without it.

Enough of Your Opinion, Jeff. What do the Gods Say?

Good question! Apollo favors the Platonic philosopher-king approach — preferably one with a light touch, who basically lets people do what they want, but occasionally steps in to guide matters, like a tolerant parent. Belanus agrees, but emphasizes a very strong centralized education system, to make sure people know what the duties of a free society are, and get everyone off to a good equal start.

Cernunnos, on the other hand, believes very strongly in complete freedom — no government at all.  “The more government control you have,” he says, “the less people are free to make mistakes and learn from them. It slows down the growth and maturity of the society and all its individuals. Let people do what they want! They’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.”

All the gods agree that free will is the core of the human experience — the engine that drives our spiritual development. It is a sacred thing, and something we can never hand over to another. We may think we have no options in our lives, no choices in our actions — but we always do. The barriers we see around us are erected by ourselves.

The Anarchist’s Playground

When I talk to Cernunnos, I always think of the internet, which is hardly regulated at all, and its amazing growth in size and usefulness in the past decade. It hasn’t collapsed under the weight of spam or denial-of-service attacks, and it hasn’t come under the control of any single government or corporation. People are making plenty of money online, and yet so many basic software packages and services are completely free. What if all of society were like that? Perhaps it shows that free individuals really can self-organize productively, sanely, and ethically.

Maybe this will be the final legacy of America. When the imperial government collapses and the dollar disintegrates, the internet will remain — ironically created by the US “defense” department — an excellent foundation for rebuilding the economy and the society from the ground up.

You have to wonder what the internet will develop into. They say that 9/11 changed everything forever — but really it’s the internet that’s doing that. Maybe — anything’s possible! — maybe it will nurture a mature society, a society without a governmental parent/parasite. A society free to grow, to nourish, to interconnect in mind and spirit…

None of my guides know the answer. They’re hopeful; but they say it is up to us.

If it’s really up to us — if no government or corporation is going to decide for us — then for the sake of all that’s holy, let us take up the task!

Let us use our free will to make it so!

vasterthanempires.jpg

10 thoughts on “Vaster than Empires and More Slow”

  1. Ooo… now I see why you listed yourself as “libertarian” on Facebook.

    The main problem I have with the libertarian view is that it seems to assume that the U.S. government today actually functions as a government, when it doesn’t. It functions much more as (and is almost entirely influenced by) corporations themselves. The government makes foreign policy decisions, for instance, based on what will be most profitable for their corporate backers and lobbyists (not because we have some imperial dream–as you point out, we don’t want to conquer the world, but we do insist on maintaining our lavish standard of living, sold to us as the “American Dream” by the capitalist-corporate world). Candidates hire marketing firms, who’ve spent billions researching the human psyche and how to usurp consumer choice, in order to “sell” themselves as candidates with the facade of “good character,” rather than campaigning based on solid platforms and realistic policies about which people can think and choose rationally. I agree that the system is pretty much broken and fails to regulate and protect the way it was intended, but I think this is more because it has grown to be too much under the influence of capitalism and corporate America.

    So, I guess I’m saying, I’m not only anarchic in my views, but “an-market”… (ha! get it? ;-p) in so far as I have no confidence that the Free Market as some imaginary regulatory system will function any better than the current marriage between Market and Government that we have now (McDonalds offers salads, sure, but they’re basically huge lumps of meat on a limp lettuce base, with dressings that could kill you faster than a burger; likewise, it will never be *more* profitable for a corporation to regulate itself for the sake of the environment, than to spend the money on advertising to convince its consumers that it’s “green” while cutting as many corners as possible: “the profit system follows the path of least resistance, and the path of least resistance is what makes a river crooked”).

    The internet is inspiring, but it’s also very much a “virtual” world in some respects–services and products can be exchanged without anyone having to worry too much about how those products are being produced, shipped, consumed, disposed of, etc. In that sense, it also takes certain things for granted about globalization (for instance, the millions of gas-guzzling trucks crisscrossing the country every day so that I can get the book from Amazon.com I ordered). At some point, regardless of how soon our now relatively ineffectual government officially collapses in on itself, we’re going to have to reconcile the global exchange of information and ideas, with the *local* exchange of actual materials, products and services. I am much more interested in supporting local businesses and craftspeople who contribute to the community in which they themselves live, rather than trusting huge corporations to have the best interests of any one community and its unique needs in mind (especially when most spend a huge amount of money for manipulative advertising in order to create needs and insecurities for which they can then sell, for a price, the “instant solution”). In this sense, anarchy must not only be political, but economic–small communities working with the materials and resources of their immediate environments to provide for their own unique needs. Keeping it local also means damage to the environment is more likely to become visible more quickly, and local businesses can more easily adapt and respond. Meanwhile, information and ideas can be shared among the vast world community, so that local communities have more resources for finding and sharing creative solutions and innovations, and can work towards better ways of exchanging products and services over larger distances, without me having to worry that the clothes from that American-based superstore are actually made for 3 cents an hour in some country on the other side of the globe whose government does not guarantee workers’ rights.

    But I’ve babbled enough. 😉 An interesting post. I can’t wait to see how others respond.

  2. Hey Ali, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I hope other folks are similarly inspired!

    I agree that the US government is almost completely controlled by corporate interests. However, I disagree that that implies that the free market has failed, or that it means that the US government acts like a corporation. In point of fact, since the US government can arbitrarily tax, pass laws and use coercive force legally, the government actually allows corporations to SUBVERT and CIRCUMVENT the market. Prime example: oil companies basically own the government at this point, and the government bends over backwards to keep oil prices low and protect the supply of oil. What do you suppose would happen if all that government support dropped away? The price of oil would go up… And suddenly alternative forms of energy would be a LOT more attractive in the marketplace. In other words, the US government distorts the marketplace.

    As for environmental concerns, I completely agree that the government is necessary to keep corporations from destroying the Earth for profit. However, I suspect that using the judicial system to do a better job protecting property rights is better than a huge beaurocratic system of environmental regulations. If corporations know that polluting air or water will result in massive class action lawsuits, they’ll think twice about it.

    At the same time, people have to become better educated about what companies are doing, and buy products accordingly == locally, absolutely; and responsibly. This is happening — more slowly than I would like, but it is happening. The onus is on people like you and I to do what we can to change public opinion.

  3. It’s interesting… I want to reply, but I’m unsure how.

    In regards to local manufacturing, I’m absolutely all for it. In fact, I’ve already expressed part of my views on a better system than we have now, one which would eventually make cold hard cash obsolete. (I still think that money should definitely exist… since money is the exchange of value. Cash is simply a way to make the system of exchanging value more abstract… easier to handle, even if it is harder to understand.)

    So… local manufacturing. Why can’t we make cars the same way that we make software?

    Well, the easy answer is that we can’t reproduce a car nearly as cheaply as we can reproduce a program. The cost of reproducing software is creating microscopic magnetic fields on a metal disk. The cost of making a car is in forming the raw materials into the various parts, then attaching those parts to each other. My solution is automation. If a person had to change the magnetic fields on a disk by hand, then it would cost a lot more to copy a program than it does for the computer’s hardware to change those magnetic fields automatically.

    If we make obtaining the natural resources an automatic process, then the cost of the raw materials goes down to nothing. If we make forming those materials into parts, then fastening those parts to each other an automatic process, then the cost of manufacturing goes down to nothing… Free cars!

    With recent advances in Asimo changing it from a tethered robot incapable of making any true decisions into an actual android, untethered and capable of traversing (programatically) unpredictable terrain such as stairs of different heights, we now have the technology necessary to automate the world.

    The next step would be to create a (for lack of a better term, I’ll just make one up) Parts Definition Language, which contains computer readable specifications for the various parts that we would want to manufacture. Just like the HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is an open standard, so anybody who takes the time to learn its structure can write web pages, make the PDL an open standard, so that anybody can request any part that they want.

    Once we have people making custom parts for order, the next step would be to create Asimo based androids that have the dexterity to take apart and put together any machine, and the sensors required to inspect the parts and compare it to the PDL file in the database… That way, if any part is broken, it can be replaced. These maintenance androids would reduce the cost of production even further, leaving the only cost left being to get to the raw materials. Two of these maintenance androids (so that one can fix the other), two machines that can make any part, and a ready supply of power and raw materials could easily change the world.

    A few things… In this system, all raw materials would either need to be fully recyclable, or would need to be based entirely on renewable resources. Sorry, oil companies, but there are no places for you in the future. Loggers would love it, though, because wood is a wonderful renewable resource… the more that you use, the more trees get planted. (Which is why I personally don’t agree with recycling paper. Instead of planting a new tree, which removes chemicals from the environment, recycled paper releases more chemicals into the environment. Recycling metal, on the other hand, is a wonderful idea, since metal doesn’t grow on trees.)

    Once the food industry is automated, we won’t have to worry about people starving if they don’t have jobs. Shortly after we automate food, we’ll automate housing and transportation, which will leave us a considerable amount of free time. The more imaginative among us will create entertainment, or push for more scientific advances. Without worrying about where our food comes from, or if we’ll have a roof over our heads, we’ll be free to improve our lives however we see fit.

    Oh, to have been born a hundred years in the future.

  4. Then again… if I were born a hundred years in the future, I wouldn’t be able to participate in automating the world now… hmm…

  5. It’s certainly interesting to speculate about what the world would look like if there was absolutely no scarcity. Adam, you seem to be describing something a lot like the Star Trek universe, in which private property and money simply disappeared because they weren’t necessary anymore… In fact, I think there’s a lot of evidence that this kind of situation would occur if there were no scarcity of resources. Without scarcity, there is no market — because anyone can get whatever they need. There was no market for clean air, for example, until the last quarter century, when it’s become scarce in some regions. No market means no money, and abundance for everyone.

    Note that just automating extraction of natural resources doesn’t do the trick You can automate copper mining all you want, but once the copper runs out, you’re stuck. Copper is a limited resource, and any limited resource has value and has to be allocated either by a free system of exchange or by a central planning system. Of course, in a true Utopia, or the Star Trek Federation, you would have machines that created copper out of thin air. 🙂

    What you might continue to have a scarcity of, even in Utopia, is talented, creative human labor, and its fruits. What do you do if you want a symphony written for you? Unless we have AI’s to write them for us, we need to get it from another human being, and that person either needs to provide it out of a sense of charity, or simply delight in the work, or exchange the service for something of value (say, a well-written bit of software).

  6. Hi Jeff,

    Wow, this is thought provoking. My guides have been giving me ‘collapse of society’ images on and off for years now, it appears to be a looming possibility.

    One thing they have urged me toward is environmental consciousness as they point out that it is one way to bring people back into balance within the system. (i.e. we wouldn’t have wars over oil if we used alternative energy sources 🙂 )

    I think the lesson that they are teaching is that if we concentrate on restoring what is vital and necessary for all to the level of what is sacred in our hearts and minds…that we will get there.

    I absolutely agree with them in their urgings toward simplicity.

    Much love,

    PK

  7. Paula, I completely agree about simplicity, too, and of course environmental consciousness. Both of these things are very much religious and moral issues for me, of course. 🙂 I think for our society to get there, it’s going to require a vast sea change in public opinion and focus. The corporations (and the government they control) are never going to act locally and responsibly unless we all demand that they do so, with our wallets and purses.

    The good news is that I think this sea change is happening — more slowly than I’d personally prefer, but faster than I’d dared to hope.

  8. Public opinion is already changing. Most people today including myself believe that if you want something done right don’t expect the government to do it. its people that are making a difference in todays world and i really think its only a matter of time before people put the government back in its place as well. Most of America is pretty fed up and pissed off at the moment.

  9. Lucynda, I tend to agree with you about the direction of public opinion, and I certainly hope we’re right! The thing is, of course, that it’s always been people that have made positive differences in the world, but this isn’t really taught in the government- or church-sponsored schools that most of us attended. Thanks for dropping by!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *