The Basic Psychological Structure of Our Society Does Not Work
Here’s the thing. Our society only works after generational crises which don’t destroy it. After the Napoleonic Wars, the survivors make Europe more or less work. They get a good long run out of it, a surprisingly long one, but it goes south starting around 1870, and blows with WWII.
It goes south in ways that are recognizable, by the way. For example, the British Empire pushes laissez-faire trade policies which make the rich richer but gut the British manufacturing base over time, moving much of it to, ironically, America.
The system goes into crisis from 1914 to 1945, and the Americans take it over and run it basically well up until the early 70s, about 25 years. Then it goes into decline. It’ll be hard to tell exactly when the end-game crisis start(ed) till we can look back, but if we aren’t in it, we’re close.
1945 to 08 is 63 years. To today, 71. If the crisis isn’t seen to have started for another 10 years, we’ll have 81.
But the core point here is that it’s very hard to create people who can run a system.
The common refrain is that prosperity destroys character. But that’s not quite right: the people who created the good post-war economy were the FDR types, mostly. People who were adults in the 20s and 30s, who saw what went wrong.
People have a hard time learning from other people’s experiences. They have to see it themselves. So, in the early 70s there is an attempt to get rid of the short-sale uptick rule (you can only short a stock on an uptick of the stock) and it dies in the face of massive backlash. A couple decades later, those people are dead, and even more wholesale revisions to the rules put in place to stop another Depression from happening pass. Finally Clinton kills Glass-Steagall, the main spar, wholesale, something entirely unthinkable in 1960 when the population lived thru the reasons it existed.
But the rot goes deeper than just “it’s hard to learn what you didn’t experience”, it goes to the core of how we raise ourselves; our children.
School, as we do it, is a terrible way to raise people. What it actual teaches is “do what you’re told, when you’re told, wait to be told how to do things, don’t figure out things for yourself, and give the approved answer, not one you came up with yourself.”
It trains drones. It trains people who are meant to spend their adult lives under supervision, doing what they are told, when they are told and giving their bosses the answers their bosses want.
Those people make fine wage slaves, yes, but they don’t make good citizens. They have not only not learned to think for themselves, they have been taught not to. Even worse, they have been taught that if a thought of their own should come up, they should keep it to themselves.
Meanwhile school interactions with peers are terrible. When we call something “high school” we mean horrible peer pressure bullshit. A few people love high school, most people remember it as one of the worst times of their lives.
Wage slavery, and I use the term slavery very deliberately, is a terrible system if you want a democracy or a republic. Mass production consumer societies, where we choose from menus rather than creating anything ourselves, are terrible for democracies or Republics.
The way we school people, the jobs most people work at, and how we distribute goods to people (thru money gained by sitting down, shutting up and doing what you are told) are antithetical to free, egalitarian societies. Only a crisis which forces people to think for themselves and where they have to be trusted for a while can briefly create people suited to political freedom.
But we can’t have world wars and depressions all the time, for what I assume are obvious reasons. So we stagger along, brief good periods sliding into shit periods regularly.
Of course there is more to it than this, such as cycles of destruction of capital and labor and so on, but much of that is manageable in theory. It isn’t manageable in practice, not because it couldn’t be done, but because our society; we, don’t create the people who can do it.
Freedom, democracy, equality: these things are not compatible with how we order our economic affairs; how we raise our children, or how we condition our adults.
We will not reverse course, this cycle, that doesn’t happen and won’t. It’s too late. But there is always another cycle. If we don’t want it to be as disastrous as ours, we must figure out a better way to run our economy; to educate our children, and not to live as adults. A way suited to people fit to be free.
This doesn’t mean “work or starve” as libertarian morons would think; it means allowing real choices to be made, which requires an absence of existential fear while still including consequences. It means teaching children to to be something other than “good workers”. It means jobs that aren’t “kneepad for the boss or lose everything”. It means a structure of power that does not concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few and gate access to the good life behind subservience born of the desperate knowledge that the good life comes from good jobs, which are in scarce supply.
All of this is do-able. In some sense most of it isn’t even all that complicated. But that doesn’t mean any of it is easy, and it is hardest because we have been trained to have a poverty of imagination; an inability imagine world’s that are much better than the one we live in.
We have the technology. What we don’t have is the people. We aren’t the people who can run a good society (this is obvious, we haven’t.)
But as the people we can re-create ourselves and our descendants. Biology is only half destiny, the rest is in our hands.
So far we’ve been acting like bacteria in a petri dish, rushing to destroy our environment thru unchecked stupid growth.
Let us hope we can prove ourselves wiser than that. Or, instead of us instructing ourselves, Nature will instruct, and her lessons will be harsh.
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