Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
The Tragedies teach us that people have flaws, and those flaws cause suffering. The Comedies teach us that people have flaws, and those flaws cause mirth. Didactic theater teaches us that slightly flawed people are impressed into tragic interaction with others by systems that exploit their flaws, systems in which even the beasts at the top of the food chain are trapped, unable to resist their basest desires and fears, causing them to rationalize their own cruel behavior. And depending on how the story is told, it can be either tragic or comic, or both in varying degrees.
Some folks have flaws that cause them to amass or retain wealth. Some have flaws that cause them to alienate friends. Some have flaws that cause them to sacrifice their own needs in deference to others'. Some have flaws that cause them to descend into misery. Some have flaws that cause them to descend into penury.
Nietzsche called those with flaws that got them into positions of control over resources at the expense of others, "the strong." Everyone under their control he called "the weak." He called the rhetorical idea that such control was immoral, "slave morality," a trick the weak played to gain leverage over the strong. Pretty clever of the weak, he allowed.
Nietzsche was brilliant and funny and tragic, but his opinions about strength and weakness miss the point of economy. An economy seeks to provide for needs and to channel abilities. That's what it's always been, I argue, in my new essay. This one. I'm defining economy as an emergent behavior of a social group, not as some top-down design. The chief of a tribe didn't design their economy. Kings didn't design their economies. Prefects and mayors don't design their economies. They do all use their positions in the social hierarchy to influence the rules of the economy in their favor. The communist governments of Russia and China attempted in the most obnoxious way to force top-down design, which led to deprivation, cruelty, and crime.
To this day, economies are deformed by the coercing, twisting, bending, torqueing tendencies of elites to try to enrich themselves, and, under capitalism, those elites are not solely governmental. Not by a long shot, chump. Private corporations and financial organizations are able to deform the goals of the economy just as easily if not more so, sometimes using government and sometimes ignoring it.
A deformed economy is an unjust economy, because it has been steered away from its mission of providing for needs and channeling abilities. Economic inequality is one obvious symptom of injustice. The proliferation of crime is another. I think we can agree that in the US, and globally, we have an unjust economic system by that measure. Widespread crime among the classes below the aristocracy is often, if not always, an economy groping to find its way back to its natural inclination to provide for needs and to channel abilities. I'm not saying it's constructive, or a kind of justice in itself – it's a symptom, not a cure. But it does lead to maybe my most glib generalization in this current paragraph already crammed with glib generalizations: Crime is economy in search of its true nature.
Historically, we've accepted inequality as natural, or we've considered inequality a necessary evil for economic growth. Now that we're coming to be a global society, inequality has outlived its usefulness. If it ever was an engine of progress, it's now become an engine of toxicity and suffering. It's grown entirely too big for its britches. We need to get out from under this mess we made on the way to building this global economy.
If I have an idea, and I'm not sure I do, it's this: Global economy is a collective process in which all humans participate, regardless of attempts to exclude them or de facto elisions of their value or existence.
Got it, bitches? Economy includes the weak, their suffering, and the moral pressure upon consciences exerted by the deprived and the prematurely extinguished. That is to say,
economy includes reactions to injustice, such as stealing food in reaction to the legal withholding of food. And if the only possible reaction to injustice is to die, all pressures of moral argument denouncing those deaths and that injustice is just as much part of the economy as the cause of death was, despite what insults Nietzsche might fling at the weak for cleverly leveraging their deaths to sway public opinion.
Those cunning corpses of the weak, is there no end to their duplicity?
I've conjured a mythical economy, this economy that doesn't want people to die before their time, or to be miserable and unhealthy. This is economy as benevolent god. I admit it. I even like it.
I've also held up idealized tribal culture as an example of economies cleaving closer to their original, emergent purposes. Eh, what can you do?
Our global society has seen fit to incorporate the immiseration and even destruction of whole nations into its routine mechanisms. It's hard on morale. Human beings tend to balk at mass violence as features of an economy. They become desperate pirates or drug producers and smugglers or refugees. Or join police forces to try control these on behalf of the elite. They might just become angry violent terrorists, even if they aren't the direct victims of injustice. Or they might become liberals, activists, bleeding hearts – community organizers, even. Some have been known to become fascists.
We've developed institutions to make it easy for a privileged few to withhold education, steal land, kill people, and generally hold resources hostage so that economy is thwarted from providing for needs and channeling abilities. Simultaneously, these powerful, or "strong," institutions have developed so that those who profit most from injustices feel their conscience-burdening effects the least. The strong have fortified themselves against the heart-tugging ploys of the weak. The weak may be armed with the tools of Nietzsche's slave morality, which are especially effective in Twitter arguments, but in tangible terms those tools become weaker as the global economy becomes more complex
and elitist, as the elite segregate themselves ever more distantly from the suffering they cause.
In this glib and insightful essay of mine I say this: Economy developed to distribute resources and channel abilities for the maintenance of community. I say, It's possible to return economy to its original purpose, or to repurpose the currently deformed economy to one that meets the criteria of a true economy. I say, First we need to agree on what an economy is supposed to be doing, and stop unjust impositions on economy from preventing the formation and operation of functional communities.
I add community to the argument to counter the assertion that individuals, behaving in their separate self-interest, will create as close to a just economy as we can achieve. Economy is not about self-interest, although it does involve it. It's about collective interest. Economies only arise in communities, sillies. People don't do well in atomized conditions, if they can even exist in them at all. They do well when involved in a purpose they see as benevolent. Hence the appeal of communism before it turned into Bolshevism and Maoism. Hence the appeal of patriotism before it turns into fascistic nationalism. Hence the appeal of the radical movement before it devolves into an incestuous clique of smelly if lovable gadflies.
People want to be free, not just to fulfill their personal desires and vanity, but to contribute to a benevolent whole in which they are situated among constructive and pleasant relationships. I can't prove this, of course. I'm too weak. Weak of mind, weak of body, and weak of will.
But I'm often clever. And I would like to use my cleverness for the benefit of future human happiness, and toward the maintenance of resources that is our planet and all the beings on it. I'm a peacenik. I'm a hippie. I'm a Social Leisurist. I'm a smelly if lovable gadfly. I believe in publicly available necessities as well as public luxury. I believe it is the destiny of human beings to come to a far more sustainable, pleasant, and egalitarian
way of living. We'll never end suffering and tragedy, but we can mitigate much of it if we can agree to see its mitigation as a worthy goal.
Right now, we're far from any such agreement.
And yet who in their right mind would disagree with alleviating as much suffering as possible? Many, many people don't believe it can be done, and many of that many don't believe it should be attempted. They might agree that the number of people suffering needlessly is unacceptable, but contend there would be more suffering if we tried to do something about it. They point to past attempts as proof.
Well, all I can say to that is, tomorrow is another day, and we think new thoughts all the time, more inclusive thoughts, more humane thoughts, more neighborly thoughts about more, and more varied, people than we have in countless recent yesterdays. There are examples of egalitarian tactics improving people's lives every day, on a small scale, most often below the media radar. Yeah, being nice works. It's hard for us to understand these examples and assimilate them into our collective story. We're not used to succeeding, because aside from comedy and tragedy, one of which is about failure and the other a winked-at or laughed-at success, we don't have a great narrative about it.
Life itself doesn't end well, so our imaginations are constrained by that lousy example, too. I don't want to say that if we just start telling ourselves different stories everything will come out okay, but something's gotta change, and all I really know how to do, poor as I am at it, is talk about ways of thinking about stuff.
Maybe in a less deformed economy I'd be of more use in correcting economic deformity. It's a vicious circle, is what it is.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!