The question for the rest of us; that is, those who labour for the profits of the powerful, those who kill and die in their wars, and those at the very bottom of their hierarchy whose lives are considered expendable from birth—is how to change the way things are. How to create a more equitable world?
by RON JACOBS
THE world continues to crumble; figuratively and actually. The news today tells of an interstate highway overpass in Ohio in the United States that collapsed, closing a major north-south traffic artery for an undetermined amount of time. In Texas and Oklahoma, earthquakes and tremors apparently related to the extraction of oil and natural gas, via the process called fracking, are occurring in areas where earthquakes never appeared before. In the figurative sense, wars and smaller acts of terrorist murder occur at a pace most earthlings find difficult to keep up with. Consequently, they accept the ruling elites’ claims that the wars are necessary and the smaller acts of terror are the exploits of fanatics that have nothing to do with the wars of rulers. In the economic sphere, the wealthy hold the rest of the world hostage, demanding a daily ransom in lives and money—a ransom too many pay willingly, thereby creating a dynamic where all of us must pay something. The fairy tales of salvation we call religion appear ever more appealing to the world’s citizens while the myth of easy earthly wealth motivates all too many. Both of these phenomena are similar in their promise of happiness—a happiness that is as much of a lie as the phenomena themselves.
How is this time different from the rest of human history, one asks? Hasn’t it always been a chronicle replete with suffering and injustice? Of course, the answer to the second question is yes. The answer to the first is more difficult. I would propose that this point in the human endeavour is different primarily in the magnitude of the suffering and in the callous arrogance of those whose actions perpetrate it. Additionally, there is the very real threat to the earth’s very essence. No longer is it just humans and animals that suffer from human greed and lust for power. It is the very actuality of the earth itself; its air, land and water. Unlike most human and animal life, these cannot be easily replenished. Furthermore, their expanding loss affects the lives of everything else on the planet.
In earlier times, royalty and its capitalist descendants claimed religion as the rationale for their stature. In other words, it was God’s ordering of the universe that created the rich and the poor; the powerful and the weak. To challenge this order was the work of the devil, subject to those punishments reserved for heretics and infidels. In today’s world, there is no pretence by the wealthy and powerful that the order they kill to maintain has anything to do with any god. Sure, they may utilise religion to keep the believers from demanding too much on this earth, but their fundamental justification for their wealth and power is simple. It is that they have obtained these assets (through inheritance, exploitation of labour and resources, repression and outright murder) and therefore all profits from their actions are theirs, consequences be damned. The rest of the world should kneel at their feet. The arrogance of these elites is most recently shown in the construction of Manhattan’s second tower of Babel—the ninety-story apartment building on 157th Street where an apartment just sold for over $100 million.
The question for the rest of us; that is, those who labour for the profits of the powerful, those who kill and die in their wars, and those at the very bottom of their hierarchy whose lives are considered expendable from birth—is how to change the way things are. How to create a more equitable world? Movements opposed to the greedy accumulation of wealth and consumption on a level never seen before have come and gone. Politicians have been elected by promising they will end the gross inequality of modern capitalism, only to be consumed by the succubus of greed that consumes almost everyone given entry into its web created by profit and maintained by lies and violence. Rebellions end up being manipulated by forces of the imperial state, defeated by local and foreign militaries and their corporate backers, corrupted by power or all of the above. Some of these so-called rebellions even turn out to be products of foreign markets and intelligence agencies. Recent examples can be found in places as seemingly different as Egypt and Ukraine. Likewise, in the United States, the never-ending volley between two corporate political parties slapping the ball of the polity back and forth; one party pretending to be the party of the people against war and Wall Street, and the other pretending to be the party of the people from the other side of the spectrum. Yet, after decades of this back and forth, the monied classes have greater control of our world than ever before in history. Their wars continue and their profits rise.
I’ve been alive almost sixty years and cannot recall one in which the rulers of the country I was born in were not engaged in some form of hostility against another nation or people. The war was either “hot” or “cold” and their enemy always foreign. Most often, these enemies were also not white skinned. One might think this history means that there is no point trying to change the scenario. I still believe that there is. There are no superheroes and there are no gods to rescue us. Ordinary humans exposing torture and fighting racial, ethnic, and gender persecution, both de facto and de jure, are the only heroes. One can join them and hope to save the present and change the future; or one can surrender to the temptations of the powerful, the easy lies of the religious, and/or the comforts a completely private life appears to provide. All of these illusions will not change the objective reality of that Damoclean sword above our heads. Of course, there is the possibility that nothing can at this point in human history. Discovering this truth without attempting to change it is perhaps the worst form of defeat. We must not allow it. Profiting from the catastrophe is wrong. So is doing nothing about it.
Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.