The Impoverished Vision of Little Britain
July 1, 2016
What follows are a layman’s observations about the state of the world and what it could become.
We who hope for a stable world of interpersonal and international harmony and cooperation easily recognize that from a broad historical viewpoint, we as human beings, regardless of nationality, religion, or language, are at an important moment of decision: to continue to hate, or to cooperate.
The recent vote in Great Britain to leave the European Union (“Brexit,” as the press short-hands it), along with the expected candidacy of Donald Trump for President of the United States, has precipitated this decisive historical moment. The conventional wisdom is that England, by leaving the EU, will lose its considerable influence on European economic decision-making, leaving Britain
isolated, to struggle with its mounting economic and employment problems alone. Moreover, if Scotland votes to continue its membership in the EU, it will effectively end its fraternal relationship with England. At that point, the Great Britain of the past—a small, cold island nation which established a three hundred year worldwide empire, by the power of its incomparable navy, in sizable
areas of every one of the six inhabited continents—will collapse into Little Britain, a political wayside.
Brexit has already had a severe impact on the value of British currency internationally, on the American stock markets and on global economic stability. And from a wider perspective, although England has been an important partner with the United States in articulating and promoting American foreign policy since the beginning of the twentieth century, the loss of British influence in Europe, because of the Brexit vote, will have a significant impact on England’s ability to contribute effectively to American diplomatic and counterterrorism efforts.
In view of all of these negative consequences, how can Brexit be defended? The proponents of Brexit see several benefits. For example, Brexit will keep in Britain the money which it would have paid in dues to the EU. It is said that this is an important consideration in cash-strapped, high unemployment Britain. In addition, Britain would be free to establish its own foreign policy, especially with regard to immigration.
This second reason is powerful in that it has many unspoken implications. The main one is that England will be able to close the gates on the flood of immigrants into the country, most of whom are disliked people of color, and many of whom are Muslims, practicing a religion feared throughout Europe and the United States for what is believed to be its fanatical hatred of Western culture.
Such thinking leads directly to a backward-looking line of thought: If Britons keep the foreigners out, then Britons will be able to work, their nation will achieve terrorism-free peace and financial stability, and Britain will return to its former glory: Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean.
This line of thought contains logical gaps too numerous to list. But it has a soothing, promising ring to it—“We’ll again be the idealized Us that we’ve yearned to be again, ever since Kaiser Wilhelm slaughtered a whole generation of our young men, and we had to face the fact that Us are only us, vulnerable flesh and blood, not as mighty as we had imagined ourselves to be.” There is great allure in a people’s nostalgia for an idealized memory of “our” greatness.
Donald Trump appeals to that same nostalgia in Americans, a nostalgia which always has at its core some sort of undeserved pre-judgment against whole segments of the nation’s current population. He has offended Latino-Americans by his insistence on denying the American lifestyle to those Latinos and Native Peoples who risk their lives to enter and find it. He has likewise insulted African-Americans, women, and even disabled people.
It is no great intellectual feat to observe that his targets are the American population groups which have arisen in the last half-century to challenge the supremacy of white males in the United States—the men who believe of themselves that they founded the nation, defended it (ignoring that they did not defend it alone, but were aided by African-Americans, Native Americans, Polynesian
Hawaiians, and Latino-Americans, as we have lately come to learn), and have traditionally ruled it and made their fortunes in it. Many of these men may also believe that they own the nation by right.
An interesting side note is that Trump’s scatter-gun approach of criticizing so many different groups wins him support from some of the members of the groups he criticizes. His proponents in each group don’t hear, or they make excuses for, his hate-speech directed at them. They hear only his hatred for other groups—groups which they themselves also hate.
Trump’s condemnation of population groups which are not Us, just as in England, implies the promise that the United States will return to its idealized past greatness because of his leadership against the interlopers—a greatness glaring with economic prosperity, functional constitutional democracy for the “elect” who are citizens, and world military domination, and beneath the glare, the
shame of the last sixty years of “ugly American” diplomatic bullying, as well as the infamy of being the
only nation on earth to use strategic nuclear weapons during war against enemy urban areas. But for
Trump, as for the British, the glare of their nations’ greatness is the only thing in sight.
On the other side of the decision is the course of history in the last seventy years. That course can be summarized in one word: democratization—the recognition of, and respect for, the worth, equal to your own, of those around you who are different from you, and a willingness to cooperate with them and to learn from them.
Of course, there have been dreadful wars and abominable slaughters of innocents during those years. But what’s new? There have always been wars and slaughters. That’s the ancient and persistent history of human cultures and nations, especially in those places where cultures and large, imperial religions border each other, and collide.
The new element in the historical trend toward democratization is the growing recognition of human rights—that is, the belief that every human being has an inherent dignity which entitles them to a defined set of respectful behaviors by all other human beings. This notion of human rights is now openly recognized among nations, and among a fairly large number of nations, accepted as the justification for action.
However, human rights is a relatively new concept on the world political stage. The notion came into its own only in 1948, when the three-year-old United Nations adopted its Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Since then, the nations of the world have been dealing with the outcomes of accepting the notion of human rights, and many nations have, to some degree or another,
accepted democratization as the thrust of history—that is, that we humans are destined to live out the notion of equality of individuals, nations and cultures in countless dimensions and in all political situations.
The historical trend toward democratization has challenged the ancient method of ruling: rule
by force. Since our cave-homes, the power-male of every social group—the strongest, the best at fighting, the most clever, the most spiritually adept—has ruled the group. He rules by force always: usually by force of arms, perhaps leading the best band of warriors or wrestlers, perhaps most skillful in convincing others to do things his way, perhaps by the attractiveness of his wisdom or his spiritual gifts. This rule by force is usual among many, perhaps most, gregarious mammalian species, besides
In our era, democratization, as an alternative to force-rule, proposes recognition by the force-rulers of the legitimate rights of the ruled to decent, secure lives, in which—at least in the ideal—the ruled share with the force-rulers real decision-making power, as appears to have been the case in the classical era of Greek city-state direct democracy.
In the United States, we have not yet achieved that ideal. Especially since the coup-like government seizure of the power to probe and keep records on the private lives of American citizens not accused of any crime—that is, since the so-called Patriot Act of October 26, 2001was signed into law—the ordinary citizens have lost political ground to the force-rulers. Nonetheless, in general, the American situation—and that of those few other capitalist democracies—is this. Like every other nation, the actions and policies of the United States government are created by the wealthy decision-makers who effectively select and control the public force-ruler—namely, the president of the United States, who has the massively powerful U.S. military, as well as the forces of the FBI, the CIA, the
NSA, and Homeland Security, to enforce his bidding.
The key difference between the ancient rule by force and the new rule of cooperative respect is that, in contrast with the traditional force-rule kingmakers who take 100% of the nation’s wealth for themselves, the democratized wealthy decision-makers take for themselves only 85-90% of the nation’s wealth. The other 10-15% is “trickled down” to the ordinary citizenry, in order to provide all but the impoverished classes with “the American way of life.” But even among the impoverished classes, this availability of prosperity offers them the hope of achieving the American way of life, as they see it taught to them in TV programs and especially in TV advertising.
What is the benefit of this sort of democratic wealth-sharing over “the rich take all, and the tyrant controls the masses” type of rule? The answer is protection for the wealthy against rebellion by the citizens who would otherwise be left powerless and impoverished by the absolute greed of the rich (as was the case, for example, in the French Revolution of 1789 and the first Russian Revolution of 1917.) When the impoverished masses—whose only power is in their hopeless willingness to die in order to damage the existing power structure—are distracted by the ability to achieve for themselves some modicum of comfort and security by cooperating with the rich and producing wealth for them, the wealthy who control the power-structure can go about the business of accumulating greater wealth and
power without threat of resistance from the people.
This way of co-opting the impatience of the working classes which might lead to revolt effectively removes revolution as a viable option. Peace and security spring into being. And then an interesting phenomenon occurs: given a little slice of the pie, the people hunger for some more.
The possession of some wealth by the common people opens them to recognizing (or to accepting on faith the possibility of) some degree or other of self-determination in their lives. The people believe that they are “free to choose their own path,” and to make their way to success by their own efforts. It is this sense of self-determination among the common people which has given the
powerless “minorities” (including women, who comprise 51% of the American population!) the vision to establish themselves in positions of economic and political power, despite the fact that such “power” in the public arena is a sham, since public power holders are de facto the operatives of the actual wealthy ruling elite.
The effect on the society when members of non-traditional classes of people assume public power positions within the society is that the society generates an expectation of further democratization. The “minorities” as groups, seeing the reality of access to wealth and power by members of their particular group, assert that they are equally entitled to the opportunity to achieve wealth and power as the dominant group, that is, white males.
This assertion of self-determination and equal opportunity results in one of two consequences in
each situation. On the one hand, the assertion of self-determination by any given minority group within a society may be crushed by the force-rulers. Witness the cruel treatment of African-Americans who sought self-determination before the 1965 Voting Rights Act by the Ku Klux Klan (a loosely organized terror-squad operation controlled and financed by the ruling white male establishment), by police departments in Selma, Birmingham, and in fact, ubiquitously in the Southeastern United States—and even after the 1965 legislation, most dramatically by the Los Angeles Police Department and by the police departments of other large American cities.
The other possible direction is recognition of the human dignity of the members of the minority groups, and subsequent fair treatment and equal opportunity for the individual minority people themselves. This process is occurring—with very encouraging results—in the establishment of women, especially young professional and semi-professional women, in economic and political roles which signal successful integration, and which therefore signal achievement of self-determination and
social recognition of their human dignity. – This process is occurring worldwide with mixed results. The western European countries, Israel, and India appear to be ahead of the United States in the democratization of women. Southeast Asia and most of the Arab world have miles to go, much blood and many tears already having been sacrificed.
From a global political and economic perspective, the world is no longer Euro-America centered, as in the view of the West, it had been since the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, in which Europe decisively defeated the Ottoman (Muslim) Empire’s attempt to advance into Europe from the east. With the rise of multi-national corporations and the signing of free trade agreements in the twentieth
century, nations like the Pacific Rim nations, which had previously had no significant impact on the economic life of Europe and the Western Hemisphere, became major players. So also did South Africa and India, Taiwan and Indonesia, and the Arabic Peninsula and Persian Gulf nations.
The response of Europe—quite reasonably—was that the dozens of small European nations, each operating independently with its own currency and tariffs, agreed to unite as an economic federation, the European Union, in order to compete effectively in the new economic order.
The European Union, formed in 1993, is an historically astounding achievement. It established a cooperative working relationship among nations which just fifty years earlier had been mortal enemies for the preceding fifty years, namely, Germany and Austria, on the one hand, and England, France, and Belgium, on the other. In other words, these nations had found a new, mutually beneficial way to interact by foregoing old animosities and recognizing each nation’s dignity and worthiness. The
EU is the poster child of the new way of democratization.
Then suddenly and unexpectedly, eight years later, came the Arab Spring, a popular uprising in 2011 against the force-rulers of many of the Arab countries. Those who rebelled demanded the removal, by force if necessary, of the established dictators, and (more distasteful to the West) self-determination in religious matters, which meant most often governance under the Islamic Law in its
current fundamentalist interpretation.
The Arab Spring, as a democratizing movement, precipitated horrendous conflicts with the force-rulers. Thousands died as the force-rulers were deposed, just as previously (from 1994 to 2000) thousands had died in the Chechen rebellion, defeated by the Russian force-rulers. The conflict in other nations is ongoing at this writing, most notably in Syria.
The question, then, resolves to this: In what direction will our world turn? Will nations turn retrograde, and discard (temporarily, but who knows for how long?) the recognition of universal human dignity and international cooperation for the fantasy of a return to “our” glorious and powerful past? In particular, will other nations bolt from the EU? Will Trump be elected? Will the masses again be ignored by the definitively established force-rulers—the Qaddafis, the Hassads, the Putins, the Bushes,
We may have to learn again that there is no going back to the glory days, and that as we tumble into economic chaos, the power-elite always lies to us and deceives us, always to their own benefit—like the Rockefellers and the Morgans and the many others who made their millions in the 1929 Stock Market Crash while one-third of the American population scrounged for food.
Or, on the other hand, will we continue on the productive path of history which seems to be opening before us? Will we accept one another, individually and nationally, as equals in dignity while respecting our mutual diversity? Will we learn to cooperate with one another in harmony, hate-free, and without fear?
Copyright © 2016 by Goddesire.com