March 18, 2015 Filed in: History | Culture
The challenge is not 'How can I be better?' but 'How can we be better?'
Gandhi, Saint Paul and Socrates have all said that we need to know ourselves, act righteously, and be the change that we want to see in the world. I sympathize but disagree. It's not enough to change ourselves, we must change the system. The vast majority of people are good. We were born good and innocent, but we are trapped in a system controlled by false choices that lead everyone astray.
The challenge is not 'How can I be better?' but 'How can we be better?' I have been watching the mini-series The Tudors on Netflix recently. It covers the story of Henry the Eighth and his many wives, his theology that started the Church of England, and his pride and war-mongering. It is an amazing experience to need to use Wikipedia as a form of Cliff Notes for watching a TV show. So much of our history here in New England is based on what happened in Old England five hundred years ago.
It is easy to see why people would want to overthrow monarchy, but overthrowing hypocrisy is another thing all together. Good people do not necessarily make good systems. In fact, the lesson of democracy may be just the opposite. With nobody in charge, no vision can take root. King Henry was among the worst rulers in English history, but his daughter Elizabeth was among the best. In contrast, we experience a minor panic every two years, and a major panic every four years.
Anarchus, when he first learned of Solon's new system called Democracy in ancient Greece, made two comments that still resonate today: One, "the law is like a spider's web. It captures only the weak," and two, "It is a system where the wise speak and the fools decide." His critique of the idea of laws is from where we get the word anarchy, which is generally defined as a disorder caused by the lack of laws. It is important to put Anachus' words in context, however. Solon created fair laws following the period of Dracon's laws. Draconian laws are excessively harsh or severe and always prove themselves to be ineffective. Eventually they are ignored or overthrown. Fascism does not work, even for the fascists.
Unfortunately, autocratic, draconian and foolish laws are as much a part of democracy as they are of monarchy or tyranny. King Henry had a Parliament that passed laws. The Magna Carta was written three hundred years before he came to power, but they still catered to his every whim. Henry's attacks on the Catholic Church were as legal as slavery or Jim Crow in America, or Hitler's extermination campaigns in Germany. As Anarchus implied, any foolish thing can become law. It is easy to capture and abuse the weak.
The strong are like a pack of wolves forming alliances and surrounding their prey. Ben Franklin is alleged to have said "Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote" but even this quip exposes the failure of democracy. Was Mao right, does all power only come from the barrel of a gun? The armed lamb is no longer weak but stronger than the wolves. There is no unity or consensus in threat or force. The baseline of freedom is personal enlightenment, but the system needs to have balance as a priority, not competition or institutional privileges masked as personal or corporate rights.
It is hard to imagine that the colonies went to war over taxation and tariffs, when today we have sales, property and income taxes, tolls and fees, excise taxes, hotel and meal taxes, bottle deposits, parking meters and parking tickets. Whether you move or are stationary, you are taxed. The latest and greatest in this long string of absurdities are penalties for not purchasing health insurance, which is used to pay providers who purchase malpractice insurance. You would think that with mandatory health insurance we could at least remove the mandatory health insurance from mandatory automobile coverage, but no. We duplicate failure with modern efficiency. At what point do we stop and look at the system and say that regulation and deregulation have both failed?
Have you noticed how much the price of electricity has gone up with the advent of deregulation and competition, when the change was billed as bringing efficiency and lower prices? Now it takes a PhD in mathematics to purchase electricity. It has never been so easy to be swindled. Thomas Paine was channeling Anarchus when he wrote in Commonsense, "our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." Well, the King is gone. There is nobody to blame but ourselves. Bad laws still rule the day, and we pay for our misery.
In the Garden of Eden, nobody went hungry. We, in contrast, have managed to screw up a free lunch. We have built machines that allow individuals to produce far more than they can consume, yet people still go without. Instead of building gigantic palaces of luxury for kings, we build massive landfills and incinerators. We waste wealth as fast as we can produce it, foul the environment, and people carry debt into a postponed retirement. It is a modern re-enactment of the Book of Nehemiah. The cities are crumbling and children are sold into slavery.
There was no slavery in Tudor England. In our history, slavery was not abolished until 1865, but it was quickly replaced by child labor and an abusive workplace. The New Deal offered some relief, but that has slowly morphed into a system of debt slavery. Modern banking is now so corrupt that money is spent faster than it can be stolen. A government of the people, by the people and for the people has yet to exist. Lincoln bludgeoned dissent the same way any King would. Did he save the union, or condemn it to perpetual hypocrisy?
Why would both political parties bail-out the banks before bailing out the people during the most recent economic crisis? The answer lies in understanding the system, and the false choices that it forces us to make. We can demand justice, or we can demand payment from the destitute, but we cannot have both. The Boston Massacre was itself the result of a debt collection. In a tragic twist, it was a Redcoat that was the debtor. Like today, the soldiers pay the price of administrative malfeasance. Too many of the next generation are defeated by education debt before they enter the workplace. Their only choice is to prey on the next generation of lambs. How long should we continue in an unworkable system of perpetual debt? The $18 Trillion National Debt will soon be $36 Trillion, and eventually $72 Trillion. It is not difficult to see the future.
It is said that the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children. To understand why our society is in such a mess, we must grasp the failures of those who came before us, and have the courage to begin anew. This time, instead of being wolves or lambs, we should just be people, and be true to our better nature. Blaming the King was a false choice. The promise of democracy is that we can reinvent ourselves. It's time to wipe the debts globally and start over. The rebirth of every society has begun the same way.