Monday, July 27, 2015

Slave owners shape our history

The yet-to-be United States declared its independence from Great Britain only after southern plantation owners were assured that all this freedom and equality would not apply to the brown people they owned or the lifestyle and economy based on slavery.

The fledgling United States needed a constitution. Southern plantation owners signed on only when assured that the slavery question would at least be pushed way down on the calendar.

In 1861 the slavery issue's heated tensions came to actual warfare. As a result of that war, slavery was abolished. Segregation and suppression continued, aided by laws and beliefs based on principles of racial inequality.

By the end of the 19th Century, a few people had amassed vast fortunes that depended largely on cheap labor and favorable legislation. While the workers were technically free and compensated for their efforts, institutions like the company store and payment in scrip were just a couple of factors contributing to income inequality, insecurity and poverty among workers. The wealthy enjoyed a very close relationship with the elected government.

During the 20th Century, American society showed some signs of improvement in the treatment of workers and minorities. By the end of the century, however, those trends were beginning to reverse. It has only become more obvious as the 21st Century has advanced. A few people control most of the money. The world is their plantation. Their purchased legislators and judges solidify their gains. Restive populations are turned on each other, told that the threat comes not from the concentration of wealth but from the differences of the people around them.

Wealth is measured in dollars. Dollars are measured in numbers. Numbers have no empathy.

Humans have emotions. They measure in feelings, and can be steered by them. In fact, they can be steered by little else. Even supposedly rational people are only rational because they like how it makes them feel.

When wealth is the ultimate good, decisions are made by the numbers to increase wealth. If a bunch of poor people have to take a hit for it, they're a necessary loss, the same as the killed or broken heroes we sent to war to defend our way of doing business. We praise you, valiant warriors. Now get lost.

The wealthy feel better when they're getting more wealth. The impersonal numbers click higher, incapable of feeling the euphoria they inspire in the humans who get to claim them. The owners control society, while the vast majority who make up that society get shoved around by forces they don't have time to understand.

If you have a fantasy of dropping out and setting up a homestead where you can live off the grid and let the whole mess of civilization fall apart, think again. You will go down fighting to defend your little chunk of arable land and potable water from the thousands of desperate people who would want a piece of it for themselves. If that sounds glorious to you, or even doable, you're an idiot.

Like all the ills of human society, the problems of economy could be solved by cooperative effort. So, like all the problems of human society, they will remain unsolved while we argue and let evolution decide for us. It's worked for millions of years. Why stop now?

Civilization was the result of evolution. The collapse of civilization can certainly be the result of further evolution. Here's the thing about evolution: it doesn't care if you live or die. It doesn't care if anything lives or dies. So if we choose to let ourselves slump into a mucky pit of industrial waste, blood and feces, evolution will log that decision and reflect those changes as impersonally as a corporate ledger shows an uptick in profits when thousands of workers are laid off.