The End is Near
Christopher Hedges: Farewell America | CBC Radio
Christopher Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of America: The Farewell Tour. He believes…
The year is coming to a close, and the recurring thought for most of us is,
“When will it end?”
So, what are we hoping for when we have lost faith in our institutions? We are hoping for the end of a year of proving the brutality of capitalism on democracy.
And if you hadn’t realized yet, capitalism is not synonymous with democracy. This year, more than any other, we have learned that capitalism is the enemy of the people.
All we want for Christmas is an end to the iron grip of capitalism on our minds. Capitalism is literally killing us all, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We hope for
- The end of apathy toward the murder and oppression of members of our own species
- The end of the mass extinction of species
- The end of the pollution and degradation of our environment
- The end of the fictions and lies of authoritarian, religious, political, and capitalist leaders
- The end of an obsession with nationality
- The end of an obsession with weapons and violence
- The end of mass shootings
- The end of the incarceration of our population because of a lack of the will, the tools, and the ability to educate them
- The end of centuries-old political institutions purposely designed for the perpetuation of the oppression and abuses of religious, imperial, colonial, corporate, and military power
- The end of politicians acting as public relations representatives for oil companies and weapons manufacturers
- The end of the consolidation of corporate power over legislative bodies and political institutions
- The end of the corruption and trivialization of our public discourse, and the reduction of our ability to use language and focus our attention
- The end of privacy breaches and the commodification of our attention and private data
- The end of marketers and advertisers invading our private lives with constant appeals to consume our time, energy and resources to keep the capitalist machine running
- The end of mindless, meaningless, temporary work when we have urgent, difficult problems to solve
- The end of the oppression, torture, murder, and dismemberment of humans for the perpetuation of the capitalist machine
- The end of fear, depression, worthlessness, and thoughts of suicide
Hope Is Not Enough
It is not enough to hope for the end of the worst inclinations of human thought and behaviour.
Neither is protest enough to change the status quo.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― Buckminster Fuller
We need alternatives and we need leadership. The current leadership has already capitulated to the existing system and are resistant to change because they are reaping the benefits and privileges of working within the existing system or are actively undermining the system by bending it to suit their own selfish ends and to maintain their power and privilege.
We can approach this as a design challenge.
Frame the Problem
First, we frame the problem. To do so, we must have a firm grasp of our current reality. We may need to educate ourselves and do the ethnographic research to understand how things work and how they came to be this way.
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Everything we do is political. As infants, we begin life as utterly powerless. As we develop our abilities, we discover that we can have power over our environment. As we mature, we daily make decisions about how to use our time, energy and resources to affect our environment. Yet, those decisions are informed by our social connections and the cultures in which we were raised.
When we think about power, we tend to fall back on categories we have created to determine allies and opponents, friend and enemies. Our stories and metanarratives support these mental models and constructions of reality by which we make decisions. We are always editing to determine what is important and what is not.
First Things First
How do we know what our priorities should be?
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We start by asking essential questions.
Why is the economic and value system of capitalism at odds with the survival of the human race and the health of the earth’s ecosystem?
What is the best way to organize human society?
If the conclusion is that democracy is the best system that we have, but that, over time, capitalism has been proven to increase inequality, and consolidate wealth and power so as to give rise to authoritarian fascism, we may need to ask questions that most people are afraid to ask.
How might we create economic and political institutions to replace capitalism and democracy?
Then, let’s imagine what a wonderful world this could be. There is no reason to accept our current reality as deterministic fate. Science fiction explores the world of the future as a way to make sense of our past and present, and conceive of the possibilities that our current reality presents to us.
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As Marty Neumeier has said, design fills the gap between our current reality and the vision we have of a better world. We can quickly prototype new models that could replace existing models.
We can use computational power to model entire systems, and run simulations to test how they might work in practice. Within this virtual world, we can explore both the ability to achieve the intended result while also assessing the unintended consequences, before releasing technologies for public use. This has been the crucial missing step as we have been moving fast and breaking things. In the disruptive model of entrepreneurial technology companies, platforms have scaled to become giant corporations, greatly increasing their power and influence over society. However, business models based on advertising are, by definition, machines to create messages that manipulate people to serve the financial objectives of corporations. Reality stars become presidents because there is good money to be made in outrageous celebrity authoritarianism.
We are prototyping our technologies and testing them in real time on human beings. This would not be considered ethical within scientific and medical fields. Why would we consider this to be an ethical way to deploy technologies that have the ability to transform neural pathways in our minds and deform our political systems?
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world: the governments, the corporations, and the religious authorities who abuse their power over people.
What is the Bible? The English word is derived from the Greek for “the books.” It is a library of literature, preserved using the technology of the alphabet, a set of phonetic symbols to encode auditory speech into a written text. It is a technology used to preserve knowledge that can be passed on to future generations.
Biblical cults have conferred upon this library of sacred texts the attributes of their God: inerrancy and infallibility. In effect, they idolize the work of their hands.
These technologies, designed by human hands, have become an idol that inspires magical thinking. Convinced that they are receiving the direct transmission of messages from their God, they interpret these messages as the justification for hatred, bigotry, capital punishment, war, incarceration, oppression, genocide, slavery, white supremacy, apartheid, patriarchy, and misogyny.
Our political systems are technologies that have been designed. The founding documents of capitalism and democracy are the sacred texts of the modern age. Likewise, we idolize these legal documents. However, these technologies are failing humanity.
Clearly, political systems designed 125 to 240 years ago are not going to be suitable for the world in which we live now. Our political institutions are broken, and we cannot possibly contain the damage when they fail. When they intentionally ignore appeals to uphold human rights and openly defy the International Criminal Court, we must understand that the empire has never really entertained such concerns as relevant to the inner workings of government. Neither should we be surprised when governments ignore the appeals of scientists to change the way we live. Governments have not been designed for change. Neither should we entrust our future to them. They have been designed to perpetuate the worst characteristics of human behaviour. It should be no wonder that they are factories for psychotic, abusive, power-hungry, self-serving liars.
Perhaps, we can use the processes and techniques that have been effective for improving digital products to better understand how worthless our political systems are to engage people in civil conversations and democratically select suitable leaders. It might even be possible to use insights gained through our research to design and improve the way we relate to each other as a species. However, we must recognize that technology is not neutral. Our biases and our worst inclinations are built into our tools. The military shows us on a daily basis how our machines strip us of our humanity and turn us into lethal predators.
In the same way, our political institutions are factories that turn narcissists into genocidal monsters. As soon as a politician accepts the position of commander-in-chief of the military forces of the United States of America, this person becomes responsible for incarceration, torture, murder, oppression, imperial aggression, violations of human rights, genocide, and crimes against humanity. As soon as a politician accepts the position of Prime Minister of Canada, this person becomes responsible for selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and assuming the debts of Texas oil companies to underwrite the war efforts of its closest neighbour, because that is how the system works. It is nearly impossible to restore your humanity once you have made this compromise to achieve political power, because the pride of position and the reputation of party and country tends to prevent the honesty and authenticity to be able to admit one’s mistakes, let alone one’s crimes. Your public reputation is forever tainted.
When I vote, I vote for the powerless. I vote for the environment, because it is a vote for the one value that we should all be able to agree on: earth, our common home and our only life support system in this universe. In that sense, I do not believe in the power of the majority. I do not have faith in democracy, if it means the rule of the majority, since the majority are usually wrong. I believe in rule by consensus. I believe that we must make decisions based on what is best for all of us. This means that we must find ways to listen to each other, make decisions for the good of all, and to work together to discover meaning, purpose and belonging in connection and relationship.
When we make decisions about how best to use the limited time, energy, and resources that we have, we can choose to build a name for ourselves, or we can choose to tend the garden and leave a legacy for those who will come after us.
We have yet to learn the lessons that history has been trying to teach us. We want to build empires, but we should know by now that empires are built to fail.
We show love to our children by creating something upon which the next generation will be able to build. For billions of years, life on the earth has been storing up a record of how to survive. We now have the tools to be able to surpass what other species have been doing. We can think about how to slow down and design for the long now.
We are building a future for the generations to come. What kind of future will that be? We need to think about systems and the long-term consequences of our built environment.
Capital is at odds with the value of long-term thinking, because it has been shown to incentivize short-term thinking. To build our future together, capital has shown itself to be worthless. It has rendered humans worthless, useless and dispensable. As humans, we should value human life as priceless and beyond valuation. When we question our values, we will build different structures and different systems.
We must design the metaphysical before the physical or we will create the prisons of the future. Architecture is deterministic. Physical pathways enforce the repetition of the same patterns of behaviour.
Through UX design, we have discovered that we do not have free will. We have a certain number of predefined options, based on the purpose for which the tool was designed. By creating and building architecture, our choices have been made for us. A path has been laid out in front of us. The choice that is left is either to participate or not. Otherwise, we must deconstruct and reconstruct the built environment to realign patterns of behaviour with our values. This is costly, time- and labour-intensive work.
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The Apartment, released in 1960 as a film and in 1968 as a Broadway play, is a parable and a cautionary tale about capitalism. It explores the genre of comedy to tell the tragedy of the corruption of capitalism.
The capitalist system has been designed to enforce the behaviour required for the efficient manufacture of the working life of thousands of the city’s inhabitants. The system is an oppressive factory for the sexual appetites and exploitation of its despotic, capitalist executives. The choice that is left is either to participate or not.
One of the protagonists chooses to attempt suicide rather than participate in the dehumanization demanded by the system. In the end, both protagonists face their own mortality and rediscover what it means to be alive. Through actions that restore each other’s faith in humanity, they choose not to participate in the buying and selling of sexual favours and turn their backs on a patriarchal, misogynist, capitalist system.
The Capitalism of Facebook
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The way Facebook is going, it is clear that the motivations of the corporation are placing far greater value on capital than on the value of human experience. As of the past couple weeks, I have chosen not to participate.
Perhaps, suicide may be the only other option left, once Facebook and capitalism control the system.
This, of course, is not an argument for nihilism. Quite the opposite. This is an argument for hope and for choosing a path that does not lead to losing the will to live.
I can tell you, though, that the choices of the majority are leading to an increasing loss of the will to live for many people. Read the comments attached to this video on YouTube.
I implore you to choose life over the fascist death camp of American capitalism.
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Hope comes from building a life, building relationships, building community, and building our future together. It is a collective act of creative imagination to build a world of faith, hope, and love.
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