set your foreheads against the ignorant Hirelings

A dog starved at his master’s gate
Predicts the ruin of the state.
– William Blake

In 2010 we saw human civilization take further steps towards it own destruction. We saw the rapid destruction of democratic rights: from the persecution of Wikileaks to the use of military law to stop strikes in Spain and Greece, from the abolition of free speech in Hungary to the worldwide attack on the living standards of the people, we saw the achievements of the past 100 years stripped away in the name of increased profit.

This is not hyperbole.

The threat of global war becomes greater by the day. In 2010, we saw intensifying conflicts between the European states. We saw tensions between the United States and China, between Europe and Russia. We learned of secret wars, and of already drawn-up plans for conflicts that would almost certainly result in the end of human civilization. We have learned that the lunatics in power consider these wars an option.

This is also not hyperbole. The facts are right there. So are the bombs.

We are reenacting the fall of Rome, this time as farce. Don’t make the mistake of believing that everything will go back to how it was before, that our civilization cannot possibly fall. That’s what the Romans thought too, as the gap between the rich and the poor grew larger and larger, as their public infrastructure slowly degraded, as the arts collapsed… “No,” they said, “our empire has been around for a thousand years! It is technologically more advanced than any other empire, it is organized, it is powerful, and it’s always been there. Are you seriously trying to tell us all this, all this that we know and are used to, all this that is our everyday life, will be gone? That’s absurd. Get this doomsayer out of here!”

And Rome fell.

But we haven’t fallen yet.

If we continue this way, there are only two possible futures: complete self-destruction or bloody revolution. Neither option gives me hope, and neither option is unrealistic. We have the weapons to destroy this planet several times over, and people will eventually rebel against the system that exploits them – but if the revolution only comes when the knife has hit the bone, it will not be a revolution of enlightenment. It will be chaos and anarchy with completely unpredictable results; it may well result in dictatorship and nationalism.

You may believe all of this will not happen, that things will continue, or look up. But the assault on living standards that is happening everywhere will not cease. The complete destruction of the educational system will not cease. Greece was only the first step, and already others are being taken. A point will come soon when people will not be able to live like this anymore. But by then it may be too late to channel their anger in a constructive way.

We’re not there yet.

Yes, we are closer than ever before. It’s no longer a matter of centuries or decades. Look at Greece, or Ireland, or even England. Look at what’s happening to the universities. Look at how many people are homeless. Look at the kinds of jobs people have to work, and for what kind of money. Look at the police firing at protesters; when will people start firing back? The last civil war in Europe wasn’t that long ago. Global war is not a futuristic or archaic concept; the last one was only 65 years ago. And back then we didn’t have the weapons we do know. We did have a very similar economic crisis just before it, though.

Still. We’re here. We’re alive. There’s millions – no, billions – of us who know that what’s happening is not just morally wrong, it’s the path to a catastrophe worse than any humankind has yet endured. And we can prevent it.

Let me say it one more time: this is not hyperbole. On this generation, the generation walking the Earth right now, lies the heaviest responsibility since the Pleistocene. We can destroy everything, or reach for the stars. If we do nothing, destruction is inevitable. There are times when humanity seems to just putter along; for good or ill, this is not one of them.

It’s popular to claim that everyone thinks they’re living in the end times because it makes them feel important, or that history is just a discourse while life goes on unchanged. But that sort of complacency is just another way in which injustice and stupidity perpetuate themselves. I’m sure that someone once said “We really don’t need to move into a cave. You’re overreacting! Our ancestors have lived on this plain forever. Just because it’s been getting colder doesn’t mean we have to be so radical. It’s not like life will become impossible out here! It’s always been this way.” If we had listened to that individual, the human species might well not exist right now.

Individualism won’t get us anywhere, neither in the form of terrorism nor in the form of individual protest. Changing yourself isn’t going to change the world, either; it’s a first step, but it’s not enough. Not matter how much it might scare Ayn Rand, we are part of society, part of the world, and we will always be connected to one another. It is these connections that must be improved, the resulting structures that need to be altered. The enemy is not other people, or technology, or society. The enemy is the system, not its components.

In 2011, we need to organize. We need to fight back not with despair or with hatred, but with vision. We need to abandon the groups that have betrayed us too many times, need to see through the old clichés and the new sophistry. We need to stop dividing ourselves in arbitrary ways and start thinking about real, meaningful change.

Time is running out.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
– Karl Marx

Leave a comment

15 Comments

  1. What’s this about Hungary? This is the one time I hope you’re pulling something out of your ass. The alternative is so terrible. It frightens me so.

  2. Hungary has an extreme right-wing government and they’ve created a central government agency that has sweeping powers to regulate all media content.

  3. Jonas, the video for Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins by Tim Minchin that you posted on March 5, 2010 has been “removed as a violation of YouTube’s policy on depiction of harmful activities. This is really, really odd.

  4. JLrep

     /  January 2, 2011

    So… exactly what sort of change ought we be engendering?

  5. Is that meant to be sarcastic? Because I do believe that my notion of what kind of change is necessary emerges (at least partially) from the rest of the post.

  6. I’m a starving young adult who fears meeting new people and is too poor to get professional help for it, making it virtually impossible for me to find a job, even if there were jobs to be found. I’m not cut out for college and have a strange obsession with a child’s card game played only by adults. I’m screwed up in more ways than I care to count and sometimes feel that society would reject me whether I chose embrace them or not. My only means of self-transportation is a rusting bicycle, and in spite of being skinnier than a broom, I’m horribly out of shape. Even if I had a car, I can’t drive worth a hill of beans.

    But still, I want to help. I just wish I knew if there was a way I could that wasn’t beyond my power, what little of it I have.

  7. We all start out somewhere. I was terminally shy, chubby, poor, out of shape, interested in things no-one cared about. Now I’m married to my soulmate, even more out of shape, slightly less shy… and I’ve made games, and movies, and directed plays, and acted, and I’m doing my best to fight the good fight. Failure is always a possibility, but if you believe in something, you take one step, and another, and another, and you go on. The only mistake you can make is to give up before you even get going, to tell yourself that you can’t achieve anything at all. You’re no weirder or weaker than the rest of us. The only people who are truly self-confident, who don’t question themselves or the world, are the douchebags running this planet.

    I don’t mean to sound soppy. It’s not, as inspirational speakers will claim, all up to you. The world is not all open to those who have enough faith in themselves, and many good people fail. But there is choice. You are here; this is the only time you’re going to be here, the only chance you get. And so you take what you’re dealt and you do the best you can.

    Also, if you ask me, no-one is not cut out for learning.

  8. An excellent article to start off the year dear Jonas. All I’d care to add is that this is the second time capitalism has had such a long peaceful run, globalized itself to a huge extent and stockpiled so many weapons since before WWI. Oops. I’m afraid though that this time we have moved from socialism or barbarism to socialism or annihilation. Anyway, hope never dies.

    A happy and revolutionary 2011 everyone!

  9. JLrep

     /  January 2, 2011

    It wasn’t meant to be sarcastic. Perhaps I’m not very good at reading the implicit message in things.

    I’m looking at your last two paragraphs, which are the most imperative. It’s all well and good to say that we must improve the connections between us, and that we need to organize, and employ vision rather than hatred, and see through old clichés. That all seems pretty self-evident. But exactly which “system” is our enemy? Which groups have betrayed us too many times? The old clichés–what are they? Finally, which divisions are arbitrary, and what constitutes meaningful change?

    I’m just trying to get a handle on your standpoint here. Would meaningful change be disarming nuclear weapons? Gay marriage being as legal as heterosexual marriage? ObamaCare going through? ObamaCare *not* going through? Americans uniting in our various religions? Americans uniting in a single, shared religion? Americans dropping religion altogether?

    If the point is simply to fight less, employ critical thinking, and strive to live in peace with fellow man, well, I’m all for it. It just doesn’t seem specific enough to provide a real direction for change (especially in a nation with many conflicting beliefs about what is right and wrong).

  10. Oh, all right. I’m used to getting a number of rather unpleasant posts when I write about political topics, so I tend to be a bit cautious.

    Well, the list of things that need doing is long, and this blog post wasn’t meant to go into all of that, partially because I often discuss these topics in separate posts. But my list of all the things going wrong in the beginning of the post should give you some hints: I think we need to fight for the restoration of worker’s rights, for free speech, for an increase in the democratic rights of the people, and to stop the increasing number of wars fought by the major powers. All of that is tied up with the necessity of changing the current economic system, which is the root of many of these issues. And to do that we need to oppose nationalism and identity politics, which are so often used to set people against each other, and no longer put our hopes in organizations like the Democratic Party (in the US) or various Social Democrat parties (in Europe) that have again and again proven themselves to be tools of big business. The worst cuts in most European countries came from Social Democrat parties, and Obama’s policies are nearly indistinguishable from Bush’s (torture, bailouts, spying, assassinations, indefinite detention, four wars, dismantling of free speech and net neutrality). The same goes for trade unions in most countries.

    I could keep going, but I think this is the wrong space for a more detailed analysis.

  11. JLrep

     /  January 2, 2011

    Thank you.

    I often come off as criticizing, but the truth is I feel almost pathologically undereducated about politics and current events and I wish to absorb as much information as possible so that I can better understand the situation and the major approaches to it. Part of this is investigating differing viewpoints. So, when someone is adamant about their view, I want to know exactly what they’re saying.

  12. Sam

     /  January 3, 2011

    Love the Marx quote. Unfortunately many people focus on the distractions invented by governments rather than on important issues. Such as all the noise you hear in the US about illegal immigrants, while Congress is set to remove budget balancing rules. I think that the revolution you mentioned is more likely that the nuclear war: sooner or later people will realize that the reason they don’t have jobs is not because immigrants are taking them but because the government is influenced by a wealthy minority.

  13. Travis

     /  January 3, 2011

    First off, let me start off by going ahead and praising you for your creation of the Infinite Ocean, just because I feel like you deserve it. But I also was wondering if you really thought the gov’t wasn’t giving us enough power? I mean, yes, to lean on the democratic system completely would result in even more domination by the fat cats of the world as well as more intervention in world conflicts that are unnecessary. However, to give power to the people is to give power to a populace which has proven it’s ignorance to be of greater value than the governments on more than one occasion. I somewhat believe we’ve reached a happy medium with our government and the republic and both of their powers. Yes, there is suffering in our Economy and legal system, but I almost find it to be moderated evenly in regards to it’s patterns and the justice and injustice it serves. Then again, I could be an ignorant nit wit who’s put too much faith on the idea that the universe flows like a sine wave in most respects. Do you have objections to this thesis?

  14. If the system were truly stable and relatively just, perhaps it might be acceptable. But it’s not. It’s catastrophically unstable, as we’re seeing once again right now. The ecocomy is collapsing with no recovery in sight, and wars are multiplying. From the country I grew up in being utterly ruined despite how hard everyone there works to the growing threat of war between China and the United States, this system does not produce results.

    And what happy medium between government and people? The rights of the people are dwindling by the hour. Freedom of the press, worker’s rights, all the great achievements of the past 100+ years are going out the window at an alarming rate. Don’t think of what used to exist, think of where we are now.

    As for democratic powers of the people, there are two aspects that must be considered:

    • We won’t go to a great system in a single step. Yes, much of the population is uneducated, and in a good democracy every citizen understands the issues at hand a whole lot better than this. But how are we going to get there? The elites are creating a system in which no-one but their children has any kind of education at all, a future of hyper-expensive private schools and millions of uneducated part-time workers. Change has got to come, and it won’t come from above.
    • Democracy, like science, can be self-correcting. Have people supported foolish politicians? Yes. As long as the media are in the control of a few rich individuals, it’s very easy for that to happen. But if the people could vote to stop a war, would America still be in Iraq? Would Germany still be in Afghanistan? The numbers clearly say no. Even in conservative America, most people are in favour of peace and stability, even if the media wouldn’t tell you so. Democracy is a system that ultimately allows – unless totally corrupted – for the interests of the people to be expressed. And I don’t buy the idea that some politician who hasn’t moved a finger in his life has a better idea of what is needed than your average working person.
  15. Travis

     /  January 5, 2011

    Perhaps I shouldn’t use the term HAPPY medium, but you are right. There definitely seems to be more injustice and control from big brother. However, you say the numbers show that the people wouldn’t put us in nearly the number of conflicts we’re in today, but what numbers are you using as reference? And let me state that I do not contest you to upset or belittle your knowledge on the matter. More it’s for me to learn. Being the 18 year old Caucasian male in suburbia I am, there’s plenty of ignorance, so I wish to eliminate that as much as possible, so thank you for the responses you’ve given so far.