Consumed by mistrust and resentment, we stand alone (abridged version)
First published by Morning Star on Thursday 15th February 2018
Thursday the 15th February will be the 15th anniversary of the day millions of us, all around the world, took to the streets and the picket lines together[i]. For a brief moment in history we took time away from our own campaigns and fights to stand up together and shout “enough”. That shared belief that we are all equals, and have an equal right to shape the future of the world continued to grow. As their greed collapsed the economy, our protests turned into occupations. But hidden beneath their euphemisms were attacks on our solidarity. And we retreated to our own fights. And in our new found strength our campaigns did benefit, but the price we paid for it was our solidarity. This isn’t just about racism, or sexism, or classism, or even famine and war. It is about a global civilisation that feeds on inequality. It is about a 1% standing on the throats of the 99%[ii]. They would have us believe that this “Free Market Democracy” is the pinnacle of human civilisation. It is a lie.
At the end of the twentieth century, the World Bank estimated the global Gini coefficient at 0.67[iii]. Roughly the equivalent of 1/3rd of the population owning everything, while 2/3rds owned nothing[iv]. Nearly a third of the worlds workforce was unemployed, while many of the rest were in low-paid, part-time and insecure work; the value of labour had fallen, while poverty and child malnourishment had exploded; public services were being systematically unravelled, while the environment was being destroyed. And we just didn’t learn. By 2008 estimates were putting Gini as high as 0.71[v]. And by 2017 some were even arguing that while the richest 0.1% were hiding as much as half of their total income, official inequality measures were becoming hopelessly unreliable[vi].
As overwhelming as it seems, this situation is a modern social construct. For hundreds of thousands of years we have lived in communities structured around very high levels of equality. But we have become hostages to the construct, and it now threatens our future[vii].
The system requires communities to be divided to function. And we have allowed ourselves to be divided by apportioning value and status to each other based on gender, race, class, age and geographical differences. When competing with one another, difference ceases to be something to celebrate, but rather something to fear. Within this system, even the very concept of competition is an illusion. George Bernard Shaw argued that economic inequality hides true merit, and is therefore blind to truly exceptional thinking[viii].
By 2003, the difference in inequality between entire regions was breath taking. And there are clear political trends that drive the economic trajectory on both the macro and micro levels. That being said, by implementing the system differently on a regional basis, disparities from region to region plays directly into the hands of divisive constructions, like the nation state, and from there into racist narratives[ix].
In defence of the ‘Free Market’, its cheerleaders often argue that inequality will eventually cause incomes to converge. However, the international evidence shows living standards plummeting in the regions where inequality has been increasing fastest. In reality, the institutions that designed and implemented the global economic structure, did so in such a way that benefits are accrued to the richest 1%, while costs are carried by the poorest 99%, regardless of international borders[x].
By hiding behind shell companies and numbered accounts, the 1% have divested themselves of any economic obligation or social responsibility to the rest of humanity. And even when aid is received, it is often little more than a mechanism for further exploitation. In case after case, from one country to the next, the financial sector has conspired over decades to squeeze every drop of ‘value’ from the developing world[xi].
At it’s very core, it is the growth of inequality that drives the system. From as early as 1962, studies from all over the world show that there is an inverse relationship between the size of a farm and the amount it produces per hectare. It just makes no logical sense for food production to be done on an industrial scale, unless the driving force is the accumulation of power into an ever decreasing number of hands. And before anyone says it is about feeding the planet, the problem isn’t that the planet can’t sustain the lives of 7 billion people, it’s that it can’t sustain certain lifestyles. Between 1980 and 2005, North American lifestyles polluted at a ratio of nearly 30 to 1 compared to those of sub-Saharan Africa[xii].
Even within the so called ‘developed’ countries, studies show a strong correlation between inequality and anxiety disorders, impulse-control disorders, severe mental illnesses, and lower educational attainment. To which the market responds by increasing its spend on advertising. When our intellectual and psychological defences are weakened, the ‘market’ makes us compare ourselves and our peers to unobtainable fantasy worlds where nirvana is just a purchase away. With hundreds of messages every day about the ideal physical appearance, behaviour, attitude, desires, lifestyle and accessories; our peer groups become the arbiters of our status based on those status signifiers[xiii].
Alongside the rise in anxiety, has been a similar rise in ‘insecure narcissism’. While we increasingly project outwards an image of emotional strength, self-confidence and being judgemental of others; we are in fact, increasingly vulnerable to criticism, distrustful of others and hyper-critical of ourselves[xiv]. Again, it is no surprise that low self-esteem turns to humiliation, humiliation to anger, and inevitably anger to violence. As inequality increases, so does violent crime. Some argue that this anger is an evolutionary response to an attack on our status based on factors beyond our control. And it is beyond our control. Studies have shown that social status is as likely to be inherited from our forefathers as is any biological trait[xv].
And it is not just by class, location and purchasing power that the system divides us. Where market dominance is clustered around ethnic groups, the pursuit of inequality, disproportionately benefits those who begin with a head start. This makes it easier for the demagogues to use racial narratives to divide the oppressed, and draw attention away from the reality[xvi]. A very strong case has been made recently that the institutions of political and cultural power in Europe; the mass media, mainstream political parties, think tanks and celebrity academics are acting as the facilitators of the extreme-right, by moving the public discourse[xvii]. This ‘grown-up’ conversation that they are all so desperate to have is a classic process of pitting the victims against one another in order to avoid anyone recognising the true architects of the system.
Even our most fundamental relationships are under attack. The global porn ‘industry’ has been normalised by the ‘Market’ through its partnerships with mainstream corporations. But this is an ‘industry’ whose ‘workers’, are more often than not young female victims of abuse who are being coerced into exploitation. The ‘product’ it creates, is overwhelmingly, carefully scripted, directed and edited gender relationship representations, where young women are presented as submissive, adolescent, masochistic, rape fantasists, whose only value is to be abused and assaulted. And the ‘consumers’ of this ‘entertainment product’ are almost exclusively male[xviii]. Even for females outside of the ‘industry’, the system remains consistent. Schools are now, not only the place where girls are most likely to be sexually harassed or coerced, but they are also perpetuating gender divisions in educational attainment. And it doesn’t get any better when we start work. The ‘market’ values gender differently, even when the evidence demonstrates it costs money to do so. The subordination of females is clearly a price the ‘market’ is willing to pay, and the ‘state’ is happy to allow[xix].
This ‘Free Market Democracy’ is a social construct that divides and exploits us. We are not free from coercion and oppression. We are not valued equally. And perhaps the cruellest irony is that those that we have entrusted with policing the system are the very people using it to exploit us. By allowing them to tell us when, where, how and over what we can resist, we allow them to continue dividing us. To truly end oppression and exploitation we must start with the underlying understanding that all people are of equal value, regardless of gender, race, birth or location. This economic and political construct that enforces inequality is in the process of destroying our planet, enslaving our bodies and our minds, and condemning our forebears to servitude. We must all fight, because it is all of our futures that will depend on it.
ii McMurty, John – The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, 1999 – p82
iii Davis, Mike – Planet of Slums, 2006 – p165
iv Pickett, K. & Wilkinson, R. – The Spirit Level, 2010 – p17
v https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2016/apr/08/global-inequality-may-be-much-worse-than-we-think , downloaded 11th January 2018
vi https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/dec/03/income-inequality-is-getting-wider-if-the-stats-count-what-counts , downloaded 11th January 2018
vii McMurty, John – The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, 1999 – p82, 83
viii Pickett, K. & Wilkinson, R. – The Spirit Level, 2010 – p87, 207, 225, 233, 237
ix Davis, Mike – Planet of Slums, 2006 – p157
x Shaxson, Nicholas – Treasure Islands, 2011 – p199
xi McMurty, John – The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, 1999 – p83
xii Monbiot, George – how did we get into this mess, 2016 – p103, 104, 106, 139
xiii Pickett, K. & Wilkinson, R. – The Spirit Level, 2010 – p66, 68, 90, 91, 98, 105, 110, 228, 230, 291
xiv Pickett, K. & Wilkinson, R. – The Spirit Level, 2010 – p37, 38, 44, 45
xv Clark, Gregory – The Son Also Rises, 2014 – p9, 12
xvi Chua, Amy – World on Fire, 2003 – p6, 190
xvii Fekete, Liz – Europe’s Fault Lines, 2018 – p28, 29, 30, 31
xviii Dines, Gail – Pornland, 2010 – p xviii – xxxi, 47, 51, 52, 64
xix Banyard, Kat – The Equality Illusion, 2010 – p15, 46, 48, 75, 76, 107, 109