Powerflows: Political Musings [Hippie Squared]

I keep coming back to the idea that we’re too much under the sway of what’s in the end, just a system of weights and measures gone haywire. Money, I’m talking about. And the whole monetary regime that we’re living and dying under right now — a towering teetering scaffolding built of tattered paper pretending to be bricks.

And what is money, really? It has no inherent value of its own. It’s just a measurement. A measurement of perceived value. But somewhere along the line it seems to have come unmoored from its anchor. It no longer correlates reliably to any universal or ultimately defensible notion of value.

And so I do fear more and more lately that we’ve gone too far down the road toward plutocracy to turn it around.

There have been other flowerings of democracy in human history. We like to think of ourselves as unique, and of course we are in some ways, but there have been a number of iterations of democracy before us and many have come after us.

One thing seems true, up to now: they never last long, historically-speaking. They bring on a golden age, a flowering of culture and science, advances in philosophy and human freedom, but they’re always corrupted, often into empire. It seems like the upper shelf-life limit for democracy is a few hundred years. Help me, students of history: has any democracy yet lasted longer than that?

Eventually an elite of one kind or another figures out how to accrue enough power unto itself that by the time the others realize what’s happening it’s too late to prevent or reverse it.

The only historical certainty is that the political-economic system we have now won’t last forever. It will change into something very different. The question is only when, not if.

Which begs a whole set of attendant questions: How will it change? Into what? Is it changing now? Will these changes come because we have some open and thoughtful cross-cultural dialogue, and then we all come to consensus on how we want it to change? Not bloody likely.

You might say the broad points of view are: do we take care of each other, or do we take care only of ourselves? Is it all for one and one for all, or is it every many for himself?

But these questions, much as we might like to believe it, won’t get settled on the merits. They’ll get settled based on who has the power to push through their point of view and impose their will.

It’s sure looking like the usual suspects right now: the rich and the already powerful. It’s hard not to call the winner: Plutocracy, roots planted deep and viny limbs wrapping around everything in sight, finally choking off whatever democracy we have left.

Just look at Michigan, and the Financial Manager law, for a glimpse of what could come. The Governor decides an elected city government can’t manage its debt, and with a simple fiat he can disenfranchise its citizens by replacing that government with a corporate financial manager with nearly omnipotent powers to strike down laws, void contracts, and sell off resources wholesale to corporations without bids. Turn the city’s commonwealth into private wealth. Corporate city-states, anyone? Mussolini’s wet-dream: the merging of state and corporate power. Democracy rendered plutocracy at the local level with the stroke of a pen. Practice for the plutocrats?

It’s a lot easier to let your rights go than it is to win them back. Me, I happen to be hopeful by nature. Which may mean the hope I have is suspect. But there are a lot of people out there right now jolted awake, newly energized, fighting to hold onto our endangered and embattled rights. And power does nothing if not flow. Sometimes like glass. Sometimes like a roiling river.