I’m well into Noam Chomsky’s book Hegemony or Survival and I must say, as cynical as Chomsky is, his accuracy and depth of research has painted a frightening picture. I couldn’t help but feel the need to share and translate his sentiments—as well as my personal ones—for all to chew on. I couldn’t possibly hope to organize this in any other way so the for sake of both simplicity and thought-management, I’m going to section off the different ideas while discussing them. Bear in mind their relevance and connection with each other despite the separation. To begin necessarily broad, let’s observe some things about our species in general.
– Human beings (Homo Sapiens)
We can’t accurately say how many different species have existed since the origin of life but including bacterial and single-cellular forms of life, it’s estimated that between 5 billion and 50 billion species have existed. This discrepancy exists to include the evolutionary forms—both documentable and theoretical—however, only one species has achieved a “higher intelligence” that has allowed it to organize and exist in ways that draw directly from this intelligence. Thus, we’ve been able to survive beyond the 100,000 years of the exhibited average life span of non-intelligent species. We’ve so far evaded the kind of “regular extinction” that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed fell victim to through natural prospects, but does this mean we’re exempt from this fate? Has our prolonged existence actually given us the perspective to see a potential end to our days, but with it, the power to do something about it? Without a doubt, the power, if organized correctly, is theoretically there, but it can only exist opposite the status quo existence of organized civilization. If we chose to do nothing, then we ultimately existed, as Chomsky describes, as a kind of “biological error that used our allotted time and superior means to destroy ourselves, and in the process, much else.” (Chomsky)
-Individual Rationality, Collective Stupidity
If you ever took a course in Economics, then you learned that human beings are “rational actors” that “want more of a good rather than less.” This is the primary theoretical paradigm that is the basis for microeconomics, or in describing how individuals behave when faced with decisions that affect their material well-being. Any observer can see this kind of behavior playing out in the market place; and it’s been called “rational,” which connotatively suggests that this behavior is desirable across the population of the world. A rational population making strategic decisions about how to best maximize their well-being is the model society has adopted as the means to best individualize our goals and ambitions for a better life. Note that this observational—“individual choice theory,” as it’s called, isn’t a devised plan that our civilization consciously accepted from a specific authority, it’s just how human beings are known to operate; and it’s furthermore reinforced by the ruling class, where this theory is effectively, and much to the expense of others, utilized to achieve levels of wealth and gain that trump what’s possible for the rest of the world by virtue of inequality and oppression. What we know to be an explanation for behavior we’ve let overtake responsibility, corrupt morality, and deter progress of the kind necessary for the survival of our species. If you look at the mainstream media and break down the behavior of its actors, you’ll discover this disturbing truth for yourself.
“The media are corporations that have a market: other businesses that advertise through the media. The media are selling their advertisers a product, namely readers and audiences. From an institutional point of view that is what the corporate media are: enterprises out to make money, like other businesses. Their behavior is rational. They reflect the interests of their owners. The media are a tool for constraining political debate within limits that serve the interests of the ruling elite by controlling our understanding of what is politically possible.” (Chomsky, the Propaganda System)
Individual rationality, when translated at the hands of powerful, profit-seeking state corporatists, can only mean less and less for those already stripped bare should the privileged few seek their ever-expanding, unlimited wants. And the powerful have used historical context to support their claim to unrelenting adherence to this illusory rationalism. In the very language of our founders, you’ll find references to the need for power to be in the hands of an elite few—being in the hands of “the good, though but a few” (George Washington), delegated to the “wealth of the nation,” “the more capable set of men.” (James Madison), and decision-making by the hands of the “responsible men, living free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.” (Walter Lippmann) Who could know at the time that the world would face problems of overpopulation, global poverty, climate change, and the threat of nuclear war? All precapitalist in their philosophies, we should seek their wisdom on principal, and to be careful not to mistranslate their knowledge of past methods of governance. Perhaps the “bewildered herd” has a larger role in our civilization that has yet to fully manifest, one very likely necessary in helping reverse the path that we’re on.
-Individual Compassion, Collective Disregard
There is ample evidence suggesting that human beings are innately compassionate creatures, and that compassion is as natural an impulse as breathing is involuntary. Numerous studies have suggested that compassionate responses to situations are traceable in different regions of the brain as well our autonomic nervous system (The Compassionate Instinct). Compassion is completely biological. Darwin too eluted to compassion as a product of evolution by natural selection when he said: “Human societies that have the most sympathetic members are likely to flourish, and importantly, their offspring are likely to reach the age of viability.” It is also by evolution that our offspring are born the most vulnerable and are in need of more care than any other offspring produced by any other mammal. Compassion is a necessary component in raising children, and I suspect its importance goes beyond that. But as common an impulse as compassion is, it’s easily discarded to pursue one’s own self-interest. In the corporate business world, the well-being and the fates of others’ becomes an externality. Chomsky’s example of the CEO of Exxon Mobile comes to mind—this person has very likely pursued decisions that have perpetuated the culture of energy dependence and the various problems associated with it, i.e, pollution (the most recognized), and resistance to technologically and economically friendly forms of alternative energy (the often missed)—both of which happen to be linked to social well-being and human progress. When that kind of disregard for the general well-being of others is perpetuating on a global scale—which it is—then you have yourself a massively uncompassionate civilization. It isn’t enough for billionaire oil executives to donate to charity in their private life when their business life relies on suppressing human progress. We should promote enterprises that lead to a better way of living rather than continue to support ones that meticulously denigrate what true selflessness we have left.
What is there that can be done? Some people just say you have to “grin and bear it”, and play the game yourself to ensure a desirable quality of life for you and for those close to you, which will probably last a generation or two before it dies out of the family. Others suggest we take to the streets and condemn the wickedness around us at every glance. What can we do? I don’t really know. I don’t think very many people really do know, but I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to write about what I think, and I think a lot, and about a lot. I’m going to see the pain and suffering for myself, and do whatever I can in that moment that alleviates it. I’m going to learn as much as I can and as often as I can about this place that we all cherish. I think that once you discover what it feels like to be doing something truly important, that quality of life you hope to purchase might just come at a cheaper price.
If you made it this far, I thank you. I’m only asking to be read. You don’t have to agree with me, but just give me the opportunity to be heard. So please, share this around. Nothing would make me happier.