Trapped by Vested Interests
There is no existing or conceivable mechanism to allow that which does not yet exist to compete with that which is in place now and making people rich
Che Guevara was compelling: good looking, intelligent, sincere, passionate, brave, ruthless, blind, visionary, obnoxious, arrogant, stern, wrong, clownish, profound, cruel. Also, his story — the story of a rebel band bringing down an empire — is ubiquitous in our post-Star Wars culture. The scenery of his life — the Sierra Maestra, the Congo, Bolivia, Argentina — is stunning. What a movie.
To judge Che, you have to judge his conclusions. When he was more right than wrong, he is inspirational and a hero. When he was more wrong than right, he was something of a cult leader, with all the residue of evil that entails.
In Che: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson, Che seems to sour on command economics, becoming disenchanted with both the Soviets and Chinese toward the end of his life. I wonder why he didn’t think more about his own experience building village baking ovens and tobacco factories in the sierra before the rebels won.
For all the horrors and atrocities of the communist world, the existence of another system outside of the capitalist world had both advantages and disadvantages within the capitalist west and colonial south. At least, for one, you were permitted to think of the dominant system in the world, capitalism, as optional. Now, when there is no clear and compelling competing model to capitalism available, insane practices like destroying the planet and unnecessarily ruining lives seem almost “natural” or “inevitable.”
There are sweeping conclusions that are fundamentally right in history. In general, the person saying “It’s more complicated than that!” wins and all conclusions dissipate and we get no lessons from big history. You have to step back very far to simplify or over-simplify and come out with a lesson.
Communism’s lesson, beyond the obvious problem with an all-powerful state, if I were to take a stab at a further conclusion, is that dogma failed. You can’t plan the future. You can’t tackle or change human organization with a script. On the other hand, you cannot be beholden or deferential to the existing order.
What possible mechanism can exist to remove absurd insanities with powerful and massive vested interests other than a violent revolution lead by crazed ideologues? It’s insane to let the market dominate society as it does. For example, there is no reason to have an affordable housing crisis in the United States. It’s just wrong, unnecessary, immoral, cruel, and counterproductive for society to not provide sufficient housing for the entire population. But what about all those “investments” and “real estate” holdings that profit from the current system? How could you remove them such that real change is possible?
It’s utterly absurd and corrosive to the human mind and society to have the media controlled by billionaires and their massive corporations. But they would have to be replaced by new entities funded in completely new ways. The new, diverse, publicly funded but not government-controlled investigative journalism entities don’t exist and can’t advocate for themselves.
Why should the endowments of private schools be tax-free? It’s dumb, unfair, antithetical to democracy, and stimies the advancement of society. But try to change it, and you rouse a powerful pack of self-interested rich people.
If people in the United State can retire when they are 65, why can’t people in Mali retire on a government pension? There is no moral reason why basic social security should depend on the nation-state a person happens to be born into. Logistically, we as a species easily have the technology and tools to provide every human on the planet some kind of safety net. We could tax every stock and bond transaction, put the funds in a common pool, then redistribute the money to every national social security administration for redistribution to the citizens of each country — 20 bucks a month to every retired person, and maybe eventually to every person.
The Amazon rainforest is so valuable to billions of people it seems like we should be able to come up with the money to pay more people who live near it to protect it rather than destroy it. If everyone who lived with 500 miles of the center of the forest got a certain amount of money every month based on the overall acreage of jungle left, the people burning and cutting it down might have to stop, or face the rage of their neighbors.
Racism, public transportation, wealth redistribution, criminal justice: every single aspect of our lives is faulty. And no, there is no progress. The environment is deteriorating, not progressing. We are less free than the people who lived 50 years ago.
Che would say that to fix this situation you are going to have to seize power and shoot some chivatos in the head. To seize power, you need some kind of party. To have a party, you need some kind of program.
Che would be right about one thing: elections will never change anything important. The vested interests will never allow true reform to win power legally. The law exists primarily to stop change.
On the other hand, living with no rule of law is absolutely frightful. So they got you in a vice grip: you can’t legally change anything and if you abolish the law itself, even for one day, they will make sure chaos erupts and have everyone pining for the good old days of wage slavery, media propaganda, racism, and environmental destruction.
Ideally, you set up systems, then modify them further. We know how to change our system based on the goals we have all agreed to work to achieve.
We should agree: we want to live in harmony with nature; we want to abolish racism; we want fulfilling lives free of constant toil and unnecessary financial uncertainly; we believe large fortunes passed from generation to generation and wealth inequality generally is antithetical to a healthy community; the quality of human life and nature are more important than the economy. So you set your common goals and come up with ways to make those things happen.
When you argue about how and what to do, you have to refer back to the agreed goals. You have to set up ways to measure and track how well you are making progress toward the goals: is life expectancy increasing? are people healthier? do people report that they are happy? how is the air and water quality? are the disparities between communities coming down? is education improving? how is the wildlife? If not you are not moving in the right direction, then make some changes. Your goals will be your ideology.
Instead of thinking of “scientific” rules of social change, maybe we can share a collective daydream. I could imagine a town or a neighborhood with a building in the center of the community. There is a library for tools, in case you need a tractor or a jackhammer. You can even borrow a car from the library. Healthy local food is subsidized and for sale cheap. In fact, soup and salad are available at any one of the various the cafes — on a pay what you want to scale. There are support staff available if you want to get permits or loans sufficient to start some kind of business venture. Continuing education classes and tutoring, exercise classes, are all free. There is a guest house for travelers passing through. More than one local media outlet works out of the community center, paid for out of a fund that is not under the control of elected officials. Most of the housing in the district is outside the free market: mutual housing associations, smaller and nicer public housing, etc. Plenty of public lands is available for recreation. If you have a complaint about your local community house, you can file it with the regional oversight board. Every dime spent by the community house and every document produced would be available on the website for inspection. If your complaint falls on deaf ears, you can take your community center to court and have your case heard by a jury of your peers.
You can go online and look up the demographics for each section, you can see what they are doing to fight segregation. You can look up every police force in the country and see how many officers reported violations by fellow officers and how many times those reports lead to action. You can see how much each officer earns and what they did every day on their cameras. Most police work would concentrate on financial crime and larceny within the government.
Congresspeople or representatives would only represent a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand people. You would know them personally. Some kind of jury system would exist to oversee politicians and other officials. You might sit on a jury judging the governor and sanctioning or removing him or her this year, and in Congress the next year, then on your local board another year, or not. A congressperson is not a big wig with an office and a staff but more like a community volunteer. It might be fun though, you could go to a regional convention and argue politics with 5,000 other representatives. Too many to bribe.
Every single action taken by the government would be short and sweet and simple and posted online prior to passage. Representatives would have to discuss the legislation with their constituents- and anyone else interested. Everyone can vote on the legislation as well, even if the representative’s vote might be binding in some circumstances, and in others it would depend on what the constituents say.
Large fortunes could not accumulate and be passed on to the next generation. Of course, health care would be free and available in the community center. And, importantly, there would be no parallel private system to provide the services of the community center. There is no private school, no private hospital: the richer people in the community must use the same services as the poorer ones and they are not allowed to check out. The military would cease to drain our resources… I could keep dreaming.
People have been voting for a long time. Never, however, has a people been allowed or able to vote to fundamentally change their society. And following Che to the Sierra Maestra is out: the GPS / drone world would track you right down. A leader with a personality seems necessary, but that is always a double-edged sword… and we seem stuck in a death spiral.
We could have a much better society. We could share the wealth with the global south: directly to individuals through a universal system of social security. That might be a smart move. We could think of each other as neighbors. Property, businesses, ventures, freedom, travel, education, research, art, time off, play: we can have all that and take care of everyone’s needs. It really seems completely doable except for one simple problem: currently existing vested interests rule the world and there is no mechanism to remove them without chaos.