The world has changed immensely but in what fundamental way has it progressed? The ideology of empire based upon the supposed superiority of the nation or race once succeeded by the ideologies of communism and fascism which have being succeeded by a new, all-powerful ideology – the god of the market-place and technology, its acolyte.
We are all being urged to become believers in this new and morally inert ideology. All are being harried into accepting its fashionable truisms. Love free trade. Embrace globalisation. Bless the market. Few public figures can stand up against these narrowly defined objectives without committing career suicide.
We are being herded into acquiescence. Throughout history the standard reaction to any overwhelming ideology has been passivity. Passivity, indeed, is one of ideology’s most depressing effects. It is sad to see it happening all over again. The citizen is reduced to the state of a mindless subject or even a sort of serfdom. With one stroke of a flawed intellectual argument the whole planet is put in its place.
The new ideology is defined and organised in the form of a modern corporatism whose dominant exemplar is the multinational corporation. Of these there are now upwards of 50,000 in the world with more than 150,000 affiliates accounting for perhaps one third of total global production. This corporate network is becoming stronger than any government, even the most powerful. Increasingly what it wants is what will happen.
The world has gone far along this ideological path. Make a simple test by examining the health of the public good. There has never ever been so much money – actual money, disposable cash – in circulation as there is today, in absolute terms and on a per capita basis. Look, for example, at the extraordinary growth of the banking industry and the even more explosive growth of the money markets. Yet there is ridiculously little disposable cash for the public good. In a corporatist system there is always a lack of money for the public good because the system is based entirely upon carefully measured self-interest. The general good is not a good which the new ideologues recognize.
The results are there for all to see if we were not blinkered by the vision of others. 1,000 soldiers or militia and 5,000 civilians are killed every day in ongoing and escalating wars. In poor countries there is as much misery as there has ever been: 200 million children aged 4 to 14 are slaves in the workplace, one third of the world’s children are under-nourished, 30% of the adult able-bodied are unemployed, debt declines not in the slightest and US$1.5 trillion is owed by poor countries. Preservation of the natural environment as a public good is disregarded as an absolute priority.
If there is one thing that mankind should by now have learnt it is that ideologies are not to be trusted. But ordinary men and women are all too easily argued or browbeaten or actually beaten into embracing the confident certitude that every ideology offers.
Who dares contest what these great and knowledgeable people are claiming? But what is happening is not inevitable, rather it is of a temporary, and even incidental, nature.
This ideology – so largely based on the crude self-interest of corporatism running wild – must be seen as ephemeral when measured against other perspectives which have been with us through the ages: Solon’s ideas of public justice, the Socratic view of the citizen as irrepressible critic, Cicero’s “The good of the citizen is the chief law,” to name a few of these essential and infinitely more human perspectives.
We must draw upon that well of deeply human insights that the best human beings have worked out so that we can confront and ridicule the crude and narrow perspective that claims pure economics lies at the heart of civilized life and that we must fling down or fling up the structures of society as the market place dictates and that if we don’t the market place will do it in the end anyway. It is simply degrading to believe in that brutal vision of mankind’s future. Here is a quotation from Rabbi Michael Lerner which says it much better than I can:
“Yet the form of modernity the West has offered to the rest of the world has been tied to a capitalist ethos and economics which has brought not only growing gaps in income between the top 20% of the world’s wealthy and the bottom 20% (that gap was 30:1 in 1960, 60:1 in 1990, and 76:1 in 1998) but also a worldview which has been militantly materialistic, insisting that institutions or social practices be judged rational, productive and efficient only to the extent that they maximize money and power.
Though we’ve told ourselves we were offering economic well-being (which is true for a section of third world populations), and claimed that would bring democracy and human rights as well, the actual experience of many people is that they are being offered a cultural economic package in which consumption is the highest good, and cannot be constrained for the sake of preserving the world’s environment or human values.
This is a new religion, as much as we once acknowledged communism to be a religion as well, and the human consequences of this religion are already visible in many Western societies: a collection of individuals who know how to “look out for number one” but who are emotionally and spiritually illiterate, narcissistic, and have great difficulty in sustaining lasting relationships or building solid families. Human relationships are frequently reduced to “what is in it for me” and our capacity to respond to nature with awe is replaced by a narrow pragmatism that sees commodities rather than mystery.”