We Are Different. And Different is Difficult.
Best-selling author and scientist David Brin shares another excerpt from his new book on the relentless war against democracy and how we can fight back. You can also read the first, second and final chapters of Polemical Judo at David's blog, Contrary Brin, and an excerpt from chapter 5, The War on All Fact People, right here.
WE ARE DIFFERENT. AND DIFFERENT IS DIFFICULT
Excerpted from David Brin's book, in chapter 10, Polemical Judo: Memes for our Political Knife-fight (pp. 159-161). Kindle Edition.
I’ve asserted that the Rooseveltian reforms might have been too successful. Historians credit them with saving western capitalism by vesting the working class with a large stake. Indeed, they were so successful that the very idea of class war – rampant across almost every other nation and time – seems not even to occur to American boomers.  But as boomers age-out, is that grand time of naïve delusion over?
Forbes in 2016 announced that just 62 ultra-rich individuals have as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity. Five years before, it took 388 rich guys to achieve that status. Which raises a question I’ll repeat ad nauseam throughout this book. Where the heck does this rising, proto-feudal oligarchy think it will all lead?
To a restoration of humanity’s normal, aristocratic pyramid of power, with them on top? Or to radicalization, as a billion members of the hard-pressed but highly skilled and tech-empowered middle class rediscover class struggle, alongside five billion angry workers? (I portray both possibilities in a near-future novel, Existence.) The last time this happened, in the 1930s, lordly owner castes in Germany, Japan, Britain and the U.S. used their mass media ownership to stir populist rightwing movements, hoping to suppress activity on the left while allowing business as usual. Not one of these efforts succeeded. In Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan, their pet monsters rose up and took over, leading to immense pain for all and eventual loss of most of that oligarchic wealth.
In Britain and the U.S. 1930s reactionary fomenters dragged us all-too-near the same path… till moderate reformers accomplished what neither Karl Marx nor the fascists deemed possible – adjusted the wealth imbalance and reduced cheating advantages, so that a rational and flat-open-fair capitalism would be moderated by reciprocal competition, under transparent rules and stimulated by investments in a healthy, educated population. None of that even slightly damaged the Smithian incentives to get rich through delivery of innovative goods and services. That brilliant, positive-sum moderation led to big majorities in our parents’ middle class Greatest Generation adoring one living human above all others: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
(Again, ask MAGA folks: “When was America great?” Chapter 3.)
Some billionaires aren’t shortsighted fools, ignorant of historical lessons. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and many tech moguls want wealth disparities brought down through reasonable, negotiated Rooseveltian-style reform that will still leave them standing as very, very wealthy people. Heck, even Glenn Beck can now see where it all leads, declaring recently (in effect) “OMG what have I done?”
The smart ones know where current trends will otherwise lead. To revolution and confiscation. Picture the probabilities, when the world’s poorest realize they could double their net wealth, just by transferring title from 50 would-be gods. In that case, amid a standoff between fifty oligarchs and three billion poor, it is the skilled middle and upper-middle classes who’ll be the ones deciding civilization’s course. And who do you think those billion tech-savvy professionals – so derided and maligned by murdochian propaganda – will side with, when push comes to shove?
It’s time to look again at the most successful social compact ever created – the Rooseveltian deal made by the Greatest Generation – which we then amended and improved by reducing race and gender injustice and discovering the importance of planetary care. Throw in a vibrantly confident wave of tech-savvy youth, and that is how we can all move forward. Away from dismal feudalism. Toward (maybe) something like Star Trek.
This article ran originally as a special report in the January 2016 newsletter of Mark Anderson’s Strategic News Service.
Brin, David. Polemical Judo: Memes for our Political Knife-fight (p. 298). Kindle Edition.