When we see the word “revolution,” the shared imagination conjures up images of violent political upheaval. I use the word not to denote the bloody overthrow of a political order, but to describe a blossoming of understanding so profound that it leads to peaceful transformation of our social order, economy and culture.
Concerted action flows from ideas that make sense of what no longer made sense in the old worldview. Thus a revolution in understanding leads to transformative action in the real world.
When a set of ideas share a coherent structure, we call it a philosophy. This book presents a unified philosophy of human nature and the transition of destabilizing social orders to new arrangements.
This book differs from other works of philosophy and political economy in three important ways. First, and perhaps most importantly, it is conscientiously limited in length. Contrary to popular supposition, it is far easier to write a long book than a short one. (I know, because I have written both.) Each chapter of this book could easily be expanded into a much longer work, but I have accepted the much more arduous task of composing a limited-length book that embraces a broad spectrum of ideas.
Second, it has long been a truism in the academic sector that produces the vast majority of books on philosophy and political economy that clarity and simplicity cannot possibly capture “serious thinking.” As a result, only work that is intentionally “difficult,” that is, linguistically codified for “academics only,” passes muster.
This perverse inversion of insight—simplicity and clarity are rejected in favor of the intentionally opaque—results from the political structure of academia, which requires elaborate “gatekeeping” to conserve the existing order. Adding to the confusion is what we might term “hard-science envy,” the social sciences’ yearning for the rigor of the quantifying sciences. These two unspoken forces within academia have fostered a norm that substitutes technical jargon for readily accessible thinking.
Those seeking a secure position within the system self-select “data-driven” (i.e. mimicry of hard science) topics of inquiry. Simply put, broad speculation, especially the variety which subverts the Status Quo, has been selected out of academia. By devolving to career-driven signifiers recognizable only to other academics, “serious thought” has fully detached from the economy as we live it. Not coincidentally, in detaching from the real world, academia parallels the nation’s tarnished financial sector, which has also unmoored from the real economy, and the Central State, which has abandoned the interests of the many to serve the interests of the few.
In effect, academia, government and the financial sector select out, corrupt or marginalize anyone challenging the Status Quo. What remain are trivialized speculations that threaten no power structure and superficial analyses that implicitly support a parasitical and predatory Status Quo by studiously ignoring the pathologies of our social order and economy.
As a result of these forces, “public intellectuals” from academia, government and the government-dependent private sector are incapable of critical thinking that threatens the intellectual foundations of the Status Quo. In the current system, their financial self-interest can only be served by joining the Upper Caste of the neofeudal social order and loyally serving powerful financial and political Elites (the modern-day equivalent of landed aristocracy and nobility).
The pool of leadership has thus been poisoned as potential leaders have been corrupted into complicity. Leadership of the peaceful transformation to a sustainable, just and free society thus falls to all who have opted out, been selected out or marginalized; the citizenry must lead, as their leadership has become hopelessly corrupted by the system that enriches and empowers the Upper Caste and the Elites it serves.
To understand the irrelevance of Status Quo “serious thought” to our situation, we might profitably turn to Buddha’s Parable of the Poisoned Arrow, in which the Buddha differentiates between academic questions about a poisoned arrow lodged in one’s chest—who shot it, what species of wood is the shaft made of, and so on—and the practical urgency to remove the arrow. If we pause to ponder all the possible technical and metaphysical questions raised by our colliding crises, we will expire—and without the answers we so distractedly sought. We are running out of time to parse irrelevancies.
Thus “serious thought” that implicitly supports the Status Quo via ritualistic appeals to social control myths, simulacra critiques and pseudo-realities becomes the opposite—trivial and superficial.
Those benefitting from our sociopathological, neofeudal Status Quo (as well as those who have been persuaded that their participation benefits them) will see no need for revolution. Indeed, they will view any transformation as a threat to their personal share of the Status Quo perquisites. But fundamental transformation is no longer a choice, whether you believe the Status Quo serves your self-interest or not. The unsustainable will crumble and another arrangement will take its place.
We cannot know when the Central State and financial system will destabilize, we only know they will destabilize. We cannot know which of the State’s fast-rising debts and obligations will be renounced or written down; we only know the debts and obligations will be renounced in one fashion or another.
The process of the unsustainable collapsing under its own weight and being replaced with a new, more sustainable model is called revolution, and it combines cultural, technological, financial and political elements in a dynamic flux. Though these systemic transitions can be profitably understood as cycles, history only illuminates past transitions; what the new arrangement will be is our choice.
Given the entrenched nature of the neofeudal Elites and the Upper Caste that serves them, it is no surprise that revolution carries a negative connotation, as if any change that isn’t instigated and directed by our corrupt leadership is considered illegitimate and dangerous to the social order. As noted above, that which is unsustainable will crumble regardless of the wishes of those benefitting from the Status Quo. Shall we call this inevitable crumbling “positive” because it is undirected by a coherent philosophy, and any coherently directed transformation “negative” because it places the interests of the many above those of the few?
Perhaps the Status Quo has it backward, and it is the uncontrollable dissolution of the unsustainable financialized State that we should fear, and the peaceful, transformative revolution we should welcome as a positive development for all—even those who cling to all that is unsustainable.
We will cover a great many ideas in the chapters ahead, and one that helps us understand our reluctance to embrace positive change is the social control myth. These myths are propagated and marketed by the Status Quo to maintain control of the social order so that it serves the interests of those in power at the expense of the non-Elites. If you control an individual’s beliefs, you control his actions, habits and responses.
The key social control myth is that the system serves your self-interest. If you believe this, then you will defend an oppressive, exploitive, parasitical Status Quo in the misplaced belief it serves your personal interests.
The chief purpose of propaganda is to establish and renew various social control myths. Central States have long deployed powerful myths to solidify their control: “we are being threatened by outside forces, so rally round” remains popular due to its enduring success.
Another key social control myth is that individuals are powerless in the vast systems that dominate our society and economy. This is a very useful myth to the Status Quo, as it leads individuals to surrender their autonomy and liberty without coercion.
In the myth of top-down revolution, nothing can possibly change until the leadership has been replaced and vast, impersonal systems far beyond our individual influence have been reworked at the top of the pyramid.
In terms of directly influencing the centralized political and financial structures that dominate our lives, we are debt-serfs gazing upon the aristocracy’s distant, inaccessible castle. But our remoteness from concentrations of wealth and power does not render us powerless.
The truth is that revolution and liberation are within our reach; when we liberate our minds from pathological illusions of self-interest, we have already achieved the first key step of liberation. We can do so without the permission of the aristocracy or the centralized State they control.
Rather than being powerless, we hold the fundamental building blocks of power. We need neither permission nor top-down political change to liberate ourselves. A powerless individual becomes powerful when he renounces the lies and complicity that enable the doomed Status Quo’s dominance.
A single individual within a corrupt institution who reveals the truth can change history in a profoundly positive way, for the truth is always a positive force. Every individual who refuses to secure personal security at the expense of truth becomes powerful in ways that are beyond the reach of wealth and corruption.
This book challenges the conventional view of revolution and liberation. In the standard view, there are two basic types of revolution, one political and one spiritual. The political version involves the replacement of leadership and the reformation of State governance. In the mythology of political revolution, individuals participate in the transformation by joining public assemblies that often veer into destruction and violence.
In a spiritual revolution, participants eschew the political realm as either intrinsically polluted or simply irrelevant; they care not who or what ideology claims power, all are equal in spiritual terms. The resulting liberation is an essentially internal transformation of insight and faith.
The model of positive change I propose here is a synthesis of both internal and external liberation. In my view, political liberation is impossible if the mind and spirit are shackled by pathological conceptions of self-interest, and spiritual liberation is limited by the oppression and predation of corrupting, exploitive political-financial systems.
Peaceful transformation to a sustainable, non-pathological society and economy require both internal and external transformations—but the internal one must come first. That inner understanding then guides concerted action in the lived-in world toward positive goals that are not oppressive, exploitive or parasitical.
The mythology of political revolution is colored by chaos, violence and a disavowal of law. The revolution I describe here is legal and non-violent, for destruction and violence are counter-productive to positive transformation.
The mythology of spiritual revolution holds that political and economic systems are irrelevant to inner liberation. To the degree that political and financial systems limit freedom of faith, exchange, movement, expression, enterprise and association, then they limit the potential of all humans living under those systems. The lived-in world is the one we inhabit, and liberation is only partial if it is restricted to the mind and spirit.
Though it may seem as if we have no power in the current state of affairs, the reality is that our participation and complicity enable the Status Quo’s pathologies and predation. Pathological systems dissolve when the citizens stop supporting the Status Quo with their participation, votes, resignation (i.e. “we have no choice”) and complicity.
To fully understand the systems that dominate our lives and offer the false choice of either complicity or active support of the Status Quo, we must understand the dynamics of self-interest and the matrix of risk, gain, threat and loss that arises from both human nature and life itself.
We must also understand that our reason for supporting the Status Quo—to insure our own security and prosperity—is being invalidated by the changing nature of security and prosperity. The promises of financial security being made by the Central State are profoundly illusory, and the fundamental question “what is security?” is now an open one that demands new answers.
In all my work, I stress the importance of establishing an integrated understanding that clearly lays out the context and dynamics of our era. That is the first goal of this book.
The second goal is to irrevocably change your life in a positive fashion by changing the way you understand our world, and to do so via this one book.
Whether we like it or not, we are in an era of colliding crises that will culminate in a transition to a new social and economic system. Humanity always has burdens and troubles—that is the nature of a changeable world interacting with human nature—but there are decades in which little happens and years in which decades happen. We are in just such an era, and we will all be swept along by events that no longer respond to the Status Quo’s financial magic.
It’s easy to confuse faith and political ideology. We resist changing our understanding, as we experience this transition as instability and insecurity. But changing our minds does not require changing our faith; rather, the firmness of our faith—in our Creator, in truth, in our ability to help others and prevail—is the bedrock that gives us the discipline and resolve to confront the brutally unwelcome facts of our circumstances and make coherent plans accordingly.
You can now discern the third way in which this book differs from others on philosophy or political economy. It has long been apparent to me that no account of systemic transitions can make sense of our lived-in world unless it synthesizes an ethological understanding of human social order, an understanding of the Central State and modern capital’s control of society, and perhaps most importantly, the experience of liberation. This may seem to describe a psychological state, but it actually describes a state of being in the lived-in world.
History is not fixed; it is in our hands. Revolutions spring not from history or abstract ideologies or street rebellions but from the transformed understanding of individuals. You cannot await a transition unfolding in a remote future or capitol to transform your life; that revolution begins in your internal understanding and reaches fruition in your coherently directed actions in the lived-in world.
This is the basic credo of liberation:
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Copyright 2008-2012 Charles Hugh Smith all rights reserved in all media. No reproduction in any media in any format (text, audio, video/film, web) without written permission of the author.