Rehoboam was a Master of the Universe, a Mighty King. He took over from Solomon at a time when the Great Unwashed were moaning about some unfair tax burden. Being vastly superior to everyone around him, Rehoboam took council from a coterie of experts rather than talk to the plebeians directly, no doubt believing that Kings breathe a different air. Doing God’s Work requires a certain je ne sais quoi. Anyway, after long consultation his response to his people’s complaints was certainly kingly:
“Whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, so shall I add tenfold thereto. Whereas my father chastised you with whips, so shall I chastise you with scorpions. For my littlest finger is thicker than my father’s loins; and your backs, which bent like reeds at my father’s touch, shall break like straws at my own touch.”
Nowadays we’d call this austerity. That it reads to the modern ear like the ravings of a psychopath isn’t perhaps as interesting as the refreshing absence of spin. Today a very similar message, in terms of the types of decision being reached, is delivered as if we were all in it together, as if Wall Street were suffering just like Mainstreet, that the burden is shared equally by elite and non-elite alike. Thus it is our contemporary Rehoboams who are truly terrifying, who have polished their statecraft to burnished and bewitching propaganda which they shape-shift with such adroitness, deliver into all minds so omnipotently, that we are lost in a glittering web of lies and half-truths from which ‘escape’ takes discipline, perseverance and time. And what is (deliberately) scarcer today for most of us than those precious things?
Elitism is as old as farming, perhaps even as the alpha-urge to shine, dominate, be the group’s ‘generous’ center. We could also say elitism is as old as the ego, though how old the ego is no one can really tell (it is not as old as homo sapiens sapiens, I suspect). What is increasingly clear to me is that the ascendancy of elitism is like the ascendancy of the ego, that sorter of data; that measurer; that perceiver of separation, distinction, boundaries; that arch deceiver and jealous defender of its throne. It is the ego which tells us, ‘more for me is less for you,’ though regal magnanimity can ameliorate the tensions and stresses generated by such an unfortunate ‘truth.’ And yes, science is the ego’s double-edged sword, humility buried deep in its hilt, the dangers and rewards of hubris glinting from its blade. But elitism has a lifespan just as everything else. Some of its flowers; perpetual growth, institutionalized hierarchy, extortion, dehumanization, are both the primary drivers of its ascent as well as the chief architects of its demise. Its demise is woven into the fabric of its power. Which brings us, somewhat tangentially, back to spin. Why do our leaders ‘need’ it?
Change. Since Rehoboam we’ve been changing. If Jamie Dimon spoke plainly and told everyone in a televised address to bow before him because his dick is bigger than his dad’s, he’d be out on his ear, pursued by the raucous laughter of the hoi polloi. Today our Glorious Leaders must stage manage the presentation of their obvious superiority more subtly than in days of yore; we don’t allow ourselves to think that way—not explicitly—anymore. It has become distasteful. The elitist dynamic is still transmitted, but more surreptitiously, via myth, advertising, body language, size of building, office space, desk size, salary, clothes, armies, police, etc. What with the end of slavery and child labour (sort of); the advent of sexual liberation, equal rights (sort of), and Rights generally, and other such social impulses inspired by centuries of striving towards egalitarianism and justice, modern humans now exist in a cultural web which requires a different manner of leadership, no matter how elitist at heart, no matter how jointly responsible our leadership has been in bringing this about. Our leaders still operate in plain sight, yes, but not so honestly as before. Honesty would be the death of them (as it was, in a way, of Rehoboam). So the very ‘tools’ for propagating their message, manipulating and subjugating us to docility via bland educations and careers and consumerism, are also those with which ‘The People’ learn about each other, about Rights, ‘equality,’ the money system, justice, and the nature of reality as we uncover and re-interpret it via science. And this is part of what I mean when I say there is no such thing as control. Events spiral off in unknowable directions, even from our best laid plans. As the ego has designed its ascent so has it ensured its downfall. One begets the other.
And yet the future will not be ego-free—at least, I don’t think it will be. Because life is richly diverse and develops in ways we cannot foresee, there will be wide differences of success and failure, forever. Equality is an impossibility. Demanding it is an act of violence against nature, even though the urge to implement it socioeconomically is part of nature. As humans with egos capable of the self-deception of separation and Cartesian Duality, we can indeed struggle against inevitability, against ourselves as embodied by ‘elite’ versus ‘non-elite,’ even producing wonders as a result (though beauty is in the eye of the beholder), but equality can never be one of our successes. Should we manage to weather the coming storms, should something like Jacque Fresco’s resource-based economy take shape, it will mean only a shifting of the goal posts. Perhaps poverty will be vanquished, war too, but such accomplishments will shunt our experiences of success and failure into new domains; emotional, intellectual, technical, artistic, not necessarily measured by money or material possessions, nor necessarily as the sources of immature envy and class conflict, but as something new and unpredictable, unimaginable to us today.
If something like a resource-based economy includes direct democracy, flexible and wise adaptation to ongoing change, transparency and openness of all public endeavour, it will, I believe, be a far better world, regardless of the moral relativity one might detect in this post. For whatever freedom and debt are, I’m sure a more mature relationship with and understanding of both are within our collective reach. Our next maturation is tantalizingly close, yet light years away, and will evolve unevenly—there are no beginnings, no endings. Getting ‘there,’ as ever, will take time, discipline and perseverance, which each of us must win by fighting for them.