I get up. I read the headlines. I scan the tweets. What was it today? There’s a President making up fictional mobs (is a Reichstag fire far behind?) There, a fascist who openly aspires to violence about to win an election in one of the world’s biggest countries. There, a “professor” saying bigotry is perfectly OK. Watching the world these days is like watching a gleeful idiot laugh and set fire to democracy, the future, the planet, and everyone on it.
Listen. I get it. We’re all frustrated. Maybe we even feel powerless and weary. The system has failed us. All of us. (Yes, even the rich. That PhD driving an Uber to feed his kids? He might have discovered the life-saving therapy that will one day save the rich man’s life.) Now, frustration makes us foolish. We lose our reason, our intellect. Our grasp on history slips and our respect for knowledge and wisdom erodes. Virtue becomes just that much harder to hold onto. We seek comforting lies to mollify us instead of difficult truths which enlighten us.
And yet, my friends: frustration is no excuse for being made a fool of. And too many of us today are being made fools of, by those who wish to use and abuse us, so that we throw ourselves happily and willingly into the dumpster fire at the end of capitalism. Here are three big lies that define this age.
Your plight is the fault of those weaker than you. “Do you know why you are not enjoying the riches you were promised, the ones you deserve, the greatness you were promised?”, bellow the demagogues. “It’s their fault!” And by that, they mean whomever is different, vulnerable, and powerless. So in America, it’s Mexicans and Muslims, in Britain, it’s Eastern Europeans, and in Eastern Europe, it’s refugees and Africans. Do you see this food chain of folly — this hierarchy of predation? Every society’s demagogues and aspiring tyrants are demonizing and scapegoating the weakest and most vulnerable, to bid for power. Let’s think about why this is such an obvious, funny, tragic lie.
(How, precisely? They turn the powerless into fearsome, life-threatening monsters — who have the illusory, supernatural power to devastate and ruin whole societies. So in America, for example, the little Mexican child might apparently set off a reaction of “chain immigration” — a thinly veiled reference to Nazi style metaphors of infection and impurity seeping into the nobleand pure, from lower races. Thus, even a child — a tiny child, who can hurt precisely no one — has become a kind of monstrous threat for America’s fools, who believe they are being persecuted and victimized by…little children.)
Now. It’s true that there are people to blame for the plight of the average person — income flat, savings dwindling, life going nowhere, society in turmoil, as inequality spikes. But to understand whom, first let’s name that plight. Such a person is being exploited, just as Marx said. Don’t run away at the mention of that four letter word, “Marx” — we are trying to make you a little wiser, remember? The problem across many countries is that people’s incomes are not keeping pace with their “productivity” — that’s how American economists put it. Marx would have said, more simply, that capitalism is paying people as little as possible, in order to maximize its profits — and then turning around and charging them through the nose for the very things they produce.
I wouldn’t blame anyone in that situation for eventually growing enraged — maybe even losing their minds. But see the point: the dismal, grim, hopeless plight of the average person is not the fault of the powerless. How could it be? It is the fault of the system. And today, the name of that system is predatory capitalism. The fault, if you wish me to be precise, lies with bankers, hedge funds, vulture capital, shareholder value maximizing execs, finance ministers, the politicians who enabled them, and all the other assorted denizens and minions of a catastrophically failed approach to capitalism — remember, this authoritarian turn began just after the last crisis and bailout, which was the greatest since the 1930s. That’s hardly a coincidence — it’s history repeating itself.
That brings me to my second lie.
Nations are best off by themselves — because they’re tribes. Have you ever wondered why this lie is mostly spread and funded by ultra-rich capitalists (or their assorted minions)? You don’t have to look very far to see that much — it’s told, over and over again, by thinktanks and pseudointellectuals and columnists mostly paid for lock, stock, and barrel. That’s because the capitalists stand to gain hugely, and everyone else stands to lose even more hugely.
If you really believe this lie — your plight is the fault of those weaker than you, which is another way to say nations are just tribes — then it’s not capitalism’s fault, is it? But how could the weak be exploiting you — they’re weak, after all. Isn’t it the capitalists, if you actually bother to look? You see the problem. Let me spell that out. If you believe that the powerless are exploiting you, then quite naturally, you will want to close your society off — and you will never want to invest in anyone else, either. So tariffs and trade barriers will rise. Who benefits from these things? Capitalists do. Now the same things cost you more, not just because you must pay duties — but also because capitalists now have a captive market, the only thing better than a monopoly. Bang! You’re exploited twice — first by capitalism paying you less than you’re worth, and second, by giving capitalism a lock and key to your future. But that’s not all.
As you grow poorer, because you pay more for the same things, you probably expect to get richer, because the powerless are not around anymore. Now you’ve got to finally win, right? LOL. But the capitalists will never pay you a penny more — whether or not the powerless are around or not. They don’t care if you’re competing with a Mexican for a job, or not — average incomes haven’t risen in fifty years, while CEO pay has exploded. Do you see the next problem here? You have only made your own plight worse, because now you have cast your lot backwards, in favor of your own exploitation. Should you think I’m kidding, consider all those poor, hapless souls who proudly voted for Trump, because he said he’d save them with tariffs — only to find their jobs gone overnight, while capitalists got even richer. LOL — how sad. What fools. But even that’s not all.
Getting poorer, your nation’s public purse will shrink, because there will be less paid in taxes — after all, corporations, and the super rich that own them, don’t pay taxes, you do. But now you have less income, because you are spending more for the same things. What happens as a result? A smaller public purse — fewer and worse social systems. That means: less public healthcare, education, transport, retirement, and so on. And if you’re in America, where these things are nonexistent to begin with, it means you will never have them. Think of it as self-imposed austerity , a subsistence diet for society — one which foolish people chose it all by themselves, without understanding how or why.
Wham! You’ve been had three ways. First, you’re poorer. Second, you’re even more powerless — you’ve made capital more powerful. Third, you have fewer social systems to support you at precisely the time you need the most. Congratulations, my friend: believing just the first two lies, you’ve impoverished yourself. Wealth and power have been redistributed upwards — from you, by you, to those who already have too much of both.
When you believe this foolish lie, that your plight is the fault of those weaker than you, which also means that your tribe is best off without them, do you know who benefits? Not you — you are made much worse off, as I’ll explain shortly. Who is made better off is the one who is lying to you, who are those exploiting you. Why are people told this lie? The reason is very simple. Money and power — isn’t that why people lie most of the time? By shifting blame to the powerless, nothing much has to change, as far as the system is concerned — it’s engine, which is exploitation, only spins faster and harder. The system is still run by and for the very same people, for the very same ends, which is their own enrichment, only now in more violent and visible ways. The same old biases and prejudices grow stronger — my tribe against yours! And so the same old hierarchies laugh, growing taller. Society decays into a caste system, tribe layered upon tribe. Predatory capitalism smiles and grows sharper teeth — because now it has just what it wants. What is it turning into?
That brings to my third lie.
You’ll find safety by becoming a predator. What’s the logic of the two lies above? It’s the logic of predatory capitalism — whose goal is to turn everyone into a little predator. It says: you will be safe if you abuse, hurt, and harm someone weaker than you. That way, you will find strength, meaning, belonging. Power, esteem, admiration. If not love — then at least being feared. Maybe that you will finally have all the riches and status and power and respect capitalism promised you —only to laugh, demean, devalue, and belittle you — now you are above someone at last, not just meekly, resentfully below the gloating super-rich. Bang! Now the fascist implosion begins.
This is the biggest lie of all, my friends. Safety is not found in becoming a predator. If everyone in society becomes predator — then who is safe at all? If society becomes a contest to become the most ruthless and vicious predator — who ends up safe? Precisely no one. So you see the inner contradiction here — and America today is vivid proof of this illogic.
It’s true that people today need safety. Not just physical safety, but emotional, intellectual, cultural, social safety — truer and deeper things. That means a visceral sense that they are not perpetually living at the edge of ruin, one paycheck away from disaster, like 80% of Americans. Not living in constant panic, dread, anxiety, and heart-stopping fear — “chemotherapy, or my life savings?” Who can make such a choice? Yet what people need safety from, then, is not the weak and the powerless, the imaginary monsters conjured by demagogues, given the supernatural power to destroy and ravage. All that is a myth — just like the lie that slaves would suddenly rape all the white women in the land if they were set free, which justified centuries of subjugation.
What people really need safety from today is the predatory capitalism which exploits them, their societies, their planet, and their futures — and what it logically, socioeconomically, naturally implodes into, which is fascism. The more that people internalize its logic and become predators themselves, exploiters hoping only to exploit, proles with the values of capital, the closer societies tip into genuine fascism. Just like America, Brazil, and Hungary. “Hey — I feel unsafe! Let me prey on someone weaker. In fact, let’s band together and do it — they’re dirty, impure, filthy, subhumans, and we’re strong and pure.” Wham! Fascism.
The answer, therefore, to the very real need for safety must be something else. But what? If the plight of the average person is the fault of the system, which is to say capitalism — not a little Mexican child, or some poor refugee in tent somewhere, people with absolutely no power in society — then what is the answer? The answer should be obvious: it is reforming the system so that everyone has the basics of a decent life, and then a pretty good chance at a better one — not just taking power, chances, and money away from the weak, and giving them right back to…capitalists, who use it to exploit the already exploited even more and harder, which is precisely what today’s fools are doing. Do you see how backwards, funny, strange, and tragic that is?
That means, in a sentence — less predatory capitalism, more democracy, and more social investment, which is to say, more social democracy. Let me translate that: if we are going to build, or expand, great social institutions, like public healthcare, education, and retirement systems — and that way, turn people away from authoritarianism, with the promise of better lives, not just scapegoats for their rage — then we must invest such institutions, and go in investing in them a little more every year.
But here’s the catch. We can only invest in such institutions when we live in genuine democracies. Not as in “places people vote” — but places in which the attitudes of equality, freedom, and justice prevail. For me to want healthcare and education for you means I must see you as a true equal, a life precisely equivalent to my own. Not as a genetic inferior — while I am a member of the super race, the tribe of the pure, who belong to the promised land. What can provide an antidote to the predatory capitalism that has left ruthlessly exploited people simmering with rage, that is misdirected by demagogues at scapegoats and imaginary demons? Only in a genuine democracy of consenting equals can safety, through great public institutions and goods, which shelter and nourish each life, truly be had. Do you see the link? Let me make it clearer.
The safety that people need today is to be found in social democracy — not fascism and authoritarianism. That is because in a social democracy, there is less predatory capitalism (and better, smaller scale capitalism), which also means there is more investment in people — in their health, savings, educations, chances, lives. When we choose the other path, the predatory path, we plummet down a vicious spiral — in the end we ourselves are cheated of the safety we seek. We end up at the mercy of thugs, strongmen, and tyrants — that are usually just puppets of predatory capitalists, who profit the most when there is instability, war, fracture, cleasning, and genocide.
How are we to build such a society? The simple fact is: we can’t do it on our own. Do you see how European social democracies are all tightly interwoven — so much so that they are in a union? Why is that? It’s not just because they’re friends — come now, they’ve been at war most of history. It’s because when nations choose a path of social democracy, it means they rebalance their economies away from consumption, and towards investment. But that also means that we need to trade with other nations — and we also need other nations to invest in us. But if we are building economies based on investment, then we are better off when we invest together. Hence, Europe’s union lets it invest collectively in all kinds of public goods, from research to science to roads to poverty alleviation. These simple economics mean that nations are not better off alone — they are stronger and better together, not just as tribes, caste systems, hierarchies of predators, but genuine democracies of equals, investing in bettering their own destinies.
I know that many of you will find this impossible to believe — very well, the choice to be a fool is yours. And it has always been the easiest and most comforting one of all, hasn’t it?