“Nothing appears more surprising… than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few, and the implicit submission with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers.… force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is, therefore, on opinion only that government is founded, and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the freest and most popular.”David Hume (1771-1776)
Countless deconstructions of the cunning, pervasive, often brutal plutocracy are proliferated by clear-eyed, outlier individuals all around the world. These speakers of truth to power (whatever their particular angle) may not be highly visible in the mainstream media but, thanks to the internet, social media, podcasting, and global content platforms (like YouTube, Twitch, IP2, and Patreon) the independent counter-narrative landscape has a bigger reach than at any time in history.
Think how much more difficult it must have been before podcasts, cellphones, and social media to publish revelations, or for simpatico groups to get informed, to organize, and to share content instantly across diffuse intranetworks, to everyone subscribing an interest. The sum of these independents, contrarian or conventional, pulses information to and from every point on the planet. The resource is unparalleled. Information control is damage limitation, for nations and institutions, as a best-case scenario.
It may surprise, then, to perceive how little impact the past two decades’ transformative technology has had on holding entrenched power and wealth to account. It may shock to consider how, if anything, the front-line of authoritarian excess, state-sponsored kleptocratic grift and opportunity versus oppressive policy has grown more brazen and less accountable since the turn of the millennium. Not even the Financial Crisis of 2007/2008 affected this trend.
Plutocracies certainly use technologies old and new to organize against disruptive influences, to obscure their activities (where possible), and keep a constant hypernormalized reality publicized to the broader population. The public must remain confused, polarized, and misdirected. Democratic legitimacy is turned from a potential surrender of authority (by a ruling elite) into a practical solution to the risky power dynamics of few rulers versus innumerable ruled.
Institutional power hasn’t grown more powerful, however, simply by getting better at hiding truth. This isn’t possible in an information age playing out in cyberspace that makes global activity local. Nor have the forces of authority grown necessarily more violent in its oppression of the population or its pursuit and elimination of outliers. In fact, quite the opposite. Democracy is not ubiquitous in the world, but it’s the dominant social contract — freedom exists, for more humans than ever before — and we keep the lightning in the bottle by almost entirely peaceful citizen policing. To a greater degree, independent or contrarian media voices loudly and publicly expose the crimes of corrupt politicians, release damning evidence of corporate exploitation, document the enriching of oligarchs, detail the oppression of marginalized minorities for the sake of profit; reaching a significant audience. None of it significantly shifts the needle of public inertia.
There’s a multi-layered, ever-evolving, responsive army of protections for continuity of extant power and wealth dynamics but at its root, there’s a simple intractable reality to the activity of the plutocracy and the passivity of the population: lineage and land rights.
Exposing an amoral, avaricious, often criminal underbelly to the idealized facade of institutional orthodoxy never addresses this deeper dichotomy. We live in a world of landlords and tenants, writ large across over 200 countries and almost 8 billion human beings.
Reveal the latest hypocrisy? It becomes a directionless shock-porn. It neutralizes rather than inspires any coherent movement for change. Most importantly, the worst exploitation becomes shock-porn not because of the subject matter — injustice, criminal negligence, inhuman abuses of power, they are what they are — but because of the atomized predisposition of the general public itself.
The real battle-lines separating the powerful inheritors of lineage wealth and entrenched power (the landlords) from the exploited, disenfranchised population (the tenants) is a contest of sociopath ambition against apathy. It’s 1% of one percent well-motivated, driven to action, carrying the other 99% of the one percent and supported by a small army of status quo vassal satellites, against the vast human herd of short-sighted, conventional proletariat living a ‘best life’ of self-serving path of least resistance.
Counter-culture’s failure isn’t its ability to see the brutal reality of plutocracy. Its failure is an inability to rouse the public, despite all the truth and facts, from the comfortable somnambulism of day-to-day self-interest.
Let’s call a spade a spade. No matter how much of a maelstrom society may look, from year to year, through the lens of colorized history and contemporary media, the robust neo-feudal dynamic of landlord and tenant hasn’t been genuinely threatened since the 1940s.
“Act or react. Life will make it necessary, eventually. The more in advance of the necessity you act, the greater your individual power and freedom to choose. As you get nearer, then at the necessity point, the reaction is all you get. Might work if the necessity is on a small scale (if you’re lucky) but if it’s you versus the state or if involves you having to compete solo for limited opportunity: you’re in big trouble.”