No one could doubt that we are living in difficult times, or that the economic, political and social conditions we are experiencing are unprecedented in our lifetimes. Where, then, do we turn for guidance? Well, as luck would have it, history is rich with fine people who have gone before us. If we study their warnings, we can see our way clear into a more promising future. The question is… is that what we will do?
Let’s start with some comments from great men of history:
Lao Tzu, ca. 600 BC
“The greater the restrictions and prohibitions, the more people are impoverished.”
Cicero, ca. 55 BC
“The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome fall.”
“I look upon an increase in the power of the State with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the heart of all progress.”
A pretty consistent message there, in spite of the fact that these men lived in vastly different eras, thousands of miles from each other. Powerful evidence that basic truth remains the same in all locations, in all ages. I should mention that, in my school days, I was not treated to these quotes. I learned them much later through my own personal study. In my schooldays, the professors were more likely to quote Harold Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt when offering me inspiration. Wilson and Roosevelt would have recoiled at the suggestions above.
Now, let’s compare these perceptions to:
The wit and wisdom of…
“Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything”
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and, eventually, they will believe it.”
“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
These quotes I also learned in later years; however, their content also has a consistency. Each of these leaders followed the premise that success is based primarily on Force and Deception. In school, at home and, for some of us, in a place of worship, we were taught the golden rule and were expected to behave in a moral way. Then, somewhere along the line, we discovered that the great majority of people who taught us this rule did not live by this principle at all. Far from it.
While they generally acknowledged the wisdom of the great philosophers, they, in practice, adhered much more to the principles of the latter three men. This, in spite of the fact that they fairly consistently regarded the latter three as devils.
Perennially, people tend to make the same mistakes, generation after generation. It is clearly the norm to recognize those who are truly great, while following those who are the precise opposite. Why should this be, and, more to the point, what does it tell us about where we are headed?
It would seem that, in any generation, there is a small percentage (less than 5%) who are truly inspired and have a holistic view of the complex problems that face us all. Then there is a somewhat larger group (20 – 25%?) that has a general idea of the larger picture, but sometimes has a hard time holding on to it when they find themselves down in the trenches. Then comes the largest group (60 – 65%) that tends to wave in the wind, their beliefs and suppositions changing in accordance with whatever appears as though it will put a chicken in their pot in the near future. At the very bottom, the remaining 10% simply don’t really care one way or the other.
We like to think that those we elect are from the upper reaches of our society, but, truth be told, they are not. They tend to come from the 60-65%. This is borne out by the fact that the vast majority of them will change their “firmly held values” at a moment’s notice if the electorate changes their take on a given situation. Whether Labour or Tory, whether Democrat or Republican, they are largely interchangeable with one another. Only the window-dressing varies.
So, where does this leave us in terms of what we can expect the next few years to look like?
The evidence for this is already mounting. In America, the recent budget debate showed that Congressmen from both parties were unwilling to budge on their pet expenditures (which, taken together, represent the vast majority of the US budget) and instead waffled over a host of unimaginative and ineffective budget cut proposals. While pundits in the Press bit their nails down to the quick over which proposal would finally be acceptable to all, none of the proposals came within a mile of actually solving the problem.
Predictably, the negotiations ran right down to the final hour, as neither side wanted its electorate to criticize that they were “the first to give in.” In the end, all the posturing was for naught. The default will be delayed a bit, but is still inevitable, as the cuts are far from sufficient. Congress and the Federal Reserve will do all they can to delay the inevitable, but, ultimately, the fate of the American economy is sealed. Soon, possibly within a year, the second crash will come, along with hyperinflation and “Weimar II” – the sequel.
As in every generation, those who follow a path of true wisdom are few and, while they may receive praise for their ideals, they are not the individuals that the crowd will follow. They will instead follow those who make the most colourful promises. History will once again repeat itself.
In the end, we, as individuals, have only three real choices: 1) get in line with the lemmings on their way to the cliff, 2) remain within the system and risk getting trampled in the stampede, or 3) quietly step aside onto an alternate path.