Sunday, March 1, 2015

March 1: What is an oligarchy? Words, words, words....

(It's Sunday. So I took a break from the daily news._

In political discussion, all of us frequently use words we don't really understand. The result is that the words come to have meaning only for the person speaking them - and that meaning is emotional, often with no connection with any reality.

A prime example is the word 'communism'. Most people (including most journalists and politicians) have no idea what the word means. To them, its evil. That's it. To them, Stalin was a communist. (He wasn't.)  Castro is a communist. (He isn't.) You even find people who call themselves communists when they aren't. I well remember the pompous ass of my student days who organized a communist party for students. In fact, his views more closely resembled fascism  (a word whose meaning is really confused.)

Karl Marx was a man who genuinely was devoted to improving our lives. He identified capitalism and dictatorships, quite correctly, as causes of human suffering. His solution involved working toward a society in which all had a voice and, most importantly, all would come to cooperate for the common good, and there would be no social classes.

That's not evil. I don't think it's practical. I don't think it can happen. But it's not an evil idea. But, oh, it was dreadfully evil in the eyes of capitalists who had no interest at all in the common good. That's why their news media associated communism with evil. And so communism became a sort of swear word.

That's why the US, Britain and Canada sent troops to Siberia in 1918. The rule of the Tsars, despotic, cruel, exploitive, had effectively destroyed Russia, and had caused what we now call the Communist revolution. So we sent troops to keep the Russian people under the rule of aristocrats. You won't find that in many history books.

What you will find in movies, articles, in folk memory is the terrible sadness of the killing of the Tsar and his family - especially the daughter, Anastasia. And so, to this day, in a war that had killed, impoverished, crippled, orphaned more than any previous war, we mourn the loss of a family that brutalized even more millions to make itself even richer.

Stalin, as we know, had none of the ideals or hopes that Marx did. He was simply a dictator. He called himself a communist; and our news media happily reported him as a communist. But there was nothing communist in his policies.

China has never been communist, and certainly is not communist today. In fact, the economic system of China today is thoroughly capitalist. Nor is there the slightest sign of any move to communism.

So - now the bad word is oligarchy. It sounds evil. Actually, it think it is evil. But oligarchy seems to be what this brave, new world is about. And it's simple enough. It means rule by the few. If  ISIS ever achieves an stable state, it will be an oligarchy. That is, its government will not be by the people but by the few - the religious leaders.

Through almost the whole history of the British Empire, Britain was an oligarchy. Real power was in the hands of the monarch, the aristocracy, and the rich.That's largely true today - except that the monarchy has become simply decorative - and expensive.

Russia is an oligarchy with all real power in the hands of a small number of capitalists. Ditto for China. Ditto for the United States. And that's very largely the case for Canada. And it's entirely the case for New Brunswick.

And the base for oligarchy is social class. In a society organized around social class (as ours certainly is), democracy is impossible. Despite all the fine words of 1776, all Americans have never been equal. (Thomas Jefferson, who wrote those fine words about all being equal, owned over 200 slaves. Only five of them were ever freed. But that's because they were his sons.) Women didn't get equality for 150 years - and neither they nor hispanics nor African-Americans have it yet.

To this day, in the whole western world, equality does not exist. For many reasons, the quality of education varies hugely by social class. The poor do worse than others in schol. In the US, part of the reason for that is that the poor get underfunded schools. But it's more than that. Working class children generally do worse in school. This has nothing to do with brains. It has to do with socialization. Indeed, I found that the whole process for me from grade one to graduate studies was a matter of being re-socialized at ever level - socialized to the manners and tastes and expectation of a working class kid then, in high school, the shock of becoming socialized to the values of lower middle class as I reached higher grades, and my old friends dropped out, then becoming socialized to the values and tastes of kids in undergraduate school, then to graduate school where values and expectations were much different and where I first learned about the importance of snobbery and arrogance.

The myth of North American history is that Canada and the US have been lands of opportunity where all have an equal chance to get ahead. It's not true. And it never has been true. There are expectations, of course, but the reality is and has been from the start, that children born into a social class will forever live in that class. The poor child will forever be poor, the rich one forever rich, the middle class one forever middle class. There are volumes of statistics on that.

There is no evidence that the rich work harder than the poor. In fact, quite the contrary. There is no evidence that the poor have less intelligence than the rich. There is lots of evidence that the rich feel themselves superior - almost racially superior - to the poor and the middle class. That's natural. That's the natural attitude of those who exploit and abuse others. The "others", like African slaves or native peoples or Chinese under imperial rule, are inferior. God created them to serve us. God bless America. Rule, Brittannia.

We live in an oligarchy. The oligarchy, the greater part of it, is made up of people who were born into it. That's exactly the same as medieval rule by aristocracy. And it is not possible for an oligarchy to be a democracy.

Other words to beware of - liberal, conservative, patriotism...

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