A Word to the Wise
by J. R. Nyquist, Global Analyst. May 14, 2010
Last December I received a curious email from a friend in South Africa who wrote, "Some kind of psychological war is raging, causing paranoia and hysteria in your country." Accustomed to the tricks of the Russian-backed Communists within South Africa's ruling ANC Party, my friend added, "Some days I ask myself if Russians want to successfully start a Right Wing rebellion in the USA. In other words, Left supports Right against the liberals while at the same time Left plays the liberals too. In other words, supporting both sides so that strife becomes a reality." This remark, though outlandish to most readers, cries out for elaboration. But first we should consider the overall economic crisis which serves as fuel to this very fire.
We have reached yet another phase in the global financial crisis. There has been unrest in Greece, and Europe is greatly troubled. More bad news for America is inevitable, as well. There is a strong impulse to blame somebody for what is happening: to blame big business, to blame America, to blame capitalist greed or socialist subversion. It is important to realize that most of our problems, throughout the world, are due to an inborn human propensity to self-destructive behavior, corruption and dishonesty. Theologians have long referred to man's "fallen nature." We see this fallen nature most obviously in common criminals, but also in those who have perpetrated the financial frauds of our time. With our lust for consumption and our growing tendency toward unethical acquisitions, we have done great damage to ourselves, day by day, and predictably so. But there is something more, as well.
Clever people, called Marxists, have long talked about a coming "crisis of capitalism," predicating their revolutionary ideology on the inevitable crash of markets, the resulting bankruptcy of nations, and subsequent political unrest. Did anyone notice how the hammer and sickle appeared by the Acropolis in Greece last week, along with a banner that reads: "PEOPLES OF EUROPE RISE UP"? This is something that deserves our attention. At the same time, however, the revolutionaries who want to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism are not the cause of the crisis. Since 1917, the Communist movement has represented a measure of our overall corruption, and makes a fair contribution to the same. It is no wonder that Communist intelligence services have made alliances with organized crime groups, narcotics traffickers or corrupt financiers. The destructive side of human nature now demands a reversal of our fortunes, taking advantage of our own wickedness, by its very nature and its self-chosen path to power.
As Vilfredo Pareto pointed out in his masterwork, The Mind and Society, wealth does not increase at a steady 4 percent rate throughout history. Economic growth only applies to those periods when society is healthy, not to those periods when society becomes sick. There are not only periods of wealth creation in history, says Pareto, "History is replete with descriptions of numberless causes for the destruction of wealth. Some of them bear upon total wealth: wars, revolutions, epidemics, plunderings and burnings, wastage of all sorts. Others bear upon the distribution of wealth and prevent protracted accumulations in ... given communities, not without indirect reactions upon total wealth; and such are individual attacks upon private property ... and transfers of wealth resulting from force or from prodigalities."
Prodigality is a good word, and readily applies to America as well as Europe. But returning to the theme of my opening paragraph, the coming word is even more negative and regressive; and that word is "paranoia." Considering the political divide that separates those who want a revolution, and those who advocate capitalist principles, the future is far from bright. Both parties are focused on the acquisition of political power, increasingly worried that the other side's policy will bring about general impoverishment. While the capitalist system has proven to be a good system in the past, it now proves to be a fragile system insofar as society itself has become less ordered, less honest, and more corrupt. Anyone who has studied crime statistics gathered over the last sixty years will see that something akin to a breakdown has occurred. This breakdown is in our dutifulness, our honesty, our integrity. And so, with this breakdown far advanced, we naturally demonize others -- forgetting that the peace is fragile, and trust is fragile. The system can break entirely.
Our manners and kindness have already declined to an alarming extent. But even more alarming, our judgment has declined. Yes, the capitalists have made terrible mistakes. Bankers and financiers have figured out ways to steal enormous quantities of money. Welfare frauds, shirkers and common thieves daily exploit the system as well. Whether you have socialism or capitalism, common decency will be your only salvation. The difference between the two systems, and my own preference for capitalism, has more to do with putting too much unchecked power into the hands of government officials. A financial Ponzi scheme can make you poor, but a socialist dictatorship is -- as George Orwell described it -- "a boot stomping on a human face forever."
The experience of loss tends to generate its own system of accountability, although our present system appears utterly without accountability. As troubles increase, the corrective will become more and more irresistible. It will also become increasingly unpleasant. The more we deny responsibility, the more we want to blame somebody else, the more paranoid we become, and the closer to civil war. As our emotions are increasingly engaged, we will tend to accuse others even as they accuse us. The danger to liberty and to our national unity becomes great. Enemies abroad would take advantage of our disunity. A propaganda which blames the world's problems on America already energizes an envious multitude toward new totalitarian horizons.
There is danger from the Right as well as danger from the Left. How do we realistically navigate between this Scylla and Charybdis? We must remember three things: first is the Golden Rule, which calls us to justice; second is to recognize the frailty of all human reason when subjected to passions; and third, is adherence to constitutional government and the non-violent resolution of disputes. Regarding this last point: once our system of peacefully resolving domestic differences is broken, the loss of money and the crash of markets will be the least of our worries.
© 2010 J. R. Nyquist