Friday, 1 November 2013

The Meme Machine

The metaphor of the division of a cake in how the products of human endeavour are / or should be divided is a useful device because most people relate on an emotional level to the sheer injustice of some people having more cake than they could ever possibly eat, while some get no cake at all, and others get just a few crumbs that fall off the table. 

What's often not considered is the role of those who get more cake in exchange for their support for the notion that the OWNERS of the cake have the RIGHT to more than they could ever eat and at least a major say in how it should be divided.   

Cake baking is a social process. The labour of many is necessary for the making of any given cake. No single person is born with the knowledge of how to make a cake, nor does any single person ever produce - by their own effort - all the ingredients and all the implements necessary for its baking. 

The knowledge of what a cake is and how to bake it is acquired and handed down by people operating socially; the ingredients are grown and harvested and processed by people operating socially; the implements used in the baking of the cake are manufactured by people operating socially ….

At some point in pre-history, long before cake making was possible, the notion of private property and trade was born - very likely as a result of the domestication of cattle. With the notion of privately owned property came the notion of the right to appropriate the labour of others  - if I can 'own' a cow, I can 'own' another human being. (There was another HUGE development that is highly pertinent to cake making as it happens - which was the dominance of a patrilineal family form and the birth of patriarchy - but that's a story for another day.)

Many different means were used to force people to give up the products of their labour and to be allowed to keep / be given only what was necessary for their subsistence. Some means were coercive; others were ideological - usually calling on god's / gods'  authority.

Inevitably some greedy bastards decided they owned EVERYTHING and declared divine support for that right. They employed swathes of people to keep it that way - law makers and law enforcers and the all important ideologues - The Meme Machine. 

And look how successful the The Meme Machine  has been. Many people cannot even conceive of a different - more just, balanced and sustainable way - of organising production. They dutifully parrot the line that the rich deserve to be rich because they are cleverer, more talented, more creative and that it is the rich who are the 'wealth generators'.  Instead of carping about the unfairness of the system, they argue that we should invest in enterprises set up by the 'wealth generators' so they can turn the tap on a little and the occasional drip (necessitated by the wealth generators not being able to afford more) can become a trickle - which is more than enough to keep the simple folk at the base happy. 

But this inverts reality. The 'wealth generators' are not those at the top of the social pyramid - they're the people at the base. The whole system (including the truly, madly, deeply insane world of virtual finance) relies on the exploitation of human labour - and that exploitation gets more obvious, coercive and brutal the further down the pyramid you go.  

Companies move to countries /locations where labour is cheaper and there are fewer environmental / health and safety laws; they do so to keep production costs down in order to extract the maximum surplus to pay the shareholders and the technocrats and the ideologues -  and to feed the various State machines that help keep the wasteful, unstable, unsustainable system going.  

The idea that the rich deserve to be rich, that they generate wealth is stupid. It is so stupid it is hard to comprehend how any rational person can fall for it. But that's where The Meme Machine  is so important. It has persuaded enough people that the current way we organise production - the economy - is the most efficient (maximum productivity for minimum expense/effort) and effective (achieving an intended or desired outcome) way possible. 

This is often demonstrably untrue even when judged by the system's own stunted methodologies.  If we use a wider angled lens and accept that production is a social process, we see that the relations of production (like the relations of reproduction) have evolved and any measurement of the efficiency and effectiveness of an enterprise must also consider the concepts of equality of opportunity, equity of treatment in legal terms and ethical practice. Without these, a true measure of efficiency and effectiveness can't be made. 

If we simply want the current system to be fairer, we can use the very political and legal concepts that challenged the divine right of kings and latter day autocracies to force it to change. But that's always a struggle. No social, economic or political advance has been given freely by those in power until it was in their interests to do so. And every hard won advance must be guarded because it can be easily lost. Sometimes the loss is sudden and catastrophic and obvious - and sometimes it's gradual and surreptitious and the loss goes largely unnoticed.

What the rich and powerful and their supporters forget or choose to ignore is that people at the base are not passive ciphers. Excellence, talent, intelligence, insight, creativity, goodness are not the preserve of the rich - as even the most cursory examination proves beyond all doubt.

So - people of the base - use all that excellence, talent, insight, creativity and belief in natural justice to bring about change - because if we don't change the way we do things, we're all stuffed.

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