What we can learn from our human foibles
This Part has looked at some of the key underlying causes of our current situation. Three of them are deeply rooted in the human psyche, and would be much more difficult to change than systems (such as capitalism). But it is in controlling and managing them better that we can create what I call a “civilised” society, and also ensure, or at least increase the probability of, our survival as a species.
The underlying causes of our current state – a summary of summaries
I call the underlying causes “problems”, and there are five of them.
The problem of greed is that it has been institutionalised and sold as a virtue by the narrative of capitalism – according to this, “greed is good” – a natural accompaniment to “wealth is virtue”.
The problem of power is much more deep-seated. There are two major problems with it – it seems almost inevitably to corrupt us, and it is wide open to misuse by those who were personally corrupt in the first place.
The problem of consent is that it is one of the key ways in which power maintains itself in our current affluent societies, through the use of propaganda and bribery, and we as citizens have become complicit in this, by accepting the propaganda and the bribes, and by allowing the uncertainties they create to cloud our thinking about what is really needed to better ourselves and our society.
The problem of misguided ingenuity is also deepseated. Humans are very clever with material technologies, but not always wise in why and how they develop and use them. Humans are sporadically good at social technologies too, but these are much harder to master, because people and communities are far more complicated than things, and social technologies are also less obviously profitable than material technologies.
The final deep-seated problem is the problem of “otherness”. There is something in us that rejects, or resents, or fears, people who we regard as unlike us, and this is a great enabler of human conflict.
What we need to do about these problems
These sorts of problems will always be with us, at one level of difficulty or another. By and large, they can’t be solved – they need to be managed.
Part Two concluded with a summary of changes needed as a result of what we learn from our recent history, mainly in the economic system.
These were the need for radical change to the financial system, greater control over corporate behaviour, redistribution of income and wealth, and governments returning to their core functions. They should be kept in mind, as they complement the suggestions below.
We need to replace the current dominant narrative. The ideas that “greed is good” and “we are all in competition with each other” are pernicious. They are a narrative manufactured by capitalism to justify its actions, and to divide and conquer opposition.
Greed and competitive instincts will never be fully “solved”, but nor are they the fundamental human drivers that the social Darwinists claim they are. A society whose basis was the satisficing of needs based on cooperative activity would keep greed and competition in control, and push them back to the minor positions they should occupy in human behaviours – mostly connected with occasional feasts, and games.
Power must be addressed more openly, and across the whole range of human activities. Our institutions need to be reinforced or redesigned so that they are more effective at dealing with political, financial, and coercive power. In particular, the redistribution of power so that it is more equalised through societies. This is a huge project, but one which starts from a good base in most democracies.
Citizens need to be educated from birth in the existence, forms, values, and issues of power. All of us experience power all of our lives, but few are educated in it, and fewer still see it clearly for what it is.
Deweaponisation – the banning or severe restriction on availability of long-range weapons – is an important piece of the puzzle of dealing more effectively with power, as these weapons are the most powerful instruments of coercive power.
Citizenship must be made a core part of all education curricula. The recommendations in Part Two focussed on the reduction of harm caused by the capitalist system. This recommendation is about reinstating the value and importance of citizenship rather than consumption.
Teaching needs to be not only about power and how it works but also about democracy and how it should work, about our individual and collective responsibilities to our society, about the ethics of production and consumption, and about the values and opportunities created by our diversity as humans.
The next Part draws the conclusions of the last two Parts together and expands on them to describe the new place where we need to stand – what I see as the key prerequisites for a truly civilised society.
And the final Part discusses how we might get there, particularly from the perspective of people such as myself, who have no recent history of activism but are aware that they should be doing something!