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Monday, 16 February 2015

Kraft und Macht, Wille und Geld

(For those of you reaching for Google Translate - the title literally translates as "Force and Power, Will and Money".)

To bring a Sesame Street theme to the blog - something I should perhaps do more often - today's blog is brought to you by the concepts of Will To Power, and Elite Panic, and the number 99.

First, a definition of each of these concepts:
Will To Power is a concept central to Nietzsche's philosophy. It states that the urge and ambition to reach the highest possible position in life, and thus control the environment that one is surrounded by, is the greatest driving force behind human nature.
Elite Panic is a notion I've only come across recently - it is best described by Astra Taylor in an interview with Rebecca Solnit, both fascinating and forward-thinking people:
One of the most interesting ideas in the book [A Paradise Built In Hell, by Solnit] is the concept of “elite panic”—the way that elites, during disasters and their aftermath, imagine that the public is not only in danger but also a source of danger. You show in case after case how elites respond in destructive ways, from withholding essential information, to blocking citizen relief efforts, to protecting property instead of people. As you write in the book, “there are grounds for fear of a coherent insurgent public, not just an overwrought, savage one.”
Having read more than a couple of articles related to the concepts in the book in recent days, I got to thinking about what it means. It does, at this point, bear mention that I have no formal education in any of this stuff. This is all just observation, opinion, and highly based on my own view of the world.

If we take as given that the will to power is indeed the primary driving force behind the human subconscious, then the acquisition of wealth is certainly easily explained as a means to achieve that end. The more currency one has at their disposal, the easier one can influence the world around them - as that world has been informed and constructed by those with a significant amount of currency.

Every stage of wealth obviates one from needing to worry about the concerns of the stage before, from extreme poverty all the way up to the mega-rich; I dare say nobody that lives above the poverty line really needs to worry about clean water, for example, nor would any HNWI (High Net Worth Individual) be troubled by their electricity bill.

The link between acquisition of wealth and one's will to acquire it is, in an anecdotal sense, very real. Popular thought envisages those who are self-made millionaires as being wilful, strong individuals that grasp for what they can and make the best of it. Brad Klontz states in an article here that if one associates money and its gain with evil or amorality, one is less likely to acquire it, simply through the basic psychology of aversion. (Whether or not becoming rich is actually amoral is a blog for another day.)

What this could engender, however, is the outlook that everyone sees the world in a similar way.

We tend to do this, as human beings. Our reference for other people's behaviour and mentality is our own behaviour and mentality. In the same way as how someone's own view of God is often a quite close reflection of their own personality, unless one recognises themselves as flawed, one imagines that all mentally "normal" and healthy people see the world in the same way as they do.

If this is true - this means that wealthy people assume that everyone wants to acquire wealth just as much as they do. Further, assuming the will to power is indeed our driving urge - then our initial assumption is actually true, in a very base way.

Which offers us a basic explanation as to why the wealthy would fear those less wealthy than they are. Of course the poor want the things the rich have. Of course they covet those things. It's what society wants us to do - the society so wonderfully constructed to be a trickle-up economy, so adroitly turned into a system for rewarding the pursuit of currency.

I found it quite hard to track down statistics for just how much money was taken or made via high-level financial fraud and tax evasion last year; also, what actually constitutes such a crime is a fairly muddy subject, as what is morally objectionable (foreclosing on people's homes, absurd rates charged on unscheduled overdrafts) is rarely illegal. A great example of this is the attempted re-branding of tax evasion as "tax efficiency". Tory peer Lord Fink - very appropriate name - even claims that literally everyone does it to some degree, which many families and individuals that try and make ends meet every month will probably find incredulously inaccurate.

Let's be real though. Those HNWIs we talked about earlier, they want to live in gated communities with each other - because while other HNWIs are the kind of people that are more likely to engage in such high-level theft, it's the poor folks that are coming to rob them in more direct crimes. I would be willing to place bets that the amount of money taken in physical theft pales in comparison to the amount taken via financial fraud and tax evasion, but as we all know, perception of crime is not necessarily informed by statistics or reality.

So of course, the elite are going to panic whenever it looks like those below them are getting riled. Lurid pictures of potential rioting and looting were painted during Katrina - pictures that were actually not that accurate. Protests about the unbalanced fiscal state of the world tend to be given very specific treatment in media owned by right-wing individuals and by police forces that are by their very nature right-leaning: downplay them if you can, contain them if you can't, and invalidate them if at all possible. The very reason this happens is because those who own the news media and those who inform the laws upheld by the police are terrified that those poor grubby people with dreadlocks and colourful clothes are coming for their material goods, because if the situation were reversed, it's what they would be doing.

As I have always said - almost every conspiracy theory isn't a conspiracy. The truth of the matter is easily explained, entirely obvious, statistically evident, and worse than the theory in the first place.

The Illuminati isn't a group of cackling evil millionaires that sit around a desk and have a secret handshake. There is no Illuminati. There doesn't need to be. It's the nature of the wealthy to wish to remain wealthy, to wish to increase their wealth, and to protect that wealth from those that would take it. Right or wrong, that's your conspiracy. Simple psychology.

Of course, the only real way to prevent people from wishing to correct a massive gulf between rich and poor (as presented here in the US and here in the UK) is to actually close that gulf somewhat. A decrease of overall poverty, and a subsequent decrease in wealth inequality, would probably go a long way to calming down us angry poor folks. It would also lead to increased spending, healthier economies, stronger growth, greater financial security in the markets, and the easing or curing of several global problems that only a reduction of poverty can provide. Malaria, for example.

Hence the number 99 mentioned at the beginning. If the gap between the 99% and the 1% was reduced, the 100% would have better lives.

If only we had the will to make that change.

Neitzsche talks about Kraft - force - as being something that every being possesses; a drive, an urge to control the environment around it. He talks about Macht - power - as being the proper and thoughtful application of that force in order to effect the changes necessary to achieve that control. In our little discussion, we see wealth, raw currency, as Kraft. It is force. A means to an end. With sufficient Macht, the elite would never need to panic ever again.

But hey...I highly doubt anyone that could begin that particular rich man's revolution reads my humble little blog, eh?

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