Talk at the U/U Church Sunday, December 14, 2014: We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For
By Diane Peel
of all, I would like to thank some people.
Mom, who told me to read the Bible one chapter a night, all
the way through.
did. Twice. The begets were no fun.
anthropologists, whose work taught me that there are lots of
ways to be human.
Rev. Bob Castle and all the folks of the NEK Peace and Justice Group
who gave me something to aspire to.
activists of Occupy Wall Street, who suggested the final piece
in the puzzle,
all my dedicated, hardworking slightly nutty friends at The 99, who
are angels in disguise.
graduate school at the University of Arizona I completed
all-but-dissertation for a doctorate in anthropology with a
specialization in archeology. Later I returned to school for a
nursing degree. Although I work as a nurse, I'm still an
years ago I did some research for a book to be called "The
Worship of Wealth".
never wrote the book, but the research was enlightening.
wish I had hours to explain the idea I'm presenting today, but
probably you're glad I don't. So I'm just going to present it without
much background. So here we go.
have some very bad news for you. The hierarchical or “many levels
of power” structure which we have been using for the last several
thousand years to organize our increasingly large population is
doomed to result in increasing concentration of wealth in the hands
of a few and the enslavement of the many.
will happen no matter what label you put on the system, whether
democratic, monarchy, socialist or theocracy. It will happen no
matter who you elect to public office. To imagine the endpoint of
this evolution, and how awful it will be, look to many great pieces
of dystopian literature written over the last century. In this world,
those who do not serve the purposes of elite will be
expendable. This will include anyone who is ill or slow, anyone with
different ideas, anyone who complains, anyone who for any reason
can.t make the competitive cut. It could be you.
only outcome worse than this scenario is the one where people get fed
up and try to violently throw off the yoke of the oppressors,
resulting in societal breakdown and the rise to power of whoever
has the biggest guns. A lot of people suffer and die and the new
elite look pretty much like the old ones.
those of you looking for the savior who will turn the tide of
society away from increasing inequality toward greater equality,
whether elected or brought to power by some other means, might as
well forget it. Within our current hierarchical structure, such
efforts slow down the inevitable, but they don't stop it.
that you're thoroughly depressed, I'll tell you the good news. We can
anthropologist went to study native people in South Africa, many
years ago, when there still were relatively unaffected people in the
world. He was talking to a group of people and eager to get
started on describing the group's social structure, he asked if there
was a headman he could talk to. There was silence, and then laughter.
Finally one man said, " Well, you can talk to anybody, for we
are all headmen over ourselves."
most of human history, people managed quite well without hierarchical
organization. Key aspects of these egalitarian systems were small
group size, horizontal organization and the use of public pressure to
enforce sharing. In horizontal organization, people may have
different roles but hardly vary at all in status, and individuals and
groups link horizontally in space based on ties of kinship and
mutual benefit, such as trading. Decision-making can take some
time, but works OK when group size is usually not more than 30
the "original affluent society" as one anthropologist
called hunters and gathers, there's quite a bit of time to just sit
around and talk.
forward to settled villages of hundreds of people and an increasing
need to cooperate on large-scale joint projects like irrigation
systems or newly invented ones like organized warfare. The
development of intensive forms of food production, required
humans to work longer hours than ever before, a trend which just
people did the easy thing. They started to delegate decision-making.
So you end up with an emerging second tier of status. Generally those
that are given this status are "big producers" whose
ability to amass resources and share with others generates a
favorable reciprocity balance between themselves and others. Such
"big men (or women)" not only make decisions but also forge
ties with other "big men" that speed up the spread of ideas
across great distances. Thus hierarchical structures were born.
economists are showing, based on various experiments, that most
humans are team players. A few are what anthropologists call
"aggrandizers". These individuals have a pathological
desire for wealth and power. They have little empathy for others.
They try to manipulate the system to their own advantage. In small
scale societies they are quickly put down by public opinion that
enforces notions of sharing. In larger societies two things happen:
Because hierarchical organizations have nodes of power through which
resources and information flow, aggrandizers are attracted to
positions in the hierarchy.
there, they make the rules and regulations at cement their power and
ability to accumulate wealth. With more wealth, they accumulate more
both because they elite control information and because the system is
so large, it's hard for people to discover what these schemers are up
really there is no way to dislodge them without changing the
structure. Until recently hierarchical structure was necessitated by
the restrictions of time and space, even in systems which
attempt to disperse power. But the Digital Revolution has changed all
that. We may be on the edge of the next great leap forward in human
outline of such a new decentralized structure includes the following:
making and action take place in small face to face groups which
are tied to place. In cities these are neighborhoods, in rural areas
they are villages. Local groups define their own problems and
solutions because "one size never fits all."
groups are linked horizontally in a web of ever-broadening circles
through digital communication. Communication can happen between any
one human and any other human. There are no gatekeepers. Broad access
to information helps foil would-be aggrandizers.
and information can flow horizontally throughout the web without ever
being directed up through a power hierarchy.
the monetary system is a key feature, with institutions like banks
becoming non-existent. Digital tally systems can facilitate exchange.
Sharing of resources can be partly automated. Shared resources are
under local control. Bureaucratic waste and systemic fraud could be
are run for the benefit of employees, as the concept of management vs
this may sound like science-fiction, the seeds of such decentralized
institutions already exist. I have a handout listing some of these
and you can probably think of more.
have become so accustomed to outsourcing control over our lives that
we hardly even realize we are doing it. The left believes better
government will save us and the right believes a freer market will
save us. Some people are waiting for God to jump right in and save
us. In fact, none of these will save us. We have to save ourselves,
by taking back control of our lives in our neighborhoods.
We are the
ones we have been waiting for.
do this we will have to overcome a bit of laziness we have fallen
into, which is expecting someone else to look out for our neighbors,
allowing us to live insulated lives in which their problems are not
our problems. Send them to the welfare office, the principal's office
or the food shelf, or call the police and send them to
prison. And here lies the second problem: We need to identify
who are our neighbors, and learn to work with them whether we
personally like them or not or whether or not they share our world
view. Even though you may initially regard this idea with distaste,
human evolution has provided something to help you out.
people cooperate on a project with others, such as for instance
building something or growing something, the hormone oxytocin
is released, causing humans to feel well-disposed towards those they
are working with. Try it and experience for yourself the
pleasant rosy glow of shared goals.
the handout you will find some ideas for new decentralized
institutions that are already in the works that could replace
existing hierarchical institutions.
remember, we need to get busy right now. The rapid concentration of
wealth and power in the hands of a few aggrandizers, and the
increasing poverty and hopelessness of everybody else could
soon lead to social upheaval.
the only thing worse than a hierarchical structure is no structure,
in the midst of which the most brutal sorts of humans seize power.
There is no time to waste. So pick something you like, there's
really something for everyone's inclination, and start thinking about
how you could begin building it in your community. Enlist the help of
others and it will grow.
like encouraging community gardens, local power production or
community money, community justice systems, or encouraging citizen
participation in municipal or town government, and the creation of
neighborhood mutual aid groups are revolutionary acts that will
allow us to take back our lives and wrest power from the hands
of pathological wealth seekers.
world is possible,
but it will depend on you.