The Global Power Structure That Has No Power

The power I am referring to is the power to motivate people. Whether we like it or not – people power is still where it’s at. If it’s not there – we haven’t got it.

You have heard of Globalization – which is supposed to be the next big thing. But I am here to tell you that this next big thing is nothing. Literally. I could go into a long dissertation about something and nothing here – and I am listening to a book right now called Why is there something instead of nothing? that does just that. But I will spare you.

Let me start again. The world (the human world, that is) for the last three hundred years or so has been obsessed with making money. But we (and especially the young) are no longer much interested this. It doesn’t turn us on any more. And if it doesn’t interest us – it is going nowhere. 

Let me put this yet another way. We all know about booms and busts. Everybody gets excited about something (it gets hot) then they lose interest in it – and it gets cold. These cycles (what used to be called the Business Cycle) used to take years. Now they are lucky to last for a day.

This indicates, to me, that they no longer have any substance. There is nothing behind them.

People still want money as much as before – but they no longer want to work for it. They will steal whatever they can lay their hands on (legally) but will only pretend to be working. And this applies to companies, as well as individuals. Everybody. You don’t have to be a genius to see where this leads to.

I have been speaking so far about motivation – or the lack thereof. And I continue to believe this is the most fundamental problem.

But this can also be seen in more concrete ways – we are running out of gas (oil). All the development of the last three hundred years or so was fueled by fossil fuels. Energy reserves left over, by accident, from millions of years of plant life.

And climate change is fast upon us. We can deny it all we want – but it is a fact.

The overall result (and that is all that counts) is this:

Progress is running out of steam.

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Loosely Coupled Components

I continue my explanation of how software has influenced people. This influence continues a process that began with civilization: we became like our technologies – or from their perspective: they become like us. Each influenced the other, until it became difficult to separate the two.

Our fundamental technology, all along, has been the machine. And we have been hard at work at making them better – and inevitably making ourselves more like them, and they more like us. Without any awareness of this at all.

The result has been affluence on a massive scale – but also human degradation on a massive scale. The more we became machines, the less human we became. And we became unable to know the difference. This last change was the worst, and one we may never recover from. In order to become machines, we destroyed our ability to be human.

So far, I have said nothing new. People in the 19th Century (such as Emerson) were aware of this problem, but could do nothing to stop it – because they were unable (or unwilling, perhaps) to notice the arrival of mass man. Which were simply men completely adapted to the march of progress – or actually the march of greed and power – components of a huge social machine.

I repeat: society had become a machine, and one very proud of this – because it enabled them to do great things (all kinds of massive building projects). But it also destroyed their ability to be people, and the modern world ended with two World Wars – which made all previous wars look like nothing.

This is where I came in: a depression baby (1936), the son of parents obsessed with respectability (but unable to be human) in the most powerful nation on earth (at the time). This was bad enough – but they were also unable to understand themselves or their society – and didn’t want to understand. It was full speed into the future, and may the devil take the hindmost!

And for a time, in the Fifties and Sixties, they prospered – their cars got more and more powerful, and their houses got bigger and bigger. But (and I can testify to this personally) they treated their children badly. We were expected to become successful, and successful we became, but we could not become anything else. This was not a good time to be alive – because anyone who was alive (who was not a machine) was destroyed.

I see I have strayed from my subject, and went into a long rant about the way things have beome, instead. But I am unrepentant, I am standing up on my hind legs and making sure the world knows I exist. But let me (finally) get down to the subject: Loosely Coupled Components.

This will require some more history. After WWII, a new technology appeared – at the same time the Atomic Bomb appeared. The two were closely related as the book Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, frankly admits. Both had enormous potential for good or for evil. We were aware of the danger of The Bomb (how could we ignore it?) but not of the computer – that seemed at first to be nothing but an enhanced calculator. Were we wrong! We had created a whale and it was going to swallow us.

I now want to describe that whale. It soon became apparent that computers needed programming – some way of ordering the things around. Otherwise they were useless. This did not bother the man on the street, who was not interested in the things, but it bothered business – who could clearly see its usefulness in helping them become more powerful.

Business became focused on power, and the computers became part of their power complex. A army of specialists appeared to serve them – big, expensive monsters, housed in their own rooms. IBM (International Business Machines) appeared to make and service them (and also sell them: their sales department was extremely effective.)

But let me return to programming the monsters. It soon became clear that this was a critical skill, and it became necessary to create more of these skilled people, and figure out ways of making them more productive.

At the same time semi-conductors were discovered, and ways of building large arrays of them on a silicon chip created Silicon Valley – and the whole industry went crazy. The whole world went crazy – we had discovered a way to create more and more with less and less!

But this required large amounts of something else: intelligence – smart software development. A special kind of intelligence was needed, and naturally these people appeared.  At first these were. derisively referred to as nerds: people with poor social skills, but good technical skills. I was one of them.

At first, the young women of the age put us down – but when they discovered how much money we could make, they quickly changed their minds, and became eager for their bodies to share in our income.

Then computer technology made a quantum jump – the personal computer (PC) appeared. These are now so common, we have forgotten what a bombshell they were. I had one of the first ones (the Osborne) which make desktop publishing possible – overnight!

At one point in my life, when I was between jobs (as was often the case), and had time to think, I gave some hard thought to this. Was this going to do me any good?

I came to the conclusion that this new capability (to produce more documentation faster) would simply be absorbed by the corporations we all worked for, with no benefit to us (the technical writers). And indeed, this turned out to be the case. We were back running on the treadmill, sweating more, but making less.

And I noticed, to my amazement, that no one was noticing this. Indeed, no one was noticing much of anything at all. I could only conclude (reluctantly) that my fellow-workers were no longer people. What they were I did not know, but they were not people.

Fast-forward ahead to the present, when I am living in Costa Rica with my high-speed Internet connection. I am studying, once again, for reasons I do not understand, software development. And I am learning about loosely coupled components – and I can hardly believe my eyes. I quote from Pro ASP.NET MVC Framework, page 73:

We want the components of our application to be as independent as possible and to have as few interdependencies as we can manage. In our ideal situation, each component knows nothing about any other component and deals with it only through abstract interfaces. This is known as loose coupling

Replace the word component with the word person, and you have our present social situation!

I am reminded of my last relationship, back in Silicon Valley. I wanted to know everything about my new girlfriend, and she found this, not endearing, but alarming. I had to stay in my place, and she would stay in hers, thank you! Sex was totally permissible (and the more the better), but intimacy was not.

The American Ruling Class

These people do exist, and they are stronger than ever. But America’s attitude towards them is hard to decipher. Their first response, as usual, is simply denial. Americans deny that reality really exists. And a denial of their power structure is part of that pattern. They conform to it automatically and unconsciously while consciously denying its existence.

They are also helpless, and declare that, whatever it is, they can do nothing about it. They had nothing to do with its formation and cannot be held responsible for its behavior (which is  not entirely true). To repeat, there are two interacting forces in this complex – denial and helplessness.

But instead of feeling ashamed of themselves, they are proud they have come up with such a perfect solution. They have decided not to live in a defective reality, but to live in perfect world of their own making instead.

But I see I have gotten of the track – I started to write about their ruling class.

A short historical review is in order here, but I will limit myself to the American history I experienced – beginning when I was an adolescent, in the Fifties. The first obsession for all high-school graduates was simple – to get a good job. And that meant first of all going to college, getting a profession, and then working for an organization. I went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration as an engineer, and my siblings when to work as schoolteachers.

We expected to work for one organization all our lives, work our way up in it, and then retire from it. The organization was supposed to provide for us, and to make life comfortable for the large middle class, of which we were a part. But things did not work out that way.

What happened instead is hard to describe, but I will try anyway. Back in my Father’s day, there were large, stable companies who hired most of the people. In my Father’s home town of Ft. Madison, Iowa, the West End was dominated by the Santa Fe Railroad. And the East End by the Sheaffer Pen Company. And there were many, many small businesses, such a the photography studio owned by my Father. The family farm was still important in rural areas.

There was a large layer of middle managers, or the bosses, as they were known, in any company, and they were the ones who actually ran the place. They were well-paid, and anyone could aspire to one of these positions. Or, if you were more independent, to be a successful small businessman. The demands in either case were not severe, and anyone could look forward to an pleasant, affluent life.

But slowly all this changed. American society lost its focus on the successful individual, and focused instead on a successful techno-structure – where only a few at the very top benefited. I have invented a new word here techno-structure – quite to my own surprise. Let me work on it for awhile.

Successful technologies have always produced new societies – this what civilization amounted to. A new kind of people appeared, and a new kind of person, that never existed before. This resulted, over the next thousand years or so, in the Roman Empire. Which resulted, in turn, in its collapse, the Middle Ages, and then the Modern World – and then its collapse into what something we now the Post-Modern World – for the lack of a better term.

In every case there was a ruling class, as there always is – although in times of fast change (such as the present) they come and go so fast, they are hard to keep track off. Now I have finished my very short history of the world, I will return to the present.

What has happened in the last fifty years or so? What I call the techno-structure has taken over. In an eerie way, our technology has taken control of us. Although to be more correct – we have merged with it and the resulting complex has taken over.

This brings up the all-important idea of a complex – something that most people, including many scientists, have a hard time getting their minds around. The facts are simple – in most situations, lots of variables interact with lots of other variables to affect how everything works. We no longer have a  simple cause-and-effect situation. This was only an illusion – one that served us well, it is true, but also left us with a mess we do not know how to deal with.

This includes a shadowy new ruling class who clearly exist somehow, but just how, we are not sure. They are part of the Global Economy – which we do not understand either. We are on automatic pilot, with unknown forces at the controls.

Let me give a concrete example. I live in rural Costa Rica, and coffee farms dominate the landscape. But more and more communication towers also dominate it. Why? Because Ticos have become obsessed with their cell phones, and all kinds of foreign companies are rushing in to profit from this.

What dominates these companies? The combination of an ruling elite and their technologies. The same as in the USA, whose popular culture (and business culture) they identify with.

In the World of the Dead, Death is not Possible

Everyone knows everything here, but no one understands anything
No one understands anything, but everyone knows everything

Everyone has everything, but no one is anything
No one is anything, but everybody has everything

No one does anything, but everyone does everything
Everyone does everything, but no one does anything

Everyone is wonderful, but no one is any good
No one is any good, but everyone is wonderful

Everyone is busy, but nothing gets done
Nothing gets done, but everyone is busy

Everything is perfect, and nothing is impossible
Nothing is impossible, and everything is perfect

No one wins, and everybody loses

If Our Technology is so Wonderful, We Must be Wonderful Too

In fact, just the opposite has been true – as our technology has improved, we, as humans, have deteriorated.

The reason for this is simple, but one we cannot grasp – people are not machines, but every technology is. The difference between the two is profound, but one we are determined to ignore. We are determined to forget what being human once was. We seem to think humans are just inferior machines, and we are determined to become something better – super people, empowered by our super things!

Underneath this rosy conscious behavior, just the opposite is happening – we are destroying the world – including ourselves. We seem to have a built-in moral switch which can make us either good or bad – and one flip of this switch changes everything.

The idea of switches I got from linguistic theory. In the study of what makes the different languages different, they have discovered switches that send language development among the young down different paths. Small children, who are developmental geniuses, look for these switches in the unconscious process of learning a language.

It is not hard to discover periods in human history when people became evil and destructive – the two seem to go together. Morality is not just a matter of being nice – it is a matter of having a functional society. At present, we have become dysfunctional in a big, big way. If we could become aware of this, we might be able to fix it – but this is just what we are lacking: an overall awareness of what is really going on. We continue to focus on our technology – instead of on our selves – who we seem to have forgotten entirely.

This would be a good time to discuss the importance of mass man – who showed up, all of a sudden, along with all these marvelous technologies. Ortega y Gasset has noted the population explosion in the 19th Century that caused them. This is a fact, and no one disputes it. But no one, even Ortega, has accounted for the vast changes in human behavior involved – although he, and quite a few others who wrote about mass culture, have come close. Closing the gap, and simply noting our overall direction, is something few can manage. It is just too horrible to contemplate.

Figuring out how this happened doesn’t seem like such a difficult job to me – just put yourself into their shoes. There they were, overwhelming the world with their vast numbers. This had two effects – mass conformity and a determination to run the world their way.

First, mass conformity. Why this? It was herd mentality coming to the fore – part of our basic animal nature. Instead of developing their human nature – always tricky business – they did the easy thing, and reverted to their animal nature. This demanded total conformity in order to make themselves more powerful – acting like a vast machine with awesome political clout.

The second part – the determination to run the world their way, what Ortega call the Revolt of the Masses, was simply a class struggle for power, something Marx did a good job of alerting us to – although he missed the rise of the masses entirely – and like everyone else concentrated on the effects of industrialization. In a post-industrial world – the 20th Century – different things were happening, but the mass still remained, and were the force behind Fascism in all its forms.

The Nazis, along with Marketing in the Business world – who were much the same thing – discovered the power of propaganda to influence the masses. They could still feel they were in power, but they were not – any more than puppets on a string. With the advent of the computer/software/internet – something that only become strong after 1980, they had even less power – but even vaster illusions. Their consciousness, reinforced by Television – as McLuhan said, now encompassed the whole world. They (in this new incarnation) had truly become all-powerful!

But they also had lost the ability to control their world – and their ability to be.

Being Much Better Than Real

The major event of our era is our belief that we have discovered a new world, much better than anything that had existed previously. So much better, it doesn’t even exist in the real world – but in a world of its own.

Mankind has always wanted to be better than real, this is what religion is all about: a super-reality somewhere in the sky where the gods lived. And in communicating with these gods in various ways. For my family, this consisted on a new prophet of god, who revealed Him to us. We were Mormons (Missouri Mormons, not the Utah kind).

The followers of this prophet (Joseph Smith) wanted to be better than real themselves – an attitude which their neighbors did not appreciate – so much so they murdered their prophet. However, since all Americans now consider themselves better than real, this attitude does not seem so strange, but quite acceptable. The small matter of Joseph Smith himself can be easily overlooked.

Reality has always been a problem for us, because it was always telling us what we could do and couldn’t do – what we could be and what we couldn’t be. Very inconvenient – and not only that, but disrespectful of our exalted status as special beings. We resolved to get rid of it – and we did. We can now do whatever we want and be whatever we want; there is nothing to stop us.

Of course there is always some spoil-sport around (such as myself) who objects that reality is reality, and it cannot be circumvented. But we can be safely ignored. People will believe whatever they want to believe, and if everybody believes something, it is a good as real – or super-real, in this case. Why mess around with anything less?

I am tempted at this point to describe the process of how we got here – or at least my theory of how we got here. But I will save that for future postings – or perhaps for a book. Actually, it should be good for several books.

You Only Gotta Know One Thing

And that is this: where all the power is. If you don’t want to think in terms of power, think about money – they amount to pretty much the same thing. Who has all the money? And who has all the jobs?

For most Americans this question has no answer: jobs are just where they are, wherever you can find them. They are not accustomed to thinking in larger terms. But the world has moved on and larger things are now in charge. But they are perfectly happy being unknown and unknowable – while their hands are firmly on the steering wheel.

The last time anyone tried one of these larger analyses was Karl Marx – and I have friends who still stubbornly insist that he was right. They are wrong, dead wrong. Socialism has been a total failure.

Americans then assume that Capitalism, as a result, is a success. They are wrong too – as the most superficial analysis should show them. They don’t even know what it is – and renaming it the market economy hasn’t them any wiser.

A short historical review is in order. Eisenhower warned us against the military-industrial complex. This was strange, because it was on his shift that this happened – but he had the sense to realize its dangers. The military and its contractors had merged – and become the same thing, the same complex. This set the pattern for much that was to follow: merger after merger after merger.

A final technological development: the computer/software/internet made all this possible. Powerful people have always wanted to control everything – now they had their chance. They latched onto these tools and made them their own. The result was something that is obvious to me – but as far as I know, not to anyone else: the corporate complex – consisting basically of every organization there is: the military/industrial/government/media/educational/security complex – and more are added all the time.

This is right where I lose everybody: they refuse to admit that such a thing could exist. It is just too incredible and too scary to be real – and they run for safety at the mere thought of it.

But once you accept it, a lot of things make sense. For example, Obama’s behavior. He was elected as a savior of the American people – but has not acted that way. His behavior is clear enough to me: he is the savior of the corporate complex. Everything he does benefits it (with some diversionary maneuvers to provide some smoke screen).

This even applies to Costa Rica. After its revolution in 1947 it enacted strong social reforms, including good public schools and medical care. The complex, as it developed down here, has fought it ever since. The result was that private schools and colleges and hospitals have flourished – while the public ones have languished.

All that money could go only one place: in their eager, greedy hands.