In Defense Of An Unequal Society
There’s an true-ism that you’ll hear an awful-damn-lot when you’re talking about the evils of the Victorian British: “The belief was that, in a truly equal society, a rich man and a poor man both have an equal right to die of starvation in the street.”
When one describes modern capitalism to anyone from that period, they’d find too many similarities and too little progress made. To be fair, it’s only been a hundred and twenty years since Victoria was put in the ground, but in between we went from the horse drawn carriage to the space shuttle, from the earliest radios to Spotify, and from movable type to the internet. You’d think our conception of what to do about making a more equal society would have come a wee bit further than taxing the rich ‘a bit more’ while still allowing them abject and total control of nearly every aspect of our lives.
I wanna be clear on something - nothing I suggest in this article is meant to put forward the idea that American civilization can be saved or that there is something worth preserving in that civilization other than a memory of its mistakes. American civilization is cars and highway, it’s religious cruelty, it’s nationalist pride, and it’s pigheaded adherence to the notion that ‘We Are Number One’.
Incidentally to that, many of the things I’m going to say here apply to humanity in general. I don’t think China, India, or Russia are places whose civilizations deserve preservation for almost exactly the same reasons. Make a list of places whose governments have slid into apathetic authoritarianism and populism through democratic decay and these things will apply.
That headline is going to cost me readers, so let me move towards the point.
We should not live in an equal society if our economics are still based on a single medium of exchange. If we’re still gonna use something like a single-worth number to estimate value, our civilization must become wildly unequal.
How unequal, you ask?
If one makes a certain amount of money, they must lose all of their civil rights and protections. America - and every capitalist society - cannot survive if the wealthy can ever be safe or comfortable while the rest of society is unsafe or uncomfortable. Eventually those societies will collapse in a permanent boom-bust cycle which will lead to the demise of our species.
To that end, I propose :
The top 5% of society lose the right to vote or the right to serve in government, to hold any position of legal power, to represent themselves or anyone else in a court of law, or to lobby for any political change.
The top 1% lose any right to privacy. They are constantly monitored for criminality, their right to private enterprise is removed, and if criminality is found, they are pauperized. Their livelihoods are stripped, their ownership stakes in any property are liquidated by the state.
Sounds terrifying and authoritarian, right?
Goodness, what if it happened to me! That would be scary, wouldn’t it? To live in a society where you can be stripped of rights, properties, and priviledges for minor acts of criminal behavior sounds absolutely horrid, doesn’t it?
The good news is that 95% of you would never be rich enough for any of these penalties to apply.
In a society such as the one I described, these penalties only apply to the wealthy. Their responsibility to civilization is fulfilled, but so too is their ability to alter that civilization to fit their world views. Too many of the wealthy are sociopaths and too many have an outsized influence on the direction society will go. They are driving us to extinction.
Now, before we get to the questions of how, why, and wherefore I recognize the inherent impossibilities of this idea. Capitalism is about the oppression of those with less. It doesn’t function without that oppressive system because without oppression, people wouldn’t generally choose to participate in it. Oppressing those with more runs counter to every instinct in the capitalist mindset. Any system of this sort could only exist after a revolution and would likely find its own dystopian corners, but the direction we go now has no positive outcomes.
What is this proposition about, then? Why the waste of a few hundred words to say ‘This is a bad idea’.
Here’s a second proposition and it’s more of a statement of fact than a plan of action :
‘One-metric’ success is death.
There is a famous thought experiment in A.I. research which refers to creating a machine to make paperclips. If you give the A.I. one single goal - make paperclips more efficiently and in greater numbers - then you set yourself up for a nightmare scenario where said A.I. becomes more and more efficient at the making of paperclips until it has converted the entirety of the matter in the universe into paperclips and begun to potentially spill out into other universes.
If one only gifts such a being with a goal and not with any moral foundations or secondary metrics for success, then logically that being will continue to pursue that goal until either it is stopped by some outside force our it if impossible for it to meaningfully continue.
Capitalist economics makes money. Money is the only metric for success. When you hear of the horrors of capitalism and its boundless, senseless cruelties, what you are hearing about is the unbounded single metric intelligence. In this case, it’s many intelligences, all bent towards the same goal but with no programmed end point or date when success has been achieved.
If you gave the paperclipping A.I. a date to end making paperclips, there are two possibilities. One...it obeys and stops making paperclips on time. Two...it manipulates the fabric of space-time so the date in question never comes.
Capitalism is making dollars and cents, making numbers go up, but they do not measure human happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, or growth. Money as the metric for success only measures how much money someone has. It cannot even declare them to have succeeded; it can only declare they are successful and the goalposts of ‘successful’ are eternally in motion.
To create a new society where economics do reflect contentment, happiness, development, and human (or at least intelligent) success we cannot build it on single metrics. We must determine what it is humanity needs and focus ourselves towards the fulfillment of those metrics rather than creating abstractions or place-holders to convenience the powerful.
By the same token, if our sole and exclusive goal is to be ‘equal’ to one another, we will find ourselves with an equal right to sit in the doorways and alleys, to feel our bellies grumble, and to listen to the rain on our hovels while those who share equal right to our streets sit in towers and dine on caviar and quail.
Viva la revolución
- (our great writer) Cat