All our systems are built to elevate viciousness
There’s a scene in The Usual Suspects where Kevin Spacey tells the fable of the mysterious Keyser Soze and how he became a crime lord.
“One story the guys told me, the story I believe, was from his days in Turkey,” he says. “There was a gang of Hungarians that wanted their own mob. They realized that to be in power, you didn’t need guns or money or even numbers. You just needed the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t.”
Spacey’s character describes the way the Hungarians came after Soze and his family to take over his drug dealing business, but the viciousness with which they did so was no match for the viciousness they are met with.
“Then he showed these men of will what will really was,” Spacey says, describing the way Soze kills his own family and then wipes out the families and friends of the entire Hungarian gang.
And what’s funny is if you carefully watch the way power moves in the world, you will see that this is pretty much how it works. The most vicious among us are elevated to the top, because all our systems are built in a way which elevates viciousness.
The US empire is able to dominate the world exactly because it has “the will to do what the other guy wouldn’t.” Whenever I lay out my evidence that the US is the most tyrannical regime on earth, I’ll get someone conceding that this is true but arguing that the US only behaves that way because it is the most powerful. Any other government with the power of the United States would behave with the same amount of viciousness or worse, they argue.
And I always tell them that they’ve got it exactly backwards. The US isn’t uniquely vicious because it is the world’s most powerful government, the US is the world’s most powerful government because it is uniquely vicious.
The United States put an exclamation point at the end of the second world war by dropping two nuclear bombs on Japan, not because it needed to (it didn’t), but because it wanted to intimidate the Soviet Union. It then immediately launched into a succession of new wars and strategic operations of astonishing viciousness with the goal of eventually becoming the global dominator. It achieved this at the fall of the USSR, after which it immediately instituted a policy of working to ensure that no rival superpowers ever develop and began working toward “full spectrum dominance” of the land, sea, air, and space. All of the major international conflicts of our day are the direct result of these policies.
None of the people driving the imperial power structure which rules over us are in their positions because of their wisdom or kindness. Oligarchs get to the top of their corporate and financial ladders by being willing to step on whoever they need to step on to get ahead. Military strategists get to their positions by demonstrating an aptitude for military domination. Intelligence officials get to their positions because they understand how to facilitate the interests of the oligarchic empire. Politicians get to the top by displaying a willingness to serve imperial power.
And this principle tracks from the top down through the rest of our entire society. The only valuing system we have for human behavior is money, but what human behavior does money value? Competitiveness makes money. War and militarism make money. Ecocide makes money. Sickness makes money. Finite commodities make money. The entanglement of corporate and state power makes money. Propagandizing people into believing they need more than they have makes money.
What doesn’t make money? Kindness. Collaboration. Peace. A thriving biosphere. Health. Psychological well being. Political transparency and integrity. Decisions made to benefit the whole. Sources of energy that can’t be controlled by the powerful. Abundance. People being content with what they have.
Money has no wisdom. The “invisible hand” of the free market will never value the better angels of humanity.
Pharmaceutical companies have a vested interest in the valuing of treatments over preventions and cures. The arms industry has a vested interest in inflaming hostilities between nations. Ecocidal industries have a vested interest in ensuring that they remain able to rape and pillage our planet without legal intervention while offloading the cost of the consequences to the public. Monopolistic corporations have a vested interest in intertwining themselves with government power to protect themselves from antitrust cases.
Everything we ache for our world to be — the way we know it ought to be deep down in our heart of hearts — is subverted by the systems we have in place, which are all geared toward taking it in the exact opposite direction.
The world will never know peace as long as war is profitable. The world will never know health as long as sickness is profitable. The ecosystem will never thrive as long as ecocide is profitable. We will remain ruled by tyrants for as long as our systems elevate tyranny.
To have a healthy world, we’re going to need systems in place which elevate health instead of viciousness. Until then the gravitational pull of those systems will continually steer us toward dysfunction. Hoping we can move toward peace and harmony without changing those systems is like stepping off a cliff and hoping you don’t fall.
We need to move from competition-based models to collaboration-based models. Systems which value working in collaboration toward the greater good, both in collaboration with each other and with our ecosystem. Until we do, we’ll fall every time.
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