Banks: 1, Society: 0

When squinting hard enough, society can be seen as the result of a trade-off in which a part of individual freedom is given up so that people could enjoy medicine, culture, transportation, entertainment, safety and all the other wonders society provides. Society, as all complex living systems, adapts to changing circumstances and available knowledge and could be said to evolve. Fundamentally, though, there is a positive feedback loop within society which causes it to veer violently off course, degrading overall quality of life in general and individual freedom in particular. This happens because in most modern societies (and I use the term “modern” in a rather pejorative manner), he who has more, gets more. In other words, all other things being equal, a rich individual can thrive and decide the fate of millions and a poor individual can die from poor quality drinking water.

This problem is all the more serious because there is no obvious point at which this process stops. In other words, the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer simply because the rich have more means at their disposal to take away from the poor. On the global scale the phenomenon is called the development continuum gap and is often measured using the Gini coefficent. Of course, it exists on all levels of social organization: from neighbourhoods to empires, covering everything in between. The problem is that as the rich and powerful (the two adjectives usually describe the same people) get richer, they exert more and more pressure on society’s other levers of power – for example, all levels of government – to achieve their goals more easily, as described very vividly in this video by (a talented young comedian and activist) Lee Camp. One possible consequence of this phenomenon is the evolution of societal control processes robust enough to devoid citizens of the capability to intervene and in effect make them slaves of the ruling few. (Actually, the worrying truth is that a ruling elite isn’t really necessary for people to be enslaved by society, but let’s put that aside for now.)

Hallmarks of this effort to control the masses are clearly visible daily all around us. Children are educated to work rather than to live (those who do not understand the difference should probably start worrying). Students are facing sharply rising cost of higher education. Democracies have been reduced to a choice of one of two faces with the same tight connections to corporate power, as huge amounts of money are now a prerequisite for office. A massive propaganda machine has been instituted to instruct us on how to live, what to desire, which idea to die for and to confuse and pollute or simply ignore important issues as much as possible. Media can make or brake a political candidate, and media ownership is, of course, concentrated in the hands of a few. Clowns like S. Palin, G. Bush and S. Berlusconi, I. Kirin are put forward as high ranking representatives to make citizens jaded and cynical and to avert them from taking any interest in political life…the list is really long.

The cream of the modern world – the ones contributing most to the direction society is heading in – goes under the name of the financial sector and in particular, banks. The unique capability built into banking by law is that banks are allowed to invent money at will, i.e. they can do business using non existing money. The immediate power of banks in that respect is such that banks basically control the value of money by expanding or contracting the amount of money in circulation. Savings, debt, export, import – these are all controlled by board members of key banks in a given region, with no obligation to answer to anyone for what they do. The practice of inventing money has repeatedly caused the annoying side effect of reducing a bank’s stability and pushing it and sometimes entire economies towards default. However, this proves not to be too much of an issue for bankers and the crisis of ’08. clearly showed why. It showed what “too big to fail” means: as a rule, banks are capable of forcing government’s hand to come to their rescue (if, indeed, governments aren’t already running to the rescue by themselves) by directly transferring money from taxpayers to banks. In effect, bankers are in a position where their profits increase the more risk they take selling non-existent money, but do not have to face the risk of bankruptcy. Ironically, the term “bankruptcy” (literally meaning broken bank) today seems to apply to everybody and everything except banks.

The most recent and alarming demonstration of banking power comes from a surprising direction: namely, publishing. Wikileaks – unanimously hailed as a great step forward for transparency and democracy all around the world, with the notable exception of the government of the USA – just announced that it would cease operations due to blocked funding. However, they do not have the usual problem with funding which is that no one wants to fund them: they have a very different problem. Because of the concentration of power in the USA, key money flows go through the USA and so all it took to cut of Wikileaks from funding was for Mastercard, VISA and Paypal to reject requests for transfers to their accounts. In effect, these organizations (mostly controlled by banks) control who gets to speak and what they get to say. People in power have managed to create a society that makes it possible for them to tolerate freedom of speech as long as it isn’t too loud or too critical of the system. When anyone oversteps their limits, steps are taken to paralyse the troublemakers and it is all done according to the law (not a big feat as they are the ones deciding what the law will be). This kind of control should be shocking to anyone who realizes that it (also) takes money to organize any kind of serious effort to meaningfully change society. The banking cartels behind Mastercard and VISA can make sure that when the stakes are high, meaningful change can be avoided.

We now live in a world where wave after wave of protests around the world see their edge blunted by propaganda, media blockades, deaf ears or the plain and simple need to survive. If you can force people to work 10-hour workdays 6 days a week to survive (as is the case, more frequently than not), it leaves people precious little energy and time to take an interest in matters of truth, justice and progress. If in spite of this someone does manage to scream an important truth loudly enough, well…political processes in the finest totalitarian manner can be mounted to drain their energy. Financial blockades will be put in place to prevent them from running a sustainable operation.

Ladies and gentleman, it is not at all clear that we haven’t already passed the event horizon.

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