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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trump, O’Leary and the Sex Pistols

"There is nothing free about a marketplace in which over 90% of humanity’s wealth is amassed in the hands of 1% of its population. This is the free market in the last stages of terminal decline and ruin."
Phil Burpee
Phil Burpee, Contributor - Those of you sufficiently long in the tooth may well remember a little 1977 hit parade offering from England titled ‘God Save the Queen’ by probably the first, last and only true punk band, the Sex Pistols. Well, I might qualify that – there was D.O.A. out of Vancouver too, with Joey Keithly and the early line-up of Chuck Biscuits, Dimwit and Randy Rampage, but pretty much everything else after that was just an echo of the original thunder, except for the latter-day Pussy Riot who have righteously spewed the original fury. And fury it was. The kids couldn’t play the stuff on the radio anymore – high-end classical rock like Yes and Led Zeppelin and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and many more. Three-chord lyricism about real life with a solid back-beat had been replaced by techno-virtuosity, narcissism and big hair. It had to be smashed. Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious were the appointed agents of destruction. And let’s not forget to toss Maggie Thatcher and her war against the working class into the mix. For this is a political tale as well as a moral and cultural one.

     Let’s set some parameters. The Sex Pistols were a raging punk-rock band out of London with a sharp edge of satire and social justice and a hot hatred for liars and fools and pompous overlords. Donald Trump and Kevin O’Leary are self-interested oafs with compromised intellects and a penchant for vulgarity and crassness at every turn. The one is a lying and manipulative property tycoon and President of the United States. The other is a moderately super-rich vulgarian with an ugly take on the human condition who made a bunch of money flipping a mail-order study course business, and has since dined on venture-capital earnings and an in-your-face sneering celebrity – oh, and has recently developed an appetite for becoming leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

     So, you might ask? - so what? Well, the human condition is all about motifs – big swings and fads and mob arousals and mobilizations of money and power and ideas. Evolution, for instance, is a fundamental biological motif – random mutation followed by non-random selection. Revolution is a fundamental civilizational motif – not content to wait for evolutionary processes within society, human beings tend to rise in revolt periodically against malfeasance or repression or tyranny or just gross incompetence. Yet revolution, like war, is always a failure of civil society to properly regulate the sharing and disbursement of power and wealth. For power and wealth almost inevitably tend to accrue to an insular and ultimately self-interested plutocracy - a persisting and prevailing class of the rich and influential who go about ordering society in such a way as to assure their continued control of things. This has now devolved (devolution being another, usually negative, motif of human societies – a reversal of the forward tendency of evolution) into the now well-recognized death-grip of the 1%, whose appropriation of the common wealth of humanity has now achieved proportions so obscene as to beggar the wildest dreams of even the Emperors of Rome. The 1% have therefore stupidly and dunderheadedly created the perfect medium for revolt. And lo – revolt is underway, albeit an ugly and regressive form of it.

     Why then are our liberal democracies teetering so ominously these days? How shall things have come to be this way? In his day Johnny Rotten could see it quite clearly. He was a ragamuffin of the English working class and saw very well how the well-fed and well-bred plutocracy/kleptocracy was going about systematically punishing the poor for their poverty. Their champion in this endeavour was Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, whose roots as a grocer’s daughter, ironically, would forever prevent her from being a member of the ‘club’ of toffy-nose bluebloods who had managed to secure for themselves ultimate control of the deep state from the Magna Carta onwards. But she believed passionately that the ‘commons’ and the ‘common weal’ were an affront to her view of prosperity and social responsibility, and so went about demolishing both with an unquenchable vigour. She crushed the unions and gutted social programming and let the populace know that the only way they were going to get anywhere was by their own bootstraps, etc., etc. This might be a tolerably sane notion if there was indeed any chance whatsoever or people actually being able to manage that. But that’s not the way the dice roll, is it? Nope. Because when you convert social capital into monetary capital it very quickly rushes into the coffers of the fat-cats, and those who are least able to benefit from this release of capital owing to issues as diverse as physical disability, mental health, punishing mortgages, excessive university tuition, social strata, ethnicity, prejudice, sexism, family debt, and a hundred other hidden impediments, quickly begin to fall further behind until we reach a situation such as today when many citizens of the western industrialized world now reckon that the lives of their children will be both shorter and less successful than those of their parents – a situation entirely antithetical to the whole predicate of societal advance. They had a term for this in the second world war – fubar.

     It was not for nothing that Karl Marx titled his most famous work ‘Capital’. Capital, a fantastically loose term, is basically meant to define an available resource pool from which can be extracted a grubstake for the advancement of further enterprise. It can be human capital, monetary, organizational, infrastructural, even governmental. The only truly salient factors are its mobility and availability. It also only has viability as a social mechanism within a democratically-controlled state, because without some formal ability of a representational government to properly allocate and control the movement of this capital, it tends to go dead in the hands of the few – no longer available to the broader marketplace. This is what happens with state-capitalism – it amasses at the top and slowly grinds to a halt. Putin’s Russia is a fine example. So, alarmingly, is the globalized economy at large. Only instead of the state we have become indentured to the trans-national hyper-rich.

     Business is feeling the heat. Enterprise and entrepreneurialism depend absolutely on a pool of free capital within which those willing to invest effort and assume risk have a chance of succeeding in their endeavour. In the current economic climate, however, risk-aversion has infested the boardrooms and halls of power. Companies and corporations have become fixated on executive compensation, quarterly returns and servicing their shareholders, rather than freeing up profits for innovation and further capital enterprise. The result is that somewhere around 7 trillion dollars of essentially dead capital is being held worldwide by businesses too beholden to their bottom line and too philosophically constipated to realize that they are killing the very golden goose of their current success by stifling long-term investment in an evolving marketplace. Quarterly returns are a poor bulwark upon which to build a planetary economy able to withstand the tormented transition from a hydrocarbon-based global economy to one based upon renewable energy forms and truly sustainable wealth generation. And this brings us back to Trump, O’Leary and the Sex Pistols.

     Certain politicians blather on about ‘free enterprise’ and a ‘free market’ as though these were absolutes. They are not. There is nothing free about a marketplace in which over 90% of humanity’s wealth is amassed in the hands of 1% of its population. This is the free market in the last stages of terminal decline and ruin. Karl Marx, for all the excesses later attached to his ideas, noted very early on that capital tended to very quickly lose it freedom, and therefore its usefulness as anything other than an organ of personal wealth generation. Free enterprise cannot function within a purported free market when 7 trillion dollars are squirreled away outside of functional circulation. The machine is broken. Free enterprise can, in fact, only function within a regulated market wherein certain frameworks are set in place to see to it that the needs of society are seen to properly and adequately and that a finite pool of capital, both social and monetary, is allocated equitably and sensibly within the well-defined and well-understood constraints of long-term social, economic and environmental cost/benefit analysis. This does not include burning coal. Neither does it include enslavement to quarterly business cycles.


     The Sex Pistols took off the gloves and waded into a bare-knuckle fist fight. They didn’t have answers – they were kids and they were justifiably angry and found a way to vent that in the best way they knew how. But they howled with outrage, and rightly so. Trump and O’Leary are soft-palmed and ugly men. They are emblematic of the problem, entirely unequipped and morally incapable of addressing the profound problems of the day. They are arch short-termists in just the exact way that has landed us up in the mess we are in these days. They celebrate repulsive wealth as a norm, and exacerbate an already tendency for downtrodden peoples to give themselves over to blowhards and despots in vain hopes of being somehow delivered out of the exact sinkhole of misery into which they were delivered by just these sort of men in the first place.

     We are teetering on the brink these days. Right-wing nationalism is festering and bubbling throughout the western world. It is worth remembering that the traditional definition of fascism is the unholy confluence of Labour, Capital and the State. It is also worth remembering these simple tenets of a successful propaganda campaign as laid down by Joseph Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s propaganda wizard: -1. directly address the disgruntled masses. 2. target suitable scapegoats. 3. repeat simple themes over and over again. Sound familiar? He was of the belief that propaganda works best when those being manipulated are made to believe that they are acting on their own free will. And this is a point at which democracy itself can actually falter and fail. Because the masses, or what we delicately choose to call the ‘people,’ can be a dull-witted hulk under certain circumstances and all-too-easily made to act against their own best interests. For once autocracy has been achieved, even through a ‘democratic’ process, it quickly solidifies, and discretionary governance fades rapidly to become some hazily-remembered dream.

     In this country we can still quash the aspirations of such infantile pretenders as Kevin O’Leary. He should be made to look the clown that he is – emotionally-stilted and functioning at the level of a pre-pubescent brat. It’s too late down across the Medicine Line where a pre-pubescent brat now holds the go-switch to the world’s biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons. How did that happen? Easy. People were let down. We let the rich get away with everything and didn’t stop it soon enough. Working people got the shaft while the liberal classes dithered and fussed. And then Joseph Goebbels’ principles were set to work. Shockingly easy as it turned out.

     A liberal democracy should be just that – expansive, thoughtful, brave, enabling, inclusive, representative, egalitarian, nurturing, robust, principled, seeking the betterment of all, and always with an eye to the next generation. When this is lost the façade drops away with appalling speed to reveal the ugly little men wielding the levers and buttons of power. It is therefore our responsibility to look long and hard at the people who would govern us. As Premier Couillard of Quebec has recently reminded us – words matter. And this is not only to do with matters of hatred and scapegoating. For what is said also reveals the extent to which any public person is willing to lie to us – or willing to mould truth to suit the moment. Consider this – everybody knew Trump was a liar and a troll. But they still ended up thinking they were acting on their own free will. They weren’t, of course. They just got their buttons pushed. Or as the Sex Pistols would have had it: - 

“When there’s no future
how can there be sin?
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
We’re the poison in your human machine
We’re the future, we’re the future….”


Phil Burpee

Feb. 11, 2017

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