The recent revelation that 85 individuals have the combined net worth of 3.5 billion people confirms that we’re now living in a new Feudal age.
Just as in the old Feudal system a millennium ago where power was based on ownership of real property (land), so in the New Feudalism power is based on ownership of Intellectual Property (IP).
Feudal Lord Mark Zuckerberg
(image by M.I.C Gadget image from flickr, photo-edited by rob kall)
A case in point is Mark Zuckerberg’s achieving a net worth of $80+ billion in less than a decade by getting people to expose themselves to a universe of marketers and surveillance agencies.
When Steve Jobs died, Apple had $100 billion in cash on hand but was using slave labor in China.
A co-founder of Google fuels his private jet at taxpayer expense.
And nothing speaks to the extravagance of the digital elite more than their desire to embed themselves into silicon systems in a ‘Singularity,’ hoping to achieve immortality by 2040.
Tbe “Information Age” now seems largely controlled by those who know the price of everything, but see no value in what can’t be monetized.
And so it goes” too few with too much, and too many with too little. “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
If this is going to change — and it must, because the imbalances in our political and economic systems are unsustainable - we need to recognize that global wealth inequality and the digital revolution go hand in hand and feed off each other.
The mutual interests of Wall Street and Silicon Valley are creating an economy requiring a few highly-skilled ‘knowledge workers’ to write the algorithms for ‘smart machines’ that replace much human labor. And so the middle class — essential for a just and civil society — is dying before our eyes.
To distract them (us), we’re bombarded with ‘entertaining’ images of violence and salaciousness, to hold interest until ads come on to incite our greed and envy.
Meanwhile global e-finance creates instruments so complex they are beyond human comprehension, and as evanescent as pixels on a screen. You can become a hedge fund billionaire in five years if your router is faster by a nanosecond that anyone else’s.
With every heavily promoted ‘next new thing,’ cracks become wider. The Internet of Things (IoT) will connect everything to the Cloud. But there is little talk about the monumental energy requirements, never mind the risks of widespread crashing or hacking on a global scale.
Up to now, much digital technology has been about promoting the individual: personal computers, iProducts, personal ID numbers, MySpace” And we’ve loved it.
But now global civilization is moving from the natural, the analog, into a privately controlled digital world.
And a worst-case scenario is taking form: Innovation promotes automation (machines replacing humans). With diminished income, the unemployed or minimally employed are nevertheless constantly urged to consume, while at the same time under surveillance by increasingly paranoid elites in business and government. And if the economically disenfranchised take to the street, the regime deals very harshly with them (evidenced by the ferocity brought down on the Wall Street Occupiers).
It’s time for a grassroots educational program to raise peoples’ recognition of how the greatest communications revolution in history has been subverted to enrich and empower the few at the expense of the common good.
Time is running out. The Internet, which promised to be a great equalizer, may lose its ‘net neutrality,’ and become a sandbox for the wealthy only.
So, first we need to recognize the tight link between a morally barren global economic-political regime, and a technology imperative that refuses to acknowledge any values or ethics beyond “working to spec.”
Secondly, we need to rethink the nature of tools themselves. Technology exists to serve us; we’re not here to serve our tools. “Windows for Dummies” misses the point: the problem is with bloated code, not with the consumer.
We teach ‘the scientific method’ even in primary school. But we also need to develop programs in ‘technology literacy’ at an early age so people are more conscious of tools’ effects. (‘Technology literacy’ is not about teaching how to program software, but rather about raising awareness of how our machines program us.)
Tools are how we leverage limited human ability for maximum effects. There’ve been four stages in the development of leverage over time: of our muscles (the six tools of classical antiquity); our senses (the telescope and microscope that enabled the scientific revolution); our brains (current Information Technology); and a growing leveraging of soul force (Gandhi, Dr King, Mandela, etc).
So much of our tool use now is dedicated to the extremes of trivial ‘cool stuff’ or deadly ‘smart weapons.’ We do not need to abandon the many, obvious benefits of our new technologies. But we do need to find, urgently, a middle path in our silicon society between the extremes of trivial and deadly; one that honors the two gold nuggets of ancient wisdom: the golden mean (moderation) and the golden rule (compassion).
The Classical world understood that science was the method by which we discover the truths of nature. And technology was how we make beautiful objects and undertake good works. And they understood science and technology, when exercised in a value-driven context, are the means to beauty, truth and goodness.
For all the gee-whiz aspects of the digital revolution, it’s time to reintroduce common sense and a sense of the common good to end this new Feudal order, non-violently, and replace it with a new Renaissance that - I know from personal encounters - was the intention of the people who started this revolution all those years ago.
Tom Mahon has been writing about technology for 40 years, most of that time from Silicon Valley. See www.reconnectingcalm.com and www.facebook.com/occupytechnology .
2014, Tom Mahon
Excellent piece. I love when people see answers as well as the problems.