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The road to the future
The 40th Letter of an Autonomous Thinker



Amsterdam, November 3 2003

Dear reader, 

Humans distinguish themselves from all other living beings because they can learn from the past, experience the present and dream about the future. To apply what they have learned, experienced and dreamed on the road to the future is one of the most important things they can do in the not yet hundred years they live. How society will exactly be organised over two or three hundred years is only academically interesting. The practical road towards a future situation is more human than discussions about a far future that may never be realised.

Human life is movement from one situation to another. Humans petrify when they remain too long in one and the same situation, they lose their creativity, they lose what makes humans human. To travel from one place to another is more interesting than to reach a vague and fairly unknown destination. Far away places can often hardly be described from a distance but on the road to the unknown the traveller gets already a glimpse of what can be expected. The political future is even more difficult to predict. How society will then be organised is better left to people who live then. But in our lifetime we can cover part of the road towards the future. On this road we can already consciously introduce elements that should belong to a different and more agreeable future.

I expect that in the future humans will be freer. Now they are fenced in but they can liberate themselves when they take the right road to the future. This road should be paved by a new kind of temporary minority organisations of active, interested, independent, autonomous and involved masspeople who will act on the time, the place and about the subjects they choose. Then people will change their attitude and will become more autonomous and independent. This cannot be achieved by education alone but has to be inserted in human nature (and the human mind) by practical activities. By the way, by introducing the importance of minorities I distance myself from democratic ideas that are based on majorities, not in the least because I think democracy is a dead end. Democracy will lead to alienation and petrifaction, to a society in which people have even less to say than in the past when democracy gave people hope they could free themselves from the arbitrary rule of the leading class.

People are not isolated individuals and should have contact with other people on just those subjects in which they are involved and interested. Because the interests of people are changing over time small groups of activists will be formed for a restricted period of time. In this way the autonomy of the group and the participants will be safeguarded. The present political organisations continue to exist for a long time and ordinary members are dependent on what leaders tell them. Deviations from established ideas are hardly permitted and others decide when, where and about what people may become active.

Even in ordinary life temporary groups should be dominating. Not the family must stand central in society but temporary groups that have limited goals. I only write about political goals but the development that marriages more and more appear to become temporary connections between independent humans is already widely experienced and excepted.

To determine which road has to be taken and which characteristics must be strengthened on the way to the future we have to consider the past and the present, analyse how society is up till now organised and think about how a new and different future should look like. But most of all we have to take into account the possibilities of the human mind and of the human existence. I will bring some points forward that I find of importance. Other people can advance other aspects but all characteristics will originate in the basic feeling that the present society is not ideal and that freedom to live one’s own life is too much restricted by mighty and often anonymous people.

Our world is divided into two separate entities, an eliteworld and a massworld. There is a great distance between the two and most misery and suppression is found on the massworld. The eliteworld is more prosperous, the inhabitants freer and elitepeople are driven by the idea to safeguard their privileged position of more power and wealth and to leave this position to their progeny. The masses that live on the densely populated massworld have hardly any future to live for, their first goal is to survive. Most elitist conflicts take place on the massworld and most damage in wars and economic conflicts is inflicted upon the masses. When the economic situation deteriorates, masspeople may fall from the massworld, elitepeople that fall down are saved by the massworld that can be found beneath the eliteworld.

Elites have dominated humanity for many centuries. Gaetano Mosca spoke at the end of the 19th century of the circulation of elites, I prefer to say that there exists one nearly eternal elite that renews itself by new blood from the massworld. To be accepted this new blood must however to a great height accept the rules and customs that are already present in the eliteworld. In this way the power position (and the privileges) of the elite is continued and safeguarded through the ages. The development in the United States, the Soviet Union and China where complete new elites came into power confirms this idea because after some time these elites were hardly distinguishable from old elites.

The coming into existence of democracy did not change the balance of power between elite and masses. The system was an improvement of other methods to organise society because old democratic countries are still more prosperous than the rest of the world. Though the general prosperity increased the prosperity of the elite increased even more. In most parts of the world misery is however still rampant. A slight downturn in the economy forces many masspeople to move nearer to the edge of their world and the chance to fall down into death and oblivion increases. The Asian Financial Crisis brought misery to the masses while the elite was hardly affected.

The present situation is shocking.
- A billion people live in shantytowns.
- Many other masspeople are not living in houses in which they can develop an independent mind.
- One billion children live in poverty.
- Tens of millions of people are still dying from hunger while food is abundantly available.
- The position of half of the worlds’ population, women, is in important parts of the world abominable.
- Illiteracy is widespread and the general standard of education is far below what people may expect of a decent society.
- Health problems in the Third World, and not only because of the AIDS-problem, are appalling.
- Billions of people still live on less than a few dollars a day.
- In many Third World countries (and nearly only there) devastating wars are being conducted.
The future is not bright.
It is time for a change.
It is time to look for other roads to advance humanity.

This new road will be long and a better world is still far off. The power relations between elite and mass did not change fundamentally over the ages and can thus never be changed in a fortnight. The minds of elitepeople as well as of masspeople, of rulers as well as of ruled, of dominators as well as of dominated can only become more equal and free over a long period in which more and more (mass) people become active. And they have one overwhelming and human purpose: all people should have right on an equal status because all are member of the human race (see Francis Fukuyama).

Only movement can disturb the petrified power relations. Yes indeed petrified relations. Humanity has suffered greatly in the past because the elite held on to its privileged position while the political situation asked for a change. Life-long dominance (being dominated and dominating others) is contrary to human nature but promoted and preserved ancient social structures. By the way structures are dead entities and are only wheelbarrows for (powerful) living humans that want to realise their private benefits, to safeguard their privileged positions and to give this power and prosperity through to their progeny. It is not enough to change dead structures it is imperative to change (the minds of) living people. Otherwise comparable divisions as between the present elite and mass will reappear in the future.

In former times many societies petrified, went down and vanished. Mandarin China, the Roman Empire and the Islam World stopped being the most developed societies. The petrifaction of Roman Catholic institutions and the Catholic leadership caused the rise to power of Protestants. When freedom, individuality, autonomy and creativity are being suppressed, society will die.

The proposed activities of masspeople do not fall from the sky. Quite often masspeople unite for a short time to pursue a single objective. Success is however most of the time very small if any. Activities are mostly directed against dead objects as governmental or industrial buildings. Clashes in the street involve only demonstrators and police officers that all live on the massworld. The rulers that use the structures to preserve their rule are hardly influenced by people that demonstrate in front of their workplace. Actions are often controlled by leaders of big organisations as trade unions, NGO’s or political parties that have a comparable hierarchical power structure as the rest of society. Freedom and creativity of individual activists can hardly be found and certainly not blossom. Organisations that control actions are lead by people who do not want to lose their relative powerful position and do all to prevent that still more powerful people threaten the benefits they get from their higher position in society.

Already more than a hundred years ago Roberto Michels advanced the Iron Law of Oligarchy by which original free mass organisations transform in organisations that control the masses. The history of trade unions, the development in France after the French Revolution or in the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution are clear indications that this kind of organisations give only limited advantages to the masses. A strict hierarchy prevents the free development of humans and leads in the end to petrifaction. It is not strange that in 1989 the petrified Eastern European regimes disappeared after the sudden and unpredictable Fall of the Berlin Wall.

What to do on the road towards a new future must not be inspired by an utopian picture of a new world. Activities must in the first place be based on the idea how humanity in general and individual humans in particular can better use their unique characteristics as creativity, independence and autonomy. It must be based on the idea that all humans must reach the equal status that is embedded in their membership of the human race.

The present social organisation is based on power. The elite can only maintain its privileged position because it possesses a surplus of power. So activities must be directed at the undermining of the unequal balance of power and against the division of the world in two parts, a massworld and an eliteworld. When masspeople advance on the road towards the future they will better realise what a society of the future will look like. But it can never be predicted when this point will be reached. When the conditions are ripe one small action can, according to the mathematical Chaos and Catastrophe Theories, (see The Scarists) cause a catastrophe. Then a new situation will come into being in which people see old facts on a new way (free after Thomas S. Kuhn). Then humanity will enter a new phase in its development that is now threatened by petrifaction. A catastrophe and a temporary chaos will open new roads to unknown but interesting futures.

But what exactly can those temporary minority groups do? How can the petrifying situation be turned around? When we realise that the present hierarchical society is preserved by the power of the elite the target is clear: people from the elite that live in a distant and safe place that is called the eliteworld. The use of power is now one-sided and directed from elite- to massworld. It is all top-down, what for example is expressed in the monopoly on the use of violence by the state that is one of the instruments by which the elite maintains its privileged position. The same is true for communication. The elite has a firm grip on the media and alternative news is hard to come by. All news is seen from the ideas and the interests of the elite.

Because power is very closely connected to violence (and wealth) it should be clear that activists should also use some violence in their actions. It must however be a special kind of violence that largely remains within the limits of the present society. An imprisoned massperson cannot exercise any pressure on elitepersons. Moreover it must be avoided that the elite can use organisations of mass restriction (police, army) that for the greater part consist of masspeople. Then the struggle will become a struggle between different parts of the masses. It should be a struggle between parts of the masses against parts of the elite. Attacks must only be directed at elitepeople and any attack on masspeople must be avoided. I first called this method Small Violence but changed the name later to Creative Disturbance because it is aimed to disturb the eliteworld on which elitepeople can live their own quiet life far from the world of the masses..

Small minority groups are tiny parts of the immense massworld where billions of people live. It cannot be expected that such small groups achieve huge results on their own. When many groups are active at the same time life becomes a sequence of ever different projects in which masspeople are consciously involved. Because of the constant pressure from the massworld in the direction of the eliteworld, from masspeople on elitepeople, small successes will occur. Elitepeople will sometimes change their attitude or even withdraw from the active pursuit of elitist goals. This will encourage masspeople and they will see that the future is bright when they become more active. The present action methods suppress human individuality and many activists have become so disappointed that they withdrew from politics and never again took part in any political activity.

That is not right, people should remain political active. They should have the intention to disturb, to move and to shake society in such a way that petrifying is not possible. The minds of the elite must be disturbed in such a way that they are not capable to concentrate on the only purpose they have had up till now, the preservation of the privileged position of the elite. And because the minds of the elite are embedded in the bodies of elitepersons, actions must take place in those places where elitepersons are most at ease, in and near those places where elitepeople live, in their private surroundings, in the eliteworld. When the eliteworld is shaken, when it is not any more the quiet world on which elitepeople can live undisturbed and far from the havoc they have created on the massworld, the effect of the actions will become clear. When the elite has to spend more time at directly defending its living space, the living place of the masses, the massworld, becomes freer. The elite will then have fewer possibilities to control the massworld and the masspeople. The separate eliteworld will begin to disappear.

By the way it is not the intention to replace the old elite by a new one. In our complicated society things have to be organised. When we want to build an aeroplane some co-ordinating people, you may call them leaders, must have the overall view of the production. These people must however never get such power that their decisions become in the first place inspired by the interest of the small elitist and privileged group to which they belong. The interests of all people have to be taken into account. In regard to property rights the present policy is elitist. Music is made by artists and consumed by consumers who all belong to the massworld. Some money has to stream from consumers to artists. But music producers want to earn as much money as possible even when they do not contribute much to the transport of music from artists to consumers. Internet provides a reliable method to get cheap music that excludes the music industry. Because the music industry is in the hand of members of the elite, the judiciary, also in the hands of elitepeople, tries to stop any cheap transport of music from artists to consumers that will make most of the music industry obsolete. It is clear that some action has to be undertaken, action that in the first place benefits masspeople interested in cheap music. The tycoons of the music industry and the supporting elitepeople of the judiciary will however not change their policies when they are not pressurised by those people that are interested in cheap music. And the biggest pressure takes not place in the courtroom but in the safe living quarters of the elite, on the eliteworld.

To change the minds of elitepeople I propose that creative minority groups apply Creative Disturbance (see Chapter 19 of About Violence and Democracy). I propose that masspeople act in such a way that the mighty though petrifying eliteworld becomes disturbed. Because the chaos theory learns that a small disturbance can lead to a big change, society will not go down but will again begin to vibrate. A new world will come into being in which the divisions between leaders and lead, between rulers and ruled will have disappeared. But how this new world exactly will look like cannot be predicted. It will only be clear that the division of the human living space in two worlds, a mass- and an eliteworld, will cease to exist. Then humans become freer, more creative and more autonomous, they will become able to develop to an ever higher level those characteristics that uniquely belong to the human race.

Thomas S. Kuhn (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, University of Chicago Press, second edition 1970.
Roberto Michels (1911). Les Partis Politiques, Flammarion, 1971.
The title of the English edition is: "Political Parties", Free Press 1949.
The title of the original work was "Zur Soziologie des Parteiwezens in der modernen Demokratie - Untersuchungen über die oligarchischen Tendenzen des Gruppenlebens", Alfred Kroner Verlag Stuttgart.
Gaetano Mosca (1890). The Ruling Class - Elementi Di Scienza Politica. Arthur Livingston, 1939.
Francis Fukuyama (2002). Our posthuman future - Consequences of the biotechnical revolution. Penguin Books, 2003.

Yours truly, Joost van Steenis

PS. This article is also published in "The Journal of Future Studies",
 

See also the 47th Letter: The future is needed in actions.

 

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41. Change not improvement
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