Re-Establishing Altruism As A Viable Social Norm

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Feelings of powerlessness are a highly correlated with both stress and depression. Sadly, more and more people feel this way about their lives. Is this an inevitable result of technology or globalization, or capitalism? What can people do who are afflicted by such feelings?

"The power of determined people armed with a moral cause is, I believe, "the ultimate power"."     Howard Zinn, 2003

Pyramids have a broad base, which narrows upwards to a sharp point at the top. Power structures in a hierarchical society follow the same model; a select few at the top command a large number of underlings. It is no accident that traditional family and locality sized organizations are being replaced by pyramidally structured organizations. The information age has brought new economies of scale that favour such large organizations, and control and monitoring technology increases their potential size. Wherever such hierarchies are used to organise activity, the vast majority will be taking orders given them by a tiny elite.

The promise of electoral power held out by the word 'democracy' is belied by the reality of the electoral process in most nations of the 'developed' world. In US, for example, before the 2000 election, about 75% of US population felt that the election had 'nothing to do with them at all'. US election fraud may be atypical, but such disaffection with the political process is not, particularly in highly corporatised nations. It reflects what the public relations industry refers to as a 'Philosophy of Futility' - a carefully nurtured worldview in which people no longer see themselves as active agents, merely as passive consumers, subservient vassals dependent upon on the socially constructed power hierarchy.

'Free markets and democracies' claim to empower people by offering them choice as consumers and voters. However, the populations of the countries most actively proposing them are suffering a growing sense of powerlessness.

In centuries gone by, young people in the US were steeped in a spirit of independence and resourcefulness necessary to manage an independent livelihood. Nowadays, however, the corporate economy makes different demands. A range of pressures such as targeted advertising and mass compulsion schooling produce dependent, incomplete people. Often they are so depressed that their ambitions go no higher than getting a 'good job', a euphemism which often refers to salary only, not loftier ideals such as community service or family loyalty.

The more we automate decisions, the less input any humans have on them. Especially impoverishing is the habit of applying a market framework, since this inevitably gives priority to the wishes of the wealthiest in society. Within this framework, people's widespread feelings of powerless are appropriate. The young especially, however, are breaking out of this trap. Rejecting short-sighted and individualistic notions of competition, they and coming up with alternative ways of organizing their actives, currently off the radar of mainstream media.

Some events, such as global warming and ecological collapse mankind may in fact be powerless to stop. Socially defined power, however, is nothing but a shared illusion, a suspended disbelief that is subject to rapid change without warning.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."     Margaret Mead

Understanding feelings of powerlessness is a large step towards overcoming them. Sharing them with others is another big step. History is full of examples of ordinary people who started by connecting with like minded friends and neighbours to share their concerns, and went on to change the world. They realized that powerlessness was a state of mind only.

Disillusionment is setting in worldwide about the true intentions of most of our political and economic leaders, and about the prospects of a globalised high tech economy which serves the many as well as the few. We believe that conditions have never been brighter for a radical alternative to the money-centred, competitive society that is causing so much suffering.

The increasingly desperate efforts being made to promote fear in them are helping awaken a currently silent majority. If the majority of people would rather structure their affairs using truth and love, we do not believe that lies, fear and ever more exaggerated claims of power will stop them. A silent majority is only as powerless as it is silent.

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