Throughout London and the rest of England we have witnessed, in recent days, widespread riots, violence and looting. The 2012 Olympic city, and many other cities around the country, have been on fire.
The rioting was initially sparked by the fatal shooting of a man by police. The rapidity with which the violence spread is proof enough, however, that unrest in Britain has been bubbling below the surface for some time.
If we are not to fall either into fear or reactionary, revolutionary tendencies ourselves, however, we need to be able to see the situation clearly and in its full context.
And if we are able to look at it in such a light we will observe the way in which violent social unrest sits at the opposite extreme to violent social structures.
The primarily young men who are currently engaged in these acts of lawlessness are speaking something in their actions. And what they are speaking is uttered in a language born from the experience of extreme social subjugation, inequality and competition.
This does not condone their actions, of course. Yet, if we are even to attempt to come closer to a society which could be called healthy, we need to have the courage to view the situation in its totality, including underlying systemic problems.
And what we can observe, without even digging too far, is that all previous speaking out of and about an unhealthy social order has fallen on deaf ears. The voices of those affected – and that is, ultimately, all human beings – has not been heard.
From protests against Britain’s massive cuts to social services and the public sector, as well as increased fees for university education, to the obvious collusion between politicians, police and the media currently under investigation as part of the Murdoch news group scandal, there has been no shortage of outcry.
People have raised their voices and yet nothing has significantly changed, increasing a feeling of complete powerlessness. So some turn to violence in order, consciously or otherwise, to be heard – and they will be heard, though the deeper message of their speaking will be lost.
For, essentially, what is being voiced during these days and through protests over recent months, albeit in different ways, is the speaking out of people against a social system in which it is no longer possible to find the human being.
Much has been enacted across the globe in recent months and years in the name of ‘austerity.’ This is an interesting word. Essentially, it means strict or severe. In the past it has been connected more to the moral sphere – to cultural and spiritual life – which then in turn affects the rest of our actions and the rest of society. Now the word finds a home in economic activity and moves, in a way, in the opposite direction, affecting, ultimately, our moral, cultural and spiritual development.
Austerity comes as a kind of ultimate and fatal Trojan Horse in the battle playing itself out in social life. For what we are finding within its husk are the hidden armies of ongoing and extreme wealth redistribution – a redistribution from the many to the handful. In the name of austerity we are witnessing, around the world, capital continuing to flow into the hands of a smaller and smaller number of elite individuals.
This, of course, is relatively obvious on the global level, but it requires a little more work to acknowledge it also in places such as the USA and Britain. Economic austerity is a kind of final straw for the many individuals who have suffered under the weight of an already unhealthy and violent social structure.
And yet, what is needed is not that we arm ourselves with weapons, but with the right kind of pictures for the creation of a social organism worthy of the human being.
There have been interesting scenes in the London area of Clapham following the rioting. Residents have come together with brooms and plastic bags in order to clean up the trail of destruction caused by the violence. This is reminiscent of some of the moving scenes following recent natural disasters in New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere. In such deeds we see human beings coming together in communities in order to help one another in creative ways. The Mayor of London thanked them for their work and said that this was the real stuff that London was made of.
While yes, this may be what London is made of, it – like the rest of the country, like the rest of the world – is also made of much more. We must have the courage to be honest at such times – we must strive to face the whole situation. And if we do so, we will see the need to not only come together to sweep and clean the streets following the riots, but to also completely clean up the social structures which have created such unliveable conditions for the human being around the world.
What we are seeing taking place in England – the birthplace of the industrial revolution – and around the world, is essentially the culmination of a social structure that has, for decades, increasingly put itself in service of economic activity. Modern economic life arose with great force from centres like England and the USA, and instead of being carried benevolently and associatively around the world, has ultimately carried its darker side of extreme competition in the form of elite globalisation.
This kind of one-sided economic activity has become a kind of mechanical beast – a kind of steel dragon which has been devouring both other realms of social life – polity and culture – and with them, the human being. This dragon has now spread its wings beyond national boundaries – for it is economic in essence, and knows no national borders – turning the world cold and frozen as it blots out the sun. We are living in the shadow of such activity every day. Social life has been frozen and devoured, and the human being with it. Many individuals and places around the world have felt its effects for many years, and now it has returned to its birthplaces of the USA and the UK – has returned, in a way, to its lairs, with its plundered treasures hidden in the bank accounts of a rare few. (Ultimately, however, whoever it may apparently seem to benefit, the dragon itself will be left as the only true victor.)
Governments around the world have, to varying degrees, put themselves in service of such one-sided economic activity. Rather than following a guiding star of equality – not only equality before the law, but also equality in the creation of laws – an ongoing and systemic practice of inequality has instead been practiced by most governments. This is a kind of democracy which has yet to find its own potential.
Yet, the finding of any potential, for the individual or society as a whole, can only be found through an enlivened and free cultural life. However, cultural life is, at the same time, being strangled by numerous hands. Excessive government regulation is one hand – the over regulation of education, for example. Another is austerity, whether implemented by government or business. The other, finally and to a lesser extent, it suffers at its own hands – from its tragic disconnection from actual life – certain academic research is one such example.
Seen more clearly, then, social life as a whole also presents itself to the human being as a hideous caricature of its own potential – a strange, lopsided monster. It is a monster that is heavy and mechanical in its limbs, is unequal and distorted in its chest, and is dry, strangled and starved in its head. It is a monster, sadly, created by the human being in a misguided understanding of what it actually means to be human. We have created society in our own likeness, misguidedly, and now it is devouring us.
Yet the human being is so much more than this – so much more than a material, mechanical being. The real question that therefore comes knocking on our door – nay, burning our doors and even houses down – at this period in world evolution is, Do we have the courage necessary to see not only the current social situation in the right light, but also ourselves?
The sweeping and cleaning must not end at the street – it must extend to the social structures we have created, but it must also, simultaneously, take place within the human being. We must find all the necessary courage to clean from ourselves the kind of unhealthy thinking, feeling and willing that result in the social disease and unrest that now confronts us from without.
We must find the strength to create a social system worthy of the true nature of the human being while, at the same time, consciously bringing this true nature more and more to realisation. Only freedom – not choking subjugation, nor the moral austerity of yesteryear – only freedom is appropriate for spiritual and cultural life today. Freedom from government and economic control. Freedom in the spiritualised thinking activity necessary to see the world as it is – both its material manifestation and its inner, guiding, impulses – and then placing such observations in service of actual social life. This includes the necessary renewal of political and economic activity.
Government, in such a way, can take up its true democratic task, shrinking in its current activities, yet rising to its true task of ensuring equality for all in the life of rights. Economics, far from devouring the rest of social life and the human being in extreme Social Darwinism, now picks up its actual and economically lawful task of working associatively – producers, consumers and distributors working together – in order to meet real human needs. Profits not needed for the further growth of such activity can then be made available as necessary gift money to cultural life for it to do with it as it sees fit, with government regulating and assisting in this flow.
Here we have the foundation for a new form of governance worthy of the lawful tasks of each realm of social life, as well as the human being. No longer governance by government alone (with economy pulling all the puppet strings), but a threefold governance with business representing an associative economic life, government representing an equal political life, and civil society representing a free spiritual-cultural life. Three autonomous yet interdependent realms separated and brought together in the right way – similar to the autonomous yet interdependent working of systems within a healthy human organism.
In such a way as this will we shape a social life which no longer appears before the human being in a hideous and lopsided manner ready to devour it (as Frankenstein was devoured), but in a way that takes on the proportions of the true human being. A free thinking activity able to see reality in its wholeness – thinking imbued with impulses flowing from objective spiritual life – enlivening and flowing through the whole organism. A balanced and equal feeling life able to connect with other human beings in a rhythmical way for the formation of agreements necessary for life on earth. And an associative willing life that works together with other human beings to meet genuine needs.
We do not have to invent anything new. Nothing here strives for the abstract or the impossible. All we need lies ready at hand. Business, government and civil society are already in existence, as are our own thinking, feeling and willing. All we need do is have the courage to recognise everything’s objectively lawful task within the larger organism out of its essential, spiritual character, and then transform it accordingly. Business must stand up for an associative economic life, government for an equal rights life, and civil society must recognise its cultural power and stand up for its own free and relevant spiritual, cultural force.
Every human being – and what takes place between human beings – becomes the site, thereby of new civilisation. We make of ourselves creators of the world which seeks to be, in us, and we make of the world a home necessary for the further development of the human being. We thereby overcome the cold and freezing forces of structural violence on the one side, and the burning, violent forces of reactionary revolution on the other. We create, instead, through health and through warmth, a middle ground of truly human activity for a truly human world. We create the civilisation that is longing to be, with the human being in us who is longing to create it.
We cannot wait for the rest of the world to be engulfed by flames before we act. The materials are at hand. The plans are laid already in the world and in each one of us. We must step into the free and creative spiritual human beings we already are and are destined to become, offering our capacities and gifts to the world according to our individual tasks, in whatever field of social life we find ourselves. We must overcome this social freeze and join together, not in a way in which our individualities are lost (reactionary violence), but in a such a way that we are able to support the full unfolding of one another’s unique capacities and gifts. We shall then find ourselves within communities of individuals who strive to help one other to become free, simultaneously building a social organism that will support our own and the world’s necessary becoming.
 “Last year alone, the combined fortunes of the 1000 richest people in Britain rose 30 per cent to £333.5 billion” (Mary Ridell: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/no-jobs-no-future–a-human-catastrophe-waiting-to-happen-20110809-1iku9.html#ixzz1UbVHtBOu). While, as a guide, in the USA, for example, in 2007 the top 1% of all income earners made 23.5% of all income, which is more than the entire bottom 50% of earners (see: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o meter/statements/2010/dec/10/bernie-s/bernie-sanders-viral-speech-says-top-1-percent-ear/)