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Friday, February 11, 2011

What Writers Do by Shrinkrapper (RJ)

There is an interesting, though disturbing, article, “The Rise of the new Ruling Class and How the Global Elite is Leaving You Behind,” in the January/February issue of the Atlantic. The article is written by Christia Freeland, Global Editor-at-Large of Reuters news, according to Wikipedia, and formerly U S Managing Editor of the Financial Times. She reviews the enormous and growing discrepancy in income between the middle class and the world’s wealthiest people, pointing out that the latter are now a global elite who have much more in common with each other than with fellow citizens of their countries of origin. They have a hand on the entire rule-making-, legislative-, and financial-decision-levers of the world, and use this power to benefit their own quasii-nation first and the world as a whole second, or sometimes not at all.

Fortunately for the world—so far—this global cabal is a meritocracy in which many members have achieved their exalted status in their own life times, rather than inheriting it, as with nobilities of the past. Hence they still have memories of their own common origins and friends who are ordinary people; in other words they can experience empathy with people of the “masses.” Some, like Gates and Buffet, devote large portions of their wealth to doing good in the form of foundations for all kinds of human welfare.

That is not universally true. Some members of the elite have little sympathy for people struggling to survive. Influenced by writers like Ayn Rand they tend to believe that financial distress is primarily the fault of the victims; they didn’t do their homework to perceive the consequences of their lifestyle decisions. But, as there are increasing numbers in such straights Freeland sees a crisis looming in the growing estrangement between the immensely wealthy and the rest, concluding, “The lesson of history is that, in the long run, super-elites have two ways to survive: by suppressing dissent or by sharing their wealth. It is obvious which of these would be the better outcome….

There is a step left out in her line of reasoning, as she argues that the growing rage of the middle class must bring a confrontation with the two options above. I agree so far. We are seeing crises of this very sort playing out on the world stage as I write. Sharing the wealth, or the power, seldom comes from those who currently hold it. They must first exit the stage, which does not come easily. Holding most of the tools of violence, as they do, suppression is their usual first resort. When that fails, as we see right now, rioting, looting and chaos is the result. In order to succeed in overturning the old regime that violent energy must be focused by the would-be new leaders with a fresh Weltanschauung, a creative myth—if you will—that promises a better world from the new conception of reality. Visionary writers are the ones who create these new views: Tom Paine and the rights of man; Ayn Rand and individual freedom, especial for exceptional people; Karl Marx and the “fact” that value is created by the worker who shapes raw materials into useful objects. (To name a few of many possible examples.)

The thinkers creating the new concepts are writers; political/economic writers, novelists, science fiction writers, scientific writers and philosophers contribute to imagine realities beyond what is currently conceived. That is what writers do.

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