Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Message to the Billionaire Ruling Class

Hey, congratulations, rich guys. You’ve made more money than you could possibly ever spend. Most of you are content with that, but a few of you are not. Some of you, instead of using your money to do good deeds and champion genuine progress,  are way off in the opposite direction. By that I mean using your wealth and power to force your self-centered worldview on the rest of us.

The truth is most billionaires - in fact most people who have more than a million or two in assets - are not part of the political hardball being played by a small group of bankers, corporatists, and billionaire psychopaths who behave like greedy thugs.

Being rich is a wonderful thing for those who are grateful for their good fortune, and are willing to give high priority to the common good.  Wealth also offers those who are so blessed an opportunity to be leaders and heroes, who want a future for the Earth that is worthy of our species.

The Gates Foundation, in the name of Bill and Melinda Gates, and to a lesser extent Warren Buffet, has applied billions of dollars to some of the world’s most pressing problems.  But even Bill and Warren, with all the good that they do, are playing both ends against the middle.  Both are substantially invested in the continued massive consumption of coal and oil.  

Journalist Naomi Klein’s most recent book, This Changes Everything, exposes the dualistic thinking that certain high profile billionaires keep hidden behind their polished public images.  They may genuinely want clean skies and a healthy biosphere, but the record shows they are not willing to give up profitable revenue streams from investments that foster our continued dependence on dirty fossil energy.

Too many wealthy people are content to sit on the political sidelines and collect their fat profits, while the economic and culturally corrosive public policy promoted by the worst of their billionaire neighbors makes everybody that already has big money even more rich, even more separate and unequal from the rest of us.

In fact, the real political evil emerges from a very small number of wealthy people.   Almost all the worst offenders are old.  Almost all are politically conservative men, who very much believe in white power and privilege. They aggressively use their wealth and influence to buy politicians and manipulate the American political process, with the intent to maximize their personal interests. I don’t suppose there is much of anything that I or anyone else could say that could turn that small band of big money evildoers in a more benevolent direction. They are simply indifferent to the consequences of their pathological actions.

But there is hope for the vast majority of millionaires and billionaires, who are not hopelessly self-absorbed.  Here’s my message to those wealthy folks, who recognize that they are not immune to the consequences of all the unprecedented, deeply unsettling, global scale challenges humanity must deal with.  I’m talking about climate change and fossil fuel dependence. I’m talking about our reckless, abjectly corrupt, and massively dysfunctional political process.  I’m talking about the human-driven shredding of the biosphere, whose finite water and living resources are being overwhelmed by the demands of seven billion plus human beings. We have made an Earth-sized mess of things.  Humanity and nature are near a breaking point of unprecedented scale.  Every human being has an obligation to get serious about this. Whether you’re a billionaire or an indigenous person, terrified and brutalized by illegal loggers in your forest, you have a life-and-death stake in what happens to this planet. 

To all fundamentally good and decent Americans who happen to be rich, and also happen to be passive or indifferent to our broken political process, I say, time to wake up.  You might think you can escape the consequences of your inaction. Don’t count on it.   History has shown that when the privileged members of a society stand by passively and watch the masses sink, the rabble tend to rise up. They focus their rage and demands for retribution on people of privilege, reserving their greatest ire for those who have shown no compassion for their suffering.  I’m not just talking about the oppressors. I’m talking about those who turned a blind eye to the process of oppression.

In 1794, during the French Revolution, Antoine Lavoiser, who is remembered historically for his contributions to science, was guillotined because he made his living as a tax collector for the ruling class.  The same dynamic that resulted in Lavosier losing his head applies today. Being on the losing side of a life and death, cultural struggle can be a fatal mistake.

Getting on the morally correct, and very likely, the winning side of history, requires making yourself part of the solution.  It is not acceptable to sit by passively while a handful of bad billionaires use their wealth to ruin our environment and tear society apart in the name of profit. End of story.

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