Why America is tearing itself apart and who benefits

Lately I've come to realize that the reason why people are so divided in this country is your high school history class.
Let me explain.
Everyone in this country is divided by identity these days. Race, gender, sexual orientation, it seems people are looking for ways to be different without actually being different. Liberals pretend that these are the only identities that matter.
I say pretend because their concerns rarely extend beyond our national borders. On the rare occasions when it does extend outside of America, their hypocrisy is exposed. For instance, there was all sorts of wailing and tearing of cloth about whether Afghani girls could attend school. However, when those same girls get blown to bits by American drone strikes, well, liberals just didn't have the time.

Of course there are other important identities. Nationality and religion are two big ones for conservatives.
But they are just as big of phonies as liberals. For instance, conservatives love to tell you about how they love the freedom in this country. However, if some group that they don't approve of wants to exercise that freedom, conservatives have absolutely no qualms about taking that freedom away.
Every single protest by liberals is "dangerous" and "violent". So they pass laws that make it legal to drive your cars into and over protestors. Want to protest an unprovoked war by America? Then you are "unAmerican".

The common thread here is identity. Well, identities are created and defined by history.
And that's the problem, because no one knows LESS about history than Americans. For decades now, we've been building our political and social structures upon identities that we are mostly clueless about.
It reminds me of the catholic church in the middle ages giving mass in Latin, when no one listening in the pews spoke Latin.
This widespread ignorance has led to all sorts of misconceptions and faulty assumptions, which has ended with a nation that screams at each other. Both sides completely convinced of the purity and righteousness of their identity. Both sides ignorant of the many flaws in their convictions.

One of my favorite examples is the Tea Party Movement.
Conservatives were out there protesting high taxes based on the example set by the Founding Fathers at the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
Except that the Tea Act of 1773 that led directly to the Tea Party wasn't a tax hike. It was a tax CUT for a multinational corporation. It was essentially a government bailout for corporate mismanagement, and a good lesson in the dangers of unregulated capitalism.
Yet the Tea Party Movement argued for what those who actually attended the Boston Tea Party would have opposed.

This is a nation that hasn't picked up a history book since high school. Except for a small percentage of people who took an undergraduate class in ethnic or gender studies, which creates a whole other problem.
That problem comes in the form of only being informed about one side of an issue.
For example, if you said "America is founded upon slavery and genocide" you would be 100% correct. This is a fact, and it isn't even debatable.
Many conservatives would call it "critical race theory", it's not. It's just "history". Even your badly flawed high school history books will show that "America was founded upon slavery and genocide". If you don't want to hear it, then you are being a snowflake.
That part liberals got correct. Then liberals blow it by making flawed assumptions about the other side of the topic. One thing I've heard countless times online and on TV is blacks were enslaved and whites were the slave owners in this country, so if you are white then your ancestor was a slave owner and whites have always been oppressors in history.

Let's start with pointing out that science defines race in one way, and society defines it in an entirely different way. There was no such thing as a "white race" until at least the 17th Century, and even then it was defined by a ruling class as a way to divide the working class against each other.
Then there is the fact that at the time of the American Civil War, only around 1% of the population owned slaves. So it's better than even odds that the white person you are talking to did NOT have ancestors that owned slaves. I know that mine didn't. I've done the research.
Finally, it's important to point out that in world history, if you want to see the face of the biggest enslavers of black Africans, then that would be other black Africans. By far. It's not even a contest.

But white men have always had it made, amirite? No!
Maybe 1% of white men have had it made. During the middle ages 99% of white men lived short, brutal lives, most often as serfs. During the industrial revolution what was the skin color of the children that worked in those awful factories and mines? You guessed it, white.
And what was one of the biggest slave owning societies in history? The Roman Empire, which enslaved whole societies through military conquest. Since the Roman Empire conquered Europe, those slaves were generally white.
So when exactly was this Golden Age for 99% of white men?

These are just a few of the many, many examples of how our identity-based society is built upon false assumptions, stereotypes, and sometimes outright lies. This is perpetuated because of our ignorance of our own history.
I believe that a lion's share of the reason for this ignorance is how history is taught in school.
You learned history as "Great White Man did something on this date at this place. Now memorize it."
Not only is that the most pointless way to learn history, it's also the most boring.
It takes all of the meaning out of those historical events (i.e. it ignores the 'Why'). It focuses on the wrong things because it ignores the popular movements that always precede those events (i.e. before some wealthy white guy stepped in front of the crowd and took credit). It wrongly mythologizes these "Great White Men" in history. (For instance, did you know that George Washington was one of the WORST generals in American history?)
And it generally discourages people from ever re-examining history.

How and why did we get into this terrible state?
I've learned that when something doesn't make any sense then I should look at what ISN'T being talked about. Who or what is being ignored.
That's when I realized that there was one identity that no one is talking about. Both liberals and conservatives are pretending that this identity doesn't exist, despite it being the biggest one of all - class.

Even when we were just colonies of Britain, this place that we now call the United States was experiencing working class revolts against our wealthy elites. Following the American Revolution we continued to experience working class revolts that generally revolved around the labor movement.
Our nation is rich with the history of working class movements that have fought back against the wealthy elites. It's a proud history.
But you would never know that from listening to liberals or conservatives. Not that it's their fault. They are usually ignorant too.

Even the way that identities are thought of, as oppressor and oppressed, is wrong.
If you think of the native Americans, you think of victims. Well, they were victims. That is true. But they also fought back and won huge victories. At the Battle of Wabash a quarter of the entire American Army was wiped out. Did you ever hear of that battle?

If you think of African slaves brought over to the new world, you think of victims. And they were. But did you ever hear about the Haitian Revolution? The only completely successful slave revolt in the history of the world. These slaves killed their white French slave owners. Then they defeated the invading armies of British and Spanish empires. Then they defeated an army of black slave owners in Haiti. And if that wasn't enough, then they wiped out an enormous French army sent by Napoleon.
These former black slaves weren't victims. They were destroyers of empires! Did you know about them?

If you think of women in American history you may think of them as victims. But did you ever hear about Mary G. Harris Jones? Aka Mother Jones. She was denounced on the floor of the United States Senate as the "grandmother of all agitators". During a trial in 1902, a prosecuting lawyer, with great theatrics said, "There sits the most dangerous woman in America. She comes into a state where peace and prosperity reign ... crooks her finger [and] twenty thousand contented men lay down their tools and walk out." Mother Jones wasn't a victim. She was a total bad-ass. Did you know about her?

I could go on.
My point isn't to downplay any of the injustices and crimes against any of these identities. My point was to ask the question, "Why didn't you know about these inspiring examples of your chosen identity?" Why weren't examples like these the first things that you think of when you thought of your identity?
It's almost as if some powerful group doesn't want you inspired. Doesn't want you to think that you could defeat whole empires. Doesn't want you to believe that one day you'll be denounced on the Senate floor as "dangerous" for leading a march of poor children to the White House.
It's almost as if you've been manipulated by a group, well, let's call them the ruling class.

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@gjohnsit @gjohnsit Yes Haiti fought for freedom and won. France then demanded lost money from the slaves (how Western liberal loving democratic of them! See Algeria). The U.S. supported this. This kept Haiti poor. Because of the two great bastions of Democracy and Freedom Haiti has continued to be a shithole because of our two nation's manipulations on their government.

So did they rise up and win? Yes. And no.

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@gjohnsit would add more examples of the labor movement and successful class struggle in our history
Plus, would not use just Haiti as an example of Blacks not just victims because too many people think it is a foreign country
Really good post

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@Will Rogers Guthrie international Women's Day, specifically Clara Lemlich and the Uprising of the 20,000.

But I'm going to keep Haiti. The accomplishment of these slaves can NOT be understated.
It essentially ended the international slave trade.

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We had American history first. Rote memorization of names and dates to pass the test.
Later we had world history. A bit more encompassing, but written by the same textbook
publishers that gave us the national version. The embedded lies and half truths were
driven into our restless minds. It had the effect of turning us away from curious searches
as to the why and what for. Unfortunately, this mental stamping lead the majority to
reject educational conditioning and authoritarian thinking in general.

Perhaps the new Bernays have figured out a way to use that early conditioning to the
advantage of the political elites. Just a guess, because I believe we are all one.
Together in this struggle for human identity, dignity and peace.

Opposition is a tool used to separate us. Either / or is a fabricated mind set.

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joe shikspack's picture

history, generally speaking, is everything that has ever happened. even that time that billy bob punched marvin on the playground and marvin puked - that's history, too.

if somebody attempted to teach history, well, our lifetimes wouldn't be long enough for all of the stories - even if we all outlived methuselah.

so, the history we are presented is a series of vignettes, strung together into narratives. looking deeper into history, we (as you have) often come up with counter-narratives and derive meaning from them. presumably, those of us that do so come to a richer understanding of the past.

i suspect that we are never presented with a narrative that is not in service of a worldview that someone/some entity is promoting.

perhaps it would be good to see if a kind of critical thinking culture could be developed in people that when presented with a historical narrative they look at the narrative/facts and ask themselves - "what are they trying to sell me?"

an examination of where these popular narratives come from and the potential motives of those that create them would enrich a public that hasn't the time, access or inclination to do a deep dive into the past.

just a thought.

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EyeRound's picture

@joe shikspack I agree that more of it is needed in a world where we're surrounded by competing "narratives." Wasn't it Danial Ellsberg who, when asked if/why we should listen to the news, said, "So that you know what they want you to believe" ? In addition to reading / listening critically, we might also remember Brecht's "epic theater" that was developed as a way to blow holes in narratives, using surprise, humor, and unfailingly real-world depictions. Lately I'm continually struck by the widening gap between people's real lives and any attempt to truthfully represent those lives in narrative.

Thanks gjs for a stimulating essay.

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The Liberal Moonbat's picture

...that group identity is the root of most (not all, but most) human evil, and REAL progress in the 21st Century should be looking toward phasing it out - so imagine my shock and horror when that was around the same time that SUDDENLY everybody was running around saying "GROUP IDENTITY IS ALL THERE IS!!! WE NEED TO OBSESS OVER IT!!!"

They're actually DENYING that individuals exist - it's...unfathomable. The existence of the individual is the ONLY certainty, I don't need Descartes to tell me that...but if others do, what on Earth does that say about them??? I've been forced to wonder about the concept of "philosophic zombies" and it's profoundly horrifying implications a lot recently.

I have an actual degree in history/psychology/etc - and I was introduced to Howard Zinn as a freshman in high school, TYVM - and basically the whole discourse over all this since circa 2014 has been SUPREMELY devolutionary, and totally wrong.

I did not spend all those years in REAL social studies classes just for FascBook to set itself up as a counterfeit one. This is the lie that swims laps around the world while the truth - heck, even just the common-sense consensus prior to The Great Re-Education - has been bowled over like a drive-by-charioteering victim.

BTW, Gjohnsit: This has been "going around" for some years now, but if it hasn't made the rounds to you yet:

49sog0.jpg

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In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is declared mentally ill for describing colors.

Yes Virginia, there is a Global Banking Conspiracy!

Pluto's Republic's picture

....the US is the only one that does not have a political party that represents the ideology of the Left.

When I say that, Americans think I must be mistaken. I wonder why. What is their rationale?

Did they assume that if the US has two political parties and one of them is right wing conservative — the remaining party must therefore be the opposite? The opposite of Conservative is Liberal.

Do Americans believe that Liberal is the same as Left Wing?
Do they believe that Liberals have a Leftist ideology?
Do they believe that Liberals are the official representatives of workers and Labor?

If they do, that is the result of a propaganda campaign and a media psyop.

Without a Left Wing Party, the United States is a Plantation culture.
That's what it was when the Constitution was written and that's what it is now.

The American People have only ten of the thirty Human Rights listed in the Universal Declaration of Humans Rights ratified at the UN.
Yet, the American People pay the entire bill for violent US aggression against Leftist nations throughout the world, nations where the natural resources, such as oil, are nationalized (are owned by the People).

That sounds like Plantation economics to me.

Some say Americans are the most brainwashed people in the world.
No surprise there. It can exist as it is, in no other way.

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____________________

The political system is what it is because the People are who they are. — Plato
janis b's picture

@Pluto's Republic

I’m very sorry about the state of America, culturally and politically.

I believe there are still some strengths in NZ culture that can be salvaged. Politically, I have less faith. Unfortunately, all parties in NZ have compromised themselves (in varying degrees) in favour of both the US and China, and continue to sacrifice their independent identity.

In 14 months I will vote in local and national elections as I always have. I will vote slightly differently than I have in the past. Because I think I know my local electorate better than I did earlier I will vote differently next year. When it comes to the national election I will be voting as I always have, not because the party I vote for is any longer as ideal as it once was, but because it more closely represents my perspective than the other 3-4 parties that will be on the ballot. It sounds a little like voting for the 'lesser evil’, but at this point here I still believe that voting counts. Fingers crossed, although through these last years of covid and neo-liberalism I am left with less optimism.

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@Pluto's Republic

in practical terms...

Leftist nations throughout the world, nations where the natural resources, such as oil, are nationalized (are owned by the People).

most places between things being nationalized and their actually being used for/under control of 'the People'.

There are things that should be under public ownership - or no ownership at all (public goods) but there's a lot of devilment in the details.

“The most basic question is not what is best, but who shall decide what is best.”
― Thomas Sowell

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Second time this week I've read of the battle of Wabash. Can't remember where I read it.

Draft for what? Reads fine to me. Readable, that's the biggest hurdle for me as a reader. It wasn't a struggle to make it all the way through.

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Cassiodorus's picture

At this point identity politics is a ruse, mostly operated by those pitching to "liberals." The rich, you see, are going to "liberate" America by, among other things, giving us our first "Black" President (who, as it turned out, chose his cabinet largely upon the advice of a Citigroup executive). Obama's "success" was so stunning that, in his tenure as President, the Democratic Party gave, to the Republican Party, 900+ state legislative seats, 12 governor's houses, and all branches of the Federal government. This giveaway of power (well, there was the ACA, but the 111th Congress had to be co-opted somehow) will be regarded by posterity as Obama's signature achievement.

Future Democratic Party regimes (not to mention the presently-existing one) will no doubt seek to repeat Obama's "success." The truth of the matter is that the elites who pull the strings are quite comfortable with Republican regimes.

The Republican Party, of course, has since 1964 been the identity-politics party of white males, a fact that historian Rick Perlstein never ceases to point out. In this regard it is the Republican Party that has maintained identity politics as a public face of history's most important event, Europe's conquest of the world. It's business as usual for sure.

If you want to point to a force that is going to tear America apart, try climate change.

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"Israel is in the process of destroying itself" -- Miko Peled

Pluto's Republic's picture

@Cassiodorus

The dynamic between the Republican and Democratic parties is theater only, operated by the Ruling classes.

The dynamic between the parties was designed a long time ago to absorb and neutralize the energy of the working classes. (Those without inherited wealth.)

It is theoretically possible to revolt against the current party system without a revolution — but it is only possible do so if the People are fully informed. Recent events have demonstrated that they are fully brainwashed. The people's brains do not represent their best interests. The People think a war with China will solve their problems. They believe all foreign wars will solve their problems. The real struggle in the US is an information struggle. Every avenue of communication has been seized and is under the control of the Ruling classes.

We are communicating right now on borrowed time. And even if some communications are permitted, progress will be impeded on every front. Climate catastrophes will be dealt with after they happen. There will be little effort made to prevent them. All climate change mitigation in the US will be optics, lip service, and theatre.

This is the foundation from which to make decisions about your own future.

Speaking of Indentity — this is a good time to empower yourself. Stop identifying with the United States.

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____________________

The political system is what it is because the People are who they are. — Plato

of our public schools teaching Real History and lots of it, as opposed to the American Exceptionalism teaching or its counterpart which might go too far in the other direction. US history is far more important than the overemphasis in the past 60 yrs on math and science.

Toss in a year of civics in high school and even starting earlier. Include important segments on the 3 branches of govt and Constitution and its history, how it was drafted, the compromises involved to keep the smaller souther slave-owning states on board, how some provisions were well-debated, and others rushed into existence at the last minute. What are the boundaries of free speech and the exercise of religion? Is there a right to vote for president?

Is the current RW Scotus helping to further tear the country apart and undermine democracy? Have the people and their reps given away too much power to Scotus? Is it chiseled in stone that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of whether laws are constitutional? Or is it more likely that the Founders intended that process to be a co-equal venture by the legislative and exec branches, and that the famous case of Marbury v Madison says no more than that? https://www.nytimes.com/2022/07/05/podcasts/transcript-ezra-klein-interv...

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studentofearth's picture

has multifaceted perspectives with broad overviews to individual experiences. Our understanding and appreciating relevance of historical events may change over time as we grow in experience and intellectual knowledge.

You are right, American's knowledge is part of the problem. My history is right and your is wrong creates substantial divisions and grievances. No one or any publication has a definitive narrative. Like the diary.

Regarding Haiti, after reading the first draft I was unaware of

It essentially ended the international slave trade.

.

Suggest add the benefits to countries with slave a history by the actions of Haitian slaves and the multi-generational punishments Haiti has endured.

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Still yourself, deep water can absorb many disturbances with minimal reaction.
--When the opening appears release yourself.

@studentofearth
The reasoning I say this is simple: What is the biggest fear of the slave owner? That his slaves will cut his throat in the middle of the night.
If the slaves know that they will pay for that with their lives, then that is unlikely. However, if the slaves actually have hope of remaining alive, and even defeating their slave owners, well then this fear becomes real.

Now look at the timeline for abolition slavery. Before Haiti won their revolution, some U.S. states had banned slavery, but the only BIG abolition was France and French-occupied Holland in 1792 (under the rule of The Terror, ironically). Slavery was restored under Napoleon.
Remember at that point slavery, and the slave trade, was largely legal through out the world for all of mankind's history.
Then Haiti wins in 1804. The first successful slave revolt in history.

1807 UK abolishes slave trade throughout empire
1808 U.S. abolishes slave trade (act passed in 1806)

Gosh. With centuries available to abolish slave trade, and then you do it just a few years after the slaves finally win. You wouldn't be worried about slaves talking to each other?

And in 1811, the largest slave revolt in American history. It happened in New Orleans, where some of the slave owners who fled Haiti went to. I think some slaves talked.

1815 All of Europe abolishes slave trade

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polkageist's picture

@gjohnsit
This is one of your best essays. Because I'm so old I got a pretty good education. We were taught history as well as English and math and, maybe, a foreign language. All in the California public school system in the 1940's and '50's.
Since then I have watched the accelerating decline of teaching and of schools. Most of the decline in the US is due to the conscious choice of our "betters" in debasing the standards of education in all schools including universities.
Strangely, I have found Youtube to provide a pretty good educational adjunct if one is careful. Too bad one has to be bright and/or educated to use it effectively.
Thanks for the good essay.

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-Greed is not a virtue.
-Socialism: the radical idea of sharing.
-Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
John F. Kennedy, In a speech at the White House, 1962

ggersh's picture

History is a very tricky thing.

To begin with, you can't get it mixed up with the past.

The past actually happened, but history is only what someone
wrote down

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I never knew that the term "Never Again" only pertained to
those born Jewish

"Antisemite used to be someone who didn't like Jews
now it's someone who Jews don't like"

Heard from Margaret Kimberley

usefewersyllables's picture

as previously defined (say, in the immediate post-WWII years) was for peace, prosperity, and a chance for everyone to get ahead, with a chicken in their pots and a car in the garage. That proved to be unachievable, and even the small successes that occasionally occurred proved to be unsustainable.

It has now devolved to the point at which it has become completely equivalent to the republican wet dream/philosophy/goal, which has always been "I got mine so fuck you". If you get ahead by smashing everyone around you down, then so be it- and all the better if you also pull the ladder up after you to protect your meager "wins", when and if they occur. The more slaves, the merrier, as long as you aren't one of them.

The marvelous thing? The ones who believe that they have in some sense "won" don't realize that they are also slaves- just marginally less enslaved. It is Randian selfishness writ large. She'd be proud.

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Twice bitten, permanently shy.

@usefewersyllables

this rhymes with the ignorant meme put forward a few years ago by the mega corporations
that individual brilliance and exalted status was enough to escape the mundane world of
taxes and responsibility. I believe that argument was fairly snuffed out when someone
pointed out that they could not have achieved their success without roads, bridges, teachers,
emergency workers and other infrastructure arrangements that are paid for by our taxes.

The Walton family took it one step further by under-paying their work force to the degree it
was underwritten by federal and state welfare assistance - food stamps, housing vouchers, etc.
And yet the Walmart rulers took home billions. Go figure.

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Very straightforward and clear.

I think that self interest extends to those closest to you, often people like you. The smaller those circles can be sliced and diced into the smallest groups the easier to divide us. The easier to stroke resentments, the easier to stand back from the common good and dilute whatever power we have. So we sit in our little corrals worrying about ourselves, and saying whatever problems the next corral over has, it's their look out because their cause isn't our cause, it's what we're told. The media that should bind us instead divides us. Who wins?

Who always wins?

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it was 1958, well into the CIA infiltration, when I started school.
We were taught the Indians and Pilgrims loved one another. And that slaves had a good life, appreciated it.
BUT, we had class libraries,kids got extra credit for reading books, and I, as a 4th grader, dictated what books were stocked. My parents helped me with the list. Way fun!
Thank goodness, we integrated when I was a high school freshman. Those blacks from that time are to this day, my close friends, my clients, my heart.
I had not heard of Wabash, but had lots of education about the Indians. My little acreage is a mile from that place where Sam Houston signed some treaty with the Alabama-Coushatta tribe.
College...I was recruited by both the FBI and CIA, but had read enough about them to say FU.
That 1 senior level history course was the one. The prof recommended "White Over Black".
Anyway, it took lots of searching for alternative historical interpretations.

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"We'll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false." ---- William Casey, CIA Director, 1981

Other than gender, which we try to deny, it's all arbitrary programming. You can take a baby from China and raise her in the US or Egypt and she will have the identity of the host country. We accept and even encourage this programming. French people should be French and should be willing to kill the English because of identity. We are, in fact, software that runs on our bodies as hosts. Because of this it is incredible how similar our internal worlds are.

By the way, my dad taught American History in High School when I was growing up. He stated many times that the purpose of this was to indoctrinate young American boys to be willing to sign up and get killed in the military. Period. And girls are willing to accept the painful death of their male relatives in war, because ... well identity instilled by American History. Today we kill women also in the Military ... an advance in the art of defining identity. And males get to mourn their death. Hey, want a real revolution? How about we shed that identity and no one goes to war?

Identity is a built in feature of the human brain. We can't get rid of it , but we can substitute a new identity scheme. I think that we are rapidly closing in on the end game of identity. If we don't fix this then there will be no human civilization. Perhaps the next intelligent species that evolves on planet Earth will be able to substitute a universal sense of identity and cooperation for tribal identity and lethal competition.

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Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

Excellent article, btw.

Is that the avg working class citizen today has an immensely better standard of living than kings, robber barons or dictators from merely 150 years ago.

The working class have been victims, but they've won too.

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