For the vast majority of people in the hierarchical world that seems to be the inevitable social order of the human animal, success simply means sucking up to the Big Guy.
A person who is willing to subvert his own personality, her creativity, even suppress one's moral principles to faithfully do what one is told, can succeed stupendously in a world in which money is the only recognized standard of value.
So what is success, really, then? Is it after all worth it to gain the whole world and lose your soul? For most people the struggle to maintain one's individuality just becomes too much of a struggle, so they give in. We all go down in the end, but the question is, what are you doing when you are here? Is it better to die young? or to live a long, healthy life of servitude?
Is your purpose in life just to do the bidding of someone who is not worthy of your respect, to do things that are not really what your heart tells you you should be doing?
For the human race as a whole, in terms of the success of the human struggle, is making money the only value that has any meaning in the modern world? If you are the richest man in the world, does that mean you are fulfilled? If all of mankind were endowed with unlimited material wealth, would the human race then have achieved its ultimate destiny?
Or is success only conceivable on the level of my individual benefit versus yours? Is that the only kind of success one could hope to achieve?
America today has taken this viciously competitive money hunger way way over the top. The fundamental religious dogma of America today is the belief that the only criterion for judging anything is its value in the marketplace. And that value system in action will destroy civility, civilization and ultimately life on the planet. Our civilization is out of control and we have to reign it in. The practically superhuman power of giant corporations to convert all of the resources in the world to massive profits for their shareholders is out of control, and is being used to service the greed of a tiny minority.
People exist in America who are so distorted by money they practically constitute a new order of being. What is Dick Cheney? The man is practically an android now. The guy is so filthy rich he can afford to have every organ rebuilt as his body falls apart. With all these operations that he walks out of as if nothing happened, we think he's on the verge of dying. He might outlive us all. He made more money last year than some entire cities (was it $38 million?) and he can't stop to enjoy his money because he's too busy making more money and fixing every political deal in the world to make sure more of the money from the world's resources flows into his pocket than before. For what? What is that man's problem?
I guarantee you one thing, he ain't gettin past Heaven's gate. I don't care where it is or what the rules are. That man is made for Hell. He'd be much more comfortable there. He could be Satan's right hand man.
Today's so called Conservatism, which is much more like fascism or feudal aristocracy than traditional conservatism, is the expression of a very primitive impulse. It flows from the world view of people who still see the world in much the same mold as primitive man might have seen it, battling against predators to try to eke out a living. They imagine themselves on a flat earth with dragons at the ends where the ocean drops off into Hell. The Christian Right that Bush caters to is characterized by people who try to outlaw teaching about the theory of evolution as it is commonly understood at this point in history. They insist instead that schools teach that the earth was created in six days and on the seventh day the Lord rested. They have a medieval view of the world and at this moment in America they have way too much power.
I have a very strong hunch that the majority -- and a lot more than the half million who preferred Gore to Bush in the last election -- has gotten hip to what is happening. Every day I see a movement toward an empowerment of the democratic majority, which doesn't want its environmental treasures destroyed for the profits of the oil companies, doesn't want to outlaw abortion, doesn't want to imprison or kill a large percentage of the black population, doesn't want privatized prisons for profit, doesn't want draconian laws against marijuana, doesn't want to allow a small group of banking and business interests to control virtually all the resources on earth, doesn't want to take all of the money out of the social programs and give it to the wealthiest 1 percent and doesn't want much of anything else the Bush administration is pushing so aggressively for.
These are not good times, people, and they are not going to get better until the people stand up and reclaim their democratic rights. Those rights are not bestowed upon us by a benevolent group of wise men reverently called "The Founding Fathers." They are ours because -- as those revolutionaries proclaimed -- all people are "endowed by their creator" with those rights. The democratic principle is inherent in the heart of humankind, and it is eternally struggling against the forces of tyranny. This is our lot, either to fight for a just and democratic society or to live under the domination of those for whom equal rights is not enough, but who believe they must control.
It may be stated that virtually all social animals have always lived in hierarchical societies in which each creature must take orders from the one above. But whether that is true or not, human beings have reached a point at which they can name a hierarchical society and can describe its characteristics, and can go so far as to point out the unpleasant aspects of such a society. Why then must we assume that we cannot make changes in the way we live? Every day changes are being legislated, but most of them are merely ways for special interests to channel more of the public money into their own coffers. Some legal changes that have been instituted by human beings, such as the U.S. Constitution for example, or the Magna Carta, or in the Emancipation Proclamation, have had a broader reaching effect than simply to increase the wealth of the highest bidder for political influence.
The major media gesticulates ever more hysterically that everything is cool, Americans are content, and no longer concerned with nuclear blast of corruption that installed the Right Wing in the White House last December. But the signs that this is not the case are becoming more evident every day. The election is no longer an issue, Ari Fleischer tells us, except to "the most partisan Americans." Meanwhile, even moderate Republicans are ditching the party.
The major media wouldn't do stories on Vincent Bugliosi's virulent attack on the crimes of the Supreme Court because, they said, Americans no longer care. Meanwhile the book climbed to the New York Times bestseller list without the power of that media, a power that is often thought of as essential to the success of any product, including politicians running for president. How did that happen?
The Internet is a new, major force beyond anything ever conceived of by the medieval minds of the right wing. They have measured it entirely, as they measure everything else, in terms of how much money it can make them. But what we are seeing is the realization of McLuhan's vision of the global village. And it will tear apart the centralized control structures of America just as surely as it did those of the Soviet Union. There is no longer anywhere to hide.
We are on the verge of a new democratic revolution. It is a nonviolent revolution; violence only serves the purposes of the counter revolutionaries, the control freaks. It is a nonviolent, democratic revolution. The violence at the G8 conference in Italy was manipulated by the authorities. The result serves the purposes of the repressors.
Ghandi was undefeatable. Martin Luther King was undefeatable. Even in death he towers high above all the living political figures. This revolution will not succeed or fail by violence. It is a result of the population of the world reaching a new level of self-awareness. Archaic social structures rooted in the age of aristocracy are no longer tenable. They will not endure.
Let me leave you with my favorite quote of the week. It is from Alexis de Tocqueville, author of "Democracy in America," who believed that there were two ages of humankind: the aristocratic age and the democratic age. During the 20th century, the American model of a democratic republic swept the world. Virtually all of the kingdoms that once dominated the world became republics. The task before us is to change the archaic laws and customs rooted in the pre-democratic world and create a society that truly offers equal opportunity and recognizes the fundamental human rights of each person.
De Tocqueville predicted, in a way, that the democratic majority would defeat corporate tyranny. "Can it be believed that the democracy which has overthown the feudal system and vanquished kings will retreat before tradesman and capitalists?"
And that, for my money, would be real success.