The United States recently became the first medically advanced country with shortening rather than lengthening lifespans. Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton in their 2020 book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism associate this decline in life span with economic inequality rising to levels not previously recorded.
To find a very different country in which wealth equality was the greatest since records were kept and lifespan was increasing rapidly, we only need to go back 50 years, well within many of our memories. It was when most environmental protection laws we still depend on were passed. Population growth was minimal but still the greatest environmental concern as reflected in the hit movie Soylent Green in which people so completely covered the earth that cannibalism was needed to survive.
The divisive Viet Nam War was winding down but not before igniting mass movements. Anti-war Ivy League students found social solidarity at 1969’s Woodstock Festival and a 1970 march in masse on Manhattan that didn’t turn out well. Unionized blue-collar workers in hard hats building the city’s many new skyscrapers were so offended by the marchers’ anti-American flags that they beat them bloody and sent them running uptown as described in David Paul Kuhn’s book Hardhat Riot: Nixon, New York City, and the Dawn of the White Working-Class Revolution.
The losers in this hard hat riot recovered well, however, since their Ivy League connections brought them corporate managerial jobs allowing them to bust the unions and scavenge the pensions of their patriotic attackers who left them with a lifetime hate of blue collar workers and the American flags on their hard hats.
Patriotic sentiments like those of the hard hats eventually brought militant anti-communist Ronald Reagan to the presidency after an earlier career working with producer Lew Wasserman and organized crime boss Sidney Korshak against Hollywood labor unions, which, unlike those of the hard hats, were often communist-friendly as described in Gus Russo’s book Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers.
The economic equality of the seventies quickly began disappearing as he lowered taxes on the rich and broke the patriotic union of air traffic controllers. Most significantly he began mass immigration that greatly enriched the wealthy by increasing consumers while cheapening labor and thus weakening unions. That was justified by an economic philosophy called neoliberalism popularized as an opposite of Soviet Union communism which glorified corporate power and devalued government. Meanwhile opposition to it was marginalized by commercial media owned and controlled by the wealthiest. Caesar Chavez brought his union members to the border to try and stop a flow of cheap labor that would stop his unionization goal but was ignored by a press that once lionized him. Mass immigration brought fast population growth, once considered an environmental threat by the press but now ignored. The Sierra Club, the most significant environmental organization, abruptly dropped population from its agenda at the demand of rich donors despite a failed revolt of its voting members. Only a few lovers of nature like Edward Abbey pointed out that more people would allow it less room.
Discussed least of all was the fact that millions arriving from another culture would displace the one originally present, which happened rapidly in southern California and more gradually in the rest of the United States. The French novel Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail accurately foresaw, however, how this would similarly destroy Europe, where it was also happening through encouragement by an increasingly globally unified group of the ultra-wealthy contemptuous of local cultures.
Neoliberalism was quickly adopted by both United States political parties at the demand of their donors, so an unquestioned monolithic mindset developed seeking endless exponential economic growth fueled by mass immigration. Increasingly it resembled the other economic ideology of communism in viewing humans as economic widgets with their money value, as once was true of slaves, being their only characteristic of worth. Survival of nature was similarly devalued so its protection in public lands increasingly lost support. Support remained high for military public lands, though, because they brought billions to corporations of the military industrial complex as excuses for wars grew ranging from imaginary “weapons of mass destructions” in Iraq to trashing agreements that ended the Cold War so a military alliance against Russia could be pushed right up to its borders.
Despite a few hiccups like 1999’s Battle of Seattle, things rolled along quite well for neoliberalism for a few decades as mass immigration did cause populations of the US and Europe to explode and wealth going to fewer and fewer individuals exponentially increased. The new millennium began turning sour for it, however, as Wall Street financially collapsed in 2008 and rioters attacked it in 2011’s Occupy movement. Unlike the 1970 Hard Hat Riot in the same area, this time there were no hard hats chasing the occupiers away. If any hard hats were still around, they were unlikely to have the well-paying jobs with strong union protection or the kind of deep family roots in the US that motivated militant patriotism among those of 1970. This time it was still reasonably well-paid law enforcement that prevented an immediate serious threat, but if the small handful of people with Wall Street links and a virtual monopoly on wealth and power rarely seen since the Bourbons of the 1780’s had any sense of history, they might have had reason for worry.
It may not be coincidental that in the next decade universities dependent on wealthy donors radically shifted their emphasis from economics that looked at financial inequality to critical theory that looked at inequality among identity groups in a hierarchy identifying those of European descent as oppressors to be silenced and all others as oppressed who must always be believed, a process described in Pluckrose and Lindsay’s book Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity―and Why This Harms Everybody. It may seem paradoxical that a small group of super rich, many of European descent themselves, would promote this, but it was actually quite functional since it silenced the group most likely to successfully revolt against economic inequality and diffused the focus of violent rebellion away from those at the top.
Meanwhile those in power were shocked by the surprise presidential victory of Donald Trump despite his criticism of the mass immigration and population growth driving the neoliberal economy and his move away from the constant wars feeding the military industrial complex. His emotional vigor but lack of political experience resembled that of Mohammad Mosaddegh who once connected with the people of Iran in a similar way as he brought their oil riches back to them from foreign control. That was so unacceptable to the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), however, that it transparently organized a coup driving him from office to jail. Iranians weren’t blind to this, though, and their resentment of it rose into a violent 1979 revolution far more threatening to US interests than Mosaddegh ever was.
Trump’s criticism of the mass immigration driving the neoliberal economy was as threatening to those in power as Mosaddegh’s oil cut off and they similarly used the CIA and allied groups to destroy him, first with false claims he was controlled by Russia, then by constant media criticism, then by organizing deadly riots, then concealing criminal activity on his opponent’s son’s laptop before an election, then secretly organizing a riot at the US Capitol that could be blamed on him, and finally using judiciary control to charge him with numerous felonies.
The handful of neoliberal billionaires able to monopolize most European and American wealth wanted even more power and viewed with admiration what Stalin once accomplished in the Soviet Union by turning communism into a secular religion. Neoliberalism wouldn’t do that, however, because it emphasized freedom to get rich, but critical theory was perfect since it was a secular religion with the central tenet of silencing critics.
2020 was the year the superrich struck in the chaos of a global pandemic whose creation through gain -of-function research they had financed in China. When the event that they were looking for, the rare death of an African-American in police custody finally happened with George Floyd in Minneapolis, they were ready. Millions of dollars were pumped to thuggish groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa that were encouraged to loot, burn, and kill on Main Street and ignore Wall Street so President Trump would be embarrassed just as the CIA once similarly paid rioters to overthrow Mosaddegh.
Simultaneously every organized group dependent on the flow of money from the top had to force all its people to sign a pledge of support for their new secular religion variously known as DEI, Woke, or critical race theory.
Overnight the Western world became so much like George Orwell’s 1984 that it became hard to believe the superrich didn’t use it as their play book. The “Big Brother” in 1984 that all must pledge allegiance to became DEI. The “Inner Party” at the top was the cadre of billionaires. The “Outer Party” that enforced its power became all the employees doing the Inner Party’s bidding in corporation management, academia, media, and enforcement groups like the military, FBI, and CIA. The great fear in the Outer Party was that any failure of loyalty would cause a fall into the lowest group, the Proles, whose deaths of despair went un-mourned. Just as in 1984 every memory of a better past, such as statues, must be destroyed.
1984 even had an “anti-sex league” so the only love could be for “Big Brother” by increasingly alike followers becoming consuming widgets without identity in an economic system much like the visions of communism and neoliberalism. Now the anti-sex league equivalent is transgenderism in which castration is encouraged for boys and breast amputation for girls so they become more like identity-less machines.
Renaud Camus wrote about the Great Replacement of the French by mass immigration but the threat to all human and cultural diversity is far vaster and involves the plan of a wealthy few to rule a world of identical biological objects who only exist to serve them and will scarcely notice when replaced by AI.
Will their plan succeed? They may well destroy Donald Trump as his doppelganger Mosaddegh was once destroyed for trying to prevent theft of his Iranian people’s oil. But his memory lived on among his people and led to a far more effective revolution than he ever contemplated.
Can that happen here? As this is being written a song flew to Billboard’s top for the first time without previous recordings by its singer. “Rich Men North of Richmond” by Oliver Anthony is a revolutionary hymn to those trapped in today’s world of death of despair. Oddly it is being called right-wing despite evoking images like those of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression John Steinbeck wrote about in Grapes of Wrath and Woody Guthrie sang about with the words “some rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen.” Steinbeck and Guthrie identified with and were seen as left wingers and Oliver as a right winger, but maybe they’re not so different after all.