I have increasingly come to think that modern Western societies have become infected by a form of Cargo Cult. Wikipedia defines Cargo Cult as:
A cargo cult is a religious practice that has appeared in many traditional pre-industrial tribal societies in the wake of interaction with technologically advanced cultures. The cults focus on obtaining the material wealth (the “cargo”) of the advanced culture throughmagic and religious rituals and practices. Cult members believe that the wealth was intended for them by their deities and ancestors. Cargo cults developed primarily in remote parts of New Guinea and other Melanesian and Micronesian societies in the southwest Pacific Ocean, beginning with the first significant arrivals of Westerners in the 19th century. Similar behaviors have, however, also appeared elsewhere in the world
Seems to me this has a lot of resonance with the so-called Post-Industrial societies. By this, I mean that the majority of the population in advanced countries have as little personal knowledge of how ‘stuff’ is made as have the members of pre-industrial societies in the South Pacific. Although, they also probably don’t know much about how food is grown, minerals mined or how the fundamental infrastructure, the sewers, water supply, roads, railways and airports is maintained.
The problem with this is that without this knowledge, they lose sight of who actually creates wealth and come to suffer the delusion that CEOs, Hedge Fund managers or even celebrities in the media create wealth. They do not create wealth and few people who actually make things themselves or provided needed services think that they do. They know how it is done. Wealth is created by people working, often in physically demanding roles, tiring roles that leave little energy for the good things in life. Many of the people who work in this way are now invisible to society. As invisible as African-Americans were and sometimes still are in the South of the USA. They are tucked away, out of sight, unmentioned by the media who acts as if they don’t exist. They are not part of the spectacle that keeps us amused and they don’t earn huge salaries or so called ‘bonuses’. And in many countries like the UK, they are treated with contempt as Chavs, generally worthless folk. Or in the US they are treated as likely to be illegal immigrants, which of course some are.
As I see my friends’ children head off into the middle class preparatory zone called college, I often wonder if amongst all his catastrophic errors that cost millions of deaths, Mao Tse Tung wasn’t right about one thing. During the Cultural Revolution, he made the middle classes go and work on farms, down mines or in factories. Perhaps without his brutality, we should do the same. It seems that perhaps the only way to break down our lethal form of Cargo Cult, or ignorance that ‘stuff’ comes from people’s labor, is to have all college graduates work at least a year on an assembly line, down a mine, on a farm, in the sewers before they are allowed to graduate into society. Wherever would best wake them up to the reality of where their living standard comes from and to imbue some respect for, some empathy, some understanding of the folk who provide it. And working with them, as fellow workers, not working at them as if they are the problem, or not treating them as ‘clients’ or ‘customers’ of social work or remedial education or reform post-prison, the children of the elite might gain an insight their parents lack. The working population are human and deserve to be treated as such and deserve a fair share of the national income in return for making it possible. How’s that for a radical suggestion?
Maybe then our elite mandarin class will feel obliged to cut their metaphorical finger nails and get their hands a bit dirty actually producing stuff or solving the problems that get in the way of sustainable, efficient, wealth creation?