Tear Down This Wall

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in an ex-Eastern Bloc country, it’s that the Iron Curtain didn’t fall because of what any one leader said or did here. It fell because people were prepared to exist without it.

It’s an unrecognized fact that quite a few people who lived in the GDR believed that the Wall was a necessary defence against the capitalist, militarized Western nations.  Nowadays, we are so used to thinking of the Wall as a fence that kept people in, we forget that for many people on the eastern side of it, it seemed like a fence that was keeping danger out. 

In truth, the Wall was more a psychic defense against feelings of inferiority and anger about the poor socioeconomic conditions in the German Democratic Republic than it was a physical defence. What East Germans couldn't see or hear about the West, they couldn't yearn for. Hence, if you went back in time and asked the citizens of the GDR what the Wall was there for, they probably would have told you that it was keeping them safe from unseen threats. That's what their leaders told them and many believed the lie, because it made a lot more sense than the truth.

It's the same relationship that many people have to free market capitalism today. Yes, it's a suicidal system that won't benefit any of us in the long run, but it's so hard to grasp the irrational impulses of the people who run it that many of us simply refuse to believe that's true. The comforting notion that free market capitalism exists for the good of society, and protects us from much worse alternatives - that may be a lie but it sounds rational. It's not just what people want to hear, it's what they expect to hear after investing their faith in the system for their whole lives.

If you think about it, the guns of an armed minority of guards would never have been able to deter a few million East Germans if they would have all decided to get up and climb over the Wall at the same time.  When they finally did that, the floodgates opened without a shot being fired. The more I read about great revolutions in history, the more I realize how often this has been the case. Whether we are talking about the end of feudalism or the Arab Spring, most of the really bad regimes have only been suspended when vast numbers of people downed tools and forced them to stop. The flip side of this realization is the fact that those regimes only survived for as long as they did because vast numbers of people were willing to play along (however reluctantly).

Free market capitalism is no different. Right now, most people know it's a pretty shitty deal for them. They also know that it could grind to a halt tomorrow if everyone, say, went on a general strike. But most are reluctant to do this because, their whole lives, they've been warned about nonspecific, lethal threats which lurk beyond the privatized, high tech confines of this system. Tribal wars, plagues, famines, fundamentalist regimes are some of the baddies that many people feel certain would pounce on us if this system were to collapse. Or maybe it's just a horror of slow wifi and universal basic income that keeps them inside the armoured embrace... I don't know. To anyone who steps  outside of the status quo, however, this economic system starts to look like a stifling fortress that's held together by fear, suffering and death. Berlin is packed with people who get that, and it's endlessly frustrating when they don't connect for long enough to do something about it.

"Buy less, think more": that's one solution to climate change, but it's easier said than done. 

Free market capitalism is the Eastern Block of modern times, working against the people even as its claiming to work for them. And our blind faith in its claims is the only thing that keeps 'business as usual' running.

The system might end up benefiting some of us... or it might not... so, just in case, we cast another wager on it every day and go to work. We wait and see. Only one problem: if we lose the wager, the whole planet will collapse into Apocalyptic ruin, complete with mutants driving souped up Mack Trucks and snatching leftovers from our WG's fridges. 'Oops, my bad' won't really suffice.  

When loads of East Germans began to see beyond their Wall in the 1980's, they realized that what lay on the other side was less threatening than the system had said it was. But the fullness of the system's insanity was not revealed until they'd dismantled, not just the Wall, but the system that had built it too. They were shocked to find Stasi files spanning decades, tales of pointless torture, exile and even eugenic experiments - all masquerading as a form of protection for the people. I think that was the moment when they realized that the Wall was protecting someone other than them. Something sinister and psychopathic.

Right now, the public is witnessing something similar in the increasing hurricanes, wildfires and rising oceans.  The endless wars and human rights crackdowns have given us a glimpse of what the system we've locked ourselves into is really doing. Soon, I think most people will make the only sensible choice - destroy the Wall in order to survive. The people it's protecting quite possibly pose an even greater danger to us than slow WiFi.

I mean, when was the last time that you met anyone who was making any more money now than they were 5 or 10 years ago? Everyone I know is getting poorer. The collective sacrifice that this Wall requires isn't paying off, so why bother making it? 

Just as in the late 1980s, the crises that our system is producing will keep on happening for as long as we allow it.  When enough people start to see beyond the lies obstructing their view, all of the political and financial might in the world won’t be able to stop them changing the system.

Who said, "Tear down this wall?" It hardly matters. All that matters is the people who actually did it - and they were ordinary people like you and I. History tells us that the power to change this lies entirely in our hands, no matter what the pundits and fear mongers say.

Montagsdemonstration, anyone?


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