As I was reading an historians account of how life was for ordinary people during the high Middle Ages, I ran into an interesting fact. Then, as now, a small elite of perhaps 2% of the population was able to hold the other 98% in subjection. In those days the 2% consisted of the landed aristocracy and those higher up in the church hierarchy. Although I’m not a historian, I think it is safe to say that the rule of a large majority by a tiny elite has characterized most – perhaps all – civilizations since the establishment of agriculturally based societies. I’m sure that a part of the reason for this is that large-scale agriculture required a level of organization that is not to be found in hunting/gathering societies. Still, it is easy to conceive of other forms of organization that would’ve been reasonably efficient and at the same time provided a much more equitable distribution of power and resources. Such is the case today. Setting aside the illusion that we live in a truly democratic society, it is clear that effective power, along with a hugely disproportionate amount of the material resources, is in the hands of a very tiny elite. Way less that 2%, really. More like .0002%. How is such a tiny elite able to maintain and dominate a social system that so obviously places the vast majority of people at an enormous disadvantage?
If we look at the high Middle Ages, a part of the answer is to be found in the military training and power of the landed aristocracy. The majority of the male hierarchy in the aristocracy consisted of knights who owned horses and armor, and who were well trained in the arts of warfare. Obviously a foot soldier, or even several of them, none of whom had armor, and most of whom were neither experienced nor trained in warfare, would have little chance of success against an armored and mounted knight. But we were talking of a ratio of more or less one knight to a hundred peasants. The peasants could easily have killed the knights horses while they were still in the stable and undoubtedly could have located and destroyed their armor as well.
So the whole answer cannot be military power.
This is even more clear when one considers the power of the church. Priests, monks, and bishops were not trained in the arts of war, nor did they own armor. They held power because the people believed that the Pope, and through him, the priesthood, possessed the keys to the kingdom. If they wanted to have a tolerable afterlife they had to submit to the rule of the church. The church was able to participate on a more or less equal footing with the landed aristocracy because of what virtually everybody at that time believed. They controlled the people through the control of their minds. This may give us an important clue as to where a revolution must be fought if it is to have any hope of success.
Clearly money and arms are sources of power. But I would like to argue that the power of money and arms are not sufficient to control 99.999% of the population if their minds are not also controlled. The elite understand this which is why they take such care to control the mass media. They need the media to be essentially a huge propaganda machine that keeps people believing what they want them to believe.
There are many beliefs that are necessary to control the social order. Therefore deceit and propaganda are necessary on many different levels if the elite is to successfully continue its control of the people. Consequently we are swimming in an ocean of disinformation. It seems hopeless. Where do we begin? It is important that we challenge the various lies that are told as they arise, but perhaps it is even more important to examine the core beliefs upon which the whole inequitable edifice rests. I would suggest that there are for such beliefs. These are beliefs about capitalism, empire, obedience, and patriotism. Specifically the following:
One. That capitalism is the only effective means for organizing our economic life.
Two. That the establishment of a world empire is a legitimate enterprise for a powerful country.
Three. That obedience to authority is equivalent to virtue.
Four: That patriotism demands our support every war effort our country engages in regardless of its justice, legality, and impact on the rest of the world.
These are the beliefs that we must outgrow if we are ever to throw off the yoke of the wealthy.