Illusion is the ability to manipulate how other people perceive reality. When you have discovered that someone or something is not as good as you believed, you become disillusioned. Thirty years of deregulation in the market place supported globalization and created an oligarchy in the West. Key decision-makers on Wall Street chose not to apply critical thinking, but to take advantage of the system that lead to the meltdown of the economy in 2008. Many in the middle class saw their comfortable retirement, their home equity, and their dreams destroyed. Even now many find themselves in an era of insecurity as the safe routines of their lives have become undone, and they now realize that the market system failed them, and this security was an illusion.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) claimed there are no facts only interpretations, and ‘concepts are metaphors which do not correspond to reality.’ Nietzsche said truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; they are lies according to which we find it necessary to live. Although all concepts are human inventions (created by common agreement to facilitate ease of communication), human beings forget this fact after inventing them, and come to believe that they are ‘true’, but, in fact, do not correspond to reality. In his view there is no objective fact about what has value in itself – culture consists of beliefs developed to perpetuate a particular power structure. The system, if followed by the majority of the people, supports the interests of the dominant class. However, Nietzsche believed, one should be conscious of their illusory nature, thus opening up the possibility of the creation of new values.1
Before the 2008 crisis, many believed, without thinking too much about it, that there was something solid at the core of the financial system. It was imagined that the world was governed by mathematical formulas – or more specifically by serious men in dark suits who understood complex formulas and the patterns playing out on their computer terminals. Everyone accepted the idea that deregulated markets were self-correcting. The illusion was that this system, a product of globalization, could self-correct as required. The ugly truth was that a few greedy bankers on Wall Street could just about collapse the world financial system. This threat was more than a financial or economic disaster; it was a psychological and existential blow. As expectations gave way to reality that the market was not going to bounce back the usual way, for many, this meant the dreams of a pleasant retirement and the promise that one’s children would have a better future that their parents, has been destroyed. The illusion was shattered and was followed by anger and bitterness.
Thirty years after Reagan’s re-election in 1984 the economic theory that claims cutting the taxes of the rich will provide jobs for the rest of society has become the dominant economic theory. To ensure the policy of minimal taxes and regulations remains unchanged the oligarchs control what you think through proxies who control the information and communication supporting deregulation of the government and the environment, and through their lobbyists who influence what most of your politicians believe. Through this mechanism the oligarchs perpetuate the fear of change – if taxes are raised on the rich unemployment will rise and existing jobs will disappear. Also everyone should fear environmental regulations, as they will cost economic growth and jobs. However, this policy of minimal taxes and government continues to create a growing income gap between the wealthy and the rest of society – removing social mobility for most of society.
While all men and women suffer from disillusionment, few know that their state of disillusionment is the result of the breakdown of an illusion they themselves had manufactured. As expectations that the deregulation of the financial services industry was a sound policy gave way to reality many have become angry and disillusioned. The pain, resentment and bitterness make many question the trickle down theory. Disillusion is never possible without fantasy – and the destructive strength of the disillusionment can never exceed the strength and energy that was used to create the fantasy in the first place. The adverse effect is that man places values on his illusions, and over values what is not true, or no longer exists. In order to clear these errors of thinking, man must release the emotion that keeps him tied to this false reality. The removal of illusion or fantasy involves understanding that expectations are not failed, but false. With this recognition comes an opportunity for change.
The false expectations were the result of not realizing supply side economics (that tax cuts could be had for free incentive effects would generate new activity so higher revenue) without causing budget deficits was a sleight-of-hand maneuver to convince the electorate that tax cuts were really in the interest of the middle class, not simply the super rich, because the cuts more than paid for themselves. Occupy Wall Street protesters challenged the excesses of the corporations in general, and in particular, a government controlled by corporate money and the growing income gap between the very wealthy and the rest in society. By educating the middle class that they have been taken advantage of by a financial system that favors the rich, the Occupy Wall Street movement put economic inequality on the political agenda. The new truth is that the system of minimum government and regulation favors the 1%.
As Edmund Burke (1729-1797) who fiercely opposed the French Revolution wrote, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”2 Today we are vulnerable to the politics of fear. The politics of fear is when leaders (or candidates for leadership) use fear as a driving or motivating factor for the people, to get them to vote a particular way, allow excesses in spending, or accept policies they might otherwise abhor. It’s banking on the fact that presenting people with an alleged threat to their well-being will elicit a powerful emotional response that can override reason and prevent a critical assessment of these policies. As author Mark Vernon has noted “… the politics of fear plays on an assumption that people cannot bear the uncertainties associated with [risk]. Politics then becomes a question of who can better deliver an illusion of control.”3
In 2013 President Obama called for increased minimum wage but John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, dismissed this policy as ‘big government’. Republicans are now calling for more redistribution. Marco Rubio is calling for a “pro family, pro growth” tax reform, which aims to lower the corporate tax rate by closing loopholes and increasing the child tax credit. Paul Ryan floats the idea of expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. These Republicans are just paying lip service to address concerns about the increasing divide between the rich and the rest of society; their ideas don’t resonate with the base of the party. When it comes to the effect of government assistance programs to the poor most Republicans believe these programs do more harm than good by making people too dependent on the government. Republicans, by about two-to-one, believe the government could do more to reduce poverty by lowering taxes on the wealthy and corporations in order to encourage more investment and economic growth.
Hilary Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy. In 2011, she supported bankruptcy legislation that some Democrats – most notably Elizabeth Warren, now senator from Massachusetts – argued hurt working families and single mothers, and they accuse her of doing the bidding of the financial industry. Mrs. Clinton claims she worked to improve the bill. This explanation still leaves problems. No one disputes the crux of the findings, that the very rich are outpacing everyone else in economic gains. Clinton’s economic policy is evolving, but it will need to incorporate specifics on addressing the concerns of the middle class, or else her detractors on the left will paint her as being identified with Wall Street.
Few courageous politicians exist today, as they all look over their shoulders to check that the crowd is following them (to make sure they are still leading), especially as elections approach. They introduce fear tactics, and then check to see if it resonates with voters. It falls to the general public to be the agents of change. We realize we have become disillusioned not because our expectations failed, but because they were false. We need courage to think differently, speak loudly, and challenge directly the systems, which we know to be unjust. We must promote new values for society to create the necessary change in culture to address the increasing economic inequality. With enough people marching in a new direction of more accountability, the politicians will adapt in order to position themselves to the front of the crowd so they can assure us they are in control.
1Linsenmayer, Mark (15 July 2012) Nietzsche on Truth. http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2012/07/15/topic61/
2Burke, Edmond. A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful With a Discourse Concerning Taste. London 1834. P 53.
3Whitehead, John. (01 Oct 12) “The Politics of Fear in America: A Nation at War with Itself.” https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/ john_whiteheads_commentary/the_politics_of_fear_in_america_a_nation_at_war_with_itself