Owned & Operated – Documentary Notes
Reading time: ~8min.
All You Need is a Credit Card
We are brought up to believe that happiness is just one credit card swipe away. First that the coolest kids wear the best sneakers. Then that success is defined by having a college degree and then a job. Then that new car. The message that we get is that the world knows better than ourselves what’s better for us.
Most of what we see as normal is actually shaped by our cultural norms. It is not something that is, indeed, good. And right now, consumerism is becoming the default cultural norm.
The documentary says that in the USA they reward stupid people for example with multi-million contracts to show them on reality TV-shows. Also when young people started to be targeted for marketing in the 90’s, for the first time, youth and everything that comes with it such as inexperience, recklessness, risk taking, started to be seen as great things.
A passage of George Carlin is shown. He says that education in the USA won’t be fixed because the ‘real’ owners of the country don’t want a well-educated and well-informed population capable of critical thinking to realize how the system is rigged. That they spend billions of dollars lobbying to get what they want, which is to get more for themselves and less for others. That they want obedient workers, smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but dumb enough to passively accept the diminishing benefits.
Who Cares About Morality?
Several people make short (<1min) speeches against wealth inequality. At some point it shows a trader in a interview who says that their job is to make money. They don’t care about the economy, and fixing its problems. If they see an opportunity to make money, they go for it [he probably read The Prince].
In a night TV show, a popular host makes a nice analogy to the fact that most of the income in the USA goes to the richest 1%: If 100 Americans get together and order a big pizza with 100 slices. The rich guy takes 80 slices. And also, if someone suggests for him to only take 79 they call him a socialist.
Another speaker says that in the USA corporations get massively punished for doing good things for humanity. For example if a corporation sacrifices itself a bit to improve the lives of people in another country, wall-street knocks it unconscious because of losing profits. On the other hand, if they do egotistical stuff that are bad for the local economy and for the local people but good for themselves they get the equivalent of a high-five. “You announce that you’re gonna pay the victims of a horrific oil spil – what are you Shawn Pan? You’re a multinational! You can’t go around caring about people! Can you imagine if the whole system made that? (…) What kind of world would that be? Not one where I want my trust-fund babies to grown up in!”
Then it is shown a part of an interview in the TV show 60-minute of Jack Abramoff, a famous american lobbyist who ended up in jail for 3 years. He says that congressmen don’t feel like they’re being bought, and that’s exactly how lobbyists want them to feel. Congressmen rationalize the ‘choices’ they’re being manipulated into. Lobbyists also buy them things like expensive meals in top restaurants, tickets to the best seats in sporting events, flying in private jets, in order to get them to do favors for them [this is a well known technique, cf. “Influence: Science and Practice”]. Abramoff would say his company would consider having the congressman working for them (triple salary) when he was done working uphill, and generally that was enough to own the man.
Another speaker tells that top multinational companies are constantly committing crime, which you can google and see for yourself. These names show over and over again for the same things: bribery, theft, tax evasion, misstatements of profits. And they do it repeatedly, despite paying billions of dollars in fines. They are not isolated cases. Breaking the law over and over again, even if getting caught, is part of how they do business.
The Loss of Freedom
More short speeches follow. Some talk about the illusion of choice between the 2 parties (Republicans and Democrats). That lobbyists control approximately the same number of congressmen from the both sides so it’s almost indifferent who wins.
The topic of loss of freedom to improve security is now discussed. How police can break into people’s houses for increasingly more subjective and regulated reasons, for example they can break into people’s homes if they smell what they think is smoke of marijuana. Also the Patriot Act, a group of laws, which was created after 9/11 that enable federal agents to investigate suspected cases of terrorism. It was very controversial because it is argued that those laws give the government too much power.
From the next short speeches it becomes very clear how all of the ‘5 steps to tyranny‘ are being used. For example since suspicion of being a terrorist is clearly vague, people have a constant sense of fear of doing something wrong. Many suspects of being terrorists, according to a speaker, can disappear with no trial, and the government is allowed to torture them or leave them in certain specific prisons for life.
Radical change cannot happen quickly or it is noticed and fought. If it happens slowly, and in steps people don’t notice it. It’s like putting your hands into boiling water versus putting them in warm water and let it heat gradually until the moment you notice that your hands are already burned.
Freedom on the internet is another issue. Censorship laws have been trying to creep their way into America (SOPA, PIPA, ACTA). One of the criticisms is that people making and passing these laws don’t even understand the internet and the implications of what they’re signing. Clueless. Evil. Or both. Another speaker says how most people don’t care about these issues as long as they don’t see clear practical disadvantages for them personally.
As it has been discussed the police too has seen an immense increase in power. There is a speech in here directed to policemen. The speaker says to them how he understands that they are not sure what they’re fighting for anymore but that they still have bills to pay, and a family to support and thus keep following orders. That they tell themselves that they will draw the line later. But that line has been crossed a long time ago, because they’re already fighting for the wrong side.
“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world… for indeed, that’s all who ever have.”
The group anonymous is discussed. It is a group of people with no leader, no headquarters that stand for social change that believe that the current system isn’t working, that there are no individuals, only humanity. They have taken the weapons in their hands against those who abuse power. They say that if we believe that the current system doesn’t work, then we’re already a member.
Science and Technology – A New Hope?
There is an organization, the GVCS, that identified the 50 most important machines and is now working to develop their designs in a open-source way. This is so that people can construct those machines themselves to bring back economic power to the common people. The designs and projects are worked in a collaborative way by people around the world.
Some movements that are trying to inspire action are the Transition Network (past oil life, the Zeitgeist Movement (sustainability), and the Venus Project (imagining a futuristic society).
Science and technology are the main factors propelling us forward, they are one of the main drivers of general human quality of life. Vaccines, foods, nano-materials, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation, computing, 3D-printing, sensors and networks. The internet is a mean to accelerate even more the spread of knowledge. In 2020 it’s projected that 60% of the population (or 5 billion) will have access to the internet (up from 23% in 2010, or 2 billion). 3 billion new people that we’ve never heard before will be able to access the interconnected world very soon. They will be able to be educated themselves, e.g. in khan academy, be more productive and give a voice to those who never had one.
“Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking. A way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility. If we are not able to ask skeptical questions to interrogate those who tell us that something is true, to be skeptical of those in authority, then we’re up for grabs for the next charlatan political or religious who comes babbling along. (…) It isn’t enough to enshrine some rights in a constitution. The people have to be educated and they have to practice their skepticism and their education, otherwise we don’t run the government, the government runs us.” Carl Sagan << wow, nice one.
Conclusion and Way Forward
Would it be possible if humans could extend the same feeling they have for their closest family, to the entire human race? To our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary tree, and finally – to the Biosphere and our Planet?
“Shouldn’t we consider in every nation, major changes in the traditional ways of doing things? A fundamental restructuring of economical, political, social and religious institutions? Fundamental changes in society are sometimes labeled as impractical or contrary to human nature, as if there was only 1 human nature. But fundamental changes can clearly be made, we’re surrounded by them.” “For example, we abolished slavery which was with us for thousands of years, and it was almost entirely a world revolution, women are gaining the political and economic power traditionally denied to them.” Carl Sagan
We should see the Earth as a single organism, and recognize that an organism at war with itself is doomed.
Sometimes it had some sensationalists parts but it still had some interesting knowledge within. The last 5 minutes were great.