The Clever Devils Concoct the Master Plan
© by Dr. Jan Garrett
Department of Philosophy and Religion
Western Kentucky University Bowling Green Kentucky 42101
The following story is meant as a parable. A parable in this sense is not like a fable of Aesop. It will not explicitly tell you its moral. It hopes to provoke thought and to promote understanding indirectly. Readers must interpret the parable themselves. There may be more than one satisfactory interpretation.*
Preliminary Remark by the Author
Globo, Chairman, Project for a New Infernal Millennium (PNIF)
Sofismo, Public Relations Specialist
Hegemo, Power Specialist
Contro, Angel's Advocate
and Margo, Devil at Large
The devils had been asleep for several years. They had been busy before they dozed off: the patterns they had previously established had produced a war that caused slaughter and destruction on three continents and two oceans. Powerful dictatorships had brutalized people, fanatic ruling groups committed genocide, massively destructive weapons had been created and used on innocent people. Empires the devils had once helped set up exhausted themselves in mutual carnage.
The devils awoke to find the world in a mess but ready to start again, as if from hopeful beginnings. Awareness of the previous breakdown of social order and decency led many humans to vow that they would not let such indecencies happen again. Oppressed peoples under the yoke of empires were struggling to break their chains, demanding that they share in the rights to which citizens of the more advantaged countries laid claim.
Humans were soon to produce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The colonies of the European Empires were about to win their political independence. Some of the asset-rich countries would establish welfare states that guaranteed decent minimum living standards for most of their own citizens.
The devils were thrilled at the recent destruction and carnage. But their fiendish joys were mixed with concern. "We have catching up to do," said Globo. "We've been awakened by Mephistopheles himself because he has an assignment for us, and there are hellish consequences for us if we fail. So let's get to work. Please turn to your copies of His Lordship's Infernal Guide to Strategic Planning. It outlines the process."
"First, we must try to visualize the world we want to see sixty years from now." And so they did.
What they saw is familiar to us from the pictures on fund-appeal mailings we receive from Oxfam USA or Doctors without Borders, magazines like the New Internationalist, or occasional PBS or BBC television specials on crises in Africa or Bangladesh.
They saw starving children, merely skin and bones, victims of diseases like AIDS in countries whose health care services have been cut to almost zero, young women in sweatshops in Central America, boys as young as six in rug factories in Pakistan, children working as slaves in the cocoa farms on the West African coast, illiterate unemployed people whose governments could no longer afford to fund schools.
They visualized large slums surrounding growing cities in the Global South, people forced to live on the streets in large cities. They saw refugees from floods in low-lying areas and from endless wars between factions trying violently to seize political power. They saw peasants evicted from their lands fleeing to the jungle to clear land for farms, where the fertility wears out in two years, plunging them back into starvation or into hard, hazardous labor in the gold mines. They saw child soldiers in war-ravaged countries, lands too dangerous to farm because of unexploded cluster bombs from recent wars, cripples who had, as children, picked up such bombs, thinking them toys. The blank looks of people who had seen or endured too many atrocities, who had lived too long without hope.
The devils visualized the contrast of gated communities where homes came with swimming pools and modern household appliances, the inhabitants owned fine wardrobes, had servants, and displayed degrees from universities. The devils envisioned the army's bloody suppression of nonviolent dissident groups and politically weak ethnic minorities; they saw police arrest independent thinkers and imprison them without trial, using torture against opponents of the regime. They visualized thugs assaulting people who tried to campaign for reform parties and residents of the gated communities paying off the leader of the thugs. They were thrilled.
"Now that we have visualized the kind of future we seek," said Globo, "we must state our goals in general terms."
"Violence, obviously," said one. "And early death."
"Disease, the more painful the better; the less curable the better," said another.
"No, the more curable the better," said the first, "provided it is not in fact cured because people who could help refused to supply the means to pay for medicines or for the necessary medical research. People suffer more when they know others could help them but don't."
"Illiteracy, scientific ignorance, lack of skills," said a third.
"Environmental decline--desertification, pollution; also, resource depletion, destruction of habitat, and loss of ecological diversity," said a fourth.
"Lack of material resources," said a fifth, "landlessness for peasants, homelessness in cities, lack of employment for many."
"Don't forget discrimination," said the third, "racial, gender, and religious. And political powerlessness too: no chance to be well informed about political issues, no opportunity to discuss them, no ways of controlling or replacing leaders."
"And," said the second, "especially growing inequality: wealth increasingly concentrated into a smaller fraction of the world's population; a vanishing middle class; an expanding and increasingly disadvantaged impoverished class."
"To top it all off," said the last devil, "growing awareness among those at the bottom that they are without resources and what this fact symbolizes: their utter worthlessness, humiliation, and degradation."
"If these are our goals," said Globo, "what objectives can mark our success in achieving them? What are steps we can take to realize these objectives?"
"Wars," said Margo, "civil wars, ethnic cleansing campaigns. Prisons, even for minor criminals. Obvious steps include recruitment of child soldiers, major investment in war material, and of course a profitable arms trade."
"Privatization of essential services," said Banco, "tax cuts for the rich, cuts in public services in the fields of health and education; repeal of regulations that might block industrial pollution or reduce injury from product defects."
"Production and consumption," said Hegemo, "that creates hazardous wastes and pollution. Also monoculture: producing a lot of exactly the same kind of crop, with few different kinds. Genetically engineered crops whose side-effects are untested."
"Don't forget," said Sofismo, "Cultural uniformity: most people think alike, worship alike, wear the same types of clothes (a few different colors of course, and the hemlines can vary up to twelve inches). But most of those with power approve of how the world is organized even if it is going to heck."
"Now," said Globo, "What resources do we have to help us reach our goals and objectives?"
"My committee is ready," said Sofismo, "with its Report on Human Mental Weakness. This is what we found. First, people are chiefly engaged in seeking what they see as to their own advantage. This is not always a problem for humans, since sometimes one person's self-interest coincides with the self-interest of others, but, when we combine pursuit of self-interest with other human foibles, we have the means for great mischief."
"Go on," said Globo.
"For one," said Sofismo. "Humans tend to generalize too much. They take solutions that work in one context and extend them to all contexts, as if unaware that different contexts produce different results. They are also inclined to substitute what feels good for what is good and right all things considered.
"Under this heading," he continued, "we also found the desire to be thought worthy of praise even if one has not earned it and addiction to the pleasure of feeling superior to others. This is the basis for elite snobbery, cheap patriotism, racism, sexism, and biases against religious groups other than one's own.
"We would also put under this heading two weaknesses we have thoroughly tested on tobacco smokers: wishful thinking and time discounting. Because their current activity is pleasant now, wishful thinkers suppress evidence that it will produce harmful results later. Time discounters know that their activity can produce future problems but put little weight on this fact because the future seems still quite distant."
"You forgot to mention," Hegemo interjected, "the willingness of leaders to promise what they cannot deliver."
"I was getting to that," said Sofismo. "What makes it work is the weakness of followers who fall for such promises. That results from what I was talking about: wishful thinking, time discounting, hasty generalization."
"Don't forget that people are often suckers for leaders who can act with a show of decisiveness," said Margo.
"Our final point is this," said Sofismo. "People want meaning so badly that they will do things that seem foolish in hindsight if it seems meaningful while they are engaged. That's why they can be enlisted as foot soldiers in Crusades or imperial wars from which neither they nor humanity at large are likely to benefit."
"We have other, more important, resources," said Hegemo, "and my subcommittee on General Purpose Social Tools has catalogued them."
"How can they be more important than the Mental Weakness Resources I just mentioned?" said Sofismo.
"Because they are!" replied Hegemo.
"Will you two cool it?" said Globo. "Hegemo, let's hear the General Purpose Social Tools report from your committee."
"Consider," said Hegemo, "the following GPST's. Some of these have non-fiendish uses, but they all can be put to fiendish purposes.
"First, the nation-state.
"Second, the so-called free market.
"Third, the concentration of ownership and economic power.
"Fourth, subordination rather than democratic coordination in organizations.
"Fifth, the corporate form of economic organization, made possible by laws that recognize corporations as artificial persons with legal rights and powers distinct from those of human persons.
"Sixth, the economic legacy of colonialism, especially the fact that most former colonies are set up to produce and export agricultural products or raw materials but not industrial or knowledge-intensive products."
"Seventh, the institution of perpetual debt."
"That was my idea," said Banco, who was a member of Hegemo's committee.
"Right. One idea," said Hegemo sarcastically.
"Give every devil his due, Hegemo," said Globo.
"Actually, he plagiarized the free market idea from somebody else," said Banco.
"Is there any more to your report, Hegemo?!" shouted Globo.
"Yes, there is one other GPST. It is Tit for Tat, or Corrupt Mutual Benefit. This occurs when already advantaged members of a society buy off leaders who are supposed to serve justice and the common good. It also occurs when the elites of wealthy countries permit the elites of poor countries to share their privileges so as to create a global network of special privilege."
"Now," said Globo, "using the resources and the tools, and keeping in mind our vision and objectives, our task is to design the institutions for the new world order we will impose over the next several decades.
"What if we start with the idea of nation-states and see what devilry we can do by combining it with Banco's idea of perpetual debt? The nation- states give us a starting point. They have been shaken up by the World War but are still intact. The peoples trying to free themselves from the old empires are not questioning the state system. They seem to want to set up their own states. Suppose we arrange for states themselves to become major borrowers and debtors, and make rules so that most of them can never escape debt."
"What we need," said Banco, "is to persuade governments in the weaker parts of the world to rely upon the international borrowing privilege of states."
"How would that work?" asked Hegemo.
"Whoever actually rules a state may borrow money on behalf of the state," Banco explained. "The state itself acquires the debt and must pay it back with interest or renegotiate it. This means that later governments may come to power saddled with debts acquired by their predecessors. And states are potentially immortal. They cannot escape debt by dying."
"We can set up some equally immortal global financial organizations," said Globo, "to organize lending to and collect interest from the debtor states. Not being publicly identified with any single rich country or any single corporate bank, they can conceal from the borrowers just who the lenders are."
"That's a good way," noted Sofismo, "to frustrate anyone who might want to challenge the arrangement of loans and debts on behalf of the borrowers."
"One of our first tasks," said Banco, "will be to get the poorer countries used to borrowing--by starting them for several years with loans at very low interest rates. For some time the lending institutions can urge them not to pay the loans off but to borrow even more."
"Just so long as the borrower countries do not try to change their traditional role as providers of agricultural products and raw materials for the export market," said Hegemo.
"Why is that?" asked Globo.
"Because, thanks to devilish design, success breeds failure," said Hegemo. "As long as borrower countries compete with each other but are limited in the variety of their products, their success at increasing production will flood the market with similar products. Greater supply makes prices, and therefore profits, drop so states find it difficult to pay off the principals on their loans. When this happens, the banks will raise the interest rates. From this point on, the principal cannot be paid off--it will be all a borrower country can do to pay the interest. This perpetual indebtedness ensures that governments won't be able to invest in education or health care or even adequate drinking water for their own people."
"One more thing," said Banco, "we must ensure that a borrower state, or rather, the ruling power in the state, has a second privilege, the international resources privilege."
"What is that?" asked Globo.
"It is the legal right of the internationally recognized ruling group of a state," said Banco, "to sell off resources located in its territory, even without the consent of its people. There is no requirement that the ruling group is democratically chosen. Other governments and foreign corporations can recognize the ruling party as legitimate even if it is not in the eyes of its own people. As the ruling group it will exercise the state's international resources and international borrowing privileges."
"Delightful," said Hegemo, who had grasped the implications. "Now the least democratic elements in a resource-rich state have a motive to seize power. And originally democratic parties wishing to preserve power have a motive to become undemocratic. They can commit the state to a debt they do not have to pay off, since the debt can always be foisted onto the next generation or the next government. In any case it is the whole state's debt, not theirs personally. If they have to pay interest on it, they can sell the country's resources at bargain prices to the wealthy countries."
Contro spoke for the first time, "How will we persuade the leaders of the weaker nations to turn against their own peoples? After all, some of them became leaders during a liberation struggle against a foreign oppressor. They might identify with their own people and resist our schemes."
"Who are you?" asked Banco.
"That's Contro," said Globo. "He's an angel's advocate."
"An angel, here!" shrieked Hegemo, "What's an angel doing here?"
"No, he's one of us," Globo explained. " 'Angel's advocate' is a figure of speech. Contro's job is to find loopholes in our fiendish schemes so we can close them." Turning to the other devils, Globo said, "we have to answer Contro's objection: How will we 'turn' the leaders of the disadvantaged countries away from caring about their own people?"
"It may take a generation in some cases," said Sofismo. "The leaders of the poorer countries must be carefully taught. When they are young they have to be invited to visit the rich countries and given a very important lesson: the latest technologies--refrigerators, cars, televisions, sound systems, videocams, computers, cell phones, guns, bombs, airplanes-- are fun to use and prestigious to own. In fact you can organize your entire life around them."
"Right," said Banco, "this process will guarantee that the sons and daughters of the original leaders in the former colonies will lust after the technological toys they can buy from the wealthy countries. It will be no secret that countries can get loans from the global financial organizations. Their cousins in power will arrange for these loans and distribute the money so a select minority can enjoy some of what is enjoyed by the middle class in wealthy countries. The elites in the borrower countries will look down on their own compatriots-- they will identify more with elites in the asset-rich countries."
"We'll make televisions and radios cheap enough by then," said Globo, "that the poorest of the poor will learn how the global rich live and be able to compare their own poverty and powerlessness with the wealth and power of the planetary and local elites."
"Sending them a clear painful message of their personal worthlessness. Precisely what we want them to think. How evil!" Banco was obviously delighted.
"Won't some people in the borrower countries see through this and try to stop it?" asked Contro.
"That's why," said Hegemo, "the elites in borrower countries must acquire military and police technologies from the lender countries themselves. The elites won't be able to stay in power without them."
"They can pay handsomely for these toys," said Banco, "from loans they have incurred or the sale of their country's resources."
"They will have to explain why they are buying this technology," said Contro.
"Easy," said Sofismo. "We will tell our local agents to say they need it for fighting internal subversion (communists, drug producers, terrorists, etc.). The fear factor is very useful."
"We have forgotten one thing," said Globo, looking over his shoulder at a devil who had not spoken recently
"What's that?" asked Hegemo.
"Domination is not complete without a dominatrix."
The five devils jumped as a long whip snapped at them. "You almost forgot me, boys!" They quickly made room for Margo. "A system of domination," she said, "requires a power-center, an order-giver, something that will act when all other agents hesitate, something that can be ruthless and get away with it."
"And what kind of power-center would this be?" asked Hegemo.
"Well, boys," said Margo. "You already have nation-states. What you need now is one of them that likes to play God's gift to humankind and, like some folks' God, resolves not to let any other power be its equal. A Superpower, one that can spend money on weapons and wars as if there were no tomorrow."
"This sounds like another task for financial devilry," said Banco.
"Not so fast," replied Margo. "Your first scheme with rich lender countries and poor borrower countries will not do the job here. The Superpower we need can spend money as if there is no tomorrow because it can print it. This money will keep its apparent value because other privileged states have no choice but to accept it, in effect subsidizing it. They will subsidize it because the Superpower backs up their own relative privilege, by force if necessary."
Contro piped up, "I am not sure we need a dominatrix, Margo. We have a very clever scheme already worked out. The lender countries have the borrower countries in their pockets. It all seems to free and so voluntary and so logical, on the surface of course. Why bring in overt force?"
"Fool!" Margo snapped her whip at Contro, who vanished defensively and reappeared behind the other devils. "You have to have a dominatrix because the fiendish schemes you've designed so far only work in general. There is always a possibility that people here and there, even nations here and there, will see through them. Your schemes will be grinding down millions of people. Some may discover they have an interest in upsetting your schemes. They may even coordinate among themselves to do so. Somebody must be ready to put down the upstarts by force before they spoil our fun."
"How does that work, Margo?" asked Globo.
"For one thing," replied Margo, "the Superpower must always have a supply of disposable devils of its own. I am not talking about real devils. I am talking about human devils created directly or indirectly by the Superpower and other rich countries. These human devils are often quite nasty, in a local sense. They may have been trained or financed at one time by the Superpower itself. Superpower advisors will even call them 'the devil we know' until, of course, the Superpower decides to dispose of them."
"Evidence of their creation or support by the Superpower can be suppressed," said Sofismo. "Its pundits can tell tales about the bad deeds of these all-too-human devils, even accuse them of crimes they have not committed, while distracting attention from state criminals at least equally troublesome."
"The Superpower," said Margo, "can then launch its troops to destroy these local devils, even to great applause. After the dust settles--voila!-- new military bases of the Superpower have appeared next door to states that had begun to dream of greater independence."
"It helps," Sofismo added, "if the human devil of the month can be tempted to violate international decorum, say, by invading a small neighboring country."
"We've forgotten one thing," Contro was bold enough to speak again. "How are we going to convince the Superpower's citizens that their collusion is justified?
"This is a long-term project," said Sofismo. "But the key is this. These people must be convinced of their exceptional virtue, in which they share, without any effort, just by being born into the Superpower. The best way to achieve this is a monopolized communications industry able to entertain people while never raising questions about the global activities of its own regime. Its citizens must be guided toward care-free spending and an apparently secure, materially comfortable existence. They must not be allowed to feel any shame or guilt about this. They must not sense that their privilege requires that the Superpower be dominatrix of the global system and that they collude with it. They must be ready to deny that they help to impose domination on the asset-poor and borrower countries, that they are complicit in any unjust arrangement."
"Surely," said Contro, "the citizens of the Superpower will not always be able to banish from their minds the notion that they have responsibilities to distant peoples."
"Our local agents will reply," said Sofismo, "that obligations to others stop at national boundaries. Thus citizens of the Superpower can deny that they have duties to those who are not fellow citizens."
"But," Contro wouldn't quit, "surely the Superpower will have to invoke international duties if it is to retain the moral high ground for its wars. For how long, then, can our local agents persuade people to deny their global responsibilities?"
"There is a backup plan," said Sofismo, "Our agents can say that the misery of ordinary people in the poor countries is to be blamed on the corrupt rulers of these countries. An implication, of course, is that the victims of these rulers are partly to blame for their own misery because they tolerate such rulers. In any case, we will have our agents explain, the global system is not at fault. Thus nobody should ask about the part played by elites in wealthy countries or the complicity of the citizens in those countries who help elect Presidents or Congresspersons."
"But the local elites in the poor countries are often part of the problem," said Globo. "We're counting on that."
"Of course," said Sofismo, "that's important if we are trying to distract attention from the role of the powerful, wealthy countries, not to mention from the master plan we are designing. We should be able to keep Superpower citizens feeling relatively guilt-free."
"Still," said Banco, "in our plan the elites of the rich countries will control the global lending institutions that create the rules for the global trade and credit system. These institutions are key to the system that piles an ever bigger debt burden and misery upon most of the people in the asset- poor nations and, by comparison, raises the advantage of the asset-rich. Of course, we assume self-interested cooperation by elites in most countries."
"I still wonder about the citizens of the wealthy countries," said Contro. "Our agents are constantly telling them how lucky they are because they control their leaders through elections and at the same time that they are not responsible for global injustice. Yet, given what we are doing, one of those two statements must be false. Either the citizens of the dominant countries have very little control over their leaders or they, along with their leaders, are our accomplices. What if they figure this out?"
"Not a big problem," said Sofismo. "Our local agents can ridicule as a conspiracy theorist anyone who points this out. Our tools in the universities can say that the global trading and financing schemes just evolved by trial and error. They can claim that these schemes were never designed by anybody or any committee. After all, no human being has ever attended one of our meetings. As powerful and destructive as we are, nobody has ever seen us. A few folks might decipher how we run the world, but they are handicapped by their lack of belief in devils, which they label superstition. On the other hand, humans who do believe in devils never think of us operating on a truly grand scale. They imagine us tempting people to engage in premarital sex, have abortions, smoke pot, or plagiarize term papers. They do not realize that real devils have much bigger fish to fry."
July 25, 2003
* This story was originally presented to an audience on July 20, 2003, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Bowling Green Kentucky.