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Wall St. Stands At The Pinnacle Of 5000 Years Of Human Exploitation, By David Korten


In an earlier day, our rulers were kings and emperors. Now they are corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers. Wall Street is Empire’s most recent stage. Its reign will mark the end of the tragic drama of a 5,000 year Era of Empire.

Imperial historians would have us believe that civilization, history, and human progress began with the consolidation of dominator power in the first great empires that emerged some 5,000 years ago. Much is made of their glorious accomplishments and heroic battles.

Rather less is said about the brutalization of the slaves who built the great monuments, the racism, the suppression of women, the conversion of free farmers into serfs or landless laborers, the carnage of the battles, the hopes and lives destroyed by wave after wave of invasion, the pillage and gratuitous devastation of the vanquished, and the lost creative potential.

Nor is there mention that most all the advances that make us truly human came before the Era of Empire—including the domestication of plants and animals, food storage, and the arts of dance, pottery, basket making, textile weaving, leather crafting, metallurgy, architecture, town planning, boat building, highway construction, and oral literature.

As the institutions of Empire took root, humans turned from a reverence for the generative power of life to a reverence for hierarchy and the power of the sword. The wisdom of the elder and the priestess gave way to the arbitrary rule of often ruthless kings. Social pathology became the norm and society’s creative energy focused on perfecting the instruments of war and domination. Priority in the use of available resources went to military, prisons, palaces, temples, and patronage.

Great civilizations were built and then swept away in successive waves of violence and destruction. War, trade, and debt served as weapons of the few to expropriate the means of livelihood of the many and reduce them to slavery or serfdom. Whole empires were subjected to the delusional hubris and debaucheries of psychopathic rulers.

If much of this sounds familiar, it is because in the face of the democratic challenge, the dominator cultures and institutions of Empire simply morphed into new forms.

The ideals of the American Revolution heralded the possibilities of a new era of equality and popular democratic rule, but it was a more modest beginning than we have been taught to believe. Once the former colonies gained their freedom from British rule and declared themselves the United States of America, their new leaders put aside the pronouncement of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and enjoy a natural right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—and set about securing their own power.

The king was gone, but the Constitution they drafted with a promise to “secure the Blessings of Liberty” for “We the People of the United States” effectively limited political participation to white male property owners and secured the return of escaped slaves to their designated owners. Colonial expansion followed soon after as the new nation expropriated by armed force all of the Native and Mexican lands between themselves and the distant Pacific Ocean.

Global expansion beyond U.S. territorial borders followed. The United States converted cooperative dictatorships into client states by giving their ruling classes a choice between aligning themselves with U.S. economic and political interests for a share in the booty or being eliminated by assassination, foreign-financed internal rebellion, or military invasion. Following World War II, when the classic forms of colonial rule became unacceptable, international debt became a favored instrument for forcing poorer nations to open to foreign corporate ownership and control.

Most of the economic, social, and environmental pathologies of our time—including sexism, racism, economic injustice, violence, and environmental destruction—originate in the institutions of Empire. The resulting exploitation has reached the limits that the social fabric and Earth’s natural systems will endure.

As powerful as Wall Street appears to be, its abuse of power has so eroded the economic, social, and environmental foundations of its own existence that its fate is sealed. We the People have a choice. We can allow Wall Street to maintain its grip until it brings down the whole of human civilization in irrevocable social and environmental collapse. Or we can take control of our future and replace the Wall Street economy with the values and institutions of a New Economy comprised of locally owned businesses devoted to serving their communities by investing in the use of local resources to produce real goods and services responsive to local needs.

Either way, Wall Street’s days are numbered. Ours need not be.

David Korten wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.

David Korten is a former economist with USAID, author of “When Corporations Rule the World,” and an associate of the International Forum on Globalization.
© 2011 YES! Magazine All rights reserved.
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8 comments to Wall St. Stands At The Pinnacle Of 5000 Years Of Human Exploitation, By David Korten

  • izzy

    True enough. But the real question being begged here is what dynamic was it that caused our fall from grace, and the institution of the social pathology described as “Empire”? Are we to assume that somehow it is simply a stage to be outgrown, or is there something deeper and more profound at work? What exactly is it that will prevent the whole thing from recapitulating itself after the dust settles?

  • Leon Night

    In my own humble opinion, which I tire of repeating as much perhaps as others tire of having me repeat it:

    1) As many choices can be stated as you wish, although there are usually only two in any given article. ‘We can do this, or that’. ‘Either this will happen, or that will happen’. Will we “modern” humans ever move beyond this either/or mentality? My inclination is to think in terms of AND; that ALL these things might happen. I’m referring here to reasonably considered choices of this, or that, of course. So , let’s begin thinking in terms of AND for a change.

    2) The author states: “We can allow Wall Street to maintain its grip until it brings down the whole of human civilization in irrevocable social and environmental collapse. Or we can take control of our future and replace the Wall Street economy with…” I must argue here with this author. The history of the evolution of humanity shows that every good motive and every new idea is always eventually co-opted by individuals with a self-serving agenda; that everything eventually is made to serve the Empire. Therefore, in my opinion, “taking control of our future” even if any new idea is designed and initially made to flourish for a while with all of the best intentions, is a meaningless exercise. Such ideas will eventually be bent in the direction of The Empire. The US Constitution and The Bill of Rights, among other well-meaning revolutionary documents are good examples of the co-option and assimilation of everything by this Empire. Its momentum is much to great to be stopped by any evolutionary or revolutionary force, with one exception I can think of.

    3) Collapse. “…the whole of human civilization in irrevocable social and environmental collapse”., will occur, it MUST occur. Human history shows that only after the total collapse of a particular zeitgeist can a new one be built to completely replace it. Otherwise it is merely papered-over, given a new name like, for instance, “food insecurity” and the Empire plows inexorably on. Before the architecture of any real and lasting new world civilization can even be imagined, the existing Empire; this 5000 year-old edifice of which you speak, must experience an “…irrevocable social and environmental collapse.” Due to the massive weight and increasing acceleration of this zeitgeist, its momentum cannot be reduced or made to change direction by the enlightened use of ideation. It’s heading for a cliff, and it must be allowed to crash.

    4) In view of the above, the seemingly maniacal efforts of many organizations, such as the Tea Party, should not be discouraged, but should perhaps be seen as the very saviors of the world they themselves purport to be as they preach the gospel of the status quo. This Empire must collapse; must come to its natural end, and the sooner it does, the greater number of animal, fish, and plant species will survive; the more of Earths precious ecology will be saved. Think about that the next time you see a bumper sticker that says, Save The World – Vote Republican! Little do they know: The world they are saving is one they are not even capable of dreaming about.

    5) AND… after the unbelievable catastrophe of this collapse is forever seared into the collective conscious of humanity, then—and only then—will there occur this much celebrated Turning Point in human civilization the intellectuals are writing all of their books about. Only then will the legend of the flight of the Phoenix come to be fully, and for all time, understood in all of its power and significance. Due to the fire, and then out of its ashes future generations will arise, thankful for the necessary totality of the collapse, and for the spontaneous metanoic bifurcation in human consciousness it caused.

  • Douglas Kearns

    Not all humans embarked on a quest of development into something to be called “civilization”. Many remained integrated in the environment, of which we are all a part of – though civilized people have lost that relationship. The hunter/gatherer represents our most stable and sustainable lifestyle with the added benefit of the lack of social discord; everyone in the tribe looking out for everyone else.

  • Franklin

    Izzy and Leon: I share your frustration, especially regarding a continuation of “empire” under a different name but with the same inherent problems.

    Douglas: I certainly agree with your post. Native African, and American Indian cultures, South Sea Islanders, and the Hunzakuts of the Himalayas, to name a few, are examples of communalism–“everyone in the tribe looking out for everyone else.”

    In modern times, the anarchist/socialist communities in the Catalonian region of Spain were all about this type of localization, and community self-reliance, and the ruling-class felt threatened by any form of egalitarian society, which was the reason for the Spanish Civil War.

    Wall Street, the capitalist class, and the psychopathic misanthropes in the Pentagon and mic are pleased to gut all social programs for the common good of society, and have taxes pumped into their treasure chests.

    On Collapse–hard to really predict with any accuracy as things and circumstances are changing at an abnormallly rapid pace. WW3 will definitely cause a collapse. Don’t rule it out! Those who survive, will be starting from scratch.

  • Mark


    Great article. It was for this kind of writing I subscribed to Yes! magazine. Sadly, however, this article wouldn’t appear in Yes! That publication has nothing but feel-good fluff and so I did not renew.

    • Here at Speaking Truth to Power, we are committed to publishing the brutal truth alongside feel-good fluff because the primary challenge for those who are collapse-aware is to hold the daily reality alongside a vision of possibility.

  • Michael Audley

    Peter Schumpeter, coined a phase “Creative Destruction.”

    Very true, but there is a lot of damage to innocent people while this process happens. Like now.

    Truth to Power is a solution.

    Michael Audley
    Overland Park, Kan

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