The Dream of One Thousand Cats

For the first time in human history, almost the entirety of the population of our planet is consciously facing the same problem.

As countries go into lock-down, each government is of a necessity having to suspend business-as-usual. The endless churn of the masses generating society’s actual wealth through their labours – which is in turn sucked into the endlessly hungry maws of fewer and fewer staggeringly rich people – is being thrown into the spotlight. Capitalism is revealed more clearly than ever before as being harmful to humanity.

Maybe also for the first time, the complacent right, arrogant and coddled in their unearned security, are being shown how fragile their comfort is, relying as it does on countless ‘insignificant’ others. They’re being shown too that when the masses are imperiled, the rich cannot use their wealth to escape from the damages. Some might seclude themselves from a life-threatening pandemic but how truly secure are they? Seeing them stuck in their splendid isolations, we question the needy adulation-seeking of the famous and our lack of need for them is made apparent. We see how the ungoverned accumulations of the corporatists is threatened by cessations of whole economies and wonder why people so fundamentally useless to society have been allowed to acquire wealths so vast that they will never be able to use them in their lifetimes. Can these people see from their ivory towers and gated communities how interconnected we all actually are? Can they see how fragile their position is? More to the point, can we see it?

On the other side, governments are scrambling to put together elaborate and complicated aid packages, in order to stop the suddenly work-free masses from running out of food, heat, shelter and communications – all services that have been run for private profit. It becomes apparent how essential to life these are and how easy it is for governments to in essence buy them out, by paying us all money that we then pay to the companies in these sectors. And yet no governments are considering anything so radical as cutting out the unnecessary complications and nationalising these sectors.

Instead of doing so, our governments insist on funnelling money to most of us through the correct, capital-accumulating structures. This keeps us tied to those structures and helps stop us questioning why such structures exist and who benefits from them.

We are paid what that structure deems us worth. But why should our governments be giving more money to a corporate manager than a burger flipper, when they are both sitting in their homes doing pretty much the same thing? More than that, why, right now, is the sitting-at-home manager being paid more than a shelf-stacker who is putting their life on the line to help us all? What is the determining factor in the worth of a person’s labour? It must be apparent to many of us now that our alleged value is not connected to our essential use to society.

How complex and bureaucratic do the government programmes have to be, to stop us from realising that we are more or less all worth the same? That our society will break utterly if enough of us simply stop and, further, that singling out and attacking individual segments of society will ultimately lead to the whole crumbling?

How many people, right now, are sitting at home with a sickening realisation that what they have spent their life doing is less useful to humanity than the most menial job in a supermarket? That, when push comes to shove, we need grocery store staff and drivers and cleaners more than almost any other job, outside of the caring professions?

How many of those people are pulling out a guitar from the back of a cupboard, or opening a dusty recipe book and realising that they’d rather be doing what they’re doing right this moment than what they had been chained to up until now?

The more complex and bureaucratic a government’s aid package and the more it can be linked to a person’s previous position in the economy, the better. To stop change, to stop the dawning realisations of actual worth, it is imperative to reinforce our previous positions in the capitalist economy and in so doing keep everyone in their position in the giant private profit churn, that benefits so many fewer people year upon year.

The question now is how can all of us – across the whole planet – help birth a new world, in the light of our private and public revelations?

Right now governments everywhere are showing that giving everyone in the country money is possible. That, in fact, without all of us having money our society breaks utterly. Which means that the rich and those who benefit from private property do not have the power they thought they had. If we all say, for example, give us Universal Basic Income now or we stop paying our mortgages and our rents, what can they do? No government can evict or lock up a whole country.

Universal Basic Income would free us from the shackles of private profit. It would not remove private profit, because deeper and more radical change is needed for that, but it would give us enough money to get by and give us all choice. Maybe getting by while slowing down and spending your time baking bread or playing the guitar is better than having two cars, two holidays a year, no time for your family and a life of endless spreadsheets. It will be for some. It could be for many, after months of isolation and thought and revelation. If we have the choice. If we have Universal Basic Income. Is it any wonder that governments are resistant to it?

For the first time in history, the mass or our planet’s population has the chance to say ‘no more’ to the system that has allowed a minuscule number of people to have stolen all of our wealth and to have so damaged our environment.

I am one person, without any great insights, but I can see that Universal Basic Income could free an untold number of us. And who knows what could happen after that, what spirit and ideas could be unleashed?

In Sandman, author Neil Gaiman wrote a story about a cat. It was a cat who had been granted a vision of the world as it should have been, as it was. That world was one were cats ruled and humans were small insignificant animals to be played with and eaten. Yet one night, one thousand humans dreamt of a different world and a new world came to pass, where the humans ruled and always had done and where cats were powerless things, kept at the whim of the humans. Our world. The cat with the vision realised that her world could be brought back, if only one thousand cats would dream of it and so she spent her life telling other cats of her vision and asking them to dream.

Right now we are all cats, denied our world, seemingly powerless and suspicious that any other world is even possible. Our only option is to demand change. To band together and to insist that our elected officials listen to us. Another world is possible, but we have to want it, believe it and demand it.

Comments (17)

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  1. James Mills says:

    Meow ! I agree – only 999 more required !

  2. SleepingDog says:

    While I agree with several of the points made here (why should people forced to stop work get a percentage of their previous salary instead of a flat rate/living wage from the state, and so on), is this freeer, slower, thriftier life basically environmentally-imposed austerity by another name? Is it not austerity if we like it, or think we are choosing it, or living lightly becomes fashionable?

    Perhaps another way to look at it is that only the commons should be wealthy: isn’t that the essence of a commonwealth? We are wealthy if we collectively have great healthcare systems, live amongst abundant nature, have excellent public spaces and facilities and so on. Whereas private riches… well, that’s just sick, isn’t it?

    BTW, the problem with the thousand cat analogy is that it is far too close to the 1% of the 1% reality distortion/fake wealth-creator mythology. The dream of a thousand human fat cats imposed upon the rest of us? No thanks.

    1. Stewart Bremner says:

      Only the commons being wealth is a good idea and, aye, privates riches is surely a sign of a sick society.

      I take your point on the cats. I should probably have made it more clear that it needs to be millions of us that are making the demand, not just one thousand.

  3. Alistair Taylor says:

    Community-ism.
    Looking out for one another.
    Having a good, happy, fulfilling, meaningful, interconnected life, and society.
    Just common sense really.

  4. richard parker says:

    I notice the article starts with ‘almost the entirety of the population’ rather than ‘the whole’. Perhaps this relates to the exclusion of the super rich 1% of the planet? For them, a globally orchestrated crash of the world economy can be potentially beneficial. They can then exercise more control of humanity when the current ‘system’ staggers back into action. A central control of air traffic to curb movement of populace maybe , a cashless closely monitored society all working to the common good/goal. I think we have to be careful that we do not develop in this direction…

    1. Stewart Bremner says:

      I wasn’t exactly meaning the super rich in this context, but it is a valid point. Over recent decades, at the very least, they have exploited every societal upheaval to increase their power and riches. We can’t let them do that again now.

  5. Alistair MacKichan says:

    I like this article, for its insight about the worth of everyone. I would like to think that this insight is widespread in Scotland, partly because of our social beginning in clan structures which valued each member of family, partly because of a social history which required resistance from the grassroots to colonialism, partly (and this will infuriate the modern secular mindset, but here goes) because for two hundred years we were “The Land of the Book”, and the Judaeo-Christian ethic is strongly grounded in the individual’s spiritual journey being the baseline for all other considerations. Anyway, it is good, and the concept of universal basic income is sound, in that good people will make the most of it, and build their sound activity on it for the good of all, and bad people will not get more than their share, and will be limited in the dross they can perpetrate. So, I like Universal Basic Income.
    Where I feel the article unravels is in its last sentences. just as we must think and action our way outside the Capitalist model, so we have to understand that our elected officials are wedded to a system which they cannot change from the top any more, because the power has all been grabbed by the banks, corporations, military industrial complex, and the inertia of “deep state which these power-brokers now manage. So, actually, we don’t go the traditional root, and all shout loudly at the people we can no longer trust to implement our consensus. We look to ourselves. We create the new world within the shell of the old, by starving the old of our interest, our investment and our labour, and putting all the energy we can into a sustainable, satisfying, joyous celebration of life, which is rich in vibrance of culture, events, opportunity, and achievement.
    In response to discussion above I would have to say that a withdrawal from the world of Capitalist money, which is all attached to the dream of a few, into the new world without capitalism is not austerity in any manner or form. Austerity is a slimming down of life capacities. Austerity is the atrophy which capitalism brings to the biosphere, species, environments, minority groups and cultural forms. Spirituality/renaissance is what happens as a converse, when people are released from the straitjacket of hell.

    1. Stewart Bremner says:

      I think the point isn’t so much about what the perceived good and bad do, but that all of us are lifted to a position where we have the choice to be good or bad or whatever actually suits us. Awful entities could probably still be awful, but the stronger position that UBI would give the workforce, would mean no one would be forced to work for them.

      I agree that out elected officials are wedded to the system that works against us. I don’t expect them to make a top to bottom change, but instead ask everyone to pressure them, from the bottom, to make the needed changes at the top.

      It am sure that there are plenty places around the world that are creating their own new worlds within the shell of the old now but I believe we need a system change that can only be made at a larger scale.

  6. Me Bungo Pony says:

    I sometimes wonder what we mean by “Capitalism”. Is it the socio-economic model everyone assumes the West represents …. or is it an individual’s use of their own assets to improve their and their families economic position? Because, to my mind, the former doesn’t really exist in the way it is portrayed in general discourse and articles such as this, while the latter is just human nature that has existed since the dawn of humankind and will continue to exist until the last of us draws their final breath.

    I say the former doesn’t really exist because much of what we call “capitalist society” has a lot of inherent “socialism” embedded in its institutions and government policies. Even in the USA, probably the closest to the classic capitalist model, there are federal, state and local policies that seek to help those at the bottom of the ladder …. albeit wholly inadequate leading to a level of poverty rarely seen outside the Third World. But in Europe we have social policies that seek to use a country’s wealth which (should) see “no one left behind”. Granted, these policies have been vilified, besieged and cut by successive right wing govts across the continent determined to see wealth concentrated in the hands of the few they truly represent …. but the policies still persist and therefore offer hope going into the future.

    The modern so-called “capitalist” world could never have existed without “socialism” to lift people out of the absolute poverty the untrammelled capitalism of the 19th century had reduced them to. Without “socialism” ensuring the “masses” had more money in their pocket to buy goods, access to education that freed the intellect of billions to generate ideas that changed the world, health care that allowed them to live longer more productive lives, etc, the world today would be a much darker and primitive place. However, it cannot be denied that capitalism allowed that increased economic and intellectual bounty to generate wealthy societies unthinkable prior to WW2. The continued drift back to the 19th century model espoused by the right wing could see that dark and primitive vision return but lets not be too pessimistic.

    The West is not a “Capitalist” society. It is a Social Democratic society that has capitalism as its main (but not sole) economic system. Capitalism cannot be destroyed as it is too embedded in human instincts to allow that to happen. Wherever you have a young lassie buying products to do her friends and neighbours hair for a small fee …. you have capitalism. What it can be is regulated. There needs to be policies in place (Draconian if necessary) that ensure that capitalist enterprises pay their fair share to the state pot in order to fund social policies that ensure that “no one is left behind”.

    In short, I’m not convinced the complete destruction of the so-called “capitalist system” is either do-able or desirable. The “masses” would not allow it.

    1. Mark Bevis says:

      “However, it cannot be denied that capitalism allowed that increased economic and intellectual bounty to generate wealthy societies unthinkable prior to WW2.”
      That wasn’t because of capitalism, it was because of incredibly dense energy (ie fossil fuels) available cheaply until 1973, and because of the ‘green revolution’, that basically involved pouring fossil fuels onto our crops to increase yields. The combination allowed populations to flourish exponentially thus giving capitalism space to grow and for a while, live the dream of unlimited growth on a finite planet. See Tim Watkin’s blog Consciousness of Sheep for detailed analysis of this.

      Neo-liberal version of capitalism imposed since 1976 was the response to the reduction of cheap energy, but it has been a mere sticking plaster over a broken leg which has now gone sceptic.

      “In short, I’m not convinced the complete destruction of the so-called “capitalist system” is either do-able or desirable. The “masses” would not allow it.”

      Indeed. But the capitalist system will implode of it’s own accord, whether the masses want to allow it or not. This is the point. Capitalism, or any other -ism, that relies on any kind of growth on a finite planet is unsustainable.

      The current crises are merely the symptoms (yes, that is plural, as climate change, resource depletion, pollution, biodiversity loss are all still going on) of the disease, not the disease itself.

      Degrowth WILL happen, regardless of what anybody wants. It is mathematically impossible for it to be otherwise. Our only decision, as a species, is do we manage that degrowth so the least amount of harm is caused, or do we go all out in a ball of economic fury, with systems collapse that will make Covid-19 look like a RTA in a Mini.

      1. Me Bungo Pony says:

        “But the capitalist system will implode of it’s own accord, whether the masses want to allow it or not.”

        I don’t doubt that economic depressions are inevitable under the current systems when “greed is good” is the mantra of the wealthy and their puppet governments. History shows us this. All I’m saying is that “capitalism” will always endure at some level. Even in old Iron curtain states, people owned shops and businesses. If anyone so much as sells a pencil on E-Bay or Gum Tree they are participating in the “capitalist economy”. I’m not defending capitalism, only pointing out the inevitability of it. It should be harnessed to a different horse though. Not the conservative nag, but the progressive thoroughbred.

        “That wasn’t because of capitalism, it was because of incredibly dense energy (ie fossil fuels) available cheaply until 1973”

        Really? The positive influence of progressive, socialist thinking and policy making had nothing to do with it? I like to think it did.

    2. Wul says:

      I think you make good points MBP.

      For me, the great darkness in our society is the capture of our democracy by Capital. Something which needs to be inherently “socialist” (for the benefit of society) in order to keep us safe, is being de-railed. We simply can’t trust “The Market” to care for us because it doesn’t. It wants us all to be slaves and treats workers as an expendable “human resource” (H.R.).

      We urgently need powerful laws to totally de-couple the self interest of a tiny, tiny minority from our democratic institutions.

  7. Brian womble says:

    Wow now this article really needs to go viral, read and understood by each and every one of the “sheep” of today’s world, it is indeed the most comprehensive and sensible article I’ve read in a long long time. George Orwell’s Animal Farm springs to mind. Excellent stuff

    1. Stewart Bremner says:

      Thanks Brian. It’s not bad if we’re all sheep, after all we are a social, herd-like species. I think the issue is more that our herds are trapped in a system that works against our collective interests and are fed a constant diet of information from corporate medias that reinforce that system. The people leading the sheep are not looking after us. Each of us sheep need to talk to another sheep about things like UBI.

      1. Wul says:

        “It’s not bad if we’re all sheep,…”

        Yes. I think most of us just want to live in peace and health. Most of us don’t care about amassing huge power, obscene wealth and frankly can’t be arsed devoting our lives to “wealth management”. It’s a boring and dead pursuit. Sadly, we are at the mercy of those who do.

        Let’s have laws that prevent those sick individuals (and they are sick), who need several thousands of lifetimes’ of money, from getting near the levers of our democracy.

  8. Elisabeth Winsor says:

    String this communist up from the nearest lamppost…its subversive nonsense like this that is going to get a lot of dim people killed.
    I for one welcome our new overlords and will happily assist in the removal of these parasites of the mind from our midst.
    What we need now is mass re-education into the new way of living, our A.I. masters will give us sustenance in return for a 18hr shift at the
    human cyborg assimilation centres that are as we speak being constructed.

  9. meg macleod says:

    so many many people are thinking along the same linesand have been for ages..we need some intelligence in government to have a lightbulb moment….we never had a better chance to put the brakes on reallocate wealth and respect.

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