September 28, 2002
By Joseph P. Firmage
We often hear these days of conspiracy theories that conjure
images of a secret cabal governing the trajectory of modern
society. We hear assertions that this dictatorial power has
for decades guided the course of human affairs to suit its
ambitions for a 'New World Order' none of us would want to
live within. It is claimed that a secret strategic chessboard
maps the nations and resources of Earth, where the moves of
the Board correspond to wars and coups, axes and alliances,
and mergers and acquisitions. This invisible dictatorial influence
is alleged to lurk throughout halls of power, to control the
world's news media, to infect democracies at the highest levels,
and to ensure that just enough of the public are too blissfully
ignorant to care.
While some may say that such rantings are paranoid nonsense,
I must report that they are true. For I have met this dictator.
Though I didn't know it at the time, I used to work for him,
and I saw how he rules. The way he exerts his awesome yet
subtle power is breathtaking to behold, for he manages to
inspire in his followers a blind faith, a religious conviction
beyond the devotion paid to any religion you know. And he
is able to exert his influence in the light of day, with cheering
crowds stoking his flames.
Let me tell you more about the ever visible, yet ever shadowy
totalitarian who rules us all.
He has hundreds of millions of followers worldwide, yet few
recognize his name. He commands his subjects through a simple
logic, and holds them responsible to it through agents in
every organization, community, and government. He lavishly
rewards his most loyal subjects, turns a blind eye to those
who don't share his priorities, and swiftly impoverishes those
who challenge his legitimacy. He brutally imprisons those
who've inherited no capacity to live within his rules, and
leaves their hungry, uneducated children to shiver and whither
on the street.
Like an emperor of old, he holds court each day, entertaining
his inner circle with opulent spectacles and contests and
feasts. Every day, he anoints heroes and strips others naked.
He's always careful to attach his name to the winners of his
myriad games, while he abandons the losers by assigning blame
to anything but the fairness of his rules. Amazingly, he has
found a way to paint his winners into icons so seductive that
countless losers-to-be ignore the odds of their fate, and
toil away their lives in the pursuit of his rare gold metals.
And whenever he needs to lighten the mood - which is quite
often these days - he calls in the court jesters.
He buys and sells elections across his vast kingdom, favoring
leaders who are smart and amoral, or too ignorant of reality
to understand the moral consequences of their actions. He
ravages Nature and calls it profit. He takes from the poor
and gives to the rich, and calls it 'good business'. His number
one goal is to grow. Always. Forever.
He feeds his subjects both delicacies and poisons, but all
his concoctions are sold to his subjects with a smile. He
aligns the talents of millions of people to create genuinely
wondrous, ever-faster machines to automate every facet of
work, yet grants the freedoms thereby afforded only to those
workers who can outcompete the very machines they have created
- machines which are accelerating, machines which he largely
He wants to educate his subjects, because he needs them to
be smart enough to maintain and grow the complex infrastructure
of his kingdom. But he instinctively knows that if he does
too good a job in raising the wisdom of his laborers, too
many of his labor camps and poisons and invasions may be seen
for what they are. So he funds true wisdom-building at a trickle,
throwing up his hands when such underfunded productions poll
"unpopular" and "boring". He invests more in video games than
in entire grade-levels of educational curricula. He secrets
away the most revealing kinds of knowledge, granting it only
to his most trusted aids, the most loyal of whom determine
what must be kept secret to protect his interests. He builds
vast militaries to secure what he wants, and grows further
by profiting on sales of weapons to all sides of all conflicts.
He is the master of artful lies. He spends more time stressing
the importance of the NFL than the collapse of human societies
across Africa. He convinces city folk that they need SUVs
to take their kids to school. He exhorts you to fill your
body with ever more exotic substances, whose interactions
even he reluctantly admits are often unknown. He tells you
you're ugly without his cosmetics painted on your face. He
sells all manner of overbuilt fabrics by wrapping them around
the most seductive naked bodies most of his customers will
never have. He long ago took control of our lands, forests,
and energy, and recently he's started to go after water we
drink. And in his most audacious ambition ever, he now proposes
to drive the evolution of the genome of life on Earth, telling
us that Nature needs his guiding hand to make life right.
Anyone who questions these tactics or the goodness of his
prime directive - perpetual growth - is excommunicated from
He does all of this, almost magically, by ensuring that one
simple religion is shared among all those he governs: in all
affairs of life, thou shalt taketh from others more than thou
giveth to others, for profit and its growth shall be the measures
of thy success.
Despite all his powers and all his loyal minions, he always
makes time to individually visit those new to his kingdom,
to sell his vision of the grand society. And his pitch is
really compelling, for most marketing agencies and television
sets around the world work for him. Through them, he portrays
your self-interest as his overarching goal, and your 'happiness'
as his promise, if you will but join his program.
This shadow dictator is everywhere and nowhere. A true phantom.
But there is one way that thinking people can recognize this
phantom, should they be clear-headed enough to do so, for
he always introduces himself by the same innocuous nickname:
"I'm just the P&L" he says, short for The Almighty Profit
and Loss Statement, the report of "income". He writes the
Holy Book of business, penning a new chapter for each Fiscal
Year. Tens of millions of people go to sleep late at night
and wake up early in the morning with thoughts of his latest
verses. Billions of people obey his daily dictates, for they
have hitched their "net worth" to his numerology.
And so we see how most good people - regardless of intelligence
- can come to measure their success in the lopsidedness of
exchanges, and the growth in this pernicious, seductive asymmetry.
Of course, no ruler can be all bad, or he'd be overthrown
in heartbeat. In fact, The P&L has overthrown many human dictators
and their corruption-ridden states, occasionally with good
cause: they were worse at running things than he is. Indeed,
for all the wickedness that follows from his myopic, reckless
rule, The P&L has some amazing talents. He can be used freely
by any human being or group thereof on Earth. He is capable
of incredible efficiency. Through his shared but distributed
operation, he can equilibrate vast flows and forces automatically.
At times, he can foster astonishing diversity, and provide
dispassionate and objective judgment among healthily competing
endeavors. He has succeeded brilliantly in cultivating the
innovations that carry us over lands, seas, and skies, that
warm and cool our homes, that repair our bodies, and that
now connect our thoughts at the speed of light. His ambitions
are most tamed when he respects the laws he does not craft
himself. Which is why he is most effectively controlled by
true democracy, a democracy in which money does not determine
the effect of your First Amendment rights. Which explains
why he constantly attempts to undercut the true democracy
with his vision of a commercial republic based upon his measures.
Given the staggering, planet-wide challenges facing humanity
today, perhaps the most useful capability latent in this almighty
dictator is precisely the quality his greed has hijacked to
threaten life itself: The P&L is integrated everywhere within
the machinery of society. If we could figure out how to diversify
his goals, if we could teach him how to share his wealth,
if we could root compassionate ethics into the core code of
his operating system... indeed, if we could but change his
metrics of "success" to honor and worship and nourish life
instead of subjugating it, we might just transform The P&L
from systemic dictator into universal liberator. The powerful
gears of civilization could move with unparalleled synchrony
to restore the garden from which we spring, a rare and ancient
blue-green world which The P&L will otherwise consume beyond
the brink our extinction.
Indeed, redesigned to value giving to life over taking from
life, the profit and loss statement could compassionately
uplift and liberate every one of us - the amazing, sacred
beings whose ancestors long ago conjured trade for that sole