Last night, I watched the 1966 spoof on James Bond, “Our Man Flint”. I have not seen this film in literally decades, but I had memories of it being funny, at least to a young lad. James Coburn plays the title character who is portrayed as the super smart, martial arts expert, ladies man which is funny in itself considering Coburn’s gangly body and well endowed set of teeth. At about the twenty minute mark, his meeting with Lee J. Cobb, the head of the secret services (ZOWIE), is hilarious. The plot is interesting, especially considering the current period of mega-billionaires: a trio of obviously super wealthy scientists want to take over the world and make it into their image of a Garden of Eden. What is fascinating is that the scientists are not portrayed as “evil” but simply misguided by their own perceptions and sense of destiny. This movie was made in 1966 when there were indeed many who wanted to make an Eden out of the world, e.g., hippies, leftists, socialists, and right-wingers with an overreaching sense of duty, but their plan toward a utopian society was inevitably hijacked by lust and lust for power, and a sense that they were the chosen ones to make the world a better place. At the movie’s climax, the scientists are pleading with Coburn to save the technology to make a perfect world, but Coburn tells them their image of perfection is not his own and “pulls the plug”.
Men and women of immense wealth have often charted a course within their sphere of influence that had far-reaching effects. Queen Margaret’s support of “Roman” Catholicism in early Scotland over the “Orthodox” Constantinople-aligned Christianity of St. Finnian and St. Columba set the tempo for the Vatican’s influence in Britain for centuries. John D. Rockefeller, at one time owner of 90% of America’s oil wells, set the course for America’s oil and gas dependency in transportation that is only now meeting with change through the popularity of electric automobiles. In these current times, we have figures like Amazon’s Jeff be so, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Microsoft’s Bill Gates who are busy reshaping the way we live and work. The question for us archaeologists is to pay attention to how this advent of new products, new things, is affecting how society is shaped. The three men mentioned all seem to have good intentions but we know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Bezos’ desire to create the world’s one-stop shopping mart has inadvertently created a monster in Chinese rip-off products that threatens legitimate innovation and, in some cases, even the safety of consumers. Gates’ drive to create a world vaccination program has stifled alternative views and squashed vaccine safety concerns. Elon Musk’s purchase of twitter on the surface seems a boon to all who cherish free-speech. Time will tell how successful he will be.
In all of these instances, well-intentioned mega-wealthy individuals are taking steps to bring their vision of the world to reality. But we must be very vigilant. While all these individuals have confidence, confidence without clarity is dangerous.
Clarity is ultimately the fruit of a spiritual process one undertakes in order to cleanse oneself of their past conditioning, conditioning that prevents true, selfless actions from arising. But this is in the realm of the metaphysical and does not arise from being educated. As such, there is no clear way to ascertain the from where one’s vision arises other than through the voices of many. In this regard, Musk’s desire to take twitter back to a true, town hall meeting place is commendable and as he points out, necessary for true democracy to function. Nevertheless, money talks and there is countless examples of billionaires using their billions to affect outcomes that are anything but democratic. Gate’s funding of medical publications and research is well documented as are Soros’ attempts at manipulating city voting districts through the funding of left-leaning candidates. Recently, the 400 million dollar funding initiatives of Mark Zuckerberg to influence the 2020 election highlights the dangers to democracy when one person or a small group of individuals have immense wealth.
In time, it may be necessary for new laws to be written and enforced to curtail such influence. As it stands, as archaeologists of the now, we can document such influence in order to bring its effect on society to the attention of voters and conscientious public officials. Since archaeology is focused on material culture, we can research and study the form and shape billionaire influence is taking within a given society in order to better ascertain the social benefits and liabilities. This will no doubt bring into further question what is archaeology and what is its role. For example, a phenomenological and phenomenographical study of Amazon’s ordering experience could prove useful in determining its effects on the consumer experience, product innovation, and whether or not a robust small business community is necessary for a well-functioning society. However, such a study would no doubt raise concerns that this was an endeavor better suited to economists and sociologists.
Yet, one of the strong points of archaeology has always been its ability to take from other disciplines. What archaeology offers in return is its own unique capacity to interpret the data from the point of view of the material culture, of the things that we humans depend upon each and every day.
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