Represent The People
Politicians in the United States, particularly at the national level, have long since failed to represent the interests of everyday working people. One could make a strong argument that this observable condition has persisted since the founding of the Republic. Even so, U.S. political culture has veered sharply away from the interests of ordinary people in the years following the now infamous Powell Manifesto. Since that time, relentless promotion of pro-business, “free market” dogma has systematically suppressed, often violently, all competitive social, economic and political ideologies.
Lying With Forked Tongue
The pro-business propaganda pushed onto the rest of us often first takes shape in a “think tank” of one sort or another. A typical example is a “report” published in July, 2011 by the Heritage Foundation, a mouthpiece for big business launched in 1973 by former “young Republicans,” conservative political hacks and an assortment of wealthy and rabidly right-wing businessmen. The report -- titled “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” -- essentially attempts to subvert mounting evidence, no matter how plainly visible to the naked eye, of the rapidly growing destitution spreading throughout the land.
We can immediately put aside the Heritage Foundation’s disingenuous reference to poor folks wallowing in the luxurious comforts of color televisions, video game machines and microwave ovens. Also dismissable is the absurd notion that the mere presence of these artifacts of a consumerist anomie are clear signs that a triumphant free market has utterly vanquished poverty for all but the most depraved, shiftless and needlessly “needy” amongst us. Post-consumer rubbish like last year’s game box, three year-old televisions and cheap microwave ovens are the readily available cast-offs one can find at virtually any exurban garbage dump or by quickly scanning the freebies on Craig’s List.
Poorly constructed housing stock, particularly housing units built post-WWII, explains the ubiquity of air conditioning more than anything else. Until recent decades, dwellings and work places were cooled through intelligent use of shade trees, windows and through the application of other well-designed ventilating and cooling techniques. The shoddily built crackerboxes -- constructed with unseemly haste and carelessly strewn across America’s urban, suburban and exurban wastelands over the past couple of generations -- uniformly require forced air cooling just to keep occupants from suffocating or dying of heat stroke.
Things Are Tough All Over
Over the past year, a PortlandWiki volunteer has witnessed four of his neighbors forced to vacate their apartments. Three were evicted and one left “voluntarily” before eviction proceedings could commence. These four evictions / near-eviction represents an out-migration of fully one third of the tenants / ex-tenants at the . Of the three people evicted outright, two were forced to transition directly onto the street. The other found temporary refuge with a reluctant parent, but has since likely transitioned onto the street.
The latest person to suffer straight-to-the-street eviction is a grandmother in her late 40s whose various physical, mental and emotional ailments cost her her job several years ago. After her unemployment insurance payments expired, her attempts to obtain financial assistance because of her disabilities went nowhere. In July 2011, after attempting suicide, she spent two weeks in a local hospital. In several separate conversations with a neighbor over the span of a couple of months, she has consistently referred to four of her women friends who successfully committed suicide while going through the eviction process. Three other friends facing eviction, by her own accounting, have attempted to kill themselves. This grandmother was just one of the PortlandWiki contributor’s neighbors forced to transition out of her dwelling and directly onto the street.
Evicting people from their homes is no picnic for the landlord either. Particularly if the landlord is an individual human and not a property management company. And especially if that individual human landlord is not a slumlord, but a relatively decent person who only resorts to such extremes after weathering a lengthy cycle of repeated short- or non-rent payments, and taking other financial hits. What ensues is an ugly and often protracted series of increasingly hostile confrontations, recriminations, court dates and administrative procedures with accompanying administrative expenses.
Word On The Street
Out on the street one observes a swelling army of society’s castoffs. Throwaway people no more valuable to a heavily narcissistic, post-consumer culture than the detritus shoved into the same culture’s swelling, post-consumer garbage heaps. The castaways include the usual suspects: the sick, the addicted, the makers of “bad choices,” and those with exceptionally rotten luck. In other words, those whose negligence, ill health or bad luck have cost them their ability to adequately fend for themselves.
Others also end up on the streets. Chihiro Wimbush is a film maker in San Francisco, and a former outreach coordinator for a community radio station in Portland. For the past three years, Wimbush has filmed scenes arising from the daily struggles of a half-dozen or so homeless people wandering the streets of West Oakland, California. They are folks who eke out an exhausting, hardscrabble subsistence collecting recyclable materials and selling them to a recycling center in the neighborhood. Wimbush identifies three qualities he notices in virtually everyone he encounters who ultimately “fell through the cracks” and ended up on the street:
- People who made exceptionally poor life choices.
- Those who have experienced exceptionally bad luck.
- People who, for whatever reason, find it impossible to conform or “fit in” well enough to function in “normal” society.
Of this latter category, those who can’t or won’t “fit in,” one observes growing anger and resentment. Observed at a mid-summer “potluck” serving free suppertime meals to hungry Portlandians was a clear example of one such angry and resentful person: a street musician. A decade or two earlier, this street musician’s dad or older brother might have had a more laid back style, characterized by simple, clumsily played chord progressions and rambling lyrics. This younger brother, however, was much more intense. A sort of cross between a twenty-first century Bob Dylan and a bitterly angry Kurt Cobain, the young street musician played and sang with furious intensity, his rapid-fire vocals punctuated with shouted-out exclamations of “fuck you.”
At mid-afternoon, the PortlandWiki volunteer editing this article gets up from his desk and steps outside into the bright, warm and clear summer’s day. Walking to Portland’s main post office on NW Hoyt Street near the vicinity of Union Station, our wiki volunteer encounters a twenty-six year-old woman clutching the hand of her eight year-old son. A bit chubby, she’s mildly attractive but her face clearly reveals the strains of someone forced to withstand the repeated blows dealt by a hard and luckless life. Her little boy, also a bit chubby, appeares to have already absorbed a few hard knocks during the short span of his young life. Striking an unfamiliar observer as possibly a bit developmentally disabled, the boy reaches out to momentarily grasp the observer’s wrist, then lets go.
The young mother explains her predicament using jumbled, disjointed words with a voice approaching frantic. She and her boy missed their Greyhound bus to Phoenix. Her husband was just released from jail and she is scared for her safety, and that of her little boy. They’re short $15 to update their bus tickets and they need help. Unfortunately, our PortlandWiki volunteer cannot help with the cash, his income having sputtered to a complete stop early in 2011, and currently keeping a modest roof overhead only through the graciousness of overly generous friends and loved ones. But it’s a generosity that leaves him with exactly zilch for “walking around” money. Disappointed, the young mother immediately approaches the next person emerging from the post office with her plea for help. The old man she approaches refuses her plea.
Shortly afterward, a young man, also twenty-six (as the observer would soon discover), rolled up on his bicycle to where the young mother and her boy stood. His skate board sat nestled in his bike’s basket. He listens to the young woman’s plea for help and decides he can help out. The three of them--mom, little boy and young man--walk over to the Greyhound bus station a block or so towards the river. It turns out the surcharge is actually $15 for each ticket, for a total of $30. The young man pays it and mom and boy get their updated tickets. All they have to do now is hunker down and wait for their bus to depart Portland at close to midnight, then endure the long ride to Phoenix. And hope the jailbird husband and father doesn’t appear before they can make their getaway.
You’re Not Paid To Think
Darcus Howe is a West Indian writer and broadcaster who the British Broadcasting Service (BBC) interviewed for his “take” on the London riots. The interviewer began her inquiry by immediately garbling her subject’s name. But not until she -- paying twisted homage to John Kerry -- got Howe’s name right (in her pre-interview introduction) before getting it wrong (with the first question). She began by asking “Marcus Dowe, are you shocked by what you’ve seen there last night?”
- Darcus Howe: No, not at all. I have been living in London for fifty years. There are so many different (moods?) and moments. But what I was certain about, listening to my grandson, and my son, was that something very very serious was going to take place in this country. Our political leaders had no idea. The police had no idea. But if you looked at young blacks, and young whites, with a discerning eye, and a careful hearing, they have been telling us, and we would not listen (to) what was happening in this country to them, and what is...
- BBC Interviewer: Mister Howe, if I can just ... if I can just stop you for a moment... You say you’re not shocked? Does this mean you condone what happened in your community last night?
And so it went. Whenever Mr. Howe attempted to illuminate and clarify, the BBC interviewer respond by trying to stuff words into Howe’s mouth. By describing the manner in which London police killed Mark Duggan, a 29-year-old man police had under surveillance, Howe identified the spark that ignited the London riots. The BBC interviewer responded with her objections over Howe’s depiction of how Duggan was killed, insisting that Howe couldn’t offer his own assessment, but instead would “have to wait” for the results of an “official inquiry.”
Despite the BBC interviewer’s repeated attempts to get Howe back on message, Howe carried on, pointing to what he saw as a sort of global “insurrection” happening in various hot spots all over the world in this “hysterical moment.” Clearly irritated at Howe’s refusal to play along and allow her to stuff “official” words into his mouth, and caring not a whit about trifles like “a discerning eye” or “a careful hearing” or what anyone has “been telling us” or that “we would not listen,” the BBC interviewer finally pulled out her trump card:
- BBC Interviewer: Mr. Howe, if I can just ask you, you are not a stranger to riots yourself I understand, are you? You have taken part in them yourself.
Instead you pay programmers, advertisers, charlatans and other manipulators to stuff thoughts into your unguarded mind.
|“||Funding a civilization through advertising is like trying to get nutrition by connecting a tube from one’s anus to one’s mouth.||”|
Let’s return for a moment to the propaganda piece from the Heritage Foundation about poor folks basking in worldly pleasures like video game boxes and cable TV. The same report that Cornel West and Tavis Smiley call “A Declaration of War on the Poor.” Let’s also consider the nature of the relationship between an abuser and the abused. The Heritage report’s authors sneer at poor folks crying “poor” even as they fork over a significant chunk of their precious dollars to stay hooked onto cable TV’s hypnotic tether. What propagandists at Heritage don’t tell you is how central the programmed depravity -- pumped through the cable networks or broadcast over the publicly owned airwaves -- is to maintaining social control.
Without powerful distractions like television -- the most advanced mind-control appliance ever invented to date, and a dear friend to totalitarians of all persuasions -- there’s a very real danger you might actually observe some of the mayhem happening all around you. Worse, you might even act on those observations. And that would be intolerable. The bad news is that poor folks, or anyone else for that matter, pay their cable bills. The much worse news is everyone pays for the “pleasure” of such programming in ways most of us can’t even conceive of.
Let’s return our attention to the August 2011 riots that destroyed so much property and so many livelihoods in London and other UK towns. With pent-up fury that finally exploded, many of the most active rioters were mere children. An angry shop owner, her store destroyed by some of these rioting children, denounced them in harsh language, calling the looters “feral rats.” Indeed. These kids did go “feral.” And what decent person doesn’t empathize with a mom, shop owner and hard worker who just had her means of making a living destroyed by “feral” -- maybe even sociopathic -- children?
But who are these children? Who are their role models? Some of their legitimate role models, in fact, urged them not to turn their feral fury loose to run wild the streets. Where does such fury come from? What made these kids go “feral”? Feral animals are often highly destructive. Sometimes feral animals are even as destructive the domesticated herd they, if only momentarily, broke away from.
These “feral rats,” of course, are the products of the best feral rat training program money can buy. That money, in fact, is eager to buy. It’s a program that teaches, unequivocally and emphatically, that greed is good. That dominance rules. That power controls and that absolute power controls absolutely. That the best things in life cost money, and plenty of it. And that anyone who lacks money, plenty of money, ain’t worth shit.
Just as the small-time landlord is forced to evict tenants who can no longer pay the rent, the small-time shopkeeper is also at the mercy of social and economic policies that she or he has virtually no control over. Unlike the makers of such policy, neither the small landlord nor the main street shop owner is insulated from the effects of economic and social policy gone terribly, horribly wrong. Instead, they find out the brutally hard way that their place on the social and economic hierarchy is, at best, just one or two steps above the people they’re evicting onto the street, or the “feral rats” who are looting and torching their shops.
No need here to get too teary-eyed about the poor, unfortunate “feral rats.” They’re no more valiant or noble than any of the rest of us, but no less so either. Those who put liberal credentials on ostentatious display by claiming to champion the cause of the poor, the downtrodden, the despised and dispossessed -- in other words, “fighting the good fight” -- are clearly doing a lousy job. The poor, downtrodden, despised and dispossessed are obviously worse for the wear. It’s probably fair to point out, however, that the bleeding-heart liberal is, at very least, less bad than the vacant-hearted reactionary who strives with great glee to actively punish the less fortunate. And our culture is currently chock full of gleeful vacant-hearted punishers.
Instead of wasting time gently petting or harshly pounding the downtrodden, you might take a hard look at who is using you to insulate themselves from the despised, the downtrodden and the otherwise “unworthy.” Because unless you are one of the unworthy untouchables, or unless you routinely travel by private jet or chauffeured car, you are an insulator. A buffer zone. You’re a proxy for implementing social policy by those who set it, and you’re the one who must enforce it onto those who must withstand its harshest effects.
Your usefulness depends on your cleverness at functioning in your assigned role. Put another way, your lack of cleverness with efficiently and obediently fulfilling your role as “buffer” or “insulator” puts you in serious jeopardy of getting shoved into the pit carved out for the uninsulated, the rebuffed, the hopeless, the damned. And it’s becoming harder and harder to gracefully maintain your position within society’s insulating class.
The Collapsing Veil
The Berlin Wall that once separated East Berlin from the Western portion of the city officially “came down” in November, 1989. A few months later, in February 1990, the Soviet Union entered into its final stage of unraveling. Just two years later, on December 25, 1991, the Soviet flag was lowered over the Kremlin for the last time.
The Soviet Union dissolved primarily because it had completely lost all credibility with the people it governed. Meanwhile, so-called “free-market capitalism” -- with its laugh-out-loud trickle-down theories, its eagerness to devastate whole communities with a single factory relocation, its relentless financial crises, its unapologetic swindles, scandals and scams, its resource wars, and on and on -- was losing credibility fast. The final nail in the coffin containing what was left of any legitimacy for capitalism’s current world order was driven in by the September 2008 global financial implosion, and the repugnant financial bailouts that followed this catastrophe.
Global capitalism “is easily the most complex social system in history.” This “mega-complexity increases the likelihood of system failures.” But it’s the psychotic depravity of its grasping, avaricious, greed-at-all-costs managers that guaranteed the destruction of any moral, ethical or even sound economics legitimacy that global capitalism may have once enjoyed.
Now that the proverbial “cat” is “out of the bag” -- now that global free-market capitalism is seen by all but its most delusional adherents for the corrupt, non-free, rapacious and destructive system that it is -- the hammer of enforcement is coming down with brutal efficiency. The people were told they must bail out the banks; the people didn’t want to bail out the banks but were forced to do it anyway. Now the people must account for their wild and reckless spending. Spending that includes their enforced “willingness” to bail out banks, and to allow bailed out bankers to pay themselves obscene bonuses while the rest of the global economy continues its free-fall into the abyss.
To pay for such reckless spending, the people must give up their already meager Social Security checks, assuming they live long enough to collect them. They must forget about getting a decent job. They must give up any hopes for educating their children. They must get used to the reality of an America without the dream; an America were a man’s home is his foreclosure statement; an America in which a woman’s place is on the street, right where her eviction notice put her. Unless she puts herself into the grave first.
The Abuser, The Abused, And You
One major current of “civilized culture” we leave seriously under-scrutinized is the relationship between the abuser and the abused. It’s a relationship in which each of us plays a role of one sort or another, however unwitting or unwanted. In fact it’s common as dirt for abuser-abused relationships to form between one family member and another.
A hint at one of these family-centered abuser-abused relationships came to light during a conversation the soon-to-be-evicted grandmother had with our PortlandWiki volunteer observer. The observer asked her if she could stay with one of her family members, maybe her son. The neighbor-on-eviction-row replied that she could not. Her relationship with her son was strained. His grandmother -- the neighbor’s mother -- had “turned him against” her. Why? Because she still held “a grudge” against her daughter, the grandson’s mother.
The neighbor explained that her mother never forgave her for a family tragedy that happened when she was a little girl, only five years old. She and her two sisters waited in the house. The mom was out in the yard of their rural home on top of a riding mower, cutting the lawn. The pot of spaghetti cooking on the stove began to boil over. The neighbor, then a five year old little girl, opened the screen door and called out to her mother, trying to get her attention. A younger sister, barely a toddler, dashed out the door and ran into the yard. The mom accidentally ran over the little girl’s leg with her riding mower. The mower immediately spat out a toe, portions of shredded shoe and bits of little girl foot. The mom never forgave the older sister, now a grandmother in her late 40s, for allowing the toddler to escape.
The neighbor momentarily slipped from her usual composure -- a sort of monotonic, emotionally vacant dullness -- to sob briefly before bringing herself back under emotional control. She vaguely alluded to the various Chester the Molester-types that drifted in and out of her orbit while growing up. The observer could not help but wonder about the extent to which these childhood traumas, many experienced as a little girl, maintained their emotional and physiological hold on this woman, a grandmother now sentenced to eviction row. What role did such trauma play in disrupting this woman’s ability to make her way through life without getting tossed out onto the street?
Examining The “Abuse Chain”
In examining the “abuse chain,” the “abuse hierarchy” or however we might agree to label it, perhaps the bottom rung of the hierarchy begins at home with the child beater, the in-home child molester, the wife batterer and so on. A bit further up the chain we encounter the pimp, the rapist, the predatory child molester, the mugger, the armed robber, the murderer and so forth.
As we go up the chain, the depravity and destruction of lives becomes more pronounced. At perhaps mid-level we encounter the human traffickers, the drug barons, assorted mafia kingpins, the arms merchants, the military contractors, the sweatshop factory owners, the campaigns of hatred promoted by various religious charlatans and demagogues, and so on. Abusers at this mid-level rung on the abuse hierarchy are much more efficient at destroying lives. Their skills in taking advantage of opportunities to move in and exploit social disruptions -- decaying neighborhoods, war-torn regions, natural disaster zones and the like -- are much more finely tuned than any of the abusive “skill sets” found among the low-level abusers.
Standing on the top rungs of the abuse hierarchy are its most dangerous and pathologically destructive participants. Unfortunately they are also some of our culture’s most prominent and “respectable” citizens. They are found within the ranks of our heads of state, our corporate chieftains, our major politicians, our high-profile religious leaders, our most prominent military commanders and our statesmen and stateswomen. They run our largest banks and control major financial centers. Their support systems include military and police forces, surveillance networks, strategic and policy analysts, top-drawer “think tanks,” international agencies and more.
Our society’s high-end abusers launch military invasions and full-scale wars. They craft social and economic policies that can destroy the livelihoods -- even the lives -- of millions with the stroke of a pen. Including policies that turn ordinary children into “feral rats” who run amok to loot, plunder and torch entire neighborhoods. Or policies that ensure forty-something year-old grandmothers with nowhere else to turn will end up tossed out of their homes and onto the streets, where their game boxes, cable channels, or flat-screen televisions offer them little comfort.
Just as relatively few individual families are burdened by the presence of a child abuser or spouse batterer, it’s only fair to assume that the majority of our top-rung politicians, business executives, religious leaders, statecraft professionals and policy makers are reasonably decent people with reasonably well-developed professional and ethical standards. Even so, the questions that that beg for answers include: what happens when the enterprise they work within -- whether political, business, religious, government, financial, etc. -- no longer serves the interests of its own constituency? Or what if, while serving a particular constituency, the enterprise does significant damage to some other constituency? Or what if the activities of the enterprise threaten to ultimately extinguish all life on the planet?
Michael Moore is a director of light-hearted romantic comedies like Roger & Me and Capitalism: A Love Story, as well as entertaining action-adventure documentaries like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, and edge-of-your-seat psychological thrillers like Sicko. In a speech to a large crowd of workers in Wisconsin on Saturday, March 5, 2011, Moore made a claim so outrageous it almost sounded ludicrous. Known as the “America is NOT Broke” speech, Moore asserted that four hundred “obscenely wealthy individuals, 400 little Mubaraks -- most of whom benefited in some way from the multi-trillion-dollar taxpayer bailout of 2008 -- now have more cash, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined.” With the ongoing Egyptian revolution fresh in people’s minds, it’s easy to understand why Moore would characterize such a grotesque example of wealth concentration as resulting from the devious machinations of America’s “400 little Mubaraks.” But given the control these little dictators exert over virtually every aspect of our culture’s power centers -- financial, political, economic, media and so on -- and the abject criminal nature of their control -- perhaps it’s more apt to refer to them as our society’s “little Kim Jong-ils.”
Kim Jong-il was North Korea’s dictator from 1994 until his death on December 17, 2011. He inherited that post from his dictator dad (the former Eternal President of the Republic, who presumably died before his “eternal” rule could expire). Kim Jong-il was known as his country’s “Dear Leader.” North Korea’s Dear Leader kept his country on a tight leash. The Dear Leader was the only one allowed to dictate all social, political and economic policy in his country. He kept himself surrounded by a whole network of goons, thugs and sycophants who assisted him. As such, North Korea was widely admired by gangland criminals, mercenary organizations and investment bankers the world over as the world’s premier gangster state. The Dear Leader presided over a continuing criminal enterprise that exerts ruthless, mafia-like control over every aspect of North Korea’s power centers -- financial, political, economic, media and so forth.
After the Soviet collapse, the regime’s client states were suddenly forced to wake up to the exceedingly unwelcome fact that their primary benefactor had disappeared, never to return. How two such “clients” -- Cuba and North Korea -- responded is instructive. Their Soviet sugar daddy up and gone for good, both countries were forced to endure significant periods of extremely difficult adjustments. These tremendous ordeals became known as Cuba’s “Special Period” and North Korea’s “March of Tribulation.”
Although a complex series of unique conditions, combined with the dramatically divergent responses each regime took were crucial to the eventual outcomes each country experienced, it is generally accepted that Cuba ultimately muddled through its Special Period with relative success, while North Korea still struggles to end its March of Tribulation. One of the main factors leading to relative success in one country and more dismal results in the other is that “North Korea tried to carry on business as usual as long as possible, while Cuba implemented a proactive policy to move toward sustainable agriculture and self-sufficiency.”
It’s All About You
Chihiro Wimbush, the San Francisco-based film maker we met earlier, identifies another behavioral trait he notices in his film’s subjects: a general “failure to take personal responsibility.” This failure makes it difficult for them to “turn their (lives) around even when they have (other) opportunities.”
Much like the collapse of Soviet-style socialism, the credibility of “free-market” capitalism -- often imposed by the barrel of a gun -- is in free-fall. While there may be some who still cling to the delusion that the wars the United States continues to wage all over the globe are waged to “protect the American people,” most of the rest of us know that’s a lie. We know it’s a lie, if for no other reason, because lies are all our dear leaders ever seem to tell us. Most Americans have at least some notion, however vague, that America’s continuing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the bombing campaigns against Libya and the predator drone attacks in Pakistan, are conducted more for the sake of protecting the current U.S.-led world order. And a significant number of Americans are just fine with that.
Dying empires, and the people who inhabit them, don’t easily give up their cherished delusions. No matter how much those delusions contribute to their own demise. If the “necessary” delusions are the addiction, the self-medication for a people in deep denial, the “failure to take personal responsibility” assures that the people will fail to turn their situation around, even if they have other -- perhaps better -- opportunities.
Our collective failure to take personal responsibility, to leave other, perhaps better, options unexamined and unexplored, dooms us to suffering the consequences of staying stuck within an increasingly dangerous edifice even as it begins its collapse. We remain cowering inside, even as planeloads full of our culture’s most crazed “dear leaders” terrorize us as they crash their pernicious ideological and policy constructs into this shaky and unstable edifice. It’s time we got out.
But get out of what? And precisely were do we go? The first question is relatively easy. Rather, a coherent response to the question is easily said. We get out of our conditioned mindsets. Mindsets thoroughly planned, carefully designed and assiduously controlled by those who do not give a damn about your interests. They do, however, focus intently on their own. In fact, they will stop a nothing in pursuit of their interests, even as that pursuit clearly leads to their own self-destruction.
So who are these depraved people? For the most part, they’re us. Or they’re us in our capacity as obedient slaves to the dictates drilled into us by our Dear Leaders. They’re you and they’re me. They’re him and her. They are these folks over here, and those folks over there. In fact they’re any of us who suckle on the tip of the gigantic, multi-faceted machine called by various names: the global free-market, the existing world order, neoliberalism, multinational capitalism, industrial civilization, and so on. That machine is efficiently killing every living thing it encounters as quickly as it can. And it will continue its killing spree until there’s nothing left alive to kill.
John A. Livingston, author of Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication, informs us that human beings are our planet’s first domesticated species. We domesticated ourselves. By doing so, we immediately unleashed an unfolding catastrophe. Livingston agrees with scientist and fellow author, Jared Diamond in citing the development of agriculture as “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” In making that mistake, we abandoned our wildness, exchanged a natural for an artificial existence, and became slaves to the two most dominant prostheses now mediating between us and reality -- ideology and technology.
To Livingston, it’s our devotion to the “ideology of the necessary primacy of the human enterprise,” which he labels “zero-order humanism,” that gives us license to bend nature to our will, no matter the magnitude of our destruction by doing so. Even though our stupendous destructiveness guarantees our own doom. Wild, undomesticated nature, Livingston points out, “does not appear to be organized along the sociopathological lines of hierarchical dominance...”
Unlike wild nature, domesticated humans are demonstrably organized on “sociopathological lines of hierarchical dominance.” Let’s briefly return our attention to the little island of Cuba. The documentary film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil explorers the approach Cuba took to survive their Special Period. Heavily dependent on aid from the Soviet Union, Cuba suffered tremendously after that aid was cut off in the wake of the Soviet collapse. The nation lost half of its oil imports, and 85 percent of its international trade economy. Rather than attempting to delude themselves with a “business as usual” approach while scrambling for another benefactor to replace their oil imports and international trade, Cuba harnessed the “resourcefulness, determination, and optimism of the Cuban people” to cut consumption and come up with less energy-intensive ways grow food and provide transportation.
Plucky and happy-go-lucky little Cuba, like all other “developed” and “developing” human societies, is very definitely organized on “sociopathological lines of hierarchical dominance.” Let’s now turn our attention to another society also organized along similar lines. The September 2008 global financial meltdown irrefutably demonstrated beyond any doubt that the so-called “global free-market” is nothing more than a gigantic, psychotic swindle. Not much more than a kind of “capitalist Soviet Union” for avaricious sociopaths, plunderers and profiteers. How did Americans respond, and continue to respond, once the global criminal enterprise was revealed? We responded by doing exactly as we were told.
Americans were told to bail out the continuing criminal enterprises that plunged the global economy into the abyss. And we did exactly that. But our unseemly haste to demonstrate our abject subservience to “sociopathological, hierarchical dominance” by immediately capitulating to the demands of our culture’s dominators didn’t stop there. Instead of quickly putting the necks of the sociopathic financial “managers” who perpetrated this massive crime spree on the proverbial chopping block, we immediately paid them massive piles of taxpayer loot so they could get back to their obscene orgy of pillage and plunder.
But wait. There’s more. After picking everyone else’s pockets to bail themselves out of a financial catastrophe of their own design, the global free-market’s “little Kim Jong-ils” are demanding that the folks they just fleeced for all they’re worth immediately go on an “austerity” starvation diet. The excuse our Dear Leaders use to sell the rest of us on their latest swindle is that we need to pay down our debts, even as we keep stuffing more filthy lucre into the offshore bank accounts of the filthiest of the filthy rich. Doing so, the argument goes, “creates jobs.”
The flaw with this line of reasoning, as presented by our “little Kim Jong-ils,” is that slavery and indentured servitude also “creates jobs.” But healthy, sane people want nothing to do with either slavery or indentured servitude. Their “creates jobs” argument is designed to coerce the rest of us to keep going along with the same “business as usual” program our Dear Leaders have imposed onto us for more than three decades. It’s a program that has transferred massive piles of loot into the coffers of society’s richest one or two percent while burdening the rest of us with gigantic debts we cannot ever hope to repay. And if we refuse to go along? Well, there’s always the “live on the sidewalk” option. Hey, if the “sidewalk option” is good enough for grandma, it’s good enough for any of the rest of us too.
Where do we go from here?
This brings us to our much more difficult, possibly unanswerable question: Where do we go from here? Perhaps the most straightforward answer, at least in the immediate term, is that we run away from “business as usual” as quickly as our legs will carry us. Even the Cubans, unlike the North Koreans, figured that out as they faced their Special Period. The fact we have not -- even as our Dear Leaders continue flogging us along their unilaterally imposed March of Tribulation -- should offer a clear indication of which oppressed people we more closely resemble.
To stimulate our flight from folly, we might focus on just some of what immediately imperils us. We can demand to know why our Dear Leaders keep trying to sell us their phony “jobs” creation arguments, even as some of their most observant thought leaders acknowledge that their “free market” project is dead. The “free market” they’re talking about, of course, is not what the rest of us typically associate with “free markets.” The neighborhood shops, small and mid-size businesses, family farms and so on are what most normal folks associate with “free markets.” These kinds of businesses are often harmed by the dominant form of “free market” that currently stalks the marketplace. Why? Mainly because the meaning of “free” in the type of “free markets” controlled by massive banks, huge multinational corporations and large weapons merchants is analogous to what the meaning of “love” is to a serial rapist.
It’s crucial to understand that the free-market-as-serial-rapist will never offer us any “love.” But what ever deluded us into thinking we could squeeze any marketplace “love” from a free-market serial rapist in the first place? Are we just too dull to catch a clue that perhaps a marketplace that sells us cigarettes (for instance) -- despite a clear understanding that the nicotine delivery system it’s pushing delivers one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs ever discovered -- might not have the health interests of its customers at heart? Are we just too damn dumb to understand that this is the same “free market” system that also brings us Frankenfoods, Happy Meals, car culture and endless sprawl, destroying our physical health even as it destroys the landscape around us? And whatever led us to seek free-market “love” from a psychotic marketplace-as-serial-rapist motivated by just one desire: use us up, bleed us dry, then kick us to the curb?
Let’s return to the “failure to take personal responsibility” filmmaker Chihiro Wimbush identified as a core trait he observed in many of his film’s subjects. That same trait -- the failure to take personal responsibility -- also extends to the rest of us. Grappling with responsibility while going through a major and difficult transition is always a task undertaken only by a minority of those confronted by the challenge. Even in the American War of Independence, estimates are that only forty to forty-five percent of the colonists supported the rebellion. Given that context, it’s not surprising that today’s American public -- subjected to a relentless, lifelong propaganda assault designed primarily to keep us shopping, American Dreaming, feeling superior to everyone else, and most of all to keep us distracted and tuned out from reality -- might have difficulty even recognizing how quickly our empire is disintegrating all around us. Compounding the difficulty in recognizing the enormous transition underway is the thin veneer of “normality” that most of us perceive around us every day. Or nearly every day.
Even so, change comes because it must. Complex systems that cannot sustain themselves, will not sustain themselves. Once the machine begins feeding on itself, it will not stop until it has self-destructed. In a sense, the Cubans were “lucky.” Their superpower benefactor disappeared virtually “overnight.” One morning the plucky, happy-go-lucky Cuban “authorities” woke up to discover that the Soviet Union had just up and left. No searching looks. No long goodbyes. Just “wham bam, thank you comrade.”
Here in America, as in the so-called “West” in general, we’re not so lucky. Our “Soviet Union” (global free-market capitalism) collapsed with the 2008 global financial meltdown. We just didn’t recognize it, and most of us still don’t. But a few of us are beginning to catch on. Unfortunately for the rest of us, those few primarily come from the managers of the same system they just piloted straight into the ground. And now, with their neoliberal “free-market” ship scuttled, they’re feverishly taking possession of any asset they’re able to put their grasping, “greed-is-good” cloven hooves on top of. (Citation to come.)
For the balmy little Cuba, the Special Period was no cakewalk. The oil-based subsidies from their former Soviet sugar daddy cut off, Cubans faced drastic immediate and chronic energy shortages. In responding to their ordeal, Cubans radically transformed their society and their economy. They successfully introduced sustainable, organic agriculture. They also significantly decreased their reliance on the private automobile, transformed their industry, and improved the diet and overall health of their people. The trade-off was that Cubans were compelled to live without many of the goods they once enjoyed.
Cuba’s hard work paid off. A few years ago the World Wildlife Fund identified Cuba as the only sustainable country in the world. Cubans receive free basic health care that’s superior to the equivalent health care in the U.S., (Citation to come.) which is priced out of the market for nearly a quarter of our country’s population anyway. (Citation to come.) Literacy and longevity is also better than in the U.S., (Citation to come.) even though income for the average Cuban is a tiny fraction of the average American income. (Citation to come.)
Sadly, not all in our newly discovered paradise is warm sunshine and sweet tropical breezes. Just as the United States has its Pentagon, Cuba also its own heart of darkness. An ugly black blemish on its otherwise calm, sustainable and serene facade. A horrific dungeon and torture chamber reputed to have tormented children as young as fifteen. In fact, this same torture facility is more like a torture factory, having exported its torture techniques all over the globe. Unfortunately this hell-hole, this chamber of horrors, is located at the one spot on the island Cuban authorities don’t have much control over: the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, located within the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.
The Antilife: Worshiping The Beast
Rather than respond to financial and economic calamities by attending to the concerns of living humans, the example Cuba set, our Dear Leaders have instead forced the American People to sacrifice to The Beast (Wall Street, big money speculators, behemoth banks, massive multinational corporations, and so on). For its part, The Beast demands that we file obediently into orderly columns and then presses us into its March of Tribulation. This is not the first death march our Dear Leaders have forced upon the common folk. They’ve marched us down other trails of tears. The people are expendable. The Beast, however, must be worshipped, no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifice.
Worshiping The Beast requires that the people sacrifice to its gods. The god of militarism demands we pay tribute to its weapons manufacturers, private label mercenaries and huge construction firms. The god of energy coerces us to rip the tops off our mountains, strip mine our forests, degrade our landscapes, pollute our air, destroy our oceans and fight its resource wars. The god of consumerism forces us to turn people into sweatshop slaves, citizens into consumers, neighborhoods into strip malls, the worthy into the cheap and degraded, minds into mush, morality into degradation.
The Beast forms alliances with our most craven, morally deformed demagogues who -- flecks of foam sputtering from twisted lips; hideous evils lurking in deadened hearts -- bury all that is good under an avalanche of chauvinistic bombast and wanton, manipulative wickedness. The Beast corrupts our politics, our governments, and our institutions. It lays waste to our neighborhoods and towns, and its relentless torrent of propaganda turns our minds in to its garbage dump; its vast cesspool; its toxic zone of sacrifice.
Why do we so willingly worship The Beast? Even though we can plainly see the carnage it inflicts onto everything it its path? For just one example of how we cling to The Beast, we have to go no further than the 2004 U.S. presidential election. By the time that race entered its home stretch, the wars -- the war on Iraq especially -- had long since exposed themselves as murderous frauds. The torture and prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib had come to light. In short, our Dear Leaders had unequivocally proved themselves cowardly, morally bankrupt, sociopathic liars. Yet we “stayed the course” anyway.
Our collective decision to “stay the course” is just one example, a relatively minor one in the scheme of things, of how quickly we are willing to let our own fear, hatred and malice towards the “other” subvert our own morality. To be fair, it wasn’t as if the choice of candidates as presented was all that inspiring. And some might also give into the temptation to point out that John Kerry, perhaps in his ultimate “flip-flop,” won the election before he lost it. (Citation to come.) But even if that’s true, it hardly matters. The only moral choice at that moment was to utterly repudiate the hideous immorality we found ourselves engaged in, and rid ourselves of the violent sociopaths who prodded us into such depravity.
Hope-’n’-Change vs Fear-’n’-Hate
One can argue that the 2008 presidential election cycle, with its heavily marketed theme of “hope” and “change,” was less oppressive, more wholesome than so much of the “fear” and “hate” pushed in previous election cycles. And the fact that the “hope” and “change” candidate prevailed over the “fear” and “hate” team is a sign of progress. In a narrow sense, perhaps that’s true. But the moment their candidate won, our would-be hopers ’n’ changers went right back to sleep, rousing only sporadically to mumble incoherent complaints about how the “hope-’n’-change” they were promised ain’t comin’ fast enough. Mainstream politicians, however -- particularly those who are successful at marketing the equivalent of manna from heaven -- are good at making promises, not delivering results. Especially on behalf of a people too lazy, distracted and self-absorbed to insist that those results get delivered.
Meanwhile, the fear-’n’-hate team re-energized themselves and got to work propagandizing their constituency. By the 2010 mid-term elections the fear-’n’-hate crowd managed to unwind much of the progress the hope-’n’-change folks thought they had achieved with the previous election. They were abetted by irresponsible and craven billionaires, right-wing “think tanks,” corporate front groups and even a Supreme Court decision. The corporate-owned media outlets played a crucial role by fanning the flames of fear and hatred, as did numerous “religious” broadcasters and legions of fear-’n’-hate shills through their countless blogs, web sites, online videos, robotic call centers, mass mailings and the like.
Hopers and changers want a kinder, gentler and more compassionate Beast. They hope to make The Beast more responsive to their needs. The fear-’n’-hate crowd, by contrast, wants a meaner and more brutal Beast. A more decisive and deadlier Beast. A more beastly Beast. What everyone loses sight of -- hopers, changers, fearers and haters alike -- is that The Beast is a machine, and abstraction, a cesspool into which we’ve flushed all the accumulated “wisdom” of our dogmas, ideologies, economic gibberish and best laid plans. The Beast isn’t real. What is real is our dependence on this monstrosity, which we give birth to through our collective hallucinations.
Hope springs eternal and change is inevitable. But fear and hatred will absolutely, positively kill you. Fear and hate arise whenever you’re urged to begin waiving a flag, each time you’re told “we are good” and “they are bad.” Fear, and the hatred that follows, are responsible for humanity’s most horrific atrocities. Our most pernicious failure to take responsibility happens every time we fail to immediately stomp out fear and vanquish hatred whenever and wherever it raises its ugly, demonic little head. But if you pick up a gun to shoot a fear-’n’-hate monger, you’ve probably gone too far.
- Make Revolution Not War
- Organized Power
- Portland General Strike
- Food Not Bombs
- City Wiki
- Rally For Peace
- Corporate Front Groups
- Claiming to offer a "database" describing "the networks and agendas of the political Left," Discover the Networks is an example of faux grass-roots "information resource" with a genuine fear 'n' hate agenda.
- The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonprofit membership organization of state legislators. It produces model legislation that, according to articles in The Nation, Bloomberg, and elsewhere, is heavily influenced by industry groups. Each year, according to ALEC, almost 1,000 bills based on this model legislation are introduced in state legislatures. Use this database to find campaign contributions from some ALEC-affiliated groups to some ALEC-member state legislators.
- Powell Memo: Text and Analysis | ReclaimDemocracy.org
- “Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What is Poverty in the United States Today?” | Heritage Foundation
- Craig’s List
- REDEMPTION extended sample cut HD
- Sunday, 14 August 2011
- Kerry discusses $87 billion comment - Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday gave an explanation for his comment that he "actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it," calling it "one of those inarticulate moments."
- A Declaration of War on the Poor: Cornel West and Tavis Smiley on the Debt Ceiling Agreement
- Revolution in a Box: It's not Twitter or Facebook that's reinventing the planet. Eighty years after the first commercial broadcast crackled to life, television still rules our world. And let's hear it for the growing legions of couch potatoes: All those soap operas might be the ticket to a better future after all.
- Mediating the Neoliberal Nation: Television in Post-Apartheid South Africa
- Age of Ignorance: The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the one we now have, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit.
- London riots: Mother condemns 'feral rats' who attacked Ealing store
- Reveal - I Predict A Riot Don't nobody see this is exactly what they want/ To give police justification to come and hunt us with guns/
- A shattering moment in America's fall from power - The global financial crisis will see the US falter in the same way the Soviet Union did when the Berlin Wall came down. The era of American dominance is over
- Beware! The end is nigh!: Why global capitalism is tipping towards collapse, and how we can act for a decent future
- Human Trafficking
- Bosnia: The United Nations, human trafficking and prostitution
- US: DynCorp Disgrace
- Has American-Style Conservatism Become a Religion? Fundamentalist religion plays a big role in today's Republican party--but has it gone even further, spreading dangerous beliefs as articles of faith?
- VIDEO: America Is NOT Broke
- Michael Moore says 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined
- Billionaires Own as Much as the Bottom Half of Americans?
- The Fall of the Soviet Union: Peak Oil Lessons on the 20th Anniversary of the Collapse
- Similar Policies, Different Outcomes: Two Decades of Economic Reforms in North Korea and Cuba
- North Korea & Cuba -- A tale of two countries: How North Korea and Cuba reacted differently to a suddenly diminished oil supply
- Democracy Doesn't Flow From The Barrel of a Gun
- 20 Lies About the War
- War Is A Lie | Let's Try Democracy
- Libyan Deaths, Media Silence: Were Dozens Killed in Majer NATO Airstrikes?
- The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race by Jared Diamond, Prof. UCLA School of Medicine
- The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
- Is farming the root of all evil?
- Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication (Book review.)
- Canadian Jeremiad (Review of Rogue Primate.)
- Livingston, John A. Rogue Primate: An Exploration of Human Domestication. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 1994. Print (page 171)
- The power of community: How Cuba survived peak oil (Article on film published by Energy Bulletin / Permaculture Activist.)
- Is Capitalism Doomed? The massive volatility and sharp equity-price correction now hitting global financial markets signal that most advanced economies are on the brink of a double-dip recession.
- Is Capitalism Doomed? Gerry Epstein comments on Nouriel Roubini's blog that "Marx was right."
- Alex Carey: Corporations and Propaganda
- Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty
- Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
- (Citation to come.)
- Learning from the Most Sustainable place on earth
- Degrowth - What Can We Learn from Cuba?
- Omar Khadr Slated to Leave Guantanamo; Guest: Attorney Dennis Edney
- YOU DON'T LIKE THE TRUTH - 4 days inside Guantánamo
- Guantanamo List Details Approved Interrogation Methods
- The Center for Torture Accountability | Geoffrey Miller | Torture Connection: Brought Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib
- How US firms profited from torture flights: Court documents illustrate how US contracted out secret rendition transportation to a network of private companies
- Tapeworm Economics: Our economy has a negative return on investment
- The American Tapeworm: It consumes its host's energy, with the host doing most of the work
- The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party
- Newly Released Documents Expose ALEC’s Corporate Agenda
- ALEC Exposed
- Why Are Corporate Groups Funding the Tea Party?
- Supreme Court's Citizens United Decision Will Warp Policymaking -- The massive campaign spending it has unlocked favors the GOP
- How Fearmongering Over Terrorism Is Endangering American Communities Despite the far greater danger from natural disasters caused by climate change, politicians overspend on "fighting terrorism" while slashing funds from FEMA.
- 'Food stamp president': Gingrich's poetry of hate "All our leaders (have) to do (is) locate our fear and greed and hatred. These feelings (are) exhorted in speech and song and catchy phrases. Once this (is) accomplished we, the people... (march) off to die for another man's dream."