Archives for the month of: August, 2012

This little list will get you started on the long shelf of books that give the complete picture of the economic world and how we got where we are  – some of the books are political, but then the fields of economics and politics are identic in many ways.

America’s First Great Depression
Economic Crisis and Political Disorder after the Panic of 1837
Alasdair Roberts, Cornell University Press

Perfectly Legal
by David Cay Johnston

You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times
by Howard Zinn

The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008
Paul Krugman

End This Depression Now!
Paul Krugman

Film Review

Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train
Directed by Deb Ellis, Denis Mueller

Ok, look:  two-thirds of the world spend all day and part of the night searching for food and shelter, living in the direst conditions that can exist, as if they were still in the Stone Age – which, very nearly, many of them are.

Of the remaining third, probably 85% are consigned to jobs that don’t pay enough to give them any real movement, that restrict their ability to raise their stations, that preclude the education needed to advance to any meaningful degree.

Most of those eighty-five-percents don’t really understand the larger economic picture, are largely powerless in the face of the inevitable forces stacked against them, and wouldn’t do much about the situation if they were able to.  They’ve been wooed&won by the stream of bread and circuses that modern culture sends their way – the fast-food and the television images that distract them from the terrible and lamentable state of life on our planet.

People distract themselves with movies, television, and a thousand magazines aimed at ‘specific demographics.’  They numb themselves with gossip columns, the doings of celebrities and other notorious types, and with water-cooler stories about people they may or may not even know.  They follow the games and the sports teams, taking more interest in scores and the foibles of players than in the future of their own children’s education.  They mass on either side of imaginary lines over religion, politics, morals, ethics [often mostly questionable], and the so-called ‘fitness’ of their so-called ‘leaders’ to govern – all the while ignoring the most simple act of self-governance:  voting.

But voting has become largely a popularity contest – one fostered and molded by the media. And what is the main goal of the media?  To sell advertising space, so that corporate America can sell you its Cheetos and Coke and Fords and L’Eggs pantyhose, and all that stuff that they convince us that we need (things that we know deep down inside that we don’t).

But more on this in a minute.  Let’s get back to distraction.  Humans crave distraction, and why?  Because it helps us to make peace with the circumstances of our lives.  It is escape from the brutal realities that we face, even if we don’t face them immediately or locally.  Now, you might say that we don’t face any brutal realities – but if that is what you say, then the distraction is working, because brother, there is a whole world of brutal realities just waiting to discover you in your blissful ignorance.  But more on that later too.

We can agree on one thing:  humans crave distraction.  And it isn’t just us moderns – in ancient Greece, the word ‘idiot’ was coined for a person who had no political opinion.  Pericles said of people in Athens, “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”

In those days, the argument raged – as it continued to do in the 18th century in France and here in America – over the ability of the populace to rule.  The demos was thought to be easily led and often hoodwinked, while the aristos was seen as too ready to elevate themselves above the rest.  And yet where do these ideas come from?

The demos [Greek ‘people’] were largely uneducated and untrained, mostly peasants who did not have the time or inclination to learn more than they had to know to get along from day to day.  The aristos [from Greek ‘best’] was a class of highly-educated people who theoretically had an interest in creating the best possible state by leading the demos to changes for the better.  But all too often, the aristos were no more or less ethical or honorable than anyone else, and they ruled poorly.

Let’s get back to our opening statement:  most of the world is living in impoverished conditions that mirror the Stone Age.  But what does that have to do with us?  Well, we can’t continue to eat up 80% of the world’s resources forever.  At some point, we are going to have to come into contact with the rest of the world.  Already, we have arguments raised about taking work offshore – meaning sending jobs overseas because the wages are cheaper there.  When you call the phone company, or the electric company, you may not know it but you might be talking to someone in Pakistan or India or Malaysia.  They’ve often rehearsed their accents really well, and they know what to say, but they have no idea who you really are.  And you don’t know who they are.

So what’s wrong with that job being done by someone for a dollar a day in Malaysia?  Well, it leaves one American unemployed.  And if that person is unemployed long enough, then he or she will hit the Welfare roles.  Either way, our tax dollars will start supporting that person, so we all lose something.  But if that person were working and paying taxes, then his or her tax dollars would be added to ours and we would have a gain.

Now, I am not saying that we should let people in Asia starve.  But we could take a realistic view and help that person create a job over there.

Most people today don’t realise that until this century, the larger segment of the population didn’t have jobs.  Just about a hundred years ago, most Americans still didn’t have ‘jobs.’  People went to work, but most people did not go to school to get degrees so that they could ‘get a good job’ when they graduated.  People went to work the fields, or they started their own business, or they farmed, or they did whatever they did to make a living, but most did not work at a job for a paycheck.  Today, we have come the full circle:  people are graduating without hope of a job and they don’t know what to do.

I say that people should create their own jobs.  I think that people should figure out what they can do and then let them do it.  That’s the way people lived for thousands of years before the advent of this great capitalist experiment in which we all find ourselves trapped (trapped, unless we happen to feel like one of those major triathlon right-stuff few willing to brave living alone in the wilderness without a can-opener or a battery).  People carried their belongings across the big water and across an unforgiving continent to make lives for themselves – and we’ve gotten so far from that ability that we didn’t teach our kids a single item of true survival.  And why?  All that distraction.  And that distraction is still working, while the whole world of brutal realities is creeping up on our blissful ignorance.

Look, how many people know how to grow food?  Do you think you’d survive if you didn’t have a market where you could go to get your food?  What will happen if we have a really big catastrophe in this country, and we can’t get food from the food producers?  It would start looking a lot like Ethiopia around here.

They got us focused on the meta of the meta – as they sell advertising to advertisers who will then sell us stuff we don’t really need, we’ve been focused on the getting of the getting of the means to buy that stuff.  I promised we’d get back to this, and here it is:  we intuitively k now that we don’t need the newest this&that, we know deep down that none of it makes us feel more whole, more loved, more human, more accepted – none of it creates or maintains the connections, the truly human connections, that feed our lives.  And yet we continue to strive for it, for them, for the things of hollowness and of emptiness – as if the next episode of Sexy Vampire Teenagers or Weird Psychic Cops will contain the answer, as if that new toothpaste will give us the connections we need, will fix our marriages and our fading relationships with our kids or our parents.  Or else, we’ve let them jade us to the extent that we just don’t give a damn about it anymore and live as though the world will end in our sleep – which is fine, until the sun slips over the windowsill in the morning and we find that we have to face another day and all that realisation entails.

And that’s my real point:  ignorance & apathy will inevitably end in more existential pain.  Most people have no idea how to do the most basic of things:  how to fix a car, or fix a shoe, or make paper or grow food.  We are overly-reliant on electricity for our computers and gameboys and TVs, but we haven’t a clue about how to make electricity except something about a kite and a key and a rainy night.  I’ll wager that you don’t know how to identify edible plants, or how to build a reliably warm and dry shelter, much less how to take care of those annoying and inconvenient medical emergencies.  And to forget these facts, these hard realities, they (read: ‘we’) choose distraction over facing the truth and doing something about it.

And the key to our ability to not do something about it is the feeling that it’s useless to fight the course of the world, that we’d only tire ourselves out in a futile struggle to right the wrongs and malfeasances of those we can’t control.  But for some of us, that’s the only way to respond – to continue the struggle.  Direct action is the only course of action that will relieve us, that will give us a real escape from the pain of knowing that the world is leaning into the hard right that it is about to deliver.  And who knows – direct action may just work in the larger sense too.

Che the Rich!]

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Use the talents you possess:  the forest would be silent if the only birds who sang were the birds who sang best.

–  Henry Van Dyke

All material copyright 2012  David Hakim and may not be duplicated – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.