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Socialism is a Dirty Word

(About a 10 minute read)

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” — Anonymous, but often ascribed to Mark Twain.

 

At the least, most of us harbor a few ideas that we mostly, or even entirely, owe our understanding of to the popular media. That’s to say, we have not studied the ideas much beyond what we hear of them from media sources.

A good case in point is the concept of “socialism”.  Very few Americans, I’ll wager, have ever had the benefit of actually studying what socialism is — and isn’t.  I would base my wager on having spent nearly a lifetime listening to descriptions of it that simply don’t match up with the reality of it.

Continue reading “Socialism is a Dirty Word”

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And the Coyotes Yearned in the Night

(About a 4 minute read)

I have risen in the night
To see Mount Elbert on fire
With the white-blue light
Of the moon to turn it
Into a distant ghost.

It seemed in the peace
Of that night
Wisdom became visible, tangible,
And beautiful;
Passion for life became life itself,
And our audacious authenticity
Became the sole Truth,
More real than the true gods.

But I know that we are apes
Equidistant
From the wisdom of the bonobo
And the foolishness of chimps.

I have risen in the day
To see your self and spirit
Defeated and yoked
By the obscene demand
Of your being forced
To make a living
On the rich man’s terms.
Your authenticity is dead

Though you haven’t eyes to see the fact,
Your authenticity is dead.

You have bought the lie, my brother.
You have bought the lie, my sister.
That you cannot be yourself.

Now even your holy desire
To lie with each other’s bodies
Is sold back to you twisted,
Perverted by the merchants
Of fashion and entertainment.

By the merchants
Who are the new Shakespeares,
The new Goethes, the Rilkes,
The Einsteins, the Darwins,
The Sidharthas, the Lao-Tzus.
The sages have become prostitutes.

Even Jesus has been weaponized.
The fundamentalists
Have crucified him again,
Enslaved his ghost
To their corrupt and unholy ends.
So that now the one who came
That you might live
Has become your pallbearer,
The gravedigger who
Each day buries
Your authenticity afresh.

They tell you not to be true
To you yourself and to love,
“It’s a world-destroying sin —
Your moral duty is to go along.”

Everything good in this world
That your humanity can touch
Sooner or later is turned
By the people for whom power
Means more than truth itself.

Turned, and twisted, and perverted.
Raped, debased, and oppressed.
Sold back to you as organic,
As natural, as the truth at last revealed —
But by the painted maws of diseased whores
That you call your leaders
And your friendly billionaires.

And you, my friend, believe them —
That’s what I don’t understand.
It’s a mystery how you always believe
The old and ancient lies are never lies.

Once up among mountains
On an evening when a comet
Hung in the bejeweled sky,
And the coyotes called
(Yearning voices in the night),
I sat naked with Jackie,
My honest nude body touching
Her honest nude body
As we sat side by side.

She was seventeen that year.

Troubled with the challenges
Of any young life.
She asked for clarity and guidance
From a much older man.

I told her be herself.
In six ways and seven times,
I told her be herself.

And the coyotes yearned in the night.
The coyotes cried out to her that night.
A comet hung in the sky.

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Never Break the Circle

(About a 1 minute read)

Years ago, there was Mike,
A Native American man who belonged
To the people of a Southwest nation,
And who was trying to teach his son
The people’s traditional values.

Can you imagine how tough that was?
Maybe the values are the same
But the world is not.
No, it’s not the same at all.
But Mike was determined,
Still made the effort.

Each weekend he drove his boy
Eight hundred miles South
To the villages where
He could play with his cousins,
Talk with his grandparents,
Learn from the whole village
How to walk with one foot on the earth,
And with the other foot firmly planted
In the spirit world.

His son made Mike proud.
Once the whole community
Gathered to share candy —
I think Mike called it,
“Halloween, Hopi style.”

Forming a circle of young and old,
The people tossed the candies around
For several minutes, catching and tossing
Back the candies, the people shared
A good thing in life, and stopped
Only when everyone had something sweet.

Everyone.

“Cooperation”, Mike told me,
“It’s how the people live.
Not like what he learns in school.
There it’s fight for yourself,
Live for your close kin alone,
And screw all the rest.”

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Against the Next War

(About a 3 minute read)

The internet has made it now
Bound to happen
Tomorrow or the year after.
Bound to happen.

Maybe.
Up to you.

The politicians and the preachers,
The two dogs of the capitalist class,
Will once again want a war,
Just as they always do.

War to them is a gift, you see,
It’s not personal, it’s not their blood.
But war makes some folks rich
And you will never change that,
You will never change that,
Though the dogs will bark it’s not so.

A war of aggression
Against some people somewhere,

Most likely brown,
Most likely poor,
Most likely weak,
Most likely no real threat.

War for the sake of the banks
And for the merchants of death.
War for the sake of the pulpit,
And for the corridors of power.

But not a war for the sake
Of you and of me. We don’t count.
Our side is the one side
That has never counted.
Never.

That’s how war goes, it’s always been so
And it’s bound to happen again,
Soon happen again.

This is your world,
How it really is —
The world you think,
The world you were taught,
The gods want you to live in and love
Them more than you love each other.

In your world are great nations:
Nations the greatest in history,
Nations with the power of suns,
A thousands suns,
To do good, make truths come true
For even the poor man, the poor woman,
The poor child. Make truths come true.

But these nations,
Nations great and greatest,
Act only like whores,
Filthy whores,
Fucking folks raw,
Spreading their diseases,
Recruiting new girls,
Ever younger girls
To fuck you, to fuck all of you,
To fuck everyone.

This is your world
Your world without end.

But now someday you see

Someday now for once it will happen
For once it will stop
Stop the day they give a war
And you
You rise up, join hands
By the millions, possibly billions,
Linked together by the net
And by love, and by common sense.

At last,
At last you will rise, singing
“At last my spirit shall have water!
At last my cries shall be heard!
At last my thirst shall be slaked!”

Yes, you will rise up and you will say
In a voice thunderous and magnified
By the whole world joining in,

Say, “Those people are our friends,
We chat with them by day and by night.
We know their hopes, we know their dreams,
We know their troubles, we know their fears.
We know them, we know their names.

“Jane and Matthias. Terese and Sindhuja.
Mark, Parikhitdutta, and Min.

We even marry them now and then —
They shall not this time be murdered.

“You will not touch them,
Our brothers, our friends;
This once the bombs won’t fall.
This once the bombs won’t fall.
You politicians and preachers,
You capitalists and bankers all —
This once the bombs won’t fall.”

Yet you know it will ever be a dream
Just a dream, just a mere dream.
It will ever be a dream
If you, if we, keep on dividing,
Never uniting, never joining,
But instead just staying, just keeping,
To my echo chamber or to yours.

So let’s come together
Let’s come together,
Let’s come together.

So let’s come together
Before the nukes fall,
Before the demons fall.
Before we die in the winter,
And we come together
Never once come together at all.

 


Please seriously consider spreading this poem — spreading it to your site, to the social media sites — in an effort to make it go viral. We need it viral well before the next war, we need folks mulling over the idea of rebelling against the violence. Spread this poem and then you too write — write about the ideas presented in the poem. For you, for your brothers and for your sisters, for your children after you — stop the wars of aggression!

Please Note: Matthias has responded by dedicating his poem, Pooling Strength, to this cause.

Bruce has reposted the poem on “The Life and Times of Bruce Genencser“.

Kat has responded by posting this article: I Don’t Know Anything About War.

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Socialism! Simply Scandalous, Albert!

(About a 5 minute read)

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.  — Albert Einstein, Why Socialism?

 

Einstein’s essay, Why Socialism, was published in the first issue of the Monthly Review (May, 1949).  It remains even unto this day a fairly good essay both on what socialism is, and on the chief reason (in Einstein’s eyes) that you might want to take a closer look at socialism.

He begins the essay in a way that might seem a bit strange to some of us today.  That is, instead of directly addressing what socialism is, or why you might want to take a look at it, he talks about the methodology of economics.

Specifically, he asks if current economics has anything to say about what a socialist economy would look like — given, as Einstein points out, that nowhere in the world is there a pure socialist economy.

Continue reading “Socialism! Simply Scandalous, Albert!”

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Wealth Inequality vs. Freedom and Liberty

(About a 10 minute read)

One of the more interesting notions that most of us seem to accept at one or another point in our lives is the notion that freedom and equality are incompatible.

I have heard that notion advanced in this manner: Jones has many marketable talents, while Smith has few marketable talents.  Thus, if Jones is free to make as much money as he can, he will make more money than Smith.  So, for Jones and Smith to be financially equal, something must done to limit Jones’ earnings.  But anything you do to limit Jones’ earnings deprives Jones of his freedom. Consequently, you cannot have both freedom and equality at the same time.

There is great truth in that.

Yet, the notion becomes extraordinarily problematic when we think that’s all there is to it.   For if we were to attempt to secure our freedoms and liberties by such a simple-minded principle as the notion that they can best be secured via allowing the unrestricted accumulation of wealth, we would soon enough find ourselves enslaved.

The problem is — in a nutshell — that Jones, if he gets too much wealth relative to Smith, will inevitably possess the means to subjugate Smith.

Of course, that’s not a real problem, according to some folks, because Jones is a decent old boy and would never think for a moment to use his wealth to destroy Smith’s freedoms and liberties — not even when crushing Smith and his foolish freedoms and liberties would benefit Jones.

Yes, some good folks actually believe that! And in my experience, there’s not much you can say to such folks that will convince them to change their minds once the idea has got hold of them that the only real issue here is the sacred right of Jones to earn as much money as he can, and retain nearly every last dime of it.  “Taxation is theft”, you know.

Rationality is not, on the whole, one of the distinguishing characteristics of our noble species of  poo-flinging super-sized chimpanzees.  That seems to be the case because we happily neglected to evolve our big brains in order to better discern truths.  Instead, we apparently evolved them for other reasons, which I have written about here and here, among other places.  So, I am not writing this post for those folks who are firmly convinced that the bumper-sticker insight, “taxation is theft”, is the very last and wisest word on the matter of wealth inequality.  I am writing this post for those comparatively open-minded individuals who might be looking for some thoughts about wealth inequality to mull over before arriving at any (hopefully, tentative) conclusions about it.

I believe that, to really understand wealth inequality, one needs to remember that we spent roughly 97% of our time as a species on this planet evolving to live in relatively egalitarian communities.  Communities in which there was typically (with a few exceptions) comparatively little political, social, or economic difference between folks.  Everyone was more or less equally engaged in the struggle for food to survive, whether they were hunters (mostly men) or gatherers (mostly women).

Then, about 5,500 years ago some jerk got it into their head that it would be a very good idea if most everyone else would work to support their lazy butt while they spent their hours leisurely whiling away the time ruling over them.  And thus was born the complex society.

“Complex” because there was now a relatively complex division of labor in which, instead of two basic occupations (hunter or gatherer), there were now many occupations (king, priest, lord, judge, craftsman, merchant, farmer, etc).   Moreover, the wealth, and with it, the power in those societies was now concentrated at the top.

The way in which the minority retained their positions over the majority was back then mainly three-fold, just as it still is today.  First, through ideologies justifying the power, wealth, and status of the minority.  “After the kingship descended from heaven, the kingship was in Eridug. In Eridug, Alulim became king…”,  begins the ancient Sumerian king’s list.  Thus, from the very first, the masters were using ideologies to control the masses:  e.g. “kingship descends from  heaven”, and thus you should accept it as what the gods intend for you.

Second, through rallying the people to face a dire (usually external) threat.  It is mere human nature that we are most likely to surrender our freedoms and liberties in preference for slavishly following a leader when we feel threatened by a common enemy.  Indeed, an oppressive state — and not always just an oppressive one — needs a common enemy to unify the people under its boot.

When ideologies fail, then it is time to call upon the soldiers, of course.  Propaganda, a common enemy, and ultimately, force.  The three main pillars of government from the Sumerians to the current day.

In a way, the one major change has been that the government today is largely a front for the real masters — the wealthy corporations and individuals that so many politicians are beholden to, the economic mega-elites.

It should be noted that by “wealthy individuals”, I am not referring to the folks with a few million dollars, but to the folks with hundreds or (especially) billions of dollars.  The average millionaire, in my experience, is not much of a threat to the rights, freedoms, and liberties of others and, in fact, is often enough a defender of those rights.  Call him or her a “local elite” because they are so often focused economically, socially, and politically on the communities they live and work in.  And it seems their ties to those communities generally result in their being net benefactors to them.  But perhaps most importantly, they simply do not have the resources to compete politically with the billionaire class in order to buy the government.  That, at least, is my impression.

No, by “wealthy individuals” I mean the folks who have the resources to be genuine contenders to hold the reins of  power in this — or any — country.  In the most recent national election, the Koch brothers dumped nearly a billion dollars into buying politicians from the level of “mere” state legislators all the way up to the national Congress and Senate.  And they weren’t the only economic mega-elites in the game.

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.  — Justice Louis D. Brandeis of the U.S. Supreme Court

The problem, of course, isn’t wealth itself, but the concentration of wealth in the hands of a relatively few people.  Over time, the concentration has a natural tendency to worsen.  That is, the wealth ends up in fewer and fewer hands.  Since power follows upon riches closer than a hungry dog follows a butcher, political power, as well, tends over time to end up in fewer and fewer hands.  There seems to be a natural tendency to progress from democracy to oligarchy, and then to dictatorship.

During the same recent forty year or so period in American history when huge tax cuts  for the wealthiest individuals and corporations allowed the billionaire class to explode in size, incomes for the middle class all but became stagnant, while the poor actually lost ground.  There’s no polite way of saying this: “Trickle down economics” is an ideology of oppression used to fool people into believing that cutting taxes on the wealthy will increase job growth.

The average American today arguably works harder, struggles more financially, and has fewer back up resources for a rainy day than his or her parents and grandparents had.  As it turns out, you can’t concentrate almost all the wealth in the hands of a relatively few economic mega-elites without hurting someone.  But who would have thought that?  After all, didn’t the ideologists inform us we’d all be better off cutting taxes on the wealthy?

A comprehensive study has found that the average American now has little or no influence on their legislators, and which bills get passed into law.  Those who determine both the content and success of legislation are the economic mega-elites of America, the billionaires and the large corporations.

Strong, responsible unions are essential to industrial fair play. Without them the labor bargain is wholly one-sided. The parties to the labor contract must be nearly equal in strength if justice is to be worked out, and this means that the workers must be organized and that their organizations must be recognized by employers as a condition precedent to industrial peace.  Louis D. Brandeis

But, of course, we do not wish to believe Brandeis today because the trusty ideologists have also told us unions are a net evil.  Got to trust those boys and girls!  It’s just not true that so very many of them are employed by billionaire funded think tanks and institutions.

Now, the rarest complex societies in history have been those in which most people were more or less free.  But those rare, relatively free societies have also tended at the same time to be more egalitarian.

Tocqueville, for instance, noticed that white males living in the America of the 1830s were both freer and more equal than white males living in either the England or France of the same period.  They were also, according to him, better off economically.  Again, both male and female citizens of the Roman Republic seem to have been both freer and more equal than their counterparts living under the dictatorships of  the Roman Empire.

So the notion that freedom and equality are incompatible, while perhaps seeming to have some inexorable reason and logic on its side, does not always pan out in practice.  Apparently, sometimes quite the opposite has been the case.

About 2000 years ago, Plutarch observed, “An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”  It will be interesting to see whether America has the political will to save its republic.

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America’s Future?

The economic crisis in advanced economies is accelerating the timeline in which big emerging nations like China rule the global economy. Instead of the market focusing on American shopping habits, they’ll be focused on consumers in Shanghai and Mumbai. Unless the US can recover the 8.5 million jobs it lost in the recession, and unless incomes begin rising, the US will be knocked off its pedestal within a generation.

In the US, the biggest problem is Washington. It is becoming clear that they work for maybe a hundred billionaires and five industry groups and that’s about it.

China still has a long way to go before it catches up with the US, and China is a command and control economy. China says that its style of economics is not for export, and other emerging nations, like Brazil, have not tried to emulate it. They don’t have to. Nor does India, or Thailand or Indonesia, for that matter. Their populations are getting richer, ours are getting poorer, with average incomes declining in 2009 and 2010, according to the US Census Bureau. Their corporations are investing at home and creating jobs; ours are either hamstrung from doing so, demanding more tax breaks from a revenue strapped government, or investing where the growth really is.

And where is it? Far and away from the US, new cities are being built, new industries, new entertainment centers rivaling Hollywood; new brands and a new middle class. In some of these countries, like Brazil, disparity between rich and poor is shrinking, not widening. It’s not Nirvana. It’s better. It’s worse. But it’s growing, and it’s hiring, and it is peaceful.

From “The Post-Western World“, posted in Forbes, by Kenneth Rapoza.

In making his case that the American reign is nearing its end, Rapoza quotes in his Forbes post from Noam Chompsky.

“It is a common theme” that the United States, which “only a few years ago was hailed to stride the world as a colossus with unparalleled power and unmatched appeal is in decline, ominously facing the prospect of its final decay,” Giacomo Chiozza writes in the current Political Science Quarterly.

The theme is indeed widely believed. And with some reason, though a number of qualifications are in order. To start with, the decline has proceeded since the high point of U.S. power after World War II, and the remarkable triumphalism of the post-Gulf War `90s was mostly self-delusion.

Another common theme, at least among those who are not willfully blind, is that American decline is in no small measure self-inflicted. The comic opera in Washington this summer, which disgusts the country and bewilders the world, may have no analogue in the annals of parliamentary democracy.

The spectacle is even coming to frighten the sponsors of the charade. Corporate power is now concerned that the extremists they helped put in office may in fact bring down the edifice on which their own wealth and privilege relies, the powerful nanny state that caters to their interests.

From “America in Decline“, posted in Nation of Change, by Noam Chomsky.

It’s a strange day when thinkers such as Rapoza and Chomsky, who are on either ends of the ideological spectrum, agree about America’s prospects over the next 10 or 20 years.

Both articles are worth reading in their entirety.