Tag Archives: capitalism

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: FIFTY YEARS AFTER

In his memoir WOODSTOCK NATION, Abbie Hoffman paints a telling portrait of  himself at the festival’s end – staggering aimlessly around the deserted, trash-strewn field, stoned out of his mind, and crudely propositioning every female he encounters.

That image comes to mind when I try to figure out what happened to the optimistic peace-and-love vision of the hippies, and why 50 years later we find ourselves in a world that seems in many ways the exact opposite of what they were hoping for.

Part of the fault was our own, of course. (I am lumping myself in with the Woodstock generation here, though I was a little bit younger – still only in junior high when Woodstock happened.)   To put it succinctly, I think we were right to claim the freedoms we claimed, but we forgot… or neglected… or refused to accept the responsibilities involved. 

But there was also a backlash. The conservative establishment responded to the social unrest and cultural upheaval that marked the 1960’s with a campaign that was breathtaking in its depth, scope, and audacity. It was also, we must begrudgingly admit, largely successful. 

We can start with August 28, 1971, just 2 years after Woodstock. A corporate lawyer (and soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice) named Lewis Powell writes a memo to his friend Eugene Sydnor, Jr. – Director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Powell decries what he sees as a concerted attack on American economic institutions – indeed, on the American way of life itself. But he’s not particularly worried about Communists or leftists:

“The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians. In most of these groups the movement against the system is participated in only by minorities. Yet, these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.”

So he recommends that a series of  countermeasures be taken within each of those spheres: education, religion, the media, and so on. And though I can’t say that all these developments below sprang directly from Powell’s memo, we can note the creation of a vast array of new institutions and organizations, and changes in existing ones, within the next few years. (This was not a “conspiracy,” mind you; this was all done quite openly, right out in front of God and everybody.)

Some highlights:

There are many more examples I could cite, of course – from the establishment of think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, from FOX News to the Koch brothers, from ALEC to the Citizens United case. My point is this: these people worked long and hard to bring us to the present situation. Whatever happens to the Trumps and their supporters and enablers, it will take at least as much time, money, effort, and dedication to undo the damage they have caused.

Maybe by the Woodstock centennial, we’ll be able to really celebrate.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: CIVIL WORLD WAR?

Reports of the recent death of Lyndon LaRouche prompted a flurry of responses on the Internet, most asking the same question:

“Are they sure??”

You may not have heard of LaRouche, but you might have seen some of his followers camped out in front of your local post office at one time or another over the past few years, sharing their conspiratorial views on the world with anyone who would listen. LaRouche spun an elaborate and ever-shifting narrative about politics, finance, history, and current events, one that managed to encompass everything from the British royal family to fusion reactors.

One of his biggest bugbears, of course, was something that has been a common trope among conspiracy theorists since probably the time of John of Patmos – the imminent establishment of an overarching one-world government that would eradicate religion, squash freedom, and enslave humanity. Organizations from the Catholic Church to the United Nations, and individuals from Napoleon and Nero to George Soros and Barack Obama, have at one time or another been depicted as the evil masterminds behind this dastardly scheme.

But here’s the funny thing: during all this time, and despite all these frantic warnings, a real transnational government has slowly been establishing itself – not as the result of any bizarre occult conspiracy, but “right out in front of God and everybody.”  If by “world government” you mean an entity more powerful than any nation-state – one that could tell otherwise sovereign nations what to do, enforce its will, and expect to be obeyed – then I submit that the international finance system fills the bill. This system can not only punish those who try to defy it, it has managed to make itself practically immune to outside control.

A recent article on a website run by the Transnational Institute goes into more detail. Entitled “Offshore Finance: How Capital Rules the World,” the article explains how this system evolved – one might say inevitably – from the basic imperatives of capital: to endlessly expand itself, and exploit whatever resources are available. So it does everything it can to remove “stifling” government regulations at every level. In democracies, this means controlling political discussion as much as possible, influencing elections, lobbying and pressuring elected officials, and dangling the hope of rewarding employment at the end of one’s time of “public service.”  And when these means don’t provide the desired effects, it just moves somewhere else. “Offshore finance,” say the authors, “is not solely about capital moving beyond the reach of states, but involves the rampant unbundling and commercialization of state sovereignty itself…. Capitalism only triumphs when it becomes identified with the state, when it becomes the state.”

Such a system would seem at first glance to be invulnerable. But it isn’t.

And that is because there is another “world government.”

In this case, when I say “world government” I mean a set of laws to which all humans are subject – that everyone must follow. Acting in defiance or ignorance of these laws carries severe and unavoidable penalties, without appeal or mercy. This other “world government” predates the first one, and is inherent in Creation itself. I refer, of course, to the laws of nature – of physics, chemistry, biology, geology, all the rest.

These two “governments” are now on a collision course.  The government of global capital has in effect declared war upon the natural world.  It is a war that spans the globe, but being fought for control of one entity – the planet itself. This is, in a sense, a civil world war.

THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES: AMERICAN PSYCHOSIS

I don’t mind telling you: back in January, when I got back to America from my yearlong sojourn to Europe, I was a mess, in many different ways.

Fortunately, I had three things going for me: a well-knit community, a network of supportive friends, and access to decent mental health services. These things have made it possible for me to start the process of pulling myself together and getting on my own feet. I’m not out of the woods yet, by any means, and I have a lot of work ahead – but these resources have really come through for me, and I am grateful.

Not everyone is so fortunate, however. As I wrote in this space a couple of months ago, depression and suicide rates have become a increasing concern, one underscored by the recent high-profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and television personality Anthony Bourdain.

And now many people are starting not just to ask why, but to look past the simple, facile answers and search for underlying root causes – things that may not be easy to face. CNN analyst and former FOX News staffer Kirsten Powers, in a column for USA TODAY, makes a bold statement: “…most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.”

There is such a thing as “endogenous” depression – depression caused by internal, physical factors, such as chemical imbalances in the brain. This can be addressed by medications. But more frequently people struggle with “exogenous” or “reactive” depression, brought about by external traumatic events or circumstances. Medications can help, along with various kinds of counseling or therapy, but only to an extent.

The “medical-industrial complex” would, of course, prefer that we only focus on the endogenous kind. They can make money, after all, off of a pharmaceutical approach to the problem.

But we know in our bones that this will not be enough… because we are all, I suspect, feeling the effects of the dysfunctions inherent in our present society. We are working harder, but with fewer tangible results and greater economic uncertainty. Even people who “succeed,” as did Bourdain and Spade, may find that mere material prosperity is not fulfilling in and of itself.

“Rather than pathologizing the despair and emotional suffering that is a rational response to a culture that values people based on ever escalating financial and personal achievements, we should acknowledge that something is very wrong,” Powers writes. “We should stop telling people who yearn for a deeper meaning in life that they have an illness or need therapy. Instead, we need to help people craft lives that are more meaningful and built on a firmer foundation than personal success.”

She also cites a recent bestseller by journalist Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions. Hari notes that “we exist largely disconnected from our extended families, friends and communities — except in the shallow interactions of social media — because we are too busy trying to ‘make it’ without realizing that once we reach that goal, it won’t be enough.” (Click here find some interesting videos where Mr. Hari discusses his ideas.)

Now, I don’t know if Ms. Powers is quite ready to take the next logical step and recognize the role played by modern American capitalism in creating the conditions that have led to this crisis…

But I think it might be a good place to start.

my problems with pure capitalism

Here are some of my problems with pure capitalism:

  • It only works if you can truly account for all the costs and consequences of production – but there are instead strong incentives to externalize costs onto the environment and society at large.
  • It only works if consumers have all the information they need, and the ability to make rational decisions – but there are entire industries, marketing and advertising and public relations, dedicated to the express purpose of ensuring that consumers instead make irrational decisions based on insufficient or misleading information.
  • It only works if you can assign monetary values to everything – but there are many intangibles to which such value cannot sanely be assigned.   Capitalism seeks to commoditize everything, and what it cannot commoditize it throws away as unprofitable.  Capitalism, faced with the invaluable, conflates it with the worthless.
  • The desire for profit, like any single-minded ideology, skews perception, clouds judgment, and corrupts the search for knowledge.