Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a holiday created from romanticized myths about grand and cordial feasts between pilgrims and the indigenous people whose lives, land, and culture would soon be exterminated from coast to coast. Truth be told, Thanksgiving sprang from the imaginative mind of Sarah Josepha Hale, an author and editor who campaigned for nearly two decades to make it a national holiday before winning over President Lincoln who made it official in 1863. Some historians believe Lincoln used the creation of Thanksgiving as propaganda during the Civil War to paint Northerners as the true founders of the nation whose cause in the war was virtuous and just. In her writings, Hale also pushed the delusional belief that the “United States government was founded without bloodshed.”
Today the holiday has become fully merged into the capitalist superstructure as a time to binge on turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and puddings just before camping outside consumerist temples for the true day of worship… Black Friday. Riots and mob violence are generally tolerated on Black Friday since it is the key event kicking off the holiday shopping season and driving up corporate profits. Protests and riots for social justice and equality are seen as threats to the capitalist status quo and are systematically undermined, quelled, and co-opted. As I explained in a previous post, the events in Ferguson dominating the headlines are rooted in our socio-economic system.
A few recent thoughts on Twitter about Ferguson and the state of the “civilized” world…
We could go into great detail about each of the above comments, supporting them with a multitude of facts and references, but I think they speak for themselves and summarize quite well the disintegrating social fabric in America and across the world. Compounding the problem of our sociopathic and sclerotic economic system are the environmental crises of climate change, ocean acidification, resource depletion, and overpopulation, none of which can be successfully dealt with unless we address the system that underlies them all, i.e. capitalism and its energy-intensive way of life. The facts tell us it’s much too late to do anything to save ourselves, but this hopeless mindset only serves to empower those at the top who continue to profit from this corrupt and self-destructive system. It’s past time to step outside our comfort zone and do something to try and save a piece of the web of life fast disappearing before our eyes.
The following poem by William S. Burroughs resonates with what has gone horribly wrong in America and perhaps what has always been wrong.
David Cay Johnston is, as he states, not a socialist, but a capitalist who believes in fair and competitive markets and integrity. My blog concentrates quite a bit on environmental issues and David only passingly mentions the deregulation and rolling back of environmental laws in the interview below, but he has been writing about inequality since the 1960’s and does a great job of describing the “governmental capture” by multinational corporations. An overwhelming proportion of environmental destruction is being caused by these mammoth corporations that are literally a state within a state, so it’s important to make the connection between inequality/political disenfranchisement and the destruction of the environment driven by a “business aristocracy” which has usurped the institutions of society. There can be no social, environmental, and climate justice if there is no government to serve the people. Of particular interest is the interview with Steve Coll and the power that ExxonMobile wields. Three notable examples of government acting as an insurance agency for corporations while leaving a mess for the common people to deal with are the BP oil spill, TEPCO’s Fukushima disaster, and the mortgage crisis created by the Too-Big-To-Fail Banks.
Government rules and policies have been put in place to create the huge wealth gap in America:
– political economy, an amplifying feedback loop where wealth begets access to the rules in politics which begets changes in the rules which reinforce wealth.
– 45 years ago the media was staffed by blue-collar intellectuals. TV news media is now filled with people from wealthy households whose life experience tells them that things are just fine in the world. We’re not hearing about those exploiting the system for their benefit. Very little coverage of poverty as well. The U.S. has the highest % of children who go to bed hungry of any modern country.
– The most important period of determining your lifetime health and well-being is from conception to the first 6 months of life. Little to nonexistent programs and support for mothers and newborn babies in America. Just as the U.S. is neglecting its infrastructure by not maintaining and investing in it, we are also stealing from the future by not nurturing and providing proper care for small children. There will be a price and it will be very high.
– U.S. has been living under Reaganism since 1981 in which we worship money and our measure of the country is money. The purposes of our country were written down for us in the preamble of the Constitution: justice, the general Welfare, common defense, domestic tranquility, liberties. Nothing in the preamble talks about getting rich. That’s a byproduct of these other things, but we have gotten a distorted view of what’s happening and now have 33 years of evidence that Reaganism has made the rich richer at the expense of the 90%. We are mining the 90% to benefit the super-rich rather than creating an economy that benefits everyone.
– The number one driver of this crooked system is campaign finance. There are over 100,000 people in this country whose job it is to mine the public treasury or the rules for their benefit. This corrupt system has to be changed.
– The way we think about this country and its society needs to change. The founders actually wrote a great deal about their concerns over inequality. John Adams, the second President, wrote that his fear was that a business aristocracy would arise to destroy the country, making workers mere wage earners instead of craftsmen owning their own tools. These wage earners, not being truly independent, would be manipulated into voting for policies that would benefit the business aristocracy and we would lose both our liberties and democracy. Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, talks about inequality being corrosive to the very fabric of society and says that “the greatest corruption of our moral sentiments is the tendency to almost worship the rich and to hold in bad regard people who are poor.” Our politicians reflect this even though many of them will tell you at any moment how religious they are. They obviously have not studied their religious text because if they did they would know that, in the case of the Christians for example, you were required to “give all that thou hast to the poor.”
– Reaganism has led to an enormous concentration of wealth amongst a small minority who cannot possibly consume that wealth and instead are investing it in financial instruments to extract more wealth rather than investing it in the economy. We don’t have to burn more fossil fuels to grow the economy; there are other ways to do that.
– We pay big corporations to not pay their taxes. The way this happens is that corporations are limited in the amount of money they can hold in the U.S., so the corporations get around this by offshoring their money in foreign bank accounts and then turn around and buy U.S. treasuries. The interest they earn from these treasuries will eventually exceed the value of the tax on that money, when and if these corporations decide to bring the money back into the U.S.. This scheme has literally become a profit center for the corporations.
– When this country was founded, there had been only seven corporations in the old british colonial United States at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Six of them were what today we would either call a charity or a utility. The Boston Water Works is a good example; it was the very first one and was essentially a utility. One corporation created in the colony of New Haven was set up solely to make profit. It was such a scandal they had to shut it down within a year and it took ten years to clean up the mess. The founders disliked and distrusted corporations, but they believed in collective bargaining because in 1792, Congress passed the first significant labor law and subsidy law based on a study conducted by Thomas Jefferson. It was to revive and protect the cod fishing industry ravaged by the British Navy. The class of fisherman known as “sharesmen” were able to negotiate with the wealthy ship owners in order to share in the profits. Those ships who participated in sharing their profits with the fishermen were given the subsidy and those who did not were exempt from the subsidy.
– Violent, explosive rise in executive pay which diverts CEOs from the welfare of the company. All large pools of capital that are owned collectively (charitable endowments, pension funds, etc) are systematically being predated. The assets of utility companies are being worn down and stripped.
– We now have a government that does not go after people who are engaged in criminal frauds because they are considered so powerful that if they were prosecuted it would “damage the economy”. The government has become an insurance agency for the rich and powerful and the common people pay the premiums.
– We have gotten the results that Mr. Reagan said, if you listen to him carefully in 1980, that we would get which is that those people who are wealth holders would realize the income from that wealth, and they have. The actual tax rates of the people at the very top are 60% lower than what they paid in the 1980’s, but at the same time by getting rid of unions, by having these “free trade deals” which are really deals to drive down the cost of labor, we have driven down the wages and salaries of the vast majority of Americans as well as the environmental conditions (laws to protect the environment). A whole mechanism has been put in place that favors profit over labor and when you look at the data you can see it. The returns to labor in the Fed reserve data show a marked decline and returns to capital have been rising and since 2009 it has skyrocketed. Because labor returns have gone down, there is not enough aggregate demand in the economy for people to buy goods and services. The next thought would be that capitalists would change because people have to be able to buy their goods and services. No, if you are a global capitalist it does not matter. As long as there are no riots in the streets, you can sell your goods in other countries. We have lots of corporations now that are bigger than governments. Steve Coll’s book on ExxonMobile basically describes a private foreign service and a private military:
The scope of the market has become larger than the domain of the sovereignty of nation-states.
– The ultimate solution is very simple: the 90% of Americans who are worse off, who are back to the income level of 1966, can vote in a new government and start with the state legislatures because they are the ones that set the boundaries for the congressional districts but it will take many decades to get to a better path. The fundamental question about this division between the super-rich and everyone else is, “Are we going to revise the rules?” Right now you are seeing the rise of oligarchical thinking such as Tom Perkins saying the number of votes you should have should be based on the amount of money you have. The founders explicitly rejected that kind of thinking.
– This idea that if you make a lot of money, you should pay more in taxes is the most conservative idea in western civilization if your standard is something that’s been tested through time and works which is the classic meaning of conservative. Progressive taxation was invented 2,500 years ago in Athens when they invented democracy. The people of the city-state of Athens concluded that the only way one could become wealthy is by following the rules and laws set down to protect everyone. The infrastructure of Athens, its military, and government services that were provided to benefit everyone meant that those who did become wealthy were expected to bear a greater burden for those costs of society to ensure that Athens would endure. Society made their fortunes possible. This idea has been embraced by every classic worldly philosopher.
– The game doesn’t just comfortably and stably go on if people don’t become active and we keep driving towards deeper and deeper hollowing out and inequality. Isn’t there a dark scenario here also? Yes, we’re giving up on democracy and our descendents will read history books that begin with these words: “The United States of America was… ” It became a failed experiment where cynicism is used to mock anyone who is idealistic, a foolish romantic…
– We have governmental capture. We literally have a federal government that responds to the political donor class, which is a narrow group of very wealthy people, in how it taxes, how it doesn’t regulate, how it doesn’t enforce laws, how it makes trade agreements with other countries, and that imbalance should worry us a great deal. What did Plutarch tell us 2,000 years ago? “An imbalance between rich and poor is the most frequent and fatal ailment of all republics.”
Humans live on hope and without it they fall into depression, oftentimes taking their own lives. In ‘The Evolution and Psychology of Self-Deception‘, optimism bias is said to be a defense or coping mechanism for survival. Most turn to religion for the ultimate hope of an afterlife nirvana. Voluntarily and unflinchingly holding one’s eyes open to the searing light of reality is an unnatural act for humans. For many, simply dealing with everyday life and the stress of surviving the concrete jungle is enough to drive them to despair, madness, and suicide. Whether they realize it or not, any normal person taking in the full scope of the multiple crises we face is surely prone to depression to some degree or another. I am now finding that I have to periodically distance myself from blogging on these subjects because it’s affecting my personal relationships as well as my mental/physical health. Suicide is on the rise in the modern world:
Death on the Farm:
…Since that crisis, the suicide rate for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population. And this isn’t just a problem in the U.S.; it’s an international crisis. India has had more than 270,000 farmer suicides since 1995. In France, a farmer dies by suicide every two days. In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government’s seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought.
Suicide Rate Rises Sharply in U.S.:
From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives.
Why Suicide Has Become an Epidemic–and What We Can Do to Help:
…We know, thanks to a growing body of research on suicide and the conditions that accompany it, that more and more of us are living through a time of seamless black: a period of mounting clinical depression, blossoming thoughts of oblivion and an abiding wish to get there by the nonscenic route. Every year since 1999, more Americans have killed themselves than the year before, making suicide the nation’s greatest untamed cause of death. In much of the world, it’s among the only major threats to get significantly worse in this century than in the last…
…This year, America is likely to reach a grim milestone: the 40,000th death by suicide, the highest annual total on record, and one reached years ahead of what would be expected by population growth alone. We blew past an even bigger milestone revealed in November, when a study lead by Ian Rockett, an epidemiologist at West Virginia University, showed that suicide had become the leading cause of “injury death” in America. As the CDC noted again this spring, suicide outpaces the rate of death on the road—and for that matter anywhere else people accidentally harm themselves. Somewhere Ralph Nader is smiling, but the takeaway is darkly profound: we’ve become our own greatest danger.
This development evades simple explanation. The shift in suicides began long before the recession, for example, and although the changes accelerated after 2007, when the unemployment rate began to rise, no more than a quarter of those new suicides have been tied to joblessness, according to researchers. Guns aren’t all to blame either, since the suicide rate has grown even as the portion of suicides by firearm has remained stable.
The fact is, self-harm has become a worldwide concern. This emerged in the new Global Burden of Disease report, published in The Lancet this past December. It’s the largest ever effort to document what ails, injures, and exterminates the species. But allow me to save you the reading. Humankind’s biggest health problem is humankind…
That last article I quoted above, from a mainstream periodical, has more truth written between the lines than its author even realizes. Humans are their own worst enemy and perhaps the rise of suicides across the globe is a reflection of our ecocidal culture, one that values money over life and reduces everything to a financial statistic. Capitalism is the most pervasive religion on the planet today. Most living at the end of modern history have adopted the ruling elite’s belief system which says that all problems can and will be solved via the “free market” and human ingenuity, but as one Indian philosopher of the 21st century wisely observed:
“Nature shrinks as capital grows. The growth of the market cannot solve the very crisis it creates.” ~ Vandana Shiva
People are a reflection of their environment, and so it is in the waning days of industrial civilization and predatory capitalism that many will no longer have the will to go on. From an interesting obituary written by a friend of Michael C. Ruppert:
…I look at Ruppert’s life, his hard struggle, his victories and his short-comings. I wish we were closer in his final couple of years. I loved him. I say the following with love. I say the following because I don’t want to know any more great truth-loving writers to die this way. If you have a drinking problem, hit a meeting. Reach out. It worked for me, to stop flailing about, running from city to country to city, always moving, thinking a big move is going to change things. Get centered. Pray and meditate. Be still.
Something snapped in Ruppert sometime later in that decade, after the book. He moved to Venezuela, in rushed effort to seek political asylum from the Chavez government. Ruppert probably wasn’t anti-imperialist enough for their tastes, at least not in a leftist way. Oh, and the CIA/DIA family background probably didn’t help.
I wept. I felt rage today. I was mad at you, Mike, going out this way. It was too similar to Gary Webb, to Jim Hatfield the Bush biographer. I don’t want this pattern. Tell me it’s not the fate for writers of deep truth, to die, alone, shooting their brains out, because they went deep and hard after the invisible forces, the slithering stag. The hunter became hunted by the dragon.
No. Mike will be remembered for his discipline, his writing, his development of a critical paradigm. Our society is stronger for the deep analysis. In the same way that Ruppert investigated Gary Webb’s death, it’s up to us now to do the scientific and careful analysis of the crime scene. To pick up where he left off, and wake up to a new view of the matrix…
In their search for the truth, perhaps some travel too far down the rabbit hole of civilizational and environmental collapse to ever escape its malignant shadow; it consumes them like a cancer. A copy of Ruppert’s suicide letter can be read here. His research and thinking lead him to the inner sanctum of dark revelation and the unsettling details of civilization’s trajectory. The vaporware dreams of a technological utopia will most certainly go up in smoke as social unrest and resource wars consume the nations of the world in an age of climate chaos. The evil genius of mankind will be revealed in evermore lethal and destructive ways to kill his fellow man. And waiting in the wings of industrial civilization’s collapse is the toxic and radioactive tsunami from an aging fleet of nuclear reactors dependent on a functioning electric grid. Humans are capable of great acts of compassion and selflessness as well as great acts of cruelty and violence. The system rewards sociopathic behavior at the expense of the health of the whole. Ignoring such stark realities won’t change our odds for survival.
RIP Michael C. Ruppert, Feb. 3, 1951- April 13, 2014
Empires take what they want, first through diplomatic and economic pressure, then through the use of jackals and mercenaries, and finally with the shock and awe of military might dressed up with the appropriate propagandistic slogans of rescuing a resource-cursed country from its now out-of-favor dictator. ‘Regime change’ has become an acceptable TV euphemism for overthrowing governments. However, when those foreign oil taps start to run dry, important environmental regulations in the homeland get reinterpreted and scaled back in order to open up resources that once were thought of as undesirable. The elite systematically cannibalize their own societies while at the same time extracting massive profits by shredding the social safety net, criminalizing poverty and dissent, stripping away environmental protection, and gutting scientific research. In order to protect their ability to loot the commons, the elite circle believe it is more advantageous to keep the masses ignorant about the true extent of the planetary crisis their policies have created. If science gets in the way of “progress”, then it is summarily dismissed by outright denial, defunding, and deletion from public records as Apneaman points out:
…the gutting of Environment Canada by the Harper gang was an effective strategy in silencing scientists whose research was causing “sufficient embarrassment”. It was not violent, but they are just getting started. Then there are the non violent environmental protesters who are being sent to prison. Could you imagine that 20 years ago? Just getting started. As the benign dog points out, when the dollar hegemony slips even further it won’t be just the government and the rich looking to silence the critics. Does anyone one here really think people like the neo-cons are going to give up the reserve currency status without a fight?
For those countries who are located down low on the totem pole of energy wealth such as North Korea, the coffers of the State are filled by criminal activity of a more mundane variety such as drug smuggling and currency counterfeiting:
North Koreans began to produce meth in “big state-run labs.” The Los Angeles Times reports that narcotics investigators said the North Korean government controlled the production of meth and opium, as well as other drugs, in the 1990s in order to bring in “hard currency” for Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader. The government was engaging in the drug trade in order to save and improve its economic state as a nation. I do not by any means agree with the actions North Korean government chose to take. Instead of tending to its people’s health issues, it chose to spread life-threatening drugs throughout the world. In such a heavily government-dependent political system, the people have no hope to turn to a government official and ask for help. Individuals and families turned to the drug in times of desperation, leading to many North Koreans becoming fervent methamphetamine addicts. This situation is devastating and should not be overlooked. According to CNN, a majority — two-thirds to be exact — of the North Korean population has used methamphetamines. It is reportedly accessible in restaurants and has “become the drug of choice of high-ranking officials and the police.” http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/opinion/north-korea-s-meth-addiction-could-spell-disaster-for-us-1.2853884#.U0jHJyhRY20
It is no secret that North Korean diplomats and embassies are self-financing. In fact, they are profit earning and they must remit funds back to Pyongyang. While this means that DPRK diplomatic relations are not a drain on the treasury, as is typically the case with other countries, it does mean that the DPRK’s official representatives are more likely to make headlines for their business dealings rather than political statements. http://www.nkeconwatch.com/2009/11/22/dprk-diplos-arrested-for-smuggling-again/
Liu had been convicted of conspiracy and fraud involving millions of dollars made not by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing but by counterfeiting presses in a foreign country, presumably North Korea. The quality of these “supernote” forgeries is so high that he’d managed to pass enormous quantities through the electronic detection devices with which every Vegas slot machine is supposed to be equipped. The prosecutor was asking the judge to give him close to 25 years, and in the end Liu would receive more than 12. Liu’s crimes threatened not only the integrity of America’s currency but the very fabric of international peace. They were part of a vast criminal enterprise believed to be controlled by the North Korean state, set up and used to finance its nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile programs. All of this, intelligence analysts say, is coordinated by a secret agency inside the North Korean government controlled directly by “the Dear Leader,” Kim Jong Il, himself. The agency is known as Office 39. (Given the opacity of anything inside North Korea, experts differ on whether “Office” should be “Bureau” or even “Room”—and they also suspect that the number itself may change.) http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/09/office-39-200909
Cuba and North Korea are two interesting examples of countries that are both energy poor but also very different on the sociopolitical spectrum. Cuba appears to be closer to an ideal model for how energy descent should be handled, and North Korea is a much more frightening view of how things are run by a tiny, coddled elite. What follows is a review by Alice Friedemann of “Nothing to Envy. Ordinary lives in North Korea” written by Barbara Demick…
North Korea and Cuba were the first countries to lose oil, the lifeblood of civilization. Since we will all share that fate, it’s interesting to see what happened, though keep in mind that how severe the consequences are will depend on the carrying capacity of the region you’re in, how much civil order can be maintained, and the effectiveness of the leaders in power (i.e. see “Lessons Learned from How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” that compares California to Cuba).
There are enormous differences between the fates of Cuba and North Korea. Cuba had many advantages — a benign climate with year-round rainfall where three crops a year could be grown, a culture of helping one another out, and Castro prevented middlemen and speculators from charging astronomical amounts for food. For a detailed understanding of what happened in Cuba read this Oxfam analysis.
North Korea couldn’t be more opposite – a cold mountainous nation with only 15% of its land arable, and dictators so crazy and cruel they’re almost unmatched in history. North Korea might be the only nation with more prisoners per capita than America. There are many kinds of prisons, from detention centers to hard-labor camps, to gulags where your children, cousins, brothers, sisters, and parents would also be sent to for a crime you committed for generations to come. About 1% of the population– 200,000 people –permanently work in labor camps. The threat of these prisons has made it impossible for organized resistance to happen.
It’s hard to escape, and if you do, then your relatives end up in labor camps. Other nations aren’t keen on refugees – South Korea fears a collapse of North Korea and being overrun by 23 million people seeking food and shelter, and China has their own problems with 1.2 billion poor people.
The only good aspect I could find about North Korea was that the women there are less repressed than in the past. A century ago Korean women were so completely covered in clothing that the Taliban would find no faults. In one village north of Pyongyang women wore 7 foot long, 5 feet broad and 3 feet deep wicker hat constructions that kept women hidden from head to toe. Perhaps even more than Muslim women, Korean women were imprisoned in family compounds and could only leave at special times when the streets were cleared of men. One historian said that Korean women were “very rigidly secluded, perhaps more absolutely than women of any other nation”.
After the Korean War ended, North Korea lost most of its infrastructure and 70% of its housing. It was amazing that Kim Il-sung managed to create a Spartan economy where most were sheltered and clothed, had electricity, and few were illiterate. Grain and other foods were distributed as well. In autumn each family got about 150 pounds of cabbage per person to make kimchi, which was stored in tall earthen jars buried in the garden so they would stay cold but not freeze and hidden from thieves.
North Korea became utterly dependent on the kindness of other countries for oil, food, fertilizer, vehicles, and so on.
What happens when the oil stops flowing?
In the early 1990s North Korea suffered a double blow at a time when they were $10 billion in debt. China wanted cash up front for fuel and food while at the same time the Soviet Union demanded the much higher price of what oil was selling for on world markets.
The nation spun into a crash. Without oil and raw materials the factories shut down. With no exports, there was no money to buy fuel and food with. Electric plants shut, irrigation systems stopped running, and coal couldn’t be mined. The results were:
Power stations and the electric grid rusted beyond fixing
The lights went out.
Running water stopped so most went to a public pump to get water
Electric trams operated infrequently
People climbed utility poles to steal pieces of copper wire to barter for food
There were few motor vehicles
And few tractors, farming was done with oxen dragging plows
Hunger struck, which made people too exhausted to work long at the few factories and farms that were still surviving.
Perhaps this is why many nations have had no choice but to rely on muscle power after an economic crash or during a war, which means putting many people to work on farms. After the energy crisis, North Koreans over 11 were sent out to the country to plant rice, haul soil, spray pesticides, and weed. This was called “volunteer work”. Now that they couldn’t afford to buy fertilizer, every family was expected to provide a human bucketful of excrement to a warehouse miles away. The bucket was exchanged for a chit that could be traded for food.
Like Mao’s crazy schemes, North Korea’s dictators lurched from one mad idea to another — one day it was goat breeding, the next ostrich farms, or switching from rice to potatoes.
Food staples were grown on collective farms, and the state took the harvest and redistributed it. The farmers weren’t given enough to survive on, so they slacked on their collective fields to grow food to survive on, making the food crisis even worse. In the end, it was people in cities with no land to grow their own food on who ended up starving first. Every year, rationed amounts of food went down.
People were told the United States was at fault, and propaganda campaigns encouraged Koreans to think of themselves as tough, and that enduring hunger without complaint was a patriotic duty, and kept everyone’s hopes up by promising bumper crops in the coming harvest. The Koreans deceived themselves like the German Jews in the 1930s, and told themselves it couldn’t get any worse, things would get better. But they didn’t.
Worse yet, instead of spending money on agriculture, the defense budget sucked up a quarter of the GNP. One million men out of 23 million people were kept in arms – the 4th largest military in the world.
The only place to get food became the illegal black market, where prices were terribly high, sometimes 250 times higher than what the state used to sell food for.
Natural disasters made harvests even worse – in 1994 and 1995 Korea was struck with an extremely cold winter and torrential rains in the summer that destroyed the homes of 500,000 people and rice crops for 5.2 million people.
People began picking weeds and wild grasses to stretch out meals, as well as leaves, husks, stems, and the cobs of corn. Children can’t digest food this rough and could end up in a hospital, where doctors advised the rough material be ground up fine and cooked a long time. It wasn’t long before malnutrition led to increasing numbers of people with pellagra and other diseases. Hospitals soon ran out drugs and other supplies.
You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.
Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White and Blue,
Where there’s never a boast or brag.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
Keep your eye on the grand old flag.
You’re a Grand Old Flag
by George M. Cohan
Life in these United States is rough, especially for the working poor. This is a subject that just doesn’t get enough attention. Yes, lot’s of ink is spilled over the truly poor, those who qualify for SNAP (food stamps), rental assistance, utility assistance, and the various other govt. programs, but not for those who slave away year after year, just making enough to keep their heads above water, but never enough to get ahead.
Just consider, as I’m sure you have, the physical and psychological stressors borne by the great unwashed (speaking metaphorically), and the range of mixed messages we must process just to keep our heads on straight.
Let’s start with something basic, sex, always a good start, something we can all relate to because as they say, if someone wasn’t monkeying around, none of us would be here. Being a straight male, I can only write from my own perspective, but the reader is free (of course) to relate my thoughts to whatever fits their own circumstances the best. Look at what is paraded in front of the average red-blooded American man: cleavage, T and A, Giselle, Heidi, The World’s Next Top Model, and let’s not forget Ms. Upton; what a masterstroke of marketing genius! Take plain old Kate. Why she’s just an ordinary girl, the girl next door. Meanwhile back on Planet Earth, how is the average male to look at the old warhorse over on the Barcalounger who has thickened up through the process of having his kids?
“Doctors’ pills give you brand new ills
And the bills bury you like an avalanche
And lawyers haven’t been this popular
Since Robespierre slaughtered half of France!
And Indian chiefs with their old beliefs know
The balance is undone crazy ions
You can feel it out in traffic
Everyone hates everyone!
And the gas leaks
And the oil spills
And sex sells everything
And sex kills
Yup, stuck between a rock and, well, never mind.
Speaking of traffic, we’ve seen them on teevee. It’s the slim young hipsters in their smart cars with their cell phones, bright young faces going places, the packaged and commodified non-conformists creating their calling plan so nobody is late for the show, where no doubt they will strum their guitars and beat their drums (Made in China), and lament the death of the Late Great Planet Earth, Hal Lindsey reference not intended.
C’mon, admit it, it’s creepy. You see them on the street, texting, talking, in their spandex on the treadmill (why don’t they hook those things up to a generator? people would pay).
The perfect people, the enlightened. I’m sure they don’t drink coffee or smoke cigarettes. These people are scary, all in their own orbit, and if they know that they are being controlled, they seem to like it.
And the cars! Why they talk to you! And Sly? He drives a Ferrari, of course. My truck doesn’t talk to me, just bings when I leave the turn signal on or don’t fasten the seat belt, because God knows I would be such a loss or, even worse, a burden, but we’ll get back to that. In any case, it probably would be best to get a great big neon sign to strap to the tailgate that flashed “LOSER” once every 3 seconds. I think the denizens of the ghetto have got it right. Know what they say? “S’up, Dog?” –a statement of fact. You’re a dog, I’m a dog, everywhere a dog, dog. You could even become a bounty hunter, get a TV show, put the other dogs in the kennel.
Yes, all these poor people, such a burden on society, eating our food, sucking up our resources, just too many of them; and if they are lucky enough to have a job? Why they should just be grateful. That’s right, Bob, grateful. It’s not like the Boss Man is making any money off them. Just a big bunch of ungrateful losers, a great big fat burden for the rest of us, we who are smarter, harder workers and who play by the rules, unlike them.
My very favorite is the Sunday shows where carefully coiffed and groomed experts give serious statements about current events through their lying horse teeth, perfect pearly white teeth and big mouths being so much more telegenic, don’t you know. Then after you are informed that your common sense opinions on matters of life and death are so very mistaken, you are treated to 5 minutes of adverts for your retirement plan, and how you had better get on the stick boy. Time flies and you better get on the horn and call up T. Rowe Price and make some sound investments with all that extra cash you have lying around. What? What’s that you say? You don’t have a retirement plan? Loser.
You’ll probably become a burden to your children because that is what’s important, the children, isn’t it? Why, you probably shouldn’t have had any, overpopulating the planet as your kind do. Don’t you care about Mother Earth? Probably not, don’t even care about your very own Mother, such a Loser.
But here’s the beauty of it. The battering, the depression, lack of response, that good old deer in the headlights look, it’s for free. Many people don’t realize, but Howie says it best:
“… It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. …
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.”
Howard W. Campbell Jr.
Why are Americans never going to revolt? Why will they never effect any meaningful political change? Because they are too busy beating themselves up, beating themselves black and blue; if they aren’t beating themselves up, they’re beating someone else up, on the street, in a foreign country, and of course, there’s no place like home.
The web makes it easy to look up the statistics, crime, poverty, drug usage. There are more people in the US on legal drugs than illegal I would hazard to conjecture, but one thing is for sure, We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1! We’re Number 1!
Yes, the Good Old USA, the country that gave you road rage, drive by shootings, drone wars, and KFC, it’s Finger Lickin’ Good!
I think we should change the colors on the US flag, and it’s not just because we borrowed the colours from the bloody English (oh, excuse me, the “UK”) or the French , who we all know are Communists. It’s because our flag no longer represents the true state of America, if indeed it ever represented anything at all. Maybe we should just be honest about it and adopt the Silver and Black, Thunder and Lightning, Shock and Awe. Hell, let’s just go all the way, admit we are the Black Hole of the Universe, Raider Nation, Buccaneers, Pirates.
No? Too many contractual commitments? Copyright problems?
Ok, then how about Black and Blue? Such is the state of most of America, figuratively speaking, or is that literally? So confusing. If the injuries are not readily apparent, we can fix that. Just go down to City Hall and try to claim it as yours. Black and Blue doesn’t just tell the whole story though does it? We need something to add a shade of definition; how about something the color of blood? And the contrast of white thrown in for the countless bones crushed beneath the tank tread of Empire.
So what if some of that Red splashes on the camera lens? If it bleeds it leads.
That’s the ticket! By golly, I think we’ve got it, Red, White, Black, and Blue. It’s a Grand Old Flag:
What’s with these eco-freaks!?! Don’t they see they’re destroying the economy. We need to defang the EPA and go balls out like China’s doing. So what if we create a little waste! There’s money to be made from gas masks, water filtration, hazmat suits and cancer treatment. If the Earth worshippers get really bothersome, we’ll just sic the security and surveillance state on them. Send over a couple unmanned aerial vehicles on their ass. Drones… a multibillion-dollar industry! Beautiful, isn’t it? If we have to lock them up, we’ll profit from that too. There’s no problem that can’t be turned into a business scheme.
The upper class that creates wealth, like myself, is just better at procuring what this world respects –money, power, prestige and all the other measurements of social status. They say “money makes the world go round”, but really it’s just a symbol for energy exchanged for work, as in human labor or the virtual slave labor of our fossil fuel-based civilization. Based on the law of the conservation of energy and political thermodynamics, all organisms seek to conserve energy and overcome the disorder and decay of entropy. Humans are following their biological inclination to search out the richest source of energy and procreate. In fossil fuels we found the mother lode of them all to do both, live like kings and fill the planet with our numbers. We have an innate instinct to burn the stuff and have sex. Just look at how the Dutch and Flemish became the first in pre-industrial times to exploit fossil fuels in the form of peat:
The opening of the peat bogs in the northern provinces from the 1580s onwards meant that the Dutch had a cheap energy source that was widely available, while most other countries in Europe were entirely dependent on wood – which had become ever more expensive as deforestation advanced. The Netherlands’ ample fuel reserves stimulated the development of various fuel-intensive and export-oriented industries…
…The high energy consumption of the Dutch was an anomaly in seventeenth century Europe. The same goes for their prosperity, and for the level of urbanization and industrialisation in the country…
Consequently, their economy became the most powerful in the world. Eventually the peat bogs were mined to exhaustion until new technology arose which allowed even deeper mining below the water. This more intensive process came at the environmental cost of losing agricultural land to the lakes which formed from this new mining technique.
…The authorities, horrified by the loss of agricultural land – and the associated tax income – tried to stop the peat diggers during the sixteenth century by placing export prohibitions and restrictions on peat mining below the water table, but they failed. Digging out peat was more lucrative than cultivating crops. In total, peat digging would turn more than 60,000 hectares (600 km2) of land into water in Holland and Utrecht – almost 10 percent of their total surface area…
This all sounds eerily familiar with America’s current binge on fracking, doesn’t it? These days the entire world is scavenging the hard-to-get energy resources since all the low hanging energy has been consumed.
Blood, Sweat, Oil and Psychopaths
There is some archeological evidence that Romans used coal in England during the second and third centuries (100-200 AD), but they relied primarily on slave labor along with lesser-used sources of fire, animal labor, and wind:
Historians estimate that in the first century of the empire, Rome consumed between one hundred thousand and half-a-million slaves every single year . The slaves used for hard agricultural labour and as rowers in Roman ships had a life-expectancy of perhaps only a few years – and those in the mines only a few months. Slaves were, quite simply, an energy resource to be exploited. Nevertheless, despite the high mortality rate, such was the quantity of slave imports that they comprised between 30 and 40 per cent of the population in the empire’s Italian provinces – an enormous proportion .
There were, however, cultures much more reliant on slaves than the Roman Empire such as the Spartan Empire with its slave class of helots who, according to Greek historian Herodotus, outnumbered the free by seven to one.
“Parts of iron slave chains that native Britons were forced to wear under Roman rule. This particular item was found at Sheepen, Colchester.”
You so-called wage slaves and working poor of industrial civilization have never had it so good, have you? The average person has dozens and sometimes hundreds of slaves working for them at any given time, courtesy of our gift of fossil fuels. Of course there’s always an oddball Luddite in the crowd, but the average person is not going to walk away from such a life of Riley. And do you really believe that the wealthy elite, whose self-image is infinitely more tied up in their bank account digits than the lowly commoner, is going to give up their amassed fortunes and vaunted position in society for the betterment of mankind? Hell, they think there’s too many of the “unwashed masses” as it is. Why would they want to save the disposable bottom feeders? The global elite clawed their way to the top by stomping on whoever got in their way and dominating the competition. Some degree of lying, cheating, tax-dodging, bribing of officials and “bending” of the law is always buried beneath the squeaky clean propaganda of their PR machines. Show me a truly “sustainable” corporation and I’ll show you a virgin prostitute. Of course they all want to be the benefactor of some humanitarian foundation once they’ve secured their riches, but not a single one of them is a Mother Teresa.
We’ve got the perfect economic system for psychopaths to rule the world in broad daylight under the cloak of democracy and normality:
One in a hundred regular people is a psychopath…That figure rises to 4% of CEO’s and business leaders…The reason why is because capitalism, at its most ruthless, rewards psychopathic behavior –the lack of empathy, the glibness, cunning and manipulative behavior… Capitalism at its most remorseless is a physical manifestation of psychopathy, a form of psychopathy that has come down to affect us all.
About this little problem of climate change that you all are wringing your hands over, I can tell you that the elite think this is really The Market’s way of clearing the dead wood from the economic forest floor. Yes, they really believe they have the inside track on how to beat this thing. Their immense wealth is going to protect them like a cocoon and then they’ll emerge like a butterfly into a new world free of all the huddled, diseased, and starving masses. Who knows, maybe they’ll even feed all those corpses into one of their newly invented biomass energy converters. In their technotopian thinking, they believe the next few decades is sufficient time to develop geoengineering technology that will allow for the rehabilitation of the Earth once the overpopulation problem is taken care of. They know climate change is going to make life nearly impossible for most everything no matter what we do, so they calculated that it serves their interests to simply let business-as-usual run its course and allow the catastrophe to unfold rather than change the rules of the game, in which case all their wealth and privilege would be lost. Yes, they would rather cling to their loot while developing strategies to survive the human culling. Climate change will bring novel viruses that could make short work of it all without any major wars or mass starvation, and no one will ever know what hit them. Its true origin will forever remain a mystery as the powers-that-be sit comfortably behind guarded walls, safely inoculated from the spreading pandemic.
Cold, Dark, and Soulless: Culling the Numbers
Don’t waste your energy hoping that heartless moneyed interests will find the wisdom and virtue to heal a fractured planet or mitigate the untold human suffering that is to come. The global elite has more in common with each other than their own countrymen. Superfluous workers need to be trimmed. Natural resources must be replenished. There will be no more nation states. We’ve been building up our police states for when the time comes. Who will survive the overshoot and collapse has already been decided and it won’t be the billions of dim-witted mouth-breathers. Robots will be ours workers and slaves. They will collect the dead and clean up the aftermath while the Earth is allowed to regenerate in due time. The few selected for their skill, talent, intelligence, and allegiance will preserve and maintain our computers, technology, and culture. We’ll reboot the earth and a new era will dawn for the chosen few. We’re counting on the masses to be malleable and do nothing, to die quietly. As a matter of fact, our planning and research on social and behavioral control gives us a near 100% certainty that this will be the case. We’ve raised them to be obedient consumers and docile sheep.
They will go to the slaughterhouse without a fight, clutching their religious icons and babbling their insane conspiracies.
“You can’t beat death but you can beat death in life, sometimes.
And the more often you learn to do it, the more light there will be.”
~ Charles Bukowski
What had been designed to be our servants became our masters, then our owners and gods, and finally our destroyer….
Some days I wake up and despise the monotony and pettiness of this culture and its followers: its celebrity worship, its staged news reporting, its chameleon politicians, its conniving marketers of consumerism, its cookie-cutter neighborhoods, its push-button surveillance state, and its clueless masses all working together to create the illusion of normalcy. Everyone goes along with this mindless program like obedient slaves, afraid of the social stigma attached to questioning any radical deviation from what constitutes normal. God forbid anyone openly discusses the cliff we are fast approaching, its sheer drop-off and craggy rocks below coming more clearly into view. One last scramble for the last bit of habitable land at the poles will be the inevitable end game as atmospheric warming catches up to the glacial melt and sea level rise humans have set into motion. In light of all the scientific evidence accumulated over decades, mankind has known for some time that a radical reconfiguration of our socio-economic system was the only way to avoid collapse, as described beautifully back in 2008 by a longtime blogger who has been writing for nearly a decade:
There can be no “soft-landing” for a species adding another million of itself every 4 and a half days to consume and convert into more and more human flesh what little remains of the planet’s tattered web of life. Worshiping paper symbols of wealth as the only measurement of social and environmental worth, our species has monetized and misunderstood nature, ignoring its true incalculable value. Surely something is amiss when the financial interests of the insecticide industry trump the health of humans and the survival of pollinators. Examining the root cause of such corrosive effects in our economic system, i.e. capitalism, is nearly as taboo as mentioning the collapse of modern civilization. The culturally Pavlovianresponses to any such criticism directed at capitalism or the unsustainability of industrial civilization is to argue for the rehabilitation of capitalism into something less destructive and tout humanity’s unfailing ability to adapt to any situation. Reinforced by past successes such as the Green Revolution, robotic exploration of distant planets, and Moore’s Law of technological advancement, the marriage of capitalism and technology has created a mindset which takes for granted the belief that the marketplace will create a hi-tech fix to any and all problems. Little green aliens, paranormal experiences, and techno-utopian futures seem to be more socially acceptable subjects for discussion rather than the collapse of a way-of-life that requires several more Earths if everyone were to live like Americans. Perhaps that is why we get technotopian books like this one:
The myth of progress is central to corporate ideologies of materialism, modernism, and technocapitalism. The mythical quality of technological progress was expressed most succinctly in GE’s slogan from the 1950’s: “Progress is our most important product.”
There are reportedly hundreds of Transhumanist-affiliated groups(life extensionists, techno-optimists, Singularitarians, biohackers, roboticists, AI proponents, and futurists) in the world with the largest, the Singularity Network, claiming 10,000 members. Few in our society can imagine this planet exhausted of its resources, inhospitable to agriculture, and devoid of all its keystone species, but such a world is fast becoming reality as industrial civilization steamrolls the planet under the direction of technocapitalism. Millions of factories continue to spit out products by the ton to be shipped to every corner of the globe. The ravenous hordes struggling for a higher standard of living never think twice about the energy and eco-social damage tied to these consumer products that magically appear on store shelves.
“A transhuman future is a day-dream and we are rapidly running out of the luxury of being able to do nothing about the very real problems that face us now. A transhuman future is a nightmare of the electric sheep.”
~ Dr. Paul Willis
The boundaries of a finite planet have been temporarily extended by technology, giving mankind a false sense of power over his environment, but technological complexity is not immune to the law of diminishing returns; the problems are overwhelming the solutions:
“…Technology cannot bring back a concentrated resource deposit like soil, phosphates and fossil fuels that have been dispersed and converted so completely that no amount of energy can get them back. The links in the technological evolutionary chain have been successful so far, but all it takes is a single broken link that will drop us into the waste heap of failed evolution. The next link of the chain always exists in the imaginations of men, technological wonders to carry us forward, but malignant growth, the kind sponsored by corporate, banking and Wall St. entities, will guarantee the current technological link is our last one…”
For a culture that lives for today and ignores the consequences of tomorrow, the show must go on even as cracks and weaknesses in this false façade become more evident day by day. Omar N. Bradley may have been thinking about weapons of mass destruction when he made an observation about mankind’s tools of self-destruction, but he could not have been more prescient in the broader sense of technology’s reach into our lives when he said, “If we continue to develop our technology without wisdom or prudence, our servant may prove to be our executioner.”
As in previous fallen civilizations, today’s elite are more out of touch with our precarious position than most realize, and they will try to cling to their wealth and social status despite how much blood flows in the streets as the masses bear the brunt of collapse first –poverty, disease, war, starvation, etc., but ultimately no one can run from the death of the Earth’s oceans, the spread of novel diseases, and the die-off of trees. Those now deciding how our technologic scalpels will be wielded are not institutions looking out for the greater good of humanity, but by the ultra wealthy for their own personal financial enrichment and narcissistic interests:
“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money…
…that personal setting of priorities is precisely what troubles some in the science establishment. Many of the patrons, they say, are ignoring basic research — the kind that investigates the riddles of nature and has produced centuries of breakthroughs, even whole industries — for a jumble of popular, feel-good fields like environmental studies and space exploration…
..the rise of science philanthropy may simply help “rich fields, universities and individuals to get richer.” The new patrons are responsible for one of the most striking trends on these campuses: the rise of privately financed institutes, the new temples of science philanthropy.
This privatization of science is just one more aspect of capitalism’s usurpation and corruption of the body politic.
The art in this blog post is from Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksiński whose intricately detailed paintings of apocalyptic landscapes, mutated and deformed humans, and surreal images were said to be inspired from his nightmares. He never gave titles to his paintings and signed them on the back. It is said he would often wake up in the middle of night to paint his dark visions. In 2005 he was found dead lying on the floor of his Warsaw flat in a pool of blood, stabbed 17 times.
Perhaps the greatest nightmare of modern man is the fact that he is at the mercy of an ever-expanding industrial civilization running on autopilot, as Zygmunt Bauman described, with no realistic way to stop its onslaught of toxic waste, greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and numerous other ecocidal features. I can see this horror when I look at much of Beksiński’s work, but I also see nature reclaiming the battlefield after man has defeated himself.
To a great degree, humans are their own worst enemy, prisoners of their flawed cerebral wiring with its neuroses, blind spots, and cognitive biases, but the real enemy is the omnicidal juggernaut our numbers have created; its base urges can’t be contained.
While the false debate continues in mostly right-wing circles that today’s Capitalism is some aberrant form of “true” Capitalism, the end game and final victory of Capital continues to play out with multinational corporations becoming the ‘winner take all’ in their complete takeover of the world’s economies and governments. As discussed before, the TTIP and TPP are the latest maneuvers in this corporate grab for power, wealth, and resources. Any last vestiges of environmental protection, worker rights, and sovereignty will be shredded. No illusions of democracy should be maintained in a world of corporate feudalism where gross social inequality will have become irreversible and the will of common people smothered by the abuses of great wealth:
“[The TTIP] proposes to establish a Regulatory Co-operation Council combining US and EU regulatory agencies with the purpose of working towards deeper ‘regulatory co-operation and increased compatibility for future and existing regulatory measures’. For example, health and safety regulations and food standards between the US and the EU will be made ‘compatible’, or more simply put, downgraded or removed.
The TTIP and TPP are intended to include investor-state dispute settlement clauses. When a corporation considers its expected future profits are being harmed by a government it can lodge a case before these tribunals consisting of three lawyers who represent corporate interests. These lawyers have no conflict of interest restrictions on their operations. There are no limits on the awards that can be claimed against governments and very limited rights of appeal for governments. Even if a government wins a case it must pay the tribunal’s costs and legal fees – averaging $9m a case. UNCTAD reports a tenfold increase in such cases since 2000. Any health or environmental policy that conflicted with corporate interests would be subjected to these extra-judicial tribunals. Tribunals are currently organised under World Bank and United Nations rules. The compensation is taken from the taxpayers.
Of the world’s ten biggest law firms, ranked by revenue, four are British and six are US. A golden age for corporate lawyers beckons! ConDem Coalition government Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke explained, ‘Investor protection is a standard part of free-trade agreements – it was designed to support businesses investing in countries where the rule of law is unpredictable, to say the least.’
The following are just a few of the cases that corporations have brought to the investor-state dispute settlement tribunals: …” – link
The PR machine continues to churn out lies even under the glaring reality of today’s obscene wealth disparity. One particular study, entitled Your Fate? Thank Your Ancestors, was discussed in the New York Times recently, proclaiming that an individual’s path to success or failure in any society is foreordained in their genetic make-up and family lineage. Of course genes do play a part in the intelligence, talents, and behavior of every individual, but this particular meme is based on the myth that people in present day capitalist economies live and operate within “modern meritocracy societies” wherein everyone has the freedom and opportunity to develop and utilize the full potential of their talents. As one commenter at the New York Times rightly stated:
“This [study] appears to be one of a growing number arguing for the inherent superiority of some people over others while strenuously avoiding terms like superiority. The claim that some are born to lead and rule and others to be ruled over is as old as human civilization.”
Such propaganda serves the purpose of those at the top of the capitalist social hierarchy, allowing them to justify capitalism’s grotesque social inequality while at the same time preaching to the masses that their poor standing in society is a result of their genetic heritage and not the result of a structurally unjust and undemocratic system. In other words, those at the top deserve to be there and so do those at the bottom.
Many people remain under the spell of the American Dream which promises they can rise to the top of this corrupt system or at least receive the trickle down benefits it claims to offer, but the stark reality of shrinking wages and pensions, persistent unemployment, and rising costs of bare necessities prove otherwise. It’s known as “the meritocracy myth” and one book with that title, written by two professors, explains that a person’s social status is based more on factors such as class structure, politics, and race rather than on individual merit and initiative. Their major arguments are summarized below:
“Factors associated with Individual “Merit”
1.) Money makes money.
Sources of revenue that are unrelated to jobs, such as income from capital gains, dividends, interest payments, government subsidies as well as appreciating assets of wealth such as businesses, real estate, and stocks are predominantly owned by a small fraction of society’s upper echelon. This maldistribution of wealth illustrates that America is not a “middle class society”, but one of the haves and have-nots where wealth is concentrated at the very top of the system.
“…the shape of the distribution of merit resembles a “bell curve” with small numbers of incompetent people at the lower end, most people of average abilities in the middle and small numbers of talented people at the upper end. The highly skewed distribution of economic outcomes, however, appears quite in excess of any reasonable distribution of merit. Something that is distributed “normally” cannot be the direct and proportional cause of something with such skewed distributions…”
“Most experts point out, for instance, that ‘intelligence,’ as measured by IQ tests, is partially a reflection of inherent intellectual capacity and partially a reflection of environmental influences. It is the combination of capacity and experience that determines ‘intelligence.’ Even allowing for this ‘environmental’ caveat, IQ scores only account for about 10% of the variance in income differences among individuals (Fisher et al. 1996). Since wealth is less tied to achievement than income, the amount of influence of intelligence on wealth is much less. Other purportedly innate ‘talents’ cannot be separated from experience, since any ‘talent’ must be displayed to be recognized and labeled as such (Chambliss 1989). There is no way to determine for certain, for instance, how many potential world-class violinists there are in the general population but who have never once picked up a violin. Such ‘talents’ do not spontaneously erupt but must be identified and cultivated.”
3.) Hard work does not necessarily equate to economic success.
“Applying talents is also necessary. Working hard is often seen in this context as part of the merit formula. Heads nod in acknowledgment whenever hard work is mentioned in conjunction with economic success. Rarely is this assumption questioned. But what exactly do we mean by hard work? Does it mean the number of hours expended in the effort to achieve a goal? Does it mean the amount of energy or sheer physical exertion expended in the completion of tasks? Neither of these measures of “hard” work is directly associated with economic success. In fact, those who work the most hours and expend the most effort (at least physically) are often the most poorly paid in society. By contrast, the really big money in America comes not from working at all but from owning, which requires no expenditure of effort, either physical or mental. In short, working hard is not in and of itself directly related to the amount of income and wealth that individuals have.”
4.) Mental Attitude
“According to the culture of poverty argument, people are poor because of deviant or pathological values that are then passed on from one generation to the next, creating a “vicious cycle of poverty.” According to this perspective, poor people are viewed as anti-work, anti-family, anti-school, and anti-success. Recent evidence reported in this journal (Wynn, 2003) and elsewhere (Barnes, Gould ;1999, Wilson, 1996), however, indicates that poor people appear to value work, family, school, and achievement as much as other Americans. Instead of having “deviant” or “pathological” values, the evidence suggests that poor people adjust their ambitions and outlooks according to realistic assessments of their more limited life chances.
An example of such an adjustment is the supposed “present-orientation” of the poor. According to the culture of poverty theory, poor people are “present-oriented” and are unable to “defer gratification.” Present orientation may encourage young adults to drop out of school to take low wage jobs instead staying in school to increase future earning potential. However, the present orientation of the poor can be an “effect” of poverty rather than a “cause.” That is, if you are desperately poor, you may be forced to be present oriented. If you do not know where your next meal is coming from, you essentially have no choice but to be focused on immediate needs first and foremost. By contrast, the rich and middle class can “afford” to be more future oriented since their immediate needs are secure. Similarly, the poor may report more modest ambitions than the affluent, not because they are unmotivated, but because of a realistic assessment of limited life chances. In this sense, observed differences in outlooks between the poor and the more affluent are more likely a reflection of fundamentally different life circumstances than fundamentally different attitudes or values.”
5.) Moral character and integrity
“Although ‘honesty may be the best policy’ in terms of how one should conduct oneself in relations with others, there is little evidence that the economically successful are more honest than the less successful. The recent spate of alleged corporate ethics scandals at such corporations as Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Duke Energy, Global Crossing, Xerox as well as recent allegations of misconduct in the vast mutual funds industry reveal how corporate executives often enrich themselves through less than honest means. White-collar crime in the form of insider trading, embezzlement, tax fraud, insurance fraud and the like is hardly evidence of honesty and virtue in practice. And neither is the extensive and sometimes highly lucrative so-called ‘irregular’ or ‘under the table’ economy—much of it related to vice in the form of drug trafficking, gambling, pornography, loan sharking, or smuggling. Clearly, wealth alone is not a reflection of moral superiority. To get ahead in America, it no doubt helps to be bright, shrewd, to work hard, and to have the right combination of attitudes that maximize success within given fields of endeavor. Playing by the rules, however, probably works to suppress prospects for economic success since those who play by the rules are more restricted in their opportunities to attain wealth and income than those who choose to ignore the rules.”
Nonmerit Barriers to Mobility
1.) The effects of initial class placement at birth on future life chances.
“…those born into great wealth start far ahead of those born to poor parents, who have a huge deficit to overcome if they are to catch up. Indeed, of all the factors that we might consider, where we start out in life has the greatest effect on where we end up. In the race to get ahead, the effects of inheritance come first and merit second, not the other way around.
Inheritance provides numerous cumulative nonmerit advantages that are available in varying degrees to all those born into at least some relative advantage, excluding only those at the very bottom of the system. Included among these nonmerit advantages are high standards of living from birth, inter vivos gifts (gifts between the living) such as infusions of cash and property bestowed by parents on their children at critical junctures in the life course (going to college, getting married, buying a home, having children, starting a business, etc.), insulation from downward mobility (family safety nets which prevent children from skidding in times of personal crises, setbacks, or as the result of personal failures), access to educational opportunities as well as other opportunities to acquire personal merit or to have merit identified and cultivated, better health care and consequently longer and healthier lives (which increases earning power and the ability to accumulate assets during the life course).
Another advantage of inheritance is access to high-powered forms of social and cultural capital. Social capital is one’s ‘social resources’ and refers to essentially to the value of whom you know. Cultural capital is one’s cultural resources and refers essentially to the social value of what you know. Everyone has friends, but those born into privilege have friends in high places with resources and power. Everyone possesses culture—bodies of knowledge and information needed to navigate through social space. Full acceptance into the highest social circles, however, requires knowledge of the ways of life of a particular group…”
2.) Bad Luck
“Bad luck can take many forms but two very common forms of bad luck are to be laid off from a job that you are good at or to spend many years preparing for a job for which demand either never materializes or declines. In looking at jobs and job opportunities, Americans tend to focus on the ‘supply’ side of markets for labor; that is, the pool of available people in the labor force. Much less attention is paid to the ‘demand’ side, or the number and types of jobs available. In the race to get ahead, it is possible and all too common for meritorious individuals to be ‘all dressed up with no place to go.’ For the past twenty years, the ‘growth’ jobs in America have disproportionately been in the low wage service sector of the economy. At the same time, more Americans are getting more education, especially higher education. Simply put, these trends are running in opposite directions: the economy is not producing as many high-powered jobs as the society is producing highly qualified people to fill them (Collins 1979, Livingstone 1998).
In addition to the number and types of jobs available, the locations of jobs both geographically and within different sectors of the economy also represent non-merit factors in the prospects for employment. For instance, a janitor who works for a large corporation New York City may get paid much more for doing essentially the same job as a janitor who works for a small family business in a small town in Mississippi. These effects are independent of the demands of the jobs or the qualifications or merit of the individuals holding them. Differences in benefits and wages between such jobs are often substantial and may mean the difference between a secure existence and poverty… rates of poverty in the United States continue to vary by region and locations within regions suggesting that geography is still a major factor in the distribution of economic opportunity.”
“…those with more education, on average, have higher income and wealth. Education is thus often seen as the primary means of upward social mobility. In this context, education is widely perceived as a gatekeeper institution which sifts and sorts individuals according to individual merit. Grades, credits, diplomas, degrees, and certificates are clearly “earned,” not purchased or appropriated. But, as much research has demonstrated, educational opportunity is not equally distributed in the population (Bowles and Gintis 1976, 2002, Bourdieu and Passeron 1990, Aschaffenburg and Maas 1997, Kozol, 1991, Sacks, 2003, Ballantine 2001). Upper class children tend to get upper class educations (e.g. at elite private prep schools and ivy league colleges), middle class children tend to get middle class educations (e.g. at public schools and public universities), and working class people tend to get working class educations (e.g. public schools and technical or community colleges), and poor people tend to get poor educations (e.g. inner city schools that have high drop out rates and usually no higher education). Educational attainment clearly depends on family economic standing and is not simply a major independent cause of it. The quality of schools and the quality of educational opportunity vary according to where one lives, and where one lives depend on familial economic resources and race. Most public schools, for instance, are supported by local property taxes. The tax base is higher in wealthy communities and proportionally lower in poorer areas. These discrepancies give rise to the perpetual parental scramble to locate in communities and neighborhoods that have reputations for “good schools,” since parents want to provide every possible advantage to their children that they can afford. To the extent that parents are actually successful in passing on such advantages, educational attainment is primarily a reflection of family income. In sum, it is important to recognize that individual achievement occurs within a context of unequal educational opportunity.”
4.) Loss of Self-Employment Opportunities and the Offshoring of Jobs
“…self-employment is popularly perceived as a major route to upward mobility. Opportunities to get ahead on the basis of being self-employed or striking out on one’s own to start a new business, however, have sharply declined. In colonial times, about three-fourths of the non-slave American population was self- employed most as small family farmers. Today, only seven percent of the labor force is self-employed (U.S. Census Bureau 2002). The “family farm,” in particular, is on the brink of statistical extinction. As self-employment has declined, the size and dominance of corporations has increased. This leaves many fewer opportunities for “self-made” individuals to enter existing markets or to establish new ones. America has witnessed the sharp decline of “mom and pop” stores, restaurants, and retail shops and the concomitant rise of Wal-Marts, Holiday Inns, and McDonalds. As more Americans work for someone else in increasingly bureaucratized settings, the prospects of rapid “rags to riches” mobility decline.
In addition to the decline of self-employment, manufacturing has also experienced drastic workforce reduction as production facilities have increasingly moved to foreign countries in efforts to reduce costs of production. This is a significant trend since the United States became a world power based on its industrial strength, which supported a large and relatively prosperous working and middle class. Some service jobs, such as customer service and computer programming, are also being moved to foreign countries in increasing numbers. All of these trends are occurring quite independent of the merit of individuals but nevertheless profoundly impact the opportunities of individuals to get ahead…”
“Discrimination not only suppresses merit; it is the antithesis of merit. Race and sex discrimination have been the most pervasive forms of discrimination in America, [but others include] sexual orientation, religion, age, physical disability (unrelated to job performance), physical appearance…”
In addition to the worsening inequality endemic to the system, the social fabric of society will be torn apart by a world now in the throes of multiple ecological crises. The availability and affordability of food and water will be magnified by anthropogenic climate change as the agricultural regions of an overpopulated world are ravaged by drought, flood, and fire. Infrastructure will begin to fail more frequently as extreme weather begins to rack up damage. The aloof elite, who ensconce themselves behind gated walls and the luxury that their wealth buys, will fan the flames of resentment and civil unrest in a desperate population scrambling just for the necessities of life. The cultural myths of capitalism are fraying and the collapse of industrial civilization, unable to change its omnicidal course for sundry reasons, is seemingly written in stone.
“Hey, my name’s Luke. The year is 2060 and I live in what was once called America. As you can see, the ‘developed world’ never was able to kick its fossil fuel habit. They just kept turning to dirtier sources and more extreme processes to burn the stuff, like the liquefaction and gasification of coal. The entire planet became a sacrifice zone for the sake of keeping mega cities lit up and the machinery humming, but ultimately it was death by a thousand cuts. Entropy was the victor. GHG’s continued to rise, warm the planet, and wreak havoc on the biosphere. Cancer and industrial disease spread to every corner of the globe. Weather patterns were drastically altered until the world’s food production was forced to move indoors. Large-scale cloning of animals became common practice in order to feed the several hundred million surviving people. War, drought, floods, fresh water scarcity, and a rash of pandemics crashed the world’s population from a high of 8 billion. The agricultural bread baskets of the world became wastelands of dust and weeds. International cooperation failed and the world’s existing powers scrambled for the last remaining resources. There are none who buy into the propaganda of a “better world” any longer because the stark evidence of what we have done to the planet cannot possibly be hidden from view. There is no utopian sanctuary for anyone to escape to, no matter how many gold coins one has managed hoard. Despite this realization and even after all the geoengineering mishaps, people still cling to the belief of salvation through technology. Everyone lives in fortified bunkers to escape the hot, drying winds that sometimes carry poisonous and toxic clouds. When we do venture out, gas masks are always worn as well as long clothing to protect from the thinning ozone layer. Industrial smoke stacks still belch plumes into the air to keep the underground cities running.”
“When above ground, I’ll spend hours walking through the wreckage of industrial civilization, the skeletons of its skyscrapers blotting out the sun like the mythical Redwood trees once did along the west coast. The occasional sound of a steel beam crashing to the ground or a glass window shattering breaks the ghostly silence. These deserted cities are infested with rats the size of small dogs, and the ray of my flashlight is reflected in their staring eyes. The endless and self-defeating rat race of humans has now been replaced by the scurrying, scavenging, and fighting of real rats. I find it amazing that my ancestors spent their entire lives living and working inside these little office cubicles. That was a time when Earth was still green and you could hear the birds chirping and singing outside your window. I’ve got a digital recording of various holographic scenes depicting bygone days of nature that I project inside the confines of my subterranean home, but I’d give my right arm to experience the real thing. To think that people were once surrounded by nature all the time amazes me. Its true value had never really been calculated. Rather, money seems to have been what people were most preoccupied with back then. On one of my excursions I came across a dwelling whose crumbling walls were packed with stacks of moldy paper money. Whoever lived there must have worked an entire lifetime to eke out a savings of that size, stuffing it into every wall cavity like it was insulation. Many thought humans would go extinct long before money would ever cease to exist. I guess they were wrong.”
“They say the people of this country went mad, obsessed with money as it overtook their every thought, decision, and activity. One of America’s forefathers once said, ‘He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.‘ All things were framed within the context of money. Environmental damage was discussed in terms of financial setbacks to the economy. Political leaders made decisions based, first and foremost, on the financial interests of those powerful few who put them in office. Choices on matters involving the well-being of humanity were made solely in the interests of corporations and stockholders. Even as the overwhelming evidence mounted that mankind’s place on earth was becoming evermore tenuous, the money worshippers continued to find ways to profit from calamity and mayhem. Preserving the Earth simply was not profitable, so they let it die. The Arctic melted, so they raided its open waters. The land became parched, so they invested in water rights. CO2 levels skyrocketed, so they put their money into carbon credits. Our continued existence became a crap shoot in the marketplace. The vultures of capitalism were able to profit from the collapse; thusly, such nightmarish and dystopian scenarios as botched geoengineering schemes, a Venus syndrome on earth, and ultimately human extinction were allowed to become sober realities….”
‘No matter what we call it, poison is still poison, death is still death, and industrial civilization is still causing the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet.’
~ Derrick Jensen
The . . . metamessage of our time is that the commodity form is natural and inescapable. Our lives can only be well lived (or lived at all) through the purchase of particular commodities. Thus our major existential interest consists of maneuvering for eligibility to buy such commodities in the market. Further, we have been taught that it is right and just—ordained by history, human nature, and God—that the means of life in all its forms be available only as commodities. . . . Americans live in an overcommodified world, with needs that are generated in the interests of the market and that can be met only through the market.
~ Stephen Fjellman, Vinyl Leaves:Walt Disney World and America
From the Amazonian tribe driven off its land by fossil fuel companies to the wage-enslaved city dweller dependent on mass-produced food and other commodities, no place on Earth has escaped the planet-wide reach of capitalist industrial civilization’s profit-extracting mechanisms. The oligarch’s of industry and banking shape public thought through an all-pervasive mass media monopoly, control legislation and regulation by pulling political purse-strings and commanding an army of lobbyists, sew death and mayhem with the global arms trade, sacrifice the next generation in resource wars, decimate ecosystems for short-term gain, manipulate and devalue currencies, create economic bubbles, and sell this entire vile process back to the masses as “progress” and “development” with measurements of inflated stock prices and skewed GDP figures. The untold human and environmental costs are now bursting at the seams with societal disintegration, epidemic mental illness, wide-scale resource depletion, industrial pollution and contamination, and the on-going collapse of the Earth’s biosphere.
If you’re wondering why there can never seem to be any significant action taken on climate change, don’t look for honest answers from those whose livelihood is tied to capitalism. If the true costs of the global industrial economy were calculated in terms of environmental damage, the ill-health effects on workers and the public, as well as the fraying of the Earth’s web of life, industries would find the costs too great to bear. The honest truth is that this ecocidal economic system would have to be dismantled for there to be any hope of humanity preserving a living planet and averting extinction.
“…big-time corporate capitalism is an omnicidal momentum. I mean, it just has one thing in mind, and it will destroy or weaken or co-opt anything in its way that is civic, that is democratic….corporations have been very clever A) in distracting people, especially young generation, with entertainment, with professional sports, turning them into spectators. Now you’ve got, you know, 24/7 entertainment. There’s no end to it. And they’ve also been very good in making people internalize a sense of powerlessness.” ~ Ralph Nader
Perhaps the three biggest crises facing civilization are unrestrained financialization of commerce and society, climate change, and peak oil (or peak net energy). Let’s take a quick look at how America is handling each of these crises:
Employing paid shills for the financial industry is now simply standard operating procedure in the U.$.A.:
…Consumer advocates and independent analysts do their best to weigh in as well, but they are outgunned. Meanwhile, consulting firms dedicated to playing matchmaker between corporations and hired experts have flourished in the new regulatory environment. Director Charles Ferguson, whose film Inside Job highlighted the role of sponsored professors in supporting the deregulatory policies that led to the financial meltdown in 2008, says the business of economic consulting firms that work to “source” academics for expert testimony and regulatory filings “has been going on for quite a while, and it’s now quite a large industry.”…
Of course anthropogenic climate change, the existential threat of modern times, would seem to be a catastrophe deserving of mankind’s attention, would it not? Well, as you can see, the capitalist only views it as a public relations war:
An extensive study into the financial networks that support groups denying the science behind climate change and opposing political action has found a vast, secretive web of think tanks and industry associations, bankrolled by conservative billionaires.
“I call it the climate-change counter movement,” study author Robert Brulle, who published his results in the journal Climatic Change, told the Guardian. “It is not just a couple of rogue individuals doing this. This is a large-scale political effort.”
His work, which is focused on the United States, shows how a network of 91 think tanks and industry groups are primarily responsible for conservative opposition to climate policy. Almost 80 percent of these groups are registered as charitable organisations for tax purposes, and collectively received more than seven billion dollars between 2003 and 2010.
How about peak oil? Again, the energy industry has its PR machine in full swing touting America’s imminent energy independence along with many other myths, but commenter James of this blog cuts to the chase:
Now, which ponzi is most despicable, a religious or financial one? Both are based upon deceit and both serve primarily the enrichment of the scheme officialdom. One promises a payoff in eternal life while the other promises financial success. One examines your credit score while the other applies tick marks in you behavioral ledger of good and evil. Both systems of fleecing are based upon human fear and herd mentality. Society shuns the heretic of either ponzi and damnation awaits those that do not participate fully. Ponzis collapse when increasing numbers of fools, resources and energy can no longer be sucked into their cancerous growth schemes. The religious structures will be more enduring as they can always find plenty of poor dolts to give their last penny to gain a chance at the big after-life payoff. The financial schemers, faced now with meeting the absolutely unbelievable limits of growth will have to leave all those little nest eggs of promises, unhatched. The key is to convince the ponzi participants that the U.S. is the new Saudi Arabia, that fracking oil and natural gas is the future and we can get enough oil from shale to last a million years. “Just relax folks, you’re all gonna get your money back”. Not. What a miraculous world we live in.
As you can see, America is handling all three crises like a sleazy car salesman unloading a lot full of lemons.
And if anyone was spooked by the Snowden revelations of government spying, the implications of corporate espionage on social-change organizations that threaten to impede unfettered access to profits is truly terrifying.
…The fruits of such idolatry are clear: the injustice and unemployment and waste of human talents; the corruption of our political leadership and their collusion with immoral financial practices; the depredation and degradation of our natural environments and the exhaustion of our natural resources; the inevitable wars and other crises that arise from the systematic fostering of base human appetites and the refusal to compromise our ways of life, and pursue a more equitable sharing of the gifts bequeathed to us…
I would not blame anyone for wanting to seek comfort in a bottle or some other form of self-medication, but perhaps doing something more dramatic to escape this nightmarish reality of a thoroughly corrupted, money-worshipping society is in the cards. When your back is against the wall and you’ve lost faith in everything, then revolution is the antidote for the “pseudo-realities” that plague us.
“Because today we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups… So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.” ~ Philip K. Dick
The specter of death, near-term extinction, haunts us as we silently endure the evil and decay all around us, going along just to get along in the belly of the American empire. One day pent-up anger and hunger will burst forth, pushing us into the streets. Blood and emotions will flow freely. Inept and crooked governments will fall. We’ll have nothing left to lose.