Friday, October 28, 2011

Myth Busting

Myth Busting

For the first 6000 years of human organization armed forces were required to enslave or indenture a workforce to break their bodies doing something they didn't want to do; Build a pyramid, a temple, an edifice that ennobled the "king" who managed to employ those forces. Now we have evolved to the point that thousands line up for the privilege of enslaving themselves. We have instituted a set of fundamental myths that reinforce the process of self enslavement: There is a protestant work ethic that purports to demonstrate a person's grace through the observation of their hard work. Thank you Martin Luther.
We have instilled in the culture a corruption of Spencer's observation of natural selection and reduced "survival of the fittest" to a mano-a-mano fight for life.
We have embedded "what do you do for a living" so deep into our language that our job is now synonymous with our human value and the lack of job implies death.
Compensation for labor is said to be proportionate to the value of the earner and, as if you didn't have millions of examples of that myth, the new data by-product of OWS is proof enough, that those who have the most, do the least.

Of course 6000 years of this has made us insane and thus we contradict ourselves. We worship at the feet of the lucky; the heirs, the attractive, the criminal, those who have done nothing to deserve the inordinate wealth they possess. We devalue the uncompensated work of the people that perform our most critical tasks; rearing our young, or being companions for our aged. When we try to reform these behaviors we deflect from the personal to the general and get caught in the impossibility of revolution. There is nothing wrong with Marx's foundation logic. He nailed the issues all those years ago. What confounds his intellectual heirs is that portion of human activity that seems to bred in the bone, or worse, is excited by behavior en-masse, our fears and demons.

The myth of scarcity has forced us into a hoarding behavior. If there is not enough to go around, I must ensure mine.
The myth of the rugged individual is actually getting some juice from the Republican campaigns. Thank you Ayn Rand. We are not going to march 7 billion people across a prairie and settle them in single family homes. We are linked to each other from the womb to the grave and its time to acknowledge that mutuality.
The myth that people will not perform critical tasks necessary for our survival is belied by the fact the majority of us take out the trash, mow the lawn, read the bedtime story and make the coffee. The way we compensate for those tasks that require special talents or for which people will not volunteer is upside down. Why the basketball player, who would do his/her job for nothing makes more than the garbage man is absurd. We should compensate inversely to the degree the person doesn't want to do the job or perform the service. I love it when on a snow day the announcement goes out, "all non critical employees" need not show up for work today. They should never show up. They should be paid to stay home and save us the fortune it costs us in infrastructure to support them.

First Principles:
To fill the policy vacuum being created by OWS lets begin at the beginning and establish a set of first principles upon which we can build a workable society.
My first principle is that people have choice and the behavior of others is, (with few exceptions) none of my business. Intentional communities can come together to articulate common objectives, distribute responsibility, and achieve their objectives. Self selection happens everyday in the lunchroom, the disco, the neighborhood, the place of worship. So be it. The tribe, the club, the gang are viable forms of small scale groups that have the ability to unify around common cause. They don't delegate or elect representatives. They assume direct responsibility for the preservation of their lives.
Let's start here. We can determine how we get to the bigger issues later. For now small groups inventory our stuff, our capacity, our talent, and see what we have and how we can exploit it, in common. Enough of the madness of go it alone.

notes for a constitution in process:
We have to come to terms with stuff and when it matters a lot what other people do. Take for example the Atlanta man who in the midst of a drought consumed 60 times what the average person uses and got caught. The city can roll him back. What of the person flying the private jet, or driving the Escalade, or killing the tuna. The idea that affordability, one's ability to pay, is the sole criteria for a person's consumption is so disrespectful of the context in which we live, that the behavior is going to have to be checked. How? That's the beginning of the process. That's what OWS is starting to contemplate. It took us centuries of unbridled capitalism to get us where we are today. To unravel is going to take time and thought.
The idea that a person can behave in such a way as to suffer a medical consequence of their indulgence is a classic example of the effect of us all having to pay. The victim of smoking or alcoholism, or speeding, or drug abuse, drags us into his health care system. He may be "able to pay" but the fact is he syphons capacity away as cruelly as the water abuser in Atlanta. I should not be asked to pay for his abuse. We live in a world of limited capacity IF we extract resources at irreplaceable rates with no consideration of conservation. We have to muzzle the pigs at the various troughs and limit the excesses of unbridled capitalism. When we agree on limits, we can proceed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

And Now?

Occupy Wall Street reminds me of the occupation of the administration offices of Columbia U. and other universities across the globe in the late 60's. Net effect?; Nada. It seemed that what those protestors wanted 40 years ago was to change the occupants of the chairs, not fundamentally change the system. What was then, and is still required, is a fundamental change in the system. The system wherein Columbia U faculty is revealed to be co-conspirators in the financial collapse of 2008. See what the University intends to do about the problem here. For the forty ensuing years from the time of the protest and the revelations from the film "Inside Job", students were content to pay their money and earn the tickets they needed to be employed in the companies that perpetrated the greatest financial crisis in history. What they had protested for and won was greater inclusion in the system. They got it. Women and people of color now have equal opportunity to exploit and game a system in which they too can become members of the 1% club.

Many students from Columbia U are on the streets and participating in Occupy Wall Street. While celebrating the act up quality of these actions the fact is that they will come to naught unless protesters focus, and get very specific about who they are targeting. Wall Street is amorphous. It is at home in Greenwich, at work on K street, and their puppets are peppered all through Capitol Hill. Lap dogs are fighting any reform that might prevent the next collapse, any tax reform, and any remedial legislation. The extent of the spider web that is Wall Street extends to international banks, the IMF, and the World Bank, and the collusion of governments world wide. Nothing less than a world in evolution is going to change the foundations on which Wall Street thrives. Therefore protesters are going to have to get very strategic, If, and this is a big if, they really want to change any element of system that exploits them.

As long as the protesters understand the symbolic nature of their protest, and exploit the excessive police push back, they can gain the time they need, and the public forum in which some of them can specify what they demand in outcomes, and the policy changes that will correct the underlying problems they identify.

Maybe the single most horrible aspect of the collapse that has prompted this act-up is the foreclosure crisis.

Not only did Wall Street, (and here I use the terms to indicate the interlocking system of money men in allied agencies), create the systems that crashed on the backs of home owners, they continue to refuse to rectify the conspiracy they created, that is throwing people out of their homes. Let's demand that Fannie and Freddie reset the principle on the loans they control. We own them. We ought to demand they modify mortgages. The same energy that is being harnessed in protest on Wall Street should move to Washington in front of the responsible agencies. We can do this.

In terms of the pragmatics, what we can do to implement an outcome that will signal a change is gonna come, is the boycott. We vote with our pocketbooks. Let's see if there is any willingness to "sacrifice", do without the toys, that are manufactured by the companies represented on Wall Street. Let's begin with the hallowed. Don't like the fact that Apple off-shores the manufacture of all those devices that Steve Jobs created, Boycott Apple. That's what it is going to take. To get beyond the pettiness of personal gain we are going to have to accept our complicity in a system that while it is working to our advantage, is exploiting others. We've been here before. When it was revealed how and by whom, and at what wage rate our sport shoes were being made, we were asked to boycott in protest. We didn't. To protest is easy. To delay the purchase of an Iphone, or a pair of Nikes, that's an act of courage.

We are going to have to rethink what we mean by jobs. We are going to have to get beyond the myth of so called "free markets". We are going to have to stop adoring the rich, and being jealous of the less fortunate who get assistance in life support. We are going to have to fundamentally change a system that is extractive, that measures GDP in terms of the exploitation of nature, and that extends the worst aspects of capitalism to developing nations. We cannot count on politicians and organizers of any stripe that suggest what is needed is more inclusion, more of the same, more, so called, infrastructure development. Roads and bridges and cars got us here. They are not the way out.