Monday, May 11, 2009

HH the Dalai Lama: "I am a Marxist."

An interesting interview televised yesterday wherein HH the Dalai Lama declares clearly and directly that he is against totalitarianism and yet is undeniably a socialist and a Marxist:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Engaging our values, choosing our freedom
By Kermit

I spend a lot of time thinking about the things that I choose to value and what those values actually look like as they interact with each other in my life. Ideally, the things I believe in are not like objects that I acquire, and set on a shelf, but things that I continue to pick up, turn over in my hands and engage with in some meaningful way.
Too often it seems like shared aesthetic tastes become a kind of shorthand for shared values. Rather than getting to know the people that we interact with, we rely on superficial codes to identify allies. The world that we want to live in often becomes defined as one that looks like our vision, rather than one that feels like our truth. It is easy to understand the appeal. When we express ourselves with the same language and interact in a similar cultural mode it is easier to avoid conflict on the surface of things. This is helpful on days when it is all we can do to put one foot in front of the other. The problem is that it is also easier to avoid the passion and processing that is attached to conflict, to decide that it is not possible to find a point of connection with those whose words and actions trigger us.
When we assume that someone else's truth should look like ours, we become grotesque -- we begin to build a system of morality that separates 'right thinking' people from 'wrong headed' ones and inhibits our ability to understand people who are not like us. This is true among conservatives and reactionaries, but it is also true in radical circles. The vast majority of mass social movements, whether political or religious, have worked to deny or minimize facts that don't conform to their Truth. The channels of power put in place to do this, no matter how well intentioned, almost always lead to abuse and the dehumanization of people defined as enemies. When we state, as radicals or anarchists, that we want to create a better world, free from domination, and begin to build an aesthetic vision of what that world looks like, we run the risk of falling into the same trap.
If everyone in the world decided to become like-minded in regard to revolution, or pacifism, or anarchy, or whatever else is held up as 'the way', but the quality of their relationships and the way that they interact with and use power in their daily lives remained the same, the world would only be made duller and more grey. Trying to think intentionally about the essential elements of my values while continuing to grapple with and reassess them as I grow helps me focus on my goals and build relationships and structures in my life to support those goals in ways that are not loaded with aesthetic judgement.
One of the values that I think about a lot is freedom. So many people use this word in so many different ways that it's meaning tends to fall apart when you look at it directly. One of the ways that I think about freedom is in terms of the autonomy each individual should have to construct/conduct their life as they see fit; that there is no right way to be in the world and that no person's reality is more valid than anyone else's. The implication of this statement is anarchy -- it is what gives people the strength to cast off the bonds of received knowledge and defy power hierarchies that do not acknowledge their own humanity. It also means that I am not able to stand unreservedly behind a unified vision of a revolutionary society. If I believe that there is no one right way to be in the world, then no program or plan can be applied to all people.
Another definition of freedom that I find compelling is the existentialist view of freedom as an internal process connected to choice, responsibility and passionate engagement. Choice, here, is not the choice between products or political leaders, but choosing how we react emotionally to the world. We exercise our freedom when we choose how we are going to react to and be a part of the situations that occur in our lives, most of which lie outside our ability to control. This allows one to claim their freedom and embody it as they negotiate and create systems of meaning in the world, rather than to view freedom as a state that is to be achieved only in some distant future, after irksome struggles. Taking responsibility for these choices makes one aware of their own power. It is not something that can be done for the sake of others, or for all time, but that must be claimed and maintained by each person as they make their way through the world.
The ramifications of radical autonomy are not safe or easy, they are at the heart of what people fear about anarchy. Without rules and powerful hierarchies looking out for society, what prevents everything from just falling apart? What will compel people to recognize any responsibility to themselves and others? For me, the answer is obvious, and grows out of the way that I think about the nature of my relationships.
At the heart of feeling alive and engaged with the world is feeling connected to oneself and to others. When I decided to become a radical and build my life in an unconventional way in order to escape the quiet desperation that I associated with a conventional life, I thought, on some unconscious level, that changing what my life physically looked like was equivalent to changing the way that I emotionally engaged with the world. What I discovered was that even though I had found people whose lives more or less matched the broad strokes in my mind, I was still aching for a life I was not living. What I ached for was easy intimacy and shared trust, the ability for two people to expose a bit of their vulnerability to each other and come away stronger from the experience.
Don't get me wrong, I love living in a community with other wingnuts and radicals, and sometimes a similar aesthetic can lubricate the process of building intimacy, it's just that the emotional work of building sustainable intimate relationships is hard, even with people who dress and act and talk like me, and it is possible, even with people who don't.
Often, political identities encourage people to ignore the health of their relationships. By shifting our focus to things very large and removed from our reality, political discourse runs the risk of allowing us an excuse to neglect the responsibility we have to be present in our own lives. If we are constantly aware of the abuse of governmental power but are unable to approach or confront the way that power operates in our relationships with the people we love, how are we ever going to be able to create beautiful realities in the lives we have been given? If people you know and are connected to began to heal themselves and learned how to talk to each other -- about power and pain, passion and death -- and became confident and aware of the ways in which their words, actions, and relationships shape the world they end up living in, how much more vibrant and less despairing would your existence be?
The charm of authoritarian systems is often in their ability to act as a surrogate for real connectedness. They pacify people by giving them simple answers and something they can easily hold on to. The ugliness of these systems is that they require shutting down our ability to recognize the humanity of people whose truth differs from the one we have connected ourselves to. Building substantial relationships in our lives that are based on trust and maintained through a mutual understanding of each other's particular truth gives people a sense of security that is certainly more appealing to me than anything authoritarianism has to offer.
Having a sense of yourself and your own power, as well as the ways that you depend, in so many ways, on your connections to others is not about the music you listen to, the food you eat, how you dress, or how you dress your children. I believe that people best relate to one another when they can see their own humanity reflected in the other person. This is not saying that everybody is really the same, but that no one is wholly 'other'. A direct implication of this is that I put much more stock into trying to understand how another person sees their world than I do in categorizing people. I deeply question whether the model of identity is the best way for people to talk about their differences and similarities; it can often obscure more than it clarifies. Only by placing ourselves firmly in our bodies right now and taking responsibility for our power and our freedom, even when that process is painful, or seems impossible, are we ever going to create engaged communities of strong and beautiful people who are connected to each other in healthy ways. The trick, for me, is figuring out how to be in deeply intimate networks of relationships with people while still maintaining an individual sense of freedom, finding a way to hold autonomy and mutual aid in my hands at the same time without reeling from the cognitive dissonance.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reconsidering Aggressive Atheism

Anarchist Outreach or Pure Egoism?
The American anarchist tradition is almost entirely atheistic and sometimes expresses those opinions in very alienating, aggressive, condescending ways. As a movement it is in our interest to emphasize commonalities rather than differences so that common bourgeois Americans can slowly flirt with the radical ideas we hold. Screaming about how their god is dead to their face is the exact opposite way of garnering widespread, grass root support.

And there's a lot of evidence that this rhetoric is out of date and not precise. The primary thought process is that extremely dualistic, hierarchical religious relationships (both internal and external) for an individual reinforce the acceptance of hierarchical relationships in the social and political spheres of normal experience. There is a great deal correct about this, in my opinion. It is not, however, always the case.

Most Latin social movements, for instance, have had strong religious undertones. One only has to do a little research into characters like Romero to see the importance Catholicism has had in people organizing and struggling towards liberation--quite the opposite of the American anarchist stereotype of the "Catholic sheep," though there was once a strong Union movement in this country that was predominantly Catholic as well. These Latin American movements have emphasized truths about religion beyond how capitalist, hierarchical religious structures have re-written them--truths about Jesus Christ living in a collective, truths about intentional communities, about restricting over-consumption, about egalitarianism, love and compassion. Even truths about Jesus being a radical political figure in the historical dimension of his believed existence.

These religious similarities with anarchism extend even beyond Catholicism, including Buddhism, Vaisnavism, Saivism, New Age-ism, etc. Exceptions to these are Protestantism, with it's strong "Protestant Work Ethic." But the Protestant Work Ethic is not a universal force common to all religions, and it is a very deep mistake, in my opinion, to condemn all religious ideas. Especially when so many religious ideas are synonymous with anarchist ideas. Those commonalities need to be expressed, strengthened and discussed rather than just blindly and egotistically discarded.

It is not only hypocritical for anarchists to condemn others for their beliefs if their beliefs aren't, in fact, detrimental to egalitarian society, it is also alienating and offensive to attack someone for what they hold to be a deep and profound truth--again, so long as that deep and profound truth is not that the white race is superior, hierarchical power structures are necessary, and money is desirable. Many of us have had negative experiences with the evangelical, protestant American movement, and I believe we should be critical of that, but not alienating towards all religious thought.

Then we become just a bunch of mean people who nobody will ever want to have anything to do with. We restrict the ability for our message about power to be heard because anyone with a strong spiritual/emotional experience will simply ignore us. We should beseech people to be true Christian rather than condemn them for their spiritual beliefs. We should build societies where there cannot be a parasitical church, not threaten to burn their churches down. Otherwise we simply become a force of malevolence in the world.

After all, it is the Bible which first instructed the masses that they cannot "worship God and Mammon" (the demon representing money) at the same time. We should be reaching out to that aspect to build a movement against capitalism.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Why Anger Will Never Work

by Ima Gardener

Another Fire and Brimstone story.

Our images should reflect growth, love and compassion--not anger and revenge.

Many anarchists and/or trade unionists and/or libertarian communists rely upon anger and outrage as a sort of "emotional fuel" for gathering support, building organizations and generating support for direct actions. Anger and outrage are nurtured, accumulated, and encouraged within the movement. This is a grave error. Though people must, ultimately, be repulsed by that which needs to be changed, anger is not the correct social excellerant. Why is this?

It's simple. Anger, bitterness and outrage are psychologically, emotionally and physically harmful. You cannot be promoting healthy, egalitarian change while at the same time encouraging people to be angry. Nobody likes feeling angry!

Internal anger, frustration and jealousy is the very reason for the bourgeois class in the first place, it is their motivation. A movement which poses itself as the opposite of the bourgeois mental illness must support, express and encourage the opposite of those feelings, which are themselves horrible afflictions of the mind. Anger and resentment are symptoms of a bourgeois mentality and have about as much to do with personal or social freedom as wage-slavery does to the average worker. For this reason negative actions commited by angry anarchists simply play into the bourgeois system of self-containment--providing the entire world with a "them" for the bourgeois "us" to be unified against.

Until anarchists realize this the movement will remain an alienating force on the fringes of society, ineffectual for positive social or political change, and, I would argue, even precarious for the individual anarchist who subjects themselves to so much negative emotion. Only when it is a movement about love and compassion for love and compassion will it be capable of truly aiding those in need.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

B is for Bourgeoisie!

or, the Tyranny of the Hair Dryer
[adapted from George Orwell's Homage to Catatonia]

From Crimethinc's Days of War, Nights of Love

Does your father drift from one hobby to another, fruitlessly seeking a meaningful way to spend the little "leisure time" he gets off from work? Does your mother endlessly redecorate the house, going from one room to the next until she can start over at the beginning again? Do you agonize constantly over your future, as if there was some kind of track laid out ahead you—and the world would end if you turned off of it? If the answer to these questions is yes, it sounds like you're in the clutches of the bourgeoisie, the last barbarians on earth.

The Martial Law of Public Opinion
Public opinion is an absolute value to the bourgeois man and woman because they know they are living in a herd: a herd of scared animals, that will turn on anyone it doesn't recognize as its own. They shiver in fear as they ponder what "the neighbors" will think of their son's new hairstyle. They plot ways to seem even more normal than their friends and coworkers. They don't dare fail to turn on their lawn sprinklers or dress appropriately for "casual Fridays" at the office. Anything that could drag them out of their routines is viewed as suspect at best. Love and lust are both diseases, possibly fatal, as are all the other passions that could drive one to do things that would result in expulsion from the flock. Keep them quarantined to secret affairs and teenage dates, to night clubs and strip clubs—for God's sake, don't contaminate the rest of us. Go wild when "your" football team wins a game, drink yourself into oblivion when the weekend comes, rent obscene movies if you have to, but don't you dare sing or run or make love out here. Under no circumstances admit to feeling anything that doesn't belong in the staff room or at the dinner party. Under no conditions admit to wanting anything more or different than what "everyone else" wants, whatever and whoever that might be.

And of course their children have learned this, too. Even after the death matches of the grade school nightmare, even among the most rebellious and radical of the nonconformists, the same rules are in place: don't confuse anybody as to where you stand. Don't use the wrong signifiers or subscribe to the wrong codes. Don't dance when you're supposed to be posing, don't speak when you're supposed to be dancing, don't mess with the genre or the moves. Make sure you have enough money to participate in the various rituals. To keep your identity intact, make it clear which subcultures and styles you're aligned to, which bands and fashions and politics you want to be associated with. You wouldn't dare risk your identity, would you?

That's your character armor, your only protection against certain death at the hands of your friends. Without an identity, without borders to define the edges of your self, you'd just dissolve into the void... wouldn't you?


The Generation Gap
The older generations of the bourgeoisie have nothing to offer the younger ones because they have nothing in the first place. All their standards are hollow, all of their riches are consolation prizes, not one of their values contains any reference to real joy or fulfillment. Their children sense this, and rebel accordingly, whenever they can get away with it. The ones that don't have already been beaten into terrified submission.

So how has bourgeois society continued to perpetuate itself through so many generations? By absorbing this rebellion as a part of the natural life cycle. Because every child rebels as soon as she is old enough to have a sense of self at all, this rebellion is presented as an integral part of adolescence—and thus the woman who wants to continue her rebellion into adulthood is made to feel that she is insisting on remaining a child forever. It's worth pointing out that a brief survey of other cultures and peoples will reveal that this "adolescent rebellion" is not inevitable or "natural."

This perpetual rebellion of the youth also creates deep gulfs between different generations of the bourgeoisie, which play a crucial role in maintaining the existence of the bourgeoisie as such. Because the adults always seem to be the enforcers of the status quo, and the youth do not have the perspective yet to see that their rebellion has also been absorbed into that status quo, generation after generation of young people are able to make the mistake of identifying older people themselves as the source of their misfortunes rather than realizing that these misfortunes are the result of a larger system of misery. They grow older and become bourgeois adults themselves, unable to recognize that they are merely replacing their former enemies, and still unable to bridge the so-called generation gap to learn from people of other age groups... let alone establish some kind of unified resistance with them. Thus the different generations of the bourgeoisie, while seemingly fighting amongst themselves, work together harmoniously as components of the larger social machine to ensure maximum alienation for all.

The Myth of the Mainstream
The bourgeois man depends upon the existence of a mythical mainstream to justify his way of life. He needs this mainstream because his social instincts are skewed in the same way his conception of democracy is: he thinks that whatever the majority is, wants, does, must be right. Nothing could be more terrifying to him than this new development, which he is beginning to sense today: that there no longer is a majority, if there ever was.

Our society is so fragmented, so diverse, that at this point it is absurd to speak of a "mainstream." This is a myth partly created by the anonymity of our cities. Almost everyone one passes on the street is a stranger: one mentally relegates these anonymous figures to the faceless mass one calls the mainstream, to which one attributes whatever properties one thinks of strangers as possessing (for the smug salesman, they all envy him for being even more respectable than they are; for the insecure bohemian rebel, they must disapprove of him for not being like they all are).

They must be part of the silent majority, that invisible force that makes everything the way it is; one assumes that they are the same "normal people" seen in television commercials. But the fact is, of course, that those commercials refer to an unattainable ideal, in order to keep everyone feeling left out and insufficient. The "mainstream" is analogous to this ideal, as it keeps everyone in line without ever actually making an appearance, and possesses the same degree of reality as the perfect family in the toothpaste advertisement.

No one worries more about this absent mass than the bohemian children of the bourgeoisie. They bicker over how to orchestrate their protests to gain "mass appeal" for their radical ideas, as if there still was a mass to appeal to! Their society is now made up of many communities, and the only question is which communities they should approach... and dressing "nice," proper language and all, is probably not the best way to appeal to the most potentially revolutionary elements of their society. In the last analysis, the so-called "mainstream" audience most of them imagine they are dressing up for at their demonstrations and political events is probably just the spectre of their bourgeois parents, engraved deep in their collective unconscious (collective psychosis?) as a symbol of the adolescent insecurity and guilt they never got over. They would do better to cut their ties to the bourgeoisie entirely by feeling free to act, look, and speak in whatever ways are pleasurable, no matter who is watching—even when they are trying to advance some political cause: for no political objective reached by activists in camouflage could be more important than beginning the struggle towards a world in which people will not have to disguise themselves to be taken seriously.

This is not to pardon those insecure bohemians who use their activism not as a means of building ties with others, but rather as a way to set themselves apart: in their desperation to purchase an identity for themselves, they believe they must pay for it by defining themselves against others. You can recognize them by their self-righteousness, their pompous show of ideological certainty, the ostentatious way they declare themselves "activists" at every opportunity. Political "activism" is almost exclusively their sphere, today, and "exclusive" is the key word... until this changes, the world will not.

Marriage... and Other Substitutes for Love and Community
Reproduction is a big issue for the bourgeois man and woman. They can only have children under very precise circumstances; anything else is "irresponsible," "unwise," "a poor decision for the future." They must be prepared to give up every last vestige of their youthful, selfish freedom to have children, for the mobility their corporations demand and the strain of vicious competition have destroyed the community network that long ago used to share the labor of child-rearing. Now every family unit is a tiny military outpost, closed and locked to the outside world both in their hearts and in the paranoia-turned-city-planning of their suburbs, each one an isolated emotional economy to itself where scarcity is the key word. The father and mother must abandon their selves for the prescribed roles of care-giver and bread-winner, for in the bourgeois world there is no other way to provide for the child. Thus the bourgeois couple's own fertility has been made a threat to their freedom, and a natural part of human life has become a social control mechanism.

Marriage and the "nuclear family" (the atomized family?) as chain gang have survived as a result of this calamity, much to the misfortune of potential lovers everywhere. For as the young adventurer, who keeps her lusts strong and her appetite whetted with constant danger and solitude, knows well, love and sexual desire cannot survive overexposure—especially in the dull and lifeless settings that most married partners share time. The bourgeois husband sees the only lover he is permitted under only the worst possible circumstances: after every other force in his world has had the chance to exhaust and infuriate him for the day. The bourgeois wife learns to punish and ignore as "unrealistic" and "impractical" her every desire for romance, spontaneity, wonder. Together, they live in a hell of unfulfillment. What they need is a real community of caring people around them, so parenthood would not force them into unwanted "respectability," so they would still be free to have the individual adventures they need to keep their time together sweet, so they would never find themselves so lost and desperately lonely.

In just the same way, their steady supply of food, of conveniences, comforts, and diversions avail them not. For as every hitchhiker, every hero, every terrorist knows, these things gain their value through their absence, and can offer real joy only as luxuries happened upon in the pursuit of something greater. Constant access to sex, food, warmth, and shelter desensitize a man to the very pleasures they afford. The bourgeois man has given up his chance to pursue real stakes in life for the assurance that he will have these amenities and securities; but without real stakes in his life, these can offer him no more real joy than the company of his fellow prisoners.

The Joys of Surrogate Living!
You can take a quick tour of all the unacted desires of the bourgeois man just by turning on his television or stepping into one of his movie theaters. He spends as much of his time as he can in these various virtual realities because he instinctively feels that they can offer him more excitement and satisfaction than the real world. The saddest part is that, so long as he remains bourgeois, this may actually be true. And as long as he accepts the displacement of his desires into the marketplace by paying for imitations of their fulfillment, he will be trapped in the empty role that is himself.

These desires are not always pretty to see played out in Technicolor and SurroundSound: the bourgeois man's dreams and appetites are as infected by the fetishization of power and control as his society is. The closest he seems to be able to offer to an expression of free, liberated desire is the fantasy of all-consuming destruction that appears again and again at the black heart of his wildest cinematic fever dreams. This makes sense enough—after all, in a world of nothing but strip malls and theme parks, what honest thing is there to do but destroy?

The bourgeois man is not equipped to view his desires as anything but unfortunate weaknesses to be fended off with placebos, because his life has never been about the pursuit of pleasure—he has spent several centuries achieving higher and higher standards of survival, at the cost of everything else. Tonight he sits in his living room surrounded by computers, can openers, radar detectors, home entertainment systems, novelty ties, microwave dinners, and cellular phones, with no idea what went wrong.

The bourgeois man is only possible by virtue of the blinders he wears that prevent him from imagining that any other way of life is possible. As far as he can tell, everyone from the impoverished migrant workers of his own nation to the monks of Tibet would be bourgeois too, if only they could afford it. He does his damnedest to maintain these illusions; without them, he would have to face the fact that he has thrown his life away for nothing.

The bourgeois man is not an individual. He is not a real person (although if he was, he would probably live in Connecticut). He is a cancer inside all of us. He can now be cured.

Retrieved from ",_Nights_of_Love/B"
Hidden category: Subpages

Monday, February 23, 2009

The High Cost of Living

The High Cost of Living
by Ima Gardener

NBC's “Today Show” about a woman who dies, untreated, on an Emergency Room floor while others watch. Matt Lauer simply sighs, shakes his head and resumes business as usual. (Youtube link)

This is a secret transmission from one human heart to another, from one soul to another, from one human being to another. Human to human, heart to heart. It is an appeal for you to feel with your heart rather than ignore it. To see through the lens of shared experience, empathy and compassion rather than bitterness, resentment and apathy.

I write to you now with a busted leg. I'm not entirely sure what is wrong with it but I haven't been able to walk in three days. I have been unable to leave my small apartment, to work or do any chores. Since I am unable to walk I am essentially helpless to take care of myself. Three days ago I fell wrong on my knee and there was a loud popping sound and a wave of excruciating pain—from this I have guessed that I have a sprain, perhaps a second degree sprain or a third degree sprain. That means that one of my ligaments is either partially or totally torn; an extraordinarily uncomfortable experience which rendered my leg totally useless for all intents and purposes. Without proper medical care, which may include a cast or even surgery, I may not be able to walk correctly for months to come or even for the rest of my life. It's an injury that was entirely a freak accident and it could happen to anyone, even you. It could happen at any time, when riding a bike, walking or playing with friends. It is only a small example of all the possible misfortunes that can strike any one of us at any moment—a problem which is very easy to fix and yet, if untreated, could have repercussions for the rest of your life. I am lucky, however. I did not cut an artery or break a bone (to the best of my knowledge); I did not have the type of accident where I would die quickly if it was left untreated. Those types of accidents are very possible for all of us, too.

Unlike millions of Americans I actually have some health insurance. The problem is that I have the lowest and cheapest health insurance available, as it is all I can afford. After calling literally dozens of hospitals and doctors in my area (all of whom asked for my health insurance information before even asking my name) I found that my best option was to wait weeks. This would be a serious problem for anybody with any level of insurance. Even "Walk-In" clinics are so full that you would be lucky to be treated the same day you needed help. But my real problem is more common: though I have a low co-pay for a doctor's visit, I will have to pay up to $1500 out of my own pocket to get an x-ray or MRI. $1500, even $300 or $200, is an unacceptably high amount of money for me to pay. The economy is down and we're all living more hand to mouth now. It would be better for me to not get the x-ray and hope that my leg heals without knowing exactly what is wrong with it on the inside. In a single moment my life may have been changed forever... at this point I am not sure, but the social and political issues surrounding this are clearer than ever for me. And they can be for you, too, if you just use your imagination and think about yourself in a situation perhaps different than your own. Perhaps it isn't different at all, and what is happening to me is exactly what will happen to you. And what is happening to me is far better than what has happened to literally millions of human beings in this country. Human beings with souls, who laugh and cry and love and hate just like you. Human beings who are just like you.

We have to ask ourselves—right now—whether this is something we find acceptable or not. Each one of us has helped build a national wealth that is almost unparalleled in the world, and yet we all exist under the threat of illness or injury that is too expensive for us. As a society we have put price tags on human beings, an action which is, in every religious and/or ethical thought process, evil and wrong. We call ourselves a Christian nation and yet we act in the most singularly un-Christian ways humanly possible.

We have two options: either we work extremely hard and wash the best years of our lives down the drain to help build a wealth and a society which does not care for us and only cares about the bottom line or we don't. We either contribute to a system of violence and negligence—a cold, beurocratic monolith which truly serves only the interests of a sickeningly small minority of people, or we don't. Either we scramble after as much money as we can in an attempt to have the best health insurance possible, playing along with a system which is damaging to that very same health, our psychological wellbeing, our emotional wellbeing, our environment, and our friends and loved ones, or we don't. Either we sell our souls to the All-Mighty Dollar Bill and literally BUY IN to the factory death machines, the war machines, the exploitation and rape of the earth and its inhabitants, or we don't.

The wealth of this nation is huge—think of it as a huge mountain of gold. Each one of us has slaved away in our jobs, whether they are retail or manufacturing, small business or corporate... we have all worked so hard and so long to build this capital, this huge mountain of gold. But then, when we need a little of that gold to mend our broken wings we are refused, because, though we have worked so long and so hard at such great sacrifice to ourselves and others, it does not, in the end, belong to us. It belongs to less than 3% of the population of this nation. The rest of us are out in the cold; confused, frustrated and scared. And in this society we were all born afraid—and with only one solution: work! Work, work, work!

This reality is so clear but so few of us can clearly see it. We have so many distractions... so many flashing screens and unrealistic desires. Though our society and our lives are exactly what we make of them—they are external projections of our internal states. Do we accept the evidence we see around us? The preventable death, the preventable suffering, all of it unnecessary? Do we accept those things as who we are? Because we are all causing them.

And many of us are actually Christian, or at least consider ourselves to be. Or we are Hindu, or we are Muslim, or we are Buddhist. Has any of our religious icons, our spiritual leaders, our moral examples... would any of them--Christ, Krishna, Shiva, Muhammad, Buddha—would a single one of them have turned someone back who needed help? Did Christ ask for payment before healing the blind? Did Buddha require a subscription fee before helping others ease their own suffering (his only solution to ending personal suffering is compassion, by the way)?

Is this the society that you want? Are these the forces and pressures that you would choose to bear down on you? We have all been hoodwinked... we've been told that this is the only way it can happen when in reality we are choosing for it to happen and are empowering it. And that mountain of gold still exists, and we continue to shovel money into other people's pockets, even when we ourselves are faced with a medical situation which could potentially alter our end our lives forever.

Now we have this new president. A young, black man which promises change along true ethical and moral grounds. But what will change? Will the Free Trade Agreements be repealed, ending the sufferings of untold millions across the world, including small children worked to death in sweatshops? Will we actually find ourselves free from the constant stress of our own health, knowing that our work will come back to us and our communal efforts as a society will work for us instead of against us? What change will we actually see? What moral standard is actually going to be applied? A human standard, which takes into account every preventable case of suffering? Or a standard which still allows for the greed and exploitation on behalf of the elite owner class? Obama is a symbol which has placated the masses and we will see no substantial change.

But how will you feel when you have a leg which no longer works and the future is uncertain? When you aren't even sure if you'll be able to walk correctly again? Will the same cynicism that you wrap around the suffering of others consume your own situation? Will you say about yourself, “That lazy (insert racial, sexist or class slur here) should just work harder” about your own self? Or, when it's your life and happiness at stake, will it seem totally different to you? Will you see that your work and effort did indeed go out into the world only to be grabbed and held greedily in other people's bank accounts as opposed to coming back to you in the form of health care services? Though you manufactured the doctor's equipment or sold him his food, will he return his services to you? Though the poor was used to grow and pick his food, a thing necessary for his survival, will he help them with their survival? Even though both are being paid, is it truly fair? And, if you were to truly face judgment, how would you be judged? Will you plead with God and use the Nuremberg Defense? Will you try to explain to God that you were only following orders or that you did the best you could for yourself though you knew millions were dying? Though you believe that Christ died for your sins, do you really believe that that means God doesn't care if you DO sin?

Or are you too concerned about right now to do anything, too busy working every single day, to notice? So eager to relax during your two days of rest a week (if you're lucky) that you drown your woes in alcohol desperately searching for this mysterious concept called “fun”? You can't be bothered with this all right now, you have accepted this as a “kill or be killed” world of haves and have-nots. What greater sickness could possibly afflict your soul?

The stock market is down, the recession is deepening, and even now, after all our work, all of our decades and centuries of work, there are so many poor and dying human beings in our own country. What, after all, did we believe we were working for? Have we collectively put in so much effort to see so much misery in the world? This country was called a “Great Experiment.” When will we step back and assess the results of this capitalist experiment? If we're all going to be working so hard anyway, why not be working for something rather than so eagerly putting in such effort towards digging our own graves?

It's all quite possible that my leg will be fine. I simply don't know. But even if my leg completely heals, or your leg completely heals and we are OK for now, does that change any of these questions, really?

We need to think about more fundamental issues and stop living hypocritically if we are to live with any meaning at all and cease our mindless marching towards oblivion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Barack Obama and the Propaganda of Hope

by: Ima Gardener

Today I marched with a very large crowd in a major U.S. city to commemorate Martin Luther King Day. The march and the demonstrations preceding it were supposed to emulate or at least be inspired by the heroic nonviolent actions of certain people half a century ago... inspired people living radical lifestyles free of hypocrisy and willing to die for their beliefs. People who fought for more than social justice through a system that intrinsically exploits, but hoped instead to dramatically reform or even start a new system based entirely on egalitarianism outside of economic or corporate interests. People who put human interests above profit interests and refused to compromise.

I did not see this today. Today I saw lines of obese Americans (there are now more obese Americans than overweight Americans, constituting about 1/3 of the entire population) break ranks from the march to file en masse into the McDonald's along the way. I saw H&R Block representatives handing out balloons to little African American children, putting stickers on their sleeves with large, blaring advertisements and prices--each child seemed to be priced at $29. I saw McDonald's banners and other large advertisements hanging from the stage prior to the march, and I heard the speaker encouraging the crowd to shop at a long list of some of the greatest human rights and globalization violators on the planet... the corporate sponsors for the event. I saw children and adults gorging on force-fed, genetically modified chick'n nuggets from McDonald's whilst donning spikey "liberty caps" advertising Liberty Insurance, all with their AT&T tote bags in tow. The police lined the streets, serenely grinning at the waddling crowd supposedly voicing their concern for social equality and radical hope; when all I heard was the soft babbling of consumer complacency and ignorance.

And all of it was in the name of Barack Obama. Everything was Obama-this, Obama-that. The mantra of "Yes we can!" chanted through the streets, yet nobody seemed to be stopping to ask "what is it we want?" A black man is the President of the United States, and that, in itself, is an undeniably positive thing; but we have to continue to be critical if we are concerned about the welfare of other human beings and we have to ask ourselves just what "change" this President is going to bring. These corporations, many of the same ones handing out balloons to toddlers today, are the very entities responsible for the general apparent poverty of the crowd. They are the ones forcing a less-than living wage upon a debtors consumer society where the basic means of survival are priced perfectly to ensnare the hardest of lower, service class workers into living a hand to mouth lifestyle at best and experience probable lifelong debt at worst. Their jobs have gone overseas, their consumption fuels the miseries of peoples all around the world (just look up Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald's, etc. KNOW what you consume!) and the majority of all human beings on earth remain beneath an impenetrable glass ceiling. We see slick celebrities like Barack Obama and even the poorest, most exploited person in the crowd somehow finds it in himself to identify with a man who has, in fact, absolutely nothing in common with him. Obama resembles the sheen of a McDonald's commercial we've seen over and over and over again, so we accept it without struggle.

Our economy is in shambles, we have all suffered to some degree or another; do we really want to build the same system that brought us here all over again? We are all dying from either starvation or boredom or both--our heads too shell-shocked by the incessant advertising campaigns to dream, dead hopes roused a little by the ambiguous promise of a "change" yet to be defined remain incompatible with our actual reality. So we will, perhaps, set the clock back a little, buy ourselves a little more time, pick up the economy now only to watch it crumble again later, chew on the saccharine candy of "promise" only for the sake of the word, the slogan, the t-shirt, the commemorative plate... what will change? Will the corporations be controlled, restricted, or run by those who built them? Will our myriad jobs stop going overseas, or will we all owe our livelihoods to the government and put on hard-hats to build NAFTA super-highways in the name of infrastructure programs? Will we ALL be construction workers or office clerks for the tightest and most constraining government of all time? Will any socially responsible changes actually take place, curbing and reversing the tide of our culture and our lifestyles, or will we only witness band aids and slogans enabling us to more cheerfully march into our own oblivion?

Today they were all cheerfully marching, consuming, and buying into their own oblivion. The police were not threatened by us because the system which exploits us is not being threatened. The secret arrests will continue in the middle of the night, the poverty level will continue to be forced in the name of profit while many suffer and our food will continue to be poisoned by the very ones we pay to grow for us. Change will only prove to be a fresh coat of paint. We'll continue to wage our imperialist wars because our interests will remain the same. In a capitalist society the core interests of Barack Obama are inseparable from those of George Bush or any other President, Dictator or Tyrant. Those interests are the "bottom line," the bottom line for Barack's supposed "clean coal" (though there is no such thing, and coal corporations are poisoning, killing, threatening, and exploiting people and ecosystems all over the U.S. and the world), the bottom line of those who wish to gain from the expanded Free Trade Area of the Americas responsible for so much fear, death and destruction. The bottom line is profit, always, so long as we are capitalist, so long as Free Trade supporters like Barack Obama continue to guile us into false pride. Very little is changing as a Democrat and a Republican are the same wolves hidden beneath different costumes which are themselves becoming harder and harder to differentiate. "Change" will simply prove to be a fresh coat of paint over the same rotting, termite-ridden walls.

Only when we are truly honest to ourselves can we hope to work towards true freedom and egalitarianism in the actual spirit of those revolutionaries who we unfortunately dishonor on national, commercially-sponsored holidays like these. The most the election of Barack Obama has concretely and directly changed is how now almost every segment of society seems imbued with hard-lined nationalism. Those who have always been disenfranchised by white men will continue to be disenfranchised by white men, but are now more on message because of an icon which cannot hope to live up to their actual needs. Neoliberalism has been swallowed hook, line and sinker by the American people under the illusion of change and supposed leftist politics, damaging the credibility and reality of other modes of thought.

Barack Obama's inauguration will cost 4-times more than the most expensive party ever thrown in the United States. A child dies from starvation every 8 minutes.