ANYONE WHO PAYS ATTENTION to the state of the planet realizes that all natural systems on which human life depends are deteriorating, and they are doing so largely because of human actions. By natural systems I mean the topsoil, forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, oceans, atmosphere, the host of other species, and the cycles that bind them together into a living whole. By human life I mean not merely the survival of our species, but the quality of our existence, the prospects for adequate food, shelter, work, education, health care, conviviality, intellectual endeavor, and spiritual growth for our kind far into the future.
So the crucial question is, why? Why are those of us in the richest countries acting in such a way as to undermine the conditions on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generations depend? And why are we so intent on coaxing or coercing the poorer countries to follow our example? There are many possible answers, of course, from human shortsightedness to selfish genes to otherworldly religions to consumerism to global corporations. I would like to focus on a different one — our confusion of financial wealth with real wealth.
To grasp the impact of that confusion, think of someone you love. Then recall that if you were to reduce a human body to its elements — oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, copper, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and so on — you would end up with a few dollars’ worth of raw materials. But even with inflation, and allowing for the obesity epidemic, this person you cherish still would not fetch as much as ten dollars on the commodities market. A child would fetch less, roughly in proportion to body weight.
Such calculations seem absurd, of course, because none of us would consider dismantling a human being for any amount of money, least of all someone we love. Nor would we entertain the milder suggestion of lopping off someone’s arm or leg and putting it up for sale, even if the limb belonged to our worst enemy. Our objection would not be overcome by the assurance that the person still has another arm, another leg, and seems to be getting along just fine. We’d be likely to say that it’s not acceptable under any circumstances to treat a person as a commodity, worth so much per pound.
And yet this is how our economy treats every portion of the natural world — as a commodity for sale, subject to damage or destruction if enough money can be made from the transaction. Nothing in nature has been spared — not forests, grasslands, wetlands, mountains, rivers, oceans, atmosphere, nor any of the creatures that dwell therein. Nor have human beings been spared. Through its routine practices, this economy subjects people to shoddy products, unsafe working conditions, medical scams, poisoned air and water, propaganda dressed up as journalism, and countless other assaults, all in pursuit of profits.
When tobacco or pharmaceutical companies suppress research that shows their products are killing people, they may not single out particular human beings for execution, yet they deliberately sentence a large number of strangers to premature death. Likewise, when banks launder drug money, when the insurance industry opposes public health care, when the auto industry lobbies against higher fuel-efficiency standards, when arms manufacturers fight any restraint on the trade in guns, when agribusiness opposes limits on the spraying of poisons, when electric utilities evade regulations that would clean up smoke from power plants, when chambers of commerce lobby against efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are just as surely condemning vast numbers of people to illness, injury, and death.
THE ECONOMIST MILTON FRIEDMAN stated flatly that “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” The second half of Friedman’s sentence would place a curb on the first half only in a universe where enterprises motivated entirely by greed never engaged in deception or fraud. This may have seemed like a possibility in the rarefied atmosphere of the Chicago School of Economics, where Friedman held sway and helped to shape the free-market ideology that has dominated American society in recent decades. But in the world where the rest of us live, deception and fraud have been commonplace among corporate giants, from Enron to Exxon, from United Fruit to Union Carbide. Consider a short list of recent malefactors: Halliburton, Philip Morris, WorldCom, Wachovia, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia, Blackwater, Monsanto, Massey Energy, Tyco, HealthSouth, Wal-Mart, Global Crossing, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Countrywide Financial, AIG, and BP. These companies, and legions of others, have cooked the account books, misrepresented their financial condition with end-of-quarter window dressing, abused their employees, cheated their investors, sold lethal products, violated safety regulations, lied, bribed, swindled, or otherwise refused to stay within “the rules of the game.”
In our country, when the rules become a nuisance or do not sufficiently favor their interests, big companies purchase enough support in the White House or Congress or regulatory agencies to have the rules revised or abolished. Examples of this abuse could be cited from all industries, but none are more egregious than those in finance. Until the mid-1980s, the U.S. financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of all corporate profits, but over the past decade it has averaged more than 41 percent, and it has done so while contributing only modestly to social needs, chiefly through local banks and credit unions, and while doing a great deal of harm, chiefly through the creation and trade of financial paper. Most of the economic advisors for President Obama, as for President Bush, have come straight from Wall Street, and, not surprisingly, they have shaped government policy to benefit the biggest Wall Street firms and the richest investors. The global economic meltdown was largely a result of such rigging of the system, which freed commercial and investment banks, trading companies, and rating agencies to gamble recklessly with other people’s money.
In spite of the worldwide suffering caused by this casino capitalism, the financial reform bill passed by Congress in the summer of 2010 does little to rein it in. The managers of hedge funds, for example, have kept their operations essentially free of oversight, while preserving the loophole that treats their earnings as capital gains, taxed at 15 percent, rather than as regular income, which would be taxed in the top bracket at 35 percent. In 2009, when the CEOs of the twenty-five largest American hedge funds split over $26 billion, this cozy arrangement cost the Treasury, and therefore the rest of us, several billion dollars in lost tax revenue. When President Obama urged Congress to close this tax loophole, the billionaire chairman of one hedge fund responded by comparing such a move with the Nazi invasion of Poland.
Now, why would a billionaire want more money, and why have some billionaires sought to increase their fortunes by purchasing television networks and newspapers, funding think tanks, hiring armies of lobbyists and propagandists, and setting up phony front groups, all to spread the gospel of no-holds-barred capitalism? You might say that such behavior is natural, because everybody wants more money. But consider: Suppose you keep a billion dollars under your mattress, where it will earn no income, and you set out to spend it; in order to burn through it all within an adult lifetime of, say, fifty years, you would have to spend $1.7 million per month, or $55,000 per day. If you took your billion dollars out from under the mattress and invested it in long-term U.S. Treasury bonds at current rates, you could spend $40 million per year, or $110,000 per day, forever, without touching your capital. It so happens that $110,000 is a bit more than twice the median household income in the United States. If you do the math, you will find that the twenty-five hedge fund managers who pulled in $26 billion last year claimed an income equivalent to roughly 500,000 households, or some 2 million people.
What are Rupert Murdoch, David and Charles Koch, Adolph Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife, and other billionaire advocates of unbridled capitalism after? They certainly are not worrying about sending their kids to college or paying their medical bills. Then what are they seeking? A psychiatrist might be better qualified to answer the question, but let me offer an amateur’s hunch, which arises from six decades of watching our legislatures, regulatory agencies, judiciary, public lands, mass media, and schools come under the influence, and often under the total control, of the richest Americans. What the free-enterprise billionaires are greedy for is not money but power, and not merely the power to take care of themselves and their families, which would be reasonable, but the power to have anything they want and do anything they want without limit, which is decidedly unreasonable. Anyone who has shared a house with a two-year-old or a fifteen-year-old has witnessed such a craving to fulfill every desire and throw off every constraint. Most children grow beyond this hankering for omnipotence. Those who carry the craving into adulthood may become sociopaths — incapable of sensing or caring for the needs of other people, indifferent to the harm they cause, reacting aggressively toward anyone or anything that blocks their will.
I’m not saying that all billionaires, or megamillionaires, are sociopaths. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett clearly aren’t, for example, for they are using their fortunes to serve the public good, including funding programs for those who dwell at the other end of the money spectrum. In June of 2010, Gates and Buffett invited the richest individuals and families in America to sign a pledge to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. As of this writing, fifty-seven have accepted the invitation, including Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York; Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder of Facebook; Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft; and Ted Turner, founder of CNN. Perhaps they have signed the pledge out of pure altruism. But I would like to believe they also understand that they themselves did not create their financial wealth, however skillful and hardworking they may be; they amassed their money by drawing on the efforts of countless people, living and dead; by drawing on public resources, such as schools and courts; by reaping the benefits of madcap bidding on the stock market; and by drawing on the natural resources of the planet. I would like to believe that, having derived their riches from the commons, they feel obliged to return a substantial portion of those riches for the benefit of the commons.
Whatever their motives, the signers of the Giving Pledge are following the example of Andrew Carnegie. Although he acquired his fortune by methods as ruthless as any employed by buccaneer capitalists today, having made his money, Carnegie gave it all away, except for a modest amount left to his family. We associate his name especially with the more than twenty-five hundred libraries he endowed, but he also funded many other public goods, including a university, a museum, and a foundation for promoting not free enterprise, but education and world peace. In an essay published in 1889 called “The Gospel of Wealth,” he argued that the concentration of great fortunes in the hands of a few was an inevitable result of capitalism, but also a dangerous one, because the resulting disparity between the haves and have-nots would cause social unrest. And so, he insisted, these great fortunes should be restored to society, either through philanthropy or through taxation.
In view of the current efforts, backed by many of the richest Americans, to abolish the estate tax, it is striking to read Carnegie’s view of the matter:
The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion.… Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest. Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for public ends would work good to the community, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the state, cannot thus be deprived of its proper share. By taxing estates heavily at death, the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.
That is not a passage you are likely to find cited by the Cato Institute, Free Enterprise Fund, Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth, or any of the other strident opponents of the federal estate tax, a tax that under current regulations affects only the richest 1 percent of Americans — the very citizens, by coincidence, who fund the Cato Institute, etc., etc.
Now let us return to pondering the richest of our fellow citizens who show no inclination to share their wealth, but rather seem intent on growing richer by hook or crook, regardless of the consequences for our democracy, the environment, or future generations. Unlike Andrew Carnegie, unlike Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, these individuals use their wealth only to increase their power, and use their power only to guard and increase their wealth, and so on, in an upward spiral toward infinity. Their success in this endeavor can be measured by the fact that the top 1 percent of earners now receives 24 percent of all income in the United States, the highest proportion since the eve of the Great Depression in 1929.
Giant corporations operate in a similar way, using their wealth to increase their power over markets and governments, and using their power to increase their wealth. When I say giant, I am not referring to retailers, banks, factories, or other firms that operate on a modest scale and in one or a few locations. I am referring to the behemoths of business. Of the one hundred largest economies in the world, more than half are multinational corporations. Exxon alone surpasses in revenues the economies of 180 nations. These gigantic empires, spanning the globe, answer to no electorate, move jobs and money about at will, keep much of their operations secret, and oppose any regulation that might cut into their profits. Thus, over the past several decades, Exxon has used its enormous might to oppose higher fuel-efficiency standards, to resist safety regulations that might have prevented the catastrophic oil spill in Prince William Sound, to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and to thwart legislation aimed at controlling carbon emissions. In doing so, the managers of Exxon have simply obeyed the logic of capitalism, which is to maximize profIts regardless of social and environmental costs. Through trade organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute and numerous front groups, Exxon, Shell, BP, and other energy titans have spent millions of dollars trying to persuade the public that the climate isn’t shifting dangerously, or if it is shifting then humans play no part in the change, or if humans do play a part then nothing can be done about it without stifling the economy.
“Saving the economy” is the slogan used to defend every sort of injustice and negligence, from defeating health-care legislation to ignoring the Clean Water Act to shunning the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. But should we save an economy in which the finance industry claims over 40 percent of all corporate profits and a single hedge fund manager claims an income equivalent to that of twenty thousand households? Should we save an economy in which the top 1 percent of earners rake in a quarter of all income? Should we embrace an economy in which one in ten households faces foreclosure, 44 million people live in poverty, and 51 million lack health insurance, an economy in which the unemployment rate for African Americans is above 17 percent and for all workers is nearly 10 percent? Should we defend an economy that even in a recession generates a GDP over $14 trillion, a quarter of the world’s total, and yet is supposedly unable to afford to reduce its carbon emissions? Should we serve an economy that represents less than 5 percent of Earth’s population and yet accounts for nearly half of world military spending? A reasonable person might conclude that such an economy is fatally flawed, and that the flaws will not be repaired by those who profit from them the most.
THE ACCUMULATION OF MONEY gives the richest individuals and corporations godlike power over the rest of us. Yet money itself has no intrinsic value; it is a medium of exchange, a token that we have tacitly agreed to recognize and swap for things that do possess intrinsic value, such as potatoes or poetry, salmon or surgery. Money is a symbolic tool, wholly dependent for its usefulness on an underlying social compact. It is paradoxical, therefore, that those who have benefited the most financially from the existence of this compact have been most aggressive in seeking to undermine it, by attacking unions, cooperatives, public education, independent media, social welfare programs, nonprofits that serve the poor, land-use planning, and every aspect of government that doesn’t directly serve the rich. For the social compact to hold, ordinary people must feel that they are participating in a common enterprise that benefits everyone fairly, and not a pyramid scheme designed to benefit a few at the very top. While the superrich often pretend to oppose government as an imposition on their freedom, they are usually great fans of government contracts, crop subsidies, oil depletion allowances, and other forms of corporate welfare, and even greater fans of military spending.
Among those who have grasped the link between U.S. militarism and the cult of money was Martin Luther King Jr. In a speech entitled “A Time to Break Silence,” delivered a year to the day before he was assassinated, King went against the counsel of his friends and advisors by denouncing the Vietnam War. Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, indeed like every U.S. military operation from the 1950s onward, the war in Vietnam was justified as an effort to promote freedom and democracy and to protect American security. What our military was actually protecting, King argued, were “the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.” For saying so, he was denounced as a communist or socialist by newspapers and self-proclaimed patriots nationwide, just as President Obama has been denounced as a socialist for proposing national health care.
The slur is an old one, going back to the late nineteenth century when movements to organize unions or end child labor in factories or secure votes for women were decried as socialist by the robber barons and their henchmen in politics and journalism. Since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the labels communist and socialist have been used interchangeably by the superrich to condemn any cooperative efforts by citizens to secure basic rights or to serve common needs. These twin labels have been used to vilify the income tax, the estate tax, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, every major piece of environmental legislation, American participation in the UN, disarmament treaties, aid to the poor, humanitarian aid to other nations — any endeavor by government, in short, that might reduce the coffers or curb the power of those who sit atop the greatest heaps of capital.
That power is steadily increasing, as witness the Supreme Court’s decision in early 2010, by a 5-4 vote, in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which holds that corporate funding of political broadcasts during elections cannot be limited. The majority based their argument on the twin claims, never mentioned in the Constitution, that corporations are entitled to be treated as persons under the law and that money is a form of speech, and therefore any constraint on spending by corporations to influence elections would be a denial of their right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The decision means that our electoral process, already corrupted by big money, will fall even more under the sway of corporations and their innocuous-sounding front groups, such as “Citizens United.” The nearly unanimous view among the nation’s leading First Amendment scholars, voiced at a meeting in March of 2010, was that the case was wrongly decided. But the only five opinions that count are those of the judges in the majority, who were appointed to the Supreme Court by administrations that have benefited most handsomely from corporate financing.
MONEY DERIVES ITS MEANING from society, not from those who own the largest piles of it. Recognizing this fact is the first move toward liberating ourselves from the thrall of concentrated capital. We need to desanctify money, reminding ourselves that it is not a god ordained to rule over us, nor is it a natural force like gravity, which operates beyond our control. It is a human invention, like baseball or Monopoly, governed by rules that are subject to change and viable only so long as we agree to play the game. We need to see and to declare that the money game as it is currently played in America produces a few big winners, who thereby acquire tyrannical power over the rest of us as great as that of any dictator or monarch; that they are using this power to skew the game more and more in their favor; and that the net result of this money game is to degrade the real sources of our well-being.
It is just as important that we shake off the spell of consumerism. In 1955, a retailing analyst named Victor Lebow bluntly described what an ever-expanding capitalism would require of us: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. The economy needs things consumed, burned, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.” And so it has come to pass. Americans, by and large, have made consumption a way of life, and a prime source, if not of spiritual satisfaction, then of compensation for whatever else might be missing from our lives, such as meaningful work, intact families, high-quality schools, honest government, safe streets, a healthy environment, a nation at peace, leisure time, neighborliness, community engagement, and other fast-disappearing or entirely vanished boons.
Advertisers maintain the consumerist illusion by appealing to our every impulse, from lust and envy to love of family and nature. The estimates for annual spending on advertising in the U.S. hover around $500 billion. This is roughly the amount we spend annually on public education. While taxpayers complain about the cost of schools, they do not protest the cost of advertising, which inflates the price of everything we purchase, and which aims at persuading us to view the buying of stuff as the pathway to happiness. A current ad for Coke, showing a frosty bottle, actually uses the slogan “Open Happiness.” The promise is false, and all of us know it, yet we keep falling for the illusion. We can begin to free ourselves from that illusion by reducing our exposure to those media, such as commercial television and radio, that are primarily devoted to merchandising. We can laugh at advertising. We can distinguish between our needs, which are finite, and our wants, which are limitless. Beyond meeting our basic needs, money cannot give us any of the things that actually bring happiness — family, community, good health, good work, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, spiritual insight.
When we do spend money, so far as possible we should put it in the hands of our neighbors — local merchants, professionals, growers, craft workers, artists, chefs, and makers of useful things — and we should put as little as possible in the coffers of distant corporations and plutocrats, who know and care nothing about our communities. We should encourage efforts to restore local economies through small-scale manufacturing, sustainable agriculture and forestry, distributed energy generation, credit unions, public-access television and radio, nonprofits, and cooperatives. We should experiment with local currencies, as a number of cities across the U.S. have done. When possible, we should barter goods and services, avoiding the use of money altogether.
As a nation, we need to quit using the flow of money as the chief measure of our well-being. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product is the dollar value of our nation’s economic output in a given period, without regard to the purpose of that output. So the cost of cleaning up an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico adds to the GDP, as does an epidemic of cancer, a recall of salmonella-laced eggs, a bombing campaign in Afghanistan, lawsuits against Ponzi schemers, prison construction, and every other sort of ill. The GDP does not reflect work done at home without pay, volunteer work in the community, or mutual aid exchanged between neighbors. It counts junk food you buy on the highway but not food you grow in your backyard. It counts the child care you purchase but not the care you provide. If you lead a healthy life, you contribute little to the GDP through medical expenditures, but if you smoke, become addicted to drugs or alcohol, become dangerously obese, neglect your health in any way at all, you’re sure to boost the GDP. War also swells the GDP, but peacemaking does not. We need to devise measures of well-being that take into account the actual quality of life in our society, from the rate of incarceration (currently the highest in the world) to the rate of infant mortality (currently thirty-third in the world), from the condition of our soils and rivers and air to the safety of our streets.
One need not be an economist — as I am not — to see that our economic system is profoundly unjust in its distribution of benefits and damage, that it relies on violence toward people and planet, and that it is eroding the foundations of democracy. What should we do? Not as any sort of expert, but as a citizen, I say we need to get big money out of politics by publicly financing elections and strictly regulating lobbyists. We need to preserve the estate tax, for its abolition would lead to rule by an aristocracy of inherited wealth, just the sort of tyranny we threw off in our revolt against Britain. We need to defend the natural and cultural goods we share, such as the oceans and the internet, from those who seek to exploit the common wealth for their sole profit. We need to stop private-sector companies from dictating research agendas in our public universities. We need legislation that strips corporations of the legal status of persons. We need to restore the original definition of a corporation as an association granted temporary privileges for the purpose of carrying out some socially useful task, with charters that must be reviewed and renewed periodically by state legislatures. We need to enforce the anti-trust laws, breaking up giant corporations into units small enough to be answerable to democratic control. We need to require that the public airwaves, now used mainly to sell the products of global corporations, serve public interests.
To recover our democracy, relieve human suffering, and protect our planet, we need to do a great many things that may seem unlikely or impossible. But they seem so only if we define ourselves as isolated consumers rather than citizens, if we surrender our will and imagination to the masters of money. Over the next few generations, we will either create a civilization that treats all of its members compassionately and treats Earth respectfully, or we will sink into barbarism. Whatever the odds, I say we should work toward that just and ecologically wise civilization, with all our powers.
Want to have some fun with your kids? Make jokes and laugh with them about print, television and billboard advertising. This stuff is absurd, even (especially?) to a child. Wish they would never even have to see it, but let’s be realistic. Vaccinate them now.
Kids can be quite clever. My five year old once told me while watching a television commercial that the advertised toys were no good. His reasoning was that kids told each other about the good toys and that only junk was on TV.
I am grateful for this article, one of the best, most concise, and accessible I’ve read. Thank you.
I’m a progressive-minded fundraiser who teaches stewardship education, and I’ve been reading about alternatives in micro- and macro-economics for years. It’s hard to find an essay that doesn’t just restate the bad news and tell us that we should all be living more simply.
This article seems to conflate a bunch of Bad Things that might be better examined by teasing them apart. We read that we are poisoning the earth’s natural systems; okay, yes. We read that corporations and their executives are greedy; okay, yes. But look: the soil, air and water are choking *not* because of the actions of a few, but because of all of us. Even the virtuous ones. It’s a cumulative effect: all of our driving, our air travel, our foodstuffs, our electricity. And that’s not even counting “luxury” items. The problem is that we are stuck in an us/them mindset that oversimplifies the issue. And if we can’t even name the problem correctly, how can we ever hope to get to a solution?
As noted, it will take generations to re-establish some of the lost values such as neighborliness and community-oriented outlooks…those old enough to recall the spirit of the 60’s know that it is possible for positive values to seep into the culture. The challenge is to resist the whole scale efforts to disrupt that point of view. Each one of us can take steps to contribute to the whole, and as with all good things, the more you do, the better it gets.
In the article, the author states, “Until the mid-1980s, the U.S. financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of all corporate profits, but over the past decade it has averaged more than 41 percent”.
No source of this statistic is provided and the data from the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis shows the financial services industry averaging 22% over the past decade.
This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. However, the statement “Beyond meeting our basic needs, money cannot give us any of the things that actually bring happinessâ€”family, community, good health, good work, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, spiritual insight” seems naive and inadequately considered. Presently, in the small city on the eastern seaboard where I live, supporting a family is an expensive proposition: beyond housing and food, to help children reach their potential in sports or music and arts costs mightily; the degraded school system no longer providing these options, which are also community builders. My own good health, in my seventies, is supported by food that is grown organically or locally to the extent possible in this climate, but at high cost, and by an intensive vitamin and supplement regime that takes the place of ineffective anti-depressants and pain medication. It works well, but costs my husband and me over $1500 per year, and is not covered by insurance, the price of which goes up yearly. Anyone whose chosen work is outside the financial industry or the top tier of corporations or their professions, needs to work at more than one job to survive. The cost of going to the art museum is now prohibitive if one wants to take more than oneself with a library pass. Nature is a joy for which I give thanks daily, aware that my enjoyment of it is very much the result of living where many people cannot afford to live. That leaves service to others, spiritual insight, a sense of purpose, hard-won privileges at this end of life, hard to access when struggling to raise a family on inadequate income, as I see the younger generation doing. It is very difficult to get out of the prison skilfully constructed over the past hundred years by the Military/industrial, Corporate imperialistic and Financial Industry, with the help of people like Vincent Lebow.
This article hits the nail squarely on the head: the rich and powerful are destroying our world. Those who cannot or will not see this are truly deluded. To wake them from their cultural trance is the first order of business to save the possibility of a world based on justice, mutual care, and higher values. From there we might be in a position to consider how to check the destructive influence of these sick people, and turn the direction of our world culture towards more healthy and positive outcomes. As long as the mass of people believe the lies being promulgated by the wealthy, nothing will change, except to become progressively worse, ending in a nightmarish situation on Earth beyond imagining. It is being able to really understand this that leads folks like Derrick Jensen to say that we must stop these folks by any means possible. Until you understand that the danger he points to is real and imminent, you may consider his views to be extreme or improbable. Unfortunately the voices that tell it like it really is are rare in our world at this time. The author of this piece has dared to confront the monstrous elephant in our living rooms. Let us take heed, and lay our plans to counter those who are now plotting to enslave and ultimately destroy us.
We have seen revolutions in arms topple governments and re-establish – or establish for the first time – democratic rule (which ought to be an oxymoron, but I’m going to let it go till another time.) What Breaking the Spell Of Money addresses is the necessary break-point around which a revolution of values must occur. I’ve been fuming at Obama from the git-go for either setting aside values he had espoused as a community organizer or completely repudiating them by embracing our costly and pernicious military adventures. For a moment, we, as a nation, caught our breath as a new president, presumably value-rich and community-oriented, would begin to overthrow the stranglehold of corporate power and the military might it helps support. Yet instead of talking about shrinking these things down, he clearly wished to grow them. I could not listen to his inaugural address, as it pointed down the same path Bush, Cheney, and his “grisly gang” had taken us. He said nothing of the community gardens that would foster health and neighborly cooperation; he ommitted to talk about the native talents of Americans, who could make things their fellow citizens might care to use; he seemed oblivious of of that delicate, but essential compact between well-intentioned people that revolves around seeking the best possible solutions that will do the least possible harm.
And so it has happened. We find ourselves embroiled in perhaps nastier sharpshooting, both domestically and on foreign soil, than we saw during the Bush years. And precisely because Obama awakened a sense of possibility, his dismal showing as a national community organizer has hit home even more profoundly. We expected nothing from Bush and his gang.
However, I don’t wish to merely critique a president. He has, however, given us, as a nation, to believe that our solutions do lie in getting and spending. In spite of his good wife’s gardening, there isn’t much of a “buy local” culture around the White House. And, aside from a few solar panels, I don’t see alternative energies being discussed or implemented. And rather than push for the health care that would help the most people, our president hedged his bets and gave us just a taste of it. Those who can afford health care, however, won’t necessarily benefit from it. Claims can be denied – or adjusted – to suit insurance providers. In some cases, these adjustments can be deadly.
In rejecting the values of a global economy, of corporate rule and military abundance, a lot of us will alienate fellow citizens who won’t follow us there – just as the peace marches divided well-meaning conservatives from get-off your-duff activists. A lot of people will find themselves marginalized in a culture that has always moved too fast. However, if the rest do not catch up, all of our lives will be incurably degraded. We have already passed the zero-sum point in global warming. Not being above an “I-told-you-so” spirit, I wouldn’t at all mind leaving climate change deniers to the vicisstudes of wind and weather. But we are likely to be lumped together. And I wonder what that’ll be like. The better angels of our nature should always offset the tempations of revenge. Yet it seems to me that those who would force our backs to the wall would be the very first to abandon us there. Assuming there is ever a new “us and them” paradigm, in which the sensibly self-denying have the upper hand, it’ll be interesting to see how the guilty are punished. Perhaps all of us will be so sorely needed that anybody will get a chance to redeem himself. I hope so.
Good comment Brett. Obama is a fraud. Those who cannot see that may doom themselves to swallowing his hogwash another four years. One of the pillars of our predicament is a large population incapable of clear and original thought, but prone to swallow slickly constructed lies. Education, among all the other major institutions of our culture, has failed us miserably. Our over all population here in America has imbibed so many gross distortions of the truth that they are not to be counted on to be of much use until they come to their senses (if ever) and repudiate the lies they have been sold. Our glorious military, indeed. Our outstanding democracy, etc. etcâ€¦. Wake up folks! That kool aid goes down real easy, but it leaves an awful hangoverâ€¦
In the last line of your Log from Andrews Forest, you “vow to repay the earth’s gifts in whatever way you can”. This essay, it seems to me, is a big part of that repayment. Your commentary on economics, culture, and psychology is well-articulated and profoundly comprehensive. This is a good example of the kind of “mind” we need to develop in order to envision and realize a flourishing future for all life on earth.
very well done. superb.
When I wrote my first book, Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered, back in 1995, I said that business as usual is killing the Earth, and that the economy isn’t something that is god-given, handed down from “on high”, it was created by human beings and could be changed by human beings. Yet most people, then, as now somehow behave as if it were otherwise. I had hoped, in that book, to awaken more people than I did to the true cost of this so-called civilization we now live in. Things are so much worse now than they were then, in so many ways. Corporate control, huge then, has been mega-super-sized. Though there is now a resurgence of valuing local, esp. local food, we have lost much of our local and regional infrastructure from food to energy, even to transportation.
I hope this article, so well-written and right-on, can play a role in revitalizing, reawakening what is of real value, from goods to relationships, to understanding the primacy of the natural systems, the Earth, upon which all life depends.
I am most appreciative of this (your) piece –and want to say THANK YOU. I am a martial arts teacher (and a fan of Orion) and this piece has “self-defense” written all over it.
I am forwarding it to more than 100 of my clients (martial arts school owners) as I feel it’s a great way to begin some dialog about what self-defense really is, in today’s world.
We (martial artists) spend an inordinate amount of time training our bodies as tools for personal protection and/or the protection of others, but in my opinion it’s not the punch in the nose that should be our concern, but the pollution of our minds and our values.
“Breaking the Spell of Money” represents issues that are, in today’s world, far more relevant to self-defense than the block, the kick, and the punch.
Again, thank you!
Rarely do you see it all said so concisely and so cogently.
This is a global problem which requires a global solution. If only Americans would spend less time contemplating themselves and more time considering their role as members of a global community.
Thanks for the article. To stay close to the earth and keeping my spending down, I have worked a 12 step program called Debtors Anonymous. I suggest it as a low tech way to stay grounded and “live extravagantly within our means”. Wichozani wo wookiya “may we walk in the center of our lives in abundance with the Creation” D/Lakota
Doing my little peace to break the spell 🙂
No we shouldn’t be going all Paul Krugmany/neo-Keynesian and stimulating this economy back to life–by zapping consumer spending with the electric paddlers of government spending. Instead we should be appreciating that greed and lust for power have done what we greenies never could–crashed the global system.
All the pleading and hang-wringing about global warming and species loss have fallen mostly on deaf ears, as China and India’s billions race ahead to modern, US-style prosperity, complete with car culture, industrial agriculture and fossil fuel addiction.
The billionaire bankers and hedge fund managers who broke the WTO don’t warrant our praise, but we shouldn’t squander the respite they’ve unintentionally bequeathed us.
Time to re-read Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy,” David Korten’s “Agenda for a New Economy,” Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption” (which posits the end of shopping!)and other works exploring where we might go from here to build a sustainable and convivial alternative to consumer-driven ecocide. And then to act.
I was following right along until I saw that the list of names left off George Soros. After that omisson, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.
Bad form, Orion.
I have read and admired Scott Sanders’ work for almost four decade, and this piece is astounding. Perhaps the clearest, most Thoreauvian, most far-reaching piece of American writing since King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I will share this piece with others and teach it in my classes.
Let me reccomend ‘The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics’ by Riane Eisler. One of her several books on how to move beyond dominator politics and culture.
Itâ€™s good to see that my essay has spoken to concerns shared by others, and that in the eyes of most respondents it has done so persuasively. Let me briefly comment on a few entries.
In number 4, â€œflaneuseâ€ objects that I donâ€™t acknowledge the role played by individual consumption in degrading the planet. Actually, I do; in fact I devote the last third of the essay to calling for usâ€”each and every one of usâ€”to reject the ideology of â€œconsumerism.â€ That being said, we need to recognize how that ideology is articulated, broadcast, and sold, not only in our nation but around the world. The choices individuals make are constrained not only by multi-billion dollar advertising and propaganda fromâ€œthink tanksâ€ but also by public policies and corporate decisions. Our government has subsidized automobile travel while underfunding public transportation; it has supported coal-fired power plants while neglecting renewable energy; it has subsidized industrial agriculture at the expense of organic and local agriculture. Corporations have decided to blow the tops off mountains and dump the rubble in rivers; they have secretly increased the addictive power of cigarettes; they have sold toxic financial instruments while hiding the risks. I write an essay that reflects my views; Rupert Murdoch dictates the politics of Fox Broadcasting, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, 20th Century Fox, and hundreds of other radio, television, and print media. Which of us bears the greater responsibility for influencing public behavior and the fate of the planet?
Paul Puckett (#6) asks where I got the 41% figure for the financial sectorâ€™s share of corporate earnings. The answer is, from a column by Frank Rich, â€œFight On, Goldman Sachs,â€ New York Times, 24 April 2010. Hereâ€™s the relevant sentence from his article: â€œThat â€˜financial alchemy,â€™ as Zuckerman calls it, explains why the finance sectorâ€™s share of domestic corporate profits, never higher than 16 percent until 1986, hit 41 percent in the last decade.â€ Rich cites as his source â€œThe Quiet Coupâ€ (The Atlantic, May 2009), by Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund.
I assure Clare Keller (#7) that I am aware itâ€™s expensive to provide for a family and run a household. I donâ€™t suggest in the essay that money is unnecessary; I say that, â€œBeyond meeting our basic needs, money cannot give us any of the things that actually bring happinessâ€”family, community, good health, good work, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, spiritual insight.â€ We need to ask: What are our basic needs? And why is it so expensive to meet those needsâ€”for health care, say, or insurance, or college tuition? Remember that the â€œearningsâ€ of the superrich factor into virtually everything we buy. Remember that the U.S. accounts for nearly half of all military expenditures on the planet, and those bloated costs swell our taxes.
I share Susan Meeker-Lowryâ€™s (#13) regret that the argument in her 1995 book, Economics as if Earth Mattered, has had minimal impact by comparison with the impact of round-the-clock commercial messages. She follows in the tradition of E. F. Schumacher, Kenneth Boulding, Herman Daly, and other economists who have vigorously argued that the human economy is subordinate to and wholly dependent upon natureâ€™s economy. Most economists, however, including those advising the White House and the majority of those in universities, have ignored this fundamental fact. Nature doesnâ€™t pay salaries or make campaign contributions.
I share most of the reservations that Brett Busang (#9) voices about the Obama administrationâ€™s military and economic policies. I welcome Tom Callosâ€™ (#14) reminder that we need to defend our minds as well as our bodies. Iâ€™m intrigued by the Debtors Anonymous program cited by Tom Weaver (#17). I second the reading suggestions made by Dale Sturdavant (#18). I agree with McKenzieâ€™s (#19) comment that my essay should have named George Soros as one of the worldâ€™s grotesquely overcompensated superrich manipulators of money. And I thank Ned Stuckey-French for his kind, if far too generous, comparison between my essay and that passionate, eloquent, riveting call to conscience by Dr. King.
As always Scott Russell Sanders dips his quill in some very soulful ink. When he writes:
“As a nation, we need to quit using the flow of money as the chief measure of our well-being.”
I’m with you Sanders. How to change culture and political priorities? How do we make this value shift?
The only way I know is for the Earth itself to entice individuals to love the natural world. Everyone needs time to silence the voices of consumerism. Everyone needs some wilderness time.
Nature’s influence can draw people away from the electronic voices of consumerism that fill us with addictive urges to own more things that always fail to deliver a rich life.
People are part of that natural world. Although Sanders isn’t using the “L” word, I think this is the core of his message. Unless we spread the value of loving each other and loving our Earth, we pave the path to a harsh and hateful story for humanity.
We can write a better future. I have to believe that this is true.
Let us all email this essay to the White House.
Well written, good data, places money outta politics in the broader context of reducing the role of money in society. But it is interesting that at the very place where the author should have written a sentence on getting money out of politics, a strategic response to Citizens United. he instead propagates a false remedy circulating on the net that makes a good soundbite, but useless policy:
“We need legislation that strips corporations of the legal status of persons. We need to restore the original definition of a corporation as an association granted temporary privileges for the purpose of carrying out some socially useful task, with charters that must be reviewed and renewed periodically by state legislatures.”
Corporate personhood is nowhere mentioned or relied upon in Citizens United. The problem is that the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to money in politics from any source and last month eviscerated an Arizona public funding law, the only know remedy.
Once money is out of politics, these aspects of corporate law become minor concerns of economic tinkering at best, unworthy of discussion in the context of the crisis of crises threatening our civilization
Thank you for citing the source and it is an interesting article. Unfortunately, neither the Frank Rich article or the Atlantic Monthly article cite their source for the statistic. One can presume the IMF. According to the GAO, the financial services sector remained relatively flat in the 19-24% range throughout the period.
I was just curious about the statistic and appreciative of your kind reply.
I’m a conservationist and agree with your observations about the destruction from mining and other activities. I’m also very concerned about the chemicals we accept in our food and labels that say 100% Cheese while ingredients include wood cellulose. I also have deep respect for your commitment to conservation and the environment.
But the economic system you seem to be advocating is not something I can support. I am committed to a free society, including the markets, and to capitalism because I believe it is the only system where citizens have the power to force change.
The greed for power by politicians is no less dangerous to the environment than the greed for money shown by financiers.
I will read the Conservationist Manifesto and look forward to understanding your economic views in more detail. Best regards to you and all who commented. Orion is a great publication even in the opinion of this admitted capitalist.
â€œCapitalismâ€ is a major factor in the mess we have created on Earth. The Deification of this â€œsystemâ€ in the minds of many stands in the way of creating a better world for all. When an idea arises that has has no other purpose than the impoverishment of the many for the enrichment of the few, it is time to repudiate it, and come up with something more in line with our higher aspirations.
Every criminal enterprise comes up with some excuses for its deplorable behaviors. â€œCapitalismâ€ is the sickening alibi that the rich and powerful use to cover their shameful depredations. It is unfortunate that so many who are victims of it have bought into this blatant fraud. Wake up folks, you are being had.
#17 Dr Tom — Thanks for the info on debtors anonymous. For many years now I have not owed anyone a single dime, and I intend to keep it that way. Far too many live in debt slavery to the capitalist system. I believe that 12 step programs have tremendous potential to change our lives for the better, if only people will turn to them. Our culture is riddled with addictions, and most people do not have a clue how addicted they are, or what help exists to heal them. I will definitely pass the word on to friends of mine who are deep in debt.
Quite telling, isn’t it, that Mr. Sanders chose to dip through the comments and respond to concerns ideological and statistical. A rare journalist, indeed.
For my part, I read this article and was shocked, almost moment-by-moment, to feel an urgency growing in me that said, like Rilke’s “Torso”: ‘you, YOU must change.’ If this were the solitary piece in our current issue, the magazine would be worth its full weight.
Hope to see some of you at Mt. Greylock!
We all are selfish,we want to survive in the world in any condition.Money is essential for survival.When struggle for living is critical man can destroy forest,start war for power of energy.We want to live forever.Really speaking death is giving meaning to our life.Can we diminish greediness of man?Every man in unique so why some behave selfishly and some unselfishly there is no logic.
I think the sentence I quote below says it all. Whatever you want to quibble with in Sanders’ essay, you cannot deny this. And arguing statistics, etc., with him is merely a way of not facing the overarching problem we need to try to figure out how to fix before we are all the broken victims of a power-insatiable, global financial elite.
“One need not be an economistâ€”as I am notâ€”to see that our economic system is profoundly unjust in its distribution of benefits and damage, that it relies on violence toward people and planet, and that it is eroding the foundations of democracy.”
You got it Catherine, you seized on the essence of the essay! The rest is just fleshing it out. When enough of us wake up to the fact that the SuperRich are screwing the rest of us, and destroying our world, then we can figure out how we are going to stop them. Does that sound like a revolution? I sure hope so. But how to do it without the usual sorry results is our ultimate problem. The fate of our world hangs on finding the right answer to this koan.
I do have some tentative answers to how this change might be carried off with a minimum of collateral damage and unintended side effects, but it all depends on shaking people out of their sleep, so that they can confront the disaster that is already engulfing us. That first step is crucial to anything constructive that might ensue. Hence the value of the town criers who are trying to alert people to the imminent collapse of all that is worthwhile in our world. No need to recite their names, they are many. Derrick Jensen is one appearing in the pages of Orion. His detractors are mostly those who are clinging to their pleasant dreams, and resent anyone shaking them awake. Sanderâ€™s critics have a similar motivation.
Thanks, mike k. You’re right about people living in their little bubbles. Lots of people have joined the ranks of the relentlessly cheerful and they don’t want to hear anything that upsets them. I think some prefer to be lied to.
Sanders speaks the truth, and people need to wake up. Simple living, complex thinking is my motto.
Nice motto, Catherine. Donâ€™t know if you have seen Barbara Ehrenreichâ€™s book â€˜Bright Sidedâ€™. It is a penetrating history and critique of positive thinking and its severe downsides. I think some of these smiley salespeople need a good dose of Voltaireâ€™s â€˜Candide’. To pretend everything is OK when it is not, is a dangerous form of lying to oneself, others, and the Truth.
Although many of us agree that Scott has written a very cogent (I love that word, don’t you?) article, here we (the choir) are again talking to each other about it. I suggest we each take what we feel is best about the article, and use that information as a starting point to write a LTE or an OpEd piece for a local or national paper. At the very least, when you’re finished reading this issue of Orion, take a tip from the evangelicals and drop the magazine off in some waiting room somewhere. I do wish that the references would be available. That’s the first thing “nonbelievers” ask for when they question the data presented.
Kudos for Scott’s remarkably well-written and insightful essay! One of his best, and yours as a publication. Please reprint and distribute this piece in broader venues.
As Ned Stuckey-French commented: “I have read and admired Scott Sandersâ€™ work for almost four decades, and this piece is astounding. Perhaps the clearest, most Thoreauvian, most far-reaching piece of American writing since Kingâ€™s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ I will share this piece with others and teach it in my classes.”
I agree wholeheartedly. I too will share it in my environmental studies classes, not to indoctrinate but to engage. More than ever, we need deeper dialogue like this, not just economic debate but also plain-spoken spiritual consideration. Thank you!
Lots of us seem to find the unvarnished truth without all the placating platitudes refreshing. It is this plain truth that could eventually set us free. Nothing else really will.
It is good to pass on this kind of clear, sane writing. If people want footnotes, they’ll need to track down the data and it is there.
Ehrenreich’s book is very good, and I agree wholeheartedly that militant optimism and cheerfulness is dangerous. A considered, cautious optimism is helpful, but willful blindness is mostly what I see around me. My students, alas, are also deaf, or at least many of them.
Very well done article.
My only comment regards the Gates Foundation. Much of their work helping developing countries is decidedly not environmentally sound and is more in line with increasing the scope of resource-depleting industrial capitalism. I suppose Bill Gates and Warren Buffet consider GMO-based industrial agriculture and insecticides beneficial, since they have made their billions in this system based on these types of “solutions”.
Personally, I think it would be better to have a system that did not allow any one person (or corporation) to control so much of the earth’s resources (in the form of money or otherwise), rather than one in which – if they want to be cannonized after their deaths – they determine what is best for us, in the name of charity, based on their limited knowledge but seemingly infinite wealth.
You make an excellent point, Pearl. There is nothing these ubercapitalists want more than to have us regular folks kiss the ring on their hand and praise them for their â€˜great worksâ€™. After they con us out of our money and destroy the environment, they want us to endorse the theft. In the world I dream of, there would be a strict limit on the wealth any one person could accumulate, and it would be a low one.
Mike, you’ll be interested in what I learned through a “what-if” activity in an honors program class I teach. I asked, what if the personal income of an individual per year were limited, say to 500K or 1 million, or whatever. After that, all the money would go back into the common pot.
Now, mind you, none of my students are likely ever to make even close to 500K per year, even in their dreams. Nevertheless, you would have thought I’d suggested we pass a law sentencing everyone to death at age 25. I was shocked. They were actually fiercely angry over a hypothetical. These are bright students and the student body is not particularly conservative. However, they would rather dream of the outlandishly remote possibility of making billions, rather than themselves benefit from a society in which the infrastructure is much improved by caps on transnational billionaire exploitation. Go figure.
Catherine — I am shocked by your studentâ€™s response, but not really surprised. The real religion of America, and the rest of the world, is money. We worship the golden calf. The Dollar is our God. Our goal in life, and our personal value is determined by our success in acquiring and spending money. Money trumps every other value, and pervades our life from cradle to grave. The article we are commenting on dares to question this Holy Cow.
I will always remember the Phil Donahue show where he invited two exponents of voluntary simplicity to share their secrets of how to need less money and stuff. Donahue was completely taken off guard by the unanimous hostility this couple was met with by an audience outraged that they would recommend buying less stuff and reducing their need to struggle to achieve a higher income in order to meet the demands of the â€˜American Way of Lifeâ€™ ! They were accused of being agents of a conspiracy to destroy Capitalism, and by implication â€˜Democracyâ€™.
Never underestimate the depth of mindless conformity and hypnotic acceptance of our cultural mythology by your fellow citizens. This widespread trance serves the ends of our ruling class perfectly, as indeed it was designed to do by them and their supporters. Breaking this spell is an essential problem that must be solved in order for a better world for all to be born.
The idea I was playing with was like a top 100,000 dollar income permitted, and everyone guaranteed a 40,000 d. minimum income whether they â€œworkedâ€ or not. I can only imagine how your students would have reacted to that one!
I made a New Year resolution one year to buy only to meet my needs, not to feed The Want Monster. Of course, the definition of ‘need’ is subjective, but it was a great year which taught me a lot about myself. It also taught me a lot about my friends. Many of them were resistant to even hearing about it and one in particular got quite angry about it. The reason why came out when he said, “I can’t see myself doing it.” The bell rung and the light came on and when I answered him, “I’m not expecting YOU to do it,” the tension over the subject went away. Apparently, to him, it was implied that I expected him to follow suit and was judging him for not doing so. Crazy world…
The current issue of Mother Jones has an excellent series of articles and charts that really spells out who is benefiting and who isn’t in our current, corporate/elite dominated economy & political system. It’s appalling. One thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately is the language the politicos and media use to describe social security/medicare and closing the tax loopholes and tax breaks for, again, the corps. and the rich. Social security is now an “entitlement” program just like food stamps and other forms of welfare. I suppose technically, if you look up the dictionary definition of “entitlement” it fits, but it is only recently, since the war on social security began that it has been called that. And since when is closing tax loopholes actually raising taxes? And I don’t hear anyone, Obama or any Democrat at all, calling anyone out on it. What’s happening (and it happens all the time, unfortunately), is language is being used to subtly change how people think about certain programs and actions so that they associate them negatively. Increase taxes? In this economy? Are you insane? When it’s just closing loopholes for the rich that they’re talking about. Of course, in fact, taxes should be raised on corporations and the wealthy. And many wealthy people actually agree. But most people have a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “raise taxes”. Same thing with entitlements – the word brings the old “welfare queen” image to mind. It is so frustrating!
Todd — We pride ourselves in America as being great individualists. The truth is we are among the most conformist people on the planet. Step even slightly out of line with â€œmainstreamâ€ values and folks will look at you askance.
Susan–the source of my total disappointment with Obama. He doesn’t call any of them out on anything. He needs to put up his dukes once in a while.
Good ‘ol Keith actually brought tears to my eyes, here’s in response to you Susan and thank you Mr. Sanders and Orion for your timing.
Keith Olbermann Issues Blistering Warning To Obama Over Potential Cuts To Social Security And Medicare (VIDEO)
not sure if the link will work:
Thank you Catherine and Susan for comments that shed light on why people who are being victimised by the latest generation of buccaneers continue to support their Republican co-pirates. They identify with them! In the process they see those in the same boat with them as the enemy. And Thank you Scott Sanders for speaking truth to power.
Good link to Olbermann, Tanya. Thank you.
I welcome the continuing discussion provoked by my essay. If weâ€™re going to shift to a peaceful, just, and durable way of life in the United States, weâ€™ll need to engage as many voices, minds, hearts, and hands as we can muster. Nobody has all the answers; in fact, nobody has more than a tiny fraction of the answers.
I agree with Amy Lou Jenkins (#23) that one way of engaging people in caring for Earth and one for another is through offering them contact with nature. This is why the work of land trusts, parks foundations, environmental educators, schoolyard gardeners, and outdoor-oriented parents is so vital. Only by venturing outside the human bubble of buildings, vehicles, electronic media, and (yes) print can we be reminded of where we are, who we are, and how we ought to live.
I agree with J Lang (#35) that we need to share our concerns, critiques, and visions as broadly as possibleâ€”through letters to the editor, as he suggests, or op ed pieces, or any other channel we can find. I can publish my work or deliver it in speeches only where it is welcome. It is certainly not welcome in the commercial media, which are devoted to perpetuating the consumerist trance and the corporatist ideology. Iâ€™m grateful to Orion for offering me a home over the past twenty-five years, and for publishing so many vital voices.
Pearl K (#39) raises important reservations, not only about the specific programs that the Gates Foundations is pursuing in Africa and elsewhere, but about the very concentration of wealth that allows a small number of individuals to decide how vast amounts of public and private resources will be used. Money gives one a claim on the worldâ€™s goodsâ€”human labor, property, natural resources, land, tools, travel, and the like. Is it right for anyone to claim a billion-dollarsâ€™ worth of the world for their own purposes? Is it right for fortunes to be preserved for generations in the form of foundations, which may perpetuate malicious purposes, or may betray benign ones, long after the donors have died?
In #41, Catherine Rainwater tells how her students angrily rejected the idea of placing any limit on the accumulation of money, and in #43 Todd (#43) recounts how his friends felt threatened by his decision to buy only what he needed rather than what he wanted. Both stories suggest how thoroughly the idolatry of money and the ideology of consumerism have permeated our culture.
Thanks to Susan Meeker-Lowry (#46) for pointing us to the important (and disturbing) article in Mother Jones, and for aptly describing the way rhetoric is manipulated to skew our public discourse. Thanks to Tanya vB (#47) for posting the link to the Keith Olbermann critique.
I disagree with RH (#25) when he states that granting legal â€œpersonhoodâ€ to corporations is a minor legal matter. Unlike people and, I would argue, other living species, corporations have no inherent rights; they are not mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights; they have only those rights granted to them through legislation and judicial interpretation. Under the current Supreme Court, every case that pits a giant corporation against individualsâ€”think of the recent Wal-Mart decision, for exampleâ€”has gone in favor of the corporation. Every such decision, including Citizens United, increases the power of corporations to control the government, the judiciary, the media, the marketplace, and the educational system, undermining the power of ordinary citizens and communities to control their own affairs. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree with RH in saying that we need to get money out of politics. Until we do that, our government, at all levels, will be a tool wielded by those with the most money.
Following up on Paul Puckettâ€™s post (#26), Mike K in #27 suggests that we need a more thorough conversation about what we mean by â€œcapitalism.â€ The local entrepreneur who opens a coffee shop, small manufacturing plant, commercial greenhouse, or any other sort of business is a capitalist; he or she invests capital and labor, and has a right to seek a profit. That localized business will be constrained in its behavior by its small scale, its need for good will within the community, and by the relationships its owner has with fellow citizens. But what of multi-billion-dollar international corporations, such as Exxon, Wal-Mart, Citibank, News Corp, General Electric, Con Agra, and the like. What is to assure their good behavior? True, capitalist endeavor has given usâ€”and people around the worldâ€”many boons, from medicines to cell phones to hybrid cars. But capitalism has also given us slavery, whale-hunting, child labor, oil-spills, nuclear power plants, Hummers on the highways, and countless other ills. How do we make the boons possible without suffering the ills? Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, is frequently cited as the patriarch of free market economics; but he also wrote Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he argued that capitalismâ€”and every other human activityâ€”must be constrained by the values of justice, prudence, and beneficence; in the absence of these constraints, he warned, the social order will crumble. Capitalism on a small scale, which addresses real human needs and does so in a manner that respects both people and Earth, can be a powerful force for good. On a gigantic scale, unconstrained by ethics, regard for community, loyalty to nation, or concern for either human or ecological well-being, capitalism can become a scourge. We have seen that recently in the Murdoch empireâ€™s unscrupulous gathering of private information about thousands of innocent people; in BPâ€™s irresponsible drilling practices in the Gulf of Mexico; in Exxonâ€™s lobbying against any efforts to address climate disruption; in Wall Streetâ€™s piratical financial dealings that sent the world economy into deep recession. The list could be greatly extended. Itâ€™s time for people who believe in the virtues of capitalism to say clearly and forcefully what they understand the proper bounds, purposes, and conduct of capitalism to be.
If my words in â€œBreaking the Spell of Moneyâ€ help you say what you wish to say, then feel free to quote them in letters to the editor, print them in newsletters, or pass them on through email (including to the White House, as Patricia Henley suggests in #24). If youâ€™re a teacher, like Jeff Muse (#36), you can raise the issues with your studentsâ€”not to persuade them to share your views, but to get them thinking about what is amiss in our society and how it might be set right.
Thank you very much Scott Sanders, for not only writing an excellent essay, but for being willing to join the comment forum growing out of it. Our over investment in monetary and material wealth has been a source of incredible suffering for billions of beings living on our planet, since the beginnings of human history. How to share the blessings of our world in a fair way still seems to be a distant but essential dream, if we are to continue our existence here. We have already destroyed so much of precious value due to not having solved this basic koan, that the karmic burden we have created weighs heavily on our attempts to build a world of mutual help and celebration. May your efforts, along with so many other awakening beings, contribute to the clarity and energy needed to turn us from the fatal course that is unfolding around us. Make no mistake: this planetary initiation must be successfully resolved if we are to continue. No Deus Ex Machina scientific, political, or extraterrestrial is going to save us from this test of our fitness to go
on. If we continue to fail this one, we are finished. There is no way to fake our way through this one.
A reasonable discussion of many issues would result in the realization that there are more areas of agreement than disagreement. I am deeply appreciative of your participation in the discussion of your thought-provoking article.
I agree with your observations about the value of small capitalism. How do we get the boons without the dregs?
I believe we should apply the same logic to government. The growth in the size of the Federal Government preceded the rise, and was the cause, of the multinational corporation. Business grew with the active encouragement of the Federal Government.
Shrinking the size of the Federal Gov’t would reduce the need for mega-corporations which currently lobby in DC far removed from local citizens. The rise of the Federal Gov’t weakens the power of any individual citizen’s vote and influence.
Force a megacorporation to lobby fifty state governments and they will break-up, over time, as the advantage of size will be lessened. A local government is more likely to listen to it’s constituents.
That does not mean I object to having a Federal gov’t. There are specific issues which can only be addressed at the National level. But I believe we have lost the checks and balances of an equally powerful State Gov’t. Adam Smith may have pointed out the danger of concentrated power, whether in business or government.
The enemy, if we wish to describe it as such, is concentrated power, not capitalism.
My motto – Think local, act local, buy local.
Mr. Sanders begins his analysis with a logical fallacy: systems of nature deteriorate because of man. Yes, man contributes to change. How much, we don’t know. We can surmise.But we don’t know. We do know that change and motion are inherent in nature; in some epistomological platforms, Nature is change. How one distinguished change from deterioration is definitely a subjective expression.
Change is inherent in Nature and/or the Universe. Motion and energy are the core of Einstein’s world, our world at present, until we know more. At what point is change deterioration. A subjective view,Mr. Sanders. One that justifies mass taxation of husbanded resources to spread upon those who to date have proved incapable of generation of their own bounty. Nature is amoral, and man is part of nature. Morality may make you feel better; it is not absolute truth.
Regarding Stephen Feldman’s comment,”systems of nature deteriorate because of man. Yes, man contributes to change. How much, we donâ€™t know. We can surmise.”
We can and have done much more than merely “surmise.” Take a look through a few issues of Science News, New Scientist, etc., where you will see just how many different parts of the scientific community have gone so far beyond merely “surmising” about the deleterious effects of industrial development since the late 18th century. You cannot simply ignore or dismiss factual evidence. Sure, there are lots of things we don’t know yet, but that doesn’t afford us the luxury of assuming that just because we humans are part of nature, that whatever we do is fine. Moreover, the argument that nature is amoral is not a good argument for why we (as entities capable of making such observations) should accept amorality and immorality in ourselves.
It is worth continuing the dialogue joined by Scott Russell Sanders in #50, which is appended below for convenience.
I disagree with none of this rejoinder, which suggests that the point made in #24 was misunderstood. Otherwise the rejoinder could not be considered a basis for disagreement.
There is no question that the Supreme Court majority – the Roberts 5 – never saw a big corporate litigant it doesn’t like, which is part of a broader problem that the Roberts 5 never saw a powerful litigant it doesn’t like.
To fashion a solution it is imperative to understand the problem.
The problem is not technical legal doctrines that might go under the rubric “corporate personhood.” The Court is not driven by any legal doctrine whatsoever. They juggle and distort whatever doctrines and precedents are handy to reach the results they desire. They are driven by an ideology most succinctly described as plutocracy. Rule of law has nothing to do with it. That is why it is simply erroneous to focus on a single legal doctrine like corporate personhood. People could work hard using valuable political capital to change this doctrine and the change would simply be grist for their plutocratic mill that grinds up doctrine and precedent and spits out the same result every time: plutocrats win. Tweaking corporate law would not change the power of money in politics. An excellent example, fully developed by the dissent, is the most recent appalling decision by the Roberts 5 eviscerating Arizona’s model public funding law. http://www.opednews.com/articles/Roberts-5-strike-another-b-by-Larry-Kachimba-110627-821.html
A subtext of this “misjoined” argument is occasioned by the PR strategy of a number of advocacy organizations. They have, for their own reasons of publicity, misrepresented the actual ruling of Citizens United as establishing some corollary to the unimportant technical doctrine of “corporate personhood.”
The Roberts 5 never mentioned corporate personhood in Citizens United. Nor did it rely on this concept for its ruling that the people, acting through their elected representatives, have no power to limit the amount of paid electioneering advertisements they hear in the interest of enhanding the integrity of elections and the influence of their vote. Rather the Court claimed such a restriction would infringe the constitutional rights of the viewers/voters not to have their sources of paid political information censored – although no such person showed up in court to claim such an absurd right.
Though none of your rejoinder below is counterfactual, it does reveal that you believe that the doctrine of corporate personhood is implicated in the Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, and other similar decisions. Many people have been misled in this way with the unfortunate result of misjudging the necessary remedy. The remedy is to use Congress’ power under the Esceptions Clause (Art III, Sec 2, Cl 2 Sentence 2 of the Constitution) to limit the Supreme Court’s authority to intervene in elections under its money is speech meme. That is a discussion for another time, but if you are interested in pursuing this subject you may visit: http://moneyouttapolitics.org/testing/20_pct_soln_details.html
I disagree with RH (#25) when he states that granting legal â€œpersonhoodâ€ to corporations is a minor legal matter. Unlike people and, I would argue, other living species, corporations have no inherent rights; they are not mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights; they have only those rights granted to them through legislation and judicial interpretation. Under the current Supreme Court, every case that pits a giant corporation against individualsâ€”think of the recent Wal-Mart decision, for exampleâ€”has gone in favor of the corporation. Every such decision, including Citizens United, increases the power of corporations to control the government, the judiciary, the media, the marketplace, and the educational system, undermining the power of ordinary citizens and communities to control their own affairs.
#53 & #54 Stephen Feldman — Your comments seem to echo the shallow arguments founded on misconceptions regarding the meaning of the philosophy of materialism. It is important to realize that this ancient philosophy is just one take on the meaning of existence, not some kind of fact, or unquestionable reality. To label an idea as subjective is often a rhetorical devise employed to discredit ideas one disagrees with. All human knowledge is in some sense subjective, in that it is generated or processed by the human mind. This includes so called scientific knowledge.
To dignify the recipes for robbing the many to enrich the few by calling them inevitable, scientific, value neutral, is to pretend that they are other than stratagems created by a gang of thieves to cover their operations. It is almost as ludicrous as to claim that capitalism is justified due to its legal status, when the truth is that the laws are written by those who seek to profit from them.
We living, breathing, hurting, aspiring human beings are tired of being told that we must submit to gross abuses because they are somehow scientific, legal, and value free. We are working to free our minds from these shallow lies, so that we may create a world based on humane and loving values.
When one refers to capitalism, it generally refers to the free wheeling license to steal system that is actually practiced, not some ideal system that in fact exists nowhere on our planet. Capitalism as it is being practiced inevitably results in the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. The healthy modification of capitalism that you refer to would perhaps be better defined as socialism, or better by some term yet to be invented. It would have little resemblance to todayâ€™s capitalism, and would be roundly attacked and disavowed by the adherents of capitalism as we have come to know it. Those folks have gone to great lengths to demonize any system interfering with what they see as their divine rights.
RH — You make telling points in your comments. â€œThey are driven by an ideology most succinctly described as plutocracy. Rule of law has nothing to do with it.â€ The Supreme Court Justices are scoundrels. They are the fancy legal figureheads of a Global Mafia that dominates the United States. When I learned that several of these frauds attended the functions put on by the Koch brothers to get together with their wealthy co-conspirators, I was only surprised that they were so blatantly open in doing so. Is it really any wonder that the stated goal of this vast enterprise is to achieve â€œfull spectrum dominanceâ€ of our whole world? The comic books of my childhood warned of these folks and their insane agenda. Because of their skill in the use of secrecy and propaganda, most of our population is sound asleep to their evil machinations. â€œEvilâ€ sound a little strong to you? I would ask you only to consider the destruction of the society of Iraq, including wide spread torture, death squads, intentional poisoning of their environment with depleted uranium, etc. ad nauseam. These people will stop at nothing to realize their unholy vision of world domination. Who is going to stop them?
If you thought my last post was way too far out, check this out:
The Burning Man community has been experimenting for over 20 years with suspending commerce at our events to get back in touch with other human values. There are now regional communities and regional events all over the world breaking the spell of money faster than you think.
Mr. Sanders…thanks for this piece and your contributions to the discussion.
How do you break the spell of money? For instance, how does one break the spell of anything? You don’t break it. It breaks itself, inevitably.
Before our very eyes, I think, we are witnessing the simultaneous destruction of both the international monetary structure and the health of the global ecology. It really is a race to the bottom, as I see it. Currently, I’d say the global ecology is lagging behind and the gap is increasing. That is fair. It is way past time that the masters of the universe feel for their creation the trepidation and grief that others have long felt for God’s. To them, I ask: Soâ€¦how does it taste boys?
We will ride one or the other, or both, to the point of complete failure. Of that I have no doubt at all. My only hope is that weâ€™ll still have a salvageable planet to live on when the dust settles. Exceedingly low expectation on my part? Well, maybe, but my study of history leaves me with no other.
Wade — Predicting the exact timing and nature of the abysmal bottom we are headed for is an uncertain affair, but I agree with you, it is coming. Reminds me of a song in the movie Words of My Perfect Teacher — â€œGoing Down a Dead End Street at 90 Miles an Hour.â€ The only way the mountain of bad karma we have created is going to be paid for is unfortunately by a horrendous disaster on a global scale. Like you, I hope there is enough left, and sufficient sanity for us to rebuild our human world on a different basis. Maybe we should try mutual caring and sharing rather than the feverish pursuit of egos for dominance?
Bad karma Mike, riding a pale horse named “The Great Unwinding.” After all, debt is nothing more than a marker on future obligations. When those obligations have no…zero %…chance of ever being honored, the reset button is all that is left. The Passion Play of the U.S. debt ceiling negotiations that is currently running in D.C. is either the actual event, or just a dress rehearsal for the real belly drop. An avoidance of immediate default by the U.S. this time around is not going to be of much consequence, as well as every other time hereafter when we manage to push the inevitable off a tad longer. I view the passing of the revolving credit age somewhat wistfully, but with a philosophical point of view that has taken me many years of discipline to acquire. Still, I won’t kid myself: It is going to scare the crap out of everyone, and bad juju is in the offing. But…it has to come.
I am myself working on a book of the same subject you have written about. It makes me happy to see others aware of and concerned with the same issues.
What it all boils down to is sustainability. Moral arguments appeal to some – but the bottom line is the ultimate decider – and the fact is current capitalism is self-destructive and unsustainable in multiple ways.
I would highly suggest you read After Capitalism by David Schweickart – it provides a viable alternative to our current system – a good modern example of which is Mondragon in Spain.
The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider is another good book that gives idea about using the workable beneficial parts of capitalism to create better systems.
Griffmaster — You wrote: â€œWhat it all boils down to is sustainability. Moral arguments appeal to some – but the bottom line is the ultimate deciderâ€¦.â€
I am not sure what you meant by this, but my own sense is that our moral, ethical, and spiritual development is key to founding a new world that serves all its beings better. There is no value free economics. The decisions we make in devising mechanisms to justly share the things of this world are largely determined by our inner values. â€œMoral argumentsâ€ will never lead to the deep changes of heart and consciousness needed for a better world. The paths of spiritual growth already in existence offer the only viable long range solutions to our numerous dilemmas. Technical and political solutions will always fail unless enacted by those motivated by truth and mutual caring.
I think what Griffmaster means is that we will argue for eternity over moral points, but one day we will all be forced to deal with the same, or pretty much the same, actual living conditions.
The Global Financial Elite will be able to move about with all their floating capital and e-commerce, so they will be the best off. No longer does the despot have to live behind a wall in the midst of the exploited.
No…I don’t agree that it is a morality issue, not unless you believe that the laws of thermodynamics are inherently moral. I’d describe it more as a question of wisdom, or not. Wise ways, or unwise choices, them’s your options as I see it.
Money in all forms is merely a facilitator of natural resource allocation. (Really…look up where the slang “buck” came from…although it might be apocryphal: One male deer=one American dollar) Credit is no more than a way of transporting a present claim on resources forward in time. At the end of the day, you must have enough resources available to cover all your claims against them. When any monetary system in the past failed to do that, it was softened by the realization that SOMEBODY, somewhere, had the resources to cover the shortfall…they just weren’t in the hands of the debtor in question, but might could be if he/they/it had enough capital to acquire it. What is dawning now is a new global paradigm, especially in the field of energy resources. Global depletion of [insert crucial commodity resource here]is rewriting the rules. Increasingly, when the rent comes due, NOBODY has got the jack to meet the bill or acquire the equivalent resources. Disappointing, that.
So maybe the will to live within your means is a moral paradigm after all, but the impetus to get there is most often imposed merely by what a law professor of mine used to describe as, â€œThe nasty now-and-now.â€ The law of entropy is stone cold.
Talk about the spell of money. Eden Wood, a six year old beauty queen, announced today her retirement from the toddler pageant scene. Ms. Wood will remain busy, however, managing her brand, which includes action figures, bedroom furniture, while also promoting the release of her recently published memoir. The book can be purchased from her website. She also plans to perform at various Midwestern malls polishing her musical and dancing skills. After reading about her “retirement,” I’m convinced that breaking the spell of money early is critically
important. Money should not be a tool of enchantment for our children.
I share Paul Puckettâ€™s misgivings (#52) about the concentration of power, whether in government or business orâ€”I would addâ€”in the military. You may have noticed that in the midst of loud claims from Congress about the need for fiscal restraint, both parties overwhelmingly voted for a significant increase in appropriations for the military, including funding for weapons systems that the Pentagon and the White House have declared to be unnecessary. The reason for this bipartisan zeal is simple: there are military contractors in every Congressional district, and not by accident. Depending on how you do the math, about half of discretionary spending (distinct from Social Security and Medicare payments) goes to the military, including the cost of veteransâ€™ benefits, interest on debts incurred from previous wars, weapons labs and nuclear research housed in the Department of Energy, and various other sectors of the budget. The Friends Committee on National Legislation estimates that the U.S. also accounts for roughly half of the worldâ€™s military expenditures. Any politician who talks about fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice, while voting to increase this obscenely bloated military spending is a charlatan.
I also agree with Mr. Puckett that certain powers controlled by the federal government would more properly be exercised at the state and local levels. He acknowledges that some matters are properly national; I would suggest the following: defense of civil rights, reproductive rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, environmental protection, work and safety standards, among others. Without federal intervention, much of the Southâ€”where I was bornâ€”would still be segregated, and Jim Crow laws would still be in place.
To Stephen Feldman (#53 & 54), I would reply that, while everything in nature changes, humans bear a responsibility for the changes that we cause, accelerate, or amplify. As Catherine Rainwater points out in #55, some of those human-caused changes are destructive: polluting a river, draining a wetland to build a parking lot, clear-cutting a forest to make newsprint for advertisements, driving a species to extinction (through over-fishing, for example, or through habitat destruction). Likewise, some human-caused changes are benign: cleaning up rivers, restoring wetlands, replanting forests, recovering an endangered species. When Mr. Feldman declares that â€œNature is amoral, and man is part of nature,â€ he implies that humans, too, are amoral. Certainly many humans behave that way. But humans are clearly capable of making decisions, and acting, in light of ethical codes. If we didnâ€™t believe that, we wouldnâ€™t have laws against murder, rape, theft, arson, fraud, and a host of other behaviors.
I appreciate RHâ€™s clarification in #56 about why he considers the notion of â€œcorporate personhoodâ€ to be irrelevant to the Supreme Courtâ€™s recent decisions on behalf of corporations and the wielders of the largest amounts of money. The only consistent principle applied by what RH calls the â€œRoberts 5â€ is to protect the power of the wealthy to maintain and increase their wealth.
In #60, mike K usefully points readers to a site affiliated with 350.org that summarizes the degree to which the U.S. Chamber of Commerceâ€”the largest single channel of corporate money into the political systemâ€”has stalled meaningful response to climate disruption, dismissed science, thwarted healthcare reform, and generally subverted democracy. As the site points out, the U.S. Chamber represents only a small percentage of businesses, mainly gigantic corporations. Wherever you live, you might consider calling or writing your local chamber of commerce and asking them where they stand in relation to the positions taken by the U.S. chamber. If you get no response, write a letter to your newspaper (if your town still has a newspaper) and challenge the local chamber to answer.
Iâ€™m glad to hear what Zay (#61) reports about the Burning Man community excluding commerce from their gatherings.
Plowboy and mike K both foresee a dramatic breakdown of our current global industrial-financial-military system. Certainly a significant fraction of humankind is already suffering the effects of economic imperialism, warfare over natural resources, environmental degradation, overpopulation, political tyranny, and other ills. While recognizing these current calamities, and expecting worse to come, I urge us all to work as hard as we can, wherever we are, with all the skills and leverage we possess, to create a more just and peaceful and sustainable new society.
As mike K points out in #67, values are at the heart of any meaningful critique of our current social order, and any vision of a preferable order. Griffmaster (in #65) and Zay (in #66) suggest readings that may help point the way. I would add two more books: Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael Nelson, and Alan Weismanâ€™s Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World. Other readers will have books, magazines, films, and websites to recommend. The resources I find most valuable are those that combine attention to ethics, practice, and vision. What sort of world do we want? What makes that a desirable world? And how do we get there?
Scott Sanders — Thanks for your continuing insightful comments. I am 100% with you in all you have written. And I have no intention to cease in my efforts towards a better world for all, despite the very dire outlook. Analysis and criticism are only a necessary first step in a new direction. Without that scrutiny of ourselves and our culture, nothing deeply meaningful can be undertaken. As a result of this thorough self examination we should be inspired and energized for further steps to deal with the problems we have uncovered, not disheartened and de-energized. Knowing clearly all that has gone wrong, we can set out to intelligently correct course, and avoid the errors of the past.
Thanks to #59 mike k on Jul 13, 2011 for the quote. I take your question â€œEvilâ€ sound a little strong to you? as not rhetorical. My answer would be no, but use of that word usually calls for a definition. The system designed to impose non-consensual hierarchical power over others to exploit them for self-enrichment can be described as evil, as judged by its fruits. The Roberts 5 are serving this this system, so I would not necessarily find to too strong to call them evil. Their service to plutocracy entails abandonment and dishonoring two values that our culture respects: democracy and rule of law.
I wrote about this matter on the site in order to deal with a problem we have in developing a strategy to deal with this evil. Two erroneous memes have become current that has persuaded many that a solution must be sought under the street light where it is easy to peddle erroneous soundbites rather in the darkness where the solution can be found. One meme is the one I have discussed here at #24 and # 56, corporate personhood, which is a complete red herring. The other is that a constitutional amendment is required to turn around the influence of money on our politics which has created a rot that has oozed out that corrupt system to infect all other aspects of our culture.
There actually is a solution to this problem that everyone concerned on this site may pursue. In brief the strategy for all of us concerned about the corruption and loss of democracy to pledge our next two votes to address the single issue of money in politics, to force Congress to enact legislation that will get the Roberts 5 out of elections and money out of politics. This is achievable under our Constitution, and the reason it has not already been used can be laid at the door of well meaning people who fail to take action.
If you are inclined to start to remedy that problem you can do so right now. You can pledge your vote at
Then encourage others to do the same.
And in other news of the fall, my county remains poised on the cusp of the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of this country. (Move over Orange County)BTW, coming to a city near you!
Thanks for the heads up Wade. The (economic) weather is a-changing, and storms of debt defaults will be impacting all of our neighborhoods soon (stronger than the ones that have already hit. We always think it will be somebody else that will be hit. When Western Civilization really gets into coming apart, nobody is going to be exempt from the disaster.
RH — Unfortunately the corrupt servitude to the plutocracy extends far beyond the Supreme Court into every nook and cranny of our society, and indeed is lodged deeply in the hearts and psyches of our fellow citizens, not excluding ourselves. The love of money has come to trump every other value. Rooting this virus out and destroying it is the real work ahead of those who would live in a better, more spiritually centered world.
All the voting and tinkering with the System will not effect the radical inner change that alone will address our escalating problems. The System is so irredeemably corrupt that trying to change it from within or by conventional maneuvers from without is only a waste of precious time and energy. None of the usual ideas proposed goes to the root of the problem: humans living on the basis of selfishness and all the forms of mutual violence this gives rise to. Of course the System is at great pains to convince us that this flawed basis of living is natural, inevitable, and unchangeable; that spiritual solutions are unworkable and unrealistic. People are so saturated with this propaganda that they have not only lost faith in spirituality, they have forgotten what real spirituality is, being so absorbed in phony â€œmainstreamâ€ religions and other substitutes for the truth. It is hard for me or anyone to even use the word spiritual in conversation due to peopleâ€™s total incomprehension as to what that might be. Nevertheless, that avenue represents the only real way that this world might save itself. Discovering what real spirituality is remains the essential first step towards using its power to deliver us from the nightmare world that we have co-created.
Mike K, while I agree with what you say, about the corrupt system and spirituality (and have said similar things myself many times over the years, including here at Orion), it’s hard to know where to go with that given the extreme necessity for change to happen sooner rather than later. Sometimes I think that if only “enough” people changed the way they see and participate in the world, and somehow we all got together – not in the same physical space but rather on the level of consciousness – we could somehow “zap”, meditate, pray, or whatever, change into being. That’s how desperate I am for change and how frustrated at years of speaking and writing the same things and ideas and concepts over and over. The fact that there are many wonderful models, community projects, economic alternatives, and truely “green” ways of living (including small businesses), has not escaped me and I applaud it. I count what I’ve done over the years, and even now, in with these positives. Still, things get worse and if possible, I feel even more marginalized than ever. Which world is real? The one in which I grow, harvest, and make herbal products, publish a journal with very limited distribution; the one in which my friends and family do their best to support local iniatives, farmers, etc. the one in which all this is supposed to make a difference? Or the one controlled by corrupt, elite, greedy, ignorant fools? Obviously they both are but which will rule the day? That’s obvious too. What I want to know is how we can really change this, soon enough that there’s still some life and vibrancy and resilience in the Earth, still some way we can remember the magic and the ways of living within it.
Susan — Its really good to hear from you. I value your sincere sharing of what must be in many of our hearts. â€œWhat I want to know is how we can really change this, soon enough that thereâ€™s still some life and vibrancy and resilience in the Earth, still some way we can remember the magic and the ways of living within it.â€
I only wish that your question could vibrate in every soul on this planet. Until â€œenoughâ€ of us have this query burning in our hearts and minds every day, we lack an essential element in our possible delivery from the nightmare being enacted in the world today. (More about what might constitute enough in a subsequent comment.)
How indeed! The truth is we donâ€™t know. Now that simple realization has two sides. It is not a recipe for despair. On one side it means that we can let go of a lot of â€œanswersâ€ that we or others may have proposed that will not really be adequate to get us to the world you and I are dreaming of. Technology, political action within the traditional parameters, religion as usually understood and practiced, blind luck, a great leader/savior, the Space Brothers, etc. are not going to save us. On the other side, our lack of a preconceived answer frees us to creatively explore beyond anything we presume to now know. In my thinking, this is the avenue to real solutions. We can use hints and clues from a wide range of knowledge already acquired in diverse fields, but we are really seeking something new, something we donâ€™t know yet. This viewpoint is stimulating and inviting to our creative enquiry.
Now, I am going to take a breath, before sharing more thoughts along these lines. But let me add that finding the best way to find the answers we are seeking is a crucial step in getting clear in time to avert the worst that is coming. Letâ€™s be clear; some really bad karma is going to bear fruit, whatever we come up with. It would be foolish to look for solutions that totally avoid those necessary consequences of all our previous missteps.
Those who have read some of my previous comments are aware that AA is one of my sources for realistic hopes. The first of the twelve steps basically says that we are in a very serious mess, and that we donâ€™t have a clue how to extricate ourselves. It would probably be impossible for me to give an adequate explanation of what the 12 steps are. But I will only say that they represent a modern condensation of the wisdom of the many spiritual paths or technologies of transformation that have been brought forth in all times and places on earth. If the word â€œspiritualâ€ sets your teeth on edge, or if you think the wisdom of AA is restricted to a bunch of drunks, then what I share in that regard will mean little to you. Just bracket it out, it is not necessary to the heart of what I have to share. (That last is not directed towards you, Susan. I know that you are more open than some who may read this.)
Susan — To further reply to your heartfelt comments, such as:
â€œSometimes I think that if only â€œenoughâ€ people changed the way they see and participate in the world, and somehow we all got together – not in the same physical space but rather on the level of consciousness – we could somehow â€œzapâ€, meditate, pray, or whatever, change into being.â€
Amazingly, there is just such a way: the Maharishi Effect, named after the promulgator of transcendental meditation Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This proven method of creating positive changes in a large non-meditating surrounding population by a relatively small group of people meditating in a certain way has been validated again and again by the most rigorous independent blinded studies over the last thirty some years. You can google the maharishi effect to learn about it.
If you say in your mind that critics have questioned this evidence, let me remind you that global climate change due to increasing levels of CO2 is also questioned, as are the most sacred bases of physics, such as the law of the conservation of mass and energy, and the speed of light as the top possible speed in our universe. Do not be dissuaded by these critical voices from looking at the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of the reality of this fascinating field effect, that may hold one key to transforming our world. This is not a theory, but a repeatedly demonstrated fact.
How many people need to gather and meditate together to produce this effect? It turns out, by actual experiments, that number is the square root of one percent of the larger surrounding population to be influenced. To affect the population of the United States that would be about two thousand meditators.
Mike K., yes, I’m familiar with the Maharishi Effect. Many years ago, while doing some wonderful acid (those were the days), long before I learned of the Maharishi Effect, it came to me that “enough” people could impact everyday reality in that way. 2,000 people doesn’t seem like that many to impact the US. I wonder why it hasn’t been tried. Obviously it will take more than a moment of prayer or silence or whatever at a certain time because there have been numerous efforts like that and no change occurred.
There’s so much more to reality than most people allow, and we have way more power, in consciousness, in spirit, than most would allow as well. How to get those 2000 people to learn the practice, I wonder.
Hi Susan. Not all acid trips were without value, as Huston Smith and others have reported. Some of these folks are trying to rehabilitate LSD research from its inappropriately assigned criminal status. As to getting 2000 qualified meditators to permanently maintain those numbers over time, it turns out to be more expensive than you might think. All of these folks need to be present for an hour twice a day at one place, the very large Golden Domes on the campus of Maharishi International University in Fairfield Iowa. Even with lavish contributions from a multimillionaire oil executive friend of mine and other fat cats, it is a problem. They have created a whole city to house and educate 1000 pundits from India to beef up their numbers, but it is still a challenge. My wife and I are proficient in the advanced techniques needed, but it is out of the question for us to leave our farm and take part, for example. You can check out where things are on the MIU website.
I am not putting all my chips on this approach to our problems, as promising as it appears to be. The power of properly designed and organized small groups to awaken and mobilize people to meet the current crisis is also one of my pet projects. I agree with you, Susan, that there is an enormous spiritual power latent within every person that only awaits the right conditions to manifest. Designing and initiating groups with that purpose takes up a good bit of my thinking. Some of my process in envisioning this project is scattered throughout my comments the last couple of years on Orion, many of them responses to Derrick Jensenâ€™s essays. At some point I need to bring this together in the form of a concrete proposal.
Mike K., very interesting indeed! I will check out the website. I’m also very interested in the small group approach you’ve mentioned. When you do put together a proposal, or have more specific info in writing, I’d be very interested to see it. I’ve often wondered about the impact of small group efforts, not so much starting projects in the community group, we all know they can and do have some success on that scale. I’m thinking about the idea of consciousness, paradigm shift, energy type work. Of course where I live in rural Maine it may be difficult, but I’d love to read your thoughts when you have them ready.
Thanks Susan! Yours is the best show of interest so far in this kind of project. You inspire me to get to work on it. But I am not holding my breath; I am inveterately lazy and slow to do prolonged work. Weâ€™ll seeâ€¦.