Grappling with Graeber – Alternatives to “Kamikaze Capitalism” (revised)

Remember what the Dormouse said, “Feed Your Head, Feed Your Head”.

This combines and continues my previous post on anthropologist and activist David Graeber’s essays “Revolutions in Reverse”.

Anthropologist and activist, David Graeber wrote 6 essays between 2004 and 2010 and they are now compiled under the title “Revolutions in Reverse”.  We here in the United States have been told there is no alternative to markets and capitalism, but in these essays he comes up with some observations about how to go about re-imagining lives that have meaning and purpose. His idea of freedom lies somewhere in the region between Somalia and Pandora.  He was there at the beginning of Occupy Wall Street and his ideas have taken root in many Occupies.  What follows are some of those ideas that beat new neural paths in my brain and repaved some old ones.

In the UK, Thatcher embraced the Milton Friedman version of neo-liberalism (basically remodeled feudalism) as the only viable social governing system.  Here American presidents from Carter on declared that there was no alternative to Friedman Rubinomics.  But there are alternatives and they are out there but Graeber says we have been trained not to see them.

There are alternatives , but first we must free ourselves from the boxes of the mind that we have been shoved into by using our imaginations to think of possibilities outside those boxes. Quite literally, of course, most Americans actually work in small boxes called cubicles and aspire to larger boxes with a door and windows called offices.  (Other boxes include “voting booths, television screens, and hospitals.” “They are the very machinery of alienation”).   Yes, it is always ultimately about freedom.  And not the freedom of choice that neo-liberalism has foisted on us.  Too many choices “in the absence of any larger moral structures through which to make them meaningful” just makes us nuts.  These choices are meaningless.  Our lives then seem meaningless.  And that makes us angry and drives us literally crazy.  Continue reading

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The 99% and The Two Americas

(Cross posted at http://www.correntwire.com

Chris Cillizza wrote a piece on October 17 in The Washington Post called “What John Edwards Can Teach Barack Obama”
Cillizza compares the message of the “Two Americas” to “We are the 99%” i.e. that there is one America for the privileged with their lobbyists and influence and another America for the rest of us. He suggests that Barack Obama take a look at this Edwards’ theme. He also admits that Obama is not a natural populist and so donning this message might indeed turn out to be an ill fitting suit making the wearer look a bit comical.

If I tell you where the idea of “Two Americas” comes from, you will see why it’s not a good fit for the current president. The Two Americas phrase itself was coined by an Edwards’ staffer Christina Reynolds. But its roots lay in a deep held belief of the senator that something had gone terribly wrong.

In 2003 I decided it was time for me to scout around and read up on the possible Democratic candidates. I stumbled on a speech by an obscure North Carolina senator and a phrase lept out at me. I had one of those “Oh my God” moments. Here was a phrase and an idea that made sense of everything that had gone wrong since the beginnings of Friedman/Reagonomics that had morphed into Rubin/Clintonomics. The phrase was “we must honor work over wealth”.

Barrett Keizer said, in his brilliant 2006 February essay for Harper’s called “Crap Shoot: Everyone Loses When Politics is a Game”:

“The player, the wise guy, prides himself on his cleverness, but he always perishes from being less clever than he thinks. He perishes because he only knows the relentless, mindless momentum of the game; he knows nothing of the sanctifying rhythms of work and rest.”

“Sanctity”. Wow, that reminds me that Jesus was blue collar. He was a carpenter. God too worked his butt off and then rested. Those are the natural rhythms of the earth; to work and then to rest and play.

Edwards was attempting to redeem the word “work” that Reagonomics had succeeded in replacing with the so-called virtue of “ownership”. Reagan pushed the idea that you weren’t really a player unless you owned shares in America and owned property. Being a “shareholder” was preferable to be called a “worker”.

But, no, the world belongs to people who love work and not to the players in the casinos with their rigged games. It’s long past time for work to take again its dominant place over wealth. “Attention must be paid”, said Linda Loman of her salesman husband Willy. Dignity, respect, justice begins when a person is rewarded for a good day’s work and is honored for it.

Freedom demands shared responsibility that can only be achieved when all work is given dignity and all brothers and sisters are respected. It doesn’t mean we all get yachts. But it does mean that we all get boats. Right now it is clear to the young people that all they’ve got is the instruction manual on “How to Swim” while the Fat Cats speed around them churning up the waves.

The occupiers around the world are finding virtue and truth in the phrase that “many hands make light work”. They are discovering the joy of working together in their assemblies and “work” groups. And they are discovering the joy of playing and jamming after some marching and sweating. They are redefining what is valuable.

Promises have been broken and Liberty has been stolen. Fearful and hollow men seek to exclude and not include. So, it’s time to “kindly” ask those who would serve up liberty without fraternity or equality to step to the back of the bus. Our time is now.

The French got it right in their cry of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity“. “Cut to the Revolution.”

What Do They Want?

Occupy wall street

Is it about what they want? Or something else?I read a statement years ago that the 20th Century was the century of Freud. And with any luck, the 21st Century would be the century of Jung. Not sure who said it but it really resonated with me. My take on Jung was that he emphasized the idea that we are all a part of a whole, with each of us having individual gifts contributing to that whole. When we look at another, we see ourselves. In the BBC documentary “The Century of the Self”, Adam Curtis explores the use of Freud’s theories to direct people away from a communal way of thinking and into rampant mirror-gazing.

The premise of the film is that the birth of propaganda/public relations/marketing began with Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays when he was hired by the Wilson administration to sell the idea of “making the world safe for democracy”. Unfortunately, that meant becoming involved in the hideous carnage called World War I and forcing your neighbors to buy War Bonds or be put in jail. After the war, he was asked by the tobacco industry to use his PR skills to figure out how to sell cigarettes to women. He branded cigarettes “torches of freedom” that would challenge male power simply by lighting up. From then on, advertising would no longer speak to people’s needs, but to their inner desires and yearnings. And freedom would now be defined as freedom of choice.

And so the transformation of the American citizen into the American consumer began in earnest. Americans were sold that they needed clothes that showed their individuality and made them sexy. Men were sold that the kind of car they drove showed who they were; powerful and, yes, sexy. The kind of soap you bought made you happier and more admired.

What we are witnessing in Zuccotti/Liberty Park with the #Occupy Wall Street could be the great turning away from the century of “me” to the century of “we”.
At least it has opened up the discussion of what we really need rather than what we want. The greatest need right now seems to have our voices heard and a need to take back the meaning of words like “public” and “cooperative” and “social”. It is a pushback against all the punditry that insist on a label, logo, banner, slogan, brand, buzzword, sound bite, pitch or demand.

No, we will no longer be defined as consumers. We will no longer be cogs in your machine. We are free men and women. We do not define freedom as the right to choose between 100 brands of cereal. Our definition of freedom is freedom from domination by corporations and their agendas. Our definition of freedom is not to be subservient to the 1%. We are taking back our humanity. We are taking back our public spaces and our commons. We are a community; a community of concerns. We care about each other and the planet we inhabit. There is no expiration date on what is happening around the world and at last in the United States.

No, it’s not about what we want, but about what we need.

Big Fish and Little Fish

by shemayaza_born on photobucket

Big Fish eat little fish.  That’s how it works. You hear all the time that our corporate taxes are the highest in the world.  Sure, but most U.S. corps don’t pay it.  83 out of the top 100 companies paid zero taxes between 1999 and 2005. (IRS study).  Zero.   Companies like Exxon, GE, Carnival Cruise Line, Verizon use various loopholes to get out of paying any taxes.  In the 1950s, corporations contributed about 30% of all federal revenue.  Now it is down to 6%.  So what happens?  The tax burden is shifted to the rest of us small fry in the form of sin taxes, property taxes, and all kinds of licenses and fees that small business fish have to pay.   And then the big fish wait until the small fish are gasping for air and then they gobble up their business. Continue reading

Will Madison Be Our Cairo?

You won’t find it on its front page section “Protests for Democracy”, but CNN is reporting that 15 more school districts will close today [#104] as teachers make their way to Madison, WI to join the protest against Gov. Walker’s anti union bill. Wisconsin teachers call in sick

At least 15 school systems in Wisconsin canceled Thursday’s classes because teachers and other public employees will continue protests at the state Capitol over a bill that would strip them of most of their collective bargaining rights and increase their contributions for benefits.

From MSNBC we get a report noting some Green Bay Packers weighing in: Madison protests

“As a publicly owned team we wouldn’t have been able to win the Super Bowl without the support of our fans,” reads a statement signed by seven current and former players. “It is the same dedication of our public workers every day that makes Wisconsin run. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. But now in an unprecedented political attack Governor Walker is trying to take away their right to have a voice and bargain at work.”

I heard a trucker on a show on Sirius Left radio say he was disconnecting his trailer and taking his cab and driving from Kentucky to Madison to join the protests over union busting.

Will Madison be our Cairo?