Posts Tagged 'American Dream'

A Pacifier Nation and Governance by Chaos – or – How To Destroy a Social Contract.

This is the first installment of several on the American Social Contract.

Here is a perfect example of the kind of mentality we are dealing with. This is a quotation from Donald Rumsfeld justifying war in Iraq:

Donald Rumsfeld famously argued with regard to the WMD question in Iraq, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” 

How many times does it have to be said? How much more clearly can it be articulated? But, I’ll  say it once again, this centuries old accumulated wisdom …. – The greatest human problem, the most destructive and most powerful force in the human experiential universe is greed with fear running a close second!  It is fear that is most often exploited by demagogues claiming to speak for the voiceless masses expressing their fears, their anger, and without fail, their prejudices against perceived “enemies” such as all those immigrants “stealing” their good jobs. It would no doubt be sold as “America First”.  … in 1938, a New York Times reporter warned: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labelled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism’.” No mention will be made, of course, that those stolen good jobs were actually shipped to countries where wages are low and benefits non-existent. No discussion will ensue about how all of this belies the fact that a once believed in social contract has been dismantled and effectively destroyed. The so-called American Dream has fast become the American Nightmare.

What exactly is a Social Contract and how does a society acquire one? All societies including totalitarian states have a social contract both explicit and implicit, written and unwritten, enforced and unenforced. Social contracts cover anything and everything from attire, to diet, to religious practice, to driving on a particular side of the road. In some societies the origins of their contract provisions are lost in time having evolved without record but are manifest in the present.

The social standing of women, castes, races, ethnicities, regional inhabitants are all aspects of social contracts as they occur around the world and within nations. Some are decided by vote others by imposition and carried on by secular or religious tradition or custom. The actors assemble under a variety of banners from Marxism to neoliberalism and always with the same objectives – to limit personal freedom and to delimit individual behavior thus defining a contract.

I have been studying the Social Contract for more 30 years out of an interest that evolved from my teaching a course at Madison titled “Schools and Society”. The motivating question at that time was: Why do societies put so much effort and treasure into teaching the young from kindergarten through university and college? And now, why today, has the United States, a country that has had an enviable system of public education since its founding, why now attack public education from all quarters? I recently saw a Gallup poll that found that more than half of those surveyed were dissatisfied with public schools.

(To be continued.)

The Politics of Insanity

In the “Politics” Aristotle says, “ The mere establishment of a democracy is not the only or principle business of the legislator, or of those who wish to create such a state, for any state, however badly constituted, may last one, two, or three days; a far greater difficulty is the preservation of it.” Today we are confronted with the preservation of American democracy in the face of an ongoing political assault on behalf of oligarchs and assorted religious zealots. Something has gone terribly wrong in a society when elected representatives of the polity are hell-bent on destroying that polity’s social contract on behalf of sociopathic billionaires.

At the end of the film, “King of Hearts” Alan Bates’ character enrolls himself in an insane asylum to escape the madness of war. Where do we go to escape the madness this country is becoming? Whether it’s a U.S. Representative speaking about an imminent attack on US soil by the ISIS group, “Boca Raton”, or a cop in Jackson, Mississippi feeling sufficiently threatened by a 6 year old child to draw his revolver, or the Georgia legislator who introduced legislation to prohibit the mixing of human embryos with jelly fish cells to prevent creating “glow in the dark” children. We are sailing along the shores of insanity. It’s a refrain from a Pink Floyd tune,”… and everyday the paperboy brings more” that comes to mind.

There are large segments of the American population easily manipulated by shameless politicians and propaganda media outlets like Fox to enflame their emotions and anger. Roger Ailes, the Fox News President, goes so far as to say, “The truth is whatever people will believe.” According to a study done last year, 60% of the information Fox viewers receive ranges from mostly false to “pants on fire” lies which rise to the level of propaganda. Insecurity, ignorance, fear, anger, and resentment are thus driven by outright misrepresentation and lies. And this leads to, as one writer put it, a “… mis-recognition of social orders as natural ways of life, rather than political products.” How can a society function in the wake of such an onslaught? Actually, it cannot as people become angrier and ever more resentful.

Resentment is epidemic as politicians play as many segments of society off against one another as they can devise. It is important to understand that people probably wouldn’t agree to being characterized as resentful but this circumstance has historical precedence. Tocqueville, described the build-up to the French revolution as having been a period of relative affluence and “gratified expectations” followed by “a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.” We are seeing the same dynamics now as more and more good paying jobs are shipped overseas resulting in diminished wages even as prices for necessities inexorably rise. A trip to the grocer is a lesson in point. Young people and old are looking for work and middle class families with jobs are living on credit with foreclosure breathing down their necks.The result is fear, uncertainty, acted out as anger ready to be manipulated and focused.

To make matters worse legislatures, at the instigation of their wealthy sponsors, are moving to freeze or lower minimum wage levels as they advance so-called right-to-work laws. In New Mexico where right to work is being considered there is even mockery as a legislator had the unmitigated gall to attach an amendment to the RTW bill raising the state’s minimum wage by 50 cents per hour which, over an eight hour day, amounts to less than the cost of a gallon of milk. Such is the disregard and disdain for working class people and why they are being driven to resentment. Resentment against what or whom they aren’t always sure but, more often than not, against the wrong people. People who post nasty on Facebook against any statement in support of the poor or against the looting of the American social contract are desperately afraid that they are next and, in fact, they probably are next.

Oligarchs behind social destruction are using their money to manufacture popular anger and direct attention away from themselves as they manipulate the legislative process at all levels. Resentment of minorities, the under-class, and intellectuals is frothed into anger the energy of which is directed as we see, in the rise of demonstrations of open bigotry and misogyny across the country. Today people feel free to publicly utter vile comments as, for example, the South Carolina legislator who publicly declared women to be a “lesser cut of meat”. In Arkansas, a Republican Legislator, Don Young, told his colleagues who were debating controlling predator wolves, “I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”

Public education and educators are also under attack. Along with other Republican Governors around the country, Wisconsin’s Walker is cutting budgets for state schools, Oklahoma is eliminating advanced placement classes to replace them with bible studies, and in New Mexico and other states a meaningless and counter-productive third grade retention crusade is underway. A Virginia Congressman believes the country doesn’t need to spend money on education because Socrates “trained Plato on a rock”. It brings to mind the film, “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the crippling of children to make them better beggars. Pity the children.

Pity the country also when people on an anti-social rampage work to abolish the most civilized aspects of society – public education, public welfare, health care, safety standards, any and all things public. A jihad against all things civil. If they are successful, there will no longer be a society nor a viable democratic polity.  As one author succinctly put it, “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”

More is More

ec      When immigrants and refugees from Eastern and Southern Europe immigrated to the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s found work and could provide for a family the education of their children became the first priority. These people knew the value of education from experience and provided it sometimes at great sacrifice. In fact, they demanded it and insured that their children understood its importance. All of these people had felt the inequality imposed by inherited wealth and property. The social capital of the ruling classes in Europe was an intolerable burden for the rest of society to bear and that’s why my grandparents and millions of other American’s grandparents and great-grandparents fled Italy, Poland, Ireland and nearly every other European country. For these immigrants education was liberation, it was freedom, it was dignity, a path to a life as middle-class families. Enormous sacrifices were made to put kids through college and university where they became professionals in medicine, law, education, and science. It was the “New World” indeed. It was the embodiment of the “American Dream”.

Here we are a century and a half later facing a relentless political battle to deny that dream, to denigrate public schools, to destroy the education system that made attaining the dream possible. Empty arguments like third grade retention are employed to mask the real intent of the so-called reformers. Their arguments sound like they know what they are talking about but, in fact, they are  meaningless. They want total control over school budgets to use as carrots on a stick to force compliance with their dictates. The ultimate mission of these foot soldiers for the ultra-wealthy is to destroy and privatize the strongest most important force in a democracy – education. Those being served by these soldiers want social control and there is no better way to achieve that than to determine how the society is educated.  How better to control people as adults than by controlling their childhood education? This is why totalitarian regimes throughout history have always taken control of education from madrasas to universities. To obtain the finished product you desire you have to control the production line from start to finish. You must control to achieve control.

Control and destruction of public education is a large factor in right-wing thinking at all levels. The Kochs “give” money to hundreds of colleges and universities. The Kochs even have their own guy at the University of Kansas who previously worked directly for them who is now Chairman of their endowed, “Center for Applied Economics”. This guy conducts seminars and conferences and publishes “helpful” articles – he’s their boy. The Kochs are also helping him pay his legal bills as he tries to shield himself from disclosure of the extent of their support. Is education important to these people? You bet it is, they want to control it and they would rather you not know the extent of their influence over State legislatures who are deeply influenced (and controlled) by campaign contributions and promises of placement on the national stage. How about a steak dinner and free drinks? Or even better, an all expenses trip to a ALEC seminar for you and your spouse being held at a lovely island resort? Whatever it takes.

If aliens from outer space flew in, took over Washington DC, and began to dismantle government we would be outraged. We would be engaged in a counter revolution within hours. The same is happening except the aliens aren’t from outer space they are home grown, an ideological ISIS in three piece suits. Sadly the threat is being met by the public with passivity because they don’t know what’s at stake. It’s time to wake people up and have them smell the influence and the consequences. The “reformers” are relentless in their quest for “more” of everything including your schools. The motto is: “Only More Is More!”

What’s Next?

What was once American democracy is disappearing. It is being replaced by Authoritarian-Capitalism, a cross between an economic belief system and a trope version of Christianity which is hatching like those creatures emerging out of an astronaut’s body in the film Alien. Recently, in a secret meeting with his billionaire sponsors, a Congressman, Mitch McConnell, promised he will work to undo every Federal social program possible. In Mississippi the Chief Justice of that state’s Supreme Court told an audience the First Amendment of our Constitution applies only to Christians. Malthusian zero-sum Christian-Capitalism is reaching for a transformative end game. What kind of country are these people imagining?

The United States has always been about business and money even before it was a country, well before a “Revolution” that did more for business interests than for the general population, women, and people of color. Every 4th of July we celebrate the efforts of a group of wealthy lawyers and businessmen who created a country where their interests and investments would be protected and their prejudices regarding blacks and natives preserved. People who were not property owners, women, people of color, and aboriginals were explicitly excluded from the contract. This is not the version of US history taught in schools of course but it is the truth and it bears directly on what we are witnessing today, a realization of that foundational vision fueled by loathsome myopic greed enabled by increasingly more severe social control. Strike a fast food franchise for a living wage and you will probably be arrested. Today workers’ wages are at their lowest share of GDP since 1947 while corporate profits are the highest in 40 years.

Today’s  circumstances are the result of an illusory social contract wherein people believe they have some things they don’t – opportunity, freedom, and equality – they have been kept in line with a materialistic false hope of “making it big”. In fact they aren’t going to make it big. They probably aren’t going to make it small either. The game is rigged and in no small measure because people refuse to accept the truth having bought the propaganda that today’s conditions are democracy at work, to complain is un-American, and there is no such thing, says John Boehner, as inequality. When 1% of the population controls nearly 40% of wealth and the remaining population is systematical deprived of any possibility of advancement that is inequality. We are living in a “civilized” country where 13 children have been shot dead for every US casualty in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2012. In 2013, 6.8 million homes in the US lacked sufficient food to feed their families. Well we do have the fastest and most expensive fighter jets like the F-35 that cost $89 million each and, because of flaws, are not yet fully operational. Is this what is meant by American “exceptionalism”?

The ideological skids were greased for todays’ assault on the social contract by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. the Supreme Court Justice nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971. Powell authored the majority opinion in 1st National Bank of Boston vs Belloti which laid the foundation for today’s Citizens United decision establishing corporations as life forms equal to humans. Powell also wrote the infamous “Powell Manifesto” in 1971 for the US Chamber of Commerce which became the Right’s sacred text in which he described how the “system” must overtake Liberalism and ultimately control society. In the manifesto Powell uses the term “system” to depict those whose political beliefs and financial interests must be protected and promoted, the “Free Enterprise System”. In a 6,084 word document Powell used the word “system” 54 times. There was once another Lewis Powell in US history, during the civil war, he was an assassin.

What a dream – the American Dream, American “exceptionalism”. It’s a narrative that keeps things going. It’s the ultimate fantasy aside from sex and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. You’ll be living in a penthouse with a poor door to insulate you from the slackers who haven’t worked hard enough to “make it”. The US has more than 1.6 million children homeless and the highest rate of child poverty of any major country in the world, we also have more people in jail than nearly any country in the world – that’s certainly “exceptional”, isn’t it? But, really, “folks” the bottom line question is – what’s next?

Crossroads Series: Kneecapping Democracy

A common thread running through today’s perceived social threats has been otherness. Historically otherness is second only to fear as a means to political ascendency. Exploiting fear and otherness has been an instrument of social control for centuries not limited to nations, but  to almost any polity or organization from religious groups to labor unions. Otherness exploits fear and vulnerability in uncertain times. In a most literal sense it creates isolation and disintegration followed by the dissolution of a functional social contract. Shared sense of community is no longer on the map; it becomes an “everyone for themselves” dynamic that opens a community of common interests to exploitation. Whatever was the initial integrating factor(s) becomes lost and replaced by socially destructive forces which ultimately attain influence and domination. Political and social integrity are exchanged for safety or general affluence. Societies which control themselves, are replaced by systems, which are controlled by overseers. In the final analysis this story has always been about the underlying motive  of greed; the mentality of acquisition of whatever commodity, political or material, beyond the dreams of avarice. There is no “enough”.

 As it was at the time of the Revolution against England, the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War 2, and Vietnam, the US is at another defining and evolutionary moment in its history. Each of those junctures set a definitive course in the evolution of the American social contact.  The Revolution inspired the Constitution and Bill of Rights, established our foundational social ideals about individual rights as citizens, as human beings. Those ideas had to be clarified by the Civil War and the Civil Rights movements and remain a challenge to this day. The Great Depression inspired national social programs and the notion that the Federal Government has a legitimate role in defining and underwriting a minimum quality of life for its citizens, another idea that is still being challenged. By itself World War 2 played an enormous role in the process of creating a middle-class through the GI Bill and other social programs. For a while it seemed that America was on its way to becoming an integrated and well educated society at all levels – it was the nascent “American Dream” coming true.

 Of course, the American Dream had limitations and blind spots that led to the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war challenges mostly by middle-class kids in response to Vietnam. The Cuban Missile Crisis gave the nightmare of nuclear war its moment in the spotlight. American society, however, has demonstrated over and over again a short attention span and limited grasp of complex social issues. The latest ball game scores, a Dancing With the Stars contest, or a sociopathic TV series elicits more concentration, conversation, and attention from the public than civil-rights, homelessness, or hunger.  We continue to send young men and women abroad to fight wars in countries where we have no demonstrable legitimate national interests. Other than petroleum and supporting the arms industry in with wars the Middle East what else is there? Adding insult to injury, when these warriors return from the battlefield they are greeted by politicians like Paul Ryan who want to reduce and cut medical and other benefits for veterans. You may have also noticed, I hope, that in the absence of a national military draft anti-war protests have been virtually nil.  In place of “Hell no – we won’t go!” there has been conspicuous silence.

 We live in a country where 65% of adults cannot name one Supreme Court Justice but could very likely name the starting roster of their favorite ball club complete with “stats” for each player. This is a country where 30% of the adult population can’t name the Vice President but can tell you the latest gossip about Miley Cyrus. Then there is the 6% that is unable to find the 4th of July on a calendar but will eagerly give you an earful about why we shouldn’t have health care reform.  The foregoing tells you why billionaires are giving a great deal of money to politicians at the state level to privatize public education – a more gullible, more manipulable populace is in their best interests.

 At this crossroads I believe we must decide what it means to be an active participant in this society. We need to define what kind of country this will be for future generations. We must determine what the terms social justice and freedom mean or they will be happily defined for us by powerful financial and political interests. If we continue to allow the NSA to disregard the Constitution and monitor even our mundane conversations in the name of national security, political dissent and our still evolving democracy will be cut off at the knees – we will all have been redefined, not as citizens of a democracy but as a collection of others. If this sounds paranoid to you, you haven’t been paying attention – this is a lesson history has taught over and over again. Democracy must always, it would seem, be a work in progress. 


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