Posts Tagged 'Ayn Rand'

Atlas Slugged

Poor Atlas. He never knew what hit him. There he was holding up the world wondering how he got involved in this train wreck of simplistic political social philosophy. Even that word, “philosophy”, was beggared, blind-sided, misappropriated, knocked for a loop. Where did it come from? How did it happen to him of all deities? “Give me a break!” he muttered struggling with his burden. “I’m supposed to be holding up the world, for Pete’s sake.” And so it was that poor Atlas got slugged into lending his good name to the title of a simple-minded fairy tale wherein there are easy answers to every complex problem, where working-class people are depicted as low life slugs looking for easy money. A veritable door stop of a book, a mighty tome glorifying greed to be ingested, digested, and regurgitated by right-wing makers and shakers; a fairy tale for wannabe Titans of the universe.

The book, Atlas Shrugged, lies somewhere between a right-wing bodice ripper and a biblical journey into a science fictionalized promised land; a 1668 page celebration of greed and selfishness ingested by  socially, morally, and intellectually challenged true believers living and hiding in their own magical secret valleys seeking justification and reinforcement for anti-social instincts. The lesson of the book seems to be, inequality is justice manifest for the self-appointed select few. The book, by the way, is required reading for Paul Ryan’s staffers. Makes you wonder.

Funded by such socially enlightened billionaires as Charles Koch, the Cato Institute generates essays similar to the novel’s manifesto. For example, “Thinking Clearly about Economic Inequality” in which it is claimed “There is little evidence that high levels of income inequality lead down a slippery slope to the destruction of democracy and rule by the rich.” That kind of intellectual rubbish falls under the rubric of preaching to the choir and could have come straight out of Atlas Shrugged. In this case the choir being the billionaire sponsors and a chorus of minions based on a score by Ayn Rand. It’s more fairy tale telling believers what they want to hear while collecting a fat paycheck for doing so. Opportunity equality is and has always been a foundation stone of the democratic social contract, of a free and equitable society.

When 1% of the population controls the economy, opportunity as a belief in the social contract disappears. Further, when the 1% works tirelessly at social control to limit voting rights, to undermine and destroy public education, limit access to social welfare such as food stamps and health care the slippery slope inevitably becomes increasingly steep and ever more slippery. There comes a moment, sooner or later, when people believe they have no stake in the society, no future, no faith, no loyalty, and no reason to maintain it.

The President has called inequality the “defining issue of our time” and indeed it is even if I’m not certain it was more than a good sound bite. The problem is, however, that speachifying without delivery engenders cynicism and cynicism is the most corrosive of all social dynamics. To those who are blind to this verity there will, sooner or later, come a reckoning. Increased police power and presence may forestall the inevitable but it will not, in the end, prevent it. Members of the police and military are, after all is said and done, part of the 99% as are the increasingly large numbers of people with guns.

As has been the case throughout the history of human civilization this same drama has played out time and again. Just like the US, Rome made war all over its known world extending its empire beyond its capacity to sustain its own civil society. Ultimately the Romans failed as did many civilizations before and after them. Why is this such a difficult lesson to learn? Is it hubris or stupidity? Or both? There are no magical valleys in which to hide in real life. As a wise person once cautioned, be careful what you wish for – you may get it. If seekers want to read something lengthy let me suggest Toynbee’s, A Study of History; when they get to the end they’ll actually know something, something of value with which to calibrate their moral compass.

“… and they all went to the beach”

As you may recall, the beach was where everyone went in Melina Mercouri’s, Ilya’s telling of Greek tragedy in the film “Never on Sunday”. In Ilya’s versions of Media and Oedipus, no one suffered they merely “went to the beach”. In the minds of some Americans no one is suffering, no one is involuntarily unemployed, no one is without adequate health care, and if you do have difficulties it’s your own fault and your’s to solve. There are those who, in some kind of fevered Tea Party fueled delirium, see Reaganesque “welfare queens” lolling about watching TV, driving Cadillacs; or in Mike Huckabee’s lascivious fantasy, women exercising their libidos at public expense. Apparently poor people in general are just having too much fun living off the rest of society. The view from the beach, a mirage, a delusion? In reality it’s everyone for themselves.

Unemployment Compensation barely puts food on the table for a family of any size but in the distorted imagination of some politicians relief in the form of food stamps is living high on the hog and leads to permanent dependency on government hand-outs. One has to wonder what people like Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, Ted Cruz, Louie Gohmert and their colleagues see as the beneficial outcome of policies leaving 1.6 million people who used to have jobs until they were laid off left without help. Do begging bowls dance like lemon drops in their dreams? Do they relish seeing children in rags and people in soup lines?  Do they believe publicly supported charities and food banks can cover the loss? What is the future these guys so dearly covet? Where are the jobs the welfare addicted are supposed to be avoiding? Right now there are 3 people looking for work for every job open. Jobs have been and are being exported overseas to places where wages are low and workplace safety is nonexistent. Should all employers follow the lead of WalMart or McDonalds and provide advice on how to apply for welfare?

What are people like Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin thinking when they characterize raising the minimum wage a “misguided political stunt” and “political grandstanding”? How does arguing against raising the minimum wage improve life for working Americans? Right now 85% of those earning minimum wage are 20 years of age and over, 26% are parents, 49% work full-time and there are 3 job seekers for every job available. Congressman Paul Ryan, at odds with the head of his church, apparently believes “Atlas Shrugged” is the bible and Ayn Rand a more reliable moral beacon than Pope Francis. On evidence it seems elected politicians have become storm commandos of class warfare leading the assault on our social contract being rewarded for their efforts by the multitude of “Institutes”, “Foundations”, and PACs underwritten by sociopathic billionaires. We are seeing the death throes of ethical behavior and public service by politicians being replaced by pandering and self-promotion.

Do complex societies collapse? Of course they do and they have been doing so for millennia and much for the same reasons. When societies become excessively extractive and economically exclusive, they have, across history, failed. When the arc of greed exceeded the arc of inclusiveness a downhill slide became irreversible. No matter how repressive, attempts at control ultimately failed. Restricting or denying voting rights for example will not protect the 85 people who have more wealth than half of the world’s population. It will not insulate them from the inevitable repercussions even if they generously “donate” to police departments as in New York City during the Occupy demonstrations. And this is why I find myself wondering:  What about all those guns people are encouraged to own and carry? What would happen if people, perceiving themselves as having nothing left to lose, decide to act out their frustrations and anger? When the constraints of shared community and mutual regard are shed I’ll suggest that we won’t be on our way to a beach party.


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