This is a struggle for power.

“[D]espite their misgivings, conservatives have reconciled themselves to capitalism because the expansion of the market has also meant the growth of the private sphere of domination and control. . . . [C]onservatism is about the freedom and ability of some people to dominate, control, and extract from others, which capitalist inequality and hierarchy make possible.”
Peter Kolozi

The United States is a plutocracy. But ultimately that means oligarchy. The reason that the wealthy rule is because wealth is power. I would clarify a point, though. Wealth isn’t limited to direct power over the masses for it also allows the wealthy to control all aspects of society, even those not directly related to wealth.

The plutocrats aren’t powerful merely because of wealth. It is that they are part of a ruling elite that works together to shut out everyone else, to exclude the majority not just from wealth but more importantly from power. This means maintaining their control of privileges and resources, by controlling the system of politics, economics, media, and education.

This is why the United States is such a brutally oppressive society. Much of what the ruling elite does comes at great costs to themselves, although at even greater costs to everyone else, which is the point in always ensuring others are harmed more. First and foremost, the purpose is social control. Wealth is a means to that end, but there are many other means to that end: military imperialism, police-intelligence state, mass incarceration, media propaganda, and much else.

It’s not so much class war, in the simple sense. “This is a struggle for power,” as Caitlin Johnstone makes clear in the piece below. And at present most Americans are losing the fight. This isn’t a metaphor. Millions of Americans are victims — locked away or otherwise trapped in the legal system, struggling in poverty and homelessness, sick and dying because lack of healthcare. Millions more are barely getting by and, out of fear, kept in their place as slaves to the system. The power and its consequences are concretely and viscerally real.

It is a war with growing numbers of casualties. But if the American public could realize the power that exists in numbers, it could instead become a revolution.

On a related note, thoughts along these lines lead straight to issues of inequality. As with oligarchy, inequality isn’t only about who has most of the wealth. As a divide in wealth indicates a divide in power, what this means is a divide in political membership and representation. It becomes harder for most Americans to participate in politics, partly because they don’t have the time or money to participate.

It requires ever larger amounts of wealth and resources, not to mention crony connections, to engage a successful campaign. And for those who do get elected, they do so either by belonging to the oligarchy or by becoming indebted to the oligarchy. This is why, as Johnstone points out, studies have shown that politicians mostly do whatever the rich want them to do.

As the rich gain greater power, they gain greater leverage to take even more power. It’s a cycle that has only one end point, total authoritarianism. That is, unless we the public stop it.

Some ask why does it matter that an elite has more money than everyone else. What an unbelievably naive question that is. To anyone who is confused on the issue, I’d suggest that they simply open their eyes.

* * *

The Real Reason The Elites Keep Killing Single-Payer
by Caitlin Johnstone

The word “oligarchy” gets thrown around a lot in progressive discourse, usually to highlight the problem of money in politics, but not many people seem to really settle in and grapple with the hefty implications of what that word actually means. If you say that America is an oligarchy (and it certainly is, which we’ll get to in a second), you’re not merely saying that there is too much money in US politics or that the wealthy have an unfair amount of power in America. Per definition, you are saying that a small class of elites rule over you and your nation, like a king rules over his kingdom.

You’ve studied history, in school if nowhere else. How often have you read about kings voluntarily relinquishing their thrones and handing power to their subjects out of the goodness of their hearts? Once someone makes it to the very top of a society, how often have you known them to eagerly step down from that power position in order to give the people self-rule?

This isn’t about money, this is about power. The wealthiest of the wealthy in America haven’t been doing everything they can to stave off universal healthcare and economic justice in order to save a few million dollars. They haven’t been fighting to keep you poor because they are money hoarders and they can’t bare to part with a single penny from their trove. It’s so much more sinister than that: the goal isn’t to keep you from making the plutocrats a little less wealthy, the goal is to keep you from having any wealth of your own.

Power is intrinsically relative: it only exists in relation to the amount of power that other people have or don’t have. If we all have the same amount of government power, then none of us has any power over the other. If, however, I can figure out a way to manipulate the system into giving me 25 percent more governmental power than anyone else, power has now entered into the equation, and I have an edge over everyone else that I can use to my advantage. But that edge only exists due to the fact that you’re all 25 percent less powerful than I am. If you all become five percent more powerful, my power is instantly diminished by that much, in the same way a schoolyard bully would no longer enjoy the same amount of dominance if everyone at school suddenly grew five percent bigger and stronger.

Here’s where I’m going with all this: the ruling elites have set up a system where wealth equals power. In order for them to rule, in order for them to enjoy the power of kings, they necessarily need to keep the general public from wealth. Not so that they can have a little more money for themselves in case they want to buy a few extra private jets or whatever, but because their power is built upon your lack of power. By keeping you from having a few thousand extra dollars of spending money throughout the year, they guarantee that you and your fellow citizens won’t pool that extra money toward challenging their power in the wealth-equals-power paradigm that they’ve set up for themselves. […]

You can see, then, why the oligarchs must resist socialism and populism tooth and claw. You can see why their media propaganda outlets are so ferociously dedicated to tearing down any sincere attempt to fight the Walmart economy or allow an inch of ground to be gained in bringing any economic power to ordinary Americans. By asking for economic justice, you may think that you are simply asking for a small slice of the enormous pie the billionaire class could never hope to eat in a single lifetime, but what you are actually doing is asking for their crown, their throne and their scepter. You are making yourself a direct existential threat to their dynasty.

This is why they fought so hard to stomp out the Sanders movement. It wasn’t that Sanders himself was a threat to them, it’s that a large group of the unwashed masses was pooling their wealth together and leaping over seemingly insurmountable obstacles using nothing but tiny $27 donations as fuel. Imagine if Americans had more disposable income to invest in a better future for their kids by pointing it at changing America’s political landscape? Imagine a populist movement where Americans pushing for economic justice can suddenly all afford to pool a bunch of $270 donations to support a beloved candidate or agenda? Or $2,700? Under the current money-equals-power paradigm, the will of the people would become unstoppable, and the US power establishment would be forced to reshape itself in a way that benefits the people instead of benefitting a few billionaires.

* * *

Basalat Raja, Jun 24

This is why you will find them behaving in ways that are opposite to their “direct interests” — if you assume that their “direct interests” are making more money. A prosperous middle class will make the rich even richer, because more of us will be able to buy the products from the companies that they own large amounts of shares in, leading to more profits for those companies, and obviously, lifting share prices, making them richer.

But that means less control, since economically contented people are harder to herd. If you have a decent job and a decent house, it’s harder to tell you that Mexicans/Muslims/Russians/gays/etc. have stolen your job, etc.

Size Matters

“If you owe the bank ten thousand dollars, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.”
~ attributed to various people

And other variations:

“If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”

“If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”

* * *

“a TEN-YEAR-OLD lad in Indianapolis who was arrested for picking up coal along the side of railroad tracks is now in jail. If the boy had known enough to steal the whole railroad he would be heralded as a Napoleon of finance.”
~ Mother Jones

And another version, also attributed to her:

“I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.”

Or related variants, often misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt:

“The illiterate robs a freight car; the educated thief steals the whole railroad.”

“An uneducated thief will steal a ride on a railroad train. An educated thief will steal the whole railroad system.”

“If a man steal a ride on a railroad, he is called a “hobo;” If he steal the whole railroad his name is emblazoned in history as a financier.”

“Steal a ride and you are a “hobo,” liable to be shot. Steal a whole railroad and you are a financier, eligible to the United States Senate.”

“if a man steals a ham from a freight car, he goes to jail; while if he steals the whole railroad, he goes to the United States senate.”

* * *

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
~ usually misattributed to Stalin

Along with numerous variations:

“The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!”

“If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”

“One Murder made a Villain, Millions a Hero.”

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

“If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a couple persons you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send millions to their deaths you are a hero.”

Wealth, Power, and Addiction

I live and work in downtown Iowa City. I regularly walk through and spend time in the downtown area. Having lived here (with a few years spent elsewhere) since the 1980s, I’m always trying to get perspective about this city and where it is heading.

As I was meandering to work today, I went through the pedestrian mall and my mind was naturally drawn to the numerous bars. I’ve had a theory for a while about what drove out so many of the stores I used to like, the stores that the average person would want to shop at and could afford to shop at. There is a general gentrification going on that is being promoted and funded by TIFs (among I’m sure other causes), but there is more than just that going on. I’ve considered that maybe the bars have been so profitable that they’ve driven up the rental costs in the downtown, driven them too high for the average small business owner.

This is problematic. Few things can compete with alcohol. All that has been able to compete are mostly high end restaraunts, art galleries, gift shops, jewelry stores, etc.

I was thinking about what this means. Why is it that it is so hard to compete with bars? The first thing that came to mind is that alcohol is an addictive substance. For a large number of people, the more alcohol they drink the more they want to drink. It guarantees repeat customers who are willing to pay high costs for their preferred drug. There is a reason the only mom and pop grocery story left in town is a major retailer of alcohol, and of course it is downtown.

I’m not for prohibition of addictive substances. But we have to get serious about the externalized costs, whether from legal or illegal markets. I’m in favor of making most addictive substances legal, but putting high sin taxes on them and providing the highest quality rehab centers (along with whatever else is beneficial). The sin taxes should go to deal with all the externalized costs, from rehab centers to homeless shelters… also to deal with the problems developing in the downtown and other impacted areas.

There is something telling about how gentrification and the sale of addictive substances act as twin forces in utterly transforming this town. I’m far from convinced that these changes are positive.

* * * *

What is the relationship between gentrification, crony capitalism, and bars? Or to put it another way: What is the relationship between wealth, power, and addiction?

I wouldn’t be the first person to associate addiction with the consumerism of a capitalist society. Nor would I be the first to associate addiction to power relationships. I know William S. Burroughts had many interesting thoughts on the matter. Is it simply about social control? If so, to what end? Or is it as Burroughs suggests, just power serving power, like a disease?

I’m specifically thinking of the city I live in, but all of this applies more broadly. Also, the issue of alchol should be widened to all addictions and everything related to it: drug wars, mass incarceration, etc. Part of my context here is the book “Chasing the Scream” by Johann Hari. That author sees addiction as a social failure, rather than a mere personal issue. It isnt just the addict who is addicted, but the entire society addicted to the system. The alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, the bar owners are addicted to the profit they can make, and the local government is addicted to the tax money that is brought in.

The difference with alcohol, though is that it is a socially acceptable addiction. The entire identity of a small college town like Iowa City is tied up with alcoholism. The UI is famous for being a party school. The town was well known as a drinking town going back for more than a century. Generations of people have traveled from far away just to get drunk in this town.

What is at the heart of this? What is the driving force behind it all?

* * * *

I originally posted these thoughts on Facebook.

It was on my mind for some reason. Several people commented and it led to a detailed discussion, but my mind was no more clear afterwards. I still don’t quite know what to make of this line of thought.

It’s complicated, as I’m always repeating. There is a much larger context involved (German immigration, Prohibition, TIFs, etc). No changes come out of nowhere. There are always underlying causes that go much deeper, often to historical roots.

Here are a few other things I’ve written before about related issues. Also, along with them, I’ll throw in some articles about the local area.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/tifs-gentrification-and-plutocracy/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/generational-change-and-conflict-immigration-media-tech-etc/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/the-fight-for-freedom-is-the-fight-to-exist-independence-and-interdependence/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/centerville-ia-meeting-point-of-diversity-conflict/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/generations-at-the-age-of-twelve/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/ku-klux-klan-and-the-lost-generation/

http://thegazette.com/subject/life/beer-riots-of-1884-brought-violence-and-bloodshed-to-iowa-city-20140810

http://littlevillagemag.com/the-hops-original-gangsters-the-iowa-city-beer-riots-of-1884/

https://books.google.com/books?id=WaRjYoBZO3sC&pg=PA56&lpg=PA56&dq=%22iowa+city%22+AND+englert+AND+prohibition&source=bl&ots=_tc1dCXj3S&sig=sMsBOrtOH8vUdVSPXiSkMW4EHjE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=HO_fVJjgA9OwyASv_oK4CQ&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=%22iowa%20city%22%20AND%20englert%20AND%20prohibition&f=false

http://www.press-citizen-media.com/150/geiger.html

http://www.press-citizen-media.com/150/englert.html

https://stateinnovation.org/uploads/asset/asset_file/1529/Tax_Increment_Financing_A_Case_Study_of_Johnson_County.pdf

http://littlevillagemag.com/the-truth-about-tifs/

http://www.dailyiowan.com/2014/06/23/Metro/38106.html

http://www.iowahouserepublicans.com/government-oversight-coralville-use-of-tif-funds

http://thegazette.com/2012/04/12/coralvilles-bond-ratings-take-hit-on-hotel-costs-tif-reliance

https://www.moodys.com/research/MOODYS-DOWNGRADES-CITY-OF-CORALVILLES-IA-ANNUAL-APPROPRIATION-URBAN-RENEWAL–PR_243553

http://www.limitedgovernment.org/brief19-5.html

http://patch.com/iowa/iowacity/iowa-city-city-council-sidesteps-petition-on-tif-vote6cce46a1fd

http://www.northlibertyleader.com/content/coralville-ailing-finances-or-healthy-debt

Strange Power Tricks

Here are two videos that I appreciated. I have no commentary to add… just wanted to share. The first is partly a response to the second.

And here are a couple of comments that I liked from the comments section of the second video:

zudthespud

changing the law to make your opponents unelectable is how democracy turns to dictatorship…

To quote a Rise Against song: “If we’re the flagship of hope and prosperity, we’re taking on water and about to fucking sink”

rocky19421

Only five states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows:

South Carolina -50th

North Carolina -49th

Georgia -48th

Texas -47th,

Virginia -44th.

Wisconsin is ranked #2 in the nation.

Republican s do not want an educated electorate .

Developing Technology, Controlling Society

Developing Technology, Controlling Society

Posted on Jan 2nd, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
There is a lot of technology that is quite impressive, but most of it feels like its still in development.  The whole internet and computer industry feels like its in permanent Beta mode (similar in concept to Orwell’s endless, permanent war).  There always glitches and compatability issues.  They always come up with a new product or service before ever quite perfecting what they provided before.  The companies are more afraid of controlling their product than offering the best possible service.  Its a shame considering the potential.

There are the cable and dish tv companies that have near monopolies.  These monopolies are being challenged.  Also, the monopolies of other media (newspapers, networks, etc.) are likewise being challenged.  And they’re all fearful of the internet and wary of investing too much in it.  But mostly its just the monopolies from one industry butting heads against the monopolies of another industry.

Its not all negative.  A few companies are paving the way.  Starz and CBS have stood out as companies who are willing to make deals and experiment.  As for internet companies, Google and Amazon seem to be the leaders in bridging to non-internet companies.

The problem is that integration and standardization is happening slowly and in a very flawed fashion.  For example, Blu-ray won the war of new video format and has been out for years, and yet it has so many flaws as to be almost utterly worthless to the average person. 

Three companies that personally interest me are Netflix, Amazon, and Rhapsody. 

Netflix has a great service, but you can’t buy movies from then and instead have to go to another site such as Amazon.  Amazon has a wide selection of services including two that I’m attracted to.  The Kindle is revolutionary, but relevant to Netflix is Video On Demand and the Unbox.  However, in order for Amazon to make its deals with the movie industry they have to control the data.  So, you buy a movie and yet you don’t own it.  Its very convenient and reliable, but whenever they lose rights to a movie you lose the product you bought.  You can download it to your computer and that is fine as long as you keep using the same computer.  Netflix is also having a constant change in the movies available in the online streaming.  The movie industry seems to be fidgety and unwilling to come to any final agreements. 

The music industry is similar, but is quite a bit more established online.  Rhapsody is one of the best models ever created.  They have a reasonable subscription price for an all-you-can-listen-to service which has an immense selection.  Also, they’ve copied Amazon in selling MP3s and they’ve made them DRM-free which puts them above iTunes.  Rhapsody is doing what most companies fear.  Besides offering compatability with players they don’t make, they’ve also encouraged scrobbling with Last FM.  They’ve have made their own player, the ibiza which does what no other player does.  It uses a similar concept to Amazon’s Kindle in that it directly connects to your account.  The downside of Rhapsody is that they don’t have much in the way of spoken word and no audio books.  Also, they don’t have movies.

What I want is to have tv, movies, music, music videos, spoken word, audio books, and electronic text from a single company… instead of needing multiple companies and constantly having to search around.  What I want is fairly simple in that its not beyond present technology.  If Netflix, Amazon, and Rhapsody merged or integrated their services, that would be awesome.  And if they could make permanent deals with the entertainment industries, they’d have a perfect product.

The problem at the moment is that there isn’t enough cooperation and neither is there enough competition.  There are just a few mega-corporations that own practically everything in the world, and so its not that far off from being a complete monopoly.  These companies have no reason to be in a hurry to offer a great service because they have the only game in town.  And any company that attempts something new (such as Youtube) eventually has to chose to go out of business or sell out to one of the large mega-corporations.

Another reason that companies don’t want to cooperate is because they probably think they can get more by nickle-and-diming the customer.  If something you bought a few years ago isn’t compatable with somethin new you’ve bought, then you have buy a new version of that or a new upgrade.  Also, it would seem like more money if you paid for all these technologies and services together.  Separately, the customer is less likely to notice how the cost adds up.

Humans are strange.  If we wanted to, all kinds of things could be possible… but something always holds us back.  There were all these utopian dreams from the ’50s (and also from the 1800s).  The thing is the only thing unrealistic about those visions is that they didn’t take into account the limitations of human nature.  Technologically-speaking, we could have fully functioning colonies throughout the solar system by now.  We could have robots that did almost all manual labor and people could be freed from long work hours of drudge work.  War, famine, and poverty could be ended almost instantaneously.  Humans have proved themselves capable of near miraculous leaps in development during certain periods… often periods of war, unfortunately.

However, it comes down to control.  Change doesn’t happen because those in power would rather have control than change and those not in power would also rather the world stay predictably the same.  Companies only create new services if it helps them control consumers better.  Corporations have become quite talented at manipulating people.  We aren’t free because the manipulation is unconscious to us in that its seamless.  There is no way to protest except to feed back into the system which is something Tim Boucher talks about.

Its to companies advantage to keep customers contented.  But its also to their advantage to control development and feed it slowly to the public.  People in power have a vision and it takes decades or even generations to fulfill that vision.  Its no accident that most politicians come from the same set of families and that those families have royal blood.  Its no accident that politicians have good jobs waiting for them in the industries they used to oversee.

The one nice thing about this internet age is that the world is becoming more complex.  Its less clear who is manipulating who.  Its easier for the oppressed masses to manipulate in return.  The real hope is in the potential for cooperation.  Humans have never been good at equal-opportunity cooperation especially on a large-scale.  This is becoming a real potential with the internet, but its still yet to be seen whether it will ever become more than potential always just beyond the horizon.

From a spiritual perspective, maybe seeking for freedom in this world of power games and materialism is looking in the wrong place.  Still, it seems we humans are incapable of giving up on the hope that the world might eventually be transformed.  Places like this here Gaia seem to be all about that hope.  Gaia maybe primarily about the connections between people, but human connection is inseparable from human technology. 

Even our understanding of God is limited by our technological metaphors.  That is an area that is explored by many Sci-Fi stories and movies.  I guess I managed to bring this blog back to my recent thinking.

Access_public Access: Public 11 Comments Print Post this!views (258)  

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 1 hour later

Marmalade said

My personal motivation is that I’m very curious, but of limited means. I can only explore my curiosity so far. I’d love to own an Amazon Kindle and I’m thinking I’d enjoy Rhapsody’s ibiza. Its not that I can’t afford either of these, but that these technologies are imperfect.

This goes back to the idea of technology in eternal Beta mode. If I buy an expensive piece of technology, I’d like to know if it will work well several years from now and continue to be compatible with other developing technologies. And there is always the possibility that one can buy a technology for a specific company’s service and that service is discontinued for any number of reasons.

I’d love to see both more competition and more integration. However, the more integration that I’d like to see might lead to less competition. Google has done a lot to integrate many different technologies and services. If Google gets any more powerful, it might become a near monopoly of the whole internet.

Monopolies are a natural tendency of human nature. It goes with globalization. People seek ever greater power, and people seek ever greater forms of social connection and cultural aggregation.The development of civilizationhas been primarily a history of the slow but sure concentration of power… political, religious, and capitalistic. Along with this, its also been the concentration of human knowledge and wisdom.

So, this is far from beingan inherently bad tendency. Much benefit has come from civilization of course. Anyways, even if the tedency is inevitable, the specific direction it takes isn’t. Many people would like to control the direction of this development, but I suspect its an unpredictable phenomena.

To bring inthe spiritual angle, I think there is an obvious and direct relationship between this tendency and Monotheism. And this reminds me of the conflicted relationship between mainstream Christianity and Gnosticism. Gnosticism, even though Monotheistic, was wary of how Monotheism could be used politically to oppress the individual.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

eternal Beta mode, that’s a great way of stating it.

I’d never thought of the connection between monopoly and monotheism. Monogamy too I guess? 🙂 Singularly focussed…

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 19 hours later

Marmalade said

I didn’t come up with the “eternal Beta mode” on my own. I came across that idea a few times this past year in my various researches. It makes a lot of sense to me. The original contribution I made was in relating it to Orwell’s idea of continuous war… which is a dystopian idea that seems to have come true or maybe was always true. I think I remember reading that America has been continuously involved in one war or another since it became a country.

The connection between monopoly and monotheism is something I thought of on my own, but I’m sure others have thought of it before. Itsa simple and somewhat obvious view. And, yeah, I’d add monogamy in the mix. Stories of polygamy in theOld Testamentrepresent a time when polytheism still had major influence in Jewish culture.

Monotheism isn’t really any great insight limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Any culture that develops a centralized government will come to a conclusion like this about the divine. Even seemingly non-theistic religions will end up focusing their “worship” on some singular ideal.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 21 hours later

Marmalade said

Its kind of funny that this isn’t the blog I intended to write when I started it. I think I originally just wanted to write about technology. I’ve had all these other ideas on my mind for a while. I suppose it all goes together, but my mind wasn’t very focused when writing this.

Let me add a different factor. No monopoly will ever be absolute. Its just one tendency amongst many. Similarly, if “monotheistic” religions were completely monotheistic, then they wouldn’t have these complex hierarchies of spiritual beings. Likewise, if monogamy was the only tendency of humans, then studies wouldn’t show that possibly between 10 and 20 % of children aren’t of the father that claims them and married women wouldn’t be more likely to cheat when most fertile.

As for capitalism, that which undermines the monopolistic tendency is two-fold.

Specific to computers and the internet, the open source community has many loyal followers. This levels the playing field, but open source will never be the central player. Mega-corporations aren’t entirely against open source because it gives them a free resource of ideas that they can co-opt.

More generally speaking, the black market is the closest that capitalism gets to being a free market. Black markets force companies to be more competitive and hence innovative. The main motivating force behind coporate innovation online is to provide a better product than what people can find illegally for free. The music industry was the first that had to come to terms with this. The plethora of nice music services such as Rhapsody is a direct result of free file sharing.

1Vector3 : "Relentless Wisdom"

1 day later

1Vector3 said

An interesting intersection of ideas !! I’d like to address some underlying ideas, even though I recognize they don’t contribute much to your actual discussion, but to me they are super-important. Part of my mission in life is to make sure people are clear about these economic ideas, because almost no one IS clear, and there is a lot at stake in our way of living, if misunderstandings persist and we make choices and decisions based on them.

Based on my research and studies, we don’t really have “capitalism” in this country, never have. We have a so-called “mixed economy” which technically is a Socialism-Fascism mix. Capitalism is synonymous with “free market” – the government does not interfere with the economy in any way. In Fascism the government regulates or controls some or all of the economy. In Socialism, it owns some of the economic entities. (In Communism, it owns all of them.)

I found it interesting you called for a big conglomerate, and then recognized you were suggesting something akin to a monopoly.

In capitalism, there are “natural monopolies” but they come and go. Whenever a monopoly persists, you will – with sufficient research – find government regulations are the force keepingit from its natural dissolution (from a significant competitor emerging.) Utility companies that you mentioned, are not “natural monopolies.” In fact, most of them are not just allowed or supported by government, they are government-mandated/created.

Thanks for letting me hold forth. I hope this was seen as somewhat relevant. I really enjoyed your thoughts !!

Blessings,

OM Bastet

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

1 day later

Marmalade said

Its all good, OM. I don’t even know what my actual discussion is. Myset of ideas feels rather sprawling.

I think I agree with all that you said. Yep, “capitalism” doesn’t exist in the US. That is what I was implying with my comment about black markets. I don’t know exactly what kind of economy we have, but your description of a “mixed economy” sounds about right.

I’m glad you noticed the conflict in my view… which I was conscious of. The concentration of power and knowledge has advantages… and disadvantages. I like your idea of “natural monopolies”. I wasn’t thinking in those terms, but it does clarify the problem of how utility companies are forced into a permanent monopolistic structure by the government itself.

I don’t know how it works in other cities, but here the government disallows competition. There is one electricic company and one cable company. You have no other choices other than turning to other forms of technology. Also, the city runs a monopoly their own monopolies on certain utilities such as water and parking. Maybe this is a necessary evil for utilities such as water, but not for most utilities. However, maybe even water could be provided in new innovative ways if it weren’t controlled as a monopoly.

I shouldn’t complain too much as I personally benefit from the City government’s monopoly on the parking industry… where I’m employed. Its run innefficiently with way too much overheadand doesn’t even provide that great of service considering the money spent. If every parking ramp downtown was owned by different private companies, then there might be cheaper parking or else at least improved options. Besides, there is no reason for the government to run parking ramps. Its not as if their isn’t a market to motivate private companies to invest.

I’m glad to have you hold forth. Its all relevant in my book. Enjoyment is all around.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

yes, I can see the connection to Orwell’s continuous war.

I’m intrigued by the stat about married women cheating more when fertile, it seems a difficult thing to establish with clarity. But more importantly, are human tendencies away from monogamy a sign that it’s a bad idea or … something else? Worth pondering especially for those in monogamous relationships 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Child

2 days later

Marmalade said

I first heard about such stats on a tv show that was about human sexual behavior. I did a websearch and tons of pages came up, but most of it is discussion. The Wikipedia article about evolutionary psychology is interesting, and I thought this quote relevant:

“In particular, Haselton and Miller (2006) showed that highly fertile women prefer creative but poor men as short-term mates. Creativity may be a proxy for good genes. Research by Gangestad et al. (2004) indicates that highly fertile women prefer men who display social presence and intrasexual competition; these traits may act as cues that would help women predict which men may have, or would be able to acquire, resources.”

The difficult to establish part is something I’m not sure about as I don’t know about all of the research. I haven’t come across any research (not that I was looking that much) that was based on direct observations of human women cheating. The research I have heard of is various.

There are direct observations of animal behavior, and research is starting to show that even animals considered monogamous still cheat. The human research is about studying how women dress in more sexually attractive ways when fertile (skirts instead of pants, showing more skin, etc.) and that fertile women shift their behavior to a pattern that fits mating strategy.

I really don’t know the research that well, but there seems to be plenty of it out there if you wish to spend the time to ferret it out.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

3 days later

Nicole said

hmm! 🙂 well, not at the moment, but thanks for sharing what you do know.

Marmalade : Gaia Child

3 days later

Marmalade said

I didn’t think you would necessarily be. I’m not all that inspired to research it much myself. Its just an interesting piece of info… whatever its validity or meaning.

My personal theory is that (most? many?) humans are genetically programmed to be polygamous but not openly. I suspect that the outward display of monogamy is necessary for social order and peacable relations.

My personal attitude towards life is that I prefer monogamy. I’m too lazy to deal with multiple mates. I hardly can handle a single one. Throw in the normal tendencies of human jealousy, and polygamy doesn’t seem worth it to me.

I don’t see it as primarily a moral issue. Our moral ideals cause us as many problems as they attempt to solve, but I don’t think idealizing the opposite of the social (genetic?) norm is helpful either.

But all of that is neither here nor there as it pertains to this discussion.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

4 days later

Nicole said

yes, I do see your points – from a practical standpoint one person is more than most of us can handle! LOL!

Status Anxiety

Here is a fairly nice documentary. 

Many great points are brought up about the ideal of a meritocratic society.  One point made that I highly agree with is that if the rich deserve to be rich, then the poor deserve to be poor.

Where I think this documentary missed out is on the details.  The narrator states that American meritocracy doesn’t assert that all are equal but that all are given equal opportunity.  The problem I had is he didn’t analyze this in any great detail (environment, pollution, health, nutrition, medicine, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.).  The inequality between people is so vast in the world that any theoretical equal opportunity is just a joke.  It’s quite easy to criticize the very notion of equal opportunity on any number of grounds.

A very small minority hold most of the world’s wealth and power, and the vast majority of this wealth and power is passed down from generation to generation within a very small set of families and bloodlines.  A teacher that was interviewed stated that meritocracy was an eternal goal which implies it’s a goal that never is actualized in the real world.  So, it’s a pleasant fantasy to keep the masses contented.

Furthermore, the wealth and power of the developed industrialized nations is built on the very poverty and disempowerment of the rest of the world.  Does the slave-wage worker in a sweatshop deserve his lot?  Do Americans deserve the cheap products the get through the suffering of the poor?  Do Middle Easterners deserve all the conflict that the West bestows upon them simply because we think we deserve their oil?  Does South and Central America deserve all of the political unrest caused by the CIA and the American War on Drugs?

For further information on how to be included among the elite who deserve all of their power and wealth, see the following:

How to be Successful

Also, check out Barbara Ehrenreich’s view presented in her book Bright-sided.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113758696

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/books/10ehrenreich.html

http://www.statesman.com/life/content/life/stories/books/2009/11/01/1101ehrenreich.html

The inspiration for her writing about positive thinking was her experience with cancer.  She saw the darkside of positive thinking within the cancer community.

This brings to mind my own grandmother who died of cancer.  It’s because of her that I was raised in New Thought Christianity where positive thinking is very popular.  She was diagnosed with cancer.  She embraced the whole alternative medicine field and she had great faith in positive thinking.  My dad says she was utterly crushed when doing all the right things didn’t make her cancer go away.  She died of cancer.  She was a woman who had a great sense of faith, and apparently I inherited my spiritual interests from her.  I’ve seen all aspects of positive thinking and so I have a personal sense of what Ehrenreich is talking about.

But what is different is that positive thinking has become mainstream like never before.  It’s not just alternative types.  Positive thinking has become merged with the early American ideals of meritocracy, and together they create something greater than either alone.

In one video I saw of Ehrenreich, she made an interesting connection.  She was talking about the meritocracy ideal, but I don’t think she was using that term.  She was just talking about the ideal of positivie thinking in general within American culture.  She connected this with Ayn Rand’s libertarians.  If I remember correctly, she was making the argument that Rand was a one of the factors in popularizing positive thinking.  She mentioned the book The Secret and how it’s representative of our whole culture.  She blames the economic troubles we’re having now with the business culture of positive thinking, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

Faux Righteousness

There is one issue that is a hot button for me.  The issue is righteousness.  Actually, I don’t know if it’s just righteousness, but that is definitely a major part.

Like many people, I have tendencies towards righteousness.  I don’t like righteousness in myself any more than I like it in others.  I feel a visceral repulsion towards righteousness.  What makes me feel more righteous than anything is righteousness itself.  Which is a bit depressing as righteousness about righteousness doesn’t in any way negate or decrease righteousness.  But it isn’t a rational response.

When feeling defensive, it’s easy to feel righteous about one’s righteousness.  People often become polarized and feel more certain about their position than when they started.  For some people, this can become a permanent state… and I’d like to avoid such a horrible fate for myself.  I don’t want to spend my time looking for things to be righteous about, but admittedly there is plenty to feel righteous about without even looking for it.  The daily news, for example, usually offers any number of affronts to reason and morality.

In particular, American culture seems overly righteous.  Maybe this just goes along with the imperialistic patriotism found in any large and powerful country.  Whatever the reason, many Americans believe America is right about almost everything because many Americans think we’re on the winning side of history.  But Americans quite often turn this righteousness against other Americans.  And it goes beyond simply deciding who is the most American.  There is just a general atmosphere of conflict and attack, ridicule and criticism.  This tendency in American culture has become magnified as media has begun to dominate our lives.  We now have constant news reporting and commentary (with more emphasis on the latter) which feeds (and feeds off of) the constant internet buzz.  A popular form of entertainment right now is the verbal fights between the representatives of different tv news networks.  And then there are some silly pundits who think that constantly berating those in power somehow proves that they’re independent thinkers.

There are even those (whether preacher or pundit) who see themselves as prophets of moral righteousness.  They just have an inner sense of knowing they’re right.  They see themselves on a mission (possibly a divine mission) to save humanity and guide the righteous to the light of Truth.  This type of person seems rather arrogant to me.  This is the most extreme form of righteousness which can be used to incite extreme behaviors such as violence or else just incite general hatred and mistrust.  Righteous fear-mongering is particularly distasteful to me.  Somehow expressing either fear by itself or righteousness by itself doesn’t seem so bad as expressing fear and righteousness together… especially when further combined with populist anger.  I severely doubt anything good can come of it. 

Righteousness is opposite to so many truly beneficial values (humility, acceptance, sympathy, compassion, forgiveness, love, etc.) which are values I idealize even though I rarely live up to them.  Also, I see righteousness as opposed to knowledge and truth which are personal ideals I feel a bit more capable of living up to.  A very important aspect of humility is intellectual humility, knowing one’s limits and knowing one doesn’t have everything figured out.  Righteousness sometimes feels like false confidence, a bullying strength that hides an inner weakness.  When taken to extremes, there can be something cruel and hard-hearted about it.

I should point out that I’m not arguing for a relativist belief that there is no right or wrong.  A righteous person could be right (or they could be wrong), but my sense is that the correlation between being righteous and being right is often accidental.  Even if a person is absolutely right and can prove it beyond any doubt, is there any point in being righteous?  Perhaps it might be justified or at least it could be understandable.  But it seems most likely to me that the more righteous someone behaves the less likely they are to be correct.  The reason for this is that critical thinking is impaired to the degree intellectual humility is lacking.

I know that when I feel righteous I want to believe I’m right, and I want to believe that my hypothetical rightness somehow is important and somehow justifies my righteousness.  But I also know that when in a righteous state of mind I’m not being very impartial.  For certain, my critical thinking skills are impaired at such moments.  Because I value critical thinking, I try to counter my righteousness by determining to what extent I’m actually right or wrong.  The problem is that, even if I do (or think I do) determine that I’m right about something, it doesn’t make me feel all that better… nor anyone else for that matter.

Although I’m clearly not fond of righteousness as a general way of being in the world and of relating to others, it isn’t necessarily righteousness by itself that annoys me.  If a drunk or mentally ill person was righteously ranting nonsense on a sidewalk, I wouldn’t really care.  First, no one is going to mistake such ranting as intelligent commentary.  Secondly, this person doesn’t have much of an audience and if he has any influence at all it is very limited.  Or if someone just feels righteously angry about life in general,  I wouldn’t really care.  As long as they’re not trying to scapegoat some person or group for the world’s problems, there is nothing wrong with expressing one’s genuine feelings… but I wouldn’t consider righteousness to be a genuine (or not a genuinely worthy) feeling when an anger-fueled superior attitude is being used to cover up other feelings such as a sense of impotence or guilt.

Anyways, good or bad, isn’t it part and parcel of the American democratic sensibility to loudly declare what one believes to be right?  It’s definitely a part of the American mythos.  Take for example the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  It’s about the conflict of a truly righteous man trying to overcome false righteousness being used for devious ends, and it’s also about how easily the general public is manipulated by false righteousness.  There are any other number of stories (both true and fictional) like this which are about a person (often alone or with few allies) righteously struggling to get their voice heard.  On the other hand, false righteousness seems more common as it’s such an effective tool for those in power and for those who want to gain power.  But most people would like to believe their righteousness is genuine.  And there is usually a way to rationalize righteousness, a way to frame the issue so that one feels like the good guy fighting the good fight. 

It’s easy to deceive oneself when the stakes are high or whenever one is emotionally invested.  But how do you know when you’re seeing the world through a self-enclosed rationalization?  There are several ways.  First, if you have developed critical thinking skills, these can be helpful… but I don’t think that is enough by itself.  So, secondly, I would emphasize even more so the value of self-awareness (which correlates with awareness of the other).  If you are self-aware enough or have someone in your life to point out your blind spots (which to some degree requires sympathetic understanding of other perspectives), you’re more likely to be able to step back from your rationalizations.  Maybe it’s only when self-awareness starts to break in that you can then use critical thinking skills to come to understanding.  However one gets to this point of self-questioning, there has to be a desire to self-question in the first place.  Questioning the world has to be balanced by questioning turned inward (and if there must be an imblance I think it’s best to have too much emphasis on the self-questioning).  A person can only be genuinely righteous to the extent they question their own righteousness.

I guess that is the rub.  Righteousness is almost always turned towards someone else.  It’s hard to imagine the vocally critical type of righteous person being equally critical of themselves and being equally open in voicing those self-criticisms.  I can think of a number of political pundits and social commentators who are examples of extreme criticism of others.  Some of them may occasionally point out minor flaws of their own, but it is a small part of what they say and these meager confessions usually get lost in their larger message.  Maybe this comes down to entertainment value.  Watching someone attack other people is entertaining.  Watching someone morally contemplate their own weaknesses and failings would be boring… unless they were a particularly funny stand-up comedian.

My sense of aggravation towards righteousness is very much about the personal.  My own righteousness is constrained for the reason I don’t generally feel to be in a morally superior position.  I have no grand accomplishments and often I feel like a failure (or that I don’t live up to my “God-given” potential).  Yet, I do feel something like pride for what I’ve managed to accomplish (in that I’ve read and researched widely and have tried to gain some understanding on a fairly diverse set of subjects), but that which I’m proud of isn’t overly valued by society.  So, I do sometimes feel righteous when I meet people online who either are willfully ignorant (especially certain apologists) or else simply some combination of uninformed and misinformed (which everyone is to varying degrees).  But I know that doesn’t justify my projecting on to such people all of my frustrations and anger (and general unhappiness).  As a depressed person, I’m easily irritated and it isn’t anyone else’s fault.

The righteousness I feel comes from my sense of being an underdog.  Let me try to explain.  According to the social standards of success and respectability, I’m not all the way at the bottom with the outright losers and scum of the earth, but I’m no where near the top.  I’m not homeless and I’m not unemployed, and so I have that going for me.  But I am a bachelor who lives alone and I’ll probably remain a bachelor to the end of my days.  Despite having above average intelligence and some other natural abilities, I’ve always worked entry-level jobs and I just earn enough to get by (with little prospects for anything better in the future).  I haven’t had much in the way of external obstructions to moving up in the world.  I was raised with plenty of advantages and opportunities as a middle class white male in a developed country.  Still, I’ve struggled for “internal” reasons (some combination of psychological issues and genetics) and this just makes me feel all the more sympathetic towards those who didn’t have the advantages and opportunities I grew up with.  Life can be tough no matter where you begin, but it’s particularly tough for those who have so much going against them right from the start.

Plus, I have this basic sense of the precariousness of life.  Life can seem perfect one moment and hell on earth the next.  I may not be on the bottom, but it wouldn’t be hard for me to end up on the bottom.  People living in shelters and under bridges usually don’t start off life that way.  The majority of the homeless are mentally ill or traumatized veterans, but most of them once were normal people with jobs and houses, with families and friends.  The homeless aren’t a mutant sub-class of humans entirely isolated from normal (i.e., respectable) people.  Anyone can become mentally ill, get addicted to painkillers, get diagnosed with a costly illness, lose their job and house, go bankrupt, etc.  If you don’t have very strong social support (which fewer people have these days), it’s very easy to fall through the cracks and get lost there.

On the other hand, there are those who have lives that more or less work out as planned and they somehow avoid major catastrophes for most or all of their lives (death being the final catastrophe that finds us all).  They have a sense of being in control of their own life.  They feel they deserve what they have, that they’re entitled.  But I think most of this is just a matter of fortunate circumstances.  I understand why the illusion of control is so attractive.  What I don’t like is the sense of superiority that almost inevitably goes along with it.  If the rich person deserves being rich, then the poor person also deserves being poor.  If Americans deserve their power and luxurious lifestyle, then those in third world countries deserve to be stuck in slave labor jobs while their environment is destroyed and their natural resources stolen.  The unemployed and homeless deserve to live miserable lives.  Those without large savings and health insurance deserve to die of easily treated diseases.

Growing up a middle-class white American (and living for years in a very above average middle class town) has given me a bit of perspective.  I have some insight about what it means to have privilege and to take it as a given.  The issue I have with righteousness is that those who should feel righteous too often feel powerless and unheard… all the while the politicians, political pundits, and televangelists who act all righteous are usually those who grew up with privilege.  But it’s all relative.  One can almost always point to someone who had more privilege than oneself.  If you go by the words of the righteous people who get heard in the media, it’s not unusual for them to claim to be underdogs or to represent the underdog… which in most cases doesn’t seem authentic.

The facts are that most of the wealth and power in the world (including in democracies) is passed down according to relationships of family and class.  More money gets inherited by the next generation of the wealthy than is produced by means of capitalism.  A large percentage of politicians (including in democracies) are familialy related and of royal lineage.  Even today, research shows that a white male has massive opportunities beyond minorities and females.  Research shows that people born rich tend to remain rich and those born poor tend to remain poor.  Also, poor areas tend to be where there is heavy pollution which leads to low IQ and high rates of illness, and these areas are so polluted because of the industries run by the rich who don’t have to live in these areas.  IQ, in particular, has high correlation to economic success.  So, the game is rigged before a person is born.

Yes, occasionally someone through various factors (strength of will being the least of these factors) manages to escape their situation.  But, for every one person that escapes, there are millions or hundreds of millions of people equally worthy and equally determined who were crushed by circumstances.  The exception proves the rule.

As I see it, there is so much suffering and injustice in the world.  And despite Enlightenment ideals, the West has it’s fair share of underprivileged, impoverished and disenfranchised.  Where are the righteous voices to defend those who can’t defend themselves?  In the news, we constantly hear about what the rich and powerful are doing, but why do we rarely hear about the struggles of the vast majority?  Why aren’t there regular interviews with the poor and homeless?  Why aren’t there popular reality shows that follow the lives of people in war-torn countries?  Why aren’t there tv series based on families who live sick and hungry in refugee camps?  Why do tv commentators spend most of their time reporting on the same small set of topics and events all the while almost entirely excluding the everyday lives and experiences of the average and below average?

What are people who feel justly righteous to do in response to all of this?  Organize?

As an example, consider the peace protests against the invasion of Iraq.  They were the largest and fastest growing of any anti-war movement in American history, and the most widespread and most well-organized in world history.   That is a truly righteous populist movement if one ever existed, and it was ignored and dismissed by the faux righteousness of politicians (and the patriotic submission of the media in parroting that faux righteousness).  The justifications of the war were dubious, but it’s impossible to stop even an unnecessary war when it’s backed by political power and financial gain (which includes the revolving door between big government and big business and more specifically the corporate interest in media coverage). 

Consider how much worse it is when you are someone in the minority, someone with no ability to influence, someone with no ability to start large protest movements, someone with no ability to force the media to at least recognize you exist.

Part of my issue about righteousness is that public opinion has become something for those in power to manipulate.  There is a general mood that the news media isn’t doing a good job of informing the public.  Going by commentary I’ve read and my own observations, very little news seems to be based on investigative journalism or even basic fact-checking.  News reporters seem to rely too heavily on media releases by corporations and the government.  The media basically tells us what we should be righteous about… and the general public seems rather compliant.

I would be less irritated if I felt there was something worthy to be righteous about.  I’d love to live in a culture that was righteous about truth, where people weren’t just out for their own ideological interest.  Or why can’t people be righteous about compassion?  Why can’t we take all the money spent on the military and instead have a war on homelessness, poverty and hunger?

I feel demoralized by what I see in the world and I feel disenfranchised from what seems like a fraudulent political system.  I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.  There are many people who rightly feel the system doesn’t benefit them, but the problem is that when people feel insecure they most often react emotionally rather than rationally.  And when people are in this state, they’re easily manipulated and easily riled up.  This collective sense of dissatisfaction is rarely ever directed towards any morally righteous end.