The following are three distinct essays excerpted from my book,
No Stranger to Strange Lands: A Journey Through Strange Coincidences, Connective Thoughts, and Far Flung Places,
which describe the reasons that Ayn Randian, Milton Friedmian, Free Market Fascist Capitalism should be discarded.
Our government should get involved in stimulating the economy by spending large amounts of money, being open and accountable, and balancing that by not lowering taxes and cutting back on military spending, and we citizens sould be telling them that that is exactly what we want them to do - to serve us instead of themselves and their doners, for once!
Tragedy And Irony
The sadness of bigotry and hardheadedness blanket this entire nation in layers of tragedy and irony. The tragedy of the enslavement of African people – the irony of the original Thanksgiving event, where the native people helped out the struggling Pilgrims, showing them how to survive in this new land, sharing their food and their knowledge, only to later be deemed inferior beings, not worthy of their lands or their cultures – the tragedy of the Civil War, that the righteous on each side were driven to such extreme violence – the irony that many of the romanticized episodes of the Wild West, involving “heroes” like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, were the results of so many armed and restless warriors from that horrible Civil War – tragedy that, as time went on, racism continued against the Black people in the South and a new wave of racism arose against the Chinese in the West – irony that the Industrial Revolution threw “modernization” into overdrive, creating a consumer society so completely dependent on corporations for food, clothing, medicine, transportation, communication, time-saving and life-enhancing gadgets, and energy to run those gadgets, all driven by massive media conglomerations that inform us what we need to buy next. The biggest irony here is that we are constantly reminded of how “free” we are, yet we have become slaves to our own existence. We have the right to free speech, religion, assembly, the press, and to petition our government, as Article I of the Bill of Rights declares, but these rights only exist in spirit, and are in practice minimized to apply only to those supporting this [the Bush] administration. And so, irony of ironies, tragedy of tragedies, this country – despite all the technology and information available, despite all of the lessons of history, despite the awareness of millions of people that our leaders have been lying to us and have manipulated the corporate media so insidiously that Orwell's dystopian world of doublethink has come to pass – this country has fallen from the towering heights into the snake pit of Fascism, lead there by fanatics, Capitalist fanatics, who are the snakes themselves, the embodiment of the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, who seduced Eve with its shiny perfect-looking waxed pesticide-laden genetically engineered apple – she didn't seem to notice that it was devoid of most of its apple taste... How easy it is to conjure up our symbolic archetypes! How powerful that imagery is, and the image of the Snake goes a long way: the slimy snake oil salesman; the sneaky snake in the grass; the Great World Snake that lives in a pit at the center of the world; the seething snake pit that even that icon of manly fearlessness, Indiana Jones, can't handle. The Snake is the ultimate in creepiness and deception. A massive, nation-wide pit of creepiness and deception has emerged, created by the Serpents of Free Market Fascism, who lead their followers over its edge and into its depths with promises of glorious Freedom and Happiness while curtailing freedom and offering only false choices. And just like in the Bible, from which that Serpent with its apple emerged, they have their own creation myths and lofty ideals that, when examined closely, can be found to be based on tortured logic, questionable constructs of reality, and pure arrogance - the same kind of inflexible self-righteousness that has always led to violence and abuses, always based on some kind of entitlement claims and moral value systems that are devoid of humanistic ethics or empathy for the suffering of others. Their bible is Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.
Herein lies a major source of the sadness behind my anger: that so many have been swayed by the dangerously seductive ideology of this and other “free market” writings, this twisting of what constitutes “good and evil,” “morality,” and the motivations of caring people, without thinking through the inferences or consequences of what these ideas entail. They are meant to inspire and uphold the rights of the individual and connect Democracy with Capitalism, yet they end up vilifying the working and management classes – the very engines of their precious prosperity - and abhorring populism. In fact, it seems to me that the only thing Democracy has to do with their ideology is that it is not Communism or Socialism. They have one-upped the original Fascists in deceptiveness by utilizing that system while claiming to be Democratic. They particularly like to paint the wealthy as the victims of guilt-trips, do-gooders, and those who hate them for their greatness, thus painting taxes as the coercive looting of their wealth by the state. They are paranoid that everyone is after a piece of them. Do people realize that the basis for this ideology is that the wealthy (who are assumed to be so because they have made great achievements and are the productive element of society) should not be pressured by the lower classes (who are assumed to be so because they are lazy and jealous) into parting with any little bit of their wealth because Self-Reliance is the ultimate good and helping out the less fortunate only encourages them to not try hard enough? In their minds, they are wealthy because they are better, and they are the ones who are put upon to hold up all of society, the “atlases” of the world. This is the thinking, and it is sadly arrogant and self-righteous, yet it seems to sucker people in with the empty promise that all they really need to do is to seek Happiness through Self-Reliance, Achievement, and “Rational Self-Interest,” and above all, do not give in to evil Selflessness, and then they, too, can become one of society's moral leaders. Saddest of all is their dangerous determination not to be sad – to deny Sadness – to forget, and thus lose sight of the truth of the past – that this mighty nation has been built on the tears of many, many diverse and underprivileged peoples - enslaved, indentured, in debt – and has not always lived up to the promises that the Founding Fathers made. It all leads to a false sense of entitlement by those who are most entitled, a sentiment that things are the way they are supposed to be, that those who are most trod upon deserve their fate because they are weak and unworthy, and that this system should be supported even by them because it is the best that Humanity has to offer.
It [the mining town of Ouray, high up in the San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado] was named after Chief Ouray, leader of the Uncompahgre band of Utes that once roamed this area. Before the discovery of gold and silver up here, these mountains were of little use to the pioneers of this nation. The Utes came here hunting deer, elk, antelope, and other animals, to revel in the beauty and grandeur, to bathe in the sacred hot springs. These wandering people probably used peyote, which would have certainly enhanced their appreciation of their incredible landscape. That also explains the inspiration for their imaginative, colorful, intricately beaded artwork. By being mobile, they had the best of all worlds, joining into larger bands in sheltered, warmer places in the winter, enjoying family and celebrations, and then splitting up and going up to higher ground to hunt and gather, and maybe throw some seeds in a high meadow somewhere, or farm in the rich river valley a bit during warmer weather. Chief Ouray did what he thought was in his peoples' best interest, sadly underestimating the extent to which the dark skinned people were despised and dehumanized by the light skinned invaders. He was a man who knew four languages, who met with presidents Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant, who was known as “The White Man's Friend” because he negotiated with the United States and even formed alliances with them in battles against his enemies to the south, the Apache and Navajo tribes. These Utes were known to be great warriors, and it seems that their leader understood the extent to which they were out-gunned and outnumbered by the Great White Wave, and thus sought to be diplomatic instead of confrontational. He was right about the unstoppable nature of Capitalism, and although he represented his people with great honor and diplomatic aplomb, in the end they still suffered the same fate as all of their other fellow natives. In the end, all they got was a state named after their tribe, a town named after their chief, a river named after their band, and banishment to a reservation in northeastern Utah. But Chief Ouray was a true Leader, a man with excellent leadership qualities, a man depended upon by his band to make sound decisions that directly affected everyone. It stands to reason that nomadic cultures depend upon their leaders heavily, because they lived on more of an edge, very intricately involved with nature's patterns, and so they had no tolerance for bad leadership. The Leader must have been a good leader, or he didn't get to lead. Thus, there was genuine trust amongst the members, which also allowed them to be more open to the sharing of their resources and division of their labor, all for the common good. They shared the products of their labor, and they moved about the land, utilizing and respecting it, but not owning it. In fact, the “Enlightenment” era ideas about “natural law” having anything to do with Labor and Property Rights does not apply to the nomadic, non-property owning societies that existed successfully all over North America for at least a thousand years, further proof that these “laws” are human created ideas, not something that comes from Nature. And so, the regal Chief Ouray could not have been the inspiration for Rand Land.
No, it was not the communistical, wandering ways of the original inhabitants of this place, but the newcomers, the railroad and the mining companies, with their “Captains of Industry” at the helm, the wonderful way that Capitalism brought all of these cute little buildings and the job opportunities for whores and construction workers and clerks and miners, and the rail lines and roads, and all those other signs of “progress” to this far corner of the world. Ayn Rand came to one of the most beautiful places on the planet, visited one of the hokier little hot spring resort towns, and became inspired by the Human Endeavor that built all the buildings and schools and roads and mines and such amidst this amazing natural wonder. She heard whisperings while she was in the vapor caves for a little too long, slightly ill from eating too much saltwater taffy, and feeling the effects of too little oxygen getting to her brain. Certainly, she stayed at the fanciest establishment in town, where the railroad executives stayed, and heard their whispers above those of the others. She heard how the mining interests had the indigenous people forcibly removed, how several thousand people had all come for the money, built these cute Victorian houses, and left when the mining business fell into decline. And she heard from the next wave of Tourism Capitalists. Somehow, she was motivated to crystallize her whole Rand-world, of “rational self-interest,” the seeking of individual happiness and fulfillment as society's highest calling, the entitlement to private property as reward for achievement, the need to repel the guilt trips that the non-productive members of society use to get the government to take away one's property, where the wealthy are hated for their greatness, and so they must not tolerate parasite, impotent, evil mediocrity, but must carry on in their moral calling as the put-upon, unappreciated, self-sufficient, creative, competents of society, seeking only the highest of ideals, the profound right to be happy, and to enjoy the fruits of their labors in the form of property.
How did she miss the call of Nature in this amazing place? How have humans for so long now ignored those voices of Nature? How have we “rationalized” our destruction of Nature, trying to claim that Nature itself causes us to act the way we do? We have misunderstood our place in nature in several respects. We have come to believe that we are above Nature, able to rule over it, conquer it, exploit it, that we are smarter than it. But we are only deceiving ourselves in this respect, unwilling to admit that our real understanding of Nature is much less than we like to think it is. At the same time, Western philosophy has gone down the path of claiming that things in human-created society follow certain “laws of nature,” so that Social Darwinism became a convenient rationale for the destruction of the indigenous societies around the globe by the mad rush of European peoples to stamp out their claims on the new lands being discovered. Even while many are insulted by the Darwinian idea that humans developed, through the process of Natural Selection, from the apes, these same people are perfectly willing to apply that same reasoning to human society, claiming that because the indigenous people the European explorers encountered were less “civilized,” less technologically advanced, pagan, often wandering, and much less well armed, they were “naturally” less Human, unworthy, and in need of being “saved” from their “evil” and “backward” ways. The conquerers felt sanctified by their own superiority. They were morally obligated by their religious beliefs as well as their social beliefs to spread the Great White Way, the way of separation from Nature, and faith in God and technological advancement. The Mormons actually tried to turn the relocated Utes into good, civilized, Christian farmers at the Res. in Utah, with Indian Schools and all that. They might as well have water-boarded them. They achieved the same end, which was near annihilation of their identities.
Not that the nomads of North America were angels compared to white people. They weren't. They were warriors, sometimes bandits and raiders, they traded in and used slaves. There were certainly messed up parts about their cultures, just like there are messed up parts about ours. What happened to them was that they were treated as if they were of no value at all, had no lessons to teach, no knowledge to offer. Yet, they did have a kind of knowledge about the rhythm and flow of life in their regions of travel, the arability of the land, the sustainability of areas and the need to move around to allow regeneration, the pathways connecting places, the animal and plant life, natural medicines, locations of springs... And they knew that they were part of nature, not lords over it. They respected the earth, and spent much of their energy making ceremonies to celebrate nature and its gifts. Their gods did not separate them from nature, but were representations of different aspects of the natural world. Their gods did not tell them to reject this life and prepare for the afterlife. They were concerned with the here and now and the future of the world, as the people were charged with caring for the land and acting to bring forth balance, to actively participate in the cycles of nature.
So despite nature's grandeur, despite Chief Ouray's wise ways, the voices of Capitalism and Western philosophy rang through to Ayn Rand when she was here. She built a world in which being “rational” meant being disciplined and following what is only “human nature,” even though humans are not really that good at being rational and “human nature” is not really as it has been defined by philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. She built an ideology that distrusts and despises the government as well as the very workers that run the grand enterprises of the elite business leaders, while at the same time starting out on the premise that every individual has the means to accomplish great things if only they would apply themselves. But every individual does not have those means – only the wealthy and already connected people have those means. The vast majority of those people are not at the top of the social structure because they are in any way better than everyone else. Rather, they were just luckier, wealthier, better positioned to start with. And by distrusting and despising the lower classes, the elites have entirely misinterpreted the motivations of all of the people that work for them. People, for the most part, except for the always present criminal elements in society, don't want to mooch and leech off of the wealthy, nor off of the government. They simply want to be respected and valued for what they contribute to society. In Rand World, the free market system is the ultimate moral system, because, by the laws of Natural Selection and the pressures of the marketplace, unfettered free-flowing ideas will always rise to the top – only the best will be tolerated by the marketplace, only the most efficient businesses, only the best value items, only the most sound investments will survive the struggle. Only...only...the marketplace doesn't work like that. It never can. Money, property, value, these are all inanimate, human-created ideas. They do not exist in nature. They follow a different set of rules that are based on a more realistic characterization of the human creature, a better understanding of our own selves.
Family is family, and it will always be so. Many times, traditional family structures work great for everyone in the family, but many times it does not. Many times, people take advantage of their positions and their relatives, and since the Abrahamic religions are all structured on that same framework, George Lakoff's Father Figure Framework, a system now exists where the Father Figure is absolute, unquestionable, unaccountable. If he is irresponsible, abusive, undependable, his underlings have no recourse but to put up with his abuse or inability. The authority figures in our society are supposed to be honored regardless of their actual performance. There is an unspoken assumption that somehow, “natural laws” have brought the worthy into positions of power and authority, and further, by virtue of their being in those positions, they are believed to be favored by God, even chosen by God. But the whole structure is corrupted by true human nature, the side of us that is greedy , egotistical, opportunistic, and inappropriately loyal to entities other than those that are supposed to be attended to. The emphasis in the current system is on the authority aspect instead of on the ability aspect. Society would be much better served to respect leadership and ability over mere authority. And this idea applies throughout all levels of society, from the highest levels of government down to the individual family units.
Accountability – it just doesn't seem to matter in that Father Figure Framework. I can imagine something better, something more just, more accountable, more flexible, a framework that does allow the best and the brightest to achieve those positions of power. It is a matter of breaking through the status quo to allow women and people of color to join in the leadership ranks while the good ol' boys conspire to hold on to all of their status. It is a matter of building communities and connecting people instead of dividing us. It is about respecting alternative ways of achieving goals, such as creating alternative family units, working up different frameworks, engaging in creative problem solving. It is about education and encouragement and sharing of responsibilities, then finding leaders who understand and respect the position of authority they have been granted and use their power wisely. Why have we resigned ourselves to settle for so much less?
This is where we need to Speak Truth To Power. The concept here is that people in any system give their tacit consent to be ruled. The authority of anyone is granted to them by the people who they hold authority over. When the ruler is ruling badly, the people have the duty to withdraw their consent, and to let those in power know that they have lost their authority over them by engaging in non-violent acts of civil disobedience, willfully disregarding the rule of the powerful, and by speaking up and communicating their positions clearly. Accountability through consent. This is a powerful idea, one that seems fully democratic, yet, it remains obscure and unknown to a society that does not pay much attention to what their leaders are doing. In fact, the concept has been completely twisted around by Ayn Rand with her “sanction of the victim” line of thought. Her concern is that the business leaders are the victims of “looters and moochers” and the government that aids them in trying to take away the leaders' well-deserved profits through taxation. The solution, according to Ms. Rand, is to refuse to be victimized, refuse to tolerate this stealing of their money, refuse to make any sacrifices at all towards a greater good in order to expel the parasite evil. It just makes me so sad. The idea that we consent to be ruled and thus cede power to the rulers has been hijacked by the powerful themselves and turned around to mean that it is they, the supposedly strong and good and productive, who must not allow themselves to be victimized by the weak and evil and lazy, that they are the ones whose consent matters, that they consent to lead society with their greatness, and they cede their consent to be taxed because they already help society enough by creating jobs for all the losers. So much for accountability. So much for social justice. And so much for reality, because the wealthy are victims only of their own paranoia and greed, while the not so wealthy are truly victimized by lack of resources, education, information, and opportunity. But, as always, the working classes are many while the wealthy are few, so the few do whatever they can to exclude the many, to keep their club small and exclusive, and to persuade the many that the status quo is how things were meant to be and that the leaders are doing a heck of a job. It is up to the many who do not hold traditional power to come together and understand that they really do hold a kind of power, that power to refuse to play by the same old rules that have kept them from achieving what they could in a more just system, the power to hold the leaders accountable.