Monday, October 29, 2012
Why do some people seem obsessed with having power over others? What are the roots of this need to control people, which seem to prevent the development of empathy and compassion? How did we get to be like this?
Babies aren’t naturally domineering, though control of others can be observed in children as young as two. Such behavior appears to be learned through experience. It seems that being dominated can teach one to dominate.
Empathy, on the other hand, appears to be an inborn trait. When an infant hears another crying, she will join in. Infants mimic the emotional expressions they observe. In fact, empathic learning appears to be the way we learn to become domineering. Ironically, to become a more effective dominator, one must shut down the natural impulse toward empathy.
This is the core of military training, which begins in our culture long before induction. Inferior beings are thrown into the category of “others, those who do not feel as I do.” It is pointless to empathize with the insects we squash, the animals we kill for dinner, or the people we oppress.
Thus, troops learn to kill Japs, or Gooks, or Ragheads, without concern for their feelings. Others of all ages and either gender are fair game. It is their fault for getting in the way of our superior society. For militaristic men, expression of dominance can supplant natural sexual urges. Thus rape, pillage, and plunder of the weak by the strong become the rules of engagement. Officers frequently rape underlings.
For too many people, dominance is just the way life is. If you don’t want to suffer more, you submit to your share of humiliation. The only way to rise above it appears to be becoming dominant yourself. Thus the boss shames the worker, who beats his wife, who disciplines the child, who kicks the dog, who gets shot for biting the boss.
Outside the military and prisons, overt domination is socially unacceptable. Civilized people are not expected to behave this way in public. Yet subtle forms of dominance pervade our society, from the hierarchical corporate organization chart to the practices of prostitutes. Expressing dominance is a cheap stimulant in which we all engage at some time.
The thrill of dominance is undermined by our natural tendency toward empathy. Soldiers and jailers suffer from the realization that they have been hurting other people. PTSD and high suicide rates are found amongst those who practice routine violence, even under the umbrella of state sanction. To shut down this natural empathy is to become a sociopath.
Many people play the line between dominance and submission, experiencing both roles. Sometimes partners engage in the interplay of role reversal, developing empathy by walking in the other’s shoes. Many search for empathic proof that voluntary servitude is not painful, but joyous.
The alternative to the world of dominance and submission is the egalitarian ideal, where the autonomy of every individual is respected. Service is always voluntary. As Marshall Rosenberg teaches “I don’t want you to do anything for me unless it brings you joy.” Enlightened people in all cultures devote themselves to service.
Gandhi & Dr. King modeled for us the power of compassion over dominance. By voluntarily choosing to submit to a jail cell while respectfully denying the authority they protested, each of these gentle men asserted their autonomy to the shame of those who relied upon violence to maintain dominance.
The big challenge is to teach by example the higher road of compassion. Rather than dominating our children, we can respectfully encourage them to find pleasure from voluntary service. We can devote ourselves to those who need to heal from the crude dominance that is too common in our world. Both victims and perpetrators need compassion, forgiveness and redirection toward a healthy, natural way of being.
Monday, October 15, 2012
As I get older I find myself explaining things I remember clearly to those who weren’t aware at the time. Today I’ve decided to pen a brief history of the political decay that has gone on in the USA during my lifetime, because it will hopefully help to inform the actions needed to dig our way out of this mess.
I’m going to begin a little before my birth, relying upon information I’ve gathered from my parents and their peers. WWII was a pivotal event and FDR and Eisenhower (who was POTUS when I was born) characterize the best memories of each of the mainstream parties.
Franklin Roosevelt was probably the most popular President this country has ever had. Born into power and married to his cousin, he championed a sort of noblesse oblige, which gave major concessions to the peasant class in order to prevent revolution. Eleanor went even farther with this concept, establishing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and daring people to dream of a world without war or poverty. FDR raised the Middle Class out of the Great Depression.
FDR mollified the war profiteers by turning them on themselves. In the course of thwarting fascism in Europe, he built the groundwork for fascism in the USA. Although an attempted fascist putsch against him was derailed by the military hero, Smedley Butler, FDR was able to move the populace from debating if communism or anarchism was preferable to building the modern military industrial complex.
The real coup came when power bosses determined who would be FDR’s last term Vice President. Edwin W. Pauley, an oil man who worked with GHW Bush & Howard Hughes, both active in the CIA, led the drive to replace the left leaning Henry Wallace with Harry Truman rather than popular Supreme Court Justice Wm O Douglas.
Harry Truman cemented the militarism of the USA, establishing the permanent peacetime army, which had been anathema to patriots prior to WWII. The product of a notoriously corrupt political machine, Harry gained national attention by exposing war profiteers. In retrospect we can see that he did more for them than any other President.
Harry dropped the bomb. Nobody else has ever purposely used nuclear weapons against people. He also started the Cold War against the USSR and organized the newly formed UN to back a hot war against North Korea. Perhaps more damaging than all that was his institutionalization of secrecy in the US government, by signing the National Security Act of 1947, creating the NSC & CIA, and unifying the Pentagon.
For many years there was another secretive power openly affecting politics in the USA. J. Edgar Hoover built up the FBI by fighting against organized crime, but slowly repurposed it to fight communism in the style of Joe McCarthy, by suppressing valid criticism of the US government. Hoover was rumored to be more powerful than any elected leader, keeping his work secret from Truman and Kennedy. He approved the assassinations of many civil rights leaders, apparently including Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dwight Eisenhower, a popular general during WWII, was elected on promises of peace, which he fulfilled by ending the Korean War in a stalemate that lasts today. Besides his poor choice of running mate, Ike is probably best remembered for his farewell speech, where he warned the public of the dangers of a peacetime military, coining the phrase “military industrial complex.” In spite of the warning, Ike didn’t find any way to use the powers of his office to unseat the corrupt.
John Kennedy symbolized a fresh new approach to politics in America, at least until we were able to look into his closet. His father, Joe, pulled his family above the middle class by running rum out of Cuba for Mafioso Sam Giancana. After a heroic stint in the US Navy, the young Senator from Massachusetts was able to parrot the popular anticommunism of his time, while appearing to rise above the old party bosses.
I don’t know who killed the Kennedys. It seems clear that Santo Trafficante, the Cuban Mafioso displaced by Castro, might have felt betrayed by a descendant of his own crime family when JFK refused to order bombing to support the Bay of Pigs. It is worth noting that this notoriously botched attempt to overthrow Castro with CIA trained Cubans was apparently directed from an oil derrick owned by GHW Bush.
It had to be salt in the wounds when Attorney General Robert Kennedy started rounding up long time Mafia leaders and prosecuting them for usury, bribery, fraud & perjury. By 1968 the prospect of another Kennedy in the White House must have terrified those who built their power with secrecy and thuggery.
While I don’t think there has ever been one grand conspiracy, I have no doubt that those people who exhibit more influence over political decisions frequently collude in secret. At least in the short term a ruthless willingness to do “whatever it takes” to remain in power is a functional strategy. Evidence of such collusion is as old as politics itself. Good people have been fighting against corruption for nearly as long.
Meanwhile, there was Nixon. Ike’s veep never had the charisma nor reputation of his boss. He had risen to power by supporting the McCarthy witch hunts and declared his candidacy at the notorious Bohemian Grove, surrounded by a racist cabal of power lords who profited from militarism and nuclear power. Ironically, a review of his beliefs shows that he was to the left of today’s Democrats.
Nixon took advantage of Johnson’s weakness among white southerners. The Texan powerbroker had made major concessions to the civil rights movement in a vain attempt to stem the criticism of his escalation of the War in Vietnam. George Wallace led a third party rebellion of racist white southerners before an assassin crippled him. Nixon began the tactic, but Ronald Reagan & George Bush, Sr. succeeded in converting these racists into Republicans.
Popular rebellion against the old Democratic machine politicians crystalized around the antiwar movement in 1968. Johnson decided not to run for reelection. Hubert Humphrey could not inspire those who had been envisioning Robert Kennedy as President, but he had enough of the old machine to beat the weak peace candidate, Gene McCarthy. Wallace’s withdrawal from the Democrats opened the door for Nixon to be elected by a small plurality.
The 1972 election was the last time I held hope for political change from the top down. A tremendous organizing effort nominated the peace candidate, George McGovern, a political reformer who had directed Food for Peace for JFK. The press was merciless in criticizing McGovern, a war hero, and refused to acknowledge the Watergate Affair until after the landslide election.
Once Nixon had served his purpose by thwarting the threat of genuine systemic reform, the powers that be hung him out to dry. After pointless negotiations, he conceded victory to the North Vietnamese and beat a retreat from the doomed-to-fail war. Shortly after, and before he could introduce any of his more progressive social ideas, he was consumed by the Watergate scandal. The American people ate it up, patting ourselves on the back for defeating the bad guys.
Jimmy Carter was a little known Governor whose friends at the Trilateral Commission bought him the advertising power of Coca Cola, based in his state of Georgia. His feel good campaign scrupulously avoided mentioning any real issues while defeating the unelected President Gerald Ford, and his single term in office accomplished remarkably little. He has, however, been a great ex-President.
When Carter took office there was lots of energy within the Democratic Party to clean up politics in America. Senator Frank Church led a special committee that looked into the misdeeds of the recently deceased J Edgar Hoover, but also explored illegal assassinations and antidemocratic coups conducted by the CIA. In a subtle display of power, the members of the committee who supported the majority report were defeated in their next election. There was a huge influx of off shore money, mostly through Joe Coors’ Committee to Defeat Liberal Congressmen.
I’ve spoken with several remorseful former CIA agents, who all insist that the CIA was never a rogue agency, like Hoover’s FBI had been. They insist that every deed of the agency was carried out under direct order of the POTUS. However, when a covert operative loses his job, he doesn’t forget his skills nor cede his contacts. This may have been the lesson we should have learned from JFK’s demise. It was driven home by Jimmy Carter’s defeat.
John Kerry’s Congressional Inquiry into the Iran-Contra Scandal laid out the facts, though they were distorted by the media and overwhelmed by evidence of White House involvement in drug smuggling. Reagan’s Campaign Director, Bill Casey, later became his CIA chief, a position rarely granted to someone with no history in the agency. He was obviously not in the employ of Carter’s CIA while running Reagan’s campaign, so we can assume he was laid off. This helps to explain how he had the connections to promise the Iranians arms shipments if they would only hold the US hostages until Reagan was elected. They were released the day of his inauguration.
I don’t know what inspired John Kerry to drop the investigation, which had revealed enough evidence to impeach the first President Bush. Senator Kerry, who as a radical organizer of Vietnam Veterans Against the War had thrown back his medals, seemed to loose enthusiasm. By the time he ran for President against the younger Bush, he seemed to be a candidate determined to fail. As Obama’s Sec of State, he’s a regular warmonger.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Reagan years were hard on progressives, as we watched reform stifled and social programs dismantled in favor of obscene military spending. Reagan had learned the lesson of Vietnam and so only invaded nations like Grenada that were too small to mount a defense. If there was a chance of meeting resistance, like Libya or Lebanon, he stuck to hit and run bombing raids.
It was interesting to observe the power struggle between Reagan and his VP, GHW Bush, the latter being a more conventional machine politician, as opposed to Reagan’s rebellious populist image. I emphasize that was only an image. Reagan was a willing tool of the powerful, having worked for years as a mouthpiece for GE. His candidacy was announced at the infamous Bohemian Grove.
Reagan’s original appointees all met with scandal or other mysterious problems and were each in turn replaced by Bush cronies. The last to go was Bill Casey in 1987. He had promised to tell Sen. Kerry’s committee everything about the Iran-Contra scandal, when he had a “cerebral accident” and was rushed to Bethesda Hospital, where most of his frontal lobe was removed. He was never again lucid.
Days after Casey’s surgery, President Reagan was scheduled to go to Bethesda for a routine colonoscopy. Just before he left to keep his appointment, Nancy Reagan had an entire surgical team, from doctor to the lowest orderly who might come near her husband, flown in from New England to replace the Bethesda team. I took this as confirmation of my paranoia about conspiracies. Perhaps it helps to explain Kerry’s conversion.
Bill Clinton came from the “if you can’t beat them, join them” camp of the Democratic Party. He led the Democratic Leadership Council with funding from the Koch Brothers in promoting “third way” politics, which apparently meant accepting bribes to do the dirty work of corrupt corporations while talking a good line about human rights. During the Reagan years, powerful sellouts rewrote the internal processes of the Democratic Party, undermining democracy with Super Delegates and other cheap tricks. Clinton repaid his investors with NAFTA.
Sen. Kerry was not the first wimpy candidate to face GW Bush. Al Gore ran a flaccid campaign in 2000 and still managed to win enough votes to take office. There was a serious question about corruption in the Florida recount. Bush’s brother was Governor of Florida at the time and Republicans were cheating openly.
The Constitution says when nobody has a majority of Electoral College votes, the House of Representatives chooses a President. The House had a strong Democratic majority at the time, but none of them raised a peep when the Supreme Court, in an unconstitutional fiat declared Bush as President. The Green Party protested louder than the Democrats.
I’m sure you all remember W, 911, and Obama. I’m sure many feel sold out by Obama. If you had bothered to read his issues statements prior to his election, you’d realize that’s exactly what he promised to do. All the hype about Obama being liberal came from Republicans. He was the most conservative nominee the Democrats have come up with in my lifetime.
And he turned out to be worse than we could have imagined, escalating Bush’s war on Afghanistan and attacking several counties, none of which had attacked us, without even consulting Congress. He has defended in the courts his authority to torture, convinced Congress to give him authority to indefinitely detain suspects without trial, and claimed the authority to assassinate anyone anywhere.
There is one thing this review of history makes clear. We aren’t going to be able to vote our way out of this mess. Both corporate parties will continue to nominate the best politicians that money can buy. The two party system locks out third party challenges by making them spoilers for the lesser of two evils. The Supreme Court is so packed with conservatives that we cannot rely upon them to stop bribery. They defend it as free speech.
I haven’t given up on the vision of fair elections. I know that transparent fair elections could be used in a multiparty system to build a government responsive to the will of the people, if we could get rid of the corrupting influence of money. Unfortunately, those who win in a corrupt system have no incentive to reform it.
To accomplish the necessary systemic changes, each of us must claim our personal power. We must recognize the forces of corruption wherever they hide and refuse to be manipulated by them, taking direct responsibility for the long-term effects of each of our own decisions.
When we each refuse to work for or buy from the corrupt corporations, the result will be general strike and broad boycotts. We can also refuse to pay taxes into governments that don’t represent us. We don’t have to pay for the bullets they aim at us, or the prisons they lock us into. Nonviolent noncompliance is the ethical high road and it can be used to win great concessions.
I began writing the ProposedConstitution for North America in the 1980s. Nobody is betting that I’ll see anything like it implemented in my lifetime. Oh, well. That is no reason to avoid sharing my ideals. I have had much more success promoting real democracy in my community.
I work with consensus driven organizations to build support for those who will live without the corporations. Local organic farmers are starting to deliver food by bicycle. Our community has discussed the possibility of rewriting our county charter to begin building a multiparty democracy. Maybe, if we work hard enough, our great grandchildren will have a planet worth living on.
Monday, October 01, 2012
Republicans are able to steal elections because they have neither scruples nor a powerful opposition. Democrats, shaped by the same corrupting forces, rarely offer any genuine alternative to an authoritarian system dominated by the obscenely wealthy. Let’s explore why this is so.
Let’s begin with an understanding that democracy is merely an ideal. No large-scale democracy has ever been sustained through all of human history, to my knowledge. There have been indigenous systems in various places that did a pretty good job of recognizing and respecting differences and engaging each person in an acceptable role, but some level of exploitation has been a part of most governments, especially those codified by law.
The subversion of democracy has a long, inglorious history. Those who maintain inordinate power to manipulate others use that power to concentrate that power. Deception and coercion are easier to sustain than brute force, but the threat of violence is ever present. The history of such manipulation can be traced through virtually every major institution – governments, churches, schools, etc. – at least back to the dark ages.
Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer who inspired the revolutionaries who founded the USA, made a study of the history of the disparity of power distribution in Europe. In Rights of Man he records how thugs became kings by cloaking themselves with religion. While the founders were moved to demand justice, they continued to support chattel law that abused women, children, landless peasants, and non-Europeans.
Of course, there has also been a resistance, clinging to an ideal vision of justice and democracy, equal rights for all. Mostly we’ve won a lot of lip service from the oligarchs, but they have made some genuine concessions. Slavery has been limited to the prisons and out of the way places. FDR gave us Social Security to avoid a revolution. We got the AFL-CIO to avoid the IWW.
History aside, today probably 10% of Americans are openly bigoted. Racist, misogynistic homophobes who actually believe radical Muslims are the biggest threat to America today are a genuine force to contend with, but they could never win elections without a lot of help. They get that help from the likes of the Koch Brothers. The Tea Party gets funding because they’re enthusiastic and easily manipulated. They will never be a threat to the oligarchs.
How does a party that only represents a radical sliver of the population win an election? Well, by giving lip service to traditional conservative theory, they manage to drag along some old school Republicans who still believe in the party of Lincoln & Eisenhower. By running very negative campaigns, they scare voters away from their opponents. In a pinch, they cheat.
For several decades now, polls have shown that the higher the turnout, the more likely a Democratic win. So Republicans do all they can to keep people from voting, especially those from demographics with a high percentage of Democrats. They work to disenfranchise the poor and people of color.
Republicans have removed names from the registration roles unfairly and with racist intent. They have made it more difficult for urban voters to get to the polls and misinformed voters who are likely to vote against them. In fact, there is ample evidence that they have built a bias into voting machines and perhaps manipulated tallying computers to skew the results.
All of this should make you mad. In fact, it is designed in part to make you mad. Beyond making it easier for Republicans, the oligarchs are counting on their tactics to drive you into the hands of their other team, the Democrats.
Let’s follow the money. In the 2012 race for President, Mitt Romney’s biggest source of money has been Goldman Sachs. That’s the same Goldman Sachs that was Obama’s biggest donor in 2008, for which they were rewarded with choice appointments, policy decisions, and huge bailouts. Whichever way the race turns out, the banksters win and we, the people, lose.
Of course, Obama positions himself as the champion of the people. He says great things, which seem to have very little impact upon policies. He came out in favor of gay marriage, for example, without mentioning that the President has no direct say in state laws governing marriage. He did, however, get rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” so gays can kill and die in the military. Hasn’t done much for sagging recruitment.
But what about health care? Obama managed to pass a bill, written by lobbyists from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, which will cause more people to have health insurance. Just ignore the fact that most people who declared bankruptcy because of medical expenses had health insurance.
The biggest resistance to that bill didn’t come from Republicans, who were a minority in both houses. It came from the people, a majority of voters by some polls, who were demanding single payer. Kucinich & Conyers proposed “Medicare for All”, but Democratic leadership made sure it never got a hearing. The bill that passed was almost identical to Romneycare, imposed upon Massachusetts by Obama’s opponent. Obama has been consistently to the right of Nixon on this and other issues. There is every indication that he’s as eager to privatize Medicare as Ryan is.
Military spending has gone steadily up under both parties and more countries are being regularly bombed and/or occupied by US troops than ever before. The rights of people have steadily eroded. Obama is the first POTUS to openly execute US citizens, one of them 16 years old, without even bothering to file charges. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA on steroids, has been secretly negotiated, and promises corporations new ways to walk all over us.
How did we get to this? Remember the Koch Brothers? Before they funded the Tea Party takeover of the Republicans, they put big money into Bill Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council, a restructuring of the party structure that introduced super delegates and virtually eliminated democratic processes.
Of course, none of the corruption of our government would be possible without the corporate lockdown on mainstream media. I didn’t realize how bad this was until I read the reports on an international event I personally witnessed. Even sources I had considered reliable, like the BBC, spun the story so badly the truth was lost.
The media helps to contain any anti-corporate inclinations that pop up. Remember the way they replayed that scream by Gov. Dean until everybody was convinced he’d gone crazy. I’ve met people who were in the room at the time and said his behavior was completely normal when taken in context.
Or look at the way Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul have been treated by the media. When they’re not being ignored, they’re being discounted. Their popularity was never in the news, because they don’t toe the corporate line.
We don’t have to play along with this game. When we vote outside the two corporate parties, we begin to build an alternative reality. Through radical localization, we can wean our communities from dependence upon multinational corporations. We can recharter our local governments into multiparty democracies, using tools like empowered neighborhood meetings, proportional representation, and ranked preference voting (like IRV).