Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My First Grade Teacher's Act of Kindness

I'm probably not the world's biggest fan of the economic system that we call "capitalism." This poster here expresses my feelings pretty well.  Now, don't run off... I'm not going to just pout and whimper and b__ch about this without offering advice.  So, stick around and hear me out.  I would do it for you.  

Now, for an American to say absolutely anything negative about capitalism, you almost put your life at risk. Why should we fear reprisal in the land of the free? What makes arguments against capitalism so taboo? Why doesn't free speech cover this?  After all, it's just critical analysis in a democratic system... a balance, or check.

If you think about it... you've done things before that you're not proud of. I know you have, too so don't give me that "innocent ol' me" look. :) I used to smoke in a barn behind my Grandma's house when I was twelve. That's kinda young to start smoking, I know. I kept smoking on and off until my father's illness in 1983, when I realized what this crap really was. I smoked... I knew that I wasn't supposed to, but I did it anyway. I even defended it. I said that it made me look cool. I said that it really wasn't that bad for you, despite all the warnings. I fell into the psychological trap that tobacco manufacturers are hoping that you will... the illusion that smoking is a cultural thing, therefore a good thing. James Dean didn't help there, either.

The point is that there are lots of smokers and they will vehemently deny that smoking is bad for you, even though they know that the opposite is true. But, have you noticed how emotionally they defend it? Because they know it's bad, they know that you know it's bad... so they have to fight not only your good sense but they're own.

So, now think about capitalism. We depend on it like a smoker depends on cigarettes. We're addicted.  Our entire culture is based upon it. That means that our culture is based upon "Caveat Temptor, the buyer beware"... as opposed to "love thy neighbor," or "he who dies with the most toys" instead of "lend a helping hand." The system that I sometimes call "Barberica" (Barbados + America) is based upon capitalization of resources... meaning to take full advantage of every opportunity to achieve our financial ends like our abusive Bardadian ancestors and slave labor to achieve their ends. The only thing that held us in check (remember the idea of checks and balances in the Constitutiion?) was our religion.  

"Our religion"... why not the many religions that can be rightfully found in this country? By "our religion," I'm referring of course to Christianity. It's on our money (glad I'm not a hyphenated American). A wikipedia file states:

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. The motto first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin, followed in 1866 by the 5 cent nickel (1866-1883), quarter dollar, half dollar, silver dollar and gold dollars. It did not become the official U.S. national motto until after the passage of an Act of Congress in 1956. It is codified as federal law in the United States Code at 36 U.S.C. § 302, which provides: "'In God we trust' is the national motto."

Our "official" motto did not become that until 1956!  I was born only 5 years later.  Something definitely changed since 1776 and despite the establishment clause in the Constitution.  Ok, fine. I don't intend to debate church and state.  So, we're religious.  But, "our religion" doesn't stop us from taking advantage of our neighbors, does it? But, it should!!!?? It's a Janus-faced twofer. On the one hand, we say "buyer beware" while on the other hand we say, "charity is a virtue."  

And religion as a control has become a great deal more impotent in recent years.  In many cases, modern religion actually supports behavior expressly forbidden in biblical texts.  A runaway behavioral effect took place and morality died in blitzkrieg of commercial conservatism.  Barbadians had Anglicanism, too.  Didn't stop them either.  It became cost-productive to work slaves literally to death.  After all, the bottom line, you know...

"Buyer beware" and "charity is a virtue."  I don't know if you've noticed, but those are completely polar ideas, inherently opposed to each other. They both can't be true. So, which is it? Do we do money, or good? Well, it seems that we do a lot more money than good. I know you have to agree with this. We all say it. To fight for that almighty dollar even if your "Almighty" tells you its a terrible thing. "The love of money is the root of all evil," right? Unless you want some more cigarettes. Then, you're whole perception of evil takes an about-face. 

Perhaps this is exactly what Charles Darwin referred to as "survival of the fittest." Capitalism does, indeed follow that precept. Still, is this what you would call civilized behavior or animal behavior? Which one of those do you most equate to? What is it, after all that separates us from animals? Most reply "intellect" to that question... the ability to think rationally. Rational thinking to achieve "survival of the fittest?" Isn't that convoluted logic, tautological reasoning that brings you right back where you started? In that world... we're still animals, fighting to die "with the most toys."

It only takes common sense to realize that this simply isn't right. And I believe that we all know it... ala the vehement and strong reactions to anything that questions capitalism. That kind of thinking is automatically called "socialist," and "communist," or any number of reactionary things that can't be said here. Marxist is another "negative" American-biased term. Still, these ideas are the ones that most closely corresponds to the morality that you will find in that book we call the "Bible." Has anybody ever read Marx's stuff?  You can't do it in public... you're not really free to do that.

I don't expect that I will change minds, here. Most of you will angrily oppose this line of reasoning... in my opinion, for exactly the reasons that I gave you. Inside, you will probably see the simple logic, however. For me, I can hear my mother saying, "share with your brother." 

My first grade teacher said the same thing one time when I forgot my lunch. I became the recipient of that teacher's sense of morality. I seriously doubt that she was a believer in capitalism. She probably never even thought about economics in that vein. But, her actions were more social, Marxist, or biblical and I was thankful for them. Will I see her morality as weak and take the food and never return it in kind? Not when I was NOT taught to be that way from the beginning... no. But, that's just me. I give everyday of what I can. I temper it with judgment... something we all have.   But, certainly not something that we all practice.

Now that I'm an adult, I shouldn't simply forget the moral lessons of childhood in order to conform to the modern ways of taking advantage... of "Caveat Temptor." Do I dump my morality at the first sign of green paper?

The problem we face is that everyone else will take what they can if we drop our guard. We cannot afford to simply follow our moral sense because someone else will capitalize upon our moment of "weakness." A system that views morality as a "weakness" is sick and ailing. After all, we seek to be civilized, to be more than the sum of our parts.

Why are we now in our present economic crisis? Because of people who practiced capitalism without a conscience. Conscience is a flimsy partition between morality and money. We can never assume that that behavior can be excised from our system completely, either. A greedy few can ruin it for all. It's like another first-grader running over and grabbing that halved peanut butter and jelly sandwich given to me by another generous kid as he scoops up everybody else's lunches, too.  My teacher would rightfully scold that little brat.  But, he's only acting in accord with the only economic system that he's allowed.  A drastic change needs to occur to change that kind of one-sided system. Education (something that's de-emphasized because of the risk of self-awareness) and our own talents of critical thinking can change this. 

Are you prepared to make life better for your kids?  Think about this: an internet-based system where we all have a true and direct say in American policy.  Is that democratic enough for you? 

I want to be civilized and I'm acutely aware that I'll never be perfect. But, I can be better than I am right now. How can I... how can WE change this? My ideas are what I like to call Moral Economics... an economic system based on producing the greatest amount of benefit for everyone... where we all work for each other and have an equal voice in government.  Thomas Jefferson proposed this idea of democratization back in the 18th century and we had it for awhile in the Articles of Confederation... but it wasn't feasible because counting votes from everyone across the country depended on a horseback courier that took weeks to get back with the answer.  It seemed kind of crazy in the eighteenth, nineteenth century or even the twentieth century and Jefferson's ideas suffered a lot since then... but, in the 21st century, we have instantaneous communication ability and can easily vote on any and every change that's proposed through the internet, within certain reasonable limitations, of course.  Thomas Jefferson would probably jump and cheer at this idea.  I rather believe that if the country could all vote on military action, we would not be in Afghanistan nor Iraq right now... the Lakota Sioux who died at Wounded Knee in 1890 might have lived.  Those were not our decisions. 

The first step, in my humble opinion, is to regulate the abusive system that puts 70% of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into 1% of American hands. That kind of system wouldn't last anyway... sooner or later, the American "mob" as Jefferson put it, will revolt (happened before). That much money should never be allowed in a single pair of hands. The Donald Trump's and Bill Gates, multi-mega-millionaires that are glorified on TV and have become the heroes of future capitalists must not be viewed in this way. Let's be responsible with what we show on TV... so vote on it. Mass-media really is the culprit. Lyndon Johnson wasn't ready for mass media in Vietnam, but every president since then has certainly relied upon it greatly.  They got used to closing their mouths and becoming better snake-oil salesmen.  Still, TV gives us more than we can reasonably handle. De-commercialize the average human life. Don't allow advertisers to fight over us like they do.  Vote on what products you want and end the battle there.  Vote on how much competition you would allow.  Competition is cool, but with mass media like TV, it takes on the guise of an epidemic.  

Foremost, make education the most admired tool in our repertoire by promoting critical thinking and morality side by side. Further scientific pursuit and discovery to provide us with the necessary ease in life.  And, be willing to share that ease.  Let's be more civilized than we have been.  Believe it or not, technology can bring it to us.  And, let's be ready to prosecute the corporate abuse, levy heavy fines and sentences on the abuse... literally, treason upon their fellow Americans. 

These are only preliminary arguments.  There are a lot of things that can be done... we just have to put the effort into making that discovery. It won't be so hard to find if we really look.  

Utopia? Heck, no. There's no such thing. But, the ideal is a terrific guide... strive for Utopia while understanding it's only a rhetorical tool to get the job done.

Don't blame Republicans, Democrats, or Libertarians, on even that one public personality... a visible target that we love to abuse and harangue in public (this is usually the poor president).  We're just reacting because we're scared and don't know what to do.  Again, education can provide the tools to help us find out what to do.  Corporations win because they depend on American ignorance.  Put all the effort into education that's possible and keep corporations from getting all our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

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