Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Music on a Sleepless Night




Music on a Sleepless Night

And in the sleepless night came a flash – a glimpse  of Elsewhen;
A mighty chorus, a symphony, heralding the Unblemished;
Allied to the windswept eternal night;
Beckoning the vanguard of the King of Light;
Unheeding of the temporal cacophony of the striving;
A song unfolding, revealing a profound debt
To Compassion, to the depths of feminine nurture,
To the eschewment of the demon Denial who unlocks the door for
Brutal Fear, slinking under moonless dark, usurping.

How came this to pass in the o’er long adolescence of humanity?
Trees bent to the ground in acknowledgment of the End and
The Beginning, while the orchestra plays on before
Finally-understanding ears:
“Know thyself, speaking clay, hearing dust, seeing stones;
“Know thyself, feeling water, caressing air, pulsing flame;
“Unto the Great Moment we are beholden;
The eternal moment of the ten thousand worlds;
High and low;
Far and near;
Inner and outer;
Blossom, life.

© 2006
Doug Harvey

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Back to the Basics: Agrarian History 101

Among the legion of items glaringly absent from the mainstream political discourse in the United States is agrarianism.  This was one of the bedrock principles of the founding era, but it's demise -- in hindsight -- was predictable.  Its return is vital.

Human access to fertile land and clean water, for eons, was an assumption.  But as populations coalesced and divisions of labor in urban centers increased, not everyone was a farmer or hunter-gatherer (or both), anymore.  By the time of the early Industrial Revolution, it became quite apparent to the Lovers of Control that depriving people of these basic resources was a method of social control.  Once people are thus "proletarianized," (no land, nothing to sell but their labor), Power -- in all it's various forms -- can set the conditions whereby individuals might survive.  The "proles" will then have to seek gainful employment on Power's terms.

In the English-speaking world, most people had a vital connection to the land until the rise of the Tudor monarchs.  This coincided with the expansion of capitalism out of the Mediterranean, into the eastern Atlantic and beyond, creating a proto-global economic system.  Where rural communalism had been the basic social structure up to that point, "landlords" -- those given special privilege in the hierarchy of feudalism -- began to realize that agriculture could be made more efficient by growing New World crops like corn and minimizing labor expenses.  Rather than growing "food for the realm," landlords retained a small number of farmers to grow profits.  This made food production more efficient, and those who were allowed to remain on the land largely profited, as well.  But the vast majority of those rural communities went up in smoke (sometimes literally) when farmers who were seen as superfluous to the purposes of wealth accumulation were sent packing.  If they refused to leave, their homes would simply be burned down as they looked on.  This majority became homeless, landless, and were at the mercy of the elite-controlled market forces -- i.e., proletarianized.  They had nothing left to sell but their labor.

The old feudal system had at least a facade of mutual obligations up and down the social hierarchy, but as the capitalist revolution continued to gain ground, ownership of the land became nearly absolute, and these landowners could and did restrict access to those resources.  The rural folk who did not "make the cut" found themselves roaming the highways and byways searching for seasonal labor, often begging, or they headed for London, Edinborough, or other urban centers to try and sell their labor.

With the expansion of Britain into the global economic game of Empire, a new class seized the center of power.  Known as the "Glorious Revolution," in 1688 the merchant-banker-landowning class, (AKA the "bourgeoisie"), gained control of the British government creating an entity generally known as "King-in-Parliament," where the monarch would now have to share power with them.  Obligations to the peasant-artisan (AKA"working class") were minimized.

The empire uprooted indigenous villagers in a the New World, as well.  These villagers fought back and found themselves out-numbered and out-gunned.  Deracinated individuals from the Old Country (or their descendants), jumped at the chance to obtain some fertile land and fresh water to realize their dream of independence from dire poverty, obligation, and a brutal work-cycle forced on them when they (or their descendants) had lost their access to such resources.  A desperate struggle between these Euro-Americans and Native Americans defending their own access to land and water ensued which continues to this day.  The open violence of this struggle continues in Latin America, but it has largely moved into the courtroom in the U.S.

Often, these Anglo-Celts began their New World experience by working as slaves (indentured servitude) for several years as the price for their passage to America.  Because the British expansionist power structure needed inexpensive "shock troops" to continue the process of appropriating land from the Indians, this nascent class of agrarian producers was given some measure of self-determination and, because of the distances involved, they were able to take for themselves still more independence.

By the mid-eighteenth century, this agrarian class, many of whom were fairly well-educated -- they had read of the Demos of the Greek city-states, of the Roman Republic's representative government, of the Italian city-states of the Renaissance -- and they understood the importance of access to resources in the struggle for self-determination (AKA "independence").  If one can produce one's own food supply, one's life will be much more stable and much less threatened than if one has nothing to sell but your labor to obtain needed sustenance.  The subjugation of African slave labor -- among the most brutal of labor systems ever devised by humankind -- helped seal the deal.  There was now a permanent underclass that could be forced to produce wealth almost unconditionally, allowing more self-determination for the Euro-American Anglo-Celts as they were not needed for that purpose.  The socio-economic creation of "race" allowed for social control, dividing the producing class by skin color and ethnic origin, not unlike the way livestock is divided by breed and provenance.

By the mid-nineteenth century, the new republic of the United States had grown into a major producer of food as well as staple crops through the plantation complex.  But the Industrial Revolution, fed by machinery, immigrant labor, banker finance, and the U.S. Civil War, boomed.
Immigrants -- usually deprived of their access to fertile land and fresh water in Europe and China -- came by the millions.  Cities expanded at unprecedented rates.  The rise of Industrial Capital gave new impetus to appropriating lands already appropriated from the natives by the agrarian class.

By 1920, the majority of people in the U.S. lived in cities.  To resist virtual enslavement, urban artisans had joined together to form labor unions utilizing the only resource they had other than their labor: each other.  The war over control and ownership of the means of production was full-throttle at this point, although the First World War had given the power structure an excuse to purge and/or outlaw those who refused to accept the appropriation of the wealth they produced with their labor.  The economic crash of 1929 was particularly devastating because so many people were city-dwellers and access to fertile land and fresh water had not been part of the urban planning, much less an urban social contract.

By the time the Great Depression was at its nadir in the mid-1930s, dire want sparked the realization that access to fertile soil and clean water could alleviate much suffering.  This neo-agrarian "back-to-the-land" movement remained in the shadows, however, as government used its access to credit (another, parallel story), to create infrastructure jobs for the society.

All went by the boards, however, with American involvement in the Second World War.  In the aftermath of that sublime conflagration, a superficial consensus of conformity to a bourgeois-dominated social order emerged in the U.S.  Power declared as its enemy any regime on the planet that might question this bourgeois domination -- a phenomenon reminiscent of the appropriation of lands from Native American peoples.  At this point, agriculture began to embrace the industrialization that had spawned other industries in the previous century.  By the 1980s, the slogan "Get big or get out" could be seen on t-shirts and billboards throughout the American Midwest.  The American Agriculture Movement, a last gasp of the old independent agrarian class, breathed its last with the "Tractorcade" to the Washington, D.C. mall in 1978.

Access to essential resources for the "rank-and-file" was nevertheless nurtured by members of the '60s' and '70s' counterculture, giving rise to a new "back-to-the-land" movement.  Urban gardens and farmers' markets have expanded on this vision in recent years, and such spaces are beginning to be incorporated into American cities from coast to coast.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the agrarian movement -- access to arable land and fresh water -- for people traditionally categorized as the "working class."  The whole concept of the "working class" is flawed in that it implies that all most people are good for is producing wealth for landowners or factory owners.  People, on the whole, are "good" for much more than that, but most have never really been given the chance to find out for themselves in the modern world; indeed, most do not even consider pursuing such a goal realistic.  This is a travesty and a tragedy, and it is completely unnecessary. 

Just as liberating enslaved people of African descent in the nineteenth century gave rise to sophisticated art and literature as well as advances in science and medicine -- phenomena such as the Harlem Renaissance, the work of people like George Washington Carver or Booker T. Washington, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and on and on -- liberating the so-called "working class" from forty-plus hours of drudgery every week would produce a cultural flowering the likes of which we can scarcely imagine.  The return of agrarianism and true independence points in this direction.  I think it essential to take this journey.  The legacy of agrarianism holds great potential for realizing our true human potential and independence from power systems that squelch such things, but it is also necessary for the survival of our species, and possibly our planet, as well.
 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Capitalism, Humanity, and Adjunct Professors



Capitalism, Humanity, and Adjunct Professors

Recently, I was at a campus-wide meeting of adjunct faculty at a medium-sized suburban community college in mid-America.  It was a valuable learning experience, but not altogether for the intended reasons.  We were given good information on where our school ranks in effectiveness with its peer institutions.   Adjuncts generated a good and (largely) substantive discussion.  The skilled and knowledgeable tech guy gave a hasty but useful presentation of the new online course management system.  And the President of the college brought forth his “pep-talk,” which was obviously the same talk he had given to the full-time faculty.  He gave a budget presentation accompanied by what sounded an awful lot like a scolding.  A scolding for a group of people that the college utterly depends upon to . . . to what?  It got me thinking, again . . .

The President lofted a few warm fuzzies around the room before his talk on the budget.  But, it was really quite astounding, as an adjunct faculty member working at half-price with no benefits to sit and listen to a man who is largely a prop on a six-figure salary tell us that we must do more with less.  The public is not going to tolerate having to pay any more for higher education, we were told; we need to quit whining and do more.  Why?  Because these private institutions of higher learning were dumping all this money into advertising and offering vo-tech training, where we could not guarantee jobs to students because, the implication was, we teach liberal arts and social sciences that, frankly, do not add to the GDP.  Remember, this was at an institution of HIGHER learning, albeit a “mere” community college.  As for the majority of the adjunct faculty, they seemed locked in rapt attention, nodding their heads and responding the proper way at all the proper moments.  One brave adjunct raised her hand an asked, “With all due respect, can you tell us why the previous President of the college was paid 700 times more than adjunct professors who actually produce the credit hours?”  One clever fellow saw his sycophantic opportunity and answered, “Because he had to answer questions like that.”  It was the only substantive question asked during the presentation on the budget, and the President’s answer was, “Good question,” and he moved on.

Yet, there are some basic needs in the human psyche that were completely left out of the President’s, and the state legislature’s, and the Board of Regents’, and the federal government’s calculations.  Namely, the need for awareness – political and personal, health, respect, love, companionship, shelter, connection to creation; in short, the need to be the person one was born to be, which has a lot more to it than working to produce profits typically enjoyed by someone else.  This has everything to do with the underlying myths operating in the adjuncts’ meeting in Room 232.

I am a student of history, so I tend to see things in historical terms.  What I’ve studied and written about most is how the mythos of a society is created, perpetuated, and can be used by the more controlling among us to manipulate large numbers of people.  This process has been characterized by deceit.  The corruption is built into the system; a somewhat different system, known as feudalism, also employed deceit as a fundamental tool.  But now we have, for lack of a better word, capitalism – the “glorious” revolution of the bourgeoisie.  Now, capitalism has replaced feudalism, but the same structure is basically present; it’s just more fluid and, ultimately, more destructive because of the technological power that has been unleashed.  The people are told that this system has unleashed the power of the human spirit, that their chains have been thrown off, that they too can rise to the top of the heap and live in comfort and even luxury until the end of their days.  And it’s all due to this remarkable economic system.

There, in this version of the myth, exposition of its “humanity” ends.  Work, the myth says, is the answer to all of your problems.  Work harder.  Do more with less.  Work harder.  Be efficient.  Work harder.  If you step outside of the myth, it begins to look a lot like an addiction – work, must have more work, harder, harder, harder . . . etc.  And for what?  Well, profits of course.  These will make it all worthwhile.  But what if you are an adjunct professor?  Then of course you LOVE what you do and you don’t need to be paid as much.  Good question, move on . . . .  Incidentally, those who follow the adjunct’s plight and higher ed generally recognize this rhetoric as “fascist dog-whistle” for privatization.  Once this is accomplished, we can dispense with all of this liberal arts nonsense; except for a chosen elite, of course.

There was a brief time -- about a generation, maybe two -- where there was a serious attempt to control otherwise reckless bourgeois profiteering that has characterized imperial expansion since the 13th century.  (And no, I'm not a doctrinaire Marxist, I'm just an admirer of his analysis of capitalism.)  New Deal liberalism may have been the best way to minimize these excesses through regulation, but it's still corrupt at base.  How much of this is the human condition and how much can be overcome by embracing a morally sound mythos?  And if the latter is possible, how would this transpire?  I know these are abstract questions, but we're talking about a society that has long embraced an amoral mythos.  New Deal liberalism, as I point out to my students, IS the middle ground between fascism and communism -- and its effectiveness was fleeting.  The Liberals began their decline when they turned their back on the working class.  Trading in Henry Wallace for Harry Truman was a crucial moment in the decline.  But ultimately, the decline is due to a loss of a rhetorical war by the center left to the right in the U.S. (there not being any functional "left").  The rhetoric is rooted in the myths by which most Americans conduct their lives, knowingly or otherwise.

We can change the people in the system (marginally effective); we can change the system (more difficult); and/or we can change the mythos underlying society (impossible, I think, to contrive). So, I will continue to speak out, educate, write, play my guitar, and enjoy life as best I can — after all, I’m an adjunct professor – I LOVE what I do.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fraudonomics



Fraudonomics

©2012 Douglas Harvey

It is interesting that the word “fraud” has been much in the news of late, most recently attributed to Barclay’s and the LIBOR scandal, with mention of an “investigation” that could result in “prosecutions.”  As a student of history, I feel compelled to note that we’ve seen things like this before, although perhaps not on such a broad scale with such a desperate and deeply embedded defense of the capitalist system. 

John Locke described his version of a Social Contract between society and government in his Second Treatise on Government.  Many know the particulars – people are born with “natural rights”: life, liberty, and property.  Government is created by the people to protect these rights, and if it fails it is their duty to replace it.  He went on to say that if the people need to change the government, it is much easier to change the people than it is to change the form.  Locke was silent on what one should do if one was property, but we can let that go for the moment.

Locke was writing in the 1670s, although his treatises were not published until the “Glorious” Revolution in England in 1688.  You may recall this event as well – where the Catholic King James II was essentially forced out by the bourgeois Parliament, who then brought in his sister Mary and her husband William from The Netherlands to “rule” England.  The catch was that they had to share power with Parliament, dominated as it was by mercantile interests – planters, merchants, shipping interests; in short, those who were profiting from economic empire.  Locke’s “social contract” provided the rationale for this coup undertaken to gain control of the governmental resources of what was rapidly becoming the largest empire in the world.  I guess that explains what is meant by “property.”

“Glorious,” eh?  Now the Bank of London could be formed, a mechanism whereby the bourgeoisie could loan money to the government which would in turn use that money to pursue the ends of the bourgeoisie.  (King William’s royal nickname has become, after all, “Billy the Bourgeois King.”)  Repayment of the “loan” would ultimately be underwritten by British taxpayers (sound familiar?).  The first big “scandal” was the South Sea Bubble, where investors lost millions in a scheme to “develop” the Caribbean region.  Investments were secured by hyping the bulletproof nature of the investment, (it’s goin’ to the sky -- you can't lose!!!).

Meanwhile, slaves (humans that were permanently property) and indentured servants (humans that were temporarily property) were brought to the New World to produce wealth for their masters on land secured by hook or by crook from the natives.  As for the indentured servants, these were simply people who had become proletarianized, that is, they were forced off the land in their own country and had to fend for themselves the only way they could, by selling their labor (sound familiar?).  Once their service was done, they might be awarded a piece of land as a way to start anew and help provide a market for goods manufactured in Britain.  They would then hire indentures to work for them and the cycle would be perpetuated. 

Proletarianized people are dependent people.  For example, in order to support the buyers of their labor, they need to purchase the goods they produce (dwell, for a moment, on THAT absurdity).  In this system, if one can’t sell one’s labor in order to buy the goods thus produced, one is screwed.  Even if employment is obtained, it is a great struggle to join with fellow workers to force better pay and working conditions – something not be forthcoming without a fight, history has shown.  In other words, employed or not, poverty is staring you in the face. 

This absurdity remains largely unacknowledged while the prospect of poverty is said to be a good thing: one will be motivated to go to work – a notion perpetuated by those who are dependent on your labor.  In the event that that isn’t enough to get you to work, those who live off of others’ labor spend large amounts of wealth convincing the working class to purchase various and sundry products they themselves manufacture.  These products and the production of them have proven to be a significant bio-hazard as we cross the population boundary of seven billion humans.  It’s not “global warming” that’s the fraud.

Now how much would you pay!!!  But wait!!!  There’s more!!! 

In order to be rid of the annoying need for resources and markets, using micro-chip technology, bad loans can be made and sold at a very high speed.  With complicit governments and regulators on board, these loans will ultimately be covered by . . . ta dah!  The workers!  Or, better still, loans can be made to governments (unwitting or complicit) that they can’t possibly repay.  When the due date arrives, governmental functions become privatized and these predatory capitalists obtain new market sectors. Hello Greece!  I got some land in Florida . . . 

See how well these free markets work!!!

Consider, for a moment, the cultures replaced by this system, including the societies from whom those in perpetual servitude were taken.  They had not developed this bourgeois notion of accumulation to any great extent.  Villagers in much of North America, for instance, would travel frequently, making their annual rounds to a wide variety of food sources.  It was not unusual for even the most sedentary of them to move entire villages every few years.  Accumulation, under these circumstances, was a detriment, and yet poverty in terms of hunger, a lack of shelter, isolation, etc., were virtually unknown.  Laboring for sustenance was not something one spent a lot of time on.  

Fear of famine was virtually non-existent.  Europeans remarked that indigenous Americans could be found playing a ball-game in lieu of stockpiling food.  Why?  The land was rich, food was plentiful – it will be there tomorrow.  As for material goods – why would you want more than you need?  You just have to move the stuff around and it gets in the way.  Immersed in the bounty of the earth, indigenous peoples were time rich.  Do you have time to make an arrowhead out of stone or moccasins from brain-tanned deer hide and porcupine quills? 
Lucky us!!!  Capitalism has given us so much free time!!!

The economic system currently dominating the world is based on fraud.  It has finally come down to a kind of shell game that relies on blatant deception – a ponzi scheme – to stay afloat.  In addition, we are altering the planet in ways we are only beginning to understand, and it could quite possibly be disastrous for the only home we will ever have -- the home out of which we emerged.  What can our hunter-gatherer / village agriculturalist forebears teach us about backing out of this blind alley Big Capital has taken us down?  Simplifying our lives and immersing ourselves in our surroundings is surely a part of the answer.  Arresting and jailing the fraudsters and "occupying" the corrupt system must be a part of it as well.
Douglas Harvey
July 15, 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Note to Self


Note to Self:

Transcendent longing for realization;  
Manifesting the shadow of the divine;
Rolling out of the center of the Universe;
The music of shimmering leaves;
You can almost see beyond.
We are plants who water each other;
Or not.

Events, mistaken for their source;
Confound the mystic with their apparent permanence;
Events are flashes of what is;
Or not.

Prophetic sons of thunder;
Dance to a calypso tune;
Smiling their tears.

Longing for life without storage unit baggage;
Where the great feast abides
In the quotidian;
A grand table whose price is championing
The Inner Life.
There is no other.

LEAP onto the page and back again;
Transformed into clarity;
Confusion diminished;
Or not.

©2012 Douglas Harvey

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Trickled-On Economics


“Trickled On” Economics
©2012 Douglas S. Harvey

One thing about an election year, particularly this one, is that it reveals the fallacy that humanity has somehow emerged from “mere animal conditions.”  We may have comfortable homes, climate-control, exo-skeletons (known as automobiles) to allow us to move about rapidly and move objects many times our own weight, etc.  But beavers, ants, and foxes have these things.  One thing that humans have the capacity for, if they strive to use it, is being able to see life from another’s viewpoint – we have the capacity for compassion.  If anything would allow us to rise from a “mere animal condition,” it is this compassion.  But under the capitalist model, currently the dominant paradigm in the world, the priority is put on expropriating land and labor in order for a small group to accumulate wealth they did not produce.  In our deluded national narrative, these people are said to be “job creators.”  In fact, their access to wealth and power has allowed them to create a sort of neo-feudal system that can be aptly called, “Trickled-On Economics.”
In this dominant paradigm headed by Big Capital, compassion is highly discouraged.  There is a tendency among the politicians, managers, and overseers of capitalist institutions to live like there is no tomorrow and pretend like there was no yesterday.  After all, the working class – those who actually produce wealth – can be depended upon for a source of insurance in the event the gaming schemes of Big Capital fail.  This attitude of borrow now (“leverage” if you are rich), worry later, unlike the wealth itself, has trickled down, or should I say “trickled on” the general public.
The so-called “debt crisis” currently providing rationale for cutting social programs was created by capitalists manipulating the housing and financial markets for short-term profit, a scheme that crashed the global economy.  While they were doing that, working class people struggled with a steady decline in income resulting from off-shoring American manufacturing, union sell-outs, and outright union-busting.  To make up for this decline, they were handed credit cards, deregulated during the Reagan years, and usurious lending became the order of the day.  In addition, instead of providing education for its citizens as some social welfare states of western and northern Europe have done, the student loan industry was created, with student loan giant Sallie Mae becoming a for-profit corporation by 1995.  As if this was not enough (it never is), for-profit health care, starring Big Pharma, has become ensconced in Congress, K-Street, and Wall Street.  Also, moving in from the desert is a dust devil known as the for-profit prison system.  Examples of profiteering from others’ misfortune, or indeed manufacturing misfortune for profit, (note: I do not even broach the war profiteering game in this essay), has no limit in the capitalist paradigm.
            With the declining share of wealth enjoyed by the working class, it was logically reasoned that higher education was a way out of mind-numbing, dead-end jobs and into a better life.   Both federally-insured and private loans for education skyrocketed.  For some, this better life came to pass, for others it became a trap and in some cases a death-trap.  Student loans do not have bankruptcy protection, and the collection agency can seize your home, your social security, your disability income – pretty much anything they want to seize.  There are numerous horror stories out there, including many suicides.  Indeed, as Alan Collinge has written in his book The Student Loan Scam, defaulted loans are more lucrative than those not in default because assets can be seized. 
            Credit card debt, which now ranks behind student loans in consumer debt as of the summer of 2010, is the result of falling wages and job loss.  By 2012, there were well over a half billion credit cards in use in the U.S. alone.  That is double the total population of the country.  Bankruptcies were down in 2011; with a mere 1.37 million filings in the U.S. (it was 1.55 in 2010).  Many bankruptcies were brought about by medical bills contracted in a system that preys on the sick. 
            A compassionate set of policies that would address these issues would not include taking billions of dollars in tax revenue from the working class and handing it over to Wall Street bankers to cover their failed schemes and scams as has been done more than once since 2008.  In this paradigm of the Bean-counter, we can hand $700 billion at a pop over to criminals in suits, but we cannot help struggling college graduates or families stranded without gainful employment.
            It is not hard to see that the issue is systemic.  Capitalism has no built-in moral code other than maximizing profits.  Whatever morality exists is brought to the table by individuals, but the system itself does not reward compassion; indeed, ruthlessness and cruelty are central features of the game.  Capital has been engaged in a long-term struggle to deprive people of access to the resources they need to build a good life for themselves.  It creates an environment that allows a small group or even one person to live extremely well on the backs of those whose access to resources they control.  Once people become separated from the resources that they need to live, they must re-acquire them on terms favorable to the capitalist.  In some cases, the result is modern-day slavery.  The separation of people from the resource base is a central theme in the human history of the world and at the heart of our systemic problem today.
            This system has led to the abuse of the non-human resources, as well.  Humans and their resources are, ultimately, not separate at all.  Labor is the interaction of humans with the non-human world and the results are often very beautiful, profound, poignant, moving, powerful, and on and on – in a word: art.  Forcing human beings to interact with resources on terms favorable to the Capitalist is hardly emerging from “mere animal conditions.”  It results in environmental degradation of both human and non-human.  Degrading and dangerous sweatshops, mines, oil rigs, etc., have increased because of deregulation and defunding of safety oversight.  Environmental oversight has been rolled back, defunded, or ignored.  These underscore the systemic nature of the dual expropriation of labor and resources for the sake of the wealth accumulation of a very few.  
From mountain-top mining to clear-cutting rainforests, the systemic unsustainable use of resources creates an oppositional relationship between humans and their environment.  “Man vs. Nature” is a conflict drilled into our heads from an early age, but it is this term “Versus” that needs to be questioned and studied.  A political economic system in which compassion features predominately would institutionalize such introspection.  We have examples from our past.  Agriculture, for instance, traditionally employed the concept of “husbandry.”  Farms were once places where abundance was possible for all species involved and sustaining this human and non-human natural order was the priority. Under capitalism, agriculture has industrialized and cold, hard numbers dominate decision-making processes. 
Under a more humane system, labor would be an extension of the production of nature; indeed, human labor IS an expression of nature.  But its usurpation by a few is like the felling of the forests, the leveling of mountains, the making of war, or the building of sweatshops: we trade our humanity – our compassion – for the sake of accumulation by an ambitious and even sociopathic few.  If we are serious about emerging from a “mere animal condition,” we need to “think outside the box,” and box is the capitalist paradigm.
© 2012 Douglas S. Harvey


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Parasites Lost

Parasites Lost
©Douglas S. Harvey 2012

I once asked a Native American if he thought whether North America was in any way in a post-colonial period.  His response was, “Have they left yet?”  Of the New World republics that came about as a result of colonization, the United States is going to have the hardest time dealing with its past.  Recently, we’ve see a lot of people willing to strut about with their guns and imagine themselves in some pre-pubescent fantasy of John Wayne’s “unbridled individualism.”  Some become so deluded as to be willing to use these guns on perceived “enemies.”  But this is symptomatic only; it is useful to remember how the actual land of North America came to be claimed by European and Euro-American colonists.  More importantly, the causes of these neuroses can be better understood when one realizes what separating people from their resource base means.
            For over ninety-nine percent of human history, the earth and its human offspring were united.  Humans were unique in their ability to fashion bits of the earth into useful items.  With our minds, hands, and intuition we made the stuff of the earth more useful to us.  Nothing came between us and our resources – we were one with our environment and what we did to improve our surroundings and make our lives better we ourselves enjoyed.  As the Thoreau disciple and wilderness advocate Bradford Angier once pointed out, “The hardest part about roughing it is smoothing it.”  We were pretty good at “smoothing it.”  Even cave paintings, figurines, Petroglyphs and the like helped people to understand their relationship with the world into which they had emerged.  Contrary to the assumptions of the old “Whig” histories, people were generally time-rich – indeed, they could easily make more than they needed.  These surplus goods could be traded for others’ surplus goods and the fruits of individuals’ skills could be shared.  At some point someone began to think about accumulating these surplus goods.  How, the calculating mind asked, might I enjoy these manufactures and the potential wealth they represent without having to engage in this difficult work myself?  Many methods were tried with varying degrees of success.  But one that did work and continues to work was coercion – physical, political, legal, economic – forcing a wedge between people and their resource base (the land) and make their reunion with it conditional.  The condition for this reunion with the “means of production” is a controlling cut of the wealth produced by the interaction of human and other-than-human nature. 
            This division between people and nature put us on a path many are beginning to question.  Besides the sense of alienation being cut off from our natural relationships with the other-than-human world produces, we are separated from our own means of production.  Now, instead of using our wits and our hands to mold the stuff of the earth into usefulness, we have to go to the bourgeois “owner” and ask him to buy our labor, since it is often all we have since being deprived of access to resources.  The bourgeoisie figured out that if you usurp the land and resources, you have control of interaction between human and other-than-human – also known as labor power, which is the only real power humans have. 
            This defense of the relationship between humans and their resources should in no way be construed as a defense of, say, corporate access to the minerals of the Grand Canyon or oil in the Arctic.  That is a looting of both nature and labor that I have discussed elsewhere.  No, we have come so far down the path of exploitation of both human and other-than-human nature that assumptions and myths regarding the righteousness of this path remain unquestioned from the halls of power to the public discourse.
            The surplus of useful goods that was often so abundant in pre-modern communities – under the influence of market-obsession, has acquired an exchange-value separate from its use.  The result is “capital,” or surplus-value flowing to the bourgoisie but which they themselves did not produce.  Capital bought and still buys power and influence to entrench this economic system and heavily skew it toward the bourgeoisie – a sort of modern feudalism.  A wedge was driven between people and their resources.  Having been deracinated – alienated from their resources, homes, families, and livelihood – people had nothing to sell but their labor, and oftentimes the going rate was at starvation levels.  In some regions where this deracination is at full throttle, many have chosen suicide over this type of slavery.
In North America, this separation of the land from the indigenous peoples took on an unprecedented scope.  While there was certainly plenty of room in North America in 1492, there were still no fewer than five to ten million people who, in most respects, lived off the fat of an abundant land.  Then, Europeans and unwilling and unwitting Africans came to the New World.  With varying degrees, separating indigenous people from the land became an institution and was developed to the point of becoming a national myth: of course the Indians must be removed in the face of “progress” – removed or exterminated.  Cold hard fact that it is we have yet to internalize this as a society; denial or ignorance of this history is rampant in the U.S.
The denial becomes increasingly difficult as the separation of people from property takes on new dimensions, (if nothing else, the “bourgeois” class is very creative about accumulating wealth and power).  Now, newcomers as well as descendents of the original colonizers – who themselves usurped the land – have found themselves being separated from their resources by a rigged system in which they have no say.  Some might call this karma and that may be true, but it is certainly a continuation. 
Working people took a stand in the U.S. from the Industrial Revolution to the post-World War II era and created the wealthiest working class in history.  It was so successful that this working class took to calling itself the “middle class,” a democratization of the original turf held by the bourgeoisie and characterized by untitled wealth.  Many people once again had a say in their relationship between themselves and their tools and resources.  They did not go to the so-called “owner” with hat in hand begging to sell their labor, they collectively bargained with him to get a reasonable share of the surplus value they were producing.  Some would say these negotiations were a gift to the bourgeoisie from producers who cut them more slack than they deserved.  The abandonment of the American working class by the bourgeoisie, by their politicians, and even by their unions, has been nothing short of a betrayal and indeed a form of robbery.
The wealth accumulated by hook or by crook and now used to manipulate the economy and political power structure is turned against the people who produced it.  The old tried and true strategy of divide and conquer – white and blue collar, black and white skin, English- and Spanish-speaking, male and female, etc., etc., ad nauseum – so far still works.  The financialization of the economy has turned Wall Street into a kind of giant Las Vegas, detached from actual production, subsidized and insured by taxing those who actually do produce wealth.  It must keep moving fast, though, because something is gaining on it.  The separation of workers from the wealth they produce; of workers from their resources; of humans from nature, is a contrivance that cannot last. 
People are looking for that part of themselves that is connected to everything else.  There is a deep cognitive dissonance in the U.S. resulting from a simple historical truth: wealth enjoyed by many American citizens came from resources acquired through systematic conquest and pillage.  It makes it particularly hard to defend your resources on moral grounds when they were stolen to begin with.  Much easier to deny or invent an alternative narrative. 
Parasites often kill their hosts.  To the extent that humans have become parasites, of labor and/or the resource base, we act for our own destruction.  The short-term thinking institutionalized in this system is an indulgence we can no longer afford.  One alternative to the path of exploitation remains vaguely familiar to us: the path of husbandry and cooperation.  But alternative paths require introspection, a difficult facing of fears and facts and, finally, understanding what the relationship between humans and the earth means.  As people have known for over ninety-nine percent of our history, the earth is literally our mother – our source of life.  It is human nature to interact with our environment and treat it with the respect it deserves – as a part of ourselves.  We act self-destructively when we assume the exploitative attitude of parasites.  As with most problems, the answers are in the mirror, which is why they don’t get solved.
January 28, 2012