We Are People Here

Collected Works - Santa Fe, New Mexico

April 26, 2011

Welcome to the continuing work of the series Democracy At The Crossroads and the Evolution of Civilization.

If you are new with us tonight you will want to know what you have stumbled into and what we have been talking about and the resources that we have been relying upon.  You will want to look for, if you have not already read them, Bruce Lipton’s Biology of Belief, Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level, Bob Reich’s Aftershock, and yes, you might also pick up my Democracy At The Crossroads.

We are, I will say briefly, attempting to lay a broad foundation for change, an intellectual as well as an emotional foundation, a factual, economic, biological, and legal foundation, as well as a foundation in fury.

The Tea Party is mumbling, boiling over with, talk about revolution. Get out your Second amendment and get your rifles down from the fireplace, they say, and say no to the federal government.  I have a friend, a rancher in Montana, who went to his basement this last fall and to bring out his guns to show me: his buffalo guns, his World War I rifles, his antiques from the frontier. I was truly impressed. Then within the hour he unleashed an attack on the Health Care Law as unconstitutional. Then Montana’s legislature entertained a bill that would make it illegal for federal law enforcement, including the FBI, to come to town without permission from the local sheriff.

The juxtaposition of my friend’s buffalo guns, cleaned, polished and ready, and Montana’s fury about the federal government was not lost on me.

But this idea of forceful reistance is delusional.  The poor powers of the Tea Party or any group like ours from the left against tanks and weapons of either any state’s National Guard or those commanded by the Pentagon are less danger to them than an ant to an elephant.

Force is not our weapon.  Violence is not our weapon. We do not even have the resources, yet, to command respect of the media.  We are in a position equivalent to radicals all over the world without power, without media, without popular support and without economic resources. 

We are, on the other hand, part of the sea of the world’s peoples and the sea is rising. We are the Egyptians and the Egyptians are us; we are the people in the green revolution on the streets of Tehran, and with the monks in the streets of Rangoon, and we are the citizens of France storming the Bastille and we are the artisans, shopkeepers, mechanics who declared independence not just from Britain in 1776 but from the monopoly power of the global, continent-spanning empire of the British East India Company.  We declared independence not just from taxation, alone, but more precisely from taxation without representation, or that is without the chance to have our voices be truly heard and our votes actually counted. 

We are the philosophical descendants of men and women who created this historic American opportunity in response to hidden, secret powers of corporate tea money. That tea money was the equivalent to banking and oil billions of today.  We are, as our ancestors were, in upheaval against government by wealthy royalists and we are not finished pursuing what they began in 1776.

We are saying tonight just as the organization of Privates did in the streets of Philadelphia in May of 1776—before the famous Declaration of Independence two months later—that we are people here, we have a right for our votes to be counted here, and today, now even more than in 1776, global financial empires have taken away the meaning of our voices by drowning our campaigns in oceans of anonymous corporate cash.  Today we face a greater evil than even England’s parliament of those days because today corporate cash is not just anonymous; it is cash without a country. That is why Citigroup so proudly offered a world economic empire called Plutonomy to its investors in 2005 because it could spread itself out to 427 tax havens, all over the world, meaning in the end that it would not be responsible to anyone for anything. 

That is why Bank of America can be a creature of 115 offshore identities and not pay taxes in either the US or the Caymen Islands. It is not really a Bank of America; it is a bank of everywhere and nowhere.  It is a bank without civic responsibility, with secret obligations to unknown owners in unknown lands in unknown amounts and with unknown loyalties. This is not the bank of the Americans, it is the bank of corporate royalists without allegiance, beyond community, detached from the human condition.

When we say we are people here and have a right to be counted, we are saying that we—unlike mega-opolists at Citigroup or Bank of America—do live here, that we do have children in the schools and universities, and that we are the elderly, as well, not just the young, and that we are the working people who live here and need each other here because we do have a country. We say to Bank of America in its 115 countries, and to Citigroup in its 427 countries, and to Haliburton over there in Dubai, and BP floating offshore without fealty to any land, that ordinary Americans are our people even if they are not your people because you have no where where you are, because we do have somewhere, and we are responsible for our somewhere even if you, great banks and great oil mega-olipolies, are not responsible for any somewhere anywhere.

That is why we say yes to living wages, minimum wages, unemployment insurance and we say no to the shark feeding frenzy for productivity increases that have been in these last 30 years an excuse to transfer money from workers to country-less shareholders, or from the debtor class to the global creditor class that resides everywhere and nowhere.

We say no the Republican alleigance to privilege, granting a head start to the wealthiest families by allowing them to pass along up to 10 million dollars to their children without estate taxes while at the same time refusing to give even the simplest educational head start to those among us who have a far greater need, those among us who cannot get even a foothold in this economy without—at least—an educational head start. 

We say yes to a headstart for all our people, not just the wealthiest people, and we say no to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who have given that headstart only to those who do not need it, claming that such gifts are in the national interest. Those gifts are not in the national interest; they are in the Republican Party’s interest; they are in the interest of maintaining power; and we say no to the interests of a precious few as against the interests of the remaining 90% of the population.

Those who can most afford to help assist the community are refusing to do so, not because they cannot afford to give the help, but because they are opposed to give the help, in principle.  In principle they oppose the common good; they call it egalitarian and socialist and in principle they therefore oppose the whole idea of community; in principle therefore they champion not civilization but survival of the fittest as if the jungle were the people’s natural habitat. They cry out like jaguars in the jungle for the meat of the poor and strip the flesh from the bones of the middle class and drown the hopes of all of us who were born believing that we too could share in the dream of 1776.

We are gathered here as champions of caring and decency and compassion because we know that the jungle is not our natural habitat.  We are not here to beg Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman, or Paul Ryan and Rand Paul for a hand out, nor even a hand up.  We are here rather to cry out and drop out from the corporate culture if we must, for so long as they deny our natural rights, and we make our claim, our demands and our cries, not as democrats nor even as the middle class, but as human beings who have a right to be here in this country, and on this planet, and a right to be counted, not as driftwood but as navigators of our own voygaes in search of our own happiness. 

The least among us, in a civilized society, have the same right as the wealthiest among us to health care and houses because; yes, those among us who do not inhabit the jungle have dignity too; and because no, we are not malcontents and discontents and anarchists and communists; and because yes, we are inheritors of the threads of human progress signed, sealed and paid for with blood and treasure of our ancestors even as much or more than theirs. 

When we say therefore that we claim the democracy fought for in 1776 we are drawing on the credit established by our ancestors and this is not some plastic credit that Citibank or Bank of America can charge interest for.  We have already paid this bill and we are here today in 2011 to collect our just returns from those great corporations that owe us a debt, owe us for the rule of law and the hard work of a broad middle class and free market place and owe us for the freedoms that made creative technology flower from the steam engine to the railroads to cancer research to open heart surgery to the computer chip to the smart phone and to search engines.  It is we the people, the people’s people, who have created the free society and open, not secret, culture that has made all this possible, and the great corporations need to understand now that it is they who owe the American people a debt and not the other way around and they can pay their debt by paying some taxes, thank you very much!

And yet at the same time as we speak with a sense of outrage we say we are about bringing back the “civil” into civilization.  How can both outrage and civility live together?

Let us examine what has happened to us in the last 250 years that has helped to destroy civility. Ben Barber has helped to make this clearer for me in his Jihad vs. McWorld.

Think first of the corporate attempt to reduce individuals to units of production, or to make people into commodoties.  We are a better commodity if we work harder than we used to work, producing more product for less wages. This is true for exhausted airline pilots, truck drivers, even the overworked at Moody’s and Standard & Poors, accountants like the now-defunct Arthur Anderson who fell asleep in bed with Enron, overextended SEC examiners who could not follow Bernie Madoff, hospital nurses at Christus St. Vincent, and field hands who harvest and plant from Minnesota to Texas, from New Jersey to California.  The corporations will measure the value of each of us, from professionals to migrants, by how much they get from us and how little they pay in return.  And this commodification of all of us has created a form of market slavery, says Ben Barber.  We don’t like it, and we are angry.  We did not come here to become slaves.

We have, at the same time, been lured, seduced, cajoled and shamed into ever more constant consumption.  We are taught by advertising and by doctrines of social Darwinism and Calvinism, to understand that our personal worth lies in keeping up with everyone else, looking as if we were wealthier than we are, whether it is by enhancing a modern image with a computer book, or clothes from Ralph Lauren or a truck that is Built-Tough, or is legendary. Every year it seems that in the auto industry there is a new legend.

Capitalism by its very nature depends upon inequality as the engine that creates demand and therefore capitalism must forever, and continuously, breed and fan the flames of personal dissatisfaction.  It is a dissatisfaction that must not ever be satisfied because if there were to be satisfaction then consumption would stall out and when consumption stalls out, capitalism dies. 

Either as units of production, therefore, to be rendered ever more efficient (i.e., all of us working more for less, (and to this point see Bob Reich’s brilliant analysis in Aftershock)), and if not more efficient then discarded as in Wisconsin and Ohio, Florida and New Jersey, or as consumers in every state, in either case, Americans live in a kind of depersonalized, psychological trap, and all this is emotional slavery.

From all this rises the politics of resentment and incivility.  Whether it expresses itself as ethnic or cultural parochialism as in Al Qaeda, or resentment against migrants in Arizona, or resentment against government as in the Tea Party in Montana, it is the same. The slogans of resentment pose personal liberty against collective responsibility and choose self interest against the common good. That is characteristic of the Paul Ryan budget who we now learn is a devotee of Ayn Rand who argued that there is no common good, or as Margaret Thatcher said, “there is no society.” Unfotunately, this resentment and pulling away from the common good creates its own kind of psychological trap, and that too, is another form of slavery.

The lack of civility in our current politics may be said therefore to come from our overwhelming, and yet unnamed sense of being bound in, restrained and encumbered by psychic slavery produced from all these sources. Marx said of economic slavery, that workers of the world had nothing to lose but their chains.  Today, we might say that consumers of the world have nothing to lose but their addictions, and employees have nothing to lose but their helplessness. 

As we here tonight claw our way back into political relevance in 2011, our job is not therefore only to fan these resentments and in so doing to pummel plutocrats and hammer the rich, cajol the Congress, or threaten the timid. If we do all that not only the wealthy and powerful will duck and run when they see us coming but so too will our potential allies and they will all bind up their ears. The wealthiest among them have the planes and yachts to run from our message faster than we have the legs or the shoulders to carry the heavy persuasion of history and biology and economics and law to them.

Nor is our job as champions of civilization to paint a picture of the promised land where human nature is gentle and the only season is of light and the only harm that can happen is harm we bring upon ourselves.  Just as we are searching for the true nature of civil society, just as we do not seek to make the dark darker, we will not move people by pretending that there is light where the evidence is dark.  We are not pretenders here.

Rather, as we continue the search for civilization our job is to do our best in the name of decency and compassion and the survival of life and to focus our energy as best we can on those few simple, noble ends.  That is all.  The 18th century philosopher and mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg said, in times concurrent with the American democratic upheaval: “Live by the good you know.”  That is our job today as it was then.  To live by the good we know.  It is to do our best at every moment, to keep everlastingly at it, to search for the high road when all about us is evidence that the high road may not even exist.   Our job is to keep everlastingly at it in a cause without a leader, in a politics without a slogan, representing a dignity without a name.

But if we cannot name it, we can see it.  We see it as we reach out a hand to our fellows in Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Indiana and New Jersey and Florida when we have the strength to do so, and to sneak in a song when we have the strength to sing; our job is to steal joy and compassion and companionship from the darkness of those soulness numbers in the mortgage foreclosure accounts.  Our job is to name the untruths of the collateralized-debt-obligations industry, and the credit-default-swap industry, the hypocrisy in paying bonuses that are not earned, and to expose incurred taxes that are not paid.  Our job is to call a morally agnostic institution, the global corporation, by its real name rather than lining up for loan favors from Goldman Sachs or Citigroup or the Bank of America.  Our job, even as in the distant past, is to refuse the money lenders in Wall Street temples their due, or as in our revolutionary past to refuse the creditor class its grip on even the sale of tea or whiskey, and as in our immediate Wisconsin past to refuse the purchased political patrons of plutocracy the right to speak for us.

In a civil society, we the people will speak for ourselves. And we will be counted. And we will not go away until all human beings, the weak, the lame, the halt and the privileged are all counted equally on the way to the polls and in the halls of Congress.  And we will not go away until global institutions such as the WTO, that are not run for the benefit of suffering humans as much as for non-suffering corporations, are discounted, reduced in value to the full degree of their callousness toward those who do suffer. 

The less that multi-nationals count themselves as among us and responsible with us here in our own land, the less we will do the same for them and we will not consider ourselves responsible for them, to provide for them roads or airports, bridges or harbors, police and fire protection, schools or universities, or the rule of law.  We will move state by state, beginning as best we can here in New Mexico, to say to them that if you do not pay taxes here, you are not welcome here.  And we will find, in these meetings and those to come, a thousand ways to say this and to implement this and make good on our word.

We Americans did not inherit the great potential for democracy as history’s gift in order to squander it. We did not inherit history’s gift, the possibility of a self governance balanced by both freedom and responsibility, in order to take our place as commodities on the production lines of Boeing that does not pay taxes, or numbers in collateralized debt obligations of Wall Street financiers who feast on bonuses fed by our bailouts. 

We inherited these treasures, these institutions of democracy, to further the possibility of human dignity, to improve upon that dignity and to pass it on. And that is the work that we are continuing tonight.

So let us be about it.