In my last post, I brought up differences between the two major political parties. But those differences – having more to do with campaign rhetoric than anything else – are outweighed by that which unites them. And that thing, that ideology, is neoliberalism, or economic globalization. Labels such as that one are tricky things. I’m wary of labels, but I also find them tough to avoid. Leftist and agnostic atheist are two labels that I have applied to myself, for instance. Labels simplify, compartmentalize, alienate and conjure up stereotypes. As a result, I think they often thwart critical thought.
Speaking of critical thought, I must digress for a moment to share something I encountered when I was substitute teaching. One morning I picked up a brochure titled, The Oregon Diploma: Moving Education Forward. Inside it has a list of “Essential Skills” and below the list it reads, “The first four skills will be required for graduation in 2012, and the remaining will be phased in during the following years.” Fifth on the list is “think critically and analytically.” Also falling below the top four are “demonstrate civic and community engagement,” as well as “demonstrate global literacy.” Now, anyone who has recently worked in a public school knows those things aren’t emphasized. I’m just surprised the Oregon Department of Education is so open about it. But, hey, they’re planning to “phase in” critical thinking, so all is well. On the following page of the brochure, one of the FAQ is, “How will students demonstrate proficiency in the Essential Skills?” Answer: Students will do so “by meeting state standards through The Oregon Statewide Assessments; Samples of student work scored by trained teachers; or, Additional national standardized assessments (such as the SAT and ACT).” Alrighty then. I think John Taylor Gatto was on to something.
So, where was I? Ah, yes, labels. One you hear quite frequently these days is “socialist.” Click here to see a pretty humorous example of how the term has been used. A close family member frequently sends me those sorts of emails that keep sites like Snopes in business. I’ve received more than one claiming Obama is a socialist. Robert Jensen penned a brilliant essay on that topic, which can be read here. From Wikipedia’s Socialism page:
“Socialism is an economic system characterised by social ownership and/or control of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy, and a political philosophy advocating such a system. “’Social ownership’” may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises, common ownership, direct public ownership or autonomous state ownership. There are many variations of socialism and as such there is no single definition encapsulating all of socialism.”
Social ownership and cooperative management of the economy is something virtually every household engages in regularly. In a future post on the work of an anthropologist named David Graeber, I’ll share how the basic principle of another ‘ism, communism, – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” – is practiced by virtually every person in some context of their life. In that sense, we’re all socialists and communists.
Public schools, public transportation, police departments, fire departments, public parks and any institution supported by public funding might be thought of as an example of socialism, though funding does not quite equate to “cooperative management” or even “social ownership.” At any rate, all of those institutions I listed have existed for decades. And it hardly seems reasonable to start screaming about socialism when people express a resistance to privatizing those institutions. I dare say most people would find complete privatization to be unpleasant. What sorts of things might happen? For starters, the fire department might let your house burn down. Corporate welfare, sometimes referred to as the socialization of costs and privatization of profits, is also not a recent development (nor do I get the sense that those ranting about socialism are too concerned with welfare for the wealthy). It would seem this charge of “socialist” is based almost entirely on one thing, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) that was signed into law just over 2 years ago. Had the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act proposed by Congressman John Conyers been signed into law, one could argue that the US finally had a socialized health care system similar to that of every other industrialized nation (last I checked, the World Health Organization ranked the US health care system 37th—pretty sad for such a wealthy nation). So-called Obamacare, on the other hand, certainly didn’t result in the “autonomous state ownership” of health care in the US. In fact, PolitiFact’s 2010 Lie of the Year contest winner was the claim that the PPACA represented a “government takeover of health care.” All the more depressing is the realization that people charged with teaching social studies/government/civics are indoctrinating kids with these sorts of falsehoods. What’s really wrong with the PPACA was expressed quite well here and here.
As the Wikipedia page states and later elaborates on, there are many variations of socialism. Where I fall on the Political Compass that I wrote about in Part IV would likely label me a “Libertarian Socialist.” From the Wiki page:
“Libertarian socialism, or anarchism, is a non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic, stateless society without private property in the means of production. Libertarian socialists oppose all coercive forms of social organisation, promote free association in place of government, and oppose the coercive social relations of capitalism, such as wage labor. They oppose hierarchical leadership structures, such as vanguard parties, and most are opposed to using the state to create socialism.”
My resistance to being labeled aside, I think that’s a pretty fair description of my philosophy. A future post dealing with the work of a guy named Jeff Vail will expound upon the potential for a non-hierarchal existence. Please note that libertarian socialism is a much different form of libertarianism than that associated with, say, Ron Paul (as you may recall, he shows up on the far right side of the Political Compass). While I may agree with Paul’s views on various military misadventures and drug policy, I find most of his social and economic viewpoints to be sorely out of touch with both facts and decency. For all their protestations about government intervention, the “free” market fanatics desperately need government – or some massive hierarchal institution – to intervene. Click here to read a few short excerpts from Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation written in 1944. And right wing libertarianism – from Adam Smith to Ludwig von Mises to Ron Paul – is rooted in influential myths about the origins of money, which I’ll comment on when I write about Debt by anthropologist David Graeber. Anyway, moving on…
I imagine I’ll be labeled “unpatriotic” by some, depending on who ends up reading what I post, and I welcome that. Maybe non-patriotic would be more appropriate, though. In Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity, Robert Jensen wrote:
“It is time not simply to redefine a kinder-and-gentler patriotism, but to sweep away the notion and acknowledge it as morally, politically, and intellectually bankrupt. It is time to scrap patriotism.
More specifically, it is crucial to scrap patriotism in today’s empire, the United States, where patriotism is not only a bad idea but literally a threat to the survival of the planet. We should abandon patriotism and strive to become more fully developed human beings not with shallow allegiances to a nation but rich and deep ties to humanity. At first glance, in a country where patriotism is almost universally taken to be an unquestioned virtue, this may seem outrageous. But there is a simple path to what I consider to be this simple conclusion.”
It’s worth reading that whole chapter, which can be read online here.
What about “liberal” and “conservative?” It is liberalism and conservativism that supposedly divides federal level Democrats and Republicans. Now’s the time to be picturing the late George Carlin exclaiming, “Bullshit!” And those same terms supposedly divide the various media outlets. How many times have you heard the phrase “liberal media?” In case you don’t know, the vast majority of mainstream media outlets in the US are owned and operated by 1 of 6 gigantic corporations. From 50 in 1983 to these 6 today: Viacom, Newscorp., Disney, Time Warner, Bertelsmann of Germany and General Electric. Ratings are what matter. Corporations are required by law – I kid you not – to make shareholder profit their top priority, if not their only priority. It’s all about money. If you believe the mainstream/corporate media in the US has some left wing agenda, I’ll gladly sell you a bridge and throw in a national monument for half price.
Of course there are people who genuinely hold what are commonly considered “liberal” and “conservative” views on various issues (some studies have even suggested that brain physiology might play a role in that). But the use of certain terms have become so reflexive in nature that they prevent meaningful discussion from taking place. They have, in other words, divided and conquered. And, at the federal level, how those philosophies divide the two major political parties is far less significant than what unites them. Neoliberalism has been the dominant ideology going back to the Powell Memorandum. Read more about it here. The full text can be read here. The Powell Memo is key to understanding what has taken place over the last 40 years.
The presence of neoconservatives within Republican Party ranks does result in some genuine partisanship, but the neocons – in spite of their influence during the Bush-Cheney years – are relatively few in number. One site offers this succinct delineation between neocons and neolibs:
“’Neoconservatism’” involves a military interventionist approach to relations with other countries, and “‘Neoliberalism'” involves long-term strategies of economic exploitation and global consolidation of nations.”
But I caution against thinking of neoliberalism, also known as economic globalization or economic liberalism, as being – in any way – a gentle form of imperialism. Austerity, to say nothing of giving anti-democratic dictators financial and military support, is a form of violence to be sure. As for the neocons, they’re best known for The Project for a New American Century, which I strongly encourage you to read about. I also encourage you to watch the Adam Curtis Documentary, The Power of Nightmares. It deals with the recent influence of neocons on the so-called “War on Terror.” Curtis has produced a number of other worthwhile documentaries that are also free to view online.
So, what all does neoliberalism entail? There’s the nutshell version, and a more thorough primer. In the latter, you’ll read quotes from Joseph Stiglitz, held in high regard by many who self-identify as Democrats. To his credit, Stiglitz seems genuinely concerned about the growing disparity between wealthy and poor. But he remains a proponent of globalization, and a believer in sustainable economic growth. Therefore, I think he and others like him fail to see the big picture. On a finite planet, economic growth cannot be sustained. Richard Heinberg has written a book titled, The End of Growth. I’ll be dedicating quite a few future posts to what Heinberg and those with a similar message have to say.
I have to make one final reading recommendation, and that is Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, which you can read about here.
In conclusion, I no longer waste energy on national politics. The US is a plutocracy aided by corporate media. And the way I personally defeat the latter is by ignoring it as much as I can, which is why I’ve been without television (and its aptly named “programming”) for several years now. It’s easy to get so upset about each and every atrocity that you’re consumed by the anger. That was me for a lot of years. It’s just as easy to ignore the atrocities in favor of the latest hit TV show or fad. As I begin to see those atrocities as interconnected symptoms of a system that is rotten to the core, I begin to understand how I might rebel. I’m interested in localization and building community. I wish for my life to be a friction that will help stop the machine, as stated by the narrator of this video that is well worth 23 minutes of your time. If I can help people think new thoughts, I’ll be glad. If my blog inspires others to live a little more simply so that others may simply live, as the saying goes, I’ll be glad. I am Garrett Snedaker. Welcome to my blog.