U.S. Citizens, Welcome to the World

There are speeches that I think everyone should hear, and Arundhati Roy gave one such speech in September of 2002. The transcript can be found here.

A few quotes from her speech:

Flags are bits of coloured cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap peoples’ minds and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead.


Wars are never fought for altruistic reasons. They’re usually fought for hegemony, for business. And then of course there’s the business of war. Protecting its control of the world’s oil is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Government’s recent military interventions in the Balkans and Central Asia have to do with oil. Hamid Karzai, the puppet president of Afghanistan installed by the U.S., is said to be a former employee of Unocal, the American-based oil company. The U.S. Government’s paranoid patrolling of the Middle East is because it has two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves. Oil keeps America’s engines purring sweetly. Oil keeps the Free Market rolling. Whoever controls the world’s oil controls the world’s market. And how do you control the oil?

Nobody puts it more elegantly than The New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman. In an article called “Craziness Pays” he says “the U.S. has to make it clear to Iraq and U.S. allies that… America will use force without negotiation, hesitation or U.N. approval.” His advice was well taken. In the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan as well as in the almost daily humiliation the U.S. Government heaps on the U.N. In his book on globalisation, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman says, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas… and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corp.” Perhaps this was written in a moment of vulnerability, but it’s certainly the most succinct, accurate description of the project of Corporate Globalisation that I have read.


Donald Rumsfeld said that his mission in the War Against Terror was to persuade the world that Americans must be allowed to continue their way of life. When the maddened King stamps his foot, slaves tremble in their quarters. So, standing here today, it’s hard for me to say this, but ‘The American Way of Life’ is simply not sustainable. Because it doesn’t acknowledge that there is a world beyond America.


The last quote reminds of The World According to Americans Map. As a side note, I also think of that map whenever I hear USians complain that they couldn’t understand the person they called for help with technical difficulties. If you support with your dollars companies that produce goods outside of the US or US companies that outsource, stop whining about the consequences.

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In October of 2008, Team Obama was given Ad Age’s Marketer of the Year Award. Obama’s campaign beat out Apple, Zappos, Nike and everyone else. The McCain camp finished 6th. Previous winners include Reagan (for whom Obama has expressed great admiration) and Perot. Politics is show business. Talking points make up the script.

I recently saw a headline about Marco Rubio likening Obama to a “left-wing 3rd world leader.” I’m tempted to suggest Rubio is overacting. I, mean, really, the White House is like Goldman Sachs Headquarters. With the likes of Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers advising Obama, you’ll excuse me if I have a difficult time likening Obama to, say, Hugo Chavez. But is Rubio’s overacting transparent to even half of the US population? It occurs to me that tens of millions of audience members don’t realize they’re watching political theater. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of true believers.

Obama does not represent either a problem or a solution. He is merely an actor, an award-winning actor. Team Obama is a brand not unlike Apple or Nike. Still, in spite of the millions in bribes that come from big banks and other stars of Wall Street, the cult of personality has people convinced that it makes a world of difference who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in DC (as if those bribes have no strings attached, and the POTUS is free to govern in good conscience). In the face of massive deregulation and absurdly low tax rates for the wealthy, right wing talking points about government takeovers and socialism persist. But we do not have government-owned corporations. We have corporate-owned government. In 1976, Peter Jay interviewed Noam Chomsky, and they had the following exchange:

JAY: It’s clear that the fundamental idea of anarchism is the primacy of the individual — not necessarily in isolation, but with other individuals — and the fulfillment of his freedom. This in a sense looks awfully like the founding ideas of the United States of America. What is it about the American experience which has made freedom as used in that tradition become a suspect and indeed a tainted phrase in the minds of anarchists and libertarian socialist thinkers like yourself?

CHOMSKY: Let me just say I don’t really regard myself as an anarchist thinker. I’m a derivative fellow traveler [of anarchism], let’s say. Anarchist thinkers have constantly referred to the American experience and to the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy very very favorably. You know, Jefferson’s concept that the best government is the government that governs least, or Thoreau’s addition to that, that the best government is the one that doesn’t govern at all, is one that’s often repeated by anarchist thinkers through modern times.

However, the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy — putting aside the fact that it was a slave society — developed in an essentially pre-capitalist system, that is, in a society in which there was no monopolistic control, there were no significant centers of private power. In fact, it’s striking to go back and read today some of the classic libertarian texts. If one reads, say, Wilhelm von Humboldt’s critique of the state of 1792 [English language version: The Limits of State Action (Cambridge University Press, 1969)], a significant classic libertarian text that certainly inspired Mill, one finds that he doesn’t speak at all of the need to resist private concentration of power, rather he speaks of the need to resist the encroachment of coercive state power. And that is what one finds also in the early American tradition. But the reason is that that was the only kind of power there was. I mean, Humboldt takes for granted that individuals are roughly equivalent in their private power, and that the only real imbalance of power lies in the centralized authoritarian state, and individual freedom had to be sustained against its intrusion — the State or the Church. That’s what he feels one must resist.

Now, when he speaks, for example, of the need for control of one’s creative life, when he decries the alienation of labor that arises from coercion or even instruction or guidance in one’s work, he’s giving an anti-statist or anti-theocratic ideology. But the same principles apply very well to the capitalist industrial society that emerged later. And I would think that Humboldt, had he been consistent, would have ended up being a libertarian socialist.

Private power was certainly not evenly distributed in the US in the late 18th century (white, male property owners ruled the roost). That point aside, it would seem many self-identified “conservatives,” as well as many right wing libertarians, fail to see that more than 2 centuries later the private concentration of power is what drives the state. The encroachment of coercive power takes place at the behest of big banks, big oil, big agri-business, the military-industrial complex, and so on. Is that not obvious? It is the inevitableness of hierarchy. Power corrupts. Right wing authoritarians, calling themselves “conservative,” don’t hide the fact that they appreciate the concentration of power (by the wealthy and by some supernatural sky daddy). Right wing libertarians, though more intellectual, are far more disingenuous. They speak of individual freedom and might even tell you they are against the concentration of private power. But what they are really advocating is what has been the status quo for decades now. The very things that result in the concentration of private power. So-called free trade, economic globalization, deunionization, cuts to social welfare, and so on.

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Raising Awareness vs. Preaching

To some, anarchy means chaos and violence. But there is a philosophy of non-violent anarchy, or libertarian socialism, to which many subscribe. I want to spend at least a couple of posts on that philosophy. But, first, I simply want to take a quote from an anarchist and explore a question that has weighed on my mind for many years. I recently watched a documentary titled, Anarchism in America. In the film, Murray Bookchin is quoted:

“I don’t believe that one can practice anarchism in this society. I believe it would be utterly illusory to contend that a food co-op can replace…Grand Union, or that a so-called people’s bank, to use a concept of Proudhon who is supposed to have been an anarchist, could replace Chase-Manhattan. Nor do I think that one can go around living a holier than thou ethical life, you know, that essentially amounts to an ongoing guilt trip against other people. I find that it is basically impossible to live a thoroughly anarchist life within a capitalist society. But I do believe this: that one can try to maintain a high ethical standard, and that is one of the beautiful things about anarchism, that it brings ethics into socialism instead of mere science into socialism such as Marx does; that one can live an ethical life; one can concern oneself personally with what is humane, and what I would prefer to call libertarian behaviour; one can protest; and one can try to work with projects in which people learn how to take control of their lives even if in fact they can’t do so until there are fundamental social changes. Those are the commitments I believe that anarchism seriously poses to the individual, and it raises a very high standard, it is demanding in that respect. It demands that you search into what is a humanistic sensibility and what is a humanistic ethic.”

I want to focus on the portion I highlighted. Surely there is a difference between raising awareness and preaching, but how easy is it to tell the difference? Feelings of guilt can lead to defensiveness. If someone feels guilty as a result of you raising their awareness, that person may determine that you were being “preachy.” I’ve struggled with my desire to raise awareness and my desire to not come across as holier than thou. It doesn’t seem like “leading by example” is very productive if nobody is actually aware of what you’re doing or isn’t reading what you’re reading. Few people are aware of how I live my life, because I simply don’t socialize much. So, in the past, I would email articles to the few friends I have, as well as family members. Partly due to a lack of response nearly every single time I did so, I more or less concluded that I was just being a nuisance. Now, I have a blog that anyone can choose to visit or ignore.

I’m going to use this opportunity to raise awareness about an issue and also get people to ponder what separates raising awareness from preaching. I no longer eat chocolate that isn’t fair trade, or at least organic (be it in ice cream or cookies or anything else). Why? It all started with this little book titled, The Better World Shopping Guide. It’s a book that gives letter grades to companies based on human rights, the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice. Near the front of the book there is a page with a list of “the top 10 things to change.” #7 on the list is chocolate, which prompted me to learn more about that sweet treat. What I learned is that a huge percentage of cocoa is harvested by child slaves, particularly in the Ivory Coast. In fact, virtually all chocolate that isn’t fair trade or organic is the product of child slave labor, as documented in the film The Dark Side of Chocolate. So, I eat less chocolate than I used to, and all of the chocolate I do eat is fair trade or organic. Now, I see no reason why one should feel guilty about eating chocolate if one is unaware of this issue (I feel less sympathy for those who continue to throw recyclables such as plastic beverage bottles in the garbage when recycling bins are located within a short distance…yes, I have co-workers who do this). But, if you know the dark side, how are you to raise awareness in others?

When a co-worker offers me a bite-size chocolate bar and I refuse politely without saying why (that happened today, as a matter of fact), no awareness has been raised. There may be an assumption that I wasn’t in the mood or that I don’t like chocolate or that I’m a health nut, but the real reason is a mystery to everyone in the break room other than me. Imagine that the person making the offer or someone else in the room were to ask why I refused (this has yet to happen, by the way). Assuming I give a polite but honest explanation with a respectful tone and non-judgemental attitude, I hope most of you reading this blog post would agree that I haven’t crossed the line into preachiness. Now, what if I explain my refusal (in the exact same manner) without having been asked why I refused (for the record, I have not yet done so)? What say you then? Is the unprompted explanation, even if I make every effort to help people avoid feelings of guilt or shame, unwarranted?

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Another film to watch.

Just a quick post to encourage folks to watch Owned and Operated, which can be viewed by clicking here.

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Radical=Extremist=”Danger, Will Robinson!”

What drives a person to read a mainstream “news” piece? For me, I have to be pretty bored. Like I am right now as I wait to go have splints removed from my nose following last week’s deviated septum surgery. So, I read this. From the article:

“It’s tough being a third-party candidate; they don’t get much respect from the political establishment. In the political establishment’s defense, that’s probably because third-party ideas tend to be a bit radical. Stein’s answers for providing 25 million new jobs include substantially downsizing the military, taxing financial transactions on Wall Street, and legalizing and taxing marijuana.”

Next thing you know, Stein will be suggesting that LGBTQ folks should have equal rights, or that the US should establish a universal single payer health care system. Helen Lovejoy said it best. Properly expressing how I feel about the above quote requires gestures, props and naughty words. Alas, I’m not one for making videos. There is no “defense” for the political establishment. And “radical” is relative. But, sadly, I’m afraid the term fits within the context of the US mainstream. Of course, in a sane country, disagreeing with Stein’s obvious proposals would be what’s considered radical. Again, where are the “deficit hawks” on those issues? Long story short, the USofA is so unbelievably fucked.

I warned you that I might vent from time to time.

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Got Dirt?

I recently began volunteering at a local farm, where permaculture is practiced. Still, I did not have a proper appreciation for dirt until this past weekend when I watched Dirt! The Movie. You can view it online at Hulu. I’m tempted to call it the most important documentary I’ve ever seen–as in, I would recommend it over all others that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Desertification, deforestation, urbanization, monoculture, industrial farming, war, coal mining, pesticides…that and more is destroying that which sustains life. I’ll say that again, humans are destroying that which sustains life on Earth. If that isn’t insane, I don’t know what is. Those most responsible remain comfortable and oblivious, or uncaring. So, what is to be done? Dirt! The Movie offers some suggestions. To quote Gandhi, “you must be the change you want to see in the world.”

Anyway, I encourage you to watch the film and share your thoughts.

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Introduction Part VI

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.

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