In the War Against Ourselves
Was life once simpler? Was it easier at one time to tell the good guys from the bad guys? When writing The Communist Manifesto , Karl Marx could rail against his simplistic bourgeoisie capitalists in defense of hapless proletariat workers and the reader could easily visualize the two groups. Not any longer. Today, in North America we have one group. We are all capitalists. Communism is a dead issue. Socialism has fallen into disuse as an ideal. It hardly even pays to be liberal in some company.
But being a capitalist does not sit well with everybody. There are those who are concerned that if you are a capitalist that you no longer need to have a social conscience. The problem is that some people have taken capitalism to extremes. They are people who probably never had a social conscience anyway. They view capitalism as a laissez-faire environment without rules and/or concerns for anything but the bottom line. These are the people crowding the courts with the extremes of where they have taken capitalism. They are the ones who do a little fudging of the accounts, indulge in a bit of insider trading, use company money as though it were their own, or pay off their local politicians too generously.
And we can all contribute names in all those categories. As friendly as our laws are to business, these people insist on pushing the limits beyond what is legal. They are just like the ones who go off-shore for cheap labor and then find child labor even cheaper. The ones who find standards are not enforced to the same degree off-shore and they can always sell their sub-standard product in foreign lands. All of these people are making profits while giving capitalism a bad rap.
And so, it appears, are the good guys. It seems to be fine that Exxon can profiteer from concerns for oil supplies. Rack up another huge profit that we are all paying for at the gasoline pumps as we also pay for their contamination of our environment. Look at the companies paying millions in bonuses to senior officers while laying off clerical and factory workers to improve profits. The Coors descendants in Colorado can link with the Molson family scions in Quebec to improve profitability in selling beer in Brazil with the money saved trashing jobs in North America. Do the inheritors care?
There is a lot wrong with capitalism. As someone once noted, its major strength is that it is much better system than the alternatives. Or was that democracy? Maybe they are intertwined but we will set aside the political discussion for now.
It is with some caution therefore that it must be noted the capitalism is also good for us. We benefit every day from the capitalist process. We have medicines that can cure diseases. We have convenience. We have creature comforts. We have luxury fabrics for warm clothes in winter and cool clothes in summer. We have healthy foods. We have reliable transportation. We have communications. We have energy. Not to suggest that everyone enjoys all of this but the fact is it is available. And we are inventive people. We invent fast foods and then invent health clubs to work off the fat. We make little cars that can save our energy resources and we make sports utility vehicles for people who do not care that fossil fuels are becoming scarcer. We give our teenagers cell phones so that they are never missing their friends while giving them caller identification so that they can ignore parents. We can walk on the moon and we let people sleep on the streets.
So who cares? Does anyone ever ask questions? Does anyone ever answer those questions? In the next few generations, we will need a new cartoonist to replace the late Walt Kelly’s creation Pogo. Pogo was a very smart possum and he told us once that we had met the enemy and the enemy was us. And he meant more than just politicians. He meant you and me.
But nobody wants to stand alone on the issues. There are people who want you to join their crusades. We hear that these people are mainstream North America. They are the neo-Christian right. Before we can pillory these people though, we have to prove our tolerance. We need to agree that there is nothing wrong with them accepting Jesus as their Savior or loudly proclaiming to others that they are going to Heaven and the rest of us are not. That is their opinion and they can have it.
Where many of them cross the line though is in proselytizing their view of Jesus while ignoring His teachings of tolerance and love. You have to be very selective in your readings from the Christian Scriptures to find support for the death penalty while denying a woman the right to control of her own body. It seems that Big Brother has been born again as a neo-Christian. Whether a down-home southern Presbyterian or a born-again convert, these neo-Christians are too often putting their religion ahead of their humanity. They have become soldiers in a war of intolerance. Nowhere is that impacting us in North America more than in business. And they are supporting the business drive against the dignity of our fellow citizens.
Color them sactimonious. They are not just the religious right. They are the right. And they think they are right. Conservative extremism is the polite term. They see themselves as the leaders of the community and the country and they are trying to lead it back into some earlier century. Instead of vision, they rely on cant. It’s the Apostle’s Creed of the right wing. It includes such things as “We are overtaxed.” That has a great ring to it. They all repeat it. One wonders if the person saying it would know when they are undertaxed. The person spouting the claim that “Big government is bad” begs the question “Then what size should it be? Both of these claims from the mantra of the right are based on ignorance. You know that the person making that kind of all-encompassing statement has absolutely no idea of what they are talking about.
We North Americans have built our societal infrastructure over the past several hundred years. We have learned from immigrants from all parts of the world. We would be foolish to ever suggest our system is perfect but it has built cities and highways, hospitals and health and welfare systems (after a fashion), schools and universities, libraries and railway systems, ports and airports, supported police, fire protection and a military defense and other things that are basic to our civilization. The system creaks and groans in many places from age and the complications of some times either too much or too little attention. The system works and before we starve this infrastructure for money, we are best to know more about it and particularly where we want to take it.
These people who deny our infrastructural needs act as lackeys for those pushing the legal envelope in business. They spout the mantra that business should be allowed to do what it does best. They never say what that might be but we suspect that what business might do best is make a profit. There is nothing wrong with profit. It pays for expansion of the business, jobs for people, for taxes as well as a return on investment. What these people are really saying is that they want government off the backs of business. Why, for example, would business people want to be bothered by tax auditors or any kind of auditors? And why have any kind of food inspection? Or why have safety inspections? They want to ignore the belief that in a civilized world, business must, at all times, act as a good citizen.
But what is a good citizen? Do these people know? Books written about good citizens are probably not on these peoples’ approved reading list. One suspects that they think if you tithe to your church, did a little charity and did not rob a bank today, you are a good person. Being a good citizen is making a contribution to the betterment of the nation or community as a whole. That can be as simple as each citizen making a point of picking up a piece of waste from the street each day. If we did just that, many of our cities would be much more livable and people there could be justifiably proud.
Can you just see the sanctimonious sniffing, looking down their nose at those of us picking up trash and saying “but we pay people to do that.” Judging by what we are seeing on our streets lately, it’s likely you do not. Most of the street cleaners in your area probably lost their jobs during the last round of budget cuts.
The sanctimonious buy more than the cant of the right wing in business. They also buy the attitudes. Scratch the religious right and you will find little compassion for their fellow human. Their understanding of human dignity is about as deep as their understanding of human rights. They preach self-sufficiency. They want you to stand on your own two feet. They will give you a little charity if you really need it. It makes them feel good about themselves.
In a live and let live world, you could just ignore these people. It is their intolerance that is bringing the most scorn on them. In recent years, for example, these people have been advised in their churches of the demon of same sex marriage. The sanctimonious can get into a purple rage over that one. If more preachers keep describing from the pulpit the supposedly nefarious goings-on in the same-sex bedroom, they will have to face the expense of refinishing their pews. Those nice Christian ladies, squirming with their thighs tight together, should worry more about what does or does not go on in the sanctity of their own bedroom.
Same sex anything is not a religious issue. It is a human rights issue. To use same sex marriage as a religious or political issue is akin to shouting fire in a crowded theater. It is like laying out the hate for the day on a platter for all the participants to enjoy. Human rights are the most important of all the rules we have in our society. Human rights are what make democracy work.
Many people seem to be of the opinion that democracy means the majority rules. It does not. It means government by all the people. By all of us, whether we are purple, green, brown, orange, grey or black, it means we all have a say. We do not just listen to the majority. We listen to everybody.
The majority, despite the good things we say about democracy, can do some very foolish things. Take prohibition for example. For all the bad things we can say about alcohol, we are far smarter to have some fair regulations about it than to try to deny it to all. It is like the rule that you drive on the right side of public highways. This is not to deprive those who might want to drive on the left side. It is to prevent accidents. Rules such as this are reasonably easy for fair minded people to follow. If you insist on the right to drive on the left side of the road, you might not be around too long anyway.
Capital punishment is a much more complex issue. First of all, it should be obvious that capital punishment has nothing to do with justice. Capital punishment is revenge. It can start in kindergarten. One five-year old says to the other five-year old who takes his pencil, “I’m going to kill you.” People start young. Denied the opportunity to be a soldier in real combat and really kill someone, some people want to do it vicariously through the state. They fail to comprehend the human rights arguments that say the state should not be in the business of killing people. They hardly care about those liberal crybabies. The right wing people are self-assured and confident they know just what is best for everyone.
While we have seemingly digressed from business, this gives you a picture of the people who are the strong allies of the right. The reality is that they represent about one in five people in North America. The Moral Majority never were moral or a majority. Many of them are affronted by the label but they are extremists. Like any fundamentalists, they can be had for a song because they have stopped thinking for themselves.
And business uses them. Their vote swings to the right. They are ready at any time to give the right wing business what it wants. They are already hooked on simplistic advertising slogans. They are malleable consumers.
Across America, they were the leading supporters of the war in Iraq. It did not matter that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. They did not care if “weapons of mass destruction” was a lie. They did not care that their President hated Iraq and resented the fact that his daddy could never finish the job in the First Gulf War. They wanted revenge on any and all Muslims. They were a lynch mob turned lose. They are insular people, with little concern for the rest of the world and care less about world opinion.
The business right cheered them on in their support of the war. The billions that the war cost went into the pockets of the happy manufacturers of war materiel. And Americans sent their children on a holy crusade to smite the infidel.
Just about everything these people do in their support of the business right seems to be designed to hurt themselves. A traditional aspect of this self destructiveness is the preponderance of “right to work” legislation in areas where the religious right holds sway. This legislation has much less to do with anybody’s right to work than it has to do with excluding unions and keeping a low minimum wage. It keeps the working poor from breaking lose from the poverty cycle. It destroys the ability of the community to grow. It creates a low-wage, low-tax haven for types of business that the local community might be better off without. “Right to work” legislation is produced in areas of ignorance.
Unions are anathema to the religious right. They create a conflict. Rooted in socialist concepts, unions threaten those controlling the religious right. Unionists talk about concepts such as human rights and dignity. Some even believe strongly in democracy.
Neither business nor the religious right is democratic in structure. Business runs under the governance of an oligarchy (government by an elite few) while the religious right promote theocracy (government by the clerics). Neither believe they can survive in a democratic society. We are better off if they do not.