Bill Moyers observed recently that poor people haven’t “lost their voice.” Rather, he said, “They can’t afford a voice.”
That “voice,” as more and more Americans are beginning to understand, is further muffled by Washington political elites, aided and abetted by their water-carriers -- a puffed up pundit class, whose members dominate the corporate-owned airwaves with their circular and pointless election-year yammering and “intellectual masturbation.”
I am convinced that Tolstoy was referring to this self-enamored bunch in his novel War and Peace, when he wrote: “Whatever question arose, a swarm of these drones, without having finished their buzzing on a previous theme, flew over to the new one and by their hum drowned and obscured the voices of those who were disputing honestly.”
Yet, at this late date, agonizing over how the “swarm of drones” came -- and continue -- to drive the narrative (in the wrong direction) may not be nearly as important as “occupying” that narrative.
And, while the concept of occupying the political discourse may have been tapped, it has not yet come close to being fully exploited, notwithstanding the presence of various “alternative” media sources.
That discourse continues to be monopolized by the same swarm of corporate drones who have for decades dominated the political space with their endless hum of white noise, and whose job it is to perpetuate the themes and myths that serve the interests of a few (“one-percenters”). These shameless pimps justify their inflated salaries by drowning out the “rest of us” – and any meaningful conversation -- with partisan pontificating that serves no more useful purpose than to clutter the already crowded airwaves, while selling consumers illusory “salvation” -- currently packaged in election-year politics.
It speaks sad volumes about what we have become – and where we are going -- that so many Americans remain so enamored, and thus easily seduced, by this clueless cadre of pundits who have grown so full of themselves, they can no longer hear any voices but their own.
Meanwhile, as the working and middle classes are plunged into poverty in record-breaking numbers, and more and more of us join the ranks of those "poor people" to which Moyers refers, we are also beginning to understand that we are losing far more than just "our voices." We are losing our homes, paychecks and/or our ability to properly care for our families.
Correspondingly, and perhaps more importantly, we are losing our sense of self worth.
And, it may well be that, because most Americans have so deeply internalized the culture of commodification in which we are steeped, it is this loss that damages us most.
Damn the clueless elites, swarming drones and puffed up pundits … Bring in the fearless radicals …
All of this may at least partially explain why, when New York Times columnist and Wall Street “water-carrier-in-chief” David Brooks struggled recently on PBS’ Newshour to “make sense” of the lack of a “vigorous economic recovery,” it rubbed me so wrong.
Responding to host Judy Woodruff’s question about Obama and the economy, Brooks seemed genuinely baffled. He just couldn’t seem to reconcile his “analysis” with the apparent lack of a strong “growth recovery” -- or the state of US finances in general.
“And we had this V, which suggested you were going to get some growth,” he began. “Then in the fourth quarter of '09, it levels … And then it has just been scuffling along with the deceleration recently. So I don't know what happened in '09. Some of it, we were just baked in with the financial crisis. But even given a financial crisis, you don't expect to see deceleration over the last couple months. And so, I think this is sort of baked in from either the health care reform or the lack of confidence or the European thing, a whole bunch of factors all crashing together.”
As the beleaguered Brooks tried to make sense of this seemingly incomprehensible state of affairs, he waved his hands and shook his head, visibly distressed by the confounding nature of the problem with which he grappled.
Later, in a moment of relative enlightenment,” he admitted that the problem suggested “something deep and structural, not just cyclical.”
Yes, Mr. Brooks. It’s “deep and structural” all right.
Notwithstanding the new “conventional wisdom” (invented by conservatives and perpetuated by their swarming drones), it is not wealthy elites who create jobs – or even the wealth they have acquired. It is the American “consumer.” You know, those hard-working Americans who spent their hard-earned savings on houses they would never really own -- and now no longer live in -- because, as it turns out, they couldn’t afford to buy them in the first place. Those same Americans today continue to spend whatever they can still extract from their ever-shriveling paychecks on crappy, over-packaged products sold to them for many times over what they are “worth” by the very corporations responsible for their accelerating impoverishment.
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But there is an irksome and increasingly stubborn fact, a far deeper reality, that is emerging from the ruins of a corporate-owned economy gone mad. One that leaves most economists at a loss to explain (much less confront) and consumers feeling uncomfortable.
But it is a reality, nonetheless. And we continue to ignore it at our peril: It’s not just American paychecks that can no longer support or sustain unmitigated consumerism – it’s also the planet. When David Brooks or Fed chief Ben Bernanke or even “progressive economists” talk about “consumer spending” as key to “getting the economy back on track,” they fail to take into consideration the finite nature of that living, breathing organism we call Earth, without which we all perish.
Author and environmentalist Richard Heinberg drives home this point in his book, “The End of Growth,” making a compelling -- and I would argue readily apparent – case that that the world and everyone in it is subject to environmental limits. And unless we are willing to recognize and come to terms with the fatal flaw of conventional economics and its primary article of faith -- that these limits don’t exist and that anything can be replaced for the right price – it’s game over.
The current “financial crisis,” is only a symptom of a much deeper disease – one whose manifestations are being experienced (and are in full evidence) all over the world: Our lives and livelihoods are being wrecked, not just by debt, but by resource depletion, accelerating climate change and environmental devastation.
Those lives and livelihoods won’t be “saved” unless and until we reconcile this deeper dilemma.
Such a reconciliation, at this late date, will require us to do far more than most of us are accustomed to doing. There just isn’t time to confront the corporate purveyors of the wreckage we see all around us in an inch-by-inch, piece-by-piece fashion. That may have worked (to a limited extent) in the past. But it’s the 21st century, and the stakes are far too high now for incremental approaches. The models -- from community gardens to solar rooftops to small banks that serve the interests of the community – are there. We need to draw from those models NOW – then pursue them with a vengeance.
The US Census Bureau reported recently – but didn’t really need to tell us -- that some 104 million people — a third of the population — now have annual incomes below twice the poverty line. The ranks of America's poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s. So, it’s not just Africa or Russia or Eastern Europe or even the “Eurozone” that is “failing to thrive” these days. That failure is now palpable here in the US. And those who don’t yet qualify as “poor,” if they don’t see it coming, at least sense it.
We are the economy – and the democracy -- we’ve been waiting for
REAL Democracy, if it is still even attainable, will require REAL transformation.
Such a transformation will require us to resist our heretofore reflexive impulses to succumb to the politics of fear and habit. In so-doing, we will need to find the courage to question not only authority, but the assumptions and addictions which keep that (corporate-owned) authority in power.
Those of us who would call ourselves "progressives" will need to embrace the idea of “radicalism” if we are ever to create “radical change.” We will need to find the courage to critically analyze our own positions and politics, and to look fearlessly at the "corporate liberalism" that has infested many of the organizations and institutions we once believed represented our interests.
REAL democracy will require us to do more than punching a ballot in a corporate-owned ballot box. And it will require us to view dissent as both a right and a responsibility, always bearing in mind that governments, if they are to serve the needs of the people, cannot be allowed to serve only a privileged few. We will need to remember also that in a real democracy, governments can do little without our consent, and that those who serve in government serve at our behest. They cannot collect taxes, wage wars, enforce repressive laws, approve budgets, repair roads, supply goods to markets, manufacture weapons or feed the hungry without the consent of the people.
REAL democracy, if it is still within reach, will require more than “inside-the-corporate-owned-ballot box” solutions, cosmetic “quick-fixes” or nibbling around the edges of the current corporate-owned structure. It will require the democratization of everything – from wealth to resources. Such a radical departure from the current corporate-dominated system will require us to fight at every turn Big Oil, Big Ag, Big Banks and all the other industrial powers that are poisoning our land, food and water. And we will need to start in or own communities.
Disabling the corporate plutocracy means never forgetting who it is that keeps the plutocrats on top and enables them to condemn the rest of us to a life of “consumer servitude.” It means remembering that it is we, and we alone, who have the power to change the course of history. If we refuse to fight, there can be no war; if we refuse to work in jobs that destroy our planet, our future and our souls, we can transform the workplace.
It has never been more clear than now, in the 21st century, that dissent is the essence of democracy.
Alice Walker once observed that the most common way people give up their power “is by thinking they don't have any.” Until Americans are willing to internalize that concept at least as deeply as we’ve internalized a corporate value system imposed on us by those who would hold us in place, we will stay in that place.
After all, as it turns out, we really are the economy – as well as the democracy – that we’ve been waiting for.