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"Business as Usual! Business as Usual!" Chants the Oligarchy as the World Burns

On this fire season, the last one, and the fire seasons to come.

A home burns as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. Fueled by high winds and low humidity, the rapidly spreading Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise and has quickly charred 70,000 acres and has destroyed numerous homes and businesses in a matter of hours.  (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A home burns as the Camp Fire moves through the area on November 9, 2018 in Magalia, California. Fueled by high winds and low humidity, the rapidly spreading Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise and has quickly charred 70,000 acres and has destroyed numerous homes and businesses in a matter of hours.  (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Of course, when the planet got hotter, the fires became a constant. The deniers, the brainwashed, the oligarchs, the sell-outs, the deceivers, the … mental cases, pick your villain. The whole motley crew went about with their fingers in their ears and their eyes squinched shut, chanting as loud as they could, “Business as usual! Business as usual!”

The water tables had been over drawn. The record heat waves dried up everything. The new weather patterns sent lightning storms where lack of humidity used to keep thunderheads from building up. It was like a thousand miles drenched in kerosene and ten thousand matches being dropped from the sky.

But business as usual, even the centrists insisted. “We need civility,” they said. “We need to be a team.”

Fires weren’t the only thing, of course. Category 4 and 5 hurricanes polka dotted the Gulf of Mexico and Mid-Atlantic. The ice-sheet of Greenland gave up the ghost. The North Pole hit 90 degrees. Methane gas was pouring out of the melting tundra. And, of course, there was the pandemic. The idiots in the Business-as-Usual crowd refused to wear masks.

"How do you carry water when the pain in your heart has you pinned to the floor?"

The oligarchs had fun turning conspiracy theories to their own advantage, fueling the idea that a barrier to keep out germs was the real violation of rights and that the Fascist was fighting for the people. Never mind that the Fascist dismantled the agency responsible for containing infectious diseases.

But then the fire season started and the idiot crew was out there again shouting “Business as usual!” without masks, choking on the air literally molten with debris.

But what made the whole thing extremely dangerous was the government. Forty years ago, the oligarchy had abandoned the gold standard in favor of explosives. “Might was right,” they said. “It’s the economy, stupid. And war is good for the economy.” So, of course, the Capital, the houses of government, the entire apparatus for keeping things running in society that all the people depended on, it all was knee deep, no, neck deep in explosives. People in the Capital didn’t even try to hide it; they were proud of it. When the Fascist got in power, he proclaimed an “Open Carry” policy that rewarded people for stocking up their explosives and carrying absurd amounts of them on their person wherever they went. The Fascist was himself a hoarder. And his mafia were all hoarders too. 

The idiot crew loved them for it. “At least they don’t hide it. At least their honest about it,” the Fascist’s voting block grinned, making the blunt statement as a challenge. And they had a point: The sell-outs, the corporatists, the deceivers, the centrists were all hoarders too, but they pretended like they weren’t.  It made them cloying. For the last forty years, they’d all been getting into explosives as fast and as much as they could, as much as anyone. They helped each other.

And so, the fire season took hold and the Capital was a tinder box, a plutonium bomb, waiting to decimate the nation. The fires went on north to south, east to west, day after day. Wall Street made billions on air-filters. The combination of quarantine and smoke creeping under the door jam in every house across the land was potent. The Fascist cornered the market and signed into law an air filter subsidy in the name of public health after securing the centrist vote in the Senate.

The politics we faced during this time were of two parties. The Fascist’s party was called the Fire Starters. The Fire Starters actually claimed to believe in inferno. It started with “business as usual,” and went further to say that the fire season was actually a sign of an improving economy. They also suggested in every way they could that an inferno would herald a “second coming” of Jesus. “Let the world burn! Amen,” was the prayer at their enormous political rallies and church services. But the oligarchs behind the Fire Starters never believed this nonsense; they authored it. What the oligarchs believed was that they could survive the inferno, take possession of more wealth, and reduce the population and its potential demand for justice. Global domination was their fundamental gut-driven reflex, a bodily dysfunction more than a creed, but essentially the same thing.

The other party was called the Fire Wardens. The Fire Wardens claimed to be doing everything they could to prevent the inferno, and had been doing so for the last forty years. “They were proud of their record,” the Fire Warden leadership said, but they lied about it constantly. The fact was that for forty years, the planet had been growing steadily hotter and wildfires had been growing more and more severe and all the while the Fire Wardens’ leadership had been stockpiling as many explosives as they could, which they were able to do because they were funded by the same oligarchs controlling the Fire Starters.

Of course, a forty-years descent toward inferno is bound to produce a leader at some point. A Prophet had to emerge. It’s simply nature. Nature will embody wisdom to regulate imbalances. Somewhere, somehow wisdom will be given voice. But these leaders and Prophets, they don’t appear out of the blue. There is a life history involved. There are deserts crossed. There are wildernesses and persecutions, betrayals and abandonments.

For decades one man had been warning the people about the coming fire season, about the potential of an explosive standard to reduce the empire to a twenty-first century dark age. He told them about the oligarchs, the deceivers, the centrists, the brainwashed, the sell-outs, the whole idiot crew. He showed them that the Fire Wardens served the same interests as the Fire Starters. He emphasized the need for the people to take control of the government that was supposed to be theirs, now, before the fire season started and ignited the stock piles of explosives on which the economy of the illegitimate oligarchy was sustained. And he was a wise human being. And good.

And people couldn’t help but listen. They couldn’t help but love him. His heart was different, not wretched with artificiality and craving, but hopeful, strong. Pure. And he made sense. It’s not smart to mix raging wildfires with huge hoards of explosives. People saw that the man really cared about them and they started to call him, “Honest.” It was a label that took hold because even before the fire season really got going, there were wildfires growing stronger over years and years and Honest was always on the forefront showing how to take care of the people, how to put out the fires, and how to prevent them in the first place. People really appreciated what he said because they did not want the lives they had created burned down and he consistently proved himself to be true in sharing that same desire. It was nothing radical. Just decent. Basic.

Honest started as a Mayor. He didn’t play games. He wasn’t ambitious. He followed his vision instead, helping where he could. He was good at it. He was voted to the national government and eventually to the highest house in the national government, short of the executive. During all this time, the Fascist was nowhere in the leadership; he was a joke. He was a reality-tv star, a used-car con man, a crass buffoon, a racist misogynist, and an egomaniac whose manner of speech broadcast his condition as a psychopath. He was fodder for cultural degradation. They would have been a stark contrast, Honest and the Fascist, but no one would have ever considered them part of the same universe.

All this time, the oligarchy was steadily taking over. They skillfully picked their front men to head their coup de la democratie: a B-Movie star with early onset dementia, a CIA imperialist, a sexual predator with an unprecedented talent for lying, an unstable and immature scion who had sought refuge in fake Christianity only to become a war criminal, a bullied and fearful centrist raised to office by empty identity politics. Under each posturing head of state, the wealth of society was transferred more and more out of the hands of the people and converted into the explosives being concentrated among the oligarchy. Under each, the leadership of the Fire Starters grew stronger, wealthier, and more deeply ensconced in explosives. Under each, the leadership of the Fire Wardens grew wealthier, more deeply ensconced in explosives, and more secure in their control of the platform that was supposed to be against fires and explosives. And under each, the planet grew hotter, the wildfires grew more extreme, and the economy grew more unstable on its far too concentrated explosive standard.

Honest did not have the ambition to head the nation’s government. He just wanted to prevent an inferno. He wished to be able to help cultivate a flourishing homeland, but if not that, at least to get rid of the explosives and do something about the fires. He tried to get others to head the government in a responsible, humane way. He encouraged other leaders to join him in his goals. But eventually, he was a lone voice in a desert wilderness in which the only wisdom, honesty, and humanity represented in government were his own. He was compelled to run for the Fire Wardens’ nomination to oppose the Fire Starters’ reckless support of inferno. By the time the Fascist was seeking re-election, it was Honest’s second attempt and the fire season had achieved terminal velocity.

The nation was racing toward inferno, but the good news was that the public was rallying behind Honest. Every poll indicated that he had the votes, the support, the grassroots funding, and the political platform not only to easily carry the Fire Wardens’ nomination, but also to easily defeat the Fascist in the general election. The voting process in the Fire Wardens’ party primaries was simple. Each candidate mobilized his or her own bucket brigade. The candidate whose brigade put out the most fires would win the Fire Warden nomination.

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As it was Honest’s second attempt, the oligarchs behind the Fire Wardens had already learned the first time how to steal the nomination away from him. During the last four years, they’d only become more sophisticated in their determination to retain control of the party. To begin, they made sure there were twice as many candidates competing than ever before to split the voters between brigades. There was a whole slew of dirty tricks and criminal activity. But the main device the oligarchs used was quite simple. They organized goon squads that went around the night before the primary and punched holes in the buckets of as many voters supporting Honest as possible. Then, they forced all the other candidates but the one they could most easily control to quit the contest or be targeted by the oligarchy for ruin. The party bosses made it clear to the candidates bowing out that they were to encourage their supporters to give their buckets to the oligarchy’s candidate, disregarding all the terrible, inflammatory things they’d said about him earlier. They read their scripts. This was how it was done.

Of course, a lot of houses burned. Honest’s voters passed their buckets up the line in town after town after town. Determined, sweating in the heat, scorched by the blazing flames, believing they could win. But the water poured through the bucket bottoms on to their shoes and never reached the fires. Meanwhile the oligarchy made sure all the buckets from the brigades of the candidates forced to quit were gathered up and given to the candidate that the oligarchs chose to remain in the contest against Honest. The result was, as I said, that, although one candidate did win, it was the voters who really lost because the buckets on which they depended to keep their houses from burning to the ground were either purposefully kicked-in or stolen for others to use. But this was not the end of the voters’ woes, not really even the beginning.

Now, the Fire Warden’s appointed nominee, Reckless Match, was set to face the Fascist in the general election. The Fire Starters would set fires and the Fire Wardens would put them out. If there was fire at the end, the Fascist would stay in power. If the fires were put out, Reckless Match would take his place.

I had been a die-hard supporter of Honest. The first time the Fire Wardens stole the nomination from him, I thought they needed to be punished to teach them to behave. So, I voted for the Tree Planters who refused to engage in the charade of trying to put out fires encouraged by the oligarchy controlling both the Fire Starters and the Fire Wardens. But the second time around, I realized there was no teaching the Fire Wardens. They were irretrievably committed to the inferno demanded by the oligarchy. I’m still glad I voted for the Tree Planters the first time; my vote didn’t matter in that election, but the message that the Fire Starters and the Fire Wardens were and still are the same corrupt organization posing as a bad cop and a good cop remained and still remains essential to the public awakening necessary to get us off the explosive standard in our economy and commit us to addressing the rising heat of the planet.

This time, however, I decided I was going to vote for Reckless Match because I was determined to never support the Fire Wardens again after this election and therefore there was no point trying to teach them a lesson. Meanwhile, we were now officially in the midst of the fire season and we didn’t know how long it would last, but it was looking like there was a real chance it would end in inferno if we let the Fascist stay in office.

Yes, inferno was also a real risk if we voted someone named Reckless Match into the presidency of a nation run on an explosive-based economy, but at least Reckless Match’s dishonesty was a curb on his conduct. He couldn’t openly court apocalypse. He had to retain plausible deniability. The public had to still need to argue over whether he “intended” to create the inferno or whether he really believed dropping the match in the kerosene might render it inflammable.

So, I determined to vote for Reckless Match, but I still felt that message of awakening was important. I thought, the best way to motivate burned voters to defeat the Fascist was to follow my hero’s example and be honest. Tell the people, I thought, “Here is the plan. We know the Fire Wardens are no different really than the Fire Starters, and after this election, our movement will work on getting rid of all political parties and their rigged, dangerous process and will focus on putting in place a process that applies the one person, one vote algorithm with near perfect integrity. No parties fixing the nomination. No oligarchy money corrupting the process. No sell-out politicians gerrymandering the election districts. No punching holes in buckets.”

I thought, the thing to do in this awful situation is to tell the people that our goal should be to create a weighted, publicly administered, multi-round election process that narrows the field in a way that makes it difficult to subvert the one person, one vote algorithm. We’ll make the public administrator of the process criminally liable for any subversion of the one person, one vote algorithm. We’ll do whatever we need to do to improve the integrity of our political process because everything else depends on that. We are, after all, as capable at engineering democratic political process integrity as we have shown ourselves to be at engineering explosive anti-democratic oligarchy. We are a society of engineers. We can engineer anything we want. If we try, we can even engineer human health and well-being. But to do that, we need political process integrity. So, after this election, that will be our sole focus. It will not be: “It’s the economy stupid. And war is good for the economy.” It will be: “It’s political process integrity, my friend! And political parties are an enemy to political process integrity.”

“And since we know what we have to do long-term,” I thought we should tell the voters, “this time, we should not hesitate to vote for Reckless Match in order to get rid of the Fascist. We can do this as part of a logical strategy only if, at the same time that we vote for Reckless Match, we also testify that he and his party are corrupt and an enemy to political process integrity. We will voice this testimony with as much righteous anger and passion as we will voice the importance of getting rid of the Fascist. We’ll do both at the same time.” I believed this message was how we could get all the voters whose lives were burned down by the Fire Wardens’ bucket-punching theft of the nomination from Honest to actually get up and vote for Reckless Match anyway. I thought: “Only an honest vision for moving forward will motivate these voters to join Reckless Match’s brigade.” It was my way of flipping “The king is dead, long live the king!” on its head. “Vote for Reckless Match; May Reckless Match and his Party be forever banished from our land!”

And so, that’s pretty much what I did. I didn’t take it on myself more than my own two cents. I had no delusion that I had any more influence than that. But I published my message. I explained my strategy and my vote. I encouraged people to join me in simultaneously voting for Reckless Match and declaring our campaign to make his and all political parties illegal.

The big day came. The day of the election. The Fire Starters versus the Fire Wardens.

What can be said?

I guess what should be obvious by now is that if you punch holes in people’s brigade buckets when their houses are burning down, they’re not inclined to fix their buckets to carry your water to help you put out a different fire they’re pretty sure you helped set anyway. Sure, I fixed my bucket even though I suffered burns that are still painful. I made myself. It was important. Honest said so and he was right. I carried the water for Reckless Match.

But just because it was important doesn’t mean most people will be able. If the bucket has been damaged so that it is useless and if the water carrier has been maliciously burned by Reckless Match and the oligarchs behind him, it’s just not going to happen that all those water carriers are going to muster the strength, numb themselves to their pain, keep the hope after their house has been needlessly burnt down, and go help Reckless Match put out a fire for the oligarchy.

The fires raged all across the electoral map. Or maybe they didn’t. It was all the same to the oligarchy. It was like Boss Tweed once said: It didn’t matter to them who did the electing, just so long as they got to do the nominating.  With Reckless Match versus the Fascist, the oligarchy won either way. So, either way, maybe we avoided inferno or maybe we didn’t. With the oligarchy in charge, the planet surely continues to get hotter no matter what, as the last forty years have shown, and the concentration of explosives will surely continue to grow more extreme as well.

Supposing the Fascist won, that’s when the centrists came for me, some rabid, some in tears. “You don’t get people to vote for a candidate by painting him as a criminal!” they screamed. I tried to point out that they are the ones who had been preaching lesser evil voting for years, but they were out for blood. To them, what Reckless Match and his oligarchs did to the voters’ buckets was not to blame for his loss. Nor were the burns the voters suffered when their houses burnt down. “These voters would have fixed their buckets and sucked up their pain and carried Reckless Match’s water, no problem,” they said, “but you had to go and point out what he did; that’s what lost him the election.”

As if the voters weren’t aware of their burns before I opened my big mouth. As if they didn’t know their buckets had been sabotaged and by whom. As if it was what the voters knew or didn’t know that mattered, when in fact is was the despondency of their hearts that, once induced by betrayal, just can’t necessarily be overcome.  How do you carry water when the pain in your heart has you pinned to the floor? To the centrists, Reckless Match’s actions were not a betrayal. To them, he did everything a reasonable person would do to put out a fire, including kick holes in the bottoms of the brigade buckets. It was completely logical. And the fact that the Fascist remained in power was all my fault. I should burn in hell, the centrists said, and they had the explosives to make that happen.  That was living in the fire season.

Hank Edson

Hank Edson

Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. He is the author of The Declaration of the Democratic Worldview (Democracy Press, 2008).

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