Saturday, November 26, 2011
After last week, it seemed this entry would be a pep talk for disheartened Colorado Springs Occupiers. Instead it seems it will need to be my own mind meandering around in an attempt to make sense of the new dynamic rising from the ashes of the original manifestation we had going here, which has surely been destroyed. It feels something like a kids cabin made of Lincoln Logs or something after he knocks it over to build something else.
It's been over a week since the City shut our permit down and confiscated our ramshackle, wind-ragged tents down at Acacia Park. After a few days of curious and somewhat disconcerting quiet, Occupiers in Colorado Springs are reconnected, reinvigorated, and in many cases really pissed off. Yesterday a contingency of us made our way to the old Venetucci Farm south of CSprings to harass Colorado's Gov. Hickenlooper at the groundbreaking ceremony for a solar garden project of the city's publicly owned utilities company. About 20 Occupiers of Colorado Springs "mic-checked" the governor and briefly disrupted the speechifying before a group that was made up largely of Occupy's natural allies, raising the ire of some attendees, but most assuredly reminding Hickenlooper that he won't be allowed to ignore the movement simply by leaving Denver.
Some Occupiers present, including i, were ambivalent about our project. Hickenlooper is something of a liberal darling, having supported projects like the SunShare solar garden in the past, and the crowd at the event was populated by many of Colorado Springs's "liberal" elite. The business of interrupting at these proceedings is a little sticky, and may have cost some in support for Occupy among this crowd. On the other hand, some of the issues addressed by Occupy were aptly illustrated within the very brief span of our attendance. Jerry Forte, who wrangles close to $300,000 a year for himself without considering bonuses as CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, spent a few smooth-talking minutes going on about how cool the city's utility non-profit is, noting the great advance the two or three dozen solar panels undergoing installation at Venetucci Farm toward his goal of deriving 20% of city power from renewable resources by 2020 represents. Gee whiz! At today's use rates, by 2020, the world's inhabitants, especially in the U.S., will be stabbing one another over firewood if we can survive the toxic byproducts of the petroleum industry, or the potentially nuclear wars we are preparing for our next trick in the Middle East. Hmm--wonder what gas prices will look like if the Levant and its environs are sealed under a "sea of glass."
Forte also sits on the board at the local branch of the United Way, where Bob Holmes's Homeward Pikes Peak brought in around $650,000 last year, and still can't figure out how to house or manage the low-ball, (and variable), estimate of around 1,100 homeless residents in Colorado Springs. Hickenlooper, a million dollar winner in the American sweepstakes who loves to project an aw-shucks, up-by-the-bootstrap, populist kind of image came to his ability to start restaurant empires via the petroleum industry. He presides over a state that panders shamelessly to the U.S. military and its attendant industrial complex, both of which entities these days seem to be no more than acquisition arms of the energy and financial elite about which you may have heard Occupiers railing in recent months. Mike Hannigan of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation was there, and i'm sure he was butt-hurt by the Occupiers implication by their mere presence that his organization might be elitist or something. The CC student i spoke with on the way off the farm grounds was perplexed and hurt herself, expressing solidarity with Occupy, but begging that we not "do it again," referring to our admittedly rather obnoxious interruption. She will likely go on from CC to join the cultured pseudo-liberal aristocracy of our guilt-laden Western catechism spinning its wheels till the Apocalypse. Hannigan manages some $50m in assets, and to be sure his foundation does some good work, but all the back-slapping and genteel coffee-sipping over a couple of ultimately meaningless solar panels sure feels a lot like John Rockefeller's habit of passing out dimes to street urchins late in his life.
I am not accusing Hannigan, Forte, or others of comparability with Rockefeller, who made his initial fortune by arson and murder. Consider this, though. No one seems interested in whether the numbers in the mix add up to anything substantive or not. None of the serious players mentioned above have ever questioned the 1,000% spread between some of the salaries involved at CS Utilities, and when and if they do it's generally to argue that we have to pay such ridiculous amounts to attract the "best and the brightest," even though recent history shows plainly enough that it's painfully obvious huge salaries hardly translate into top performance. No one scratches his head over the disconnect involved in the high-minded goal of CS Utilities for 20% renewable energy within minutes of the utter collapse of projected petroleum reserves. And aren't we Americans, including especially those of us with the clout big money wields, responsible for our own politics? Are we really a bastion of freedom and intelligent, realistically utilitarian process or is all that rhetoric just a roll of dimes to cover up our guilt every time we go down to Wal-Mart to perpetuate our slave economy, without which we have never lived? What's the disparity between Forte's salary and the annual income of the guy that made his spiffy shoes?
Occupiers love solar projects. But nothing's ever about just one thing, and it seems to me it's about as rarely mostly about the thing at the top of the presentation program. We Occupiers are often accused of stupidly purveying no solid agenda. It may be apparent that at least my Occupy agenda is complicated. The above connects Big Oil, Third World labor, charitable impulse, income disparity, under-girding Western guilt, competitive job markets, and spiritual malaise, among other things, including much that remains implied. Many Occupiers i have met personally are still perturbed at the scanty portion of the American Pie they find available on their own plate. We've brought this whole scenario upon ourselves, though, and the current program will remain fully unsustainable whether the polite society of charity in the Pikes Peak region dismisses us over our antics or not. That's why Occupy in general will be not so easily dislodged from its place in history.
The bitch about saying all this is i really, really like most of the people i recognized at Venetucci Farms yesterday. I like Americans in general--but man, we've got problems, just like the homeless guys Bob Holmes and his philosophical brethren like to try to control all the time. When i talk to those guys in line at the soup kitchen, i tell them, "Man, ya really ought to leave that dope alone a little." They know me, and they know i love them. Really. I do--and really, they know it. They know they're fucked up, too. Sometimes i'll tell the most torn down that they need to leave the dope alone completely, before it kills them. That's what i'm saying about our society here in Colorado Springs, in Colorado, the U.S.A., and the whole world. I really don't have a beef with the bankers, politicians, and half-assed, dime-roll charities of the world, or the foolish scrabblers grasping at the American Nightmare. They're working a system designed by haphazard evolutionary processes to favor ruthless competition. But i am saying that we need to get serious about fixing all these interwoven problems that stem from deep down in human souls, because we're running out of time. If we lose, and everything goes to Hell in a handbasket, if none of us learn a genuinely cooperative technique for living together with ourselves and with the Earth before she rejects us, we Occupiers will be able to tell our kids we fought the deadly processes that brought us down with everything at our disposal. Even if it's with our dying breaths. What will those of us that insist on competing our species to death be telling theirs?
Occupy is not going away, here in Colorado Springs, or anywhere else. We're planning more and escalating prodding at the fat, lazy system and its symbiotic remorae. We hope the World listens closely to what we're saying and its members genuinely look inward to find that bit of truth that remains, concealed behind layers of self-deception and avarice. Because, sure, we're pissed off about injustice--who wouldn't be? But we also really like humans, and other living things, and we don't want to see them all go away.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
As cities around the US bully Occupy groups around on park verges and college campuses, we here in Colorado Springs have not remained unscathed. Monday morning saw our friendly neighborhood "Homeless Outreach Team," (HOT), and a much less friendly contingent from the city's code enforcement office dismantle the previously permitted Occupy site at Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs. A surprisingly good-sized group materialized after midnight to vocally express displeasure at the actions of the city as rendered by the police and what appeared to be a rather callous batch of contracted laborers hired to accomplish the actual dismantling. No one got beat up or gassed. The permit surrounding which had developed controversy in our little microcosm is gone and we will now be required to redefine, restructure, and proceed without it. Personally, i feel it to be a good riddance even though we here in Colorado Springs seem to be experiencing a bit of disorientation as a result.
Dan and M.J. of the HOT team, (a redundancy, i know, but common parlance), were present for the dismantling of the tents that had been a fixture at our protest site. Some 50 or so protesters managed to flood the scene, even at the late hour of the event. Despite the relative peace between authorities and Occupiers here, the police present were fully prepared to inflict harm if we protesters had engaged in any form other than the sometimes obnoxious yelling. The whole scene, not unlike other aspects of our unusual local manifestation of the Movement, produced and continues to produce a sense of extreme ambiguity in my own psyche. I like to think of Dan and M.J. as friends, at least in a provisional sense, but i have no choice but to acknowledge that none of my closest friends would ever even think of putting me in jail or beating me up, even if i piss them off.
Tuesday a fairly large group of Occupiers attended a City Council meeting with a previously established agenda, none of which was to address Occupy directly, though it would be difficult to conjure a government meeting with an agenda that pertained to no issue encompassed by Occupy at this juncture. My own experience at the council meeting felt very much like an exercise in futility. A gentleman preceded us Occupiers with a request to restore city funding to his non-profit that helps supply transportation to disabled city residents. As the council and mayor did with our objections next, they seemed to tolerate the man's speech and then perfunctorily ignore it. No indication of interest or intention to act was in evidence. Aimee Cox, serving as some sort of city liaison, distributed a few sheets describing the city's appeal process in a few sentences. The remainder of the council meeting involved investment strategy and plans to extract additional money from residents in the form of utility rate hikes.
The minutiae to all this wrangling is just about as pointless to describe as anything i can picture. The clearest vision afforded by the whole scene is still one of a struggle to get things from those that control them on the one hand, while struggling to keep people from getting things on the other. There remains a sense of entitlement held both by those with little, and by those generally smug players with much. I remain convinced that the current state of affairs is fully unsustainable. The global takeover of industry and commerce by factions that appear fully unconcerned by any consideration other than personal enrichment has led to a scenario in which those at the winning end of that paradigm are in as much trouble as anyone else. Sure, if our supply of food, energy, shelter, and so on becomes insufficient those with more clout in hand may well be able to hold out rather longer than those otherwise equipped. A few survivalists will likely outlast inner city dope fiends; but what's the point? Is the object of human interaction to feel smugger than the next guy? Who gets to feel the smuggest?
Directly attacking the intractable problems of human interaction seems as futile as ever. No amount of negotiation seems effective enough to overcome the entrenched cultural aversion to cooperation and insistence on coming out on top that has produced such a three ring circus of a society. Observe that Colorado Springs's Mayor Bach is in office after a campaign financed largely by real estate and development interests. Really, now, do we need more buildings around here, or aren't these activities really just the outcome of individual efforts to scrabble up money? Think about that a moment. How much human activity is nothing more than bullshit make-work designed not to be productive, but to shift money around? How much useless crap does Madison Avenue convince us we need for no better reason than to supply income to its players. I'm suggesting that most of the stupid jobs we Occupiers hear we should get so often are self-destructive bullshit. That the great majority of laws and regulations we have allowed to overwhelm our hard-won liberty, spawning the parasitic legal industry, the real estate industry, the huge regulatory bureaucracies of governments all around, and in fact most of the "work" we humans do is utterly pointless. I'm suggesting that we humans will, in fact, need to rethink our entire interaction with one another if we are to survive our own more ridiculous tendencies.
I'm hardly the first person to posit this notion. Jeremy Rifkin, for one, discussed the ideas i merely hint at above in rather more depth in his 1995 book, The End of Work. Of course, suspicious religious folk have raised an uproar at the mere mention of Rifkin for decades now, claiming him to be a Devil-worshiper, among other things. The sad truth seems to be that fundamentalists in this country and others, of Christian orientation and others, seem content to allow their Creator's handiwork to burn to ash rather than to work together with anyone else to resolve the problems we humans have cobbled together to our own collective detriment. As little as i relish the sort of fight that generally ensues from arguing about spiritual matters, i'll be finding it necessary to head in that direction in upcoming posts. Hold on tight, and please feel free to engage....
Friday, November 18, 2011
Occupy! is a movement that has arisen "in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice." It's a phenomenon, perhaps more than a movement. The state of the world, and of the human race has grown so imbalanced, so deeply dysfunctional, so painfully self-absorbed by malign tendencies that suddenly we humans passed a threshold beyond which our tolerance could not continue. So we spilled out into the street to demand attention to the aggressive imbalances we're all forced to live with every day, be they economic, racial, nationalistic, religious--the nature of these distinctions is far less important than our weariness of the game we're caught up in involving the necessity to grind down our fellows in order to keep our own heads above water.
We Occupiers are as diverse as the face of the entirety of humanity. And we're tired of fighting a losing battle against the self-centered ideology gripping so many of the world's institutions and interaction. We've come together to do something about it , even before we have any clue just what to do. We American Occupiers are coming at this thing within our established framework as a nation committed to law and Constitution, and struggling to absorb the idea that Occupy is not an American phenomenon, even though it stems from ideas we've been accustomed to supporting as Americans for a long time. We're weary of the gap between our ideals, the underlying philosophies of equanimity expressed in our founding documents, and our collective expression in the real world. We've come together, now, to splay all our discontent out in the open, to figure out our commonalities, and to demand both a reckoning and a rectification. We Occupiers are convinced that the time has come, that we Humans stand at a crossroad in our history, and that we must finally learn to live cooperatively, or lose our place in the history of a small planet in a cosmic sea....
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses. --Woodrow Wilson
Our understanding of history shapes our perception of the present, and informs our actions in the moment. This post, for example, is given additional flesh by the eviction of Occupiers from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan last night by forces directed by 4.0 × 10-8 percenter Michael Bloomberg, one of the richest guys in the USA, and probably in accord with Federal direction. Zuccotti Park is a "Privately Owned Public Space," (POPS), and that odd status has no doubt been notable in current discourse. Across the USA and elsewhere, including here in Colorado Springs, governments at various levels have utilized no-camping ordinances and public park hours to harass Occupiers, often to such extremes as to soundly demonstrate some of the protesters' most salient points. So what is the history of "property," and how does it pertain to the Occupy movement?
We citizens of the USA are virtually without foundation where historical discussion is concerned, unless we educate ourselves beyond the standard drivel so ineptly foisted in our direction by teachers bound by our disastrously faltering public indoctrination system, mislabeled "education." We learn a sanitized version of our own history, and the European history from which ours so largely derives, focused on patriotic and Euro-centric hero-worship rather than on the genuine and controversial currents that have effected societal changes at various junctures in world history. We often become enraged when these inane presumptions are questioned, as i have personally witnessed when service veterans have come unglued when protesters suggested the former ought not to have been engaged in foreign adventurism for resources, or when Occupiers have come near to blows over rights or privileges the foundations for which they often demonstrate but scanty comprehension.
The story of Christopher Columbus and his noble and brave explorations of a frightening unknown quantity for the lofty purpose of betterment of the human condition, followed immediately by even more noble American colonists' successful efforts to throw off the shackles of monarchical tyranny culminating in the sacrosanct US Constitution is ingrained in our collective psyche like a Freudian complex. The quote from the nearly deified US President Woodrow Wilson at the top of this page is meant to illustrate this phenomenon. Wilson said some things that seemed to spring from a font of humanity, but he was demonstrably a heinous racist and an elitist, encouraging reestablishment of the KKK, turning US finances over to the Federal Reserve, propagating celebrated treaties he subsequently ignored, and intrepidly belittling any expressor of opinion contrary to his own, among other public sins. Columbus filled his own journals with tales of religiously inspired avarice as he gleefully reported his intent and the execution of his plan to conquer the lands and subjugate the peoples he encountered. The US Constitution, while serving to codify some dignified and egalitarian principles, was still seen by some as an instrument of avarice in its formative days, as has proven to be the case with Adam Smith's doctrines when handed over to naturally avaricious men. Even the highest-minded of US founders--St. Jefferson springs to apperception--firmly established racist, misogynistic doctrine and elitism by excluding all but white, male land owners from the earliest US political process. Those Founders also knew themselves to be limited and allowed the mechanisms for change to exist within the document.
The land owners so favored by the Founders above had been granted holdings either by monarchical fiat, or by purchase from those granted such holdings. Subsequent years were full of similarly motivated action, when "pioneers," once again ennobled by our propagandist history strode across North America claiming everything in sight by perfectly legal Homestead acts and the like, and killing or subjugating anyone not European, male, and white, assuaging their consciences with the absurd "moral" doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Many US citizens, usually white and of European descent, have blithely sloughed off Native American claims to the land here as anachronistic, habituating themselves to the notion that a couple of generations represent a lengthy historical stretch. "Indians," many of whom don't experience the epoch between, say, the gleeful rape and resettlement of their great-grandmothers and today as very lengthy at all, advocate for the removal of white Europe from "their" lands. This may not be anachronistic after all, but it has indeed become impractical, and it is no more nobly motivated than the insistence that Americans, or anyone else, scarf up resources, such as but not limited to land, to which no human being enjoys a more legitimate claim than any other.
The uproar in Zuccotti Park last night is based on laws that derive from the notion of public versus private property. The Banks we Occupiers have been railing against hold the threat of eviction from private property over struggling homeowners via the specious doctrines of land ownership in this and other countries. The spats in Colorado Springs over tents, where they belong, and who belongs in them derive from the same set of doctrines, which i hereby proclaim to be bogus, in my opinion. The bad habit of human beings to either grovel or dominate is yet another matter.
One can follow the tendency to dominate and conquer, along with the development of Divinely appointed land control in western culture at least as far back as the dubitable stories of Hebrew escapades in the Levant, supposedly ordered by a loving god to kill, pillage, and rape in order to spread their doctrine of light. Ahem.
While the recalcitrant problems of aggression and slithery competitive spirits, as well as our quickness to condemn one another's mere habits lead us deeper and deeper into an environmental cul de sac, we continue to pursue failed doctrine. The USA has, in apparently actual fact, presented the world with a still viable political framework within which to effect the sort of massive changes necessary for everyone involved, and it may well be our saving grace, if we acknowledge and rectify its initial errors and subsequent abuses. Lots of thinking will be necessary. It's awfully difficult to conclude that genuine unfettered Anarchism is likely to produce a civil society. Laws are not intrinsically bad unless they're bad laws. Few really believe Libertarian suggestions that unregulated exploitation of natural resources can lead to anything but irredeemable destruction akin to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or the impending collapse of our fisheries.
Did you notice how comfortable my use of the term "our" felt, applied to a natural resource in that last sentence?
Capitalism and the American Constitution are founded on private property ownership. Some things belong intrinsically to individuals and groups. Marxism denies any right to private property at all and kills innovation, in the argument of McCarthy's legacy. Marx and Lenin were motivated by historical factors as well, even if their doctrines were no more effective at legislating kindness than ours have been. Most of us will agree that our bodies ought naturally belong to ourselves--the person whose consciousness centers in that particular body--and yet many of our laws belie that acceptance even now that we've abolished open slavery. We've built a gigantic and Byzantine body of law here in the US, and in countries all over the world, based on principles of subjugation and rapine that are in actual fact now fully anachronistic, using justifications that are utterly mythological. The conquering of neighboring lands and their parceling for sale for personal enrichment, using armies fed a long and patriotic line of shyte about motives is simply not sustainable any longer. We can continue to fight over detritus after we, (by which i mean everyone and not just Europeans or Americans), collapse the entire playing field, or we can recognize our errors and take on the extraordinarily difficult prospect of admitting fault and rectifying our relationships with one another both here in the US, and everywhere else. Some things belong to everyone.
This post is largely about bad history, and partly about the failure of both Capitalism and Communism. I'll be putting it up lacking a certain amount of flesh in order to have it in place. The natural aggression inherent in confronting some of the subject matter contained requires some additional referencing, which i'll add later. The characterization of both systems as failures could be entirely specious if i were unprepared to offer alternatives. This is not the case, and i'll be addressing the whole kit and caboodle, whatever that means, at greater length in the future. The best suggestion i've come across thus far is from Henry George, and i hope you'll investigate. But even if you don't i hope you'll give this the thought it warrants. My ideas are unlikely to be the best out there. Look around, though. The one's we're working with now are bullshit.
More links are forthcoming, but the take on history expressed here is largely indebted to Howard Zinn's "Peoples' History of the United States," and James E. Lowen's critique of history as taught in public schools, "Lies My Teacher Told Me."
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Apologies to readers not at hand or interested so deeply in Colorado Springs's silly affairs.
Last night , it appears more cops were called in to arrest or press charges against one of our own, Jack Semple, by one of our own, the identity of which latter individual seems muddled to some extent. It's simple enough to determine that Jason W. and Kristie W. are the only individuals that have any sort of legitimacy, however dubious, for cop-calling, but we all know from experience that the cops possess a grasp of nuances like this one below a genuinely operable threshold. Some have been bandying about terms like "tyranny," "hater'" and other such inflammations. I'll note that, though Jack and Jason will serve as specific personifications for this piece, others have made alignments according to the differences described. More than one observer has noted the inanity of all this, both from here in Colorado Springs, and from afar. Holy mackerel.
Our unique, permitted status has presented problems left to fate at other Occupy locations. Jack Semple has, no doubt, insisted on performing behaviors of at least somewhat scurrilous foundation. To the best of my knowledge, no "rules," or even "guidelines" have been adopted by the overall group "Occupy Colorado Springs," which i must insist on noting to be separate by definition if not in spirit from "Occupy Colorado Springs," the permitted entity. Last Thursday, (9 Nov), a rather large and representative group of us agreed to adjust wording in our set of rules to reflect their nature as guidelines. Neither rules nor guidelines have been accepted by any consensus, to my knowledge. Jason has proffered the notion that other groups are more stringent in enforcement actions than ours has been, though no set of guidelines for either enforcement or encouragement have been adopted. Most of the sets of guidelines i have been able to dredge up from other sites online have been heavy on terms like"respect," and "mindfulness." Jason's assertions that "the group" reached a consensus on the permit are unfounded, which i know because i myself with others in agreement objected to the permit on the grounds that the law it was meant to skirt is bad in the first place. There was and remains a group of like opinion in opposition to supporters of the permit--a predictable scenario, in light of the hasty disregard for consensus building at the start.
Jack has, in fact, "pushed the envelope" in his approaches both in GAs and in independent action, as have other group members, including at times, me. Jason has also pushed envelopes, and though his responsibility is unclear at certain points, he has it seems signed tickets and pressed charges in the two incidents involving mavericks in "his" tents. No small number of OCS participants have observed the detrimental effect of the behavior of both Jack and Jason. Jack has stubbornly insisted on proceeding without consensus, and given the leaderless, undefined nature of Occupy! worldwide and here, no real authority exists to prevent his behavior. Jason has stubbornly insisted on proceeding without consensus, and given the leaderless, undefined nature of Occupy! worldwide and here, no real authority exists to prevent his behavior. Hmm.
Jack has proceeded from his insistence on peace and love to his own occupation of places and resources to which his claim is at best undecided. There exist legitimate questions concerning what belongs to whom on our street corner, and it seems to me Jack's self-installation as the Robin Hood of Acacia Park has been a detriment to his own stated motivation. At the same time, Jason's insistence on a rather dictatorial approach based on his status as permitted signatory is at odds with the consensus model in general, and the overall spirit of Occupy!
Other than vituperative ad hominem attacks between both parties and their adherents, hardly communicative of either loving or peaceful sentiment, very few of the actual issues have been addressed. It must be granted that Raven, yet another aggressively expressive player in this little conflict, has the backing of fact in that those few consensus agreements to have been adopted have been soundly ignored by Jason, who must be named personally in this given that his name at the top of the permit and that he has apparently issued questionable edicts and instructions to "security" people. Some bits of definition have remained untouched to our detriment, for example, the fact that the tents in question were demonstrably in place well prior to the magical creation of the permitted entity, "Occupy Colorado Springs" by the City's placing that name on the permit. Another example is Jason's admonition to some complaining against his actions to come participate in the securing of the site. I can speak only for myself on this, but even though i have regularly helped build, supply, secure, clean, etc, i have not signed a waiver, so my welcome is in some ways disingenuous, leaving me to believe "permission" to enter tents is a matter of fiat. I'd love to spend regular nights at the Park, but as much as i've promised to do so, i've been stymied by the fact that it becomes necessary to abandon sleep entirely and pace the sidewalk all night, with no option for relief. I've found the prospect more detrimental to motivation than i'd initially imagined.
With or without this foundational uncertainty, it's clear that the permit, or at least its handling in our group, has been the focus of a great deal of friction, as may well have been anticipated. The permit can be a good thing if utilized correctly. It allows us, for the time being, to Occupy the corner without fear of pepper gas wielding police bulldozing the site with their spiffy new urban assault vehicles we all know they simply must find some justification for owning. It's also been the source of an authoritarianism bearing an awfully clear resemblance to at least one strong aspect of the problems that brought Occupiers to the streets in the first place. It's also clear that the one truly solid consensus--to avoid calling cops in non-violent scenarios--has been ignored. There seems to be a lack of awareness of the fact that chair-swinging wrasslin' moves and police action are no more prone to building consensus than impulsive disruption of group thought processes. The permit itself may well be a casualty of insistence on bad behavior from each quarter.
I simply can't believe we in CSprings are the only Occupy outpost wrestling with these very fundamental matters, even if we have an unusual factor in the mix, especially with the introduction of a "security" guy from out of town crowing about his own tent-slashing escapades.
None of this will kill the Occupy Movement. We all seem to be in agreement that our time for ignoring the issues that brought us together has come to an end. The abrupt gathering of millions--no shit--of disgruntled citizens across the entire planet is an expression of the expiration of patience over an unjust, unkind, and self-servingly dictatorial status quo. A renewal of perseverance and, yes, patience while we learn to manage some very intractable problems with our common natures is necessary if we are to avoid actual bloodshed in this existentially unavoidable conflict. We'll learn this, or we'll die.
Practically speaking, no amount of voting or "telling" will solve the problems at hand. To an extent, events are proceeding in a predictable fashion. I suggest we consider with grave lucidity what a consensus process really is, and learn to abide by those few clear points of consensus at which we've come to agreement. Some discussion of broadening the list of permit-holders took place at the Thursday GA. If the permit holders in place are too burdened by liability to allow themselves to be governed by consensus, this question should be examined in detail, with consideration for alternatives. If the permit represents its own final word, then it seems unlikely consensus is attainable, and it will likely become a moot issue when it disappears, which will occur on our present course. If permit holders insist on arbitrary decision-making based on the dictates of the permit, we must recognize the equally sovereign nature of OCS (Permitted) in juxtaposition with OCS the leaderless movement gathered in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. That is to say, if consensus is ignored, it is done so on an individual basis, and the permitted OCS separates itself from the Movement to the extent to which it is able. We're still forced by the fact that we have no choice but to learn to cooperate. In the meantime, let us not neglect the many deeply compelling reasons for being together, or the various projects our self-identified membership have undertaken, particularly internal educational projects which appear especially crucial.
Nothing about this is going to be simple. We will not be solving the problems of the World in a couple of weeks from our Acacia Park vantage. These issues represent the selfsame internally conflicted bits of human nature that have caused us to develop the drastically and fatally flawed social constructs we have come together to oppose. Breathe deep, kids. Learn to love Jack Temple and his half-cocked impulses while he learns how to manifest peace and love without starting a fight. Learn to love Jason Warf, C.J., and Rick the Tent-Slasher as they learn whatever it is they're learning. Learn to love even me as i continually throw thought-wrenches in the cogs. Turn your most critical eye inward, because as i well know of myself, the only way to change the world is to enlighten ourselves to our own flaws and start right there.
Or stock up on bullets. You can find me standing in the Light without any if they start to fly.
A start at the notion of consensus-building:
A couple sets of Occupy guidelines:
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Those readers following the Occupy! Movement in its many forms around the world and in Colorado Springs will be glad to hear that Tuesday culminated a difficult week for us here with a resolution of many contentious issues, and an overall commitment to unity.
The subject matter behind this particular post is closely associated with the Movement in general, but it's more a humanity thing than an Occupy thing, overall. I hope i can get the associations to make sense, and that readers will restrain themselves from developing the erroneous notion that this is meant to be a pitch for some sort of religion. It's not.
I went to the Municipal Court in Colorado Springs to enter a plea of "not guilty" to the charge of camping on public property because of actions executed as a part of Occupy! Actually, i was camping on public property, to put it quite plainly, and the idea behind the plea is that the action does not engender guilt even if it violates a silly and badly unAmerican, (read, "oppressive," if we've become a little unrecognizable in this regard), statute. A couple dozen supporters made it to the courtroom with me, and raised enough ruckus to get Municipal Judge Spottswood W. H. Williams to threaten them all with contempt charges. The whole thing was kind of a lot of fun, really. Made me feel a little like Hoffman or Hayden, in a much smaller sense. There comes a first time for everything, and this was my first visit to a courtroom during which i was able to feel utterly unencumbered by the dark nature of my own action that had led me there. My deepest thanks to all the OCS members and especially Dennis Apuan, who put his political credibility on the line to stand with us, and brought a good deal of patriotic weight to the room as State Rep for the fine soldiers of Fort Carson.
The hearing was only that, after all, and after entering the plea, we scheduled a pre-trial conference with the City Attorney, for 22 Nov, at which a government lawyer will make me an offer i'll most assuredly refuse and we'll schedule a jury trial. I'll keep you news hounds posted as things progress.
The point to this post, though, is an underlying root to the no-camping ordinance, as well as to most of the woes of the day: The Fear.
Most of us don't acknowledge the Fear because, well, it's scary. Instead we get angry, or attempt to maneuver ourselves into a position to control uncontrollable factors like society or competitive economies. We eschew cooperation because we're afraid of our fellows. We make assumptions about others' behavior and how it will effect us. We bewail the corruption of society, and begin looking over our shoulders for the punishment of God, or black-clad mercenaries coming over the horizon to herd us into frigid winter FEMA camps. We worry about hunger, poverty, inglorious death. We develop elaborate political systems and foment revolution in order to establish "security" of dubious credibility. Look around. These tactics have not ever worked after attempting repeated, redundant permutations, and there is no reasonable expectation that they ever will.
The Fear has driven all this cutthroat competition. It's what motivates folks to be sure they have more, more, more. It's what causes us to petulantly demand our right to burn as much gas in our Hummers as possible, and to constantly engage in useless commerce. It motivates the lowest guy competing for some crappy job at Taco Bell just as surely as it motivates conspiratorial Rothschild backroom bankers. It motivates us to enact stupid, oppressive no-camping ordinances when someone that scares us becomes visible, oh my! We're all deathly afraid of some horrible outcome, like someone else getting our stuff, or scaring tourists away, or enjoying some habitual pleasure we find repugnant.
The Fear is irrational! What's the very worst that can happen to us in this life? We die? We find ourselves incarcerated or tortured? Consider, if you will, that we live our little spans, maybe a hundred years or so at the outside limit, surrounded at both ends by an unfathomable mass of toroidally twisted, multi-dimentional Eternity that not one of us will ever grasp while we live. What possible fear can be valid under this circumstance other than that we fail to live according to our own perceived Truths? I say "perceived" since only those afflicted by the Fear are afraid to examine those truths for the errors all honest thinkers know to exist within our own perceptions. If I knew my own blind spots they wouldn't exist, right? We don't even know what we're afraid of mostly, though we can usually list a few if we set ourselves to the task. No one is to blame for his or her own irrational fears, especially cultural fears such as seem to be more or less universal. Many have been established by the direct influence of media that may well have been designed by nefarious folk for exactly the purpose of invoking unfounded fears in various populations. OMG! Now i'm making myself afraid! Not really--but what to do about the Fear?
"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear," reads a certain religious text, (1 Jn 4:18, for those with a source fetish like me). I won't be digressing into a religious sermon here. The principle holds without the doctrinal baggage surrounding it in the context in which it nests. No matter how evil the Ideas we oppose as Occupiers, or as human beings in general, they can't overwhelm a spirit of love. No matter the spiritual foundation or lack thereof, love can dissipate greed, fear, disappointment, embarrassment, and in fact any of the various bases for the secondary anger response we are all prone to manifesting in situations as apparently dire as the one we're seeing now. As much as i can plainly see the bogus nature of the moves made in, say, the financial industry, (inseparable from other key industries at a certain level), applying some genuine empathy causes a mental process that can not end in hatred or vengefulness. Look guys like Greenspan or Geitner in the eyes next time you see them. They're deeply miserable, and completely trapped in their own Fears. When it all collapses, i really hope they're still available so we can feed them a plate of food, even if we can't resist the temptation to ask, "What the fuck were you thinking!?"
We can't fight fire with fire here. Battling greed with more greed, as some seeking to restore an "American Dream" involving bigger slices of a rotten pie seem to do. Revolution only spins us in circles: "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." We always seem to find ourselves standing in the same spot we started, except standing in pools of blood with fewer resources after every revolution we've ever effected. We don't have these options any longer. The planet is in a condition that will not permit us to continue on the deeply ingrained, competitive course we've followed for so long. Learning to love, to let go, to tolerate, to work together for our futures which are common whether we like it or not is the only way out of this. It's not easy, only necessary.
I can't tell anyone how to save anyone else, or how to convince the next guy that any of this is true. I can't even describe the mental processes that led to these conclusions. All i seem able to do is to proceed in the direction the thoughts lead, as they come to me in a fashion that very often seems external. Examine the assertions that continue to spill out of me at 2 in the morning like this. Notice with joy that there seem to be many others reaching similar conclusions: Things are terminally fucked up and only Love can save us. If it turns out that we're not saved, that the whole human experiment is doomed to fail, i'll breathe my last breath in the knowledge that i walked the talk spoken by all my heroes in tongues long lost to history, or new today, or unspoken yet understood by common nature. I don't think i'm alone. I don't know how to be afraid of that.
Saturday, November 5, 2011
Another old piece. These stories are distorted by romanticized memory, at times, and others likely remember them differently. I by no means intend to insult any of the real persons that lived through this stuff with a cavalier treatment of tender recollections, or harsh description of personalities or actions. Each of us always did exactly what seemed to be exactly the right things to do at the time. And there survives much, much love, which has grown and developed like it always does, in ways we never see coming.
I'm not putting these old ones up because i'm too lazy to write new. I'll have one of those next--but some of this old stuff fits. Hope you like it.
11 May 2009
One day during the summer of 1980 my brother David was in the hospital at Case Western Reserve University for yet another open-heart surgery. The scene that day was dramatic I suppose, but for our family at the time, it was in many ways just another day. The state of the relationships between us had come to the condition that existed then because each and every incident that had occurred in the history of the Universe had added to that cumulative point. The way it came together then could have been viewed as tragic, really, but we never noticed.
I don’t even remember how I got the news that this particular episode was approaching. David’s surgery that year was one of many—so many, in fact, that by now surgeons and academics had written papers on his congenital condition, and even given it a polysyllabic title. His lead surgeon, a Dr. Ankeny as I recall, had once claimed that he had “learned more from David Bass than fourteen years of medical school.” We four siblings had in effect grown up in the hospital, with the constant potential for death in attendance on a daily basis. Many years would pass between that summer and the moment I decided any of this was applicable to self-reflection, and the sweltering summer afternoon was as present and imminently experiential as any other I lived through during that period.
Our family seemed done that year. I had been out of the picture for over a year. Dad had left soon after, leaving a sour tinge in the air with those remaining, though I never blamed him. When David queued up for one more death-defying, experimental, split-chest open-heart surgery, Dad came back to Cleveland from Florida to put in an obligatory appearance.
Here was a meeting that defied conventional description. Dave, the least guilty of all our immediate family, had been deeply affected by Dad’s exit from the filial stage earlier that year. I hadn’t seen, or even spoken to Dad for well over a year, nor could our interactions prior to then be described as warm and supportive. Outnumbered by angry or indifferent family members, and perhaps less acclimated to hospitals than the rest of us, Dad was way out of his simpler, down-to-earth element.
I showed up unannounced, with glorious southern tart Candy Stone from Mobile, Alabama in tow, she in dirty bare feet, nearly illegal shorts, one of those dangerous eighties tube-tops, and very red eyes. I don’t think Dad spoke more than a half dozen words to me. His eyes told the whole story of uncertainty, pain, and failure. Dave, fresh from surgery, quite literally green, with a repulsive grey crust around his lips and appending to the tubes and what not projecting from several of his orifices, refused to see Dad. Refused to allow him in the room. Dad left unrequited to return to his exile in Florida. I didn’t see him again for many years.
Once, David, following the Dead tour in our Mom’s old family van showing all the effects of the Rust Belt, with his underage Russian girlfriend, his fiddle, and a patchouli oil manufacturing operation, got pulled over in Alabama, for sport. By this time, David was unkempt, smelly, and obviously committing some crime or another. The cops shook him down pretty good, but of course he had no contraband. He has a vice or two, but the heart thing keeps him from excess. He had that young Russian girlfriend, though, and Alabama’s finest figured they could really hang him out to dry, (dang hippie). But she and Dave convinced the alpha cop to let them call her mom in New York to confirm that permission had been granted for the road trip and no heinous kidnapping was going on. The mother spoke zero English, but somehow the girlfriend convinced the cop to allow her to translate for her mother. Mother and daughter held a five minute conversation about the mental acuity of Alabama cops, duly translated as an expression of permission, and the travelers were on their way. David drawls this story on stage in his hillbilly persona, fiddle in hand. It’s hilarious.
It seemed to me for a long time that David was the only one of us to escape that little bubble of anti-reality that made up our family life while we siblings were young. Maybe he somehow managed to avoid being trapped in it in the first place, residing only temporarily, with some sort of metaphysical pass associated with potential imminent death. I don’t know, but years later, during one of the high points of my own endeavor, Renaissance Paint and Remodeling, (shared with another brother), I remember feeling jealous of David. This was a recurring sentiment, and all the more abberant for the fact that my strongest memory of it falls during a visit to Dave’s place in North Carolina that amounted to a just-in-case kind of deal before a heart transplant. Whatever the rationality or fairness of my little envy, (not real envy, mind you, but one of those little personality spikes that one notes and passes through), David is the one of us that got away the least damaged, and has lived his idiosyncratic dream out in full, down to the fine print, with joy.
Mom tells a story about my first day at school. Or maybe the second. I had asked some question that Miss Gardner couldn’t answer, and after day two, came home grousing about how those people were ignorant, and furthermore lazy, since no one had even bothered to look up a response. Mom likes to carry on about how smart her offspring are. She doesn’t usually bring up in public how warped we can be.
Mom, we brothers agree, bequeathed us a legacy of somewhat dubious mental processes. She’s nuts. We all know it. She knows it. Dad knows it. The rest of her family knows it well, and most of them recognize a common bond of familial, brand-name insanity that we all seem to share. I expect this is a more or less common thing among families, but I remain convinced that we are a bit stranger than most, at least in part because of the unique circumstances we lived through.
Back in the day, Mom’s thing was what they call control issues. The dynamic of her issues was so complex I can’t imagine I’ll ever figure it out. Some of her personality came to her by heredity from her mother, whom we call Mo. Much of it developed in that crucible of stress Dave kept heated by his repeated, continuous flirtation with death. Mom, responding to my over-the-top reaction to a pubescent hormonal tsunami, became madly obsessive with minutiae, dividing her time among us brothers and badgering us constantly in a fashion no one can really get unless they have their own experience to compare. I think she and I trapped ourselves in a sort of feedback loop that could have ended no other way.
I was out of the house for good, by the age of fifteen, for all purposes off to lead a life of crime, I suppose. For some years, I lived out my interpretation of the old Kerouac/Kesey/Abbie Hoffman mythos, on the road, in the street, an utterly directionless rebel. A good five or six years passed without more that a word or two passing between Mom and me.
I was nineteen when I came to Colorado Springs. The vague and unformulated manifesto for global revolution I had worked out in my head was on hold, kept in place by a twelve-pack of cheap beer. I had a job as an electrician, and didn’t see any reason to change that, but we actually didn’t do much of anything but work and drink beer that year.
One day Mom called to say Mike, another brother, got himself in trouble again and she expected him to “run away.” I told her to give him my number and I’d let her know when he called. He did just a few days later, and can I come pick him up over on south Circle.
Mike and I spent a couple years engaging in the sort of insanity to which we had become habituated in Cleveland. The reader will require imagination to add flesh to the story here. The statute of limitations may prevent backlash, but I don’t mean to poke at a bees’ nest, and it seems unlikely you might imagine anything more extreme than what actually took place. We weren’t stupid, though, and the business of working for wages, or relying on illicit behavior for advancement just wasn’t good enough, so we formed a construction company and went to work. That proved to be a trap. Maybe an extension of the weird, family trap that all of us have discussed so deeply, without resolution.
Mike and I had it in our minds that the working man’s habit of grousing over how management acts is crap and that if we were going to grouse, we ought to just take the reins ourselves. It turned out we were pretty good, too, in a lot of ways. We worked together for the best part of twenty years, and reached moments of national prominence in our little niche. The whole period was characterized by more bone-crushing stress and absurd, super-human feats. We had little breaks from the madness when we’d crash the business, which we did three times. We were great at getting shit done, but lousy at administration in the final analysis.
Hiring employees in the construction business kept me exposed to the street element to which I had become accustomed. I involved myself in various efforts to assist folks in their low-budget struggles, imagining still that I could somehow change the world. In fact, contrary to Mike’s primary obsession with business success, I figured the whole pursuit as a means to some vague end involving social revolution. For a while a religious experience had me involved with a church effort to “reach out” to the hoodlums that used to cruise Nevada Avenue on Friday and Saturday nights. I even managed to glean an ordination from the Baptists, though now I suspect they’d regret bequeathing me with it. My identification with street folks and the urge to help them rise above conditions has never left me. Actually I’ve worked up the notion that we could all stand to rise above conditions.
Dad. I went even longer without speaking with him than I did with Mom. He dealt with our family’s teen-aged fulguration by folding his hand and striking out on his own. Offered a transfer by his employer, the story goes, he told Mom, “I’d like you to come to Florida with me, but I don’t think I can love you anymore.” No woman in her right mind would go for that deal, and Mom didn't fall for it either. Dad packed his company car and struck out, leaving his all-important nest egg, and everything else, behind. When David was in the hospital again that summer, that’s where Dad came from to visit him.
I had been away, and I don’t recall blaming Dad for his poor dealings with the family. He had been raised in a very old-school, European style, and he simply couldn’t handle our ways. To this day, in spite of Dad’s expression of a taste for “philosophy,” our conversations are often guarded, pregnant with unspoken truths. I still don’t know his philosophy.
Last summer Dad, my youngest brother, and I went to Montana to camp and fish, riding an outfitter’s horses into some of the most pristine wilderness left in the lower forty-eight. I had genuinely hoped to break the communication barrier that stands between us, but we had to settle for hugs and meaningful silences, for the most part. Dad still plays with his cards pressed tightly to his chest, flashing a look of panic if the conversational waters begin to threaten him with submersion. I guess he can’t swim.
Dad’s experience, it seems to me has also been different from the norm, though I’m uncertain that any human being matches that mythical standard. His family, unlike Mom’s which fought in the Revolution, was barely American. They were proud American citizens, but their traditions came from old Europe, and they still lived communally on the old Bass farm as they had done for a thousand years.
During my childhood, whenever David was out of the hospital, we’d spend weekends at the farm with the scene looking very much like something from an era that had long since passed in this country, all Dad’s siblings and extended family eating together, playing cards, children roaming the grounds like Huck Finn. It was all rather idyllic, truly, and the moment Grandma Bass died and the farm disappeared under a layer of vulgar office towers marked the shift from one childhood to another.
Dad’s life since then became an effort to recreate those years. His brother and sister had never left the farm. Even when his brother Paul married and had a child, he stayed there on Rockside, as the place was known. I think that scene served as an anchor for my Dad, and when he retired, impressively early despite having suffered huge financial setbacks, he bought his own farm, secluded and sylvan, and moved his socially inept brother and sister in with him.
Paul was a very strange dude. Throughout his lifetime he suffered from some sort of condition that caused him to wobble quite a bit and to mumble when he spoke, like a cartoon character. I still have no idea what the actual condition was--it was never discussed in medical terms, and Paul worked, loved, laughed, and lived in a fashion perfectly suited to him. He represented another unusual facet of our lives that never seemed unusual to us, simply because it just had always been what it was. During his declining years, Paul became more and more difficult to live with, his condition developing into a matter that caused him to actually require care, rather than merely one engendering bemusement. He became cantankerous, incontinent, and dangerous to himself, given his refusal to use a cane. Dad actively cared for him, there on the new farm, forty-five minutes from a paved road, until he died a few years ago.
I couldn’t make the funeral, but I spoke to Dad on the phone as he was back in the city making arrangements. I told him I thought his dealings with Paul were among the most impressive and moving things I had ever seen. I still see it that way. The conversation, which lasted no more than ten minutes I guess, may have been the deepest we’ve ever shared.
For the past eight or nine years every Sunday, so long as I’m in town, I give away food we cook up to whomever we can get to come up to the Colorado College campus and sample our fare. Often our guests are homeless or dirt poor, but we’re not so much stipulating low economic clout as a qualifier. We’ll feed anyone. Dick Celeste, college president, former governor of my home state, Ohio, and once ambassador to India, comes now and then. He’s a friend, and I visit him at his home, during party season at CC. Arlo Guthrie came down to our basement kitchen once--I put him to work washing dishes. Many of the crowd I see every week are chronic though, plagued by demons I surmise to have been born in conditions similar to mine as a youth. I’ve occasionally contemplated the accusation of “enabling” bad behavior that people toss my way once in a while, but many of our regulars, some of whom I’ve known for twenty-five years, are simply never going to approach any sort of productivity. They are too extraordinarily damaged, and as the proverb goes, there, but for the grace of God, go I.
The Christian experience I mentioned earlier was a reflection, or maybe an extension, of spiritual drives I always apprehended. I pursued it heartily for a time, beginning my adult involvement with the sort of hands-on charity our Sunday college-drivenkitchen represents, in a Christian context. The Church always felt skewed to me though, and a couple years’ studying of the questions involved convinced me to adopt thinking anathema to most of my Christian friends. The exclusionary thinking shared by many church folk, in turn, began to seem anathema to me.
Something about my family and its ability to weather long, rending forces, becoming over time a stronger entity for all its roiling turbulence, seems to me akin to the aspect of the human condition that produces the wrecked lives that bring folks to visit me on Sunday afternoons. Further spiritual thinking--some would say metaphysical thinking--concerning Chaos and Oneness has encouraged me to feel like the separation between me and the crowd I serve is illusory in some indefinable fashion. When members of our family passed through periods during which we found it necessary to step back from one another, the bonds that hold us together never broke, and the etheric bonds between my soup kitchen crowd and me, and ambassadors or presidents, don’t seem breakable either. We all seem to share certain common struggles, differences arising simply from disparate approaches, variant perspectives. Our family, it turns out was never what we imagined it ought to be, but perhaps something greater, and more viable, after all.
Part of my mission in ditching the construction business for more cerebral and perhaps less lucrative pursuits at an age when many of my peers in the building industry are thinking of golf courses and retirement comes from a belief that the differences in individuals are reconcilable. Feeding people is necessary, but falls short of bridging the apparent expanse between souls. I still want to change the world, even though I understand the futility of such a grandiose notion. Utopians always fail. But I expect that each time some failure becomes apparent, we can learn a little something, and maybe the next day we can fail a little better.
No account of self-examination is ever going to be complete. I won’t be asserting anything about how I’ve come full circle. Our family will never return to the conditions of my childhood. Nor is the new generation my brothers and cousins and I have brought into the world a retread of old lives. I haven’t even touched on my own experiences as head of a new family, but my children live lives vastly different from their forbears, and even though I rather hope they can avoid some of my mistakes, I suspect they’ll be making many of their own. It seems to be in their genes to require hard lessons. But, like my tortured friends in line at CC on Sunday mornings, or those in my circle equally tortured but accustomed to fine linens, whatever they may suffer holds its own value.
We all learn what we must learn. Life is perfectly safe. Its lessons are self-taught, but deep. I genuinely plan to write a real memoir and a family history, for my kids’ sake, but by the time we come full circle, it’s too late to write about it.
Friday, November 4, 2011
This is a paper from some time ago, well prior to the advent of Occupy events. Henry George wrote from a sensibility one rarely finds expressed so explicitly today. The modern reader should note that Christian underpinnings in no way disrupt either the reasoned logic or the passionate humanity behind George's arguments. Follow the links! Many Occupiers have promoted education, the deeper aspects of which are rarely available in 3 page tracts....
For Eric Stephenson
16 February 2009
It seems peculiar that in 2009 no one has heard of Henry George, if only for the fact that during his prime a hundred years past his was easily one of the most recognizable names on Earth. Just a journalist really, George’s hardscrabble upbringing, his early experience in the business world, and maybe just a little OCD inspired him to craft an entirely new approach to economic theory. Its publication very quickly garnered him international acclaim, respect, and supportive friendship from many of the greatest figures of his day. Many, encountering his work for the first time today, would no doubt label him a Commie, particularly given that George’s work followed Marx and Engels’ by three decades. This misinterprets George. His thinking split the difference between Adam Smith and the Communist theorists in many ways, sharing common ground with both camps but firmly establishing his own territory. His work deserves a second reading.
George was born in Philadelphia, September, 1839, to a family headed by a hardworking but low-budget printer. By providing the Church cut-rate printing services, George’s devout father enabled Henry to garner a relatively high-standard primary education from the Episcopal Academy. He left home after high-school seeking his own way, and after a brief period of adventuring, found himself in San Francisco where he joined the Printer’s Union, following in his father’s footsteps after all.
George lived a poor man’s life--same as any tradesman at the height of the Robber Barons’ power--until an editor at the San Francisco Times came across a piece he had written and left lying around. He accepted an offered staff writing position at $50 a week, which seemed a princely amount compared with his father’s $800 a year. He traveled quite a bit for the Times, and in 1868 on assignment in New York City first encountered the squalid conditions surrounding and adjoining vaunted islands of luxury and power that would inform and undergird his writing for the rest of his life.
Having gained considerable respect as a newsman and a fair amount of seed-money, George and a partner, William Hinton, established the San Francisco Evening Post in 1871. George unabashedly used the paper as a human rights platform until 1877, when, some say, powerful railroad interests against whom he had written since his SF Times days shut the Evening Post down. Quickly landing a government post through highly-placed friendships he had developed, he used the leisure time it afforded to produce his magnum opus, Progress and Poverty, and published it in 1879. George moved to New York in 1880 and promptly left for England and Ireland, touring there to support Irish land support. By the time he returned, his life had changed forever. Progress and Poverty had made him a celebrity (de Mille 1-152).
George’s political economy laid out in his roughly 600 page book begins with his assertion that Smith’s approach established private land ownership as the foundation of economic and social structure, referring often to “the sacred rights of private property” (Smith, par. 1.11.79). So far few would argue, but George figured this skewed, and brazenly wrote that, “[t]he great cause of inequality in the distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land. The ownership of land is the great fundamental fact which ultimately determines the intellectual and moral condition of a people....[I]t necessarily follows that the only remedy for the unjust distribution of wealth is in making land common property” (295, 391). He argued that as a foundational natural resource there is no basis for sequestering land in private hands. He proposed to hold land in common and allot it to users for as long as they needed, for whatever production they could derive from it, and the holder would pay tax, (rent), on its assessed value until relinquished. The holder and any capital or labor involved would keep whatever profit came from the working of the land, and the public would base taxation only upon the land itself. Note that this negates both income and capital gains taxes. (During George’s prominence, no federal income tax existed in the United States). George insisted the extensive system described philosophically in Progress and Poverty, and rather more technically in The Science of Political Economy, would adequately supply the government’s fiscal needs without additional taxes while simultaneously encouraging entrepreneurship and curtailing development of a landed class.
Marx, whose seminal works came before George, but close enough that both wrote from the surrounding milieu of the Industrial Revolution, addressed similar problems. He and those following took the matter to a deeper extreme, however, allowing for no private ownership of either property or capital. Marx expressed a well known hostility to capital. The familiar Communist adage, “Property is Theft,” represents a drastic condensation from Marx’s arguments that labor always seems to wind up on the short end of dealings with those holding either land or capital (Marx, chap. 6, par.2). Like George, Marx chafed at the inequities this arrangement produced, especially with the exacerbations of capital lording over labor, which industrial development had completely disassociated from the land producing the wealth. “The means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up,” says Marx, “were generated in feudal society,” (Marx, and Engels 1848, chap. 1, par. 21).The Communists implemented a far more radical seizure of all private property, including both land and capital, consolidating it under a central federal power (chap. 2, par. 75). Contrarily, George felt that capital deserved its due, and sought to rectify the problems he saw by implementation of a more enlightened “single tax.”
A few germane observations present themselves for discussion. Smith, George, and Marx all expressed notions we might call idealist—Utopian even. Each sought to solve timeless conundrums with an incredibly optimistic approach. Jaded 21st century readers might consider any one of them painfully naive, in retrospect. None of them had the advantage of the hindsight we enjoy, however, and fruitlessly denying the problems each pointed out in his broader work does not help at all. Smith wrote when, fresh from the collapse of European Feudalism, land served as the key to wealth of any kind, and still viewed as an unlimited resource for the grabbing. The vast inequities the Industrial Revolution had abruptly produced vexed George and the Communists. None of these could have predicted today’s technological, information-based economies, with the problems they addressed dispersed over the entire planet. Today, the rate of separation between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” poises to exceed the conditions affecting either set of writers.
George did not design a perfect system. Neither, as amply demonstrated by both history and current events, did Smith or Marx. Henry George thoughtfully and humanely addressed a terribly intractable matter in human affairs, however, and deliberately allowed for future thinkers to expand his work. His work deserves contemplation as we forge into a new century fraught with uncertainties. Our present crisis may help encourage just that.
De Mille, Anna George. Henry George: Citizen of the World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1950.
George, Henry. Progress and Poverty: An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy. 1898. New York, New York: The Robert Shalkenbach Foundation, 1979. 17 February 2009
Marx, Karl. Wage-Labor Capital. 1849. 17 February 2009 <http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/index.htm>
Marx, K. and Engels, F. Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848. 17 February 2009 <http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/classics/manifesto.html >
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 1776. Ed. Edwin Cannan. 5th ed. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd., 1904. 17 February 2009 < http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN.html >
United States Department of the Treasury. Fact Sheets: Taxes. 17 February 2009
(This link is obsolete).
Thursday, November 3, 2011
When i first set out to write this blog i had no intention of writing about geopolitics, or anything any bigger than my own little world, or to develop any sort of readership at all, let alone to kick up international interest. Who knew? Since the time i started, Adbusters' Occupy movement has overtaken the whole world and i've become a part of it, along with apparently millions of fellow humans dissatisfied with aspects of the concentric and overlapping political systems that govern and control the minutiae of our daily lives. Occupy has struck a chord that resonates well beyond what seems to have been its original intent as well.
Adbusters asserts in its campaign web-page opener that, "we vow to end the monied corruption of our democracy," speaking, one assumes of U.S. democracy, even though Adbusters is a Canadian publication founded by Kalle Lasn, an Estonian. Adbusters itself claims to be a, "global network of culture jammers and creatives," and that their Occupy is, "[i]nspired by the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising and the Spanish acampadas." One should note that Adbusters is a non-profit organization with aspirations and effect well beyond the confines of the magazine at its core.
Many of my dear intrepid friends struggle mightily with the unavoidable nature of the movement in which we all participate. Occupy Colorado Springs, (OCS), has garnered a fair amount of attention both because of its early acquisition of a city permit to camp on the sidewalk, and for its fragmentary infighting. Strong personalities have clashed fairly spectacularly for what scale we're dealing with here, and precisely the same arguments are on display at Occupy web-pages all over the U.S., as well as abroad. Here, many patriotic, nationally oriented players have concentrated on addressing the U.S. Constitution and the influence of corporate interests in Washington, D.C. politics. Others have been caught up in causes of personal concern as the "focus" of the overall movement has grown more and more diffuse. The bickering and difficulty in reaching consensus has been frustrating but, i suggest, not unhealthy or out of place.
Adbusters, following ques from the Middle East and Spain, deliberately set off a "leaderless" movement, and has fastidiously avoided taking hold of any sort of control of what has developed since, refusing even media interviews for fear of exercising undue influence. Occupy remains a leaderless movement. Various groups and individuals have issued lists of demands; the one linked there, "is representative of those participating on this [particular 'Occupy Wall Street' Facebook] page." We Occupiers have much common ground, which has served well to bring us all together, and will continue to serve as we gather to discuss and bicker over issues and particulars. There is plenty to differentiate amongst us as well, on individual and other categorical bases, but we have recognized, more or less, an essential humanity that has us willing to stand in freezing temperatures if we live in the northern hemisphere, and subject ourselves to the slow, often painful process of learning to live together.
Some among us, as we have seen right here in Colorado Springs, are very uncomfortable indeed with the amorphous nature of the Movement. We have seen splintering, censorship wars, General Assemblies that devolve into shouting matches, and the development of personal animosities. These phenomena are repeated on a grander scale throughout the Movement while observers gloat over the imminent dissolution of Occupy unity. Neither we Occupiers nor the Movement's detractors ought to be misled by these birth pains. Our situation as humans, or for that matter any other creature inhabitant of the Earth has been rendered fully untenable by humans competing for dominance. The upheaval we engage from our Colorado Springs street corner, or from squares in Manchester, Belgrade, Cairo, and etc. is the natural response of rats in a corner. Were it not for the fact that we humans indeed possess reasoning capacity beyond a rat's we really would be screwed. Fortune, or divine providence, or evolution, or whatever mechanism or mechanisms turn(s) out to be true has granted us the tools that, utilized with empathy at every turn may--just may--allow us to work our way out of the massive pickle in which we've put ourselves. Nothing about this will be easy, quick, or for most, especially comfortable.
The Movement is leaderless. This is an existential fact. No matter how strenuously individuals attempt to grab hold of reigns, or to turn them over to others, there is no authority behind the Movement other than the profound spiritual authority of its essential Idea. The financial disparities that we have focused on here in the U.S. are real, and the supra-national bodies that control our government with full directive power are the same bodies that separate people from power in every nation on Earth. Each issue that has arisen into the Movement's overall consciousness, from derivative markets, to marijuana law, to camping on public property is part and parcel of the whole thing, which itself amounts to such a gigantic, lumpen juggernaut that we have a hard time gathering our thoughts around the whole thing at once. We must.
Many U.S. citizens, including some prominent in and around OCS, have expressed insistent nationalism. Muslims and Christians around the world have pushed religions agendas. Nationalism is by no means confined to the U.S.A. Our corporate, non-personal enemy and its personal, human operators are Global already, and use these divisions to our detriment! At a Colorado College faculty panel yesterday, much ado was made of income disparities and market finagling by Wall Street financiers. We can isolate our minds all we want, but we can not eliminate the fact that Wall Street, Fleet Street, Singapore, Hong Kong, the House of Saud, whatever, whatever, are already one indivisible entity, operating in opposition to any concern for overall humanity or household priorities for any of us as inhabitants of the planet, including the natural requirements of the controllers. The Idea of competition and profit has acquired an independent life of its own and has prevented even those at the top of the unwieldy pyramid from living lives connected to the most valuable prizes of all, which we humans have recognized throughout our history and recorded in odes, songs, and literature to be transcendent of politics and possessions. The statistics cited by those college economists, and the many Occupiers that mention them in speeches and lists of demands are quite real, and Americans might note that the positions of Kurdish, Nepali, and Palestinian Occupiers, for example, skew the stats we've been flailing our arms about here even further, and that "First World" exploitation is a very large part of this discussion, indeed.
There can be little doubt that the "Wall Street" entities in control of our various governments have planned for and directed events toward a "New World Order" for decades, if not centuries. Lots of justifiably paranoid conspiracy watchers all over the planet have done their best to alert their fellows to this alarming and unacceptable development for as long as it has been in the mix. The Vatican, a power with negative credibility in its adherence to its own doctrine, has offered itself up as a potential controller of a global banking scheme. Currently entrenched power-brokers will absolutely without question attempt to co-opt and control the current Movement. We humans are not interested in more of the same bullshit, plus the added benefit of still more bullshit! We Occupiers are fully sovereign, each in his or her own right. We are leaderless by design, which is the natural development of the abject failure of our leaders, and in fact of the failure of the very foundation of our interaction amongst ourselves that has developed without much direction for at least the 10,000 year span during which we have written about it. Those who resist this fact will find little more than inversely correlated discomfort in their resistance. One can deny the nature of a rhinoceros till one's dying day, but the beast remains a rhinoceros, and the denier's last day may well come on the day he encounters a rhinoceros.
Sovereign consensus building is not democracy. It's something we humans have never attempted on the scale we Occupiers are attempting now. Broad-scale cooperation as a foundation is against an established competitive approach that we have fallen into by default for a long, long time. Voting one another into submission will not work, simply because we have let the cat out of the bag. We noble individuals are learning a brand-new thing, like it or not, because a rhinoceros has smashed the freakin' house down. I for one will not abandon the liberty of my own sovereignty, no matter who votes what, nor will i abandon the respect i hold for each other Sovereign in the entire mix. I recognize the differences between whatever groups or persons are in the whole wide world. Categorical observations are real, so far as they go; but i won't be bound by them. I won't be forced to fight against the 1% simply because i am a member of the 99%. Rather i will be fighting with every fiber of my being for the 100% of us who will ALL be trampled by the rhinoceros, in pretty danged short order, unless we ALL relinquish our insistence on control, avarice, and irresponsibility of all stripes.
Each of us has a part to play, a purpose to serve. Never abandon what you know. Work hard at open discussion. Don't be embarrassed by frustrating moments or attempt to hide your own humanity. Withdraw for a moment if you need to to prevent overboiling passions. We're all in this together. Be patient Brothers and Sisters; this is gonna hurt some....
OWS List of Demands: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=157161391040462
Middle Eastern origins: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2011/apr/09/libya-egypt-syria-yemen-live-updates