Government, Money and Us (just doing my duty)

You are an intelligent person. There are no stupid people on this list. If you are reading this on the blog, maybe you are stupid. I have no idea. I would like good things for us all, though. That is another thing shared in common with the people on this list. You are smart, and fundamentally a good person, and more than little beyond the pale.

In the culture of United States, being intelligent is not like being beautiful. In fact, if you are intelligent, and have some degree of humility, you spend a good deal of effort trying to hide the fact, almost apologetically. If you do not, you are considered an “asshole” by most, and that’s not so fun for we socially-oriented humans creatures.

Unfortunately, any pressure that causes you to “dumb yourself down”, resulting in silence, even in the interest of being “nice” to others, has consequences. Just look at all these quoted words and phrases I’m using. They’re like soft little cotton balls, you use to tip-toe around idiots, so I won’t be called “mean”. Intelligent people collect a lot of soft, logically fuzzy cotton balls over time. Probably for no other reason than they help us get laid.

For some reason several of you have put aside niceties when dealing with me. I’m not angry about that. In fact, I’m honored. There is no greater gift than a journey toward truth. Notice the lower-case “t” in truth. I don’t know the way, and you probably don’t either. But be assured, if you are reading this in your email, you are someone that at least can recognize truer paths and turns, and are someone who is willing to question what you hold dear, often down to the deepest places. I’ll even risk sounding patently ridiculous for a moment and say, that is enough for me to love you. It is a rare, vulnerable, and oftentimes isolating quality, being someone so open-minded. It is far simpler and easier on the mind to just close things down. Yet you choose to remain open. You choose to look around honestly. And most of all, you’re not afraid to be thought a lunatic. That’s why I love you, in the broadest sense of love. Perhaps it’s as uncomplicated as imagining myself the same, and finding validation that you are, too. I would like think there is a good deal more empathy involved, though. I know there is. Because if there was not, it wouldn’t be love.

So, we have enough of the pleasantries, and it’s off to the matter at hand. I am being hounded to write something on our current political and financial situation, and quickly, as some social overtone of urgency seems to dictate. My guess is that you are remembering previous politically-oriented writing, and are interested in hearing my 2 cents. Perhaps that is conceit. I’m going to go with it, though, and give you something political-ish, nevertheless. Mostly just to cover my ass, ethically, to do what I can do, when I can, in what way that I can. My apologies to those who do not wish to hear me blather on.

Interpreted broadly, everything we write or say has political force. I am aware of this when I write or speak with people. However, the meaning and scope of politics is not limited to solely to institutions of government that are structurally in force. In other words, it is not a government entity that is important. It is our thoughts, beliefs, values and our well-being that is important. Any government entity is simply an outwardly tangible manifestation of our collective will (or lack of will). And, like all orthodoxy, it is prone to manipulation and exploitation by twittering moths seeking the heat of our collective power. It is we, individually, who imbue any orthodoxy with power. We can do this actively by participating in it. We can do this passively by following along, keeping our noses clean. We can even do it inadvertently by just not bothering to think that a government is little more than orthodoxy — that without our collective commitment to an idea, that idea is meaningless and holds no sway.

No, this is not some back-handed promotion of anarchy. That would be a simplistic interpretation that stupidity requires. Saying that orthodoxy holds sway because people buy into it does not mean that orthodoxy ought to be eliminated. In fact, I have little doubt that we can accomplish the most amazing things by working toward our common good. And orthodoxy helps focus this. The question is, what manner of orthodoxy is currently holding sway over our lives? And can it be improved?

First, yes. I believe it can be improved. Nearly all that I write or say has this belief firmly seated within it. But in some way, engaging in governmentally-shaped political issues directly merely perpetuates that orthodoxy. In other words, if you use only the tools of orthodoxy, all you get is orthodoxy. Change must come into orthodoxy from the outside. Orthodoxy is incredibly resistant to change, yet at the same time, it is fragile. This is a characteristic of inflexibility. In this sense, the old metaphor is true: a flexible tree bends in the wind, where the solid tree breaks. Wind, from the outside, is what causes movement. And no, I’m not saying, do not vote. Voting and badgering our political leaders is all we have, unless we take up force. And taking up force would be a tragic and costly turn of events, particularly considering domestic wiretapping, spy satellites turned upon our own streets, and recent military deployments at home being trained to quell civil disobedience.

Instead, my approach is an attempt to help bring clarity, with a tacit belief that, with clarity, we are, perhaps, better people as a whole than we might imagine. In politics, the beginning of this clarity rests in the understanding that government is simply a somewhat solidified orthodoxy. And that all orthodoxy is subject to modification, though not without great resistance, and sometimes cost. I think few Americans now would say that change is not absolutely necessary. But what change? That is very difficult to answer without creating more orthodoxy.

So instead, I will ask a question. If you find someone unconscious and bleeding on your porch, why do you help them? Fear of liability? Fear of some law that compels you to under the threat of punishment? Is it fear that causes you help them? Fear has nothing to do with it. Fear would be ineffectual and possibly even counter-productive. The answer is, you are aware — a living being yourself. And you are aware of this other being, who is completely at your mercy. I ask again, why do you help him to live? Why would many of you even risk your own life to help him?

Each of us is endowed with awareness. You can call it your mind, or you can call it your spirit. We do not consider nearly enough how wondrous this is. You are aware. Alive. You learn. You respect other people’s awareness to varying degrees, based upon your own (prejudices). We would not let people suffer and die on our own doorstep. Somehow, we see ourselves in them. Mike might suggest this is a result of our brain’s mirror neurons that have helped us survive together, mutually, as a species. Whatever the reason, we help them survive because we wish to survive. All of us. We do not wish ourselves, or others, to die.

It is a different matter, however, when the person in need is thousands of miles away, made anonymous behind some abstract categorization of people. Perhaps this is how we determine people who have strongly developed mirror neurons; those of us who still manage see victims on our own porch, even at great distances. But even within our own country, close to home, where do we draw the boundaries of suffering? Does bleeding and imminent death mean that it’s okay to help, but barely having enough food to survive should be ignored? A heart condition that could easily be repaired should be denied, and the person left to slowly die, because the company they worked for went out of business? Sports stadiums should be built instead of housing for more than 10 million people currently out of work?

Our awareness glazes over when confronted with large statistics and issues. It’s hard to see an actual person when you say, 10,000,000 people are without work. That’s a lot of people either out on the street, or frightened they soon might be. Here are a few more glazing statistics, just for fun. 46,000,000 people in the United States have no health insurance. More than half of all bankruptcies are a result of medical bills. Yet strangely, Americans spend more money per person than any nation on the planet, far more than countries where medical care can be freely had, if needed. Our president vetoed a recent bill that would have provided, at least children, with health care, saying it was too expensive. It would have cost us $5 billion per year, for 5 years. It’s strange seeing that small number in comparison to $750 billion, which is something we apparently can afford. Some say, we are “investing” the $750 billion, not spending it. Just like we are investing another $85 billion to buy the country’s largest insurance company, AIG. Maybe some “financial genius” might find a way to provide health care, if nothing more than making it personally affordable, after purchasing such a giant insurance company, with all this other cash laying about, too.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. We are caught up in something. It’s another orthodoxy. It’s called economics. If you think of government as one galaxy, and economics as another galaxy, you will find that they have long ago merged into one. But there is a devil in the details here. The merged orthodoxy considers economics to be synonymous with business interests, and therefore business interests are synonymous with government interests. This is not the case. Business interests are merely tied to economic interests, just as we, as people, are tied to economic interests. As such, what is good for business is not necessarily good for people, just as what is good for people, is not necessarily good for business. However, something bad for either business or for people can have adverse effects economically.

There is another galaxy in rotation, and although it is smaller than the galaxy of people, it is highly dense and gravitationally powerful. This is the galaxy of business interests. Business interests do not, by definition, care if someone is bleeding on the porch, unless that business interest will be adversely effected. Business interests do not have mirror neurons in empathy with people. Business interests are oriented toward their own self-interest, which is the accumulation of money and influence. Anything else is a by-product. It is extreme capitalism that exploits our greed, resting on the assumption that if everyone enshrines greed, our greed will somehow, inadvertently, make the world a better place. It does not even take an intelligent person to recognize the flaw in that logic.

No, I am not anti-capitalism. But here are some more facts. Economies do not require capitalism to function. Capitalism is not the same thing as freedom. Freedom can exist without capitalism. Capitalism has nothing inherent within it that makes a nation prosper economically, as a whole people. Capitalism encourages a Darwinian kill or be killed mentality of competition, with no ethical center. Capitalism reveres money and marketing popularity (power) while completely disregarding any moral or philosophical considerations. This can also be considered a benefit of capitalism. When you hear the word “freedom” in relation to capitalism, this is not freedom as people generally envision it. Freedom in capitalism means freedom for business interests, to avoid any restrictions placed upon their greed. In that sense, we have a very free society.

Now here it is important to distinguish that capitalism is not a political system. However, few would disagree that economic systems have not merged almost completely with political systems. As such, we can no longer truly distinguish our government from business interests. And business interests no longer possess loyalties to any country. Business interests are now multinational. The United States government is one part, although a large part, of global business interests. You can see this in the complaints we are hearing from other world government leaders, that our Congress must act by infusing business interests with our collective people’s wealth. And so, our Congress acts, while our presidential candidates line up to follow suit.

This is where I will loose many of you. That’s okay. I’ll be quick, then on to the more important stuff. Here are some things to keep in mind. Capitalism does not require that a lot of people have money. In fact, it is natural that just a few people will come out on top, just like any feeding chain. The concept of “trickle-down” is a myth. Especially in a global economy. Why would we have workers here, when we can get so much cheap labor in other countries? How could we hope to compete in world markets with the high labor costs of employing people at home? How would this effect world currency values, in relation to one another? The answer is simple: it doesn’t matter. What matters is making money, however and wherever you can. You will find that the truly influential business interests are not concerned, in the least, with any country’s, or their citizenry’s well-being, even the United States citizenry, despite any rhetoric to the contrary. Business interests do not recognize governmental borders. When it encounters any, it works to dismantle them.

Incidentally, this is how fascism arises, when business interests are thrown behind a person or government, and that person or government gives favors back, without regard to its citizenry. US business invested heavily in Nazi Germany, exploiting free prison labor. Yes, the Bush family was involved. Yes, the United States has more people in prison than any other country in the world, in the history of the world, and we exploit their labor. Yes, we are phone tapping our citizens. Yes, we can disappear people indefinitely without charge, and threaten neighbors and relatives with prison if they say anything. It’s called the Patriot Act. No, there is no fear of torture here. Of course private military contractors are bound by Posse Comitatus. But that doesn’t matter, because we’re now deploying the “real” military at home anyway, and training them to combat civil disobedience, amongst other things, with new, non-lethal weapons. Hmm. I did turn a bit cynical there.

Nobody ever thinks they will end up living in a fascist state. We may not. But it is usually wise to keep our eyes open. Have we veered too far astray in our discussion of business interests (money) and the people’s government? Perhaps. But let’s look at a couple more things, briefly.

We know that our political leaders cannot be elected unless they have a lot of money personally, or are supported by business interests. All attempts to break this truism have failed. Breaking the hold of money on our political system would require that we restrict the rights of private entities to speak their minds, in national ads, even if what their minds are speaking is merely propaganda. However, we could limit public servants from entering into business relationships after their tenure in public service. This policy has even been enacted, in a feeble and ineffective way. I would suggest that it might be prudent severely limiting our public servant’s options after serving their office. This would insure that only people truly interested in doing good for more than just themselves, would enter government.

But to the issue at hand, which, I imagine, has forced me to write this: the bail out. It is not complicated. Remember, our government currently exists for business interests, nothing more. The United States government serves business interests, or more accurately, people who gain membership in the power club. Anything else is a smoke screen. And Bill, don’t you even pretend with me.

We as people can invest. It is a wonderful thing that we can buy into corporations that we like, and that we think might do well, financially. That is what Wall Street used to do — they were the brokers who helped bring together buyers and sellers of company ownership. However, over the years, Wall Street has become far more. Today, Wall Street is basically the world’s largest casino, swarmed by gamblers and ruled by organized “crime”. You can sell things you don’t even own, hoping for an insightfully-predicted roulette spin that will gain you some cash. The companies no longer matter. How the horses perform, and their odds, does. The casinos have their godfathers, too. This casino is a significant contributor our gross domestic product. The financial services industry has, for the last couple decades, been the industry with the highest market value. However, recently, that market value has been crashing. This means that people are selling their stock ownership in such companies.

The first major dip downward in value started at nearly the exact time that Paulson left as CEO of Goldman Sachs to become the US Treasury Secretary. Within a few months of him taking over the US Treasury, the financial sector experienced a colossal rise in value for nearly a year and a half. They sold toxic mortgages to people here at home, and sold many of those mortgages to people overseas. In a curious turn of events, Goldman Sachs continued underwriting mortgages, while simultaneously betting against the mortgage industry. Their investors lost a lot of money, and some divisions of Goldman Sachs lost a lot of money, while other parts won big. The value of all these financial companies began to fall around this time last year. Now, the value of the financial industry companies are back to what they were about four years ago. And they want $1,000,000,000,000. The only main competitor to Goldman Sachs left alive today is Morgan Stanley, which is selling 20% of itself to Japan.

Now Secretary Paulson is known to have intimate connections to China’s wealthy elite. China has invested heavily in our mortgage finance markets, as have other nations around the world. An interesting deal-breaker condition for Paulson in any Wall Street bailout is that it must give him the ability to purchase any subprime mortgage ever written, even if it is held by someone who is not a US citizen. In other words, our casino mafia of Wall Street, which Paulson was a founder, sold Americans toxic loans, which they often, snake-ily re-sold and offloaded onto foreign investors. Maybe those foreign investors are angry. They certainly sound angry when you hear them on TV, demanding that our Congress give Paulson money so he can buy back those toxic mortgages. Remember, business interests are not concerned with countries and their citizenry. They are concerned with money. Paulson, Bush and Wall Street thinks that we should pay for these mortgages. However, many would say that this is a private matter, and in the interest of free markets, should be dealt with privately. It’s an interesting situation.

Jeff sent a neat video on this, which I’ll link to. The guy on the video is irritating (to me), but it has some good information. If you’re interested, you can view it on YouTube. It might be worth your 9 minutes. Thanks Jeff. And Dan. And Christopher. And Emil. And Warren. See, I’ve said something now, and done my part. And I have contacted my representatives.

But I hope I have managed to do more than just say, this is bad, we need to do this and such thing… I have little faith that we will progress in any measurable way, unless all of us make it a point to not only question and learn, but to also make the changes we need to make — on a personal level as well as societal. This money could, once again, easily build a national infrastructure of hydrogen and also provide every family with hydrogen storage tanks at their homes. Instead, we are extending tax breaks to the oil companies, which will mean less money for us. We have just passed the largest military funding in history. Yet we don’t have enough money to let kids go to the doctor. We have to piggy-back on Russia to get to the space station. And Wall Street continues the fight to get its hands on our social security money. Milk has doubled in price. Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

I have to ask, can you see what it is? And more intimately, can you see it in yourself? It just so happens that we have many bodies on our porch right now. The question is, are you going to help? And the bigger question is, when will get tired of these idiotic games and do something amazing with the people of this planet? I shiver at the potential we have. Let’s start using it!

  • William Graham

    It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live up to them. -Alfred Adler

    Are you really optimistic?

    Quit hammering away on your keyboard. Come out of your basement and help one or two people that need it.

    Your intelligence, spirit and talent are going to atrophy.

    -William Graham

  • Hmm. I’m not sure I’d agree with that psychologist you quoted. He sounds manipulative.

    If who you are is well integrated with your principles, that is, you’re at peace with and committed to your principles, there is not a lot to live up to. Personally, I’m well accustomed to following my principles, where they exist, even when the cost is high.

    Fighting for principles is another matter. Depending on the principles, some probably should not be fought for. But if they are well-founded principles and beneficial to everyone, fighting for them is great — but it’s much, much harder than just living up to you own. It can be a lifetime’s effort, frustrating in the extreme, with little tangible reward.

    It sounds to me like Alfred is trying, in those psychologically manipulative ways, to get people to stop fighting for their principles. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I do, however, think that people’s principles should be well examined before fighting for them.

    Am I optimistic? Yes. And no. In the short term I am not. People are slow to learn, and they are slow to change. And they are even slower at important realizations. Usually people only have a handful of truly major realizations throughout their life. I think we have a lot of people who need some major realizations.

    But in the longer term, yes, I’m optimistic. You can see a lot of good realizations happening. We also have been able to accomplish some very incredible things. Our awareness is expanding into areas that will one day, perhaps inevitably, allow us to escape many of the orthodoxies we adhere to, to our detriment. I am optimistic that we all have this potential. I am optimistic that we can find ways to coexist that are truly, mutually beneficial.

    However, there are principles that need to be fought for. And there are principles that need to be lived up to. And even more importantly, I believe, there are principles that need to be discovered.

    Hehe. Quit hammering on my keyboard and travel out into the world to help people? I do what I can, and not all that I can, I know. I afford myself some personal indulgence. I “waste” a good hour or two each day doing yoga, and sometimes will waste days at a time playing some video game. I’ll waste hours in the day working on the computer to make money. And grow food in the garden. The rest of the time is mostly spent researching and writing. Those principles won’t be discovered on their own! Well, maybe they will. But I tell myself, perhaps wrongly, that I might help. It is something that I imagine myself good at. And it is something that others have also said. And, I love writing. Sometimes I need to, too. It helps me release things that somehow grow inside.

    Thanks William, for the kind words about my intelligence, spirit and talent. The gloom and inevitability of atrophy hangs over us all. Did you have something more specific in mind that I ought to be doing? I’d love to hear it. I have often thought about doing one or another hands-on, individual helping undertaking. My trouble is, and I’ll wager that many good people share this problem, is that I have no idea what I should devote myself to specifically.

    By writing, I can share my education, my diverse experiences in life, and my thoughts, all within a context that I think is critically important to discovering those new principles — the context of feeling within the awareness of oneself in relation to others. Awareness and feeling. It sounds so simple, but both of those are quite fertile, as gardens go.

    Now, last time you posted something here, you seemed to indicate that you knew me. I asked for a reminder — I am not at all good with names. But people, I always remember. You never helped me out with that. Are you toying with me? 😉