Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Fifty Shades of Greed

 Since so many retail behemoths are starting their traditional Black Friday sales a day early to get a leg up on the competition, what once was a shocking anomaly is now the new normal. Somebody even suggested that we do away with the whole Norman Rockwell feel-good theme, and rename Thanksgiving "Gray Thursday."

What sacrilege. It has the traditionalists seeing red while the retailers see the ever-dwindling green of the American consumer. Of course, this uniquely American holiday has long been devolving from that whole mythical over the river and through the woods scene. Because let's face it. Grandma either lives in a condo (Charlie Brown's), a nursing home owned by a lawsuit-immune consortium of Wall Street investors,  or in your basement because Wall Street wiped out her retirement account. Thanksgiving.... er, Gray Thursday, is more about the getting over on the traffic jams and through the parking lots in search of the latest piece of cheap Chinese electronics.  With underpaid workers and equally desperate consumers congregating en masse in Big Box Empire, a few purists are noticing that besides the War on Christmas so long bemoaned by Sarah Palin and the rest of the Fox gang, there's now a War on Thanksgiving too!

Remember that religious campaign to "Put Christ Back in Christmas" and stop the heresy of calling it Xmas? Well, we need to put the "Thanks" back in Giving, too. Because tragically, Thanksgiving has turned into Yanksgrabbing.  Oh come all ye faithful descendants of the Mayflower and let us restore the true meaning of the holiday! 

 
And it's not only noxious retail that is ruining Thanksgiving. The Obama administration wants you to become an unpaid salesperson for the predatory health insurance industry and talk your friends and relatives into buying health care "product" as they attempt to enjoy their food. They even supply you with a disgusting sales brochure to bring to the table. It's enough to make you hurl your pumpkin pie and go shopping at Walmart.

It goes without saying that we should boycott Walmart in solidarity with the striking workers, who seem to be finally getting under the skin of the loathsome Walton billionaires. Because they just got rid of their $11,000-an-hour CEO, and the National Labor Relations Board is bringing them to court for illegally retaliating against last year's Yanksgrabbing walkout. And have you seen their recent spate of greed-washing TV commercials, using associates to tell you how much they love working in Walmartisan? Apparently, you can get $40-a-month health insurance to supplement your Medicaid. I would hazard a guess that this junk insurance is good only for discounts on Walmart pharmacy purchases, or to partially pay for eye exams and glasses in Walmart's in-house optometry booth, or for flu shots and blood pressure checks from a moonlighting paramedic in one of those SuperCenter walk-in clinics. This is just a cynical guess on my part, mind you. Tell me if I'm wrong, and I will personally apologize to Sam Walton's ghost.


Meanwhile, the ThinkProgress War Room has put together a handy War on Thanksgiving guide for your hating and boycotting pleasure. I am not hopeful, though, that the American masses will Just Say No to Gray Thursday, Black Friday, Shoddy Saturday or even Cyber Monday. We can look forward to injuries or even death by Doorbuster. There will be at least one pepper-spraying incident over the last half-price Xbox. The scenes of desperate shoppers will be indistinguishable from scenes of desperate refugees in far-flung lands.

 
 
 
 Winston Smith, hero of George Orwell's 1984, mused that "if there is hope, it lies in the proles."
 
But in a scene that presages the Yanksgrabbing holiday extravaganza, he is quickly disabused of the notion that scarcity and poverty translate into social activism.  If only the oppressed masses "would rise up and shake themselves like a horse shaking off flies," the Party might be defeated from without.
 
Instead, one day when Smith is walking around the neighborhood and he hears a group of people wailing, it turns out to be a mob of hundreds, in despair not because of want and repression, but because there are only one or two cheap saucepans left in a bargain bin. Their faces are "as tragic as if they had been doomed passengers on a sinking ship."
 
What would happen, he asks, if all that raw human power translated into fighting over something that really mattered? "Until they become conscious they will never rebel," Smith writes in his journal. " And until they have rebelled they cannot become conscious." 
 
Fast forward to 2013, and the crowds are still fighting for the wrong things. And it's even more Orwellian than Orwell, because  those coveted "smart TVs" will be spying on the lucky consumers who out-stampeded their fellow shoppers to own one just in time for Xmas. (h/t Fred Drumlevitch.)  As Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism puts it in her regular Links feature, Big Brother Is Watching You Watch. Even if you turn off the TV's digital collection mechanism, it will continue transmitting information and data on your viewing habits. So watch what you watch. (Or do what I do with Netflix, which does share your viewing habits. Tune in to stuff you hate, mute the sound, and go to sleep while Big Brother confusedly calculates all your hopes and dreams. In my case, it's a marathon of Deadly Women  interspersed with a binge of Extreme Couponing and a few old episodes of My Little Pony.)
 
On that cheery note.... Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! And joyful Hanukkah too.
 

30 comments:

Noodge said...

And a happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Karen.

Also, a very happy Thanksgiving to everyone else around here. I come to this page to read the opinions of people who matter to me because those opinions are always well-informed and well-reasoned. You all have given me cause to examine, and often change, my own way of thinking.

And for that I am truly grateful.

Karen Garcia said...

And thanks to you too, Noodge, for your valued contributions to the discussion.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

Ah yes, always good to see that Adams Family Thanksgiving clip as counterpoint to the blatant commercialism of the season, which, as usual, Karen has done a fine job of skewering: "... death by Doorbuster" .... at least one pepper-spraying incident over the last half-price Xbox. The scenes of desperate shoppers will be indistinguishable from scenes of desperate refugees in far-flung lands."

I don't want to take away from Karen's fine post, but I would like to elaborate on surveilling appliances:


1) These LG TV "features" may have been included purely for commercial or advertising purposes, but one can never be sure that is the full extent of it (and it would still be objectionable even if limited to that). Just because this seems to be a case of corporate spying capabilities built into a consumer product doesn't mean that government hasn't had a hand in this, or isn't currently employing it, or couldn't in the future do so.


2) Such spying could be done by any product with any form of connectivity. So it's not just internet or cellular connectivity, and it's not just those products that we associate with data, video, or voice, meaning computers, TVs, or phones that could be problematic. It could, for example, be your printer or other devices via a Bluetooth link or wi-fi, possibly monitored by that altered firmware on the nearby communicating water meter, or by that box attached to a nearby utility pole:

http://www.infowars.com/dhs-funds-installation-of-white-boxes-that-can-track-population-of-entire-city/

http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/you-are-a-rogue-device/Content?oid=18143845

http://www.storyleak.com/new-mesh-network-documents-confirm-police-vehicles-real-time-access-dhs-spy-cameras/

And as for the types of appliances that should raise concerns, I see on the LG website two washing machines claiming "Smart ThinQ (TM) Technology".

From their description: "Stay connected with features like Smart Access and Smart Adapt, which allow you to monitor your laundry remotely and download new and improved cycles. [...] In the unlikely event that you have any problems, Smart Diagnosis helps you troubleshoot problems quickly and efficiently."

So, these washing machines seem to a) have the ability to download new firmware --- which could be spyware, and b) have the ability to communicate back somewhere, which could be your phone, but could also include an LG server, or the NSA (or an LG site monitored or subverted by the NSA).

And it's not limited to washing machines. According to the LG site, there are currently six LG appliances with Smart ThinQ (TM). On one of those product descriptions:

"Leave it to LG to give home appliances an advanced degree! LG Smart ThinQ (TM) Refrigerators, Ranges, Washers and Dryers do more than any appliance you’ve owned before. They integrate seamlessly with your busy schedule – whether you’re home or miles away – offering a new world of connectivity, customization and efficiency. Life just got a little easier. And a whole lot smarter."

http://bcove.me/7cmwlx6y


3) ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT: For the LG TVs, their interception appears to extend beyond what the TV is tuned to or devices such as flash drives plugged into the TV (which would be bad enough). It seems to extend to anything else on a person's home network!

http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/11/lg-smart-tv-snooping-extends-to-home-networks-second-blogger-says/

http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/11/smart-tv-from-lg-phones-home-with-users-viewing-habits-usb-file-names/

Still to be determined: to what extent this greater spying extends to other "smart" or "non-smart" products (TVs or not) from LG or any other manufacturers.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

And a happy Thanksgiving from me to all readers of Sardonicky.

By the way, it was nice to see @Valery Long Tweedie resume commenting recently after a considerable absence.

Despite my occasional disagreements with @Denis Neville, I'd like to see him resume commenting here. His extensive and erudite comments were thought-provoking.

James F Traynor said...

Happy Thanksgiving, Karen. And everybody. Enjoy.

Zee said...

Karen--

I, too, wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving Day.

Though I often am at odds with you and other participants in this forum, I have nevertheless learned much and have often found the need to revise my opinions and beliefs when confronted with the irrefutable data and reasoned arguments that are so characteristically provided by you and your regular contributors. Thank you all for allowing me to continue to contribute, too.

Echoing you and Fred Drumlevitch, thank you, Noodge, for joining in as a relatively new participant, with your thoughtful commentary.

As Fred says, it is also good to have Valerie Long Tweedie back after a long absence. And I, too, miss Denis Neville's regular, well-researched, well-reasoned, and entirely civil remarks. He always gave me cause for introspection and self-criticism. I hope that all is well with Denis, and that he might rejoin us in the near future.

So again, best wishes to all-- Karen, commenters and readers alike--for a peaceful, introspective Thanksgiving Day, sans politics or, yes, ObamaCare sales-pitches!

I know that I will be reflecting on how much I have to be truly thankful for.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Good grief. Household appliances as spies? As the Good Book says, a man cannot serve two masters; but a multitasking robot can.

As for TVs, computers and phones, mute buttons and encryption are useless. Every “Enigma” is sooner or later broken by a Bletchley Park. The modern-day NSA not only hears and sees everything, it stores it away for future (ab)use.

Karen might just be on to the best way to frustrate the spies, at least in their TV, computer and phone stalking.
“Tune in to stuff you hate, mute the sound, and go to sleep while Big Brother confusedly calculates all your hopes and dreams. In my case, it's a marathon of Deadly Women interspersed with a binge of Extreme Couponing and a few old episodes of My Little Pony.”

General Alexander wants to get everything? Well, let’s give him everything and lots more. Give the NSA so much junk, their algorithms will crash and their analysts will go batty.

Fred, do you know a programmer who could produce an app that would work something like a screen saver? Instead of changing pictures every minute from a small stock, this app would –– during down time or continuously in the background –– automatically change sites (randomly picked from Google’s billions of links) on an irregular schedule. In other words, build inchoate haystacks around our needles, but with the whole pile looking like needles.

Then, just to be safe, have another programmer check out that same app’s code for malware, and maybe a third programmer to oversee the second programmer.

Here’s my Thanksgiving wish to the States: Get smart and move your Thanksgiving Day into mid October, as Canadians do. The crops then are harvested, travel is not messed up by the foul weather of late November, and you’re no longer crowding Christmas. Till then, be safe.

Pearl said...

Dear Karen and flame warrior friends

Today's NYTimes had an article titled 'Room for Debate:Festive Family Feuds" titled on the front and
appearing on the opinion pages, with comments about how to navigate Thanksgiving despite family differences. There were many
suggestions as to how to handle conflicts with family members and lots of sad tales from readers who
couldn't deal with some of the attitudes of their nearest and dearest. Although this has always been the case especially between generations, it
seems especially volatile now, reflecting the angry divisiveness in the nation.

I want to wish all of you a heartfelt warm, happy, well fed Thanksgiving as
you represent my American family that I am extremely happy to vent with.
Regardless of some of our differences (which are fairly manageable), we are
all on a solid basis of friendship and support, and share our concerns for others. I wish you all well and I am sorry to have to repeat the fact that I am grateful to be living in Canada. It saddens me to have to say this as I recall so many Thanksgivings many years past when the future seemed brighter
in my birth country and I miss those memories and family members deeply. But the wind is beginning to blow in another direction finally, thanks to the work of Karen and her supporters and many others who are finally speaking out. And I join you in mentioning Valerie who has been recontributing her wise
comments and yes Denis, you are very much missed and hope you are alright. I and others would love to hear from you.(I wonder if they are still selling guns during these consumer crazed days at Walmart?)

Cirze said...

Happy Thanks!g Day, K!

Your prose reminds me of the actions of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto (and what they should have done), particularly the leaders who decided how they would go to their deaths.

What would happen, he asks, if all that raw human power translated into fighting over something that really mattered? "Until they become conscious they will never rebel," Smith writes in his journal. " And until they have rebelled they cannot become conscious."

I grok the idea that you are one of our leaders, K, and none of us, your "flame troops," are going quietly into that good night.

Love to all who gather here.

C

Patricia said...

I haven't had cable or watched TV for 2 years. I do have a computer and I read this blog regularly and all the thoughtful comments and information. Don't have healthcare either, I'm not about to buy Obama's I did go on the website and it was such a clusterf*$#k that I gave up.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Will said...

Happy Thanksgiving, fellow Sardonickists. Another day spent as unwilling passengers on a Ship Of Fools, but at least we have each other, and for this I'm grateful. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHh0V7UjVXI

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks to everyone for all your good wishes, humor, tips and continuing astute contributions to the discussion threads throughout this past year. Your feedback and involvement are what keep me going!

P.S. Reminder -- I always welcome longer guest posts too.

Noodge said...

@ Will: Thanks for the link. Got me to thinking about a different song with the same title. Robert Hunter's lyrics bring Sardonicky to mind:

"Though I could not caution all I yet may warn a few:
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools"

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Happy Thanksgiving to you all from Australia where the days are getting warmer, longer and dryer.

I think the best thing we can do as decent people is to forgo the buying that enriches the multinational corporations at the expense of poor third world people working at factory jobs that pay pennies a day. They suffer so we in the West who have so much already can have more toys and have closets overflowing with clothing.

As Ghandi said, "Live simply, that others may simply live." It is hard in this world of uber consumption but we can and should make a point of living with less. If we surround ourselves with others who share our commitment to a better world it is not as lonely and in fact, brings us closer together.

I, too, miss Denis terribly. If you are reading this, Denis, please come back to us. The comment section of Sardonicky is just not the same without you.

Thank you, Karen, for your hard work and for creating a salon where like minded people can meet and discuss issues that would not otherwise see the light of day.

The Black Swan said...

Lately I've been reading the book 'Left Back: a century of battles over school reform' by Diane Ravitch. I'm not usually one for quoting, but a few things I've ran across are just too timely and too perfect to not pass on.

"the liberal-minded upper middle class who provide most of the children for Progressive schools - persons who are fairly well off... who pride themselves on their open mindedness and tolerance, who favor in a mild sort of way fairly liberal programs of social reconstruction, who are full of good will... but who, in spite of all their good qualities, have no deep and abiding loyalties, who possess no convictions for which they would sacrifice over-much, who would find it hard to live without their customary material comforts."

-George Counts 1932 speech to the Progressive Education Association

"The parents of children in progressive schools did not want their children to mingle with the children of the poor or children of other races... Nor did they want them exposed to radical social doctrines."

"Counts prophesied that modern technology would make it possible to launch an age of plenty if only educators were willing to abandon individualism, competition, and capitalism and build a new tradition in American life"

"the book ('Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order?' - Counts) forthrightly called for elimination of capitalism, property rights, private profits, and competition, and the establishment of collective ownership of natural resources, capital, and the means of production and distribution."

-Ravitch (216-217)

George Counts gave this speech and wrote this book during the Great Depression, when many people felt that capitalism had failed and a new system was necessary.

So how did we end up in the exact same situation? I would venture to guess that the answer lies in the first quote from Counts.

We are once again staring directly into the face of the failings of capitalism. Only this time the stakes are much higher and if we trust in capitalism to get us out of this mess, then we face a very dark and deadly future.

Lately I think a co-op based economy, with built in revenue sharing, is one of the best methods to escape the deadly madness of capitalism.

And finally, one last quote, from one of our lovely Founding Fathers:

"[Benjamin] Franklin called for the erection of workhouses, where the indigent would be 'obliged to work at the pleasure of others for a bare subsistence and that too under confinement'."

-Michael Perelman - 'The Invention of Capitalism'

Fred Drumlevitch said...

@Jay - Ottawa (and @all):

What might happen as a consequence of the government "security" agencies monitoring everything --- especially if we can run a small script to download from some "choice" sites when we aren't actually using our computers!:

http://www.dilbert.com/2013-11-28/


@The Black Swan:

Interesting quotes from George Counts, someone I knew nothing about until your reference to him. Be aware, though, that attempted social engineering through education 1) may simply fail, no matter how laudable the goals, as it did in socialist countries, and 2) is a two-edged sword, as was demonstrated by its perversion most notably by the Nazis and and North Korea.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

In response to Black Swan. I am not sure whether you watched the interview with Henry Giroux on Moyers and Company but Giroux made a really obvious but relevant point - in America, capitalism (especially unfettered capitalism) has become synonymous with democracy. Yet one is a political system and one an economic system. The fairer comparisons are between capitalism, socialism and communism for economic systems and democracy, plutocracy, monarchy and dictatorship for political systems. What most Americans fail to understand is that democracy can flourish in a socialistic system and certainly in a combination of socialism and capitalism - like the U.S. used to be when the middle class was strong and our economy was good.

The combination of unfettered capitalism and plutocracy - which is what we have now in America is actually destroying the very democracy that America is supposed to represent.

Jay - Ottawa said...

@Fred

In the glorious day of the late forties when Chairman Mao was pushing Chiang Kai-shek off the mainland, troops passing through one town found hoards of sugar under the floorboards of a capitalist-dog sugar merchant. So they made him eat the sugar he was hiding from the people, spoonful after spoonful until he collapsed and died of sugar poisoning. Too much of a good thing can be deadly.

The NSA wants everything? So let's give them too much of everything and see how soon they choke on a whole damn universe of data.

Think of the individuals (and potential buyers) who will pay for that bygone aspect of democracy we used to call privacy, not to mention the businesses that would like to frustrate industrial spying. Heads of state, like Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, could have lots of fun with it.

The inchoate masses of data sans center created by this app just might choke the spies. In the first pitch to investors let's call it the "Glut App." It would surpass encryption as a means of frustrating internet spies, be they governmental, criminal or corporate. Every answer to what, say, Angela Merkel is thinking would simply replicate a big chunk of the Google archive.

Whoever writes and markets such an app or script will become rich, rich, I tell you, overnight. Statues will be erected in Redmond and Cupertino in honor to the inventor-programmer. Be sure to mention Karen, you and me to the programmer, Fred. We should get a cut of the royalties.

Make that 51 Shades of Greed.

Jay - Ottawa said...

@Fred

In the glorious day of the late forties when Chairman Mao was pushing Chiang Kai-shek off the mainland, troops passing through one town found hoards of sugar under the floorboards of a capitalist-dog sugar merchant. So they made him eat the sugar he was hiding from the people, spoonful after spoonful until he collapsed and died of sugar poisoning. Too much of a good thing can be deadly.

The NSA wants everything? So let's give them too much of everything and see how soon they choke on a whole damn universe of data.

Think of the individuals (and potential buyers) who will pay for that bygone aspect of democracy we used to call privacy, not to mention the businesses that would like to frustrate industrial spying. Heads of state, like Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, could have lots of fun with it.

The inchoate masses of data sans center created by this app just might choke the spies. In the first pitch to investors let's call it the "Glut App." It would surpass encryption as a means of frustrating internet spies, be they governmental, criminal or corporate. Every answer to what, say, Angela Merkel is thinking would simply replicate a big chunk of the Google archive.

Whoever writes and markets such an app or script will become rich, rich, I tell you, overnight. Statues will be erected in Redmond and Cupertino in honor to the inventor-programmer. Be sure to mention Karen, you and me to the programmer, Fred. We should get a cut of the royalties.

Make that 51 Shades of Greed.

The Black Swan said...

@Fred,
As a product of American Public Education and a current college student I would say that social engineering is already happening in our educational system. It is social engineering designed to adapt everyone to the death cult of capitalism and to exclude any other alternatives from mainstream thought. This engineering has been very successful, but has served a purpose contrary to anything that could provide for the 'general welfare', something that quaint Constitution of ours expresses as one of the main purposes of this nation. Counts supported a system of education that allowed students to investigate the real workings of our economic, social, and political system. It wasn't so much indoctrination, but the thought that if students saw the reality behind our system they would reject it and turn towards something more egalitarian.

@Valerie,
I would argue that capitalism and democracy are antonyms. A system that requires competition, great social stratification, as well as massive poverty, can not exist at the same time as a democracy. I would also argue that economics and politics are inseparable, that the describing of one system sit the description of the other. If we want capitalism, then we get feudalism*. If we want democracy, then we get socialism.

*not sure if it is exactly feudal, but that's the closest I could come up with this morning.

Noodge said...

@ Black Swan: Capitalism need not be anti-democratic. Wealth can be separated from power. Of course, that can't happen absent strict oversight. Wealth, in and of itself, is not bad. I'd like to be wealthy someday (although I'm pretty certain that will never happen).

What we need is a system that allows the greatest amount of freedom for the individual, while socializing all those things for which market solutions are not the best, and those things include the securing of our fundamental rights.

Traditional capitalism thrives on scarcity. The supply and demand curves assume that prices will find an equilibrium point somewhere above the point where the poorest among us can't afford them. And it's perfectly all right that not of all us can afford a large screen television, a big house, or original works of art.

But it's not all right that not all of us can afford food, medical care, police and fire protection, clothing, and shelter. The provision of those things ought to be socialized, as they are part and parcel of our fundamental right to life and liberty. We can guarantee those things in any number of ways (I prefer a guarantee of employment at a living wage), but ultimately the government exists for just that purpose. It's doesn't bother me that some have too much, it bothers me that some don't have enough.

What also bothers me is when those who have a lot use their wealth in ways which (purposely or not) deprive others of their right to have enough. They do that through both economic and political means. Government should exist for the purpose of protecting us from these people, too, and I think government can fulfill that function short of programs that try to keep people from having too much (whatever that is). Until Reagan came along our country was headed in that direction.

We have certainly regressed in that regard over the last 50 years, but it's not too late to turn things around. First, we have to remove the influence of money from politics through the public financing of campaigns. All campaigns. Second, we have to guarantee a national minimum living wage. Third, we need Medicare for all and a Social Security system that keeps all seniors out of poverty. Fourth, we need a system that guarantees that markets in those things which are not fundamental to our rights are kept competitive and free from monopolistic domination. Government must exist to curb the excesses of capitalism.

All of this must be paid for, of course, and the natural place to look for the money is from those who benefit the most from our capitalist system. Again, I don't care that certain individuals pile up lots of money as long as part of what they pile up goes to ensuring that everyone has enough to provide a decent life for themselves and their families, and as long as people with a great deal of wealth can't use that wealth to exempt themselves from the rule of law.

It can be done.

Pearl said...


Karen, such wonderful, thought provoking comments to your latest column about Greed. And Black Swan, I have hopes that with students like
yourselves,change will eventually come, even if it is some form of survival Socialism!
Join with other like minded students and speak out to encourage others.

I think Jay, that eventually the power groups and representatives will begin to choke on their excesses and not being used to defeat and how to survive as we all do, may hopefully disappear like the bad witch in the Wizard of Oz.

Noodge: I want to thank you for your inspiring, thoughtful and decent
comment that just appeared. It makes so much sense that we have to send this message to all the XYX and Millenium generations coming up. They have their work cut out for them and surely will need guidance. It has cheered me up on a dismal, dark, cold day.

And Karen, please print your excellent and to the point response to Blow's touching column about Life is a Hill in case anyone missed it.




The Black Swan said...

@Noodge,

I agree with most everything you say. I do think capitalism can have its place, but that it needs to be removed from the parts of our economy that are directly related to our ability to live. I am currently working on an essay about a Basic Income Guarantee, which I hope to share with the readers on this blog.

@Pearl,

As a millennial I have to say that things are discouraging. Most of my peers know that things are f*cked up, but almost none of them are interested in why things are they way they are, or what we can do to change it. Whenever I bring anything political/economic up I just get a glazed over expression. But everyone loves their smart phones! I don't think the youth are the answer any more than any other demographic. We just need like minded and open minded people from all age groups, races, religions, and cultures to get together and engage our commonalities. Just look at the diverse group of people on this blog.

The struggle against the weight of history is a tough one, but the more of us that are aware, and the more of us that want change, the more likely it is that we can plant the seeds of change that will guarantee humanity a future.


The apparatus of our enslavement is the tool of our liberation.

May all beings be happy.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Have we all –– capitalists, socialists, libertarians, barterers, bitcoiners, and capitalist-socialist-pragmatic mixers with an altruistic streak–– lost sight of the elephant in the room? That elephant is Global Warming, or if you prefer, Climate Change.

I’m alluding to the overarching exigencies currently being forced upon all peoples of the world, whether or not they’re paying attention and irrespective of their economic systems, which systems are proving largely inadequate to the challenge of the elephant.

The elephant will not go away. The globe can no longer support us in the manner to which we are accustomed. (This was reviewed and linked weeks ago in previous posts.) The scientific community is pretty much clear about the need for us seven billion people of the globe to cut back sharply and stay within Mother Nature’s budget of no more than an additional 2º C temperature rise for the indefinite future. Or else.

It seems Mother Nature and Father Physics believe in a zero sum economics. To stay within our budget, the entire world must downsize its consumption. Radically. Capitalism, in particular, with its sweet smile over the excesses of the few, is particularly unfit for the survival mode.

Like the rest of you, I resent being forced into the philosophy of lifeboat ethics. But I don't see how we can escape it. Tough measures will either have to be embraced by the world’s population, or Nature will force upon us an even greater deprivation accompanied by a chaos in which economic systems with which we are familiar will be of no help.

The economic system into which we must evolve, rapidly, was mentioned above, in that quote from Gandhi provided by Valerie: “We must all live simply so that others can simply live.” A tough sell as we emerge from Black Friday and head for the Christmas tree.

As a corollary to Gandhi's idea, scientists who can count are telling us we must all work to save the earth we stand on so that it may continue to endure us.

Zee said...

@Valerie and @The Black Swan--

Valerie, I did finally get around to seeing Bill Moyers' interview of Henry Giroux, and I found it both interesting and credible, though not “revelatory.” Like you, I take it as obvious that democracy is not synonymous with capitalism—especially unfettered capitalism.

As I have remarked before, the Scandanavian countries seem to be doing quite well with their various admixtures of capitalism and socialism ( i.e., mixed economies) and despite your fears, Black Swan, they seem to have avoided “great social stratification, as well as massive poverty” while maintaining a healthy dose of free-market competition in what appear to be equally healthy democracies.

These are politico-economic systems within which I think that I could happily live, and I think that it could be done without a radical restructuring of American society or a rewrite of the U.S. Constitution, the latter of which, flawed though it may be, still contains much of value in the areas of (1) a stated, noble purpose, (2) a limited government with enumerated powers, and (3) individual liberty as expressed in the Bill of Rights.

Where I begin to become quite concerned is with concepts introduced by theorists like George Counts, who, according to Diane Ravitch—and as quoted by you, Black Swan—advocate for “elimination of capitalism, property rights, private profits, and competition, and the establishment of collective ownership of natural resources, capital, and the means of production and distribution.”

I'm always willing to entertain and discuss new ideas and ways of doing things. That's part of the joy of being alive. But Counts' proposals would require a complete restructuring of American society, and, I venture to say, a complete rewrite of the U.S. Constitution, much of which I—and many others—hold very dear. And unlike Counts—if I understand his quotes accurately—I do not see individualism as something that needs to be snuffed out for the greater good of society. Rather, I see it as needing to be tempered by an equal, complementary measure of communitarianism, which is what, IMHO, we are mostly lacking today.

What Counts seems to be proposing is True Socialism—with a capital “T” and a capital “S”—which I believe to be unworkable. The two great experiments with True Socialism were the Soviet Union and China. The former is no more, and the latter is no longer truly socialist, but rather a mixed economy with a much heavier emphasis on state ownership of various enterprises than the Scandanavian countries. And in their halcyon days of True Socialism, neither the USSR nor China were ever democracies. So both grand experiments failed on both important counts: the economic system, socialism, failed, and democracy never even existed, let alone flourished.

If someone cares to explain to me in painstaking detail how, after two epic failures, True Socialism can be made to work in a democratic framework, and work better than a Scandanavian-style, mixed economy, well, I'm all ears.

And I'd also like to hear how such a transition might peaceably transpire today. What need would drive it?

Quite simply, even the Great Depression wasn't “great enough” to bring about the peaceful fall of capitalism and Counts' (and others') hoped-for transformation. What catastrophe would be “great enough” to accomplish it at other than a glacial pace? I shudder to think.

Pearl said...

Zee: in your last comment with musings about the difficulties of eliminating capitalism you stated:

"What catastrophe would be “great enough” to accomplish it at other than a glacial pace? I shudder to think."

First of all, although I support the principles of socialism I am not dumb
enough to think it is basically attainable for many reasons, when
translating its aims on paper to actual workable fact, but there are many combinations that could work. Mentioning catastrophe, just read Jay's comment above yours as the realities of global warming forcing the world to pull in its horns regarding the overuse of its present resources and how
that can be done.

The thing that stands out in my mind regarding the Scandinavian way of life, is that they are basically welfare states. In other words regardless of their political structure they set aside enough of their wealth to take care of their young and old, cover their medical needs, their educational needs,
their access to food and shelter that is meaningful and create jobs that pay decently and allow time off for vacation and other time outs, etc. etc. etc.
It is not enough if democracy does not provide this for its people so we
need a political system that takes care of its population but allows for
wiggle room for private investment, encouragement for some climbing up the ladder accompanied by fair and strict regulations that punish corruption and oppression. This is indeed a tall order especially translated to much larger nations but if it can work fairly well in the Scandinavian countries it should be a role model for what can be accomplished and what we name this
system is not important.

However, the realities of our world are beginning to affect how people are forced to live and survive and unless we humans begin to deal with the results of greed and incompetence we are on a downward spiral everywhere.
Many citizens are waking up to these facts and the problem is how to
translate using this knowledge into change for whom we vote into power and how we discipline their excesses. Time will tell, and it will be beyond most of our life spans to find out. Meanwhile, we must continue to speak about these realities and encourage others to do likewise. I see much improvement in the NYTimes readership and many learned responses to specific articles recently about health, job futures, and the effects of our current destructive behavior on the personal lives of decent human beings who are questioning the basics. I send some of these articles, especially those involving what the younger generations are facing, to my granddaughters, hoping they will utilize the information for their own lives. The are all 3
eligible to vote in the 2015 elections in Canada, which is a very critical one.


Zee said...

@Pearl—

If, as I think that you are saying, the Scandanavian (or Nordic) Model could likely be scaled up to the dimensions of the United States, well, I agree with you. And as I said previously, I could probably be quite happy under such a system, as long as my civil liberties—as expressed in the Bill of Rights—were left untampered with: All of them.

I do disagree with you when you say that “what we name this system is not important...” but it's a minor issue in this forum; we know what we're talking about. Outside of this forum, well, I still believe that certain words carry such baggage as to be downright incendiary with the masses, but I'll try not to belabor that topic any more, here.

What would finally drive the United States towards a Nordic Model?

While I generally believe that humankind is driven to radical changes (or sacrifices of the sort about which Jay was talking) only when directly confronted with radically new —and generally unpleasant—realities that leave no alternatives, in the particular case of a move towards the Nordic Model, I think it will have less to do with catastrophism and more to do with a return to better national economic times, if that ever happens again.

I think that the public would be more willingly ( i.e., democratically) inclined towards largesse for their less fortunate fellow citizens when times are generally good. Medicare, for example, was passed during comparatively good economic times, I think. And, like Medicare, once entrenched, a Nordic Model would be difficult to reverse.

A shift to the Nordic Model would be just that: a gentle shift towards more humanitarian government and economic systems than we currently have, without the truly radical measures proposed by Counts',* which, I think, many—including myself—might be driven to resist by force of arms.

Which is why I referred to a “catastrophe” as being necessary to usher in a day to George Counts' liking, because his vision was/is so radical that it would/will never be accepted democratically, IMHO, by the general American public. It would have to be imposed, and , again IMHO, only under dire circumstances when all else has failed.

I hope this further explains my position(s).

----------------------------------
* “elimination of capitalism, property rights, private profits, and competition, and the establishment of collective ownership of natural resources, capital, and the means of production and distribution.”

The Black Swan said...

@Zee,

I don't want to write am essay on this, but I would say that you could no more define Communism by the actions of Stalin and the USSR, then you could define Christianity by the Crusades. Sure these things happened under those 'labels' but they have little if nothing to do with the actual ideas and teachings. Not that I am trying to advocate for Communism. But Stalin was probably the worst thing to have ever happened to the ideas of Marx. Just because some nutter totally corrupted someone else's ideas, doesn't mean those original ideas are invalid.

Zee said...

@The Black Swan--

I agree with you. Neither the Crusades nor Stalinism are representative of the ideals that underpinned them. In fact, they were the absolute antitheses of those ideal.

They are, unfortunately, classic examples of what can happen when noble ideals intersect with human nature: unexpected--and often horrific--results.

As I have tried to point out throughout my entire participation here at Sardonicky, "human nature" is always the potential "turd in the punchbowl," no matter what socioeconomic system might be decided upon at any particular instant in time.

Which is why I am always suspicious of concentrating power in any allegedly well-intentioned hands. The possibilities related to human corruption must always be factored in.

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Pearl said...

Zee: your last comment about how power corrupts is great. This is why I, and many others, have such contempt for President Obama. He really seemed to represent a man of the people, sensitive to the minority problems, promising things that made sense in an atmosphere crying out for decency and change.
He still has the gall to continue to make speeches of promise that many
democrats are no longer believing in. It is a betrayal of the lowest order
and those of us who saw early in the game who and what and where his
allegiances were heading, were ignored and shunned. He has misused his office, broken faith with the best principles of the nation, refused to fight for desperate needs and foisted secret indecencies on the public until outed by whistleblowers. There will be much more to be revealed, some already hinted at and I believe he will go down in history as the most two faced, dishonest president in U.S. history.

One can't blame people for being afraid to put their trust in those who run for office which often forces lesser choices to remain on the safe side. You have made some excellent observations in your recent comments Zee, as have other contributors, some of whom are not well known to our 'regulars'. I am glad to read such comments from those who are obviously reading and watching
what Karen has been fighting about in her reports for as long as I have
known her. It is such a pleasure to read everyone's points of view which
tell us more of what is really going on than the mainstream media who lack
the courage for speaking the truth.

I have a real sense of pride in our Sardonicky supporters and am so
fortunate to have found my way to this oasis in the desert. I know that what we say here and by our, and especially Karen's comments, are beginning to inspire some real thinking by those who are looking for answers.


Arthur O'Shaughnessy. 1844–1881

6. Ode


WE are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers, 5
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities, 10
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure 15
Can trample an empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth; 20
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.