Head In The Sand

I spent a lifetime trying to help young people take possession of their own minds, helping them think and ask fundamental questions. I often wondered if mine was a futile and perhaps even a wrong-headed task. But then I came up with thoughts like the following which I posted about six years ago and which still ring true.

I sometimes I wish I could join the ranks of the ignorant, because I am told that ignorance is bliss — and I would believe it. I would also believe:

• that global warming is a fiction invented by liberal (and therefore “wrong-headed”) scientists and our planet is not under threat by greedy capitalists.

• that elected officials are smarter than I and are only concerned about the common good. And mine.

• that the armed forces are comprised of dedicated young men and women who have devoted their lives to protecting my freedom — and not the interests of Big Oil.

• that Big Oil is devoted to developing better and cheaper ways to make my life more comfortable, and not, as some insist, to increasing their already massive profits.

• that the continued use of torture and drones will eventually win the war on terror — and not simply label this country as morally bankrupt and increase by tenfold the numbers of would-be terrorists who hate me and my country (and everything we stand for).

• that Wall Street provides the paradigm of success by which we should all guide our lives.

• that corporate CEOs are devoted to improving their company’s products and the lot of their employees rather than cutting corners and pocketing more than 400 times what the folks who work for them make.

• that Christmas was about “Peace on Earth” and not materialism and profits for retailers.

• that the money the very wealthy spend backing selected politicians will produce the best and brightest leaders in Congress who will transcend party loyalties and work together for the common good.

• that our democracy is a government of, by, and for the people and not of, by, and for the few who control the vast majority of wealth in this country.

• that the more people who carry guns the safer the world would be.

• that the players on my favorite sports teams aren’t taking PEDs and that the Mafia never gets involved in fixing sporting events — at any level.

• that everything I hear and see on Fox News is the truth.

(I would only add that I would now think the coronavirus will be over by Easter because our president has willed it to be so. But I know better.)

As I say, I wish I could believe these things because I suspect I would be more at peace and better able to sleep soundly at night, confident that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds (as Pangloss would have it). But then I would be delusional, and I don’t think I want to be that. So I will continue to read and think and attempt to make sense of the little I know while I try to be as realistic as possible about the things going on around me — bearing in mind the words of the very wise Socrates who said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

Wealth, Power, and Wall Street

Robert Heilbroner wrote a classic study of capitalism. In that book he notes that the competition among the wealthy in a capitalist society amounts to a Hobbesian state of nature in which there is war of all against all. This war is being carried on not only among those with wealth but also between those few and the rest of the nation which must be content with the leftovers that trickle down. The results in the case of present-day U.S. are appalling: with the tax breaks that were voted in during the Bush-era, the uneven distribution of wealth in this country has become positively obscene.  There has been a 36.1% drop in the wealth of the median household since the peak of the housing bubble in 2007. As of that year, the top 1% of households owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% held 50.5%. This means that the remaining 15% of the wealth in this country was shared by 80% of the people.  And the problem has gotten worse. Why so?

Because money is power and those in power invariably seek more power. What has happened, as Heilbroner shows, is that capitalism breeds a culture in which wealth is not collected for its own sake, but for the sake of gaining more wealth. While those who control the wealth in this country compete among themselves for more and more of the same, the poor get poorer and the middle class disappears into the impoverished class.

Those who are wealthy dream about days gone by when free enterprise capitalism was the rule and government kept out of the business of making money; these people are deluded. This country has never embraced free market capitalism unfettered by governmental restraints — except, perhaps, during and just after the Civil War when the industrial revolution was taking off in this country. This ended abruptly when a series of antitrust laws were passed toward the end of the nineteenth century, introduced by people like Senator John Sherman, that were designed to restrict the growth of capital in the hands of the few. And those same people who moan about the coming of “socialism” (a word they don’t understand) refuse to acknowledge that government controls are the only thing standing between the dwindling middle-classes and increasing poverty — and powerlessness — for the vast majority of citizens in this country.

Or they just don’t care: it is part of what the mania of power is all about.  Newt Gingrich makes the snide remark that those who would occupy Wall Street should get a job after taking a bath and his comment is met with snickers and loud applause. These are the words of a man with great wealth who has nothing but disdain for the many who do not and whose lack of wealth he sees simply as a lack of initiative. This is both callous and absurd on its face. The Occupy Wall Street movement makes perfect sense and should be supported by all who care about fairness and justice for all of the citizens in this country, including those who would be its President. It is the voice of the people who are, we are told, the ultimate source of power in a democracy.