Even with degrees in political science and sustainable development I still get overwhelmed when discussing politics. I think every existing political philosophy has merit. Conservative, liberal, libertarian, social democrat, anarchy. I think if you slavishly subscribe to only one that you are pretty uninformed. Each political philosophy, while claiming to be all-encompassing, is a pretty thin slice of reality. They have each evolved throughout the centuries, and have inevitably become twisted by powerful individuals seeking to turn an entire ideology to their selfish benefit.
As a Norwegian by birth and American resident by choice, I am often horrified by the social barbarism that is American social policy. Americans pay almost as much in taxes as Norwegians and they get less than nothing in return. Limited to no healthcare, sub-par public schooling and no higher education, low general wages, a laughable minimum wage, and crumbling infrastructure. Nearly 60% of the national budget goes to fund the military industrial complex because having over 900 bases spread across the world isn’t cheap. Understandably, most Americans I come across in my daily life are horrified by these facts, too. But it took me a while to understand the underlying American culture that is responsible for this climate to exist at all.
The frontier spirit of the 1800’s is alive and well in America. It manifests most noticeable on the right-wing side of the current political spectrum; in conservatives, republicans and libertarians, but I also notice it in many left-leaning Americans. This notion, this absolute belief, that you are responsible for your own circumstances. Never mind that we are living in extreme times, of wealth inequality, global capitalism, neo-liberal imperialism, 50 million refugees and displaced people, of massive consumption and resource extraction the world has never seen before. Less than 300 years ago, back in frontier days, America was an untouched oasis. Native Americans left little to no footprint on the planet at all. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine a time when you could just get on a horse and ride west, and when you found untouched land, you could claim it and be the rightful owner. Not only that, you were praised for your bravery of attempting such a journey. Sure, many perished and died in search of paradise but overall, America was pretty easily conquered. And now that land was in your possession, you could defend it by killing anyone who ventured onto it. For a brief moment in time, you were solely responsible for your life and circumstance. If crops failed, you died. If you got ill, you died. I don’t know about you, but I say luckily, we don’t live in those times anymore. We live in a complex society in which everything we do to survive is deeply connected with those around us, and now in the global age, deeply connected to workers all over the world whom we will never see or speak to. Unnamed, unseen workers feed and clothe us. Any service or help you need is only a phone call away. If your house catches fire, the fire truck comes blazing without you having to do anything.
Complex societies require complex politics, which again require a highly educated public. We have neither. We have simpleton politicians, half of which claim to hate government, and a corporate media news circus that breaks everything down to the lowest common denominator. America is officially an oligarchy – ruled by the richest to extract every ounce of wealth from a rapidly declining planet. Climate change is real, say 98% of the world’s scientists. Let’s debate climate change some more, say the world’s politicians. By 2016 1% of the world’s population will control 51% of the planet’s wealth. Football fields of rainforest disappear, cropped down and burned, every second. Some scientists estimate that we are losing dozens of species every single day, some not even discovered and could hold future cures for disease. One sailor even went as far as saying “the ocean is dead” because of the lack of life he saw sailing across the Pacific. Fish as a dietary staple may be gone as soon as 2040. It’s the main source of protein for over 1 billion people. As the oil wars burn themselves out, the water wars are just getting started.
We live in extreme times. We are surveilled, over-worked, undernourished. Those of us not caught in violence and poverty, are traumatized by images and wrecked with guilt. Depression is running rampant among those of us who are fortunate enough to have the time and security to feel it. Despite billions of years of evolution and fighting to stay alive, members of the most advanced species on the planet are now choosing to end their own life through lack of purpose. We live in pretty insane times, and the politics are not mirroring that at all.
Why should you care about politics? It doesn’t seem to do much. I’m always astonished when I run across people who act as though caring about politics is optional. As if it somehow doesn’t affect them. As if it’s just someone’s hobby.
The way I see it most of the above problems, as bleak as they seem, are pretty solvable. Through politics and an evolved consciousness. First we have to accept that we no longer live in frontier times. The world is full and we are all in this together. If consumption is what’s destroying this planet, the only one we’ve got, we have to question the motive for it. In the past 50 years the human race have been granted various rights through global organizations, such as right to life, liberty, security, and freedom from cruel treatment. But I find it very strange that the two most basic things needed to live within such rights, food and a home, are still not a right. To have a safe place to sleep and food to eat is the foundation of all life. And that still costs money, which is created and hoarded by a tiny elite, in effect making all other rights void because people have to submit to all kinds of cruel and undignified ways to make enough money to simply stay alive.
So it all comes down to money. The hippies and the Marxists got it right. Freedom costs money, and money is now more concentrated than ever. One of the most enlightening article I’ve read all year states that it will take 100 years for the poorest people to earn $1.25 a day. That is just about the most sobering thing I have read about the state of the world and global capitalism – the one that promised to lift us all out of poverty. If we keep going the way we do, there won’t be a planet left in 100 years for those people to be earning $1.25. The way we live is so unsustainable it borders on madness. Radical change is needed, fast.
For me, universal basic income is that radical change. Make money a human right. A small sum deposited each month into every person’s bank account – enough to pay for a small apartment and healthy food. Automate whatever menial jobs can be automated, get rid of unnecessary jobs, and raise the wages on the ones that are left for those who wish to make additional money. Those satisfied with a small space can spend their days creating art and inventions, raise children, talk philosophy or relax. Growing food can be a community service – each member working 4 hours a week. It might not be perfect but it’s a heck of a lot better than what we have going on now. Eventually the goal would be to phase out currency completely, something along the line of Resource Based Economy from The Zeitgeist Movement and The Venus Project.
And what will eventually happen to wealthy people? Seriously, who cares. A study concluded that the financial ‘happiness’ level is $75,000 a year. With that sum you can live in a nice house, in a nice place and eat good food and have hobbies. Everything over that amount does not increase your happiness. In fact, when you earn much more than that your unhappiness grows because of all the responsibility that comes with owning and maintaining so much stuff.
Eventually private property rights is something that must be discussed because it is absurd to live on a planet where wealthy people can claim so much space as their own and poor people will never feel secure. While I believe it is our animal instinct to want to claim territory, much like our animal friends in the wild, there must be a fair way to do so. Maybe it should be a human right to own land? But then who would decide who gets the best parts? Can we evolve beyond the need to claim territory? These should be the political questions in our time of crisis.
These are some thoughts I have been having lately. They align closely with the world’s various green parties, which I am thrilled to see are rapidly growing (no pun intended) all over Europe and even as a third party in the US. Unfortunately, I don’t believe in a utopia where one day all human beings will get along and share the same opinions, but right now, with our planet at stake, that should be enough to unify us and come up with a better path for the future.
Dear reader, I would love to hear your opinions on these issues – I’m sure I will learn something new :)
The entire institution of politics.. of any kind…is outdated and dangerous. The political agenda, from communism to democracy, has brought us the brink of global destruction. Politics has been vehicle that has led too hundreds of millions death and incarcerations. Countless people have had their lives lost or been jailed for trying too live up to their potential.
I am glad you can write, you have more guts than me. I often shy away from directly confronting things, but that is how I operate. It’s fun to see what I might like to say, said so well though. lol
You shouldn’t shy away from writing from your heart! It can be very scary tho, so I appreciate your comment a lot :).
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I forgot this in my inbox and just read it now. I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said here — this is integral consciousness at its finest. It’s also well timed, given that Canada (my home country) is going into an incredibly important (and contentious) election. Our Green Party, which will likely wind up with only one of our 308 seats — though fortunately a very important and influential one, given the credibility of the party’s leader — is very serious about introducing a universal minimum income. Their message (and yours, and others…) is gaining momentum…
I suspect that one of the reasons rampant individualism (and is any other form of individualism permitted in of celebrity instant gratification obsessed world?) is failing us is that it is one of the conceptual paradigms underpinning industrial post GFC capitalism.
Industrial capitalism is often associated, by its adherents, with democratic values, with accelerating wealth (arguably for all after some time), and with better quality of life; one filled with the joys of individual freedom and personal liberties. This … is illusory, in fact the unmitigated pursuit of the goals of industrial capitalism in the west equals overconsumption, exploitation of someone else, somewhere else and environmental degradation and decline. It is a giving in of many to very tempting sins. Its cardinal sin is that people think we can all sin and want to sin in the same ways… ‘Herman Daly calls the notion that the whole world can attain U.S. levels of per capita production and consumption the “Impossibility Theorem” since it would require as many as six planet Earths.’ (Magdoff, Fred; Foster, JohnBellamy (2011-06-01). What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism (p. 22). NYU Press. Kindle Edition – citing Steady-State Economics (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1991), 149–51; Mathis Wackernagel, “Ecological Footprints,” Living on the Earth, November 9, 2007, http://www.loe.org.
I’m writing a book called ‘The beguiling sins of industrial capitalism’ – most of the above commentary is drawn from a part of that.But I felt that what you have written above gels with much of what I am arguing in the book.
One other thought about your mention of the Universal Basic Income (UBI). Does it sound like a give-away? Or wondering where the money would come from? Well then next ask “What is money?” Money, by law in many (most) countries, is allowed to be created by those private businesses called banks. (Why should they be allowed to do that? Use of money is too important to be left to an often foreign owned greedy organization. But I digress.) How do banks create money?: By making a loan and creating a debt, out of nothing, just the bank’s trust or arm twisting or threats to back it up. This is a basic reality which for some reason is seldom if ever described in that way.
So any society will create money in some way or another to some criteria. What criteria could be more basic and with more expectation of reward to society than to enable its citizens to have basic needs met (UBI)? This question will generate varying responses(!). Studying that question opens up a very wide discussion of the history of societies and individuals, best left for another time.
Well done. You have discovered about the USA (and others) the dominance of the ideology of the individual. This ideology allows people to pretend that public provision of basic housing, food, clothing is a gift, a gift that always or usually corrupts. It denies the reality that we are all interdependent; it denies that all life is connected on the planet and its history reaches back to earlier life forms and perhaps even to the ‘big bang’. This denial makes the ideology a fundamental arrogance. Humility is the key to building a sustainable future.
Lots more to say – another time.
Thanks for your nice comments about some of my posts.
Wow! I am really touched. You gave words to my feelings in this post.
In the everyday life, figthting for sustainability (wherever you are), it looks like fight Windmills.
Excellent, exceedingly articulate article very persuasive arguments. Your passion for a newer, more beneficient political paradigm is most infectious.
Well said. Thanks for keeping the conversation alive.
this is a really well written piece and it is posts like these that make me enjoy wordpress so much! You really highlighted on how bleak some of the issues in the world are today, and I really do hope that some of the principles you discussed such as the universal wage aren’t one day enacted rather than being some far-fetched utopic vision… We could do with it here in the UK where I strongly believe society is becoming increasingly more divided due to the austere policies of an educated and intensively wealthy social class. Great read, really enjoyed it!
I agree with this statement: “”To have a safe place to sleep and food to eat is the foundation of all life. And that still costs money, which is created and hoarded by a tiny elite, in effect making all other rights void because people have to submit to all kinds of cruel and undignified ways to make enough money to simply stay alive.” The former I am grateful for every day. The latter I still don’t have a solution for.
A wonderful, spot-on article, Joey. I also believe there is merit in all philosophies and political models… until they become rigged, or slanted to favor a few. (Human nature needs checks and balances!)
But I really wanted to tell you about The Rules and their Bloggers Group:
With your background and writing skills…?
Reblogged this on Aware & Fair and commented:
The American Frontier days of rugged individualism are over. We need many others, here and around the world, to survive, to save the planet. Let us unite for sustainability.
This is great – so articulate!! I watched mad max a few days ago and it sparked a discussion about politics, climate change and the future.
to this leftist by birth and nature, your words sound like mozart ;)
the strangling system you talk about can’t be stopped. it’s too late. we try and organize rallies, sometimes effective, and take shots of our protest with our smartphones made in china by exploited workers with no rights, and post the shots on our laptops made by other battered chinese workers – and don’t you count the fact that you need power to keep a laptop on and use the internet, which generates pollution? :)
we march towards the buildings of Power with our knickers made by practically enslaved girls somewhere in sri lanka, wear shirts worked on by children in vietnam – and so on.
we’re in it, in this lose-lose game where some gain some money and others sink into misery. maybe a huge earthquake or some planetary tragedy à la lars von trier will reset it all :)
Peaceful revolution with nomination and election of Bernie Sanders remains possible. Otherwise I fear for the future of democracy.
On dark days, I find myself on the treadmill of thinking: ‘I give up, the human race is a disaster, we will get what we deserve, the world would be better off without us. But we are taking so many other species with us… so we can’t give up.’
A pretty comprehensive overview. Without getting into details of support, I can only say that the entry of Sanders and O’Malley into the Democratic nomination race offers some hope for the changes you so appropriately note as necessary. Warren, Grayson, Brown and a dozen others in Congress offer real hope for a revolutionary approach to resolution of many of the problems plaguing the USA (and much of the rest of North America and Europe). Thanks for the excellent essay.
I’m having a goosebump moment – just started watching Newsroom series 2 where they include the Occupy Wall Street story as a running theme. Bravo for another terrific piece. Just before reading your feature, I read an article about child abuse increasing in Australia: and that abuse, which continues to thrive, includes the lack of love, attention and even speaking to children. That without this love and attention, the brain doesn’t grow. Your sentence here is evoking: “Despite billions of years of evolution and fighting to stay alive, members of the most advanced species on the planet are now choosing to end their own life through lack of purpose.” and because the humans who created them or other people, lost the ability to love. The fact a lot of us live in countries where we do have a right to life, as you say above, hard fought for and won ~ what an abysmal result. I often question if we are ‘advanced’. Thank you for always putting out such fabulous writing.