Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Corporate-Controlled Media

Today’s New York Times article, “Full of Doubts, U.S. Shoppers Cut Spending,” for me, pretty much confirms that the mainstream media are unwittingly in the pocket of big business. In stating in the first sentence that citizens’ decisions to save money since the market crash will kill any chances of market recovery without giving any alternative perspectives on goals in responses to the crash, they make it very difficult for a reader to question the assumption that keeping the rate of increase of the GDP high is an unqualified positive.

Well, guess what! I’ve got another perspective; it’s not. Increasing equity and reducing affluence is going to require a smaller market. Environmental sustainability is going to require a smaller market. Most importantly this is okay.

The American middle classes are among the wealthiest people in the world, materially. They don’t need all that stuff. Americans in general work crazy long hours. If they bought less stuff, they wouldn’t need to work as much.

The top-down model of prosperity is bullshit. It doesn’t work. Check out the widening gap between rich and poor in America during this era of increasing GDP. Check out the spectacular failures of the World Bank’s structural adjustment programs. We need to disenfranchise the world’s billionaires and start respecting everyone’s right to shelter, food, and health.

If the American middle classes were working less, they’d be better able to form strong relationships (check out Take Back Your Time edited by de Graaf, if you don’t believe me). With those relationships in place, they’d be able to count on others for help. They’d be able to share stuff and skills. They’d be happier with the shorter work hours and the less stuff because relationships are more important.

Let’s start making the minimum wage $20 per hour. Let’s shorten the work-week (that will create jobs because less work will be done per individual). Let’s start making only high quality stuff that will last (that will create jobs because individual workers will produce fewer units per hour). Then, the poor would finally have just enough and finally be healthy.

To reiterate, health, sustainability, and happiness do not depend on an ever-rising GDP. Under the current conditions of capitalism, wealth does not trickle down nearly as much as it accumulates in one place. We need to end affluence and end poverty. These are equally important goals. The huge GDP is mostly making affluence and not ending poverty because the wealth is being hoarded. This is made possible by high corporate power over politicians.

AAAAA! I’m angry about the bail-out. I’m angry about poverty and affluence. I’m angry about greed. I’m angry about neoliberal and neoclassical economics. I’m angry about scientific capitalism. If you look at history and what’s actually going on in the world, it becomes obvious that market liberalization is not a good thing. The buy-out will protect a lot more affluence than it will save jobs. Saving jobs can be done in ways that actually reduce the gap between rich and poor. AAAAA!

Friday, September 26, 2008

work and the proposed Wall Street bail-out

Work is something I spend a lot of time thinking about - I hope critically. The bail-out has got me thinking more concretely about policy initiatives. I don't have formal training in policy; professionally, I'm a linguistic anthropologist who studies poetry and music. However, I am in a very good union and I learn a lot from knowing other activists in this and other groups.

I don't want there to be a bail-out for the richest people in the world, protecting their affluence. I don't want to protect affluence, at all. In fact, I'd like to end it. (I only know of one organization that has the guts to go better than campaigns to end poverty with a campaign to end affluence: http://globalaware.net/affluence/.)

I also question the viability and desirability of credit being as available as it has for some time now. This much credit has encouraged over-consumption (which means pollution) and landed a lot of people in unmanageable debt situations.

What I support is helping low-income people get proper food, housing, education, and health care: sounds like social equity! I support valuing the right to health, shelter, food, and expression above the right to private property. I'm for voluntary simplicity among the middle and upper classes, and equity for all. So, let's start buying and producing less stuff, let's produce it with more care so it lasts longer, and let's start sharing work, money, and leisure equally.

Here's a policy suggestion: what if we shorten the work-week to 30-hours, prohibit mandatory over-time, increase minimum paid vacations and parental leave, generously subsidize worker-co-ops and small, organic farms, stop subsidizing petroleum, pro-rate wages to number of dependents and health expenses, heavily tax high incomes and profits, and raise minimum wage to at least $20/hour?

The core of my idea is the work-week, minimum wage, and vacation stuff. All the rest is support for that because those 3 on their on could be seriously abused. It could crush small businesses. It could lead to lay-offs and more mandatory over-time. It would do little to reduce affluence at the very top.

Subsidizing worker co-ops and would help small businesses. The stuff about over-time and leave would reduce lay-offs and create jobs. Petroleum subsidies make it less feasible to buy local. Taxing high profits and incomes will put a dent in affluence.

Well, that's the idea, anyway. Other people with expertise in policy may be able to improve this a lot. I'm looking forward to that. For now, maybe thinking of having every Friday off will inspire effective activism!

Friday, September 05, 2008

not how you thought things worked: short short fiction

It is well known that domestic house cats are nocturnal. Actually, most mammals are nocturnal, even if you factor out bats, which are most species of mammal. As it turns out, however, there is one house cat who is diurnal; his name, as far as people know, is Chick: Chick the cat. He is diurnal - the only diurnal house cat.

To be sure, this is weird, but it's merely epiphenomenal to the truly interesting thing about Chick. While it appears as though he has an amazingly "in tune" schedule of going to sleep when the sun goes down, and waking up when it rises, believe it or not, it's the other way around. The sun goes down when chick goes to sleep and it rises when Chick wakes up. Yeah. I'm serious. No, no joke. Scary, huh?

For real - the sun is being controlled by a cat. This puts lots of things in a very different light. Your place in the grand scheme of things? The solidity of a cycle you thought you could trust? How long has this been going on?

Okay, I don't know how long this has been going on, but my first question was, "how did it work before Chick was born?" Before Chick was born, a different cat - one named Belle - in a little town near Halifax controlled the sun. Apparently randomly, at the instant that the diurnal cat dies, another kitten born at precisely the same moment somewhere becomes the torch bearer. That's it, really. That's all I know. Honestly, I try not to think about it.

Chick is a nice, friendly cat. I understand Belle was not. I feed Chick when his owners are on vacation - if you can call them owners. Given that their "pet" controls the sun, the whole relationship has taken on a different tenor, for me. Maybe he has a secret cat name that means something amazing to other cats. I bet even the regular cat names are pretty fascinating.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Public Libraries

My town's public libraries are so great that I am inspired to write
about them, today. There are 5 branches and the population is 100,000
people; that's pretty good. The catalog usually has the book I?m
looking for, unless it's an academic book. However, there are quite a
few good academic books, as well. There are plenty of DVDs including
some great documentaries and independent films.

The book collection includes lots of subversive fiction and
non-fiction as well as crazy bestsellers and "fun reads." It includes
new publications and older classics. Even the children?s section is
overseen by people who obviously know and love literature and democracy.

The library has a fast and functional delivery and holds service. Late
fines are reasonable and you can renew things over and over, if
there's no hold. There are computer terminals for use by anyone with a
library card. Two of the branches are in beautiful, humane buildings.

And it's all free: helping people get informed and liberated. Hurray
for our local government funding the public libraries so well!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I started a new blog

It's called Ground Up. I'll probably put the same posts on both blogs, but it looks like the other one will get more comments. I only started it because it comes with the free membership to The Guerilla News Network. You can go to it here - http://allopposites.gnn.tv/blogs/29186 - or via the link on the right.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

changing work

Some things I dislike about many jobs:
- hierarchy
- sitting still most of the day
- windows that don't open
- selling labor to managers/owerners
- throwing ethics out the window as soon as you get to work
- bad labor unions
- exploitative bosses
- extreme specialization
- using computers and phones so much
- competition with co-workers
- classism and sexism
- under-payment
- lack of benefits
- long work-weeks
- long commutes in cars
- away from friends and family

What I'd like to see more of:
- worker co-ops
- healthy buildings
- diversification of duties
- unions and bosses who are trying to increase equity at work, not get as much as possible for themselves
- active listening and consensus-building at work
- benefits for every worker
- living wages for all full time workers
- short commutes on bikes or feet
- full time reducing from 40 to 25 hours
- friends and family as co-workers, or at least "on site"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

from the ground up

We imagine an issue as something we can separate out, with a beginning and ending: issues like child care, water pollution, gay rights, money's influence in politics, and so on. But actually, there are no issues, distinct and finite. There are only entry points into the network of life.
- Lappe & Perkins. 2004. You Have the Power, p.160.

The network: it's more than the network of life. It's the network of the universe and particle physics. It's the network of sociality. It's the network of sympathy. It's the network of history. It's the network of food, waste, and death.

Since I must enter and I must enter somewhere and some time, choosing something and starting it as soon as possible is the right decision. I don't know what the next step will be. I try not to get hung up on doing it right or the way someone else (such as Frances Moore Lappe) does it.

Derek Jensen says he can't/won't advise people what to do, because every great action is only great/right in chronotopic context; it won't work in another place and time, without appropriate adjustment for place and time (from an issue of Ascent magazine). This seems about right.

Just doing something can be a big deal for me and my sense of life and my place in it. It can be a big deal for others' senses of life and their place in it. It can be a big deal for how whole systems function. No matter what, it's all part of big systems' functioning.

Not doing my something feels stultifying, it's frustrating, it's deadening, it's unethical. Some things I sometimes do:
  • write a letter
  • have a pot-luck
  • ride a bike
  • turn off the air conditioning
  • display a political pin or sticker
  • boycott mainstream media
  • get outside
  • buy local
  • meet my neighbours
  • listen
  • meditate
  • speak from experience
  • eat fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains
  • participate in my labour union
  • call out prejudice