The following “rant” has been written by a friend of mine, a former journalist and professor of communications who wishes to remain anonymous, but who would also like to share some of the thoughts that have been rattling around in their head.
Wild Fish, Monster Machines and the New Green Corporate State Economism: Part 1 – The Indignados
One essential characteristic of the modern age is worship of money and the machine.To suggest the modern age is morally bankrupt is an understatement.
“The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly human goal.”
In recent times, Pope Francis has been outspoken in his criticism of the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. This, of course, is in direct lineage of the teachings of Jesus – easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven.
But, as Michel Foucault points out with a nod to Weber, there was an explicit change during the Reformation when the concept developed that wealthy people amassed riches because they were favoured by God. (Foucault suggests that now under neoliberalism the favour is granted by the state.)
British academic Joan Robinson points out “the bourgeois superstructure (is) a social hierarchy based on wealth.”
According to British economist EF Schumacher – “In a sense, the market is the institutionalism of individualism and non-responsibility.” In “Small is Beautiful: Economic Development as if People Mattered,” Schumacher describes “the idolatry of economism”.
Economism can be described as the pursuit of immediate personal (corporate) economic interests instead of long-term collective interests of society as a whole. Our view is that community is more than an aggregate of individuals. Realization of community means an awareness of a greater whole than oneself – the common good. But our consciousness in western societies has been determined by decades of tunnel vision advertising/public relations (as originally implanted by Edward Bernays) and an education system which has replaced civics/citizenship with consumerism and greed.
So it is somewhat of a surprise today to read Moses Coady – A Nova Scotia priest and St. Francis Xavier University adult educator (Antigonish Movement) writing in the 1930s.
“Our people in a modern democracy have little liberty left under the dictatorship of big business and finance, but they have yet enough to break through to the freedom they desire if they ever muster up in reality the fighting spirit which the revolutionaries attribute to them in theory.”
“It is in economic control that political power lies. Because the masses of people have little part in the regulation of the processes of society, they have come to look upon government as an institution apart from themselves. From this state of mind arise the evils of the present economic system.”
“Civic affairs are in the hands of anti-social political machines.”
His views were perhaps influenced by his cousin Father Jimmy – former St. FX vice-president and activist working with Canso fishermen and Cape Breton coal miners – writing in 1914.
“We have the most hopeless type of politician in Antigonish, on both sides…It is self interest first, votes second, the country comes in towards the foot of the list.”
“Some of the bosses have been running this country to perdition – taking care of their own pockets and letting the devil look after the rest of us.”
Years ago, I was visited by an El Salvadorean NBC cameraman (an uncle of friends in Nova Scotia). I was finishing up a video project on computer and he was browsing the library. In our conversation, I raved about a book on participatory democracy.
He said (sadly almost): “For me, democracy is a dirty word.”
At the time, I attributed this to the horrible experience of living under US sponsored Latin American dictatorships – but now, I’m not so sure.
Democracy in Nova Scotia has always been somewhat of a joke.
In the 1980s, I worked in Nova Scotia as a newspaper reporter photographer/city editor. I can recall when at a municipal council social Premier John Buchanan introduced highways minister Tom McGinnis as his “minister of patronage”.
About the same time, when MLA Pat Hunt tried a Quixotic battle against patronage, his own party put up election signs for the opposition. He lost – of course – saying “I feel like Anwar Sadat, shot in the back by my own troops.”
Way back in the 1700s, influential Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau mocked the British concept of democratic governance. Rousseau, of course, wrote the Social Contract – possibly the most influential book of the 18th century. (“Man is born free and yet we see him everywhere in chains.”)
“The people of England deceive themselves when they fancy they are free; they are so in fact, only during the election of members of parliament: for, as soon as a new one is elected, they are again in chains, and are nothing.”
I was teaching communication technology overseas when the Nova Scotia government held a major referendum (its only referendum, as far as I’m aware).
The question was whether people wanted big corporate stores to be able to open on Sundays. (There was no barrier to small, local stores, restaurants, farmers markets – just the big corporations. Most local businesses chose to take the day off.)
The majority voted to keep the big corporate businesses closed. Some people obviously voted for religious reasons but trade unionists feared it would further big business dominance over the workforce, and most people – I expect – just wanted that one day a week to spend with their families.
This referendum – the only time Nova Scotians have been allowed to make a democratic governance choice – was rejected when two grocery chains – Sobey’s and Loblaw’s – opposed the will of the people.
They won – of course – clearly demonstrating how fragile the concept of democracy in Nova Scotia.
But at least this was a transparent process of corporations taking control and overturning a democratic process.
As we all know, most corporate government decisions are made in back rooms without public knowledge.
One might say we live under the P. T. Barnum school of governance – “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Modern Canadian corporate governments rave about processes of consultation (often the implementation of divide and conquer) but when a community group opposes corporate government policy, they are ignored.
The recent dropping of a huge turbine into the Minas Channel was opposed by fishermen and their organizations. But, of course, the fishermen were put down by a powerful coalition of big foreign corporations, Acadia University, and the federal provincial corporate governments.
The Japanese talk about the educational industrial complex.
Father Jimmy again (1907): “I decline to sit at the rich man’s gate praying for crumbs…What is the true function of a University? Is it to train the nation’s best men, or to sell its gifts to the rich?”
One might even add the judiciary to the equation. One fishers’ group took the foreign corporations to court to delay the process until proper consultations took place.
The judiciary of course supported the foreign corporations (the decision conveniently met the French deadline). But it’s traditional for the Nova Scotian government and its judiciary to favour foreign corporations over its own citizens.
Remember in the 80s when a Swedish company, STORA, was taken to court by Cape Breton rural people who objected to the company’s wholesale spraying of chemicals on the forest. The judiciary supported STORA and people actually had to sell their farms and properties to pay the cost of the lawsuit.
When the telecommunication giant, Bell, took over Maritime Tel, with its USA corporate style, the employees went on strike – for a year. The government gave them no support and gave Bell free rein.
However now, despite corporate media/public relations control, recent elections in the USA and Europe demonstrate that people are starting to “get it” and are objecting to being ignored by their corporate governments. One might say the writing is on the wall.
As the IMFs Christine LaGarde told this year’s Davos – it’s a major problem if eight billionaires own as much wealth as half the world’s population – 3.6 billion people. Will corporate governments do anything about it? No.
Many people including George Monbiot – writing in The Guardian – are trying to figure it out – he has focused on education and advertising – noting modern neurobio-advertising practises which take into account the developing brains of children.
But will modern corporate governments do anything about these problems? No.
It would seem the corporate government “democracies” – actually oligarchies – are based on the political party system (and supported by its winner take all election practice.)
So the solution might be – as radical as it might seem – to simply drop the political party system – and professional politicians.
A few years ago, Belgium went for a record 589 days without a government formed of political parties and professional politicians. Belgians I talked to said it worked great – best government they ever had.
Spain also went for months without an elected government – many people joined the informal movement The Indignados with the slogan – they (the politicians) don’t represent us.
Austerity governance can be perceived as failure of government for the people – the extreme recently happened in Brazil where the government enshrined frozen educational and health funding in the constitution for decades. This has been recognized as “war on the poor”.
Although in Spain a left wing populist party – Podemos – opposed to austerity and “the political caste” – has popped up, the most interesting development in Spain is the widespread and changing coalition of civic groups and causes.
This has been very visible at the municipal level with non-party-aligned radical mayors (all women) winning elections in Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia.
In the past 40 years of the takeover of the corporate state (globalism/neoliberalism/economism) the world economy has grown malignantly by 380 per cent – as part of the equation we have now more than a billion more people living in poverty. Eight billionaires have as much wealth as half the world population. There’s a problem.
A provincial politician attended a meeting of a local anti-poverty group and was asked what his government colleagues are going to do about increasing poverty. He replied – the system is broken.
But it’s not a broken system – the system is working very well for the one per cent who have designed and control the system. Billions of people living in poverty are simply part of the system.
Radical problems require radical solutions. Attempts to reform the system – as suggested by George Monbiot – are not enough.
The world is – as Eduardo Galeano suggests – upside down – we need to collectively and collaboratively turn it right side up.
Podemos (We Can).
Father Jimmy. Jim Lotz and Michael R. Welton.
Sultans of Sleaze. Joyce Nelson.
Small is Beautiful. EF Schumacher.
The Guardian. Opinion. George Monbiot.
The Birth of Biopolitics. Michel Foucault.
Masters of Their Own Destiny. Moses Coady.
The Social Contract. Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Upside Down. Eduardo Galleano.
The Century of the Self. Adam Curtis.
Jason Hickel. Global Development Professionals Network. The Guardian.