Tag Archive: politics


capitalism
I was a first-time author waiting to give my first live online interview, and I was nervous. With only a few minutes to make my case for global transformation, I expected the host Gary Null to cut to the chase, but instead he opened with a curve ball. The Occupy movement was afoot, and Gary recounted seeing the police ransack a makeshift kitchen set up to feed the homeless. He was fishing for an explanation, but I could offer nothing beyond my shared vexation. Although this gave us more time to discuss my book (the title of which I nevertheless failed to mention), I soon came to regret this missed opportunity to air a topic that had been all but forbidden just a few months before: class warfare.

If I’d had more time and lucidity, I would have mentioned other gift-based movements like Food Not Bombs and The San Francisco Diggers that have faced routine harassment. I would have lamented the absurd illegality of dumpster diving. I would have talked about the War on Drugs and how America imprisons more of its citizens—mostly poor people of color—than any other country in history, mainly for petty drug offenses, while those with white skin and white collars (who use illegal drugs themselves) enjoy almost total impunity for fraud, embezzlement, insider trading, war profiteering, and other high crimes that adversely affect millions of lives. I would have described the aggressive, well-organized, and ongoing campaign led by corporate-backed politicians to kill unions, outsource and automate jobs, keep the minimum wage unlivable, defund Social Security, cut Medicaid and food stamps, and generally shred the social safety net.

I would have concluded, like my allies in Occupy and millions of other reasonable people, that an all-out war against the poor and working class has been raging for decades.

As Marx pointed out, class conflict is as old as civilization itself. But in the US, the war in question was, by most accounts, unofficially declared by Ronald Reagan, who espoused the theory that wealth would somehow “trickle down” from the upper class to the lower. Needless to say, no such trickle has occurred, and the wealth gap has since become a seemingly unbridgeable chasm. One of Reagan’s closest comrades was Margaret Thatcher, an equally ardent devotee of Ayn Rand (“altruism is evil”) who infamously asserted that “there is no such thing as society.” Thatcher also earned the nickname “TINA” for declaring “There Is No Alternative” to the pro-corporate laissez-faire economic policies, structural adjustment programs, and austerity measures that have since been imposed throughout the world, under the authority of every US President since Reagan.

Of course, most elites would deny that a class war is being waged. Among those who dare entertain the notion, the tendency is to insist that it is the rich, not the poor, who are put upon and persecuted. Such was the recent claim of Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins, who went so far as to compare the 1% to the Jews during the Holocaust. Though his hyperbole was widely criticized, Perkins was defended by the Wall Street Journal in a follow-up article that concluded: “The liberals aren’t encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents.”

Apparently for the rich right, it’s all about politics. Fairness is not the issue, nor even poverty. Never mind the billions of people worldwide who are scraping by on $1.25/day or less. Pay no attention to starving children in Zambia, sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, rice farmers in China, and struggling single mothers in the US. Forget the populist rhetoric of Obama, the admonitions of the Pope, the ideals of the Founding Fathers, and the core teachings of every major religion. Disregard the recent Oxfam report revealing that the richest 85 people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity. And if you can’t ignore such news, why not openly celebrate it like Kevin O’Leary, a reality show host and investor who called the Oxfam findings “fantastic” and asked, “What can be wrong with this?” Not to be outdone, a staff writer for Forbes described income inequality as “unrelentingly beautiful,” insisting (again in his italics) that “inequality hasn’t increased enough.”

One could dismiss these guys as renegade extremists if their ideas weren’t so apparently widespread amongst the top percentile. But normally such “greed is good” rhetoric is kept confined to smoke-filled back rooms, secret society functions, and $1000-a-plate dinners, which begs the question: why the recent public displays of psychopathy and megalomania? Perhaps the rich believe that the war on the poor has already been won, as maintained by journalist and producer of The Wire, David Simon. If indeed the common folk have been successfully subjugated, then there is little to lose by offending them, since any insurrection can and will be quickly and violently suppressed, as happened with Occupy.

On the other hand there exists a more hopeful possibility, one suggested by the persecution complex of the 1 percent: they’re worried that their halcyon days are numbered, genuinely afraid of a sudden outbreak of equality. Only time will tell if we the people will, like citizens in so many countries throughout the world, rise again in defense of our most cherished ideals.

The following article was originally published on Reality Sandwich sometime in mid October, 2012.
love

Why isn’t everyone dressed in amazing costumes and giving away food, gifts, back rubs, heartfelt hugs and compliments? Why can’t I ride around on a giant mechanical octopus that shoots flames? How come nobody is dancing in the streets? Why do I have to *pay* for things? Why are people doing things they don’t really want to do? Why is the default world so ridiculous, in the worst kind of way?

These were the burning questions that filled my mind and appeared on my Facebook page after my return from Black Rock City (more specifically, after unpacking, sleeping for what seemed like three days straight, and gradually recovering my capacity to think in a semi-logical fashion). I was having a hard time making sense of the default world and understanding why I should participate in it. Indeed, it struck me as exceptionally weird that anyone would want to take part in the mind-numbing, soul-crushing, earth-ravaging, life-denying enterprise called modern techno-industrial culture. Inasmuch as I was able to maintain a consistent thought, it was this: What, exactly, is the point of it all?

It didn’t help that my period of reintegration and recovery coincided with the Democratic National Convention, at which speaker after speaker spouted the same jingoistic affirmations of American exceptionalism and promises of economic revival. Although several folks acknowledged global warming as genuine threat, nobody seemed to understand that on a planet with finite resources, economic growth is the not the solution but the problem. As Chris Hedges points out in a recent article, to believe in continued economic expansion amidst continued ecological failure is to embrace a delusion—a pathological one, I might add.

The closest anyone came to speaking truth to power was when the economist and senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren asserted that the system is rigged. She was referring, of course, to the unfair advantages enjoyed by the 1% through tax cuts and loopholes, corporate welfare and subsidies, full-time lobbyists, and the ability to purchase politicians and thus undermine our supposedly democratic system. But despite Warren’s candor—not to mention the sincerity of the FLOTUS, the warm vegan glow of Bill Clinton, and the usual confidence of the POTUS—no mention was made of capitalism as a whole being a rigged game that inevitably increases economic disparity between the haves and have-nots. Doubtless this would have quieted the chants of “USA!” and “Four More Years!” from those who seem to want a bigger slice of the American pie rather than a brand new recipe.

Then there was this CNN video clip of Tea Party chairperson Amy Kremer, who tried desperately to make the case that Obama doesn’t love America “the way we do” (the “we” apparently referred to conservative WASPs, although Kremer refused to clarify). Her central claim was that Obama has “a global…a global…oh, what’s the word?” She seemed to be groping for the word “perspective,” although she might have preferred the sinister-sounding term “agenda.” Eventually Kremer clarified that this one-world outlook of Obama represents an evil that cannot be tolerated. Evidently Romney and the Tea Partiers inhabit an alternate reality in which there exist multiple worlds—presumably red and blue, American and un-American, Christian and anti-Christian, freedom-loving and freedom-hating, etc. This myriad worlds notion might be laughable if it weren’t just a variation on the theme advanced by both parties that the earth can and must provide unlimited economic growth for the benefit of a single species—a small percentage of our species at that.

Apart from being delusional, proponents of this idea never bother to address the fundamental question posed earlier: What’s the point? Why is unlimited growth a good thing? The obvious answer that it can only be beneficial inasmuch as it contributes to human happiness, while the obvious realization is that it obviously isn’t working (and not just because the working class isn’t working). One need not consult the depressing statistics on depression; signs of unhappiness are painfully apparent everywhere. Indeed one of the biggest challenges of my return from Burning Man was precisely this realization that very few people in the default world seemed genuinely happy.

Not that I was particularly surprised, having experienced this aspect of culture shock many times now, whether post-Burn, after each of many voyages abroad, or in the wake of various inner journeys. In fact, my contention is that the current global system—let’s call it Calvinist corporate capitalism—not only fails to foster human happiness, it is actively antagonistic to it. If you happen to be happy, it isn’t because of the system but despite it; you have managed to avoid being indoctrinated and infected with the addictive grasping after more and more—more money, more possessions, more power, more pleasure, more praise. Perhaps you’ve learned that the “pursuit of happiness” is an oxymoron, that contentment (not bland “good enoughness” but scintillating joy) is not something to chase after but to allow. It does not exist somewhere in the future and cannot be found out on the ever-receding horizon of “progress,” but can only happen in the here and now.

Despite all the recent books and expensive seminars on the subject, happiness is actually quite simple. The primary components are decent health, a sense of security, of community, and of meaning. Unfortunately, all of these basic human aspirations are thwarted by global capitalism, which feeds us GMO and junk food, promotes warfare and competition above human welfare and peace, converts natural wealth into “goods” and connection into commodity (i.e. “services”), and defines individual purpose as the capacity to consume or otherwise contribute to GDP. By contrast, Burning Man strengthens community and trust through cooperation and gifting. By providing a break from corporate culture and advertising, it allows us to see that the American dream is indeed an empty fantasy, mainly because life is more about giving than getting. Last but certainly not least, Burning Man reminds us that nothing is permanent.

So if you’ve been wondering why all those dusty people in all those Facebook pictures are smiling like there’s no tomorrow, it’s because in that world—dare I say the real world—there isn’t.

Rising Tides and Shifting Paradigms: A Post-Election Breakdown

Looking back on the Presidential election, it would be easy to be cynical. Most people seem to have voted against the greater of two evils, and total turnout was only 57.5 percent, lower than in the previous two elections. This means that Obama was re-elected by about a quarter of the American electorate, which is hardly a mandate. In fact, every one of the so-called United States has since filed for secession. A progressive might say that at best we dodged a bullet; at worst the drones are set to blast what remains of our civil liberties.

But when we shift our focus and cast our gaze beyond the Presidency, a different and more hopeful picture emerges. Although overall numbers were down, voter participation increased among young people, African Americans, Asians, and Latinos—all left leaning groups that aren’t about to shrink into obscurity. Needless to say, this does not bode well for Republicans, especially if this election portends the color and shape of things to come.

What Democracy Looks Like
More women senators were elected than at any other time, bringing the total up to twenty—one-fifth of the Senate. Among these women are the first openly lesbian senator (Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin), the first Asian American—and first Buddhist—senator (Mazie Hirono of Hawaii), and the first female senator from Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren, a supporter of the Occupy movement). The House will have its first its first Hindu (Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii) and its first bisexual atheist (Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona), while West Virginia and North Dakota will have their first openly gay state legislators.

At the state level, marijuana was decriminalized in Washington and Colorado; same-sex marriage was legalized in Maryland, Maine, and Washington; and Montana and Colorado passed initiatives stating that corporations are not people. The Senate seats from Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida all turned from deep red to blue, and in California, Democrats won a super-majority in the state legislature.

In general, the GOP took such a trouncing that pundits immediately began calling it obsolete and irrelevant. Indeed, it’s hard to see how the party could possibly continue standing on its rickety old platform—anti-women, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-poor, anti-intellectual, anti-environment—amidst rising tides both figurative and literal. Ever since the 2008 stock market crash at least, most Americans realize that the Republican panacea—trickle-down economics—is nothing but snake oil. Furthermore, the party’s Christian base is shriveling, inspiring the blogosphere to proclaim the end of the old white man era, perhaps even the beginning of the end of patriarchy itself. At the very least, the GOP will be forced to moderate its views and distance itself from its kookier constituents.

Nothing less than a political paradigm shift is afoot. Although there are practical reasons for this that involve changing demographics, I would like to venture beyond the mundane into the cosmic realm in order to show that dramatic change is not just in the air; it’s in the stars.

Prometheus the Awakener
Before going galactic with 2012, let’s start in our own solar system with the first of the three outer planets, Uranus, associated with revolution, rebellion, novelty, ingenuity, and with the mythological figure of Prometheus, bringer of fire. Back in 2009, Uranus entered into a 90° relationship with Pluto, correlated with profound transformation, raw power, libidinal urges, and deep unconscious forces. The last time these two planets were in dynamic aspect was during the 60s and early 70s, when enormous strides were made in the areas of civil rights, gender equality, sexual liberation, gay rights, and ecological awareness. It was a period of artistic experimentation, radical self-expression, and psychedelic exploration that threatened to upend the status quo. Understandably, conservatives were freaked out, and the inevitable backlash lasted for decades—arguably until November 6, 2012.

The current Uranus-Pluto square will last until 2020, providing another window of opportunity through which the forces of radical change can leap. This time around, our growing edges seem to be gay marriage, transgender issues, drug use, religious tolerance, and freedom of information, especially in regard to the Internet, which began taking form during the previous Uranus-Pluto cycle. Partly because of this Promethean global medium, formerly fringe issues are gaining wide exposure and gradual acceptance among the older mainstream, while most younger folks who’ve grown up in a digital, multicultural, postmodern world take it for granted that people should be free to marry whomever, dress however, smoke whatever, and worship however they please. Mitt, meet the politics and the politicians of the future.

That is, assuming there will indeed be a future beyond December 21st, 2012, when the solstice sun aligns with the galactic center for the first time in 26,000 years. All signs say yes, 2013 will arrive, although the forecast calls for intense solar activity that could disrupt the electrical and communications grids and cause more extreme weather on a rapidly overheating planet.

Perhaps 2012 is largely symbolic, marking our official transition into the Age of Aquarius. The waning Age of Pisces has been dominated by Christianity (symbolized by a fish) and by religion in general (associated with Neptune, ruler of Pisces). Given that Aquarius is ruled by our freewheeling friend, Uranus, astrologers expect the next two millennia to be characterized by democracy, humanitarianism, universal tolerance, and accelerated technological innovation.

The Peril and Promise Ahead
Zooming out even further, we can see signs that an even deeper shift is underway. Another significant astrological alignment involves the two outermost planets, Neptune and Pluto, which are in a 60° relationship that began in the middle of the 20th century and will last until the middle of the 21st. As noted astrologer and cultural historian Rick Tarnas writes:

“We are living today at the moment when . . . the largest planetary cycles known to us have just completed their conjunctions in succession, marking the full initiation of the corresponding archetypal dynamics for the next several centuries . . . Our present moment in history is most comparable, astronomically, to the period exactly five hundred years ago . . . that brought forth the birth of the modern self during the decades surrounding the year 1500.” (Cosmos and Psyche, p482)

The modern era has been all but defined by what the philosopher Jean Gebser calls perspectival consciousness—a single-minded rationalism that has led to world brimming with technology yet wanting in wisdom. This is partly why Gebser also calls this the deficient mental structure of consciousness, which began crumbling during the early 20th century under the weight of discoveries by Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr, and other physicists who challenged the Newtonian, mechanistic paradigm that had held sway for the previous few centuries. Also during the early 20th century, artists like Picasso and Braque began depicting objects from multiple perspectives and times, while postmodernists initiated a mental deconstruction project that continues to this day.

In fact, we’re still struggling to assimilate the insights of quantum physics and to broaden our collective worldview to include other forms of consciousness besides left-brain, linear logic. The emerging form integrates yet sees through all the more fundamental forms—mental, mythical, magical, and archaic—in order to access deeper truths and realize the numinous. What Gebser dubbed the integral structure of consciousness is characterized by freedom from the constraints of time and of the ego, among other qualities difficult to describe in language (and a in brief overview). Perhaps it is best likened to an altered state in which “the witness” remains fully present, as in lucid dreaming.

Not only does a shift in consciousness take time, it takes diligence to maintain the emerging structure. During a transition period such as we’re now undergoing, it’s easy to slip back into magical and mythical thinking, as we can see in certain New Age groups and among conservatives who cling to a pre-rational worldview that rejects scientific notions, particularly evolution—arguably science’s most profound insight—and climate change, our most urgent global problem. Author Gary Lachman explains: “As the dominant structures collapse, a ‘free space’ is made available, a ‘spiritual vacuum’ that will be filled with either creative or destructive forces. Any sort of leap also includes the possibility of a fall.” (Secret History, p243)

So just because we have certain cosmic forces on our side does not mean that the coming decades will be easy. If the Occupy movement has taught us anything, it is that the forces of resistance and oppression remain strong. But perhaps the heavy-handedness of the powers-that-be is just an indication that they are losing their grip. Whether consciously or not, even the minions of Saturn know that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, equality, and a fuller expression of human being. From the rejection of monarchy to the abolition of slavery to civil rights to gay rights, history does not march backward into darkness. Though she may occasionally lose her way, she stumbles inexorably toward the light of freedom.

Dear graduates,

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak to you here in the hallowed halls of my imagination, in this remarkable place where iconoclasts like me are asked to give speeches at major universities. This is a tremendous honor.

As I’m sure you all know, commencement means beginning. The word is synonymous with start, onset, outset, inception, and initiation. Thus under ordinary circumstances, I would be expected to tell you about the glorious future that awaits you on the other side of tomorrow’s hangover. But this speech will not be ordinary, because these times are anything but ordinary.

In fact, it makes much more sense for me to talk about endings—things that are finishing, stopping, terminating, concluding, ceasing, and dying. The list, unfortunately, is long, so I’ll mention only the grandest of finales.

Let’s start with the fact that we’re currently witnessing—and causing—the most significant geologic shift in 65 million years. The Cenozoic Era, which began with the relatively sudden extinction of the dinosaurs and initiated an unprecedented explosion of biodiversity, is now closing with the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. Our only known living companions in the universe are disappearing at a staggering rate, never to return. This information is so overwhelming that each one of us will spend the rest of our lives trying to process it.

Yet if we don’t start processing it, in our schools and institutions and media and ultimately in our hearts, our own species might soon join the dearly departed. This would mark the last stop on the evolutionary journey of a species uniquely capable of reflecting on and celebrating its own existence, considering its own mortality, and feeling compassion for other living and dying creatures. This is to say nothing about symbolic language, poetry, music, dance, art, Facebook, and other uniquely human forms of expression.

In terms of duration, the next longest period wrapping up is one that should be familiar to all of you: the end of Mayan calendar. Technically, December 21st, 2012, is widely thought to be the terminus of the current Long Count calendar, which has a cycle of about 5,125 years. Whether or not this coming winter solstice will be the actual end of the world is up to you, this year’s graduates. To be fair, it’s up to all of us who are alive today. Surely we cannot expect to be saved from our own ignorance, arrogance, and irreverence by Jesus in a spaceship.

Interestingly, the period of the Mayan Long count corresponds roughly to the period of recorded history, most of which has indeed been his story: an account of bearded patriarchs, masculine messiahs, virile warriors, powerful rulers, intrepid adventurers, and founding fathers. In short, it’s all been about Empire—the quest for domination and control rather than partnership and cooperation. So how’s that been working out? Not so well, obviously, especially for the life-bearing members of our Earth community, and for Mother Nature herself. Thankfully, this juvenile phase of our existence is also coming to an end as its faulty phallocentric assumptions crumble under the weight of its excessive armor.

The end of history itself was proclaimed in 1989 by Frances Fukuyama, who saw the culmination of mankind’s ideological evolution in liberal democracy and free market capitalism. Unfortunately, Fukuyama was a neocon—one of those economic fundamentalists who worship the “invisible hand” while ignoring the all-too-visible fist that smashes real democracy by imposing structural adjustments and austerity measures upon debtor nations, thereby killing the middle class and relegating the population to perpetual servitude to the World Bank and IMF.

A similar process is now happening in the Divided States of America, the last and largest national empire in history. Although the demise of our country has been happening for a few decades, it has become painfully apparent as we confront deepening crises in the areas of economics, politics, health care, criminal justice, education, and the arts. With the rapid rise of our prison system—the most expensive and extensive in the world—and the introduction of automated spy drones, free speech zones, warrantless wiretaps, and countless other measures, we are steadily becoming a police state: one nation under surveillance. So ends the greatest experiment in human freedom, with a barely audible, muffled whimper.

The American Empire has been fueled in large part by cheap oil, the disappearance of which signifies the end of another era. In a pathetic effort to keep our economic engines running on long-dead organisms, we are now tar-sanding and fracking our selves and our planet into oblivion. These extraction processes are extremely costly, both economically and ecologically, representing a frantic attempt to scrape the bottom of the barrel. Comparisons to a junkie searching for a fix are not merely metaphorical; they are the only explanation for our profoundly irrational and self-destructive behavior. In an article entitled “Welcome to the Asylum,” Chris Hedges writes:

“When civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft. Reality, at the end, gets unplugged.”

This disconnection from reality, from Nature, from history, from sanity, from our own heart-minds, makes us susceptible to becoming mere automatons—robotic entities running on unconscious, destructive programs fed to us by the Military-Industrial-Corporate-Media-Education Complex, which understands only one word—profit—and obeys only one directive: more. The Empire Machine, although created by people and granted the rights of persons, does not speak any human language. Knowing only quantity, it is blind to quality, to truth, to beauty, to love. It does not understand the language of the heart, nor does it speak the language of life. In fact, it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that The Machine is programmed to destroy life on Earth, and by all accounts it is doing an excellent job.

At this point on our history, we know better than to listen to the Washington politicians and Wall Street banksters who slavishly serve The Empire Machine. They feed it with life energy in the form of natural and social capital, and in return it feeds their collective addiction to power, prestige, and money. These worldly treasures will be offered to you, too, just as they were offered to Jesus during his ordeal in the desert, and to the Buddha on the eve of his enlightenment. Indeed the shimmering spoils of Empire are dangled in front of your eyes at every waking moment, through the sophisticated and relentless efforts of media and advertising.

I am here to beseech you: resist the allure of power and money with all your might. These are counterfeit forms of wealth, fool’s gold. Not only will they will fail to make you happy, they will destroy your capacity for happiness. At best, they will provide the illusion of happiness, just like any drug, and at worst they will turn you into an addict who will lie, cheat, steal, and betray those he loves in a desperate attempt to maintain his habit. I urge you to let the pusher know that you are not a pushover.

Do not buy into the myth of progress. Things are not getting better, and they will not get better, unless you make them better. And the way to do that is to break the cycle of addiction and put an end to Empire, to take part in the revolution to end all revolutions. This is your mission, should you choose to accept it. It will not be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure. You will get to apply your natural abilities and creative gifts while engaging your deep capacity for caring. You will make real friends and experience true intimacy, most importantly with yourself. Instead of feeling hollow inside, you will feel holy inside, and thus see sacredness everywhere you look.

In order to succeed in stopping The Empire Machine, we must also unplug the machine within ourselves: the unconscious impulses and false stories of our deficiency. Despite what you have been taught, you are enough, just as you are. You are beautiful, talented, knowledgeable, capable, and complete. Not only that, but you are also a member of the largest, most ecologically conscious, politically aware, culturally sensitive, technically savvy, and interconnected generation in history. The success of your mission is all but guaranteed, should enough of you embrace it fully.

One of the keys to happiness is having a sense of purpose. Because of how much is at stake, we who are alive today have the opportunity to live the most meaningful lives that have ever been lived. Either that, or the best and brightest minds, with all their unique capacities and gifts, will be squandered, along with the infinitely precious gift of life itself.

May the force be with you.

PS: Good luck paying back that student loan.