Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Project for a New American Peonage


It seems a bit narcissistic to reference my own words, but 'twas a long post and this point may have gotten lost in the underbrush.
Graphictruth: My Muted Obamamania: "Reality is not optional in Politics. We have had far too much post-modern bullshit, and quite frankly, it's making ME want to cling to the hard cold reality that a handgun represents. A gun is simple, understandable and comforting in times of trouble - even when it's an utterly useless comfort. Even when you know perfectly well that your troubles are not ones that can be dismissed with 'a whiff of grape-shot' or rightfully blamed on the symptoms of malfeasance and greed, such as outsourcing and illegal immigration.

We have the right to expect leaders who understand that it's their job to keep things from getting to such a point where we start to think wistfully about deploying Occam's Machine-Gun."

And there's another point in there that I wanted to sharpen a bit more.

We do have a right to be bitter about the results of being exploited and pandered to for political gain as a substitute for actual competent, compassionate and intelligently conservative management of our interests on our behalf. Hell, conservative voters have completely given up on the idea of government or their taxes bringing them any benefit - so long as it benefits nobody else, and so long as their frustrations are expressed in making the rubble jump somewhere far away.

But it's not enough, and it's certainly not worth three four dollar gasoline and milk at $3.50 when your wages have been stagnant for a decade or two.

"You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." I think P.T. Barnum said that, and such philosophies were the root of an amazing and improbable fortune.

Now, let me conflate this with something I learned at my father's knee - he being a traveling salesman - was that the only way to sell was to totally convince yourself that what you were saying was true. The more dubious the proposition, the more skill it took to do that.

Of course, an honest person would look at this and think, "well, that's easy enough, don't sell things people won't want and don't need."

But look around you. Or just turn to the Home Shopping Network for a minute or two, and you will realize that they are not selling you the crappy cheap bauble or appliance of dubious utility, but rather a "lifestyle," a sense of security, of prosperity, of entitlement; of belonging to an "in group."

Do not think for a moment that those feelings deliberately raised in your hind-brain and attached to your choices in shopping, fashion, entertainment or politics are in any way genuine. It's a scam, and I can tell you that, because as I said, I learned to do this at my father's knee.

Now, the beauty of this from the viewpoint of our supposed Lords and Masters is that if we are indebting ourselves for a sense of false community with an an illusion prosperity and security, we will never actually build real communities that can provide real prosperity and security.

For instance - five families can individually go broke trying to maintain a cardboard McMansion apiece - or they could pool their skills, labor and buying power to build five real solid houses that would be more suited to each and far more valuable in the long run. If you want to learn all you need to know to do this - spend some time volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

A substantial something - a solid home, a paid-off vehicle, a meaningful job doing what you would do anyway - is a far valuable than any appearance of prosperity built on debt, even if it seems like you are "less prosperous." And when this choice puts money in the bank at interest, you have options that no wage-slave can even imagine.

This is so obvious that it hardly bears mentioning, and yet somehow we trip over something that is even more basic. Our need for community is such a powerful thing that it can completely override our self interest and make us fools for slavers and demagogues.

Even unreasonably well-paying jobs and tremendously important and meaningful careers may have a huge downside. If it places great stress on you either because of it's nature or because you absolutely hate doing it, you are actually converting your health into money - at a net loss. The same is true for jobs that have unavoidable health consequences or irreducible risks. If you are investing your future well-being into maintaining a paycheck-to-paycheck "lifestyle," you are freakin' hosed.

That is the mass delusion we have bought into - that it's better to go into debt to have new shiny crap than something that does what you need with total reliability, and that it is sensible to buy into a community on the condition that you continue to pay into it month by month with either money or labor.

A real community gives an unconditional crap about you; will take care of you if you are ill and raise your children if you die. A real community will not need to refer to a contract to do the right thing in either case because at the most basic, a community is an extended family, composed of individuals who depend upon one another and who know precisely to what degree, in what ways and with what resources each other individual may be presumed upon at need.

These ARE "Traditional Family Values." It has nothing to do with gay marriage, patriarchal structures, religious choice or morality. It's all about shared trust and mutual self-interest; whatever works to that end is Good, and whatever gets in the way of that is Bad.

Right now, there's an awful lot of Bad getting in the way of applying those values to practical outcomes.

It would be tragic enough if our fixation upon shiny trinkets and false profits (pun intended) were merely a common delusion of individuals - but in fact it's infested our government and our entire leadership class. Indeed, I rather imagine that there are quite a few people living "the good life" in "hunt country" with all the trappings of old money that are in fact leveraged to the eyeballs, to the point where any questions raised about ethical choices merely provokes bitter laughter.

Far too many of us have found that we are in situations where, seemingly, we have lost the option of even WISHING to be ethical people living blameless and productive lives. Even our religions have become mechanisms for shifting blame; if they had to rely on the good will of honest people, they would certainly be unable to support their institutional selves at the level of luxury and influence to which they have become accustomed.

But it's never too late to make a choice. The answer to all councils of despair and accommodation is this; YOU may not be able to "make a difference" if that effort depends on other people changing their lives and making choices you think they should make. If you wish to bring about a positive change in your life and the lives around you, change your life. Don't try to force others to change for your benefit - it's rude and it never works.

Enticements succeed where even naked force will fail, which is why capitalism and the free market is such a powerful idea - one that persists in spite of all attempts to co-opt it's power for the benefit of plutocrats and Party Members.

This is where I return to the example of five families building five homes, or five businesses, or five cars - or any such obviously mutually beneficial thing. Am I advocating socialism or some sort of Commune? Hell, no! It's pure Capitalism with direct conversion of sweat into equity.

Realize that it's always most profitable to get a direct benefit from your own effort. The use of money to pay for labor always translates into doing more work than you would have had to do. Ideally, you wish to trade labor for labor, not labor for money. But in order to do that effectively, there must be a large enough talent pool. Money is only a means to that end, as is credit. This is the point that both doctrinaire Capitalists and Communists miss to the point that they make practical forms of economic co-operation with either emphasis impossible in practice.

Money is simply stored labor. Labor is a form of capital, then. The more skilled the labor, the more valuable it is - but only if it can be applied to create real and persistent assets. Some types of labor do not produce "real" assets that are of direct value, they are "intangibles," such as art, music, literature, but they are also the things that make our lives livable and keep us entertained while our hands are busy.

Both are tools that you need, but should try to avoid using to avoid minor inconveniences and slight frustrations.

The real key here is when you work at a job in our current economy while using the proceeds of that job to service debt and "maintain a lifestyle," you are not free. You are a serf - tied to a job by means of debt. This is all the more true if your medical coverage depends upon that job.

This is a very damn expensive way to provide medical care, since it divides the risk pool into many shallow puddles, and indeed, quite a few corporations are whining about the huge expense and the need for universal health care.

But in fact, the price is rather low, compared to the thugs, dogs and fences that would otherwise be required to maintain a captive work-force.

So, here's my question: "Who are you working for?" Look at your budget, look at your real assets - the ones that you truly own. Look at your savings and future security. Look at your access to health care.

Are you, in fact free? Run the numbers. If you cannot afford to just say "shove it" and walk away from your job, you are not free and you cannot meaningfully call yourself a free citizen.

The most fundamental reason why the Franchise was first limited to free white property owners is that Free White Property owners were the only people economically independant enough to be contrary as a matter of principle.

The ideal of a proper government is to expand the meaningful franchise - which means expanding that degree of liberty as widely as possible.

Right now, the average person cannot afford principles. You probably cannot say "no" to outrageous presumptions, whether it be uncompensated overtime, sexual harassment or committing acts you know to be immoral, illegal or just plain stupid. You cannot insist on either doing the job right, or not at all. And these days, it's becoming iffy as to whether or not you even have the "right" to insist on being paid.

Let's go back to those five families. Consider all the capital they would build up by working together to provide comfortable homes for themselves. At some point, about the time college comes around, they have solidly feathered physical nests and money in the bank. One or more of those children is probably well-suited for a career in medicine. Doesn't it make sense to pool together to put one or two through medical school in return for a promise from that person to provide primary care to all five families? Hm. And a business degree or two might come in handy...

Of course the shiny new professionals will need things to do and places to do them ... so while those kids are in school, the families literally build a practice, and now, from the start of bare earth and sweat, we are on our way to building real wealth, because again, rent is simply money down the drain. If rent is to be paid, it should be paid TO the enterprise, not come out of it.

These are real old-fashioned family values. Me first, family second, clan third and country last - because each of those things depends on all needs of the more basic unit being fulfilled fully and first. Anything less than that is, in fact, a hidden debt or a concealed tax.

If you are sacrificing yourself for your family, your job, your cause or your nation, you literally have the cart before the horse, for none of those things will do all that well if the foundation of them - the individuals such as you - are not properly rewarded and fulfilled in doing so.

Real freedom requires that we invest in the freedom of others.

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