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Occupy Wall Street User Manual--Part 1by Daniel Johnson, Deputy Executive Editor
Knowledge is power.
(Calgary, Alberta) - Knowledge is power.
In the 19th century, history was largely explained by The Great Man Theory , the paradigm that history was made and driven by extraordinary individuals who, through either charisma, intelligence, wisdom, or Machiavellian skills, expressed their power in a way that had a decisive impact on the flow of history.
Herbert Spencer, the 19th century Father of Sociology, rejected this idea, saying that such “great” men are really the products of their social milieu, and that their actions would be impossible outside their social environment.
Consider World War I. It was the Great Men who started the conflagration that ended up killing tens of millions of people—virtually all innocent. But it was one man, Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb who, on 28 June 1914, assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg—that set it off.
One man, set off the European firestorm, but it was the three royal first cousins (through Queen Victoria—grandmother to two of them and grandmother-in-law to the third)--King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who made the decisions to actually go to war. They had presided over the buildup of arms, armies and interlocking alliances that, once Princip “lit” the fuse, the resulting carnage became inevitable. Peace in 1914 was so precarious, that any number of other individual or group actions could have pushed Europe into war.
It’s not hard to argue, or to imagine, that the Occupy Wall Street movement is in an analogously similar historical position. In this case, it was Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old itinerant street seller in Tunisia, who set off the Arab Spring and gave impetus to OWS. Bouazizi was the sole breadwinner of an extended family of eight and one day, the police confiscated his fruit and vegetable cart and its contents. He tried to pay the “fine” but could not get a hearing. Corrupt authorities blocked him on every turn until he felt he had no other choice. On 17 December 2010, he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. With burns on up to 90% of his body, he remained in a coma and died eighteen days later, on 4 January 2011.
But the shift had already begun on 18 December, the day after his self-immolation, with revolutions in Tunisia, and later Egypt; a civil war in Libya resulting in the fall of its government; civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen, major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman; and lesser protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara.
The Occupy movement is routinely disparaged, ridiculed and denied by right-wingers who insult the participants as being know-nothing “hippies”, parasites and deadbeats, suggesting that what they need to do is have a bath and get a job (see any Fox commentator on this point). The most significant criticism is that they are an unfocussed rabble with no specific demand or set of demands. Lack of focus is an issue because, fundamentally, they are simply against the excesses of capitalism, which adds up to capitalism per se—too many issues to put on a protest sign, or summarize in a slogan. And yet, wrote Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald
Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power—in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions—is destroying financial security for everyone else?
A few weeks later writer Paul Berman concurred:
Everyone intuitively knows the demands.
Historian Michael Kazin, summed it up:
By finally making the gulf between the wealthiest class and everyone else impossible to ignore, the occupiers, in their tenacious rage, are doing a great service to our country.
Working our way up the ladder of commentary we arrive at hedge fund billionaire George Soros, supporter of the left (he wasn’t always so) who said:
The salient feature of the current financial crisis is that it was not caused by some external shock, the crisis was generated by the system itself.
Occupy Wall Street is fundamentally against the system, but the complaint is largely inchoate, what former VP Al Gore called “a primal scream of democracy.
An alternate name used by OWS supporters is The 99 percenters. They recognize the incredible disparities and inequalities in modern society when the top 1% take increasingly larger shares of the national economic pie, with no provision in law for change, and that the elected government (already having been bought by the 1%) shows absolutely no interest in changing any aspect of the status quo.
People have been fighting against an unjust system for a long time, with bits of progress here and there--winning battles but losing the war. There is only one thing that can potentially change the outcome and give power to democratic citizens: The argument must be reframed.
Capitalism is based on the Darwinian assumption that man is just an animal and only an animal—albeit one with the advantages of opposable thumbs and a bigger brain, and that human society is based on corresponding animal instincts and principles—struggle for existence and survival of the fittest being primary. As law professor John O. McGinnis wrote in a National Review cover story:
Conservatism will certainly be easier than liberalism to integrate with evolutionary biology. The constraints of our biological nature explode the most persistent delusion of the Left: that man is so malleable that he can be reshaped or transformed through political actions. In contrast, the depiction of our species that is emerging from Darwinism—as composed of individuals who are basically self-interested yet capable of altruism toward family and friends; who are unequal in their abilities yet remarkably similar in their aspirations—comports with fundamental premises of conservative thought.
There it is: The assumption about mankind that must be reframed!
To the exact contrary, I contend that, because man is more than just an animal, capitalism is an unnatural way of life for human society. ISS astronaut Sandra Magnus has transcended this limiting worldview. Asked what the earth looks like from 380 kilometres above the earth, she said:
Up here I've seen the world from a different viewpoint. I see it as a whole system, I don't see it as a group of individual people or individual countries. We are one huge group of people and we're all in it together.
Animals do not
(Voyager 1 is still sending scientific data back to earth, more than three and a half decades after its 1977 launch! The signals we receive today were sent 13 hours earlier and round trip communication at the speed of light—300,000 km/sec—takes more than a day.)
These (not even getting into medical marvels, and computer technology) are all things that only humans, as transcendentbeings, can conceive, understand and do!
This is the challenge to your worldview: You will agree or disagree with the Darwinian argument that man is only one animal among all the animal species on earth. If you disagree with that conclusion, or are unsure about it, then I hope, with this book, to put you and your view of Man on the side of being an animal-plus, with all the hopeful implications that will raise for human society.
Astronauts are not capitalists, but, after hundreds of billions of public dollars and nearly 20 astronaut deaths, space exploration has been made economically viable, and is now being turned over to capitalists for profit. As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations, “masters [capitalists] love to reap where they never sowed.”
The space program may be remembered in history (provided we survive) as one of the greatest failures of the American people. For half a century they supported the significant steps to exploring space and then, in the end, let all those accomplishments dribble through their fingers. This is not a fitting tribute to all the astronauts who died in this quest.
The real tragedy is that Neil Armstrong's "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind", has been converted into dollars and cents. It is to weep in frustration at how mankind's greatest achievement (so far) is being reduced to a commercial enterprise.
“What a piece of work is a man,” said Hamlet, “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…”
Four hundred years after Shakespeare wrote those words, the question “what is man?” remains controversial and unresolved.
I’m with Goethe and Darwin on this and will expand this theme in the last chapter, “Cosmic man”.
Despite being earthbound, I’ve always had the Magnus worldview, but in our capitalist dominated society of gain and greed, I’ve also always been out of step with the prevailing social ideology. Personally, I’ve never made much money, reflecting what freelance writer Brendan Clark said: “As the holder of not one but two undergraduate arts degrees…I am quickly reminded by the working world that being intelligent and capable is no longer enough. You have to do something that makes somebody money.” I’ve never been much motivated in making money for others and simply endeavoured to make what was needed to support myself and give me more time and energy to pursue real, non-capitalist, interests.
This book is the resurrection of a book I originally wrote in 1978 (unpublished) that I titled The Milk and Cream Theory of Economics. Its thesis is simple: Society is governed (ruled) by a class of capitalists who churn the economy. At the completion of each cyle, they skim the cream for themselves and leave what remained to the rest of society. I was not so prescient, but the result of more than 30 years of churning is how Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz titled a recent article: “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, which is what I was aiming to say.
This book explores capitalism and the savage societies to which it gives rise and goes on to perpetuate; not that most societies weren’t savage before, but we now live in a supposedly enlightened age and our savagery has become a scientifically backed rational savagery. In the same vein, I am not just presenting a rant against capitalism, but an attempt at a reasoned critique of a system that has almost, and may still, destroy the world for much—even all—human life. If this comes to pass, then the only survivors may be capitalists—by luck, not forethought, on their part.
Capitalism, despite all the self-serving propaganda to the contrary, is an anti-democratic, anti-human, social evil. It is not a natural economic state of affairs for a human community. Right-wing economists, like Nobelist Milton Friedman, argued that capitalism and democracy work hand-in-glove and are, in fact, extensions of each other—which is the exact opposite of reality. Based on the fundamental concept of competition (divide and conquer) capitalism is a kakistocracy—rule by the worst.
As I build my argument, I will note the Rules under which capitalism operates and prevails. Here is the first rule:
To update Abraham Lincoln: For capitalism to prevail it’s only necessary to fool enough of the people, all of the time.
The most significant task I will undertake will be to analyze and expose how so many people are fooled and how it happens.
Many times over the last half-century or so, there have been cries of impending doom: nuclear war; overpopulation, environmental degradation, famine, holes in the ozone layer, global warming… We may be nearly there, a perfect storm of several or all of those capitalist-induced elements.
Autarky is a little known economics term with a simple meaning: self-sustainability. Autarky exists when a biological or economic unit can survive and continue its activities without external input or assistance. No business, city or nation today, is autarkic.
Modern cities are not autarkic. If the roads and rail lines into a city were severed, it would not be long before most of the population starved and died.
If the United States were autarkic, it could only sustain 100 to 150 million people—a third to a half of its current 312 million population. Despite this limitation, American society survives and goes on because the otherwise unsustainable 150-200 million people are sustained by consuming resources from outside the nation.
If we take a Magnus viewpoint and look at the societies formed in North America and Western Europe, we realize that we (the West) are so rich because they (Third World and developing countries) are so poor. This is a broad generalization but endorses my fundamental point. The West, primarily the U.S., became so rich because of its exploitation of the developing nation’s natural resources, predominantly oil.
We’ve been here, before. As late as 1840, Europe did not have sufficient available land to grow enough trees to supply Britain’s early steam engines with wood. But Britain, alone in the world (at the time), had conveniently located and accessible coalfields to run its rapidly mechanizing industries. Without coal, Britain would have needed to burn 15 million acres of woodland each year (more than 20,000 square miles)—woodland that was not available—to match the energy it was getting from coal. So began the fossil-fuel revolution.
Similarly the great consumer expansion in the U.S., from the end of WWII to 1973, was driven by cheap oil, whose prices ranged from $1/bbl up to about $2.50/bbl in 1972.
The oil crisis, and the subsequent global decline of the U.S. started in October 1973, when members of OAPEC, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, (the Arab members of OPEC, plus Egypt, Syria and Tunisia) proclaimed an oil embargo in response to the U.S. re-supply of the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war--lasting until March 1974.
But the seeds of the embargo had been sown a half century or more before. The so-called "Seven Sisters", the globally dominant oil companies: Exxon (Esso), BP (Anglo-Persian), Socal (Chevron), Gulf, Texaco, Mobil and Shell, controlled most of the world’s oil through private, often illegal, agreements through most of the 20th century. In 1928, a secret deal called the Achnacarry (As-Is) Agreement (signed in Achnacarry Castle in Scotland) was reached between BP, Shell, and Exxon. The Seven Sisters paid the oil producing countries as little as $1/barrel. This secret agreement only came to light in a 1952 report by the US Federal Trade Commission which referred to its participants as the International Petroleum Cartel. The great consumer expansion of the United States and other Western countries was an extension of this rapacious exploitation of Third World oil resources—<>u>capitalism in action. It was stopped by the embargo when the price of oil more than tripled from $2.50 ($15 in current dollars) in 1972 to $8.00 ($45 in current dollars) in 1975.
Consumers had long been encouraged to use more oil, oil-based products and gasoline. As Anthony Sampson wrote in The Seven Sisters:
In Los Angeles, for instance, the first sprawling suburbs had been built not around cars and freeways, but around an electric railroad system, whose relics can still be seen alongside the freeways; but in the late thirties General Motors collaborated with the local oil company, Socal (and also with Firestone), to buy up the railroad, and soon afterward to close it down. They did similar deals with oil companies in other big American cities, ensuring that the inhabitants would be dependent on road transport alone.
As Benjamin Braddock was advised by Mr. McGuire in the 1967 movie The Graduate: “One word. Just one word. Plastics.”
Oil is only a single example. The West has been over-consuming all the natural resources of the earth for a century or more, and now in the next decade or a few decades at most, the West is going to hit the wall. We can see it with population numbers, although this is not just about overpopulation.
Current world populations:
(The African Sub-Sahara region alone has 12% of the world’s population.)
Canada and the United States total about 350m people. The two largest competitors for global resources are China (1.3b) and India (1.1b)—almost two and a half billion people—nearly seven times more. Those two giant economies are growing and its leaders are trying to emulate the West’s consumption level and standard of living, but limited resources for everyone are going to become scarcer and more expensive.
In November 2011 the Indian government opened the country to foreign retailers like Wal-Mart. Before that change in the law, such foreign companies were not allowed to conduct retail business in the country. Now, retailers who sell multiple brands of products, like W-M, can own up to 49% of the business, with the remaining 51% in the hands of an Indian partner. Companies that sell only one brand of product, like Apple or Nike, will be allowed full ownership of their business—up from 51%. This is destructive American capitalism moving into the world’s second largest consumer market. Contrary to American political ideology and advertising propaganda, this is not good news for India or the global population.
From 1990 to 2008, China’s energy use more than doubled (+146%) and India’s nearly doubled (+91%), while the energy use for the entire world went up only 10%. Through the same years, energy use in the U.S. was up 20% while the EU only increased 7%. For the West a pullback is too little, too late.
At the end of the 18th century, Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth would out-run food supply by the mid-19th century. In 1968, biologist Paul R. Ehrlich updated this argument in The Population Bomb—predicting famine by the 1980s. But agricultural innovation, such as the Green Revolution, led to significant improvements in crop yields. Food production has so far kept pace with population growth (except parts of Africa, which is another disaster-in-the-making situation, again), but neo-Malthusians point out that the Green Revolution relies heavily on petroleum-based fertilizers, and that many crops have become so genetically uniform that crop failures could have potentially global repercussions. Food prices in the early 21st century are already rising sharply on a global scale, and serious malnutrition is starting to appear and spread.
Add global warming to this mix and the future for most people on the planet is in doubt. Even if non-polluting energy sources are found and efficiently utilized, the planet will continue to heat up. The West was saved from the scarcity of wood, by the discovery of coal. But technology is unlikely to work a similar energy miracle today—unless significant solar and wind technologies appear.
We in the West must come to grips with a singular, discordant reality: Our world is not the world. We in the West, under the impetus of capitalism, desspite having been given access to a planet of immense riches, have chosen to gobble it up with no thought of others or the morrow.
To be continued
___________________________________Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Daniel Johnson as a teenager aspired to be a writer. Always a voracious reader, he reads more books in a month than many people read in a lifetime. He also reads 100+ online articles per week. He knew early that in order to be a writer, you have to be a reader.
He has always been concerned about fairness in the world and the plight of the underprivileged/underdog.
As a professional writer he sold his first paid article in 1974 and, while employed at other jobs, started selling a few pieces in assorted places.
Over the next 15 years, Daniel eked out a living as a writer doing, among other things, national writing and both radio and TV broadcasting for the CBC, Maclean’s (the national newsmagazine) and a wide variety of smaller publications. Interweaved throughout this period was soul-killing corporate and public relations writing.
It was through the 1960s and 1970s that he got his university experience. In his first year at the University of Calgary, he majored in psychology/mathematics; in his second year he switched to physics/mathematics. He then learned of an independent study program at the University of Lethbridge where he attended the next two years, studying philosophy and economics. In the end he attended university over nine years (four full time) but never qualified for a degree because he didn't have the right number of courses in any particular field.
In 1990 he published his first (and so far, only) book: Practical History: A guide to Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization” (Polymath Press, Calgary)
Newly appointed as the Deputy Executive Editor in August 2011, he has been writing exclusively for Salem-News.com since March 2009 and, as of spring 2012, has published more than 190 stories.
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