On the topic of peace

But what do we mean by peace? This is something I’ve given a lot of thought to, especially during the time I spent volunteering within my local “peace community” (i.e., non-violent social justice activist organizations). And I gotta say, my thinking on the subject has taken new shape over time.

“Peace” has become a shallow buzzword. People on youtube like to sign off with the word, even after spouting off hard-core against another group of people. It’s an overused word, like “love,” covering such a broad spectrum that it’s become incredibly hazy to the point of being trivialized. What do we mean by “peace”? What might it look like? In detail. People like to start rattling off what Lennon said in the clip above, saying it’s about peace in the home and peace in the schools and peace on the planet. But what the hell does that even mean? What would get us there? And what would it take to keep us in that frame of coexistence if ever humans did ‘evolve’ to that point?

I’ve been forming some ideas.

Ask yourself: which individuals tend to be most peaceful? Those with shit to tend to, in other words people with jobs and/or responsibilities and/or creative endeavors that absorb a good deal of their time and energy. Now let’s pause there. I’m not a fan of nor advocating for busybodyness — there are productive and nonproductive uses of our time and ways of earning income (that being a discussion all unto itself). But ever heard the saying that “idle hands are the devil’s tools”? Yup. We get bored, go looking for entertainment and wind up getting into mischief. We know this. And I happen to think unsatisfying work provides an added incentive to seek out new stimulation.

What I love about the concept of gardening/small-scale farming is that it calls for our physical labor, at least in a conceivably sustainable setup where many more people contribute to food production and Big Ag’s oligopolies are broken up into more manageable and fairly competitive pieces (keeping in mind monopolies and oligopolies are anti-trust violations and anti-capitalist in terms of disrupting the free market by making conditions hostile to small businesses). While technologies surely can aid us in ways our foreparents could only dream about, I do believe the exertion of our own physical labor is good for us. If it weren’t we wouldn’t have so many people buying gym memberships and workout videos. Physical exertion is good for our physical and psychological well-being, yet it’s become for many estranged from the activities required for earning a living.

When you honestly consider this it almost seems like by splitting the two apart, we created new problems: the centralization of food production scheme (i.e. Big Ag) that allows most Americans to not participate in any way directly with their food’s creation; as technology advances and populations increase due to a stable and relatively cheap food supply, many of the jobs made available involve office or service work that are widely considered soul-draining, boringly repetitive, and wouldn’t be undertaken if not for need of a paycheck; there’s now a need to find time to exercise outside of working hours, and a collective lack of motivation to run on a treadmill has led to an obesity epidemic. We are now consumers, and many consume more than we expend in terms of our individual energy. This appears to me like life out of balance, and what’s worse, I can’t see any real benefit to sticking with the current status quo.

Modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuels from start to finish in the process, and its distribution network has trucks and ships and planes headed in all directions around the clock and around the globe. (That show about ice road trucking up in Alaska springs to mind.) We’ve grown utterly dependent on this system, and heaven forbid it ever shut down.

We could go on to think about the risks associated with the heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers (including the possible link to bee populations dying off, which crops absolutely require), the shitty conditions for animals inside factory farms (and what it does to us to knowingly dine on disrespected beasts — spoken as one diehard meat-eater), GMOs and high-fructose corn syrup in damn near everything, the bullshit business practices and marketing schemes that most Americans have no way of escaping, etc. But this appears sufficient to prompt others to consider the value of one’s labor and how perhaps we might have had our fingers on a good thing before we allowed it to get jacked up to the extent it is today. Or perhaps that was a necessary phase in human history because of the innovations it has brought, though, too, there’s the infrastructure it’s spawned, and that is ultimately what holds us back from turning any other way. We’re bound by laws and property taxes and the need to earn money in order to survive in this modern world. Near-subsistence living, in this setting, doesn’t look practical.

We’re in a conundrum here. No question. Perhaps we can focus now on utilizing what we’re able, like purchasing produce from community-sponsored farming networks. But it’s tough to circumvent the Big Boys these days. Damn near impossible.

So going back to this idea of peace, it seems like the most productive and meaningful trek toward that goal requires a diffusion of power. Because part of the problem today is people feeling and largely actually being disempowered. I’m not a fan of that word either thanks to its over-usage, but the concept remains relevant at the core. How much power do any of us really possess anymore? The power to choose between brands and service providers? How many choices truly exists in a sea of illusive conglomerates?

What do average, ordinary people want out of life? Many will say work that feels meaningful, love and support from family members and friends, good food, good beer and wine, good sex, a sense of belonging somewhere and an ability to contribute something to society of value — a relatively simply life, in all, albeit one rich thanks to social ties and labor that serves a worthwhile purpose. Rearing young up well and producing the sustenance needed to continue living both fit the bill, as do plenty of other tasks and jobs needing to be fulfilled to serve the needs of people.

But that’s far from what we have. So far that it seems like a pipe dream, nonsensical utopianism. And perhaps that’s correct — maybe it’s not going to happen. But that’s one place where we may have power, and if we were able to exercise it we could, through boycotting efforts made possible by providing more for ourselves, possibly dismantle the mammoths calling the shots currently. We buy what they sell because it’s quite nearly the only options on the shelves. And this extends far beyond agriculture. Whatever happened to human handicrafts in America? Now everything we purchase is shipped from China.

We are not free and never will be free because we have lost touch of how to care for ourselves. Unless we recover this ability, we will have little say over the course of modernity unfolding. We will be led so long as we remain unable to lead ourselves, and if we can’t even provide for our most basic needs, will we not always wind up as slaves to something or somebody else? What ground do we have to stand on otherwise? As it is now, most of us are being swept along on a moving train, watching life whirl by while feeling powerless to stop and settle down into a less chaotic existence.

This is not all people of today’s fault, but it is our problem. I personally do not own a yard or property, so this all can’t help but be offered up as mere food for thought.

So around and around we go. Without power within our own hands and labor that feels meaningful that also provides something of actual value, we will remain agitated. In a world ablaze with warfare and divided by deep economic disparities, and in societies where we feel trapped by laws we’ve never even heard of and conditions we never willingly signed up for, we will remain anxious. A situation like this leads people to start chomping at the bit in hopes of finding political resolution to what ails them. Therein enters mass movements that attract disgruntled souls wishing for change that they know not how to help bring about. And from there we see clashes and great rivalries and much bickering and people feeling like they must choose a side to identify with. Everything becomes framed as a competition, another spectator sport, which devolves into a senseless back and forth where people lose focus on what really even matters.

And on and on it goes.

You want peace? Well, I want relative peace. Peace at any cost holds no appeal to me. Human life involves drama and problems and disagreements and conflicts, and I accept that. Child-rearing isn’t all about hugs and encouragement; it also necessarily involves discipline and rules to follow. We cannot escape all authority, but we could certainly reassess what authorities we’re willing to tolerate and abide by. One authority our efforts will never fully trump is Nature, that being a given, our human constructs paling in comparison. So it seems to me we have a choice to either work within it or continue fighting an uphill battle to nowhere we really want to be. The latter allows us to be more lazy and unproductive — it’s become the path of least resistance.

I’d love to see others and my own self find ways to become engaged in this dilemma, and hopefully as a result of needing to cooperate to a larger extent in order to problem-solve and through focusing our attention on more productive uses of our time we will leave one another the hell alone so far as nit-picking and generally behaving like asses with nothing better to do than start unnecessary drama.

Maybe getting back to basics on some level would do us all more good than we realize. And maybe through that the goal of achieving some sort of peace will stand a better chance.

Tonight’s thoughts on Corporate Amorality

Paying special attention at the 21-22 minute mark onward, culminating in the hallelujah moment coming at 24:15.

Did you catch that? “When people call corporations evil, what they’re really saying is that they’re simply completely amoral … compared to a shark.” Yup. That’s exactly what I mean when I refer to corporations as amoral. Having listened to the video up to this point while tending to laundry, and also as a big fan of the documentary “The Corporation” since several years back (even gave it as a gift a couple times — go. watch it. now.), this discussion has me nodding along in agreement. And most especially on that point. I do use the word “evil” because it is still extremely relevant. What is evil? Are all forms of amorality evil? No, it doesn’t make sense to accuse the natural world of being evil though its processes strike us as impersonal and oblivious to our moral concerns. Yet when it comes to human beings and human constructs, morality absolutely does factor in, and must. That corporations operate amorally while they affect all of society and everyone and everything in it, gone global — this is a problem. A legal fiction now dominates our economy and is determining legal policy swayed in its favor. It is a legal fiction that tremendously impacts and has radically altered societies across the world, changing the ways we live and work and eat, yet it claims to be above and beyond morality. How so? How can that work long-term? Insanity is required to place faith in a gameplan like that.

Just the myth of perpetual growth becoming somehow a sustainable strategy going forward, forever, was your first clue that someone’s loopy behind the wheel and hell-bent on driving economies into a straightjacket. It’s not science, folks — it’s just economics. Big egos are at play here. This is not the land of microscopic particles or predictable scientific theories. No, this is about people. Art and life in motion, hustling and bustling. We people function within moral codes in our social settings, from societies on down to neighborhoods to nuclear families to individual persons. That’s the way it goes. We are naturally moral beings, which is to say everything we create that is of the realm of people cannot help but be influenced by our moral sphere. It is a human construct, therefore we are responsible for it. The dream that we can create something that we can set and then forget is gimmicky cheesiness that we’ve not evolved far enough to deserve to entertain the notion of.

People don’t like to hear that, but it’s true. We’re still a rowdy, greedy lot. We’re fallible, and that means everything we touch can wind up misused, even if we never saw it coming and were mistaken in thinking we knew perfectly well what we were doing. As humans, we fuck up all the time. Such is life. Moral failings are a part of life. Yet when it comes to the corporation, created and managed by people, employer to and provider for people, we want to pretend it should be treated as if on the level of natural phenomena beyond our control? Completely unregulated? Allowed to roam around free to monopolize and oligopolize, to buy political power for prices collectives of ordinary citizens couldn’t possibly compete with, to produce products that turn out to be dangerous without government or citizen collectives’ oversight?

Sounds like a brilliant plan. Bet it won’t work. People who imagine something like this working are dreaming of some well-oiled machine that functions in a predictable fashion, yet they can’t seem to follow the predictions to their unsavory end. It’s become a centralization of power scheme, plain and simple, and it affects us all profoundly. And it openly admits to being amoral by design to boot. What a hell of a conundrum. I’m just surprised so many people continue to cling to this as if it’s really a long-term-sustainable plan. That’s Disney fantasy, folks. We’re talking about the accumulation of power here. People are working through this construct — this is no act of nature, this is a product of humankind. We live interdependently in societies.

There’s a very weird and disturbing trend of people jumping on board, blindly, backing this notion of “progress,” as though it’s a given. It must occur, right? Things must continue getting better and better, right? Like that too is something predetermined by…what exactly? A god? No. The universe? Thought that was supposed to be amoral too. Karma? Good luck? What makes people so sure that the future will be an ascension in terms of progress that will truly benefit humankind? Technological progress doesn’t automatically equate or positively correlate with human progress, not in the way people like to think. We’re deluded. Been fed a steady diet of bullshit for so long that most of us can’t figure which way is up any longer.

But that’s all I have time for at the moment.

Chris Hedges’ book “Empire of Illusions: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle”

Having read a number of Chris Hedges’ books, including American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, Losing Moses on the Freeway, I Don’t Believe in Atheists, his 2010 book titled Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle is another I’d like to offer up to others, though I wouldn’t recommend beginning with reading this one, this book being more of a summary and broad treatment of a collection of problems facing society. Hedges hits several major points, from our tantalization with Jerry Springer-esque forms of entertainment to the personal and societal destructiveness of hardcore pornography; from the dangers of corporatism and the realities and consequences we face today, as a nation and a people, politically, socially, and economically, to the power of love. This man does a great job of telling it like it is!

I’ll include some excerpts below, beginning on pages 14-15:

In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness. Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world above are thrown. They believe these flickering shadows are reality. If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he will suffer great pain. Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness. But eventually his eyes adjust to the light. The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated. He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality. The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes. But he is despised when he returns to the cave. He is unable to see in the dark as he used to. Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.

Plato feared the power of entertainment, the power of the sense to overthrow the mind, the power of emotion to obliterate reason. No admirer of popular democracy, Plato said that the enlightened or elite had a duty to educate those bewitched by the shadows on the cave wall, a position that led Socrates to quip: “As for the man who tried to free them and lead them upward, if they could somehow lay their hands on him and kill him, they would do so.”

We are chained to the flickering shadows of celebrity culture, the spectacle of the arena and the airwaves, the lies of advertising, the endless personal dramas, many of them completely fictional, that have become the staples of news, celebrity gossip, New Age mysticism, and pop psychology.

On porn and profits, page 58:

There are some 13,000 porn films made every year in the United States, most in the San Fernando Valley in California. According to the Internet Filter Review, worldwide porn revenues, including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the ever-expanding e-sex world, topped $97 billion in 2006. That is more than the revenues of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix, and Earthlink combined. Annual sales in the United States are estimated at $10 billion or higher. There is no precise monitoring of the porn industry. And porn is very lucrative to some of the nation’s largest corporations. General Motors owns DIRECTV, which distributes more than 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month. AT&T Broadband and Comcast Cable are currently the biggest American companies accommodating porn users with the Hot Network, Adult Pay Per View, and similarly themed services. AT&T and GM rake in approximately 80 percent of all porn dollars spent by consumers.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

Broaching the topic of the fall of the United States of America on page 142:

The country I live in today uses the same civic, patriotic, and historical language to describe itself, the same symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains. The America we celebrate is an illusion. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father, and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be unrecognizable. I do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive for its return.

The words consent of the governed have become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science and economics are obsolete. Our nation has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations, and a narrow, selfish, political, and economic elite, a small privileged group that governs, and often steals, on behalf of moneyed interests. This elite, in the name of patriotism and democracy, in the name of all the values that were once part of the American system and defined the Protestant work ethic, has systematically destroyed our manufacturing sector, looted the treasury, corrupted our democracy, and trashed the financial system. During this plundering we remained passive, mesmerized by the enticing shadows on the wall, assured our tickets to success, prosperity, and happiness were waiting around the corner.

Chris Hedges includes substantiating literature on the topics discussed, listed in the bibliography, with a few titles and authors specifically mentioned on page 146:

There were some who saw it coming. The political philosophers Sheldon S. Wolin, John Ralston Saul, and Andrew Bacevich, writers such as Noam Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, David Korten, and Naomi Klein, and activists such as Bill McKibben, Wendell Berry, and Ralph Nader warned us about our march of folly. In the immediate years after the Second World War, a previous generation of social critics recognized the destructive potential of the rising corporate state. Books such as David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd, C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite, William H. White’s The Organization Man, Seymour Mellman’s The Permanent War Economy: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History have proved to be prophetic. This generation of writers remembered what had been lost. They saw the intrinsic values that were being dismantled. The culture they sought to protect has largely been obliterated. During the descent, our media and universities, extensions of corporate and mass culture, proved intellectually and morally useless. They did not thwart the decay. We failed to heed the wisdom of these critics, embracing instead the idea that all change was a form of progress.

In his book Democracy Incorporated, Wolin, who taught political philosophy at Berkeley and at Princeton, uses the phrase inverted totalitarianism to describe our system of power. Inverted totalitarianism, unlike classical totalitarianism, does not revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader. It finds expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. It purports to cherish democracy, patriotism, and the Constitution while manipulating internal levers to subvert and thwart democratic institutions. Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but candidates must raise staggering amounts of corporate funds to compete. They are beholden to armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals who author the legislation and get the legislators to pass it. Corporate media control nearly everything we read, watch, or hear. It imposes a bland uniformity of opinion. It diverts us with trivia and celebrity gossip. In classical totalitarianism regimes, such as Nazi fascism or Soviet communism, economics was subordinate to politics. “Under inverted totalitarianism the reverse is true,” Wolin writes. “Economics dominates politics—and with that domination comes different forms of ruthlessness.”

[Italicized emphasis his. Bold emphasis mine.]

Excerpts don’t do this book justice. I agree so much with this author. The man makes a great deal of sense, especially when I read this book in conjunction with other books like Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Chris Hedges’ American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Richard L. Rubenstein’s The Cunning of History: Mass Death and the American Future, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, as well as Ron Paul’s End the Fed (not that I personally share Ron Paul’s exuberance for returning to a gold standard).

Here is a review of Empire of Illusion in The Cleveland Leader. I don’t share the reviewer’s disappointment with the ending, lamenting that “Hedges didn’t conclude his work with some small glimmers of hope.” Au contraire. Mr. Hedges ended on the most hopeful message one can offer: that we learn to love one another and make the necessary sacrifices to pull through. Love is no small matter. It may be all we really have…all that will ever set things right.

Below is an interview of Chris Hedges on GRITtv (July 2009):