Saturday, May 29, 2010

Unthinking America

This Political Pagan has been silent for some time not only because of end-of-semester exhaustion but also due to despair and depression about recent events in the USA. First, the April 5th explosion and 29 deaths in the West Virginia coal mine operated by the Massey Energy Company, which investigators have found to possess a disgusting record of violations of safety practices that practically guaranteed that a disaster like this would come to pass sooner or later.

Then came the fiery collapse of British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, with equally brazen corporate carelessness causing 11 deaths and a hellish future of environmental devastation through the spreading plume of poisonous oil and the equally poisonous chemicals being poured into the Gulf to disperse the oil.

Then came April 23rd, when Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law a set of measures empowering state police to interrogate any person suspected of being an undocumented alien or "illegal immigrant," and to arrest any such person found to be without proper identification papers. This controversial law split the country down the middle between those in favor of such harsh treatment of suspected illegal immigrants, and those who oppose this legislation for promoting anti-Hispanic prejudice and whittling away at the Fourth Amendment constitutional protection against "unreasonable search and seizure." The passage of what was widely felt by Hispanics, and others concerned with civil rights and the country's sad legacy of racial prejudice, to be essentially anti-Hispanic legislation echoed Arizona's earlier history of resisting accepting the designation of a holiday for the slain Civil Rights hero Martin Luther King.

Next came the Rachel Maddow interview on May 19th with Republican primary winner and presumed Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul, son of the past libertarian Presidential candidate Ron Paul and named for the libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. In this interview, Paul expressed reservations about the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits private businesses from discriminating against people on the basis of race, creed, national origin and so forth. Though Rand claimed to support the concept of opposing racial discrimination, he felt bound by libertarian principle to reject government intervention in the economic sphere, such as the government requiring restaurants to serve African-America or other minority patrons, as mandated by civil rights legislation. To Rand and his libertarian compatriots, it is more important to allow private businesses total freedom, including the freedom to discriminate, than for government authorities to take action to prevent abuses perpetrated by private businesses.

Finally, just a few days later, Rand applied similar reasoning to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, arguing that it was "un-American" for President Obama to harshly criticize BP for the ecological holocaust that it had unleashed through its carelessness. Freedom of business trumps government regulation and protection every time, for Rand and his followers. "America" seems to be synonymous with business and corporate interests, not the needs and rights of others in American society.

In my analysis, this depressing sequence of events has a common denominator of cruel and selfish thoughtlessness, which I fear is becoming the default setting for American morality. The corporate masters of Massey Energy and BP clearly were not thinking about the safety of their workers when they pushed for faster production and skirted the limits of legal guidelines and accepted practices within their respective industries, nor were they thinking carefully about the environmental consequences of their extractive procedures. They were only thinking about how to maximize profits in the short term.

According to Rand Paul, this is as it should be. In the old Calvin Coolidge adage, "The business of America is business." Civil rights and environmental concerns may have their place, but their place is not to stand in the way of private business or corporate profits. The question of what kind of America we will have if our civil rights are trampled upon and our environment fouled into toxicity is irrelevant. If the corporations make profit, if quarterly dividends are positive, if the Dow Jones index goes up three hundred points instead of down three hundred points, this is all that matters.

The ruthless nature of the American economy, its tendency to divide society into winners and losers, with many more losers than winners, invites resentment, scapegoating and paranoia. Even as corporate profits for companies like BP swell to mind-boggling proportions, many Americans find themselves out of work, and even those who are employed often enjoy little job security and dwindling job benefits, their debt level rising much faster than their wages, with the interest on their debt swelling the profits of bank and credit card companies. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, millions unemployed, and huge profits for Wall Street.

With such storm clouds on the horizon, what is the solution of political leaders like the governor of Arizona? Direct people's attention elsewhere; find the vulnerable scapegoat; prepare the sacrificial victim. Blame it on the immigrants. Blame it on those dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking Latinos. They did it all. They brought down the economy in 2007-08. They created the financial regulations that give much greater protection to corporate interests than average citizens. It was those damned wetbacks risking their lives to cross the border who caused the stock market to crash. It was the Mexicans who loosened up the regulations on oil drilling that led to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. That's right, Gulf of MEXICO. The name says it all... It's all their fault....let's arrest them, put them in prison, OK to rough them up a little bit, hey, no one's watching; let's separate fathers from mothers, mothers from children; let's ship them all back to Mexico. With rising budget deficits that make some in Washington reluctant to provide unemployment compensation to the millions unemployed, now is the time to spend millions or billions on a "Fence" between Mexico and the US.

Why is the governor of Arizona supporting this legislation? I can't see inside the workings of her mind, but to me it seems pure political calculation. She is a Republican, dependent mainly on white votes, with Arizona having a large number of retired white senior citizens who form her political base. Latinos are more likely to vote Democratic. Many of the white retirees hate and fear the Hispanics they pay to mow their lawns and perform other physically demanding tasks that they are unable or unwilling to do. For a Republican candidate who is not too concerned about civil rights, morality or basic human decency, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by beating up on Hispanics and romancing the racists. The same calcuation may apply to Rand Paul as a Republican candidate in Kentucky, though in his case, there does seem to be an actual ideology involved, that of Ayn Rand-style libertarianism. However, as that ideology is totally blind to and disinterested in issues like racial inequality and social injustice, which are irrelevant to the overriding libertarian concern with private property and individualism, that ideology, when applied to real life in ethnically diverse and socially unequal American society, is always borderline racist or potentially racist.

Whether it's the corporate pigs of BP or the politicians happy to cater to racism, I see the same common denominator of utter thoughtlessness and selfishness. No regard for what kind of environment we will have down the road, nor what kind of society. The Gulf of Mexico could become an ecological dead zone, a Gulf of Mordor. What does BP care? Current law limits their liability to $75 billion. They can write that off, pull out of the Gulf region, and set up new operations elsewhere. Note that one thing BP and its associated businesses did with great care and speed following the initial accident was to rush around with liability forms and try to get the traumatized, lucky-to-be-alive workers coming off the Deep Horizon rig to sign away their right to sue for damages. Massey did much the same. These fellows are very thoughtful indeed when it comes to protecting their profits; they just don't waste a lot of brain cells when it comes to thinking about protecting their workers or the world we live in.

This exposes one of the worst dangers of the "privatizing" trend that began with Reagan of turning over more and more functions and responsibilities to corporate control. Corporations and most businesses do not think long term. They think only of short term gain. To trust your environment, your planet, your health or your country's economic future to corporate good will is a horrible mistake, whose ramifications we can begin to see in these recent incidents. This is also true on the local level. To trust your town's landscape and natural resources to the tender mercies of real estate developers is to invite devastation of the land that brings short-term profit but long-term waste. The fact that human beings can be greedy, selfish, and thoughtless about the future is why we have a public sphere, why we have democratic governments instead of corporate government, why our ancestors talked in terms like "commonwealth" and "the common good." This has been forgotten and it needs to be renewed.

To trust your society to the whims of businessmen and corporations is likewise short-sighted. They think only of profit, not justice. The poor interest them only as potential low-cost labor, and they are quick to oppose any effort by poor citizens to improve their lot by community organizing or labor union formation. Their financial DNA is oriented to serving up whatever the most profitable demographic group wants. So if the key market group is white racist, no need to worry about other groups like African Americans or Latinos. If you want a good, safe and humane society where everyone can prosper and thrive, it will not come from giving in to the profit motives of businessmen, because they do not believe in society, only "The Market." Ronald Reagan's soulmate Margaret Thatcher famously declared, "There is no such thing as society...only individuals." The prison and armaments industries in the USA are thriving, and have been since the Reagan era, but few would say that we or the world are safer or fairer as a result. But not to worry: new fears create a profitable market for new forms of repression, called "security," whether it is fear of crime driving people to seek the luxury prisons known as "gated communities," or our endless wars against people who we are afraid might take up arms against us, overlooking the fact that our repeated bombings and invasions of other lands might just be a factor in others wanting to get revenge against the USA.

I am sad that many people I know in the American Asatru-Heathen community seem to subscribe to some version of the libertarian political philosophy. Dan Halloran, Theodish Heathen elected to the City Council in New York, who some Republicans would like to see try for higher office, is of the libertarian stripe, I believe. As I understand it, love of Libertarianism among American Asatruar has come about because they see individualism and tribalism, with no concern for any larger social unity or humanity in general, as values encoded in ancient Germanic lore, and find libertarianism in accord with this. I would dispute this reading, but that is an argument for another day. For today, I would note that the racial composition of American Asatru is nearly 100% white, and the disdain that many conservative Asatru followers seem to hold for government efforts to combat racism and reduce social inequality in the USA does seems to be more in line with the race-baiting of politicians like George Wallace, Jan Brewer, and perhaps Rand Paul, than with the thinking of individuals more commonly understood as intellectual and moral heroes like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.

Odin, the god of wisdom in Norse-Germanic mythology, is famed for thinking long-term about the future fate of the world, ALL the world, not just tribe X in region Z or rugged individual Q swinging his ax on a raid on village Y. To me this points the way forward. We must raise not our axes, but our minds up to think about the welfare of ALL, for the long-term future, not just short-term gain and selfish individualism.

If you think I am wrong, go swing your ax at the Gulf of Mordor...I mean Mexico.


Maelstrom said...

Correction: BP's liability for the oil spill is limited to $75 million, not $75 billion as stated in my blog entry! Rather than correct it, I will leave it as testimony to how things are actually worse than I described them to be.

Pitch313 said...

With a different sort of co-operation, we'd probably have a different sort of community.

I am coming to think of deregulation as the antithesis of co-operation, because it so often seems to debilitate community.

Apple Haven said...

I think you are wonderful. THANK YOU!

Apple Haven said...

This blog makes me very happy. It is good to Heathens writing from this POV. If I wanted racist redneck white privillaged folk to hang out with, I'd have become a Christian in the South!

Ananta Androscoggin said...

Deregulation is morally equivalent to the politicians providing funding for the fox to set up a conveyor belt running out of the chicken coop.

There already was a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. I'm guessing it's going to get larger a lot sooner than previously thought, thanks to this spill.

Seeing Eye Chick said...

The cap for damages has been lifted--much to the chagrin of politicians who receive campaign contributions from BP and other Energy Industries. Because anyone that big, gives on both sides of the aisle--it's called hedging your bets.

As far as unthinking America goes, lets take a step further shall we? Lets remember that the United States of America is only one of but several countries that owns shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico. How long do you all suppose it will be til that toxic dispersant Corexit and underwater plumes of oil-droplets mixed with said toxic surfactants wash up on the shores of those other countries? And given the fact that the corruption in our own government, regarding past coke fueled sex parties in the Mineral's Management Services {in the Dept of Interior} is so well documented from Colorado Offices to Lake Charles Louisiana--how long do you suppose it will be before Cuba or some other country sues the U.S. and BP for damages in this ecological disaster? 2 million gallons of oil a day are dumping into the gulf and it wont be fixed until maybe August--assuming that is, that the relief wells work, and when they are plugged, they don't cause more ruptures in other areas--leading to yet more oil released into the waters.

Sort of like water water all around and not a drop to drink--only this time it's oil. Ironic isn't it? All that invading overseas for oil, and now we got more than we need, but we cannot use it because we have to scoop it up first, with the load of dead birds, fish and marine mammals.

The load this will bear on the Veteran's Administration when Coast Guard members start getting sick ought to prove interesting, not to mention all those workers who are not allowed to use Respirators or other safety gear as per OSHA standards.

And yet no one in our government is doing a goddamn thing about that.

Nope Maelstrom I think it's worse than selfishness and a lack of mindfulness, because even those modalities suggest the ability to think at all.

If I were a foreigner watching this unfold, I would assume that the whole of America is Developmentally Disabled. And I would wonder how it is that they are able to do things like have commerce or even drive cars being so handicapped in their brains.

Maelstrom said...

Seeing-Eyed One, I cannot access your blog. When I try, I am blocked. Do you have some special filter there? -- "Maelstrom"

VisionFromAfar said...

As someone who considers himself both a Norse follower (not necessarily Asatru) and a Libertarian, let me begin by saying that I find any mention of removing clauses from the Civil Rights Act deplorable. Even without "Big Brother" as some Liberals seem to want, I think the Gov't has a duty and the right to curb the more hostile behaviors in a society.

On the other hand, I fully and completely support the AZ law. This law is not empowering citizens to go out and hunt down illegals as you seem to be suggesting. The law isn't even encouraging the cops to stop people on the street and ask for papers, as all the Nazi-centric arguments seems to suggest. If you're stopped for speeding (breaking a posted law), or busted for carrying (breaking a known law), etc. then they should ask to make sure you're supposed to be in this country. Ever looked at the immigration law in Mexico? The first time anyone in authority catches you, you're deported. The second time, you're put in prison in Mexico ("Don' NOBODY wanna go to jail in Mexico, man!" - Martin Lawrence, Blue Streak), and once you're done in prison (assuming you're still alive and sane) they deport you again. Noticing the pattern?
It's because the Federal Gov't seems to not give one damn about the fact that our border protections are little better than a sieve. I live near a military base, and the other day a couple illegals made a wrong turn and ended up at the gate to the base. No driver's license, no green card, nada. The base guards called up the Feds and asked if they could come and take custody, and ICE couldn't be bothered to come. Since the base personnel have no jurisdiction beyond that, they had to let them go, returning to the road an unlicensed, uninsured driver. According to the guard telling the story, this happens at least once a week! I'm sorry, but when I drive my infant son to day care every morning, I'd like to think that at least everyone on the road has proof of their ability to be there with a modicum of safety.

Let 'em go legit or go home.

Maelstrom said...

Vision, you sent the same message four times. Only once is all that is needed!

Maelstrom said...

Vision, I am not going to go through your letter point-by-point, but just raise a general issue. If we made it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal residents, then there would be much less a problem with them not having drivers licenses, not paying taxes, etc. Make them legal and then it will be easier to keep track of them and deal with them.

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