Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ramblin' 'bout a Revolution

I occasionally hear exasperated American citizens exclaiming that all of our politicians are corrupt... That we ought to vote them all out, and elect a whole new set of people. I don't think these ordinary citizens realize the implications of what they're saying. Replacing everyone in power with somebody new would be tantamount to a revolution. Do they want a revolution? Well... of course, nobody wants the violence. But almost every ordinary citizen would like our government and economic systems to function far better. I guess it depends on what you consider a revolution to be.

If there is a fundamental change in how a government works, that could also be considered a revolution.

Although I am not a historian, I would say there have been three “revolutions” in the past century in the US. Actually, there were two revolutions and one counter-revolution. The revolutions occurred during the Great Depression and during and after the Viet Nam war. The counter revolution started with the election of Ronald Reagan – and continues to this day.

Whatever your opinion of these revolutions, they have been times when a pronounced portion of the population wanted fundamental change. That time has come again.

In most Americans' opinion; our political, economic, and mass information systems are in an advanced stage of dysfunction. And the politicians who do want to fix things have run up against roadblocks at every turn. For many, despair has set in. But, hopelessness won't get us anywhere.

Let's face it. Fixing our systems will require far more effort than going to vote once every few years. Running a democracy requires constant diligence from the people. To fix things, we will have to learn how to become effective citizens. And in case you hadn't noticed, most of us are not effective citizens now. Apathy slowly kills a functional democracy. And with global warming, we are now learning (the hard way) that the cost of apathy is far greater than we ever imagined.

Change is a survival tactic.

We need extraordinary fundamental changes to our systems – now – or our country, and maybe even our civilization will weaken greatly, or even collapse.

Nonetheless, even if you could vote in a whole new set of representatives, it might not make a significant difference – if the candidates aren't significantly different. And they aren't. The election process has been effectively designed to favor the status quo. The two parties exist to keep the two parties in power – not solve problems. And the election process has been effectively designed to weed out those candidates with a conscience.

Consequently, our political system has an inherent inertia that was designed into it to keep those who are rich and powerful in control. Those on top don't want change. This is a critical flaw in our systems. The world is changing, and our systems can't adapt.

Consider the control which big business has over our own American political system:

The industry that makes more money always has more money to contribute to political campaigns than smaller new industries that have better ideas. Consequently, our government systematically functions to maximize big business profits by stifling innovative competition and maximizing prices to consumers. We see examples of this in the efforts (that got nowhere) to do something about speculators (including the oil industry) driving up oil prices. And we also know something is very wrong when we see that, for 30 years, there have essentially been government implemented roadblocks regularly put up to keep alternative energy on the sidelines. (And don't expect the truly clean energy industries to complain much. They might lose what little help they do get.)

Another example of big bad ideas that keep coming back because big business cares more about profits than people, and the government helps them get away with it; is nuclear power. We all thought we had put this dangerous industry on the shelf. But now, it's back on the table. And why? Not because the nuclear industry is orders of magnitude safer now. No, because there's big money in selling electric power. Still, no one has figured out what to do with all of that nuclear waste. Nonetheless, the nuclear industry sell-outs are willing to tell us anything we want to hear. Hey. “It's all better now.” They've worked out all the glitches... yeah, right.

(However, there is one condition where I would support nuclear power. If the reactors can be designed to run on the nuclear waste that has been accumulating over the past 50 years... That would be great. We could clean up the environment and generate energy too. And apparently, the nuclear industry claims it can be done. But I'm skeptical. I don't think anyone from the nuclear industry is claiming they can presently generate energy without accumulating even more nuclear waste than we already don't know what to do with. Sure, they claim that someday we'll burn nuclear waste. But apparently for now, we'll just have to settle for the same old nuclear technology with a couple bells and whistles. Oh really... I sure hope this nuclear dream technology isn't just another big energy bait-and-switch fantasy (like carbon sequestration) to fool us into accepting the unacceptable.)

Let's face it. We're constantly being lied to – in order to keep huge profits rolling in for established industries. And sadly, bait and switch offers seem to succeed in politics. George Bush promised to do something about global warming back in the 2000 presidential race, and now he's the world's primary impediment to global warming progress. George Bush promised to relieve Americans' tax burden, and now his borrow-and-spend policies have left us with the highest national debt in history. And moreover, the mass media has repeatedly looked the other way when George Bush does wrong.

Why would the mass media look the other way? Why would, for years now, while George Bush is out making mountain bike trails out on his “ranch” (with no cattle), has the press reported it as “clearing brush at his ranch”? Maybe the mass media wants to make him sound more presidential? And why would the mass media want to make George Bush appear more presidential? Of course, because there's something in it for them.


Both our local Ely Times newspaper and the Las Vegas Review Journal are owned by the Stephens Group. The Stevens Group is also partnered with a number of fossil fuel energy and power generation related companies. Could that lead to a conflict of interest in reporting? The Ely Times has published many editorials against action on global warming. I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that this is just a coincidence.

Investors have a term for having your hand in everyone else's pocket. They call it “diversifying your portfolio.” As far as investors are concerned, this is an admirable trait. Which could mean that this trait's consequences are intractable problems. For example; why would anyone with money want real change, when that might upset their investment portfolio?

Those who own the mass media have lots of money. Consequently, we should expect the mass media to support the politics which boost their owners' related profits. Therefore, it is inevitable that the mass media will have a conservative slant. It is predictable that NBC (which is owned by General Electric), would promote nuclear power. And it is capitalistic destiny that CNN would back down on global warming news reports when the coal industry started spending big bucks on a “clean coal” ad campaign.

History reminds us that corrupt communists wanted the government to control the press.

Nowadays, corrupt capitalists want the press to control the government.

Either way, the press has been used to control the people.

As an example; this whole right-wing/left-wing thing is all just a mass media distraction. The simple fact is that most citizens of the U.S. generally agree on how we want our systems to work. We want a fair democratic republic that respects minority opinion. We want a just and functional society. We want peace. And we don't want to see starving people on our streets. The real differences aren't right and left – no, they're up and down. The greedy rich are getting even richer, while the poor and middle class are getting poorer. All the while, the environment inches closer and closer to collapse.

It is time to ask why we should think in terms that are so expedient for the owners and advertisers of mass media.

It is time to think more clearly.

There are those who would frame our society's technological choices as a struggle between the economy and the environment. Yet our struggle has never been, and will never be between the economy and the environment. The economy and the environment go together. In fact, the economy is just a subset of the environment. Think about it; if we destroy our only natural home for the human species, it is bound to detrimentally effect the economy.

We've been taught economics wrong.

It's not about money. Money is only paper.

It's not necessarily about jobs. Those who work in sweat shops have jobs.

And it's not necessarily about growth. For the earth is a finite size, and cannot grow.

Improved economic thinking should be about wealth – true wealth.

And true wealth is that which keeps you healthy and happy.

Clean air and water are some of the necessities to keep us all healthy and happy.

A just society keeps us healthy and happy.

Political systems that can respond to change can keep us healthy and happy.

Corporations that do the right things keep us healthy and happy.

And healthy forests keep us healthy and happy.

Think about it. The act of making paper for money from forests is only practical if you can use that paper money to buy time out in the forest.

Our goals are misdirected.

What we need is a revolution of good ideas.

Surprisingly, most of those good ideas have already been thought up. It is only the inertia of our political system that has kept these good ideas from being implemented. Hilary Clinton said during the presidential campaign that “Washington is the place good ideas go to die.” Unfortunately, she didn't map out how to fix that problem. But I think we all know that it will take substantial fundamental changes in how Washington works. Our politicians cannot change Washington on their own. They will need millions of us pushing for real change. It will take a peaceful revolution - which, of course, will require peace.

For a couple of decades now, wise people have been trying to tell us there is a better way. The time has come when we can no longer ignore them.

Check out work by:

Paul HawkinBlessed Unrest

Amory LovinsRocky Mountain Institute

L. Hunter LovinsNatural Capitalism

Jeremy RifkinThe Hydrogen Economy

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