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The New Resistance
November 27, 2010 8:51 PM   Subscribe

"All reform movements, from the battle for universal health care to the struggle for alternative energy and sane environmental controls to financial regulation to an end to our permanent war economy, have run into this new, terrifying configuration of power. They have confronted an awful truth. We do not count."

"It is time to think of resistance in a new way, something that is no longer carried out to reform a system but as an end in itself....[E]vil must always be defied. Tiny acts of rebellion—day after day, month after month, year after year and decade after decade..."
posted by Chipmazing (85 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
don't forget that if the tiny acts of rebellion are resonant enough, you can make a lot of money off of them by good marketing aimed at the right demographics

i got nothing - hell, we got nothing
posted by pyramid termite at 8:57 PM on November 27, 2010


We can create our own networks of goods and support and we consciously choose who we associate and trade with.

Corporations rely on our complicity, if we stop interacting, or even cut ourselves way back, they will whither.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:11 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


'German opposition leaders understood it under the....'
I was going to decorate my Skingrad mansion tonight.
posted by clavdivs at 9:12 PM on November 27, 2010


Whenever I read a really long essay that starts off assuming the worst and then from there delves to even darker depths, I imagine that the writer has taken one huge breath and is reading it aloud to me all in that same breath.

It is the only way that I can laugh after a writer, for instance, compares our plight after "Obama has sold out to corporations" to that of slaves.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 9:27 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's my modest proposal: We should hope the GOP wins every election for the next 20 years. Hope they destroy every last social safety net and finish Reagan's project of transferring all the wealth to the rich.

Only at this point will socialism stop being a dirty word to the average American. Sometimes it's true that the worse, the better.
posted by 7-7 at 9:28 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


"have run into this new, terrifying configuration of power"

Please. Boss Tweed, the Optimates, Maggie Thatcher, and so on. There is plenty to rail against when it comes to the insidious pox of lobbying and corporate interest in public policy, but to act like it's new - or even that current times represent a fresh nadir, is to be wilfully ignorant of both history, and contemporaneous politics in much of the world.

This piece is full of generalisation and anger, but pretty light on actual facts. Such hyperbole is a symptom of the disease, not the cure.
posted by smoke at 9:37 PM on November 27, 2010 [11 favorites]


Our worst premonitions are becoming reality. Our intuition has proved correct. We are reaching the breaking point. An explosion, unless we halt the increased pressure, seems inevitable.

whoa freaky your face went all Glenn Beck there for a second.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:42 PM on November 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


increased pressure has inevitable intution.
posted by clavdivs at 9:47 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's my modest proposal: We should hope the GOP wins every election for the next 20 years. Hope they destroy every last social safety net and finish Reagan's project of transferring all the wealth to the rich.

Somehow I suspect even after an economic meltdown, with the dollar trading at 1/1000 of the euro, the stock market collapsed and violence in the streets, Fox News could still get a vocal segment of the population riled up over gay marriage.
posted by Bromius at 9:48 PM on November 27, 2010 [25 favorites]


There is no hope left for achieving significant reform or restoring our democracy through established mechanisms of power.

We just need to keep holding Obama's feet to the fire.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:50 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please. Boss Tweed, the Optimates, Maggie Thatcher, and so on.

Boss Tweed preceded the rise of the modern, organized Left in the US; Thatcher inaugurated the destruction of that Left in the UK, and Hedges is saying that the process is now basically complete (at least in the US). The "insidious pox of lobbying and corporate interest in public policy" may not be new, but I think Hedges' point is that the opposition's prospects haven't been this bad (again, at least in the US, though AFAICT it's true all over the global North) in a very long time.

Right or wrong, the fact that major voices on the Left are this hopeless is terrifying.
posted by twirlip at 10:01 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


Good fucking god. Look, the United States has a *lot* of problems right now, but it's far from having a completely failed government. Settle down. Identify where you can help improve things and do so, if you're inclined. Tone down the rhetoric -- especially the "us versus them" shtick which is the cause of so many of our actual problems...

Vote Chasing in 2012: "Calm the fuck down, America."
posted by chasing at 10:01 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Tone down the rhetoric -- especially the "us versus them" shtick which is the cause of so many of our actual problems...

Totally. I mean, just look at how well centrism and bipartisanship have worked for Obama! Just think what he could be accomplishing if Chris Hedges didn't keep undermining him!
posted by twirlip at 10:07 PM on November 27, 2010 [15 favorites]


We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can. We must not make it easy for them.

I own stock in several corporations through, among other things, a 401(k). Does that make me "them?" Am I the Man? When was I in charge?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:19 PM on November 27, 2010


twirlip -- I think you know what I mean. I mean presenting issues as if "they" are trying to destroy "us." Whether Chris Hedges does it or Fox News.
posted by chasing at 10:21 PM on November 27, 2010


Cool Papa Bell, you're one of "Us." Remember, in American politics you're always "Us." It's "Them" that are trying to get you. Filthy, greedy, manipulative "Them."
posted by chasing at 10:24 PM on November 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


Here's my modest proposal: We should hope the GOP wins every election for the next 20 years. Hope they destroy every last social safety net and finish Reagan's project of transferring all the wealth to the rich.


Problem with this is that many many folks will suffer. It's hard to look at the scale with poor folks suffering more on one side and the hypothetical benefits of some hoped-for socialist society quite a few years away and say, "Clearly, the best thing to do is shred the safety net." Hard for me, anyway.
posted by angrycat at 10:28 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


Look, the United States has a *lot* of problems right now, but it's far from having a completely failed government.

I invite you - or anyone else who would like to take a crack at it - to describe the specific mechanism by which you hope to stop the continued worsening of those problems. (Please note: "better Democrats" does not provide the level of specificity I have in mind. It would be necessary to explain how you plan to produce these exemplars.)

Because although you've made it clear that you find Mr. Hedge's pessimism irritating, you have not yet demonstrated why he is wrong.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:31 PM on November 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


Joe Beese: You're right. Let's all just write screeds on the internet. That'll fix things right up.
posted by chasing at 10:46 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Our only hope is that the collapse is quick so we are left with sufficient physical resources to rebuild local economies in the post global, post-oil world.

I've pretty much given up hope, and am trying to keep an eye out for where my primary loyalties deserve to be in the near term future.

I would very much like to live in a United States where corporations could have their charters revoked, and people were the base of power. I don't see how it's going to go anywhere in that direction.
posted by MikeWarot at 10:51 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think you know what I mean. I mean presenting issues as if "they" are trying to destroy "us."

I know what you mean. But us-vs.-them thinking is not the source of your country's problems, and pushing back against it (by doing what, exactly? singing "Kumbaya" and hoping the Tea Party joins in?) is going to be about as effective at solving those problems as, say, writing screeds on the internet.

I own stock in several corporations through, among other things, a 401(k). Does that make me "them?"

No.
posted by twirlip at 10:57 PM on November 27, 2010


Oh no, the corporations are coming for me!
posted by planet at 10:57 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


'feet to fire'
I will not be party to such third party allusions. IMNYP.

On track: what is this man ranting about.
on the right track: can someone break down what this man advocates by Resistance?

'unchecked corporate pillage.

It has left us stripped of the tools of mass organization that once nudged the system forward toward justice

But I am not sure it will work.

They are disarmed.

The intrusive pat-downs at airports may soon become a fond memory of what it was like when we still had a little freedom left.

And they have been helpless to respond as those who are most skilled in the manipulation of hate lead a confused populace to call for their own enslavement.

they were forcibly removed from the hearing room.

They needed the reform to be based on what they thought was politically feasible and acceptable to the industries that fund their campaigns.”

He held out for the longest, but in the end he caved.

This is very true.

This is why, in the end, we had to pass it.
...
nobody knew this at the time and those who had premonitions wouldn’t go so far as to believe them, because fear rejects what intuition accepts.
...
And if we fight, even with this tragic vision, we will lead lives worth living and keep alive another way of being.'

I dont like this ending .
posted by clavdivs at 11:05 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


chasing, cool papa bell: it's pointless to argue semantics. what every corporate boardroom knows and what concerned progressives know is that americans see the world through a horrific, dystopian veil which exists to serve the immediate interests of business, on a scale we can hardly imagine. the only difference is that their philosophy tells them it doesn't make any difference, and ours tells us it does.

corporations have too much power. corporate power should be diluted, the deceitful business class should be tightly regulated, the M&A should be thrown into reverse. you'll never hear an american politician say that. where is the party for people tired of industrial rapine the world over? the party for people willing to slow the economic engines in order to allow corporations to be dismantled?
posted by friendlymilkman at 11:06 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Clearly justice isn't in "reform" "movements." It's in good governance. That's happened sometimes in history, but it's rare. And this kind of hand-wringing, which assumes foolishly that things should be much better than they've been for most of human history, will not help one bit.

Being a dissident doesn't save the world. It doesn't make you some latter-day saint. The past two centuries are littered with testaments to dissidents who seized power and then promptly sent everybody they didn't like off to camps – or worse. Being a dissident, 'fighting the power,' standing up against 'evil'... these have all proven to be very, very bad models of justice. The apotheosis of dissent, of fighting back, is the one unquestioned paradigm in many leftist circles, and has been for decades, so much so that it's tiresome to hear all of those tropes repeated here. Being so hell-bent on 'fighting' something, on 'defeating' some nebulous evil, is not good in itself. It's not healthy, and it's not beneficial. Why? Because there's never been a nebulous evil. There's always just been people – ordinary people, groups of autonomous people who do what they want based on their own whims and beliefs and mostly their emotions. And people have never been evil; it's just that most of us are stupid and don't know what's good for us. So we build societies that are unworkable. That's not our fault – we're not born with wisdom – but wisdom is essential for our happiness and the health of our societies. No nebulous evil, no corporate machine bearing down on us, no vicious capitalists sucking us dry... just human beings, some of whom are more foolish than others, some of whom don't know what's good for them. In the face of that fact, there is no simple way to defeat evil, because defeating any institution will only leave a vacuum that will be filled by more foolish human beings – unless there happen to be wise human beings, human beings who understand justice fully, to step in. And the only thing any of us can do to try to make that happen is to practice justice in our own lives as best we can.

Whatever happened to trying to live justly? Why is that no longer enough?
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 PM on November 27, 2010 [31 favorites]


chasing: Joe Beese: You're right. Let's all just write screeds on the internet. That'll fix things right up

Ironically, the snippy sarcasm only highlights that you don't actually have an answer to his question.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:09 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


PS: if you think you know, then please send me email.
posted by friendlymilkman at 11:10 PM on November 27, 2010


koeselitz: Whatever happened to trying to live justly? Why is that no longer enough?

Just for the sake of argument: exactly how are you living in such a just way as to protect us all from Monstanto writing pro-Monstanto federal policy? Or stopping hydro-fraking in Federally protected lands?
posted by paisley henosis at 11:14 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please note: "better Democrats" does not provide the level of specificity I have in mind. It would be necessary to explain how you plan to produce these exemplars.

Except ... "better (insert name of party here)" IS the answer.

In fact, it's the ONLY answer.

Because everything else comes off of that. For example: Ruth Bader Ginsgurg is the most liberal Supreme Court justice and also the oldest at 77 years old. She's survived two, count 'em two bouts with two different forms of cancer. It's a near-certainty that she'll need to be replaced within the next term of the president, if not this one.

So, want a liberal Supreme Court that won't make cockamamie decisions like Citizens United? You need to have a liberal President nominate a liberal candidate that can be confirmed by a liberal Senate.

But liberals just lost seats there. Why? Bad fucking candidates that couldn't make a case. These knuckleheads couldn't spell "case" if you spotted them the first three letters.

So, there's your answer, with a modicum of specificity.

Unless you want to re-write the Constitution, that is.

A few weeks ago, someone on the blue asked, "How do you keep a Dubya from re-occurring?"

Here was my answer:

Keep him from being elected governor of Texas.

Seriously. You want to change the government? Start toward the bottom, not the top.

Before their presidential or vice-presidential runs ... see if you notice a pattern.

Obama: Senator
Bush II: Governor of Texas
Clinton: Governor of Arkansas
Bush I: Congressman, general politico (e.g. director of the CIA)
Reagan: Governor of California
Carter: Governor of Georgia
Ford: Congressman
Nixon: Congressman
Johnson: Congressman
Kennedy: Congressman, and then a Senator
Eisenhower: Here, finally, we have the last president that wasn't in an elected position prior to the presidency. Almost 50 years ago.

Want a new president? Unless there are any five-star generals handy, first, get a Congressman, a Senator or a Governor that you like...


So, if you're voting ... you guys all voted, right? ... start there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:28 PM on November 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


koeselitz -- Kant maybe put it a bit more succinctly: "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made."

paisley henosis -- "We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can." Chris Hedges has a specific action-item for you right there! I have a wrench in the toolbox under my sink and I'm sure there's got to be some sort of corporate system in the neighborhood somewhere. So I've got my Sunday afternoon planned out. After that I'm going to the nearest government building and rebelling until someone finally fixes everything. Maybe I should wait until Monday for that, though.
posted by chasing at 11:32 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


But liberals just lost seats there. Why? Bad fucking candidates that couldn't make a case. These knuckleheads couldn't spell "case" if you spotted them the first three letters.
Because they needed to raise money to run, and that money had to come from the same special interests that everyone hates.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because they needed to raise money to run

Funny, I recall Obama raking in the dough from Internet outreach. Could've sworn I read an article or two about that a few years back ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:36 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, by the way, you'll notice I mentioned Citizens United. I did that on purpose, not because I like to throw random shit around to sound impressive. You may want to go look that one up. It's right at the heart of the "corporations will ruin everything" argument.

You want to get all riled up about corporations controlling the conversation? There's Exhibit Fucking-A. Go get riled up about that.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:39 PM on November 27, 2010


chasing: Maybe I should wait until Monday for that, though.

Maybe you should keep posting nonsensical crap, too. I honestly have no clue what you are on about, but hopefully you're amusing yourself.

Cool Papa Bell: You want to get all riled up about corporations controlling the conversation? There's Exhibit Fucking-A. Go get riled up about that.

You do see how this is kind of counter to what you said about Obama internet fund-raising, right? I mean, no amount of grass-roots whatever can raise as much money as huge multi-nationals with open flood gates could.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:43 PM on November 27, 2010


Woops, I really quoted the wrong part of your post, CPB. The other half of that post was really the part I was replying to.
posted by paisley henosis at 11:44 PM on November 27, 2010


paisley henosis: Oh, I'm amused. No doubting that. I was just trying to poke a little fun at your reaction to koeselitz. You responded to his point asking how it could be applied in some hyper-specific way. Which seemed rather absurd to me. So I chose to interpret Chris Hughes article as if it contained hyper-specific action items. A joke. I tell you, Saturday nights I just let it all hang out, going online and getting into annoying political arguments with The Internet. Now, excuse me -- I need to refill my Mountain Dew.
posted by chasing at 11:53 PM on November 27, 2010


It is time to think of resistance in a new way... Tiny acts of rebellion

Oh, you mean micropolitics? That's not new, it's been big in post-Marxist activist and academic circles for 25 years, that's all anyone has been doing! Specifically, this is a response to the large scale traditional macropolitics that is seen as ultimately ending in sending people off to camps, and so on. What I don't like about Hedges (and various leftist outlets like Truth Out) is that you'd never know this, because their essays are more or less propaganda for you, the sympathetic reader/foot soldier. It seems like they just want bodies in the streets and don't spend too much time educating the minds in those bodies about what they're actually fighting for, and I think this is counterproductive.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:54 PM on November 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


Indulge a short trip down Reductionist Road: Many of these arguments come down to how you stand on the issue of where effective reform and change will happen: from inside the current system or from outside.

Most of the "inside" crowd are Democrats who accept things like "lesser of evils" ballot choices and pretty much anything Rachel Maddow does or says.

Most of the "outside" crowd are so fractured and disorganized most attempts are stillborn and resigned to mutter things like "no lie is big enough" as they bike to work while munching on local grown apples. (Savage's "It's Get Better" movement is a shining exception because I believe this project will be a key turning point in the history of the struggle for gay rights.)

Me, personally, I'm convinced the system is way too broken to fix from the inside - as in busted top to bottom, no way in (In case anybody cares I hit this wall the moment Van Jones was bested by Glenn Beck - the best crushed by the worst.).

Which leaves an outside solution which requires a multi-level confluence of events similar to hitting a straight flush at the moment your opponent is holding a slightly lower one. It will be large and wrenching and fraught with dangers (perhaps violence) and potential for exactly the wrong thing to emerge (e.g. His Royal Presidency Sean Hannity)
posted by victors at 12:44 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Clearly justice isn't in "reform" "movements." It's in good governance.

Quite often, good governance has only happened because of reform movements. In fact, governance in such cases was not good precisely insofar as it failed to fully satisfy the demands of the reformers. Look at the civil rights movement in the US, for example. Or labor laws, which were created because of pressure from an organized labor movement and rendered meaningless because there was no such movement able to resist neoliberals like Reagan.

this kind of hand-wringing, which assumes foolishly that things should be much better than they've been for most of human history

Of course things should be better than they've been for most of human history! It's not inevitable or even likely, but that's exactly what we should be aiming for. The gains we've made over the centuries have always been the result of people demanding better of our nature. What does your insistence on wisdom and just living mean, if not that we can and should do better?

No nebulous evil, no corporate machine bearing down on us, no vicious capitalists sucking us dry... just human beings, some of whom are more foolish than others, some of whom don't know what's good for them. In the face of that fact, there is no simple way to defeat evil, because defeating any institution will only leave a vacuum that will be filled by more foolish human beings – unless there happen to be wise human beings, human beings who understand justice fully, to step in. And the only thing any of us can do to try to make that happen is to practice justice in our own lives as best we can.

We're all just human beings, but some of us are in a position to fuck over the rest. That's the problem. Leftists may be overly enamored of a reified "resistance," but what they are resisting is not some "nebulous evil"; they are opposed to the very real social structures that permit flawed and fallible human beings to misuse their power at the expense of others. I don't see why we need to wait for a tribe of philosopher-kings to appear when we could be doing something here and now about the institutions and social relations that less-than-perfect human beings are already actually using to exploit us. If you think good governance requires wisdom and just living, then you should become an anarchist and start marching in the streets to demand the abolition of our governing institutions ... because as long as those institutions exist, they will provide an incentive and an opportunity for some people to seek power for their own self-gratification. Such people will never be truly wise or just, because self-gratification is easy, and wisdom and justice are hard. Your quietism simply makes things easier for them.
posted by twirlip at 1:06 AM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Here's my modest proposal: We should hope the GOP wins every election for the next 20 years. Hope they destroy every last social safety net and finish Reagan's project of transferring all the wealth to the rich.

Only at this point will socialism stop being a dirty word to the average American. Sometimes it's true that the worse, the better.


This is not a good idea. Should the Republicans win control of politics for twenty years then the policies they would initiate would reframe the debate. They would become the norm. Any debate of how to move back away from the policies they initiated (and indeed have been mandated upon) would have to come from the paradigm in which the US would by then exist. In the UK by the time Thatcher and her party sucessors were kicked out of power the entire political discussion had shifted to acept that the way forward was through market mechanisms, that investors should not be trifled with, that the City of London could not be brought to heel, that social services needed to be cut, that taxes on the wealthy was not a way to finance services for the less well off, that globalism and deregulation was the way forward. Both major parties bought into this and sought to outdo each other. The Labour administration which followed the Tories in 1997 tried to privatise things the Tories did not have the nerve to attempt, forced availability of 'choices' in service provision which nobody needed or wanted and generally kept on with an agenda similar to the Tory one with little reference to the agenda which it had promulgated in the period before Thatcher came to power.
posted by biffa at 2:16 AM on November 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


This essay treats "corporations" as a monolithic evil entity.

A corporation is a legal fiction that allows many people to interact with the legal system as though they were one person. The resulting fake person has a lot of advantages over a real person, partly from a history of dubious rulings in favor of corporations, and partly because of the large group of people working together in the corporation's favor.

I don't like the corporate fiction and I'd like to see it replaced, but that doesn't mean that all corporations are working together to systematically undermine our legal system. Some of them are, and they have achieved a lot. Still, painting all corporations evil results in a blind spot.

What if we could work out a way to make health care reform profitable? Then we could form a corporation to support it, rake in dough, and get shit done. This might not be possible, but the potential advantages are huge, so we should try to make it work.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:24 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


The internet's cyber radicals: heroes of the web changing the world

A generation of political activists have been transformed by new tools developed on the internet. Here, a leading net commentator profiles seven young radicals from around the world

posted by The Lady is a designer at 5:37 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can."

We tried this in the 1960s. It gave us the 1980s.

And making things worse doesn't make things better. We used to talk about "heightening the contradictions of capitalism" until the system broke down, and a new socialist paradise would arise. But there is no example in all of human history of the rapid collapse of a society's economy and institutions leading to something better. Things don't need to get worse to get better. Things get worse. Then they get really bad. Then they suck massively. Then, maybe a few generations later, things get a little better, but they still more or less suck for all time. Then people realize, thing weren't so bad in the old days.
posted by Faze at 5:59 AM on November 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think Dr. Flowers is right:
“You can’t effect change from the inside,” she has concluded. “We have a huge imbalance of power. Until we have a shift in power we won’t get effective change in any area, whether financial, climate, you name it. With the wealth inequalities, with the road we are headed down, we face serious problems. Those who work and advocate for social and economic justice have to now join together. We have to be independent of political parties and the major funders. The revolution will not be funded. This is very true.”
As for those who say we need to hold Obama's feet to the fire, you are kidding yourselves. He has heeded the right's warnings against radicalism and discarded anything in his politics that might look too liberal. He will only put forward liberal reforms with wide support. In some sense that is practical as it is hard to get more passed, but it is self defeating to the reformer. Reagan did not shy away from putting forward radical conservative ideas and eventually some of them gained wider acceptance. Perhaps Obama is correct as it is pretty hard to get elected in this country as a black man representing the radical left. The path to liberal reform is for the reformers to convince the country that rather than being radical these reforms make common sense, provide benefit to the mainstream, are the right thing to do. I would particularly like to see Christian churches advocating social justice reforms like they did with the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movements.
posted by caddis at 6:19 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I invite you - or anyone else who would like to take a crack at it - to describe the specific mechanism by which you hope to stop the continued worsening of those problems.... Because although you've made it clear that you find Mr. Hedge's pessimism irritating, you have not yet demonstrated why he is wrong." (Joe Beese)

I also find Mr. Hedges' pessimism irritating, but I have *lots* of ideas! I'll try to avoid an (overly) long screed or pamphlet though (apologies that I don't seem to be very good at posting short comments on MeFi:( ). Basically, I'm a fan of just doing things (economics, politics) differently, rather than complaining and waiting around for someone to change things for us. For reference, the better world I think we should be moving toward involves direct democracy in politics, democratic economic structures (aka socialism, for suitable sub-strain of socialism), and non-hierarchical, non-oppressive culture.

Economics
In the economic arena, people can start by setting up community credit unions and moving all of their money out of traditional, private banks. These community credit unions or banks can then have different funding priorities, helping people to set up more local and worker-controlled businesses (see also: Grameen Bank). We then need some concurrent political change so that tax, trade, and similar laws favor such democratic and locally owned businesses over multinational corporations that have no accountability to local communities or workers (see next paragraph on effecting political change). We also need laws that would facilitate workers buying out (at a discount; or just taking over:)) companies that flee for cheaper labor and less environmental regulations elsewhere (see: Argentina (also this and this)) (this could be based off of eminent domain in the U.S., or whatever law Newfoundland premier Danny Williams used to take over AbitibiBowater assets up here in Canadia). Like Grameen Bank, community credit unions and governments should have training programs to help people better plan and manage local businesses, and to help set up democratic decision-making structures within their businesses - since that's not very common now, people will need training in it - which we can, of course, get together and figure out ourselves.

Politics
In the political arena, as Cool Papa Bell said, we need to start local. The thing with democracy is that it entails responsibility, not just rights. It's more than just voting every four years (or more frequently, with minority governments in Canada). Direct democracy looks more like town hall meetings, and caucuses rather than primaries. It might involve meetings run using Robert's Rules of Order (surprisingly, I've seen this be usefully democratic once), or meetings run using some sort of consensus-building approach, or some entirely different way of structuring meetings; but the key idea is that everyone is involved, not just a special, designated political class.

It doesn't mean that everyone is involved in the details of implementing policy or administering programs, but that everyone, not just a political class (however fairly or unfairly elected) is involved in setting policy and deciding on programs that will be run, in deciding what problems need to be solved, and in coming up with ideas for potential solutions.

Most of us are highly out of practice with being actual democratic participants, so starting small, at the local (town, or neighborhood for larger cities) level, is practical for many reasons. My understanding is, also, that corruption on state/provincial levels is facilitated by corruption at the local level (eg. how elections are run on the very local level). Since local politicians don't have much power, people don't get involved or ignore that local corruption, but it is what enables corruption at larger scale levels.

In some communities this won't be possible without external help (maybe due to organized crime influences in some areas, or just personal politics and bullying in some rural communities), but if enough local communities actually become effectively democratic, that can change state/provincial politics (and then the state or province can help the more messed-up communities).

State/provincial politics are the feeder systems for federal politics, so making state/provincial political systems function as participatory democracies will help facilitate change on the federal level. (So can things like masses of veterans being denied proper health care, people evicted from foreclosed homes while big banks got bailed out, people who have lost jobs and run out of unemployment benefits, etc. all moving to Washington D.C. and setting up a tent city on the White House lawn. Or a general strike. Or other direct (rather than symbolic) action by masses of people. To be clear, in case anyone is worried, I support nonviolent actions, myself.)

Culture
So if people start getting together and doing for themselves, without worrying about getting the permission of those who currently hold political and economic power, there will be a backlash. People will need to be prepared for this and willing to maintain solidarity in the face of opposition. That (among other reasons) means that we need some concurrent change in the cultural arena as well. Mass movements occur when people feel like they are part of a group working toward a higher purpose. I think a lot of people in the U.S. feel like they are part of a group - people screwed over and left out of economic and political systems. But to create the sort of solidarity needed for a mass social movement, you need to fire up people's imaginations and convince them that change, although always difficult and agonizingly slow, is possible. Pessimistic articles like Hedges' don't help. Instead, stories about the actual details of past and current (also this, this, this, and this for just a very small sampling) mass movements or effective resistance efforts help. This includes the challenges and setbacks those movements experienced as well as their successes, and the personal stories of people involved so that it is clear that they were just ordinary people, not super-human heroes. Not only is this accurate historical perspective important for motivation, it keeps people form getting burned out when change doesn't happen as quickly as anticipated. (It takes a lot of groundwork, over years, to build a mass social movement, during which time it can seem to the untrained eye like very little is being accomplished.)

Doing stuff with your neighbors as a community outside of the economic sphere is helpful as well - things like community gardens or community meals, building a strong library, schools, parks and local walking trails, and other such public services that everyone can patronize - basically, making a conscious effort to have some interactions that are not economically mediated.


Blargh, time to stop my screed (it turned into a screed after all, didn't it? sigh) and see how many people have said the same things but more succinctly while I've been writing this.
posted by eviemath at 6:20 AM on November 28, 2010 [19 favorites]


Whatever happened to trying to live justly? Why is that no longer enough?

Because justice is public, not private. You're confusing morality and justice. You can live morally according to your lights, but if others do not and there is no legislative and judicial infrastructure to hold them accountable, they get away with it. Patting yourself on the back for helping little old ladies across the street while insurance companies bankroll congress merely ensures that neither you nor the little old ladies will have access to adequate health care.
posted by fleetmouse at 6:37 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, so, here's a tip, which a couple people have touched on above: If you think They're Doin' It Rong, RUN FOR OFFICE, man. Local office. Get elected. And do it better. Be more open, be more fair, speak out against abuses, stand up for things that are right even when they're unpopular and now likely to follow your name in Google for all eternity.

Here's some things you'll find: It's exhausting to BE the Man when you're used to FIGHTING the Man. You are bounded by an unbelievable number of constraints. It is HARD not to let your good sense get sidetracked by biased, limited, or bad information given to you by dishonest purveyors of information. You grow to like and respect the people you work with, which makes it hard to criticize them publicly. The media misquotes you or takes you out of context. Important issues get ignored in favor of sexy ones. And what do you do? You keep your Man-Fightin' Balls strapped on tight and try to do all those hard things, politely when you can, explaining them in ways that reach your constituents, going to neighborhood meetings in the evenings after you've worked eight hours and been at dull-ass meetings and would really rather just watch Glee, because that's what you do, you talk to people and listen to people and answer 8 zillion e-mails from people asking why you hate Jesus, America, and/or children.

This is the beauty of democracy. Some regular, everyday idiot gets elected to every office. That idiot might as well be you. Then you can do it better than the last idiot ... or at least try.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:40 AM on November 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


For anyone interested, Chris Hedges is interviewed by Grist TV here.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 7:20 AM on November 28, 2010


We then need some concurrent political change so that tax, trade, and similar laws favor such democratic and locally owned businesses over multinational corporations that have no accountability to local communities or workers

This is vital. As human populations have grown larger and larger, the corporation has slowly developed from an abstract to a more formalized, legally-recognized entity with its own rights, concerns, motivations & desires, none of which take into account the communities they co-exist with (whom have their own rights, concerns, motivations & desires). The multinational by definition doesn't care about your home, your high school, or your Main St.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 AM on November 28, 2010


Two thoughts.

First, allowing for the moment that he is right, this is a bed the Democrats made for themselves when they decided to be the party of major-metro, graduate-degree holding cool. Converting top-school-district suburbs from bastions of Republicanism to liberal strongholds was never going to be cost-free. Even while government dependents of one form or another are still the numerical majority of the Democratic coalition, any coalition is going to tend to be influenced by its most sophisticated members. A Democratic Party that gets 90% of the donations of partners at big law firms and 70% of the donations of officers at big investment banks is inevitably going to be accountable to those firms' clients' interests to some extent.

Second, I don't think he's really right at all. Merciless greed is hardly the dominant, or rising, strain in American politics. If it were we would hardly have a system in which the large majority of families receive far more in direct or indirect government services, including accrual of old-age benefits, than they pay in taxes. (That break-even number for a family of four with two kids in public school is in the range of $70,000 to $100,000 ... how many families pay that in state, local and federal taxes?) Instead, the mainstream debate is basically about what degree of subsidy is optimal from both the standpoint of feel-good (compulsory charity), social stability, and moderating the pace at which business and investment is fleeing to friendlier nations, and how we ought to disguise new transfer payments in the form of regulations (a huge part of the healthcare bill, for example). The rise of a Sarah Palin-ish constituency is hardly a reversal of that: an injection of rural and Evanglical identity politics into the debate may disrupt the Ivy League intramural feeling of things, but hardly adds an actual push to lesser dependence upon the government.
posted by MattD at 7:50 AM on November 28, 2010


"We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can."

We tried this in the 1960s. It gave us the 1980s.


Faze, I'm not convinced. The sixties are ancient history, the twentieth century is over (thank god). The tech/population/global economic explosion is unprecedented. We are in uncharted territory.
posted by friendlymilkman at 7:56 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The true evil manifests itself in the mutual fund. The mutual fund gives ownership of hundreds of corporate stocks to the individual investor. Do you own an S&P index fund? Well then you are an owner of Monsanto stock. That knowledge from a cursory look at a yearly report is enough to make millions of Americans look the other way when the news of unfair/illegal corporate practices rear their ugly head. I don't believe that the rise of plutocracy in this country could have been so completely uncontested without this powerful and passive tool. You want to curtail corporate power, then stop shopping at Walmart, sell your mutual funds and microlend to people in your own community. If we all had the same kind of micro-ownership in the local grocery store that we had in Monsanto our communities would be healthy and thriving.
posted by any major dude at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Problem with this is that many many folks will suffer.

Yes. the idea that making things worse is necessary to make people recognize how bad things are is attractive to those who are not invested in society and don't have to care for any others. If you have a family, especially children, you do not want things to get so bad that a revolution happens. Such a situation will make life very bad for that family and those children, in most cases. I'm not ready to sacrifice my children for a hypothetical better future, any more than I am willing to sacrifice them for some bullshit war of aggression.

Tell me how I can protect the people I care about from rapacious, greedy corporations. Letting those corporations have their way, totally unrestrained, until the proletariat rises up is not an answer I will accept.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:32 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The sixties are ancient history, the twentieth century is over (thank god). The tech/population/global economic explosion is unprecedented.

The U.S. is different than it was in the 1960s, but I don't understand how you could think that it was that different, even with the advanced tech. Was the advanced tech responsible for Citizens United? Or is Citizens United the result of the conservative tilt to the supreme court that was accelerated under the Reagan and Bush administrations?

Because if the answer is the latter, well, that takes us right back to the eighties. So I'm not understanding this completely different world of which you speak.
posted by angrycat at 8:42 AM on November 28, 2010


Kirth Gerson: Stop engaging with those businesses, as best you can. Eat food you know where came from. Avoid processed crap. Turn off the TV. Save your money in a local credit union instead of Bank of America. Support businesses run by people you know -- and/or get to know the people who run the small businesses you support. Use public transportation, if possible. Its interesting how many structures are available to let you live your life without engaging The Machine. Opting-out can, in fact, make your life better. And your kids.

In fact, I'd argue that if more Americans took the above steps that many of our broken institutions would either fall away or would have to reconfigure themselves to survive in an economy of smarter consumers. Americans are too stupid/lazy, you say? Support your local public schools -- that's where all of these changes begin: With a generation of well-educated citizens.

Hoping things get so bad that all of those options are destroyed will not help anyone. It's also a bit juvenile, to be honest.
posted by chasing at 8:44 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"We must jam as many wrenches into the corporate system as we can."

We tried this in the 1960s.


no, "we" didn't - "we" made enough noise until some people bribed "us" with money and careers to tone down our act a little, and "we" bought in - or sold out

the minute i saw a pushcart in berkeley, 1976, selling food called "naked lunch" i knew there was nothing the corporate system couldn't turn into a money making machine with the right grooming and marketing

and the great irony of your statement is that more wrenches are being put into the corporate system these days today, often unintentionally, than were ever put during the 60s

We used to talk about "heightening the contradictions of capitalism" until the system broke down

well, "we" didn't have to lift a finger to do that, did we? - it's happening right now - the system IS breaking down

But there is no example in all of human history of the rapid collapse of a society's economy and institutions leading to something better.

do you seriously believe that life in russia was better in 1980 than it is now? or in 1995, a few years after the collapse? what about the rest of eastern europe?

yes, there are many examples where collapse meant disaster, but not always
posted by pyramid termite at 8:46 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ugh. I apologize, Kirth Gerson. I quickly read your comment and misinterpreted it. D'oh.

I guess my comment is more pointed at those above who were looking for specific non-revolutionary solutions.

Need more coffee...
posted by chasing at 8:47 AM on November 28, 2010


Here's the thing, it's not that the republicans and the democrats are the same, it's that together they ensure that legislation with any hint of progressiveness wildly overcompensates the corporations for any discomfort they might suffer. Republicans railed against the size of the health care bill ("1300 pages, how many people have read it!"). But who wrote all that? Not progressives, it was written by Liz Fowler, former Wellpoint VP, and Max "no public option talk allowed" Baucus aid. Now she is going to head up the "Consumer Oversight" portion of the new health care plan.
Not satisfied, lately in the news, republicans have been saying rather than repeal the health care bill (because of pressure from their large health care donors actually like it), they will just "modify it".
posted by 445supermag at 9:11 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


> The true evil manifests itself in the mutual fund. The mutual fund gives ownership of
> hundreds of corporate stocks to the individual investor. Do you own an S&P index fund?
> Well then you are an owner of Monsanto stock.

This applies equally to pension plans. If you happen to be covered by the California Public Employees' Retirement System (just to pick a big one) you own bits of all kinds of evil corporations and you'll want to walk away from your participation.
posted by jfuller at 9:17 AM on November 28, 2010


I would particularly like to see Christian churches advocating social justice reforms like they did with the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movements.

To be fair, I think is a decent amount of progressive Christian activism going on - check out Network and Sojourners, and of course there are lots of individual churches doing good things too.
posted by naoko at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll probably get shot to pieces for this but...
at their respective cores, (DEEPEST cores!) christianity and liberalism have a lot in common. Helping you neighbor if they're worse off then you, putting others first, rulers must serve others, giving to a central leadership for even and just distribution to those who need it. 'swhy fundie republickans at war with libs always confused me in my post churchie daze. Perhaps the illusion that tithes being taken by goverment force removes the warm feeling of giving. Also, they share the same fate in the long run; gets expensive, getting all that money. Keeping track of all that money. Deciding who gets it. Folks who are skilled at this work rarely work for free. Grow your church/party to keep enough coming in to afford to manage it all. A lot of prestige involved with being on top of the heap. People who want prestige and will do anything to git some, put more effort into winning that post, rather than gaining the wisdom and humble put-others-first spirit that needs to come first. Churches have one advantage tho. When the good people who understand the core values get fed up with the shit, they can easily splinter off and form a new, smaller, more responsive church. The small excellent church I USED to go to has gone through all this within 6 years. Our governing system is moving along the lines of making anyone who wants to do this a jailing offense. I wish I knew of an example in history when oppresive rule has been undone without extreme violence. Anyone? The guillotine won't work this time people, much as I would love to see those with the most power beheaded and put up as an example of what's going to happen to you for getting to the top at the expense of the rest of your fellow people, as opposed to getting there by assisting them. Do what you can is all you can do, but without that personal philosophy of selflessness, there's no meaningful change without that. How do we teach that to our children? These days or any other times, there's nothing without that. Teach them to get a good job, make a good living, take care of yourself first, these seem to be the lessons we're passing on. Maybe not with our words, but with our actions, and kids watch better than they listen. There's where change comes from and why it wont come
posted by Redhush at 10:20 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funny, I recall Obama raking in the dough from Internet outreach. Could've sworn I read an article or two about that a few years back ...
Yeah, he certainly tried to give that impression. What's your point? He sold totchkeys at rallies and counted the sale (we're talking $5-$10) as a donation to boost his donor count. But he also took a TON of money from huge corporations and PACs as well
posted by delmoi at 10:32 AM on November 28, 2010


So here's a tip [....] Be more open, be more fair, speak out against abuses, stand up for things that are right even when they're unpopular and now likely to follow your name in Google for all eternity.

Here's some things you'll find: It's exhausting to BE the Man when you're used to FIGHTING the Man. [...]


Spare us - this is not only condescending but false to the fact.

People on the left have been doing this tirelessly since the 70s and this has gotten us nowhere at all - the very most you might claim is that it has slightly slowed our losses.

Trying to work within the political system has definitively failed. We elected a President with a huge majority on the basis of change, then are immediately told we can get no change because, as someone writes above, "[h]e will only put forward liberal reforms with wide support," in other words, will not pass any reforms not approved by the Republicans.

Our political system is on a ratchet - it can only move in one direction, towards the authoritarian corporatist right. In my lifetime, it's moved so far that Richard Nixon - Richard Nixon! - was to the left of Mr. Obama on every major issue I can think of.

While we've been open, speaking out against abuses, standing up for things that are right and so forth, the two political parties have been spreading a web of lies from Iraq to climate, dismantling the laws and even suspending the Bill of Rights (with the evil "PATRIOT" act with the Orwellian name, and with a hundred executive orders and court actions by Mr. Obama's administration).

In fact, as a political issue, climate change has become the new "abortion" - both parties are "in opposition" over the issue, but neither party has actually done anything of significance.

So don't lecture us as if we're stupid children. Working within the rules and the political system has been set up to be a fool's game.

If there is any hope at all, it lies with the judicial system. Many crimes have been committed - war crimes, financial crimes - and there are still laws on the books. If a few honest Federal DAs and judges banded together, they could actually effect great change...

...but who am I fooling? The last ten years of broken government have almost certainly broken this aspect of the system too.

As for "20 years of Republican administrations" to fix things - well, why not just suggest mass suicide and be done with it? I doubt strongly that the country as we know it would not last even 10 years of Republican administrations.

Consider how badly the US did in eight years of Bush - the government went into the hole for almost $6 trillion, which is the price of WWII in 2010 dollars, and yet there was a huge quantity of value destroyed during this time, and worse, a huge amount of money transferred from the bottom to the top.

The jobs are gone. They aren't coming back on their own. The corporations are having a heyday, because with a permanent unemployed underclass they can pay people as little as possible and work them to death, so they aren't interested in more American jobs.

Both Republicans and Democrats have suddenly embraced deficit reduction - but since the deficit comes from a vast corporate raid on the Treasury (the money for two wars and the Homeland Security State coming right out of our pockets and right into the pockets of the corporations), this amounts to a second raid on the pockets of the average guy on the street.

And this is the purest insanity - the American economy has gone into shock, because so many people are unemployed. People have been living off shared and saved resources, but these are finite. Once that runs out, these people will break - they will lose their homes, but worse, their skills will become valueless so they are permanently trapped in poverty. Ten more years of that and there will be permanent shanty-towns all over America.

I really wish I had some good answer, but I do not. But I don't think we'll have to wait even ten years to see some excitement. To make an extended metaphor, the US government has sold all their smoke detectors and fire walls at bargain basement prices, the corporations and military ignore the no-smoking regulations, and there are flammables stored in every room in the house. It won't be long before one carelessly-thrown match will start a conflagration that will spread everywhere...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:44 AM on November 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


But he also took a TON of money from huge corporations and PACs as well

yup, not to mention you can't very far in Illinois politics without the support of ADM and that support isn't free.

regarding the 60's: So I'm not understanding this completely different world of which you speak.

I think he's talking about the tools that are available to progressives - like the Internet. But you could argue that they are only marginally more effective than street and campus protests were (which are now useless).

What hasn't changed are the tools of the establishment - it's amazingly easy to forget that the peace movement (esp. black power) was put down by shooting their leaders in their beds, jet fighters and rolling fucking tanks into Trenton and Detroit, wire-tapping and bugging the shit out of everybody and planting undercover cops into peace orgs that then instigated much of the hyper-violence. I'll scream as loud as the next guy about scanners at airports but young lefties have no idea how far vested interests will take things to keep their shit. Voting Democratic, and sorry, running for local office to change things from within seems particularly naive about how reform actually happens.
posted by victors at 10:49 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


On a semantic note: Hedges was talking about revolutionary change. Some comments here discuss reform. The distinction between the two is, I think, at the heart of the current feud between the Obama administration and leftists/progressives, so may be important to keep track of.

Revolutionary change is any fundamental change to the systems (political, economic, cultural) that we live with or under (examples: abolishing for-profit banks, corporations as they are currently constituted with sole responsibility being to their shareholders, or more genreally the ability to earn money merely off of the ownership of capital without contributing any labor). Sometimes that happens through a violent revolution, though as often violent "revolutions" seem to just replace whomever is on top of the hierarchy with a different crew without changing the systems themselves. Sometimes revolutionary change happens through civil disobedience and violent or nonviolent resistance. Nonviolent resistance movements seem to have the best track record for actually accomplishing revolutionary change, not to mention being the ethically preferable method.

Reform refers to more minor rather than fundamental changes to systems (examples: stronger regulations on banks and the stock market, regulations requiring workers or local residents to have seats on the boards of corporations but still having their primary goal and legal responsibility being to make money for their shareholders). So far, to the best of my knowledge, revolutionary change hasn't been accomplished by just building up reforms, though I suppose it's possible.
posted by eviemath at 10:50 AM on November 28, 2010


I favor revolutionary change over reform myself (the socialism versus capitalism thing), but second the opinion that waiting around for things to fall apart and people to rise up in violent rebellion out of accumulated anger or desperation is not a positive or desirable option. It's ethically unconscionable for anyone who actually cares about preventing suffering, not to mention that it is of dubious efficacy.
posted by eviemath at 10:55 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hedges was talking about revolutionary change. Some comments here discuss reform.

Point taken on the distinction, although I'm pretty sure my comments apply to both, as you say, along a continuum of change.

but second the opinion that waiting around for things to fall apart and people to rise up in violent rebellion out of accumulated anger or desperation is not a positive or desirable option. It's ethically unconscionable for anyone who actually cares about preventing suffering, not to mention that it is of dubious efficacy.

I hope I'm not being lumped with these commenters but I'm not sure where the answer lies. While I don't advocate side-lining, leave alone violence to achieve revolutionary change it's clear to me that corporate/vested interests have no qualms about pushing every button, including police/military action against anybody who threatens the status quo. They have been very clever and insidious in avoiding these tactics since the 60's here in the US, but it would be a mistake to assume they have abandoned the option.
posted by victors at 11:08 AM on November 28, 2010


Money, particularly American dollars, is the basic problem. The majority of Americans are employed by either multi-national corporations or by the government. Many people live from paycheck to paycheck and are over-worked, afraid, and unwilling to bite the hand which feeds them (even if the other one is carrying that proverbial stick).

For the elite, one person one vote is not favorable but money can be if it is concentrated enough. Since I've been alive I've seen the increased monetization of more and more activities and now with healthcare I will be required to pay the government money to breathe. If you want to fight corporatism, fight corruption, fight money. A very small minority of people, I don't think most people understand how small, control the money supply. Look around, money is scared in our country, as an example look at the sort of art which is banned in our country, art that violates copyright, art which would cost some rich wo/man lots of money is banned.

Now, with citizens united, money talks, money is speech, it is no longer one person one voice one vote, it is one person with lots of money talking very loudly, and buying everything s/he needs to get what s/he wants. Money buys you justice in this country, those who are rich are treated differently than those who are poor. Look at airport security, do you think those super-rich who own private jets needs to go through a backscatter scanner or be physically patted down? There is a lot to say about the power of wealth, and better way to organize thoughts than on a metafilter thread, but if you want a better america and a better world you wont get it by playing by the game we have because it has already been won.

Also, as a side note, this is one (of many) reasons Islam is so dangerous, it is a system outside of the current capitalist dynamic. And as a final note, things will continue to get worse until people are willing to fight for their rights, which means bringing pain to themselves and others. Want to change the system, get a million people to stand at wall street and stop the markets from opening. We both know tanks would be rolling in and we'd see our own version of Tiananmen Square. They the super-rich, and we can name names, have already won, the current reality is just a victory lap, and trying to change this will only make this truth more apparent.
posted by Shit Parade at 11:30 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


We can create our own networks of goods and support and we consciously choose who we associate and trade with.

Corporations rely on our complicity, if we stop interacting, or even cut ourselves way back, they will whither.


I wrote something about this on my blog the other day. I think there genuinely are some things we can do to start changing this awful, awful system we've built.
posted by EarBucket at 11:30 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


paisley henosis: “Just for the sake of argument: exactly how are you living in such a just way as to protect us all from Monstanto writing pro-Monstanto federal policy? Or stopping hydro-fraking in Federally protected lands?”

How exactly do you come to the conclusion that it's my duty, much less within the sphere of my abilities, to "protect you all" from the misled greed of a bunch of confused people who think it's their prerogative to destroy for their own benefit? I choose emphatically not to be one of them, if that's what you want to know. If you can tell me what switch I can flip to show everybody at Monsanto that what they're doing is wrong (and I agree wholly that it is) then I'm all ears. But I don't kid myself that it's as simple as all that, because there isn't some vast supply of right-thinking people who can pick up where they left off, either. Take Monsanto down and a thousand more rapacious companies will take its place. That's the human race. We don't know better.

And don't think I don't intend to try to change that. I just don't have any illusions about how hard it's going to be. At the same time, since I know that it isn't anybody's duty to "protect us all" or save the world or whatever, I can sigh and take comfort in the good friends I have and live my life relatively happily. I know people for whom that isn't true; most of them are activists. And I get the sneaking suspicion that this sort of approach to the world – the activist approach – is bound to cause even more unhappiness, both in the activists themselves and the people around them, than it has over the past centuries. Sure, it's better to be an activist than work at Monsanto, but isn't there another way of living? A way that doesn't involve this keening need to save everyone else?
posted by koeselitz at 11:31 AM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


On the topic of outside-the-system versus inside-the-system tactics: most of the ideas I mentioned in my first comment were not-illegal, and could be inside- or outside-system depending on how you carried them out. Many street protests are petty much a within-the-system tactic: groups apply for a march/parade permit and mostly stick to the permitted route and schedule. If you have a government, business, or other group within society that the protesters want to affect that worries about public opinion, then a large, coordinated display of it in the form of a street protest can have some effect. Not so much if the group you are trying to affect doesn't care. Many groups can get people out to a street protest because they aren't actually outside-the-system, so theoretically involve minimal risk. Although we see that changing in particular with anti-globalization protests. (I haven't seen a Take Back the Night march particularly hassled by police yet, but those marches are often aimed at other groups within society rather than specifically at government or corporate policies.)

If you want to go with outside-the-system tactics, some that have worked for groups in the past include setting up alternate, shadow structures (barter economies, unofficial neighborhood governing councils, the Congressional delegation fielded by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, and in some cases things like community credit unions can fall into this category) or resistance through direct action (boycotts, strikes, factory sit-ins and take-overs, sabotage; forming a human line of resistance against an eviction, home destruction, entrance and exit from the military base where the former School of the Americas is located, environmentally destructive business activity; non-cooperation, collecting your own salt from the ocean in contravention of the British Empire's salt laws, not paying taxes, rent strikes, desertion from the military, aiding war resisters - direct action is anything that directly addresses whatever abuse, action, or policy you are opposing, could be focused on building a more positive alternative though generally has connotations of resistance to a negative current state of affairs, and - coincidentally I'm sure, heh - is often illegal and thus more risky). As victors noted, people with power tend to react rather strongly to this sort of resistance, so it helps to be prepared for that. The War Resisters League puts out (used to put out?) a fairly detailed Handbook for Nonviolent Action with helpful suggestions.

Covering my butt disclaimer: nonviolence is the only way to go. Also, please read all of the above as me responding to other commenters that have indicated not being able to think of what to do to resist what they see as negative political or economic policies by listing things other people have done. I'm not encouraging or condoning any illegal activity.
posted by eviemath at 12:03 PM on November 28, 2010


"I hope I'm not being lumped with these commenters but I'm not sure where the answer lies." (victors)

Nope:) I'm just trying to nudge everyone to be more proactive and optimistic about what they can accomplish. Realistic, yes - you need a group of friends/can't do it alone, and you have to celebrate little victories and not have too high the expectations for results, considering the extent to which governments and corporations have gone to maintain their power against threats to it in the past as you mention. But what's the alternative?
posted by eviemath at 12:16 PM on November 28, 2010


If you think They're Doin' It Rong, RUN FOR OFFICE, man. Local office. Get elected. And do it better. Be more open, be more fair, speak out against abuses, stand up for things that are right even when they're unpopular and now likely to follow your name in Google for all eternity...You keep your Man-Fightin' Balls strapped on tight and try to do all those hard things, politely when you can, explaining them in ways that reach your constituents, going to neighborhood meetings in the evenings after you've worked eight hours and been at dull-ass meetings and would really rather just watch Glee, because that's what you do, you talk to people and listen to people and answer 8 zillion e-mails from people asking why you hate Jesus, America, and/or children.

In my experience working with people like this, this is an uncannily accurate description of what it's like. And I want to still believe that it's what works. The midterms really got me down, though, because so many people who were doing just this (I know you said local, but it's not dissimilar - see Russ Feingold and some others) were unceremoniously dumped by folks who decided that they'd had enough of those alleged Jesus/America/children haters, regardless of the accuracy of the Jesus/America/children-hating claims and in spite of endless hours of hard work and dedicated efforts to communicate to constituents what you're doing and why. What do we do when to good guys lose and the things they accomplished (small though they may have been) possibly get undone? I am starting to run out of answers.
posted by naoko at 12:29 PM on November 28, 2010


Reform refers to more minor rather than fundamental changes to systems

Woah, there, in whose dictionary does it refer to that? Reform means, literally, to re-form, and that can be as big or as small as you want.
posted by smoke at 2:54 PM on November 28, 2010


(By the way, since paisley henosis mentioned Monsanto, my general dislike of hand-wringing activism doesn't mean I didn't call my senator and let him know that I think Senate Bill S 510 is a steaming crock of shit. And you should call your senator, too. Just sayin'.)
posted by koeselitz at 3:12 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


So lets just stop gabbing on about it, it's completely pointless, and its getting us nowhere!

Agreed! This is a complete waste of time!
posted by ReWayne at 8:38 PM on November 28, 2010


eviemath:
'But what's the alternative?'

'nonviolence is the only way to go'
which i agree with and seems to be an end to mr. chris' article. not an end to discussion?
posted by clavdivs at 9:57 PM on November 28, 2010


If there's one common trait I can identify among everyone who complains about "corporate power," it's that most of them have absolutely no idea what "corporate power" actually is, or how it actually works.

Corporations are, admittedly, legal fictions, "persons" created by the operation of state law and endowed with certain rights under those same laws.

Corporate formations are initiated by people, usually groups of them, who want to do things that it is difficult to do in their individual capacity, mostly involving coordination of action and capital.

Corporations are, undeniably, powerful actors in society. But the reason this is the case is not because of the "legal fiction" part but because of the "coordination of action and capital" part. Corporations can act only through their agents, and corporate agents can only act with the authorization of the company's shareholders.

The vast majority of corporations are public, i.e. anyone with sufficient money and a mind to do so can buy available shares, occasionally from the company itself, but mostly from people who have a mind to do something else with their money. People buy stock in a company because they want an ownership interest in it with the potential for a share in corporate profits. But all corporate shares are either owned directly by individuals or by other corporate entities which are eventually owned directly by individuals.

So what you've got are groups of individuals acting together through corporate entities to do things they would not be able to do on their own.

Now make no mistake a ridiculously small percentage of the country owns a ridiculously large percentage of all financial wealth. But you can't restrict "corporate" power without restricting individual power, and imposing any meaningful restrictions about how people can invest their money and vote their shares is very, very difficult if not downright impossible under the American Constitution. More to the point, finding a rule which only affects actions having to do with corporate governance is actually a lot harder than it sounds, because again, corporate actions are ultimately just people doing stuff together. Making it illegal for some people but not others to do what they consider to be in their own economic best interest is not only unconstitutional* but downright undemocratic.

I'm not convinced this problem has a solution. The pre-modern period saw the few people who owned most of the land through inheritance dominate politics and economic policy. The modern and contemporary periods saw this arbitrary but relatively stable aristocracy replaced by an equally arbitrary but depressingly mercurial and ephemeral aristocracy. If forced to choose between aristocracies I'd be tempted to choose the former--though the latter has done a lot for individual rights, which has its advantages--but if you don't like aristocracy at all, you're just screwed. I don't think history gives "no aristocracy" as an actual option.

*Seriously. Under Fifth Amendment jurisprudence, any government interference with property requires compensation, and the Fourteenth Amendment both expands that to the states and requires that any diminution of individual rights be consistent with both Equal Protection and Due Process. I've never seen any proposal for "limiting corporate power" which doesn't violate at least one if not all three of those constitutional rights. If you want to say we should rewrite the Constitution, hey, fine, take a number and get in line. You won't be the first to think changes need to be made. But thinking that any substantive changes can be made without that just demonstrates a poor grasp of constitutional law.
posted by valkyryn at 8:27 AM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


But you can't restrict "corporate" power without restricting individual power

How about un-restricting.

Agents of corporations are bound by law (at least threat of stockholder lawsuit) to pursue only those aims that further the well-being of the corporation which, to my knowledge, has only ever been interpreted as making more money. Any other action, like not fucking the planet, preventing war or violence, feeding the hungry, showing any sign of mercy, grace, or compassion that doesn't advance financial gain makes officers of the corporation vulnerable to punishment. This problem has no solution? Sorry, but fuck that.
posted by victors at 8:54 AM on November 29, 2010


How about un-restricting.

Agents of corporations are bound by law (at least threat of stockholder lawsuit) to pursue only those aims that further the well-being of the corporation which, to my knowledge, has only ever been interpreted as making more money. Any other action, like not fucking the planet, preventing war or violence, feeding the hungry, showing any sign of mercy, grace, or compassion that doesn't advance financial gain makes officers of the corporation vulnerable to punishment. This problem has no solution? Sorry, but fuck that.


You don't understand what you're saying.

Freeing corporate agents from acting at the direction of shareholders is a direct interference with the property rights of the shareholders, who, after all, own the company. Such would be a violation of the shareholders' Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

If corporate agents aren't acting virtuously, it's because the shareholders aren't virtuous.

You tell me then: exactly what law are we supposed to change here?
posted by valkyryn at 10:21 AM on November 29, 2010


If corporate agents aren't acting virtuously, it's because the shareholders aren't virtuous.

You can't have it both ways - either you are defending democracy or you are defending the majority of stockholders of a single corporation, which can be one (actual non-fictional) person, the right to maximize profit at any price to the common good. Since when is democracy for sale by the share?

And even if all shares are owned by a single (non-fictional) person each, when is mob rule more important than everything else in the world? Where is the balance in the system that actually looks out for something other than maximizing profits? Attorney generals? When was the last time a corporate charter was revoked because it was acting irresponsibly toward the human race including corrupting the legal and electoral system by using loopholes to purchase favorable (i.e. pure profit incentive) legislation?

Fine, even if you never want to change the constitution ever again because that's just soooo hard, then, what? The constitution is not open to interpretation anymore now that everything is tilted toward corporations? Owning something is not the first and last right in the constitution.

Personally, I am so goddamn tired of greed-is-good apologists waiving around the system they have rigged in an attempt to give them cover to continue behaving list shit-heals. "problem has [no] solution" - again, fuck that. twice. These fuckers are all so clever when it suits them (remind me again how much taxes Exxon and GE paid last year? right, $0 - on world record profits) but this one, the one that balances pure profit motive with justice, peace, environment, education and health is just such a head scratcher!! All of a sudden, we're all out of ideas.
posted by victors at 11:56 AM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Freeing corporate agents from acting at the direction of shareholders is a direct interference with the property rights of the shareholders, who, after all, own the company. Such would be a violation of the shareholders' Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights."

valkyryn, as I understand it, victors was talking about putting restrictions on the available courses of action for corporate agents, not saying that, within constraints, the corporate agents should not act at the direction of shareholders. That's pretty much the current situation anyways - corporations are theoretically required to obey a whole host of laws and regulations.

Me, I'm opposed to the idea of profiting from mere capital ownership without contribution of actual labor. Makes your whole concern a moot point.

Economists make a distinction between personal property and capital. The 5th and 14th Amendments, to the best of my understanding, were originally applied in early U.S. judicial rulings with this distinction in mind. The amendments refer to not depriving a "person" of life, liberty, or property, and say that "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation" (emphasis mine). It would not be consistent with recent case law, but one could certainly interpret this to refer only to non-capital, private property. (Thanks for the link, clavdius.)

On the topic of corporations, prior to judicial rulings that corporations were legal persons (thereby paving the way for Citizens United), these amendments wouldn't have applied to corporate property, which is specifically not any biological person's private property (that's kind of the whole point of incorporating).
posted by eviemath at 4:36 PM on November 29, 2010


Also, some corporations do include paying attention to social and/or environmental responsibility in their corporate charters, so that their officers are required to take not just shareholder profit into account when making business decisions. The term I'm thinking of is social business, but I seem to recall that there are also corporations out there that make profits for their shareholders but also include some social or environmental responsibility requirements in their charters... help with links anyone?
posted by eviemath at 4:47 PM on November 29, 2010


Economists make a distinction between personal property and capital.

Perhaps, but the legal system does not. Even allowing for the purposes of argument that corporations do not have the same legal rights as natural persons (again, good luck coming up with a winning argument on that one), because corporations are ultimately owned by individuals, if nothing else you're interfering with the owners' rights to dispose of their property as they see fit. Cue immediate constitutional objection.

Also, some corporations do include paying attention to social and/or environmental responsibility in their corporate charters, so that their officers are required to take not just shareholder profit into account when making business decisions.

That's awesome. But shareholders bought into that set of bylaws, presumably on purpose. Shareholders can decide that they want their business to be run for just about any purpose that they come up with, and they are completely free to direct their corporate to act in non-profit-maximizing ways.

Telling shareholders who have decided that they do want to maximize their profit at the expense of all other considerations that they aren't allowed to do that would be interfering with their property rights.

This is the system we have. If you don't like it, hey, change the Constitution. But that's the law.
posted by valkyryn at 8:19 AM on December 2, 2010


The constitution is not open to interpretation anymore now that everything is tilted toward corporations? Owning something is not the first and last right in the constitution.

Yeah, you just don't understand either the legal system works nor why it works they way it does. Nor have you actually gotten the point of what corporations actually are, i.e. groups of people acting in concert. Abridging the rights of corporations, as you would do, is abridging the rights of the individuals who own it.

If that isn't something you can get your head around, there's no real sense in continuing this conversation.
posted by valkyryn at 8:24 AM on December 2, 2010


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