We’re. Not. Crazy.
May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Last Thursday evening I read three articles. two new and one old, that, for me, were like being in the woods at night, lost and lonely, stumbling over fallen tree branches, feeling fear that began in the pit of my stomach and ended in my throat, then emerging on to a clearing where, a half mile away, a coal oil lamp cast a pale yellow glow from a window. Sometimes the future and the past loom so dark that the friendly light of intelligent hope is more comforting than stimulating.
One of the articles was a biographical character study of Bernie Sanders, the man with a distinctive accent and usually unkempt hair; the socialist candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to become president of the United States. Here is a link: Sanders . It was easy for me to identify with him, not only because of his political beliefs but also because of his personal history. He spent the early years of his adult life engaged in futile political efforts. He wrote articles advocating policies that were generally ignored by his fellow citizens of Vermont. He lost four statewide races, two for state senate and two for governor. He was finally elected mayor of Burlington, his first job with a salary sufficient to finance a middle class life style.
I can identify with that history, although, instead of losing statewide races as a candidate, I worked on the staff of candidates who lost statewide races. My record was 0-6.
I found the title for this essay in a vignette from Bernie’s early life. When he was without a job, which was often, his friends took him in. One was Richard Sugarman, who shared many of Bernie’s beliefs. Every morning Bernie would greet his friend, not with “Good Morning”, but with “We’re. Not. Crazy.”
Albert Einstein’s Gentle Socialism
The Bernie Sanders article included an embedded link to a 1949 essay written by Albert Einstein entitled “Why Socialism”. Here is a link: Einstein Like the Bernie Sanders story, Einstein’s essay was a beckoning lamplight seen from a dark place. It is the only reasoned argument for abandoning capitalism I have read that did not assume violent revolution would be necessary.
Einstein, instead, describes a dichotomy of needs and influences that shape our lives: The drive for individuality, what Abraham Maslow later called “self actualization”, and an equally competitive identification with and support for the needs of society. He contends that those different forces can be accommodated and acknowledged without sacrificing either one. The secret is awareness of and respect for those forces in others and willingness to mobilize government’s power to support them.
This essay captivated me. Einstein acknowledges his limited background in social science but he insists that the same rigorous discipline required by physics and astronomy can be applied to social and economic issues. He charmed me with evidence that he had studied Thorstein Veblen and relied on Veblen’s evolutionary analysis of our progress, or not, from what Veblen called the “predatory phase” of human development. Einstein contends that the democratic socialism he advocates would facilitate emerging from that “predatory phase” to one less brutal, more intelligent and more capable of satisfying our need for security and contentment.
Einstein also, having observed the results of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, acknowledged the problem it poses. Here is the somewhat sad and plaintiff penultimate paragraph of his essay:
“Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”
How indeed. I know the answer. We have it in our hands. It is our Constitution. It may require an amendment or two but the concept has been left to us by our forefathers. With two amendments and commitment to rigorous enforcement our Constitution would be an adequate response to Einstein’s question.
The two amendments? First, “The words ‘person’ and “people’ in this Constitution apply to living natural persons. They do not apply to any legally created entity. Neither do they apply to a person not yet born.” Second, “In this Constitution the protection of freedom of expression does not apply to the spending or investment of money.”
With those two amendments, our Constitution is, I believe, entirely adequate to prevent government bureaucracy from becoming a threat to individual freedom. Political vigilance and common sense would be required and an independent federal judiciary would, as always, be essential but those requirements apply to any government scheme. Soviet Russia had an admirable constitution but it was useless because the judiciary was powerless to enforce it and the police were allowed to ignore it.
Dean Baker’s Demolition of TTP
The third article that illuminated my dark feelings was a critical analysis of the arguments for the Trans Pacific Partnership by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, a Washington DC think tank. I have expressed my own hostility toward this “Partnership” in a previous essay posted here. Dean Baker adds authority and devastating contradictory data to support his identification of this proposal as a threat to the fair distribution of international trade benefits. Here is link: Baker
The House of Representatives will vote on “fast tracking” this abomination within the next couple of weeks. The Senate has failed to kill it. We can only hope that the Democrats in the House will save Obama from being responsible for burdening our working class with this unjust agreement for the next two or three decades. If he succeeds, he will join Bill Clinton on the list of presidents who betrayed the hope and promise that motivated those who voted for them.
Conclusion and a Personal Note
I feel I owe an apology for the emotional language in this effort. I have been affected by the bombardment of hopelessness that has pelted me recently. Netanyahu’s re-election followed by his empowering the most passionate politicians determined to convert Israel into a theocratic bully was a disappointment. David Cameron’s Conservative Party wipe-out of the British Labour Party in the recent election was another. The growing strength of ISIS and the apparent unwillingness of Iraq’s military forces to effectively oppose it is another. The dismemberment of Syria accompanied by the threat of ISIS involvement there is another.
My real nightmare is the probable symbolic terrorist attack in the United States or a mass beheading of Americans broadcast in living color. Other countries, Britain, Spain, Holland – bear such attacks and react with mourning and redoubled efforts at prevention. In America our leaders choose endless war and thousands of needless deaths as the appropriate response. I’m sure ISIS is aware of this grotesque fact. I fear they will use it to their advantage.
All this bad news comes at the beginning of what promises to be an extravaganza of hateful stupidity from a jackass choir of Republicans eager to compete for the allegiance of the lowest common denominator tranche of the American right wing. And who will be our St. Jeanne d’Arc? Why Hillary from the House of Clinton of course! Her head is already bloody but unbowed and her baggage, packed in a truckload of trunks just waiting to be unpacked by reporters, political archivists and GOP flacks, follows her everywhere. But, having spent a billion dollars, she may become our next president. And if not, we will be led by Jeb the Timid or Brash Young Rubio or, worst of all, by the union scalp hunter, the Bible thumper from Wisconsin, Scott “Bring ’em On” Walker.
I plan to stay sober for the next seventeen or eighteen months but only by many repetitions of the Serenity Prayer.