Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Kochs: paying to keep America dumb

AJ Goode and his wife Mary who live in a shelter in Los Angeles - BBC News

David Seaton's News Links
Around the world people ask themselves, if Americans are so dumb, why is the country so rich? Americans are not really born that stupid, but making them stupid is a huge industry.

The Koch Brothers are leaders in that industry.

At this juncture, the interests of America's wealthy are totally separate from those of the middle class and working class base  just as they would be in a third world autocracy and the only way for them to keep the hoi poloi on board, in what is still formally a democracy, is by endless war, endless fear and xenophobia. That is why so much is being spent on think tanks and AstroTurf organizations.

Two things strike me right off the bat:
  1. It costs a huge amount of money to get people to vote and to be organized against their own vital interests.
  2. I believe it would be absurdly cheap to demolish the entire Koch strategy.
Knowing how vulnerable and absurd their ideas are is why people like the Kochs are more than willing to spend that type of money, just as the Dutch are willing to spend a fortune to be able to live below sea level or why it costs more money to fly in a plane than to fall off a cliff, because they all entail thwarting the natural tendency of things.

What is the tendency of our world, where is it headed?

Anyone who is paying attention realizes that the world of the future is going to be so dangerous and so complex, what with climate change, wars for food and water and genetic manipulation, that it is either going to be heavily regulated or it will be a hell that will make Blade Runner look like Hannah Montana. The Kochs are obviously cool with that, with their kind of money they will live well in an America filled with the desperately poor, just like Mexican or African billionaires do in their countries, but they are smart enough to realize that if most people ever came to their senses they would not be one bit enthusiastic for such a program. So a huge amount of money is being spent to keep people from understanding reality and to ridicule those who do.

You have to ask yourself how an esp├Ęce d'ordure like George W. Bush ever got elected president and stayed president in the first place and then accept that those very same forces are still at work today.

The big question is...

Why can't the Democrats who were once supposed to be the "people's party", come up with candidates that connect solidly with "deep" America.

How is it that a piece of work like Sarah Palin is the one who isn't (wasn't) a millionaire, the one who went to a state university, the one who was a commercial fisherman, (fisherperson?) served on the PTA and whose husband carries a steelworker's union card? Why is this objectively working class woman a Republican of the most brutish sort?

Why is it that the only Democrat that seems acutely aware of this problem is a born aristocrat like Howard Dean?

This is the real question.

Can you have a working class movement without the working class?

To paraphrase the demon Rumsfeld, you go with the working class you have, not with the working class you would like to have.

America's working people are in desperate need of health, education and welfare, but they are also mostly social conservatives. They generally are religious.

Why should this social conservatism and religiosity automatically be a force for economic reaction? Why should this folk culture serve the interests of people like the truly elitist Koch brothers, who are objectively the enemies of the working poor?

There is nothing in the teaching of Jesus Christ that intrinsically supports economic libertarianism, xenophobia, racism, military adventures at the expense of health or education, or connects in any way with the beggar thy neighborism of the disciples of Ayn Rand.

Imagine how the following text would sit with Ayn Rand or the Koch Brothers, in fact, can you imagine it being spoken at Tea Party event?
'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least among you, you did not do for me.' Matthew 25:41-45
Or these
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. Proverbs 21:13

He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God. Proverbs 14:31

He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. Proverbs 28:27

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9

Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Deuteronomy 24:14
(Hat to Scott Manley)
I believe that it is no coincidence that more emphasis is usually given in the USA to the apocalyptic "the end of days" scenario, than to the Biblical quotes above. Even the age old religion of the have nots in today's America has to be warped to suit the needs of those who have.

Certainly there is no better country than America in the whole world to be rich. It is probably the only country in the world where the rich are loved. Conversely there is no worse country in the world to be poor. America's working poor have every reason to be paranoid, the system literally hates them.

Religion and populism go hand in hand. "Religion is the opium of the people" in the same sense that "opium is the opium of the cancer patient". At issue is pain, if you propose no real cure for the disease, why begrudge the palliative drug? Jesus offers a far better deal for the working poor than the Tea Party does.

Many progressives have problems with all of this, they are repelled by what they consider the gross superstition of creationism, for example. As to evolution, however, if the Democrats want to ever win southern white people or even a lot of evangelical black people, they had better not put evolution at the center of their program, More than religious, this is a cultural thing. Poor people never have liked Darwinism very much... think about it. What does "survival of the fittest" hold for them? What is their role in "the devil take the hindmost"?

Why are so many of the poor of America, white and black, socially conservative? Because without a welfare state, the only institutions that offer any comfort or protection are the church and the family. The family is the first welfare state. In the USA there is no welfare state and the family is also under heavy pressure from the system. Single parent families are increasingly common, The United States has the highest percentage of single-parent families (34% in 1998) among developed countries. The United States has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, twice that of Denmark, Canada, or the United Kingdom. The divorce rate is highest among lower income couples. With reason, poor people in America are terrified: frightened people take comfort where they can. A divorced waitress with two kids who has to take them to an emergency room to treat their asthma can't be criticized for being a "Left Behind" enthusiast: she and her kids fly up to heaven and the stingy tippers go to hell.

The Evangelicals love for creationism and the literal reading of scripture is because the Bible trumps the "experts"... any hick quoting the good book is superior to a PhD from MIT quoting Darwin. The same psychology holds true for "Rapture" enthusiasts, they will be saved, taken directly up to heaven and all the people who have ever treated them so shabbily here on earth will suffer indescribable torment and humiliation, which the chosen will be able to watch from heaven. This is a form of sedition.

I find any rebellion of the "lower orders" in the USA positive per se. I start from the premise that it is really the poor, the sniggered at, the excluded and the disadvantaged -- what are called the "lower classes" -- that have to be the protagonists of any authentic change. Up till now, all the "struggle" is coming from the top against the down. And many middle class Democrats that think they are progressives are merely water carriers for the "one percent".

What is new is that now it is America's lower middle classes, once the envy of the entire world, that can't pay for health and education any more and find themselves losing their homes and being pushed toward pauperization.

How can the billionaire's conspiracy be defeated on the cheap? 

You have to start from where you are.

Perhaps the only thing that the white, black and Latino populations really have in common is their fear of destitution and their faith in Jesus.

The basic message of Christianity, especially the Evangelical variety, is that Jesus died in great agony on the cross to redeem those who believe in him, out of pure love for each of them, one at a time, although they have done nothing in particular to deserve this, the most precious of rewards.... and it's free... an "unlimited offer".

This means that a person who has been "born again", no matter if they are fat or have bad breath or don't have a high pay grade, are beloved and unique in the eyes of the central figure of Western civilization. Some may not think this is so special but they might admit that it is a culturally more grounded reason to feel special than because the brand of underwear they have on reflects their "unique lifestyle".

That is why, despite much of the grotesque tackiness and fanaticism of some of it, that, at the risk of sounding condescending, I find the Evangelical movement filled with such promise, because it alone, even without knowing it, is the only serious rebellion against the "unhappiness principal" that drives American capitalism. The entire American economy is based on making people feel bad about themselves, making them feel poor, ugly, sick, helpless, stupid, inadequate and then offering to sell them something to relieve the pain of rejection and failure. Americans are hardly ever away from a voice that tells them that they don't measure up to some impossible standard of perfection. The message is like the song, "all in all you're just another brick in the wall" ...unless you buy what the voice is selling.

The sort of Christianity practiced by America's charismatic Christians, both black and white, means that joy can be found for free... this is positively "un-American".

That is why I think that some sort of "liberation theology" is finally going to the only idea or movement that is going to change America. I'm sure that most of the Evangelicals that were attending the Republican convention would be horrified to know that British Socialism has its deepest roots in the Baptist and Methodist chapels of Wales and the industrial north of England. But there is no reason to believe that someone who drove the money changers out of the temple is a fan of Ayn Rand's.

I think that America's most deeply rooted institutions are now in conflict with our modern, globalized economy or as Joe Sleeper says:

(...) obeisance to every whim of global capital, which is abandoning Palin's small-town America and Obama's urban America, a capital whose injustices and consumer palliatives are subverting our republican institutions and character.
There has to be found or be created, an overlap between American progressives and the Evangelicals.

There has to be rebellion for anything to happen and the culture of the people has to be taken into account. The lower middle class and poor people of America are religious and we have to start from there. The only strategy that will ever reverse the enormous inequality and the oppression of the poor in the USA is an American version of "Liberation Theology".

And remember it is cheap, really cheap, there are over 2000 years of what an MBA would call "sunk costs" working for it.

You don't believe in any of it?

No problem.

If you are truly progressive and want to change the system, then you should say like Henry of Navarre, "Paris vaut bien une messe"... Or study up on "Pascal's Wager".

Like Howard Dean, I believe that America's progressives have to make their peace with evangelical America and find defenders of the "little man" that vibrate in the same cultural key as they do. Where is a contemporary William Jennings Bryan? It is absurd that a credible case can be made that the Democrats are elitist, but it is being made effectively every day of the week. DS


Han said...

Good article! But the song you quoted is by Pink Floyd, not the Who.

Anonymous said...

David, I believe those you speak of have an even greater fear: realizing and admitting that they have been completely suckered; I think they'd rather die than admit that. In other words, they are dug in for the duration.
I believe it is inevitable that the system will eventually fall apart and that is our only hope.
PS Han is right about the song ;)

fillmore said...

Saw an article recently listing the 10 wealthiest members of the Senate.

Most of them were Democrats.

Just in case anyone still does not know why the Democrats are doing all they can to support the plutocratic oligarchy at the expense of average folks.

stunted said...

Glenn Beck was on "Fox on Sunday" the day after his Beckapalooza in D.C. specifically targeting Obama's christianity as un-american due to its liberation theology bent. The acceptable form of christianity is that of personal salvation, not one of collectively righting wrongs. This is all Beck's interpretation and I mention this only to show why there will never be a rebellion of the type you envisage in this country. The believers do not see themselves as victims because to do so is profoundly un-american. They want to be left alone, not join a struggle. Obama is encroaching on their freedoms with his health care and his debt relief for other people. He's a meddler who must be stopped. They also believe that he was all about change. As a bumper sticker puts it: "I'll take my freedom, guns and money. You can keep the spare change."

The religious movement in America is deeply conservative. People who turned out to vote for Obama also must have voted against gay marriage in California because Prop. 8 passed very comfortably. It's not atheists and agnostics passing anti-immigration laws around the country simply because there aren't enough to carry the measures through. American religious populism is defined by its intolerance. Brain-dead bigotry inhabits "deep" America.
Thinking that the world is 6000 years old is a type of sedition that leaves you nothing to work with. Paris vaut peut-etre bien une messe; pas ce genre de connerie abjecte. I fear that Americans will need to feel a lot more pain than this recession is inflicting before they stop seeing the Koch bros. as people to emulate. Even then, they'll more likely opt for a soft, cuddly form of fascism that Beck, Palin, Limbaugh or some yet to appear populist will nudge us toward. Populism in America is not progressive. The New Deal was a long time ago and we've been steadily undoing it ever since. I don't know what is, but religion is not the answer.

oldfatherwilliam said...

The day Republicans and the gutter reactionary press abandon the Southern Strategy some of this may become possible. Think it'll happen? I'm only grateful that Blade Runner reality seems to be sometime in the future.

-bwg said...

Your blogging about the Koch's keeps reminding me of Lang's Metropolis. While watching it a few weeks ago at Chicago's Siskel Film Center I concluded that liberation theology was the only possible justification for religion.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Just as the heavy lifting in trying to defang AIPAC is something the Jewsih community has to work out, I think the "what is Christian" has to be worked out among the Christian community, I think it would need some sort of anti-teaparty movement with the slogan (get this) "We want our Jesus back". So Beck understands where the danger is coming from... the Christians themselves. Ideology has to be fought with ideology.

stunted said...

The point is that christians in America don't share the ideology you advocate. Their efforts go toward eradicating abortion; stopping stem cell research; making a sacrament of gun ownership. As soon as MLK targeted poverty as THE issue in America, he was marginalised. Rev. Wright blankly states a few truisms about American society and Obama drops him like a bad habit. Yours are not their concerns.

Jay Salter said...

I sent your "The Kochs: paying to keep America dumb" to a couple dozen lefty friends here on the Lefty Coast of USA. I asked for their thoughts on you Liberation Theology idea. I received some interesting replies. Here's what some of them wrote:

Hi Jay:

As a cradle Catholic who has spent most of his life in America's heartland - the Midwest - I believe I can speak from personal experience about Liberation Theology. Its application in the Catholic parishes to which my family belonged exacerbated the existing political divide within the parishes. It didn't ameliorate it. So if Liberation Theology doesn't work in small organizations like parishes, it sure won't work nationally.

At the origins of the American Experiment, the founding fathers recognized that religious differences can cause strife and are based on beliefs which are not negotiable. So they created a secular nation-state whose constitution clearly specifies that there shall be no establishment of a state religion. Absent this provision, the America created by the founding fathers ceases to exist.

Since Liberation Theology is essentially a religious philosophy, it should no more be civically institutionalized than Islam or Evangelical Christianity or any Christian sect for that matter. The various Christian sects have battled each other for centuries, so making Christianity the official American state religion won't work either.

That said, I do subscribe to the morality implicit in Liberation Theology because, upon analysis, I see it is a reasonable interpretation of the bible's presentation of the morality espoused by Jesus Christ. And that morality expouses love for your fellow man which precludes preventive war, oppression of the poor and weak, slavery, hatemongering, and all of the other evils with which the world is afflicted. Jesus was quite the pacifist not even calling for the overthrow of the opressive governments of the time. Sometimes I regret his not doing so, but I understand how this would have compromised the consistency of his moral message.

So I am revulsed as I observe the hateful behaviour of so-called Christians towards their fellow citizens and global neighbors. WWJD? I think he would have continued to preach his moral message of faith, hope and love inviting all to listen and rise to the spiritual heights of which human beings are fully capable.



When I speak to my neighbors (my real community in physical terms) about how things are from my perspective, the gulf seems to get wider. We look at each other as if the other one is under some trance. Worse, I fear we pity each other's stupidity and that grows the mistrust even more. Publicly and in private we acknowledge how may good characteristic we share; generosity, charity, parenting, etc. However, that does not make for a glue that would bind us in common action, since we both see each other as misguided and oppressed by forces we are unaware of. I see my conservative neighbors as unable to distinguish what would be in their best interests (health care, etc), they see me as a liberal with no respect for individual rights (ie property, guns, etc). I don't think I will be coming to Jesus soon (social Buddhism not with standing), and I don't think they will "wake-up" and see they are drinking the Koolaid of commercialism.

If there is some liberation theology that bridges the divide, great. However, I think that my neighbors are more motivated by returning to a world of Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best, than the gospel.


Publius said...

This is one of your best essays yet, and right on the mark. I think there is much more potential for an anti-globalism, pro-poor civic movement motivated largely by religion that your other commentators indicated. I very MUCH disagree with the comment that disparaged the idea of a religiously motivated movement based on Constitutional concerns. A movement can be motivated by religion without attempting to institute a form of state religion. Give me a break!

The civil rights movement was formed largely in terms of religious language and doctrine. Did MLK really threaten the "separation of church and state"? Au contraire! He strengthened civil society, and therefore strengthened the state.

The complete inability of agnostic or atheist progressives to realize the positive contributions that religion can bring to civic life is the biggest obstacle. And they certainly are not very well-read, because they haven't read or digested Tocqueville. Wake up, progressive, and smell the rosaries.

stunted said...

This is very late in the game, though I have been awake for a while.....Religion may have a role to play in civic life; de Toqueville's writings may be illuminating; teabagger religious posturing leaves no room for co-operation. Only flat rejection of their intolerance is possible. To equate the ravings of Beck or this Gainesville pastor with MLK just on the basis of a common "religious" factor is wishing uncomfortable details down the rabbithole, where those of us more drawn to smelling coffee than rosaries plan new ways of being obstacles to peace in our time.