The Tyranny of Cash

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I have to connect to people—but I’m so wrapped up in myself that I’m never actually communicating—I’m expressing myself instead. My generation was very big on expressing ourselves: protest signs, silkscreen T-shirts, buttons, fashion statements, arguing over ethics with our school-teachers, targeted boycotts, song lyrics (with no small amount of encouragement from Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen) and daily, personal journals.

When I think of what I want to say, I’m always thinking about my disagreements with the status quo—thus casting my readers in the role of ‘those who need educating’ rather than simply as ‘people who see things differently’. In this way, I avoid the nasty question of whether I’m always right or I’m just very opinionated. But is there a difference? All the changes made to our society have been propelled by people whose sense of ‘wrongness’ about one thing or another is so strong that they sway our minds to a new point of view.

Yet there is another side to the question—if powerful people couch their rhetoric in the style of the public reformer, and then broadcast their message with the full power of our mass media, they create a skewed playing field wherein the true idealist must do more than present a case—he or she must include a defense against the message of the rich and powerful. As an example, we can recall that brief moment of news-reporting during our last presidential campaign when it was found that the majority of Republicans favored a tax policy that would cost themselves more money—simply because their allegiance to the GOP (or bitterness towards the ‘leftist elite’) came from an emotional place—not from reasoned examination of the facts.

And this can be said of most voters, me included. We get far more excited about the tones and the personalities of our political champions than we ever get about reading the bill(s) in question—indeed, the congresspersons themselves have neither the time nor the propensity to read a 1000+ page legislative bill. It has always made me wonder, ‘Who writes them?” And, do they stick in little jokes just because no one ever reads that last 100 pages? (I would.)

So, I asked myself why our world is so crazy. Silly me—there was a popular tune after the War of Independence—“The World Turned Upside-Down”—which shows that not only are we the ones to blame (the New World colonists) but also that people have asked my simple-minded question for well over two centuries now. Not to mention the distinct possibility that people often felt the same way back in the Old World but chose to avoid being burned at the stake for questioning either ‘God’s creation’ or the monarchial system they once governed themselves by.

Then I saw a powerful analogy. In the last several decades, our laws have evolved to seek out domestic and private abuses of power such as corporal punishment in public schools, police brutality, domestic violence, and predatory, pederast priests. We’ve taken away people’s sense of entitlement about drunk driving, sexual harassment in the workplace, and smoking in shared spaces. We are ever refining our idea of a peaceful but free and equal society.

We do not, however, make much headway on the macroscopic scale. If Syria’s Assad was my next door neighbor, I’d have him arrested for firing his guns in public and endangering the whole neighborhood. If Kim Jong Un lived in Lincolndale, I’d have him arrested for using fireworks without the supervision of the Fire Department. If BP was burning leaves on the front lawn, they’d get shut down with a fine and a warning—and if the pollution persisted he’d eventually do real time for being a scoff-law. If the Amazon Rain Forest was part of our community and a developer tried to level it and pave it over, we’d at least have the opportunity of standing up in Somers Town Hall and railing against this obvious threat to our community’s aesthetic—not to mention its real estate values.

We confine ourselves (at least here in the USA) with far greater severity than the UN is capable of, on a sovereignty level, and we see the occasional crazed gun-nut as a major threat to our way of life—where, in many other countries, the crazed gun-nut is the guy in power. We do our best to be good little citizens of a country that idealizes equality and fairness—in spite of the reality that not all of us are on the same page (or even the same book). I feel a personal affront whenever a third-world power-person criticizes our culture as decadent and stupid. We may not be angels on Earth, but we don’t impose our religion on anyone, we don’t impose second-class status on women, and we protect our children from authority figures who would abuse their power—up to and including the parents themselves.

We have had some trouble lately with religious zealots, particularly in what’s known as the ‘Bible Belt’. With the complete secularization of our social mores, we have deprived the USA’s most active and populous churches of the ability to pollute our society with hate-speech about women, LGBTs, Muslims, Jews or any other ‘minority’ that, taken all together, actually encompass 99% of our citizenry. They have lost the ability to impose their narrow morality on our legislation—they have gone from long-time insiders to fringe-ward outsiders in our present public policy debates. Gays can marry, Women can enter combat, children can refuse to include the phrase ‘under God’ when they pledge allegiance in class each morning.

And we know who the ‘Evangelists’ of the Global Community are—the bankers and arms manufacturers and multi-national corporations. They won’t be going down any time soon and, if they ever do, it won’t be through some namby-pamby election process! No, these powerful groups worship Currency—a god far stronger than the God of Abraham—and they don’t recognize anyone else’s freedom of speech, only their own—plus, they have all the weapons.

But a cardinal problem with these enemies of our freedom is that many of them are an inextricable part of our great nation. The energy combines, particularly the petroleum industries, have a knife of disaster at our throats. The banks and investment companies make up their own rules as they stumble along—but without the bank that unfairly forecloses on our neighbor’s house, we won’t have the bank we need to lend us mortgages for our future houses. The arms-makers are part of an industry that helps America stay strong—even if they also do business with all of our enemies.

No, money is the glue of our civilization, at least for the moment. But we can take solace in the fact that money was not always the sine qua non of our civilization—and there’s hope that someday, it will be no longer. I figure in a world that can get all of New York City to stop smoking in bars and pick up the poop from their dogs’ walks, anything is possible.