JR'S Free Thought Pages
Reflections of a 21st Century Socio-Economic Dogma
By Johnny Reb, February/March 2020
I sought great human beings. I never found anything but the apes of their ideals – Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
People fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid…. - Bertrand Russell
Garbage landslide from the Philippines, a US colony corrupted and looted since 1900
In aspiring to advance democracy, freedom and justice, it’s not so much ignorance that obstructs our progress but ignorance of ignorance. Religion is surely the most dangerous purveyor of obscurantism, superstition and ignorance that has ever existed, but there are secular incarnations such as economic and political ideologies, the latest of which is neo-liberal capitalism. Some readers may be familiar with Albert Camus’ great novel The Plague in which incongruent lives are accidentally brought together during a plague that sweeps through an Algerian city. Today, by way of the emergence and global spread of a lethal and highly communicable virus (Covid-19 or Corona Virus), we in the throes of not only stock market contagion and possible economic unravelling that could render the 2008 version a mere blip, but a deeply immoral and collapsing capitalist neoliberal world order combined with failing ecosystems, we may have an opportunity to reconsider the notion that we, and others throughout the rest of the poverty stricken world, are in this mess together. The cautionary tales so graphically expressed by brilliant philosophers such as Camus and Sartre are that through dread and angst we can choose to live, with the responsibilities that our choices entail, or just fade away into nothingness.
All world views are flawed, but some are more receptive to evidence and argument than others. When scepticism and the process of questioning, reasoning, critical thought, seeking and assessing evidence are highly valued by a cultural group, adjusting opinions and priorities in light of compelling discoveries can feel like a confirmation of an identity rather than a threat to it. The scientist who discards a long held, cherished theory in light of new evidence can draw strength from the fact that his identity as a scientist – a “seeker of knowledge” – has been vindicated by his willingness to submit to the evidence. Nevertheless, even among scientists, questioning old ideas and theories is not easy. The physicist Max Planck once said, “Science advances one funeral at a time”, a caveat that anything that can be asserted without evidence, can be rejected without evidence. Not one establishment economist or politician warned of the looming economic global meltdown and stock market collapse of 2007-08 despite the fact that evidence existed and was employed by contrarian economists who forecast the calamity but at the time were described as heretics and lunatics by the parasitic priesthood on Wall Street. In 2004 as the economic bubble was bulging at the seams, a Princeton economist called Ben Bernanke pronounced the existence of a "new moderation" in economic life, that the world is becoming increasingly stable. This was shortly before he became the Chairman of the Federal Reserve. Yet the manipulative financial gurus and parasitic hedge fund Mafioso at their computer terminals, employing arcane mathematical models and weapons of economic destruction such as derivatives were assuming more risk to the system, as they sat on more mounds dynamite. The high priest of finance Bernanke's predecessor at the Federal Reserve Chairman was the Ayn Rand disciple Alan Greenspan who had been systematically increasing the hidden risks in the system, making us all more vulnerable to further blowups and meltdowns. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb wrote during the turmoil of the impending collapse and subsequent multi-trillion bailouts of banking bandits and financial scammers:
“By the narrative fallacy the turkey economics department will always manage to state, before thanksgivings that "we are in a new era of safety", and back it up with thorough and "rigorous" analysis. And Professor Bernanke indeed found plenty of economic explanations—what I call the narrative fallacy—with graphs, jargon, curves, the kind of facade-of-knowledge that you find in economics textbooks. This is the kind of glib, snake-oil facade of knowledge—even more dangerous because of the mathematics—that made me, before accepting the new position in NYU's engineering department, verify that there was not a single economist in the building. I have nothing against economists: you should let them entertain each others with their theories and elegant mathematics, and help keep college students inside buildings. But beware: they can be plain wrong, yet frame things in a way to make you feel stupid arguing with them. So make sure you do not give any of them risk-management responsibilities.”
But throughout the immediate aftermath and subsequent decade of all this scandalous outpouring of endless money by the nanny capitalist state, none of the ongoing systemic issues were addressed. In fact conditions of the global capitalist economy are far worse today and so will the next inevitable collapse which will likely be detonated by some black swan event. The 99% are still paying for this ongoing dysfunction and the immoral bailouts of the “too big to jail” financial criminals responsible for the 2008 debacles, glaring economic inequalities, ecological disasters and global neo-fascist corporate world order we are facing today. Once under control of government central banks, private banks such as RBC and TD which make billions of dollars in profit each quarter are highly leveraged with total reserves on hand of 2-3%; they simply create currency ex nihilo by lending money they don’t have in their vaults. This is done by a few mouse clicks that transfer fictitious cash into a huge data base. If anyone who has money in a bank decided to withdraw, the bandit banks would only have a tiny fraction of money on hand to distribute to their fleeced customers. It won’t be long before paper money is entirely replaced by electronic transactions much of which is the massive scam of private banks lending to government, money laundering and protecting their wealthy clients from taxation in offshore tax havens. (In the case of the Canadian financial mafia you can read Bruce Livesey’s The Thieves of Bay Street).
A capitalist has been defined as someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing which is how Oscar Wilde described a cynic. Permit me to offer three of my own: A capitalist is (i) a host who orders his guests to prepare a multi-course dinner, then proceeds to devour for himself the largest and choicest portions, (ii) someone who has inherited the family fortune and peddles the myth of the self-made man, (iii) a shallow philistine who finds meaning in life via the obsessive hedonistic treadmill of endless accumulation of money. For more definitions such as these visit My Curmudgeon’s Lexicon of Business. John Maynard Keynes, intellectual, economist, a contemporary of Bertrand Russell and fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group, defined capitalism as “the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone. “ The hegemonic control and contamination by capitalism of everything in our lives, including sports and the arts, is expressed aptly by professional baseball hall of fame pitcher Don Sutton who said "I'm the most loyal player money can buy."
Marx and Engels summed up the amoral project of capitalism as well as anyone.
[Capital] has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation. (The Communist Manifesto)
In practise, the essence of capitalism is best exemplified by the especially violent and vulgar version of the American experience which has been used as a template throughout the world. The United States and American capitalism were founded on two major principles: the ideology of white supremacy, which forced hundreds of thousands of Africans into slavery in the country, and settler colonialism , which involved both the dislocation and genocide of Indigenous populations to make way for privatization (i.e., theft and subsequent exploitation of resources) of land and white Christian settlement. Without these two pillars, the morally and financially bankrupt American capitalist empire would not look the way it does today, a world in which it controls and rules with its currency monopoly and $1 trillion annual military budget that includes some 900 military bases intruding on countries throughout the world.
Native Humiliation of Mount Rushmore
Throughout the history of capitalism, particularly beginning with the British and European Enclosure Acts during the 18th and 19th century in which massive tracts of land held in common were abolished and privatized, one can generally determine that the ruling classes are about to commit another massive theft and swindle: First they construct an institution such as the US Federal Reserve or Bank of Canada, claiming that it is serving the “public interest”. Add to this the bureaucratic state apparatus that includes police, military, anti-democratic parliaments and judicial systems, banking and surveillance systems and the set of laws serving big business, power elites and even some of the arts such as the music business and Hollywood all have their hierarchies, control systems and rituals intended to inspire awe and insulate a predatory elite classes from the rabble. Real existing socialism is merely that which is grounded in the capitalist world order whereby profits are privatized and costs are socialized; that is referred to as “externalities”, i.e., collateral damage that is offloaded onto the public. [1a] Liabilities are the only thing that the capitalist is willing to share with the hoi polloi.
These rapacious corporate entities facilitate theft on a grand scale with the nefarious scams of corporate welfare [1b], offshore tax havens, intellectual property (an “enclosure of the mind”) and bottled water being just two obvious examples among many while providing financial rescue packages when they crash the system (as in 2008) and get out of jail free cards for its major players. As they have always been, the rule of law, prosecutions, punishments and prisons are primarily reserved for the poor and destitute. In the midst of the Great Depression Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis compared corporations to “Frankenstein monsters”. Corporations are driven exclusively by profit and the two major threats to them are real democracy and competition; if they were people, as the documentary The Corporation argues, they would be considered psychopaths. When one hears the expression “free”, first ask “free from what?” In the case of “free markets” “free” implies “free from democratic oversight and control”, at least until they screw up and need a few $trillion in corporate welfare from the nanny state.
In November 2009, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, told the New York Times that he was just a banker, “doing God’s work.” In addition to his outrageous salary in 2010 Blankfein took home a $9 million bonus and if his preposterous assertion about being the Christian God’s co-pilot is true, then the financial debacle of 2008 proves that God and his invisible hand do indeed work in mysterious ways. The extent of the damage done by that financial crisis is mind-numbing in its scale. In 2009 the International Monetary Fund put the loss of household wealth in the United States alone at $11 trillion; three years later the Treasury raised the figure to $19.2 trillion, and some independent estimates put the amount even higher at $22 trillion. But numbers alone do not tell the story of the millions of lost jobs, the millions of lost homes and the millions of lives torn apart by the crash of 2008. The Great Recession that it ignited is still with us, at least for at least 95% of the world’s population. The disgraceful multi-trillion dollar bailouts of financial con men and corporate criminals and the subsequent lofty heights of the global stock markets primed by fiat fictitious money (called, wait for it...“quantitative easing”) pumped into the system have resulted in the biggest financial heist of the commons in history. As is generally the case, the manipulated pyramid scheme of the stock market has benefited only a tiny minority and has little or no relevance to the vast majority of the world’s eight billion struggling people.
But in the United States, the vast majority still believe in the fantasy of an egalitarian meritocracy which has reached the revolting point at which three men have more wealth than half the population. The patriotic pabulum and vacuous rhetoric most Americans evoke to describe their country is so detached from reality that it has induced a collective self-delusion and mass schizophrenia, endlessly peddled by the corporatist happiness, hope, self-help and bullshit industries. The truth about the capitalist ontology is the differences among the mainstream political parties over the past four or five decades have become miniscule to the point of insignificance. Once elected the parties behave the same, that is, dupes of the big banks, multi-national corporations and imperialism. The social democratic parties such as the Labour Party and the UK and the NDP in Canada have been hijacked by right wing liberal Machiavellians, resembling conservative parties of the 1950s and 60s.The Golden Rule, compassion and empathy were once the triad of anyone’s claim to moral rectitude and held by genuine socialists and social democrats such as Tommy Douglas and Norman Thomas. Capitalism violates and flies in the face of all three of these ethical principles – and much worse. After all, imagining what is would be like to be someone else who is suffering is at the core of our alleged humanity.
But there were warnings of such oligarchic machinations as early as the 16th century which prompts one to question the familiar notions of belief in “civilization”, “progress” and “democracy” as the hierarchy and exploitation of feudalism, monarchy and theocracy were slowly and systematically replaced by an even more exploitive capitalism and imperialism in which indigenous people throughout the New World were subjected to theft of their lands and resources and the most heinous genocide in world history. Étienne de La Boétie, close friend of Michel de Montaigne, was one of the forerunners of modern anarchist philosophy who in 1533 he wrote about the tyranny of the French monarchy in his own day in a little known book called The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. The only difference today is the nature of our equally hierarchical socio-economic order and its tyrants, but the obedience, compliance and docility of the masses persists in our day as it did in his. In La Boétie’s era of control, deceit and injustice, not unlike the dominance of wealthy power elites, corporate tyranny and gross economic inequalities of our own counterfeit “democracies”, La Boétie wrote of the potential evils of self-interest and greed as opposed to benefits of caring, friendship and solidarity:
“There can be no friendship where there is cruelty, where there is disloyalty, where there is injustice; and among the wicked, when they come together, it is a conspiracy, not a company; they do not love each other, but they fear each other; they are not friends, but they are accomplices.”
In 2007-09 during the depths of the global financial crisis George W Bush, in a rare demonstration of lucidity, proclaimed, “This Sucker is going down!” By “Sucker” he meant the neo-liberal global casino capitalist system, inferring that the gods of the “Market” had failed and therefore by its own laissez-faire corporatist rules of financial manipulation and skulduggery was catapulting the entire edifice into a state of disintegration.
Money from Nothing
Economists hooked on capitalism revel in the wonders of “creative destruction”, a term affectionately invoked by the Ayn Rand acolyte and former chairman of the US Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan. Apart from the obvious fact of capitalism’s self-contradictions, the concept, even as defined by its apostles, collapses under the weight of historical evidence, critical analysis, and moral philosophy. It is so preposterous as to be comical, but as the basis for a set of dubious premises and trickle down fairy tales that have turned a dismal theoretical construct into a secular religion; it’s no laughing matter.
The market’s deities, the “Invisible Hand” and other mystical omniscient fictions such as GDP and the “Efficient Market Hypothesis” (EMH) had, as it did numerous times in the past, malfunctioned as the system was rendered FUBAR. What we are experiencing today with the neo-fascist ideology of neo-liberalism is a postmodernist spectacle whereby humans are deemed commodities like everything else on the planet, something to be bought (wage slavery) or as an irrational consumer to be sold some superfluous product. And we are constantly informed by the corporate controlled media that there is no alternative to this idiotic top down authoritarian nihilistic hedonistic world order; that we’ve reached the “end of history” as Francis Fukuyama put it, and corporate globalized capitalism is the only game in town.
For the past half century labour unions and any semblance of worker solidarity have not only been subdued, but literally in many cases snuffed out and this has been one of the primary reasons for the current hegemony of corporatist capitalism and the scarcity of any expectation for change. The notion of a life-long career and stable family life that depends on consistency, dependability, integrity, commitment and planning for the future is now deemed obsolete in the new atomized “flexible” gig economy in which everyone has been atomized and deactivated as a political agent and deemed an “entrepreneur of the self”. By “flexibility” is meant the stark intrusive ontology that everything in life must yield to the will of the giant capitalist Leviathan, the Terminator that intrudes into every facet of life including family, culture sports and the didactic business modelled public education system from kindergarten to college. The neo-liberal capitalist giant squid squeezes every penny it can from the beleaguered consumer, even charging five cents for a plastic bag at supermarket checkouts as they ask you to donate to some opaque charity. All the advertising on TV such as touting dubious “wealth management” and decadent holidays are directed at those diminishing segments of society that actually have money to spend - as 60s and 70s pop music is shamelessly hijacked and played in the background. Ironically pop music in those days of the rock and folk renaissance came from the working classes - but today’s rubbish called pop music is creatively barren and nihilistic, much of it computer generated. But this is just the beginning, as conditions are about to get a whole lot worse both on the economic and ecological fronts. For our young people today caressing their cell phones like teddy bears and reading the latest self-improvement pabulum on their tablets, it’s a race to the bottom.
That anthropocentric global warming is real, ecosystems are circling the drain and mental health issues real and imagined such as ADHD, ODD  and chronic depression are approaching epidemic proportions seems to not disturb the corporate power elites and their sycophantic political stooges. Unprecedented economic inequalities and a newer more oppressive class power and privilege have returned with a vengeance. The current ruling ontology of capitalist realism, as the late Mark Fisher called it, denies any possibility of social causation with regard to the epidemic of mental illnesses and drug addictions within the toxic Stalinist state capitalist bureaucracies of the micromanaged bullshit job workplaces.
By capitalist ontology, I am referring to specifically since the onset of a new Gilded Age, a system whereby convenient abstractions such as corporations are now legally considered people - but with more rights - with the proviso that all the immutable rules of capitalism such as “flourish or die” and the “market deity is the measure of all things” had to be set aside once again. Like the endless tax breaks, legal concessions, lobbyists (legalized bribery) and public subsidies, the golden parachutes had to be prepared in the form of trillions of dollars that seemingly appeared out of nowhere by some magic wand flashed by central banks. The “Sucker”, as Shrub II called it, the new Banking Mafia of Robber Barons had to be bailed out. Like Jesus C’s resurrection, capitalism has eternal life, endlessly resuscitated from death. The creation of trillions of dollars of fictitious fiat money to bail out corporate criminals and financial con men simply confirmed the Margaret Thatcher/Ronald Reagan TINA principle that asserts there is no such thing as “society”, the only alternative being individual vampire like creatures serving their animal instincts, deeply cynical corporate oligarchs and servile politicians who are void of morals and imagination. This self imposed impotence, credulity, acquiescence and refusal to consider any option except the status quo is the personification of dogmatic faith and metaphysical quackery. The great American writer Mark Twain, who coined the phrase “Gilded Age” to describe the big business monopolist thieves who looted and controlled America in the late 19th and early 20th century, could never have dreamed up the financial plunder and neo-fascist corporate oligarchy we witness today, especially the obscene levels of economic inequality.
Billions of people live in dire poverty trying to live on $2 a day while a parasitic hedge fund manager sitting in his penthouse office can make several million dollars with a few mouse clicks. In this sense, the gospel of neo-liberalism and the dystopian corporatist oligarchy it created has been entirely discredited and dishonoured, not unlike the theocracies of the Dark Ages following the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. In pre-capitalist societies hierarchies and large inequalities of wealth were considered axiomatic, justified by “divine right”, ordained by the Christian deity with the corollary that “the poor shall always be with us” and “to those who already have, more shall be given”. Christians, for the most part, support the capitalist world order and still believe this foul drivel, ignoring Balzac’s famous adage “behind all great wealth is a great crime”. In 1918 the American labour leader, socialist, social gospel Christian and presidential candidate Eugene V Debs, in his anti-war speech in Ohio for which he was punished with a ten year prison sentence by the Woodrow Wilson administration, said “those with the power to rob on a large scale...have the power to control the government and legalize their robbery”. The massive multi-trillion dollar bailouts of “too big to fail” banks is a testament to the ongoing thievery of financial big banks and multi-national corporations. If you are a poor man who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family, it’s a crime, but if you are a banker who t steal trillions, you are given a get out of jail free card.
Of course without the threat of coercive power and violence, these gross levels of economic inequality could not be sustained. Laws and the so-called “justice” system that dictate the distribution of punishments and rewards are invariably a function of power. The wealthy and powerful define what counts as a crime, who should be prosecuted, punished and how severely. And the police and military exist to serve and protect these fraudulent machinations. The powerful also dictate the conservative curriculums of our outdated and hierarchical corporatized education systems [3a] and control the mass media, mafia financial institutions, fraudulent farcical election process and the entire political apparatus of those pre-ordained candidates elected to represent us - and yet have the audacity to call this state of affairs a “democracy”. For at least the past forty years I’ve come to believe that democracy does not exist; it never has existed. The neo-fascist capitalist world order with its tyrannical, exploitive and monopolistic markets and constructs called corporations are as hierarchical and authoritarian as any socio-economic scheme that has preceded it. The ideal of self-management and Rousseau’s will of the people has always occupied a remote, and in the past several decades, retreating horizon to which we aspire but fail to achieve. James Madison, one of the authors of the US Constitution, correctly stated that the role of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority”. This remains a truism as does the ongoing farcical nature of elections, dominated by big business, big money and wealthy power elites.
To wit, we are constantly told by the capitalist masters of mankind that democracy (which has always been non-existent, ersatz or deeply compromised, is now a rotting corpse - or at best on life support regardless of how construed) is synonymous with capitalism. However, the corporate oligarchs, their compliant mass media and sock puppet professional liar politicians  have neglected to inform us that the “Market” is a global dictator, the measure of all things and that everything, including all life and its finite resources on the planet such as clean water and air, are commodities for sale. And anything that conflicts with this capitalist metaphysic must be denied or destroyed.
Climate change (read- global heating) is clearly just such a threat to the capitalist world order, especially since we know that human activity and behaviour is a major cause of it. But human nature is pliable and can change.  Capitalism was not inevitable but rather was an imposed political project. Moreover, “human nature” may be merely a myth like so much else in our capitalist culture. And most important, human behaviour can change. This is not to deny that such behavioural change is a huge challenge, but merely to suggest that it’s possible. When science demonstrated that smoking caused cancer, many people began to stop smoking, however begrudgingly in the face of the marketing denials of big tobacco. Contra tobacco, alcohol, drugs, religion, gambling, cell phones and other weaknesses of humankind, the value of science isn’t that it gives us what we want; it’s that we recognize, even against our narrow self-interest, that knowledge and truth are ethical imperatives for any life worth living and any future experience worthy of our desires. If global warming threatens that future, we surely want to make every effort to eliminate or at the very least, mitigate it. This is called the precautionary principle. But those who continue to uphold a capitalist world view must accept limits; that we live on a finite planet of finite space and resources. We simply cannot continue to reproduce our species and uphold a counterfeit narrative that includes endless economic growth, rampant consumption and deems everything as a potential commodity and source of profit.
Surely most corporate executives and investors are not delusionary and stupid; although they don’t admit to it, most are not climate change deniers. Being rational agents and basing decisions of evidence for their business projects, assuming logical consistency, surely they accept the scientific consensus on global warming and are well aware that earth's non-renewable natural resources cannot be exploited indefinitely. They know that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. They are aware that unless their toxic desecration of the planet's atmosphere, seas, waterways and soil is not stopped, the looming threat of a mass extinction that scientists have been warning us about for decades will become a calamitous reality. And now we – and the stock markets - are threatened by a microscopic organism called covid-19.
And yet, despite this bleak understanding, corporate leaders remain obsessively committed to their pursuit of maximum economic growth and the accumulation of maximum profits, seemingly suffering from cognitive dissonance and megalomania. Sadly, they are paralyzed by a rapacious economic system of impending doom that deadens their imagination and sense of history, leaving them resigned to no choice. Like a religious faith or cocaine addiction that has reformatted their atrophied minds, they can’t give up the capitalist metaphysic and the deities of the market. All that is solid melts into the madness of surveillance, managerial bureaucracy, market Stalinism and endless bullshit, including bullshit jobs. But the market is no more a god than the Christian or Moslem delusions, contra George W Bush and the invasion of Iraq, god doesn’t tell us what to do; people with power tell us what to do. The market is simply a clever ruse by which one group of very wealthy people’s interests are imposed on the rest of us. Any time you hear a conservative or liberal politician justify some new economic policy, privatization plan or trade deal such as NAFTA as “in the public interest”, engage your bullshit sensors and critical faculties immediately.
The problem is that our actions, individually and collectively, tell a very disturbing cautionary tale. Not only do too many certain interested parties and deluded Christian fundamentalists deny that the climate change crisis is the result of human activity; they take it one step further and deny that there’s any climate crisis to deny, the denial of denial. The denial not only that climate change is caused by human activity; it’s that there is any climate change at all. It’s a conscious decision to ignore the facts and science of climate change; it’s behaving as if the facts and scientific evidence are radically different than what we’re told. As the great American novelist Upton Sinclair once said, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." But this is also true of entrenched inculcated belief systems such as Christianity and Capitalism, both of which hold to the delusionary counterfeit aesthetic and ethical view that the planet is an endless source of natural resources that can be exploited and turned into commodities by humankind. Soon the only world will be a fantasy Disney world in which everything is a potential commodity, including human and all other life on earth.
As long as this pernicious untenable death cult economic system is permitted to continue, so will the depletion of natural resources, deforestation, air, land and water contamination, wildlife extinction and lethal global warming. Eventually, of course, uncontrolled capitalism is doomed, perhaps as soon as the 2030s if it's left free to demolish the planet and destroy human civilization. Perhaps it’s time to re-read Cormac McCarthy’s dystopian novel The Road (or watch the excellent movie version) and perhaps the prophetic 1973 movie Soylent Green which was on TCM recently. Has anyone become aware of an Earth B we can escape to?
 I just heard on one of our less than useless corporate TV news outlets which I refuse to waste my precious diminishing time watching but my wife had the shameful corporate echo chamber CTV on at the time. It was announcing that that the boondoggle called the Trans Mountain Pipeline has gone through the usual farcical fait accompli court shenanigans and was predictably given the go ahead. Was there any doubt about this all-too-typical ritual of phoney democracy? Once again our First Nations people’s arguments and the many Canadians who supported them were ignored and criminalized. But as a justification we are once again told this environmental disaster, like the Alberta Tar Sands, is “in the national interest”.
Nick Estes, in his book From Indigenous Resistance to Native Liberation: Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance, looks at settler colonialism in a more nuanced way, one that is interconnected with capitalism and imperialism, changing throughout history in a process that is still happening today, not just in the United States, but throughout the world. In his analysis, “settlers” can encompass individuals benefiting from the displacement of Indigenous people and more importantly corporations like Energy Transfer Partners, pushing DAPL through Native land. Settler colonialism and its ideological companion “Manifest Destiny” are impregnated within the development of the United States, much like slavery and racism, and cannot be extracted without overthrowing the entire system.
In the book, he details examples of what settler colonialism looks like in the modern era in his chapter entitled “Flood,” covering the development of the Pick-Sloan Act that ordered the construction of six dams on the Missouri River between 1946 and 1966. It was designed to help prevent flooding in non-Native communities and to employ veterans returning from World War II. However, not unlike the hydroelectric projects in British Columbia, the project flooded many Indigenous nations’ land without their consent and displaced one-third of the residents across five reservations.
These infrastructure projects were connected to the newly established termination and assimilation policies, which aimed to force Indigenous people off reservations into cities in order to achieve “the total liquidation of Indigenous political authority.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs linked the two directly, saying that flooding and displacement would “force [Indians] into seeking cash income to make up for substantial portion of income now represented in their use of natural resources of their present environment.” Entering the capitalist economy would be a necessity, since the Missouri River Basin Investigation, a two-year fact-finding mission in 1946, stated that prior to the flooding most Indigenous communities in the area relied on the “free goods of Nature,” such as hunting, trapping, and gathering. When Estes refers to the ongoing settler colonial project, this is what that means.
In the final chapter, entitled “Liberation,” Estes explains what liberation might look like. Here he returns to the Oceti Sakowin encampment where, despite its shortcomings, “free food, free education, free health care, free legal aid, a strong sense of community, safety, and security were guaranteed for all.” He continues: “Capitalism is not merely an economic system, but also a social system. And it was here abundantly evident that Indigenous social systems offered a radically different way to relating to other people and the world.””Solidarity” says Estes, is an essential component of these radically different systems, but solidarity is anathema to a capitalist ideology of self interest, exploitation and greed.
Mni Wiconi, which is Lakota for “water is life” was the slogan on many indigenous activist placards at Standing Rock but natural resources like clean water and air crucial to all life on earth exist outside the harsh logic of capitalism. Whereas past revolutionary struggles have strived for emancipation of labour from capitalist exploitation, we are now challenged not just to imagine, but to demand the emancipation of earth from capital. With anthropogenic global warming, species loss, pollution, over-consumption, overpopulation and contamination of water and soils, in order for Mother Nature to survive the ongoing gang rape by capitalism, capitalism itself must die. Unlike the deeply immoral corrupt system of state sanctioned crony capitalism, Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.
Gang Rape of Mother Nature in Northern Alberta Tar Sands
[1a]Resource companies and industry are notorious for contamination of soils and water, destruction of ecosystems and rampant pollution. To cite one minor example, the production of one pound of beef requires about 1800 gallons of water. Economist Raj Patel in his book The Value of Nothing uses McDonald’s to illustrate the point. Like all corporations, McDonald’s is legally sanctioned to maximise profits. Executive decisions are dictated by the necessity to reduce costs and destroy competitors. It drives down the wages of its employees and resources as much as it can and avoids costs entirely wherever possible. If it means destroying ecosystems by emitting pollutants into the air, water and soil, so be it. The damage and costs of cleanup will be assumed by someone else - governments, all life forms and the lives of ordinary citizens. These liabilities never appear on their financial statements. Whatever costs the company avoids paying end up becoming externalised, collateral damage borne by the public and government. The result is that the price of a McDonald’s burger does not reflect its true social, economic and environmental costs: the bigger the gap between the price and the externalities, the more profitable the capitalist enterprise. How large is this gap for a typical fast-food burger? A report by the Centre for Science and the Environment in India estimated that a typical fast-food burger ought to cost about $200.
[1b] Tax evasion via offshore tax havens and externalizing costs by corporations are a massive global scam and a form of theft on a gargantuan scale. It is taking something for nothing and leaving others to pay the bill. And it is ubiquitous, permeating almost every market exchange in the world. As sea levels rise, as the oceans are over-fished, polluted and acidified, as forests disappear, as workers around the world are prevented from enjoying the profits they help to create, the extent of this theft is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore - and it is vast. In 2015, a ground-breaking document by the IMF made front pages around the world by revealing that the fossil fuel industry is subsidised by the world’s governments to the tune of $10 million a minute; or, if you prefer, $168,000 a second, or $5.3 trillion a year. That sum is greater than the spending on health by all the world’s governments combined. These subsidies are largely due to the unpaid costs of pollution - floods, hurricanes, air pollution and drought - that are routinely dumped on governments. A report by environmental consultancy firm Trucost, which was sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative, found that if environmental costs were not externalised, the dirtiest industries would cease to be profitable and would go out of business.
These externalised costs have inflicted severe damage on the Global South. One study estimated the cost of this to be $5 trillion. Most of the damage comes from the consumption and production choices of richer nations. ‘The ecological debt of rich countries to poor ones’, writes Patel, “dwarfs the entire third-world debt owed by poor countries to the rich which is only $1.8 trillion.” The externalities of the financial sector are on a similar scale. Deregulating that sector triggered a global financial crisis that cost the world trillions of dollars.
People are told by the capitalist “masters of mankind” that they are free, but the reality is freedom rooted within property rights and the parameters of zombie capitalism’s freedom to buy a BMW, own a helicopter pad yacht and to exploit others and plunder the natural environment.
Why has it become an accepted cultural narrative to think that the emergence of neoliberal globalized capitalism was an inevitable evolutionary process? It was not. The authoritarian ideology of neo-liberalism was a political agenda imposed from above just as much the result of conservative and corporate lobbying, capitalist and power elite think tanks and subsequent government action as the brand of European corporatism and fascism were in the 1930s.
Neo-liberalism was designed by big money corporate oligarchs in penthouse offices and implemented by their political lackeys: Pinochet in Chile; Thatcher and her far right wing ultra-conservative cabal in Britain and Ronald Reagan and the Cold Warriors who brought him to power in the United States. They’d faced massive resistance from the civil rights movement and organized labour and they’d had enough of democracy breakouts. In response, these conservative pioneers of neo-liberalism drew a conclusion that has shaped our age: that a modern capitalist economy cannot coexist with an organized proactive working class demanding social justice, decent wages and benefits. Consequently, they resolved to demolish labour’s solidarity, collective bargaining power and the rights they had fought for and won during the past century.
The neoliberals sought to dismantle labour cohesion and replace it with divide and rule atomization. Because today’s generation sees only the outcome of neo-liberalism, it is easy to overlook the fact that this goal – the destruction of labour’s bargaining power – was the first project that would facilitate the total dominance of wealth, power and capital. Neo-liberalism’s major guiding principles were not free markets, nor fiscal discipline, nor sound money, nor privatization or off-shoring – not even globalization. All these things were secondary aims of its primary agenda of destroying the solidarity of organized labour.
Many developed countries took advantage of the recession of the early 1980s to impose mass unemployment. They adopted policies overtly designed to make the recession more severe by raising interest rates to unprecedented levels, sending traditional industrial enterprises to the wall and many families into home foreclosure. They privatized or closed down large sectors of utilities, transportation, coal, steel, auto and heavy engineering production owned by the state. They banned strike action and other worker protests that had plagued bosses and managers in the three decade post WW II boom years. But they did not, at least yet, try to totally dismantle entire welfare systems; these were needed to maintain social order in working class communities whose hearts and financial security had been ripped out.
The attack on organized labour was underlined during the US air traffic controller strike in the US when union leaders were arrested by the Reagan administration, paraded on the streets in chains and the entire workforce sacked. Margaret Thatcher used militarized cops (now normalized everywhere) to destroy the miners’ strike in 1984-5 but the anti-labour offensive’s true success was on the cultural level with big business propaganda campaigns from their control of the media. From 1980 onward in the developed world, strikes diminished and so did union membership. In the USA, union membership fell from an already low 20 per cent of the workforce in 1980 to 12 per cent by 2003, the survivors heavily clustered in the public sector In Japan it went from 31 per cent to 20 per cent, and in the UK the fall was even more spectacular, from 50 per cent to 30 per cent. The global onslaught against labour continues unabated.
 During Middle School in Ohio my granddaughter was diagnosed with this disorder (ODD). It’s called, wait for it...Opposition Defiance Disorder. This fictional affliction is assigned to kids who question authority, something as a three decade senior high school mathematics teacher I encouraged in my students. My nickname in high school was Johnny Reb, an appropriate label for my precocious rebellious disposition for which I was regularly punished, most often with the infamous strap. ODD is now a fabricated psychological disorder and quite naturally there is now a drug marketed by our pharmaceutical industry to address this serious anti-authoritarian disease. I’ve thankfully suffered from this disorder my entire life and in my twilight years, given the dismal state of the neo-fascist globalized world today, it has only intensified.
[3a]The authoritarian inflexible school systems both private (which are almost invariably grounded in religious indoctrination) and public provide little freedom for students. The combination of dress codes, a rigid syllabus with no instruction in logic, rules of evidence or argumentation, inflexible lessons with little or no critical thought, constant examinations, hours of passivity and the absence of a democratic process mean that schooldays are, typically, characterised by control, docility and preparation for the mind destroying workplace. Study is geared to preparation for standardized tests which grant power to those who demand them and little autonomy to the teachers or students who are forced to sit through them. The sheer quantity of disconnected units of information with no conceptual analysis or rationale renders students into automatons, incapable of scepticism or critical thinking. Careful attention to a rigid syllabus that has changed little for over a century takes precedence over the student’s innate curiosity and interests. Indoctrination and regurgitation of “facts” from the perspective of power elites is rewarded over originality, creativity, scepticism, criticism and independent thought. These arrangements prepare students for a society in which they have little or no voice in the decisions that affect their lives that translates into long hours of hard work on externally set problems is good preparation for workplace obedience.
In a genuinely democratic society, educational institutions would represent the principle of participation and equality. Decision-making and organization would empower students, parents and teachers and, if equality of opportunity was taken seriously, a pupil’s access to quality education would have no relationship to the wealth of his or her parents. In Finland for example, a child begins schooling at seven with no pressure to do any academic work before then. Their entire education up to and including university is free (including school meals) and private schools, especially the ludicrous religious variety that are nothing but institutions of indoctrination, are prohibited. All teachers require a post graduate degree, belong to unions and are deeply respected by the citizenry. Consequently teaching in Finland is one of the most sought after careers. There is no isolation of students by intellectual measures or school inspections nor uniforms - and homework loads are minimal. Students have a say in designing their own timetables, are not segregated from other children according to ability, and don’t take a national exam before the age of eighteen. The government Departments of Education determine the curriculum but teachers have the freedom to teach subjects as they see fit, experimenting with different approaches and strategies. For older students, a move away from subject-specific lessons is currently under way. Instead of dividing the school day into traditional subjects, some lessons now focus on particular topics, such as the undemocratic European Union, which bring together elements of politics, economics, geography and languages. As well as this holistic approach to knowledge, there is also an increasing emphasis on collaborative learning, with students working in smaller groups to solve problems together rather than on their own. Moreover, Finnish students excel when they participate in International competitions such as the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Calculus program in which I was personally involved.
The Finnish system is built around a strong commitment to equality, in which children and teachers have high levels of autonomy. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which ranks students around the world, the results are impressive. Finland has repeatedly been one of the world’s highest scoring countries, at times claiming top place in Science, and second place in Maths and English. The achievement gap between the weakest and strongest students is the smallest in the world, and, according to their ambassador, the Finns are ‘the world’s most active readers’.
Elsewhere, experiments in democratic and egalitarian education have yielded similarly encouraging results. The educational model known as Escuela Nueva originated in Colombia but has since spread around the globe. It places great emphasis on making the curriculum relevant to the lives of students, encouraging self-directed learning, the fostering of democratic values, and the promotion of dialogue, cooperation and action over passive listening and competition. David L. Kirp, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, observed at first hand that, ‘Escuela Nueva turns the schoolhouse into a laboratory for democracy. Rather than being run as a mini-dictatorship, with the principal as its unquestioned leader, the school operates as a self-governing community, where teachers, parents and students have a real say in how it is run.’ Numerous studies have demonstrated that the model tends to outperform conventional schools academically, while also promoting higher levels of self-esteem, participation and cooperation.
We cannot separate a system of education from the society it functions to serve. The needs and predominant values of a society determine the aims and methods of its schooling. If we change the way we educate without changing the needs of society, a conflict will arise. A democratic education requires a society receptive to the sorts of individuals that it would produce. In the Foreword to Paulo Freire’s text Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Richard Shaull describes two main paths an education can take:
“There is no such thing as a neutral educational process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes ‘the practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
The selection and omission of facts and perspectives is unavoidable in the process of teaching. The beliefs and values held dear by a teacher – or whoever has the power to design the curriculum – dictate the material that is presented, the emphasis, and the perspective offered. The way to transcend this inherent bias is to acknowledge it, to communicate the problem of bias explicitly to students by highlighting the power imbalance of the teacher/student dynamic and, in doing so, encourage them to question the educational process: its aims, methods and content. Exploring the process of identity formation is an important part of this. Throughout history, the power to shape identities has been used to advance the interests of those with the power to do the shaping. Studying critically these mechanisms of control can go a long way towards undermining their power.
To acknowledge a bias we have to be clear about our values, about what has led us to frame the subject as we have and select the information that we transmit. Howard Zinn once wrote: “in a world where children are still not safe from starvation or bombs, should not the historian thrust himself and his writing into history, on behalf of goals in which he deeply believes? Are we historians not humans first, and scholars because of that?…my point is not to approach historical data with preconceived answers, but with preconceived questions. I assume accuracy is a prerequisite, but that history is not praiseworthy for having merely achieved that.” In the same way, an education is not praiseworthy for having merely imparted information and skills.
 Contra the capitalist world view, human nature (if there is such a thing) cannot be reasonably defined exclusively by material self-interest. Human beings provide both the labour and the consumers needed by capitalists but the idea that we are only materially motivated by self-interest is not part of our existential, evolutionary and historical condition. Moreover, our self-interest does not necessarily coincide with capitalism’s self-interest. If one accepts 18th century Enlightenment philosopher John Locke’s notion of certain innate knowledge at birth, yet the child’s mind is essentially a tabula rasa or “blank slate”, t hen human nature is surely a flexible and malleable condition greatly influenced not only by our inherited intellectual and physical characteristics but by familial, cultural, social and economic conditions. For example, how parents nurture and teach their children by inculcating certain values surely must have a significant impact.
As Jean Paul Sartre and other existentialist philosophers have convincingly argued, there is far more to humankind than greed and self-interest, since much of who we are is determined by our family upbringing and dominant culture. Both Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre, two stalwarts of the existentialist tradition and freedom of the individual, often developed their ideas without recourse to other mainstream philosophy, instead appealing to the insights of novelists, poets, artists and musicians. Sartre clearly believed that Flaubert and de Sade have as much to teach us about human ideals and depravity as do Hegel or Plato. For Nietzsche, the early classic playwrights and contemporary Darwinists cited important questions about human destiny, real freedom and the improvement and/or corruption of our human species. Neither man would have suggested that capitalism exists because of an innate greed and rapacity is wired into our DNA and that free will is a myth. As Sartre proclaimed, “we are condemned to be free” and therefore have no excuse for our rancid immoral behaviour.
In his widely reprinted public 1946 lecture, “Existentialism as Humanism” Sartre focused on freedom. Humans choose their projects and purposes rather than have them defined for them by God, genetics, or social circumstances. Humans are, in Sartre’s words, “self-surpassing… man is the heart and center of his [own] transcendence.” Perhaps the greatest strength of the famous lecture is its concentration on freedom that most of us deceive ourselves regarding the extent to which our actions are constrained by factors beyond our control. Even though Sartre’s radical position on freedom and responsibility is perhaps untenable, it serves to remind us that we can exert far greater control over our lives than we generally admit; that most of our excuses are simply lame rationalisations.
 At least since 9-11 we have been plagued by politicians such as Tony Blair, George W Bush and Stephen Harper that are incurable liars, know they are lying and know that most of their constituents know it. They also claim to be devout Christians but not only regularly violate the Ten Commandments but have no compunction about murdering thousands of people in the Middle East, South East Asia, Latin America and elsewhere, laying waste to their countries. Now we have reached the nadir of deceit and prevarication with an obtuse pathological liar Donald Trump, a racist and sexual predator who seems to have no political ideology (only winning and losing) and doesn’t even seem to understand the distinction between truth and falsity. But does an authoritarian narcissist like Trump endorse any political ideology other than whatever satisfies his greed and insatiable ego at a particular point in time? One might call Trump a fascist which he certainly is, or perhaps more apt would be Trumpness, a dense rancid sulphurous smog that eats away at our sanity and rationality. His semi-literate tweets are like the sounds of a doomsday cuckoo clock striking midnight every hour as the stench is released from the rotting corpse of the rogue state American Empire. Trump launches a scorched earth abroad and grinding poverty for the vast majority at home as millions of American citizens suffer the American Nightmare while buried beneath grinding poverty and a mountain of debt. All this goes on as he spends much of his time languishing on one of his pristine golf courses topped off with a few exotic drinks at the 19th hole.
These are unethical men who don’t understand the meaning of democracy, common good or justice and don’t give a rat’s ass about working people, understandable because none of them have ever put in an honest day’s work in their pathetic inauthentic lives. They are perfect exemplars of the nihilist selfish “might is right” asshole capitalist in which the end justifies the means. Financial criminals are bailed out by uncultured fascist philistines as they target social programs, education and the arts to pay for their endless swindles and scams. We see the offshoots of this cultural degradation for the atomized masses with revolting money making television programs such as Pawn Stars, Storage Wars and Dragon’s Den and the nauseating advertisements peddling reverse mortgages and subprime car loans.