One thing about the Cyprus situation really stands out to me – the people there stood up last week and have tried to push back the IMF/ECB/EU attack on them. The international banking troika a week ago wanted to take 10% of everyone’s banking assets to pay for a bailout of Cyprus’s banks.
Bankers weren’t going to have to pay for their stupid loans.
They wanted to make the people pay for the stupid mistakes of the bankers.
And the people said no. Tens of thousands of them marched in the street and as a result their politicians said no too.
All week their political leaders have been fighting to get a better bailout deal for their country. They have been looking at alternative ways to get the bailout money, even talking with private corporations outside of their country and sources of financing outside of the IMF and ECB. We don’t know how this all is going to end, but at least they are trying.
This all stands in stark contrast to what we did in the United States in 2008 and where we seem to be headed now.
Back then the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department demanded that American taxpayers pay for a trillion dollar bailout of our nation’s international bankers based on Wall Street.
We got scared. So we did nothing but agree and obey.
No one went in the streets and George Bush signed off on it.
Then Obama got in office and praised the bailouts and took no action to reform the banks or prevent another crisis from happening again. All he did was mouth platitudes and play a lot of golf.
And Americans did not complain.
Compared to the people of Cyprus and Europe the citizens of the United States have become the most politically passive people in the developed world.
I have seen this for myself on the local level.
After the school shooting that was all in the news last December my local sheriff created a program to put a deputy in every school, board up the entrances to the schools, install airport style metal detectors in them, and setup a telephone tip line for kids to call and report to the police any crimes they may see any of the other children commit. The police would be able to come arrest them and get them into the court system to straighten them out.
Now one of the problems with the plan is that it costs a lot of money. It would have required a 5 cents increase in our property taxes.
So he didn’t have the support he needed on the Board of Supervisors, which would have had to create the tax he wanted to fund it so he began a campaign for that tax.
He held a meeting at which about a hundred of his supporters came and listened to him give a presentation on why he thought his program was needed. Most of the people weren’t parents, but people who were the sheriff’s personal friends. A lot of them were just people who knew him in his church. Some were law enforcement groupies.
He was trying to mobilize enough people to call the supervisors in support of his plan. To do this he basically tried to scare the piss out of people with his presentation.
But not enough people came to his first meeting so he held another one at one of the high schools.
But hardly anyone came to it.
What is fascinating to me though is that I talked with a dozen or so teachers about the program and they were against it. Our school system is cash strapped and they were concerned what the program could mean for other school expenses such as the hiring of more teachers and sports programs, which have been stopped and cut. Only one of the school board members ever publicly spoke in favor of the program.
They didn’t seem to think that the schools really needed it. Other people I talked to didn’t think the program would even do much to stop a potential school shooter. Such a person determined enough would find a way to work around it. They saw it as a waste of money. Some thought there were better ways to increase school security that would work.
Good or not what is fascinating is that hardly anyone got involved. The sheriff’s second meeting was at one of our local high schools. About 35 people showed up. Most of them were elderly people who didn’t have children in the school. They were just friends of the sheriff. There was not a single teacher from the school at the presentation.
I find this striking, because you would think the government or civics teachers would have come. You would think they would use the issue and the meeting as a way to teach kids about getting involved in their community.
You would think teachers for or against it would have showed up. This is where they go to work every day. If they were for it you would think they would have come to endorse it and speak of the need for more security. If they were against it you would have thought they would have come and talked about the negative impact it would have on the teaching environment or how it could impact the school budget. You would think they would have some opinions, but they kept them to themselves.
The school superintendent was there, but not a single school board member was.
The program bombed and the sheriff’s program is now politically dead. Whether you think they were good ideas or not what is fascinating is the political and civic apathy displayed by the people of my community over it.
This is typical of our country as a whole.
It makes me wonder if the United States of America is really a democracy or not. For the masses of people elections have replaced participation.
It wasn’t always like this.
Compare people’s activism during the 1960’s in the Civil Rights movement or against the Vietnam War with the number of people who protested against the Iraq war.
And since we talk about the economy together on this website think about the Great Depression compared with the past five years of this so called “Great Recession.” The living standards of the vast majority of Americans has declined in the past few years thanks to the Wall Street bust.
Unemployment exploded. Gas prices have risen. CEO’s walked away from the banks they wrecked with tens of millions of dollars in bonuses while taxpayers got stuck with a trillion dollar bill.
The bank bailout program has placed such a burden of debt on the government that we have now passed the point of no return. Looming inflation and a debt crisis will be the cross we all will bear for our passivity.
In the beginning of the Great Depression close to 100,00 veterans camped in Washington DC as a “bonus army.” Companies cut wages and fired people so workers organized and engaged in strikes across the country. The UAW organized the car industry. This was the heyday of unionism.
People did not just sit there and hope that FDR or some other political leader would save them. They got up and took action. They “rioted” as you can see in this video:
By rioting they forced reforms. The press and movie reels showed the worst of it. Most people were peaceful. They created mass movements that pressured FDR to pass such things as social security legislation and unemployment insurance. You may not like these things today, but they happened because people stood up for themselves and made them happen.
One of the most popular people in the country during the Great Depression was “Father Coughlin.” Millions of people listened to him on the radio rant against the Federal Reserve and wrote to their Congressmen with demands and some of those demands became laws. Today people sit there and see Ben Bernanke on the TV and meekly hope that he knows what he is doing, even though he pushed policies ten years ago that helped to create the financial bust of 2008.
In 2008 when the banks went under I thought we could see a figure like Coughlin appear and attract a mass following. This isn’t to endorse Coughlin or his beliefs, but to point out that no one like him has appeared on our political scene.
Look at how many people are in this crowd:
I wonder now what kind of people have we become in the United States?
Are we so scared now that we can no longer speak for ourselves?
It seems that way, because we do nothing but sit there and let the corporate money men decide for us. Goldman Sachs was one of the top campaign donors of Barak Obama and half a dozen other Wall Street banks followed their lead in funding him. He’s their creature.
Then when Mitt Romney ran against him these same banks turned around and funded him too!
They had their bases covered so no matter who won they won.
The real problem though is the masses are politically dead and the middle class is too scared to stand up for itself. If it did the politicians would answer to the people.
If you look at the past few decades this has been a trend going on for some time, but it seems to have accelerated somewhere in the past 15-20 years.
Do you know why?
Before I give you my answer I want you to look even further back to the time of the founding fathers. The Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville came to the United States in the 1830’s and wrote a famous book called Democracy in America in which he told Europeans about our system of government – and how he admired it.
One of the arguments he made was that town halls and taverns were critical for the health of democracy, because they provided a forum for the people to go and talk with one another and debate.
He also said that associations and groups were key too – they provided mechanisms for like minded people to lobby the politicians. He saw civic institutions as the bread of democracy.
At the end of his book he described a way in which democracy in the United States could devolve into despotism. He did not think it would happen with some tyrant or dictator taking over, but slowly overtime.
This is what he wrote:
I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things ;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.
I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.
This seems in effect to be what has happened to citizenship in the United States of America. Let me offer you an explanation for what may be the main cause – not because people are brainwashed by television or have been tricked – but because of the centralization of power in society in government and by corporations which are now intertwined together – and has accelerated over the course of the past several decades.
This is a video that looks to have been done around 1990 by one political thinker named Sheldon Wolin explaining this process:
In this situation the typical citizen floated into apathy. Then after the recession of 2000 and the terror of 9/11 he fell into fear over slipping economically and of the outside world. He replaced self-reliance with a cowering siege mentality.
Most people I know of that are into politics and frustrated do not do anything themselves to make a difference. Instead they watch a lot of political television or listen to talk radio and channel their frustrations into hatred for the rest of the world and hunger for more wars to watch. During the wars they feel like they are part of something and get excited to see the country strike back at enemies. They loved watching the Iraq war and fantasize a lot about Israel and Armageddon even though they know absolutely nothing about the Middle East. They hunger for a war against Iran, North Korea, or anywhere else really. These people are essentially morally dead crypto-fascist/socialists.
But they do nothing but passively sit there. Chicken hawks have always been the most pathetic members of a herd since they will do anything they are told to do – even walk over a cliff.
This same type of passive behavior goes on in religion. Today’s most popular religious figure is Joel Osteen who simply smiles and tells you to believe. He doesn’t tell his followers to do anything, but be nice, and his knowledge of the bible is about nil. What he is though is a marketing genius. He may in fact be the greatest marketer of our time, with messages that appeal to the heart of our meek, obedient, consumer culture. But most churches ask nothing of their members, but to come, sit, obey, and donate money. They play no role in their community or society at large.
We have gone from men like Martin Luther King and Billy Graham to Joel Osteen. I’m not a Mormon and do not believe in Mormonism, but at least the Mormons do stuff.
The reality is that today most people have let themselves become a part of a hopeless herd and too many people no longer even have much initiative to do much to better their own lives. Many now live in a haze of depression, television, and drug abuse, which often end up linked together. One out of four Americans take psychiatric medication.
As for the pills I’m sure there are a few people who need them, but I find it hard to believe that one out of four people are really mentally ill. They are simply pill addicts. And if it isn’t pills than it is pain medicine or drink that they reach for. Most addicts are not addicted to “illegal drugs,” but the “legal” ones prescribed to them by their doctors.
Statistics show that the average household has the TV set on for over seven hours a day. Statistics also show that the more someone watches TV or plays on Facebook the more depressed they are likely to be.
Inactivity breeds depression. Facebook playing is not real life.
If you have read much about the prison system you will come across the term “institutional neurosis.” This a personality disorder in which, as the writer James Scott puts it, “those suffering from it are apathetic, take no initiative, display a general loss of interest in their surroundings, make no plans, and lack spontaneity. Because they are cooperative and give no trouble, such institutional subjects may be seen by those in charge in a favorable light, as they adapt well to institutional routines. In the severest cases they may become childish… and become withdrawn and inaccessible.”
We don’t live in a prison society. This isn’t a “prison planet.”
However, Scott asks – “Are the authoritarian and hierarchical characteristics of most contemporary life world institutions – the family, the school, the factory, the office, the worksite – such that they produce a mild form of institutional neurosis?”
Or as he asks – “Is it reasonable to expect someone whose waking life is almost completely lived in subservience and who has acquired the completely lived in habits of survival and self-preservation in such settings to suddenly become, in a town meeting, a courageous, independent-thinking, risk-taking model of individual sovereignty?”
I’d assert such a cowered person can’t even muster the courage or energy to attend a meeting.
A lot of changes have taken place in the world since the time of Alexis de Tocqueville, but one of the largest changes that has taken place is the transformation of the economy from one based upon small-scale production and small farms to one dominated by giant corporations, monopolies, and international bankers. One of the largest trends in the history of America since the time the Constitution was written has been the centralization of power in the economy, which went hand in hand with the growth of government. That process of course really began in the years right before the Civil War with the construction of transcontinental railroads and took off afterwards during the Industrial Revolution.
It then accelerated during World World II and in the decades that followed with the rise of the military-industrial complex and the Cold War. But just about everywhere you look you can see this same trend and it seems somehow to have once again accelerated in the past 15-20 years.
And so we are where we are today – where most people are dependent upon giant structures of centralized power – may they be corporations that employ them or the government that helps them – and have personalities that can be labeled as having characteristics of the “institutional neurosis.”
In politics the result is mass passivity and crypto-fascism/socialism. In the stock market all too often this all leads to a tendency of investors to simply believe anything they hear on the financial news channel, because they fear doing anything for themselves and taking independent action.
Of course it’s easy to break away from a passive and helpless herd and become more of an individual human being. All you got to do is just go do something for yourself and for others. Think for yourself. Learn to invest and trade for yourself. Start your own business. Educate yourself so you can get a better job. Create something you can call your own. Grow your own garden. Buy gold.
In politics you don’t continue to sit there and hope some politician is going to fall out of the sky and save everyone. If you don’t have the time to fight yourself for the things you believe in than give your support to people and associations outside of the two parties that do.
You stand up.
If you don’t then centralized powers will gladly suck you dry until there is nothing left. It’s time to tell them to stop.