Monday
Apr042005

« Uh, Like, Don't You Get It? »

One is dangerous enoughOkay, so I was watching a little news this weekend and saw that in Arizona, there are some concerned citizens who want to do something about the illegal immigration problem. So they have banded together and formed some vigilante group that supposedly would do directly the things that the government has not done to protect the leaky border. They say they aren't out there to hurn anyone, only to be spotters, but seriously.

The Minutemen, as they were called, all fit real squarely into the mold of the post-9/11 George Bush redneck America. You know the look—Wal Mart/NASCAR nation dressed in T shirts with "We Will Never Forget" and "These Colors Don't Run" and all that other jingoistic shit that totally misses the point. (When I see bumper stickers with "We will never forget" I automatically adjust it to reality: "We will never GET IT.") The joke is on them—they believe in and support the illusion of small government on one hand but curse the government not offering them the protection they feel is due them. They love to say they want a valuable service such as protection at the borders so that 9/11 doesn't happen again. But they also vote for the guy who claims that he wants to give every one tax breaks (and makes only a nominal effort for the huge majority of the population).

Well, let's remember that 9/11 didn't happen because of Mexicans crossing the borders. And let's remember that those Mexicans who do cross the border are taking our throwaway jobs. And let's remember that those throwaway jobs are the ones that make our lifestyle possible. You know, getting fat and driving around senselessly. I wouldn't diss the Mexicans who come over and grow our crops. One day we will be begging them to share what they know. Besides, usually the Mexicans are pretty benign. They aren't here to destroy our economy, and I don't think that the money they send home to family is really robbing us of much.

But it's not about Mexicans, is it? No. It's about fear. More fear. And, like Michael Moore said in Bowling For Columbine, it might not be a great idea to have guns everywhere if the whole nation is neurotic with fear. Shit, I wonder what percentage of our economy owes itself to fear. Security systems, locks, car alarms, CC video, security guards at strip malls, secret shoppers, guns & ammo, literature, martial arts lessons, insurance, gated communities. Jeeze, is there much of anything that we do that doesn't somehow show our fear of not just the unknown but of each other?

I saw this email going around a while back that if nothing else served as a reminder that all the stuff we expect to have in our lives comes at a price. The infrastructure that brings us water and food and takes our shit away to some hidden locale comes at a price. Fresh water, good roads, and legal protection comes at a price. Social Security comes at a price. Border protection comes at a price. So what's up with these people who want it both ways? Don't tax me but give me the border patrol? Don't tax me but keep 9/11 from happening? Don't tax me but go liberate Iraq? Don't tax me but give me clean air, water, and renewable resources? Don't tax me but give me well paved roads, bridges, sewers, and power grids? Don't tax me but give me cheap gas? Don't take my money as a young worker but don't let me starve and die penniless at 72?

I wonder if these people ever stop to think that getting their $1000 tax refund (or cut or whatever it is) does as much for them as it would if the government hung on to it so that it would be available for a viable border patrol program, and maybe other worthwhile programs. Some would be convinced that reforming Social Security would be a good idea, doing the Bush thing with private accounts. I think that is the most pathetic thing. Social Security would be neither social nor security! It is one of the few insurance plans I could embrace, because it is actually designed to be of real use. I think part of the Bush plan to eliminate SS and to progress with the idea of a so-called "ownership society" is to not only help their corporate buddies, but to make it so that people have to work longer, thereby supposedly keeping the economy stronger by keeping more people working. Well, that is pretty vacuous an argument, especially if it means that people will be in charge of their own retirement funds, a proposition that is put in jeopardy if the economy gets hard and people have to tap into those funds prematurely. It doesn't take into account the part about corporations downsizing or even eliminating their domestic workforce. There is nothing redeemable about the Bush SS plan because it is scheduled to be implemented in a period that will be defined by a failure of global capitalism, economic recession (if not global war and depression), and the promise of more of the same until oil supplies dwindle to a point where the stuff is hardly worth pursuing anymore. Not depletion, just to the point where it is more expensive to hunt and extract the stuff than the economic benefits it can return.

Any Social Security plan really looks doomed, be it the current one or the Bush plan. But I think the Bush plan has malicious intent in it because it stands to help some profit off a program that should be more or less altruistic. Social Security now is a revolving door program—money comes in and gets paid out. But even in its current arrangement, the shifting ratio of workers paying in to retirees collecting benefits is a sign that things could get worse, no matter what. The way I see it is this: Social Security could go bust not just because there are too many retirees, but because these days, and in the days to come when the oil based economy starts to decline, there won't be much work to be done, and it will generally decline as there is less available energy to do work, and keep economies afloat, let alone grow. Unfortunately, the baby boomers will be expecting payments at the same time as the economy tanks because of their lifetimes' very work! Millions of boomers will be collecting the dwindling funds, due in part to their efficiency. You know, a boomer aged CEO or small business owner who benefitted off the cheap foreign labor was directly to blame for putting a few Social Security paying Americans out of work, or at least out of well paying, meaningful work that would put more money into the SS system, or the government that should be protecting our borders. You know, the sort of work that made America great in the middle of the 20th century, when companies AND unions got along and had some symbiosis at work. Oh yeah, the sort of arrangement we had that also gave America a high degree of respect in the world, and the means and courage to stave off the Soviet army.

But now, some years later, we can't even protect ourselves from a group of guys that wouldn't even fill a high school classroom. They have done more damage to this nation than the Soviets did in 50 year of Cold War. Actually, I think we have done most of the damage. Call me a socialist if you will, but I think that the drive for individual profits has destroyed us. What else can explain Enron, Ticoh, World Com, and others? What justification is there for a CEO getting paid 500 times what his shop worker is paid, when in our glory days, and even as recently as 1980, CEOs averaged about 40 times the shop worker's salary? (AFL-CIO website stats.) If I made $10,000 for doing grunt work on the shop floor, and my boss made $400,000, what justifies his need to put me out of work for someone who will work for 60 cents an hour so that he can make $5 million? Or $50 million? And that is only his own benefit—not everyone will get that sort of deal. I can't for the life of me understand it. And I certainly can't understand how it can last. Of course, it won't last. It can't last. But no one making absurd amounts of money today will willfully trade that in just to do the right thing. So it's going to have to break. This won't be graceful.

Bush talks about wanting people to have more of their own money, and he carries on like his $1000 tax cut will do the trick. Sorry George, but I think the average American worker had more of his own money 40 years ago when he worked hard at a job that maybe actually mattered in life, not this silly shit that passes for an economy now, like WalMart, Taco Bell, ARCO, and everything else we surround ourselves with. I think 40 years ago people were willing to make the tax sacrifice because they understood that it takes that sort of trade off to get the services that individuals can't possibly provide themselves.

My humanities class recently had a long section devoted to Athenian polis—someone who either does not need to live within civilized society or cannot live within it is either god or beast, respectively. So these Minutemen patrolling the border in Arizona? Are they gods or beasts? Do they either not need the cooperation of others, or can they not live within such a system? The entire nature of civilized society is built on detailed, structured systems of mutuality and cooperation to achieve common goals. It's one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. Paying a tax is just one part of that. Not paying a tax, or otherwise not contributing to the system in thought and deed is, as the Athenians believed, a hallmark of uselessness. Aristotle said that a man who takes no interest in public affairs is not harmless, but useless. Vigilante justice is not a particularly civilized thing, especially when there is an organized system that it would supposedly replace. We have a system that just doesn't work, but instead of actually getting inside of the system and fixing it, these minutemen wish to operate outside of the system. Going it alone, according to the Aristotle, is part of a man's worst nature.

But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous. Wherefore; if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.

Let me remind you, the Soviet Union collapsed about three years after its oil production peaked, and also because of their massive military defense budget and closed borders. Sound familiar? Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere?

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