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Why We Must BE Our Government, Rather than Fear It

By       Message Laura Stein     Permalink
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(Article changed on October 21, 2012 at 13:53)

(Article changed on October 19, 2012 at 11:50)


For over a decade now, it has taken courage simply to follow events in the public sphere. One after another, the dikes we had built as limits to the harm the most powerful could inflict on ordinary people have been overtopped as if they were merely quaint, decorative borders. 

International agreements against wars of aggression; the concept of government by and for the people enabled by true elections; the right to due process under the rule of law; meaningful protection of the environment which sustains us; prosecution of those who misappropriate the public wealth; the right to freely inform the people even if doing so embarrasses the government or reveals malfeasance by its officials; the social contract and its outgrowth, the social safety net--all that and more has gone or been put in serious jeopardy in what seems like an instant. What passes for our government threatens us with bodily harm if we should dare take to the streets to object, by leaking stories of crowd control weapons that permanently maim and massive purchases of ammunition for domestic agencies.

Some of us tried to ignite the spark of protest for months or years without any apparent effect. In fact, things got worse. Then came Occupy.

So far, while it has some general goals, the courageous protestors understandably resist being constrained by a program until the movement builds, and a general consensus organically coalesces around some of the many proposed specifics. Many more people will have to join before it can possibly affect thing one. However, there are already two mindsets among the participants about Occupy's general direction.  Both want to remove the mega-corporations with their skewed, inhuman single priority from control over the country's people.

Both agree on the first step--disrupt and refuse to cooperate with the activities of government which aid the corporations in doing so much damage to people and the planet. But then they part ways. Some see this first step as also the final one--leaving a tiny federal government, with almost all social organization based around volunteerism and small, local units, similar to the structure of the Occupy movement itself. Many who think this way consider themselves proponents of new-style Anarchism.

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Others want a second step--to enact sweeping pro-democracy federal reforms which would provide the structure and safeguards to restore the U.S. federal government to its original purpose, a people's gov't, and a countervailing force to those who would impose tyranny, instead of being the arm of that tyranny it now is. And to quickly parlay those federal improvements into important changes in state charters of incorporation for for-profit companies in order to prevent them from working at complete cross-purposes with the needs of the general populace and a sustainable planet.

The main objection I have to anarchism is that given human nature, it's impossible. We are not ants, i.e. simple creatures capable only of hardwired behavior based on stimuli and not requiring any decision-making. We do have hardwired tendencies, though. One of them is that unlike bears, leopards, and tigers, we are social beings, not content to live or die by whatever we can get or cultivate entirely on our own and without anything produced by anyone else.

So we function in groups, or at least within an infrastructure provided by groups using the products of groups, but our coordinated behaviors are not instinctual, as those of ants and termites are. We must make decisions, and many of those decisions have to be coordinated with others or we won't survive. Even during interactions within the smallest and least formally organized subsistence or productive groups with members who try to consider everyone's input, there is always someone who says, "O.k., so we've agreed we will...". If the discussion stops, then that person is a leader, whether or not anyone, including the speaker, is aware of it. The reason this inevitably happens is that otherwise the planning would never resolve into action and either the group would fold or the actual decisions would be made behind the scenes by the most forceful personalities without general input.

Even chimps and gorillas have troop leaders, normally males, with veto power in the hands of a few dominant females. Physical battles for the top position are often inconclusive. Then all members have some influence over which self-nominated male ape is permitted to be leader. One way is when the troop literally votes with their feet, following either the established leader or the challenger when it comes time to decide when and where the group should move. So it's very likely that something like this is our innate model. It can be called primitive "self-government" because lots of input and leverage is available to all members, and most would prefer someone else as designated leader to take the final responsibility and the flak. Individuals, both ape and human, vary significantly in the extent of their dominance drive.

Of course humans are capable of more abstract thought. We can decide that the role of leader is genderless and that anyone seen as competent with enough natural dominance can be the symbolic "dominant male". We create multiple leadership positions at different levels with different areas of responsibility. We also can make "rules" and expect members to abide by them until the group decides to accept a change. Rules are what have allowed us to coordinate into much larger groups than would work if we were dependent on face to face, ad hoc decisions by all members. These larger groups both need and are able to support more advanced technology making life more secure and less stressful until we hit its limit.

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Our densely populated world has become much more dependent on advanced technology to remain bearable. We are deeply aware that our many people can't be sustained in small agri-groups or hunter-gatherer units. If we attempted to revert, we'd get mass starvation--thus our reluctance to rock the boat of the corporate model. But as we stay organized in our larger groupings, it becomes harder and harder to maintain "self-government" (meaningful leverage and input by all).

There has always been a shadow "gov't" in the U.S., ruling large numbers of citizens without allowing them input, hogging resources, creating a downward pressure on the share of wealth available to the overwhelming majority, and wantonly polluting, while claiming to be the only type of institution entitled to use society's resources to be productive: the anti-democratic, large, for-profit corporation. The harm they do is not unfortunate collateral damage, but the result of the warped template on which they are based. Corporate charters demand that the company's resources be the resonsibility of a tiny management only, no matter how many others participate in the company and how many are affected by its actions. These charters also insist its resources be used for the sole purpose of making money or increased value for investors. Corporate responsibility is an oxymoron because prioritizing any other goal over enriching the bottomline would be an illegal act jeopardizing the positions of its management. Their charitable activities have to be strictly public relations and not serious money.

In the largest corporations, the heirarchical structure and worship of power for its own sake allow the ascent into management of only the most dominance-driven and ruthless people, those who actually thrive on giving far-reaching orders which take nothing, absolutely nothing, but their corporation's accumulation of wealth, and thus power, into consideration. There is no equivalent to the clique of females in our original, small bands of relatives, demanding that the rulers be caring as well as strong. Very little either internally in the company or outside in society restrains the tyranny of their power, their exploitation of the resources of the larger society, or the mini empires they build, as long as the bottomline increases. Unions sometimes blunt the worst abuses of their workforces, but the corporate structure bars any meaningful sharing of power. The only checks have come from our representative gov't during the brief periods when strong "reform" (anti-corruption) movements held sway and a fair number in Congress took their representative duties seriously.

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Like this country's founders, I believe that the widest political empowerment under the rule of law is the surest way of having its resources work for the long term best interests of us all. The longer I live, the more I see that supports that (more...)

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