(This is a slightly edited version of a blog post that first appeared in my candidate blog, “Holsinger for House.” You can read the original here.)
Al Gore called his landmark presentation on climate change “An Inconvenient Truth.” I think he chose the word “an” very purposefully, He’s a smart guy, and he knows that climate change is not the only “inconvenient truth.” There are many “inconvenient truths,” subjects and realities that conventional American politics carefully avoids or glosses over. Gore explored this in a subsequent book, “The Assault on Reason,” a volume that most Democrats seem to have chosen to ignore. I believe American politics would benefit from greater public awareness of and dialogue on these “inconvenient truths. ” Here are some that come to my mind. If you have any other ones you would like to nominate, feel free to comment!
GROWTH IS THE PROBLEM, NOT THE SOLUTION
Conventional politics is religiously dedicated to the proposition that fostering “economic growth” will solve all our problems, and that anything that halts or slows “economic growth” is a Bad Thing. This theory has been most notoriously promulgated as “trickle-down economics,” AKA “Reaganomics,” but its practice is not confined to the GOP. The fallacy of economic growth as a solution to our problems is that we live on a finite planet, with finite resources, and our dedication to “growth” is running up against the limits of those resources, whether we are talking about fossil fuels, phosphates, clean water, fish, other foodstuffs, arable land, oxygen, or anything else tangible. If we use up all of these things, even over the next few hundred years, what will people (and other animals) do to substitute for them in a thousand years? Ten thousand years?
The notion that “whatever increases the Gross National Product is good, “is gross. Hurricane-caused damage increases the GNP. Diseases that require expensive treatment increase the GNP; frequently, diseases are caused by other activities, such as environmental degradation, that increase the GNP. Lots of things that increase the GNP make us less happy. Happiness comes from a sane state of mind, not the possession of a mountain of toys.
“Economic growth” has tended to benefit those who are already wealthy more than those of us who are not. That leads to another inconvenient truth, which is that
AMERICA IS AN OLIGARCHY
The wealthy and powerful, the people the Occupy! movement refers to as “The One Percent,” are the people who call the tune in this country. It doesn’t matter what is best for most people, whether it’s an open internet, a sane health care system, a decent neighbourhood, or a clean environment. Our government will do what benefits the wealthy. The One Percent have bought Congress and, to a large extent, the courts. They are garnering an increasing share of the income and wealth that is generated around the world. Unless we and the wealthy happen to agree on a subject, “we, the people,” are unlikely to see our wishes respected in the law of the land.
THE MONETIZATION OF OUR SOCIETY HAS BEEN A DISASTER
Once upon a time, multigenerational families and friendly neighbors were the rule, not the exception. Childcare and elder care were provided by relatives and friends. Most people were born, and died, at home, and in between birth and death they cooked their meals from scratch, sewed many of the clothes they wore, and fixed tools that broke–which didn’t happen a lot, because tools were made to last for generations.
Now, we are born and die in hospitals. We pay for daycare for children and old age homes for elders. Most people eat factory-prepared food, and buy clothing and household items made by poorly paid people on the other side of the globe. These items are produced by corporations that are only in it for the money, and don’t want the things they make to last, so they can sell more merchandise. Materially,the net effect of this arrangement has been a huge transfer of wealth from the middle and lower classes to the wealthy families who own the corporations. Spiritually, we have also become impoverished, because families have become alienated from each other and their neighbors, and the self-confidence that comes from knowing basic skills such as wood carving, animal husbandry, cooking, sewing, nursing, and gardening has been lost.
When everything costs money, there is less time for leisure and community. It takes all the running we can do to stay in place.
“JOBS” AS WE HAVE KNOWN THEM ARE GOING AWAY AND NOT COMING BACK
One way the One Percent have increased their share of the country’s wealth has been to export what were formerly middle-class jobs, both blue- and white-collar, to third world countries. Most manufactured goods come from China, and, thanks to the internet, many desk jobs are now done in third world countries by people who are paid a fraction of what it would cost to hire an American to do them.
It’s not as if there’s “nothing to do” in America. There’s plenty to do, it’s just that there’s not much in the way of government or private funding for what needs to be done. Some things are big and need large-scale backing, like soil and water conservation/reclamation or refocusing our infrastructure away from its current automobile fixation. Other projects on our national “to do” list, like community gardening, remodelling homes for higher energy efficiency, and relearning the many skills that were lost when large manufacturing became the norm, such as shoemaking, sewing, simple blacksmithing, or the use of draft animals, can be started on a small, local basis, creating an economy outside the money system so that people with little or no access to money can meet their basic needs, because….
IN FINANCIAL TERMS, WE ARE GOING TO GET POORER, NOT RICHER
The late sixties and early seventies were the time when “The American Dream” was closest to “being true.” Average income was highest and income inequality was at its lowest. We had far more leisure time than we have now. There was plenty of grant–not loan–money for those who wanted a college education. Those days are gone, and they are not coming back, but we still have the possibility of creating vibrant, cohesive local communities where people see their wealth in their circle of supportive friends, not in their bank accounts, large-screen TVs, and fancy cars. And, speaking of cars….
IF YOU DON’T OWN AN AUTOMOBILE, YOU ARE A SECOND-CLASS CITIZEN
Proponents of mass transit tend to ignore an important fact about the physical layout of our culture: pervasive automobile ownership has created a scattered society, one in which there are relatively few large clumps of people, common destinations, or times to travel. Maybe it doesn’t seem that way at rush hour, but if you analyzed the routes of all the cars on the road, you would find that very few of them could be replaced by their drivers switching to available, or even potential, public transportation. If you don’t own a car, you are denied access to many neighborhoods, jobs, shopping areas, and much of the countryside. Our state legislature has shown its disdain for Tennessee’s “second-class citizens” by restricting the use of state transportation funds for public transit projects. Meanwhile, the need to buy, license, insure, and maintain an automobile puts a high financial barrier in the way of full participation in American society.
“OBAMACARE” IS NOT THE REFORM OUR HEALTH CARE SYSTEM NEEDS
I find it bizarre that opponents of “Obamacare” brand it as “socialism.” It’s the very opposite of socialism–it mandates that we, the people, must buy a product from a corporation, or be penalized. That’s not ‘socialism,” that’s a characteristic of “fascism‘–“a mutually beneficial business/government relationship.” “Obamacare” (the prototype for which was created by the reactionary Heritage Foundation), like the bank bailout of 2008, essentially rewards the people who created the problem, in this case by subsidizing people who could not otherwise afford private insurance, without putting any significant cost controls on either the insurance companies or the health care industry itself, an “industry” whose profits are completely out of line with other businesses, and frequently out of line with the value of the products and services it offers. This is because, as I said above, the U.S. is an oligarchy, and the pharmaceutical, insurance, and hospital owners can afford to buy their own Congresspeople.
Beyond that, our whole health care paradigm is flawed. Many of our disease problems are caused by environmental factors, from the personal, such as lack of exercise, poor diet, inability to deal with stress, to societal/environmental factors such as the widespread availability of unhealthy “food,” lack of opportunity to do meaningful, healthy physical labor, and work and home environments that create stress. Meanwhile, our doctors are trained to be symptom managers, not to look at the whole of a patient’s life, and are paid more, the more procedures and tests they perform on a person. There is no financial reward for a doctor whose patients are healthy and don’t need interventions.
OUR SCHOOLS ARE FAILING OUR CHILDREN BECAUSE OUR SOCIETY IS FAILING OUR CHILDREN
It used to be that, even with “just” a high school diploma and a reasonable level of intelligence, a young person could get a blue-collar job that would support him or her, plus a family, at a reasonable standard of living. More recently, a college education was touted as the key to success in life. Now, a college education has become the gateway to a lifetime of unrepayable, unsheddable debt, and a room in your parents’ basement. What motivation do young people have to do well in school? It’s not likely to get them anywhere. Schools are increasingly little more than daycare for older kids, with harsh discipline for any who are smart enough to be bored and self-assured enough to show it. The most dangerous drug epidemic in America isn’t crack or meth. It’s the horrifying rate at which we are forcing our children to take psychiatric medications so they will “fit in” to a society that has nothing to offer them. To read about the kind of educational system I’d like to see, check here.
THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM WILL NOT PROVIDE A SOLUTION BECAUSE IT’S PART OF THE PROBLEM
Sure, the Republicans act and sound crazier than the Democrats, but the Democrats are like the meek, submissive, enabling spouse of their abusive Republican husband. Both parties are deeply committed to the interests of The One Percent, and to the “growth” that is the source of our problems. Around election time, Democrats will make a nod to the real needs of the people, but, once the election is over, they go back to serving their real masters. Obama’s campaign and administration are a perfect example: he promised financial reform, but filled most financial regulatory posts with Wall Street insiders. He campaigned with promises to fix our broken immigration system, but he has stepped up the harassment and deportation of refugees from Mexico. He promised to end the Bush administration’s disastrous foreign wars, but, while fewer U.S. troops are on the ground, he has stepped up drone attacks on “America’s enemies,” in a manner that is just as much a war crime as anything committed by the Cheney/Bush administration. To compound this situation, after pledging more openness and transparency in government, his administration has become infamous for persecuting whistleblowers. After promising “5 million green jobs,” he boosted subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries, and, as I said, pushed a “health care reform” bill that rewards the corporations that created the problem. Furthermore, he promised to defend an open internet as a candidate, then appointed an anti-open internet telecom lobbyist to head the FCC.
WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME TO MAKE AN ORDERLY TRANSITION TO A SANER SOCIETY
Trying to “reform the Democratic Party from within” has been going on for fifty years, since the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the DP has done nothing but drift to the right. The Green Party is, in my opinion, our last hope for a peaceful, nonchaotic transition to a saner culture. If we continue down the two-party path, we are headed for disaster. I hope these “inconvenient truths” enter the mainstream of American political discussion and inspire millions of people to take action, because they are the concerns we need to address if we are going to continue to have an “America.”
WE ARE NOT GOING TO BE SAVED BY SOME CHARISMATIC LEADER
I don’t have all the answers to the many challenges we face, but WE do. The Green Party is not about charismatic leadership, it’s about empowering people to make intelligent decisions about how to conduct the business of their communities, their regions, their states, their nation, and the world. The Green Party’s “Ten Key Values” –non=violence, decentralization, equitable community-based economics, feminism, respect for diversity, globally aware personal responsibility, and a focus on creating a sustainable future , are a ten-wrench tool kit for rebuilding the world and making it wiser, friendlier, and more sustainable. There is still time to create a better world.
music: Eliza Gilkyson, “When We Cross Over“