Scapegoating for the Oligarchs, or Not

Ruling elites routinely distract their subject people by directing attention to individuals or ethnic groups as ‘the enemy,’ and it routinely works. As long as people are distracted by arguments over ethnic and individual culpability and conflict, the oligarchy wins. We could discuss the dominance of the English-American elite over the American economy and politics after the revolutionary war and their continued dominance thereafter, excluding the Scots-Irish immigrants and later many other ethnic groups from full political and economic participation, but to what avail?

The big mistake is to reduce problems resulting from economic inequities to the characteristics of individuals or ethnic groups. Today’s central banking cartel transcends national borders and ethnic categories, yet it benefits from any distraction of public awareness by scapegoating, including re-coded American racism, blaming immigrants for job losses, and plain old anti-Semitism.

The bottom line is structural; we live in a political economy of oligarchy, with a new twist that Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism” – a new form of fascism with a thin ‘democratic’ facade. You could waste your time tracking the ethnicity of all bankers, only to find a mix of whatever proportion, yet it would not matter. Their allegiance is to the financial elite of which they are members. Their Fox News minions call them the ‘job creators,’ even as they move their capital overseas to the labor markets they can exploit more cheaply. The oligarchy has various historical elements, but its current structure of power is what matters, and that is not an ethnic structure, it is the political-economic-financial structure of the corporate state. That is what needs to be directly faced and dealt with by ordinary citizens through concerted action.

Any chance for the people to prevail and for equity and democracy to survive will result only when people in communities recognize the fact that the larger system is way out of democratic control. It is not immigrants, Jews, Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, or even terrorists who cause the problems most people feel directly in the form of depressed wages, underemployment, unemployment, lack of access to quality education, loss of access to voting, the decline of municipal infrastructures, growing police brutality and gun violence, a congress that refuses to respond to economic crises on Main street, not just on Wall Street, etc. Oligarchy thrives on oppression and distraction. Most societal problems are symptoms of economic and political oppression, and elite delusions of empire. Most Americans know that “the system is rigged,” and the economic cards are stacked against them. We also know that we can’t fight it alone. Anger breeds prejudice and discrimination; easy targets are presented to distract us. But only a turn toward positive concerted action can really help.

Because of the lock-up of national politics and economic policy by the oligarchs, the only ways left for ordinary people to survive and to thrive are strategies to create our own locally controlled institutions within communities and to withdraw participation from the giant institutions controlled by the Oligarchs.

Move your money from the Big Banks to local credit unions. Cancel Big-Bank credit cards and use local credit union cards. Start community banks. Divest savings from the fossil-fuel oligarchs and invest in socially responsible funds and local ecologically sound enterprises. Organize community solar and wind generating systems. Buy local. Reduce consumption from marketing-driven wants; buy to satisfy actual needs. Withdrawal from the international trade and industrial production system will stimulate opportunities in local economies in which individuals and families can participate and exercise control. That, of course, will not be an easy transition; it will require much cultural change and will be resisted by the oligarchs. But it will be an invigorating, transformational stimulus to a free and open society.

What It Will Take: Living in a World We Made But Never Expected to See, Part III

The economics profession provides the ideology, the corporations fund the politicians and their lobbyists write the legislation, the congress formalizes the legal cover and the stacked courts confirm it, the Federal Reserve provides the “fractional reserve” lending authority, and the Wall Street “Masters of the Universe” direct capital to drive the endless-growth economy that is killing the planet.  The military, of course, assures that the dwindling planetary resources flow to the growth machine and the increasingly militarized police act as an occupying force to “manage” the population.

Where can we find the hope in all this harsh institutionalized reality that is already exceeding the limits of the biosphere?  Hope lies where it always has: in the people.  When we examine the examples of revolutionary change in history, one fact becomes clear.  All successful revolutions (aside from those overthrowing in invading or occupying armies) have been non-violent movements of the people against oppressive regimes of one sort or another.  Popular resistance is a powerful force.  Real power results from the consent of the governed; that is what frightened the financial and political elites so much about the Occupy Movement.  When that consent is withdrawn, elites tremble.

Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall surveyed a wide range of movements of popular resistance to oppressive regimes in the last 100 years in their book, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, and found that a variety of non-violent sanctions – from strikes and boycotts to civil disobedience, street demonstrations, and non-cooperation – exercised by ordinary people, can separate ruling elites from their sources of power to end oppression.  Each case was different – from Gandhi’s movement of non-cooperation in India in the 1920’s to Poland’s Solidarity movement in the 1980’s, from Russia in 1905 (before the Bolsheviks) to Argentina in the 1970’s and Chile in the 1980’s to Burma today – but wherever popular resistance bloomed, it could not be stopped.

Today, our problem is the same but also different.  What Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism” in his book, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, has quietly and incrementally overturned democratic institutions in the U.S., resulting in a elite-managed façade of corrupted democratic formalities that gloss over a pervasive corporate plutocracy.

What does all this mean for a citizen movement to transform the economy to achieve ecological justice, a stable biosphere, and the triumph of human values over economic growth serving corporate power?  Because all national institutions are now under unified totalistic control of the economic/political elite, serious change can only come from the bottom up – from the people ourselves.  Both collective acts of resistance and re-organization of economic activity in communities are necessary.

Close all your accounts with the Big Banks; open accounts only with local banks and member-owned credit unions.  Start employee-owned businesses.  Dump Comcast and join or start a cooperative member-owned Internet association at half the cost.  Divest your investments from fossil fuel corporations and military contractors.  Organize local opposition to water-table destroying oil/gas fracking.  Organize your community to establish publicly owned municipal community solar/wind driven electricity and local-regional smart grids.  Start community gardens and food coops.  Buy local, especially food, and avoid any “food”-product with more than five ingredients.  Pay a little more for locally grown organics and buy less plastic junk – the costs and benefits will balance out.  Organize to pressure city, county, and state governments to embark on seriously carbon-neutral energy programs.  The list can be extended by dozens of actions people can  take where we live.

We must change the way we live by taking individual and collective action in conflict with and in resistance to the very consumer culture we have internalized since World War II, but must now purge from our sense of ourselves.  We must again communicate with family and neighbors about steps we can take together to stem the tide of ecological catastrophe.  The new culture for a carbon-neutral world will look very different as we shape it, but will be fulfilling in ways the alienated consumerism we have been deceived into thinking is the mark of “success,” can never be.  And when you consider all those people who are just not paying attention, remember Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted words:  “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  The inattentive will eventually recognize hope in a new reality forming.  The possible is not necessarily the probable.  That is up to us.  Only our individual commitments and collective actions will make it so.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  ~  Mahatma Gandhi