A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


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Adrift in the Orwellian Haze: Part III

(Image Source: Imgur)

Our Democracy: Vote for me, and I Promise NOT to Represent You

In theory, we live in a representative democracy where a majority vote by the citizens of a community/province/nation determines its political leadership, and these leaders represent the interests of the people who voted for them. That’s the theory. The reality isn’t nearly as neat and rosy as we are brought up to believe that it is. In a previous blog post, I wrote a review of a documentary film I watched called ‘Citizen Koch’, which decried corporate and Big Money involvement in politics, and how America’s political and judicial systems were being corrupted by the money of a few billionaires with vested interests in influencing policy decisions. The problems of our modern democratic system are laid out pretty well in the film, but one problem drives practically all the corruption, and dallying, and bad management that our governments are responsible for, and that is money in politics.

Before I get into that, though, I have to ask what do we expect of our elected leaders, of our representatives at home and abroad? When we vote someone into power, we believe we are choosing the person who shares the same interests and concerns as us about society and the lives we live, that they will represent us in driving progress and reform to better all our lives and those of our children, to ensure they inherit and even better society when it comes to their turn to enter adulthood and exercise their democratic rights by voting. We vote for a politician who is like us, whose idea of the betterment of people and the system at large coincides with ours.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that that’s rarely what we get.

The above video describes what is wrong with having a representative democracy in the US, but it could easily apply to any country with leaders elected by popular vote. Essentially, in most cases, our choices of representatives are limited to two, maybe three choices, who have to fund their campaigns to get enough public exposure to be a serious contender. Sure, especially in more local or regional elections and sometimes national elections, there can be a great many options, but can they really be considered in contention for a seat in government if the people have never heard of them and don’t know what they’re about?

That is why political candidates need donors.

Anyone can be a donor. I could donate one Euro to the political campaign of my choice, and that makes me a donor, but not a very significant one. However, the guy who donates a million Euro is much more likely to get noticed than a million people like me donating one Euro. That is the nature of democracy today. You pay big bucks, you get the attention of your candidate, and they are in your debt, literally! Therein lies the problem, as how can you have a representative democracy when the leaders we vote into power are technically obligated to represent those who paid them into power? Whoever conceived of the idea that money and donations in politics was a good one clearly didn’t give much thought to this question, or did, it’s hard to say which is worse.

We the people just don’t bring enough dough into the equation. Thousands or even millions of small donors can be easily outspent by a handful of very big ones. Therefore even as a block, the small donors don’t get noticed by the politicians they subsequently vote for. It leads to the inevitable conclusion that votes don’t really matter. It’s all about who can raise the money to fund their election campaigns, who can prostitute themselves best to corporate donors who will fund them into the spotlight in exchange for favours down the road.

When you consider the corporations are only interested in making a profit and are willing to do everything it takes to achieve that aim, it makes sense for them to have considerable influence with the politicians and government entities that can affect their profitability. Therefore, having paid for their politician, it is of course only “fair” that they get to lean on them to create or block legislation, depending on which action benefits them most. What hope have the people got in this scenario?

When we think about it, despite differences in culture, ethnicity, religion, social class and many other factors, we all want basically the same things from our government. We want them to provide us with healthcare, education, jobs, infrastructure, utilities, a good food system, a healthy environment, and a strong economy that benefits everyone. The problem lies in the fact that these things don’t always benefit corporations. In particular, regulations of a social or environmental nature such as for food safety, health cover, workplace safety, clean air and water regulations, and other such legislation that would be welcomed by you or me, is burdensome to a big company that just wants to make money in the cheapest, most efficient way possible.

If our government does not provide our needs, we can rally, we can protest, sign petitions, and sometimes such actions are successful, but a lot of the time, the interests of Big Business are favoured. Often this is justified because politicians believe increasing the success of corporations means the betterment of society across the board. However, just because corporations are making more money doesn’t mean they’re going to employ more people or invest in the communities that harbour them. It doesn’t even mean greater tax returns because corporations often lobby politicians to cut their taxes, so wealthy Big Business gets more and more state wealth that could pay for much of things we desire of government that I mentioned above, and what’s the government’s answer? Give them what they want, so they can expand further and continue to drain the economy and society.

Democracy should mean putting the people first, but corporations now are people, at least in the US. It has basically reached the stage where the people cannot decide that they don’t want something and that’s the end of it. Take Denton, Texas for example. The town that originated hydraulic fracturing voted in a landslide to ban the practice within its town limits. This is local democracy in action. This is the people saying loud and clear that we don’t want something in our community that pollutes our environment and harms our health. That united voice should be good enough, shouldn’t it? No, it’s not because Big Oil and Gas will lose money because of the ban, especially if other towns and cities follow suit. So they are suing to overturn a democratically approved mandate for their own selfish ends and instead of supporting the people of Denton, the Texas government, in co-operation with ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), has been moving to prevent cities from banning fracking or regulate oil and gas industries in any way, thereby further undermining local democracy.

This is not an isolated incident, especially in the US where states are moving to prevent municipalities from passing any kind of ordinances whether they be to prohibit drilling within a town’s limits or to have anti-discrimination laws in place. For example, another bill, if passed in Texas, would kill home-rule authority, which would transfer all powers to pass ordinances to the state. This is the uprooting of democratic principle, concentrating power in an evermore centralised form that limits the participation of ordinary people.

As the video above states, we do not live in a representative democracy. We live in a plutocracy run by oligarchs who are increasingly not being subtle about it. The concentration of wealth and power and the elitism that has infected our political systems can only lead us down a road of less power to the people, less socially responsible governance, less corporate and political accountability, less rights and freedom, less of everything that is supposed to be upheld in a democratic society. We are degenerating into a modern kind of fascism, power to the wealthy and to the corporations, but not you or me, not the people.

The example I gave above is just one way in which our democratic system no longer serves us, local policies being rendered meaningless by the state despite the local people wanting them. In my own country, my county council for Clare and several others, have called for a moratorium on fracking in Ireland. However, it doesn’t matter what they want, or by extension what the people want, if the Irish government decides they want to allow fracking in the country then their decision is final, much like they wish we’d accept water charges as final. The fact is whether it be local ordinances or decisions that affect an entire nation, what people want is largely being ignored. This is why people are rising up against austerity, intrusions of privacy, and corruption that are becoming more and more commonplace.

However, we now have many obstacles in the way of us exercising our basic democratic rights. Even though we are essentially voting for one or another side of the same coin in an election with other candidates not well known enough to reach significantly into the public conciousness, any concerted effort to vote for the lesser of two evils is even thwarted. Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and zero restrictions on fund-raising for candidates are all designed to favour one side of an election. Even when we try to overcome these insidious attempts to undermine the validity of our votes, we can no longer protest safely, or question the status quo without being under suspicion of some kind of sedition.

We are losing what little liberty we have under the current system. We have become so disillusioned with it that many of us don’t bother to even participate. There are two ways to look at that. One is that it can be a kind of protest, a rebellion against a system that churns out a political leader who does not bring change, who does nothing to better the lot of the general populace, who favours corporatist interests rather than populist ones. By not engaging in politics, we are demonstrating our disapproval of the system which in itself is like a democratic vote, just one to abstain! However, on the flip side, those who do vote then get disproportionately represented in government, and that can be detrimental to minority groups’ interests. It can also be the difference between getting a relatively idealistic, progressive representative and a greed-driven, conservative.

Last year was the first time I personally voted. I voted for Fis Nua and Green Party representatives because I believed they held the greatest promise for positive change in my own country and while, yes, some candidates do get elected to local councils or the European Parliament, politics in my country, just like practically everywhere else, is polarized between two or three major parties. I’m not going advise people who don’t vote to vote because I’m not even sure if democracy in its current form can ever be truly representative and not corrupt. Even if the most progressive, well-meaning individual gets into high office with the best of intentions, they generally have to tone down their message for change and compromise themselves in order to fulfil their role within the government machine. Jacque Fresco of the Venus Project has stated on many occasions that “all governments are basically corrupt”. His answer is basically to do away with government rule and leave major decision-making to computers to manage everything from agriculture to transport to resource management.

Crazy? Or maybe exactly what we need?

In my previous post, the video, “The Story of Your Enslavement”, suggests that as our personal freedoms increase, people begin to wonder why they need leaders at all. Is this perhaps why right now our freedoms are being increasingly curtailed and democracy in practice has become a joke? A slightly paranoid notion, but who’s to say it isn’t the case?

Whether we choose to abstain from the current system as it continually degrades our lives with austerity, incursions into our privacy, circumvention of our rights and freedoms (as they are), and expects us to just accept it as just how it has to be, or we choose to vote and perpetuate all of this, or maybe, just maybe, see politics working for the people, that is our choice and one of the few things we can control. For me personally, I would use my vote to throw the corporations and lobbying interests a curve-ball, to get corrupt politicians and bad decision-makers out of the game, replaced by people with some kind of vision for the future. After all, what good to us is a lawyer or a businessperson to make decisions about agriculture, education, the environment, infrastructure, transport, food, or water? From what frame of reference can they make a decision on whether to approve a new chemical pesticide, or to decide where is best to build a highway, or judge how to address social problems like homelessness?

They can’t! We need engineers for that, chemists, architects, sociologists, people with the know-how to make these kinds of choices for the betterment of society. I’m not saying that all politicians are inept, but many are guided by their own prejudices, their own short-sightedness and greed. After all, what vision can one exercise when all they’re concerned about is getting through the next election so they can keep their job another few years? So to those of you all over the world who plan to vote, vote for underdogs. Don’t vote for someone because you’ve always voted for that party, vote for people who are actually different, not those who just promise to be.

Our world is in crisis. Our perpetual growth economy has already pushed Earth beyond four of the nine planetary boundaries by which scientists determine the state of our planet. Our course needs adjusting, but how can we hope to accomplish that if we keep choosing the same drivers? Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. By that standard, our drivers are nuts. The question now is are we happy to let them drive us off a cliff, or are we the people brave enough to take the wheel?

Links:

America’s election nigthmare: how voter ID, gerrymandering, & fundraising made us a laughing stock

Breaking: Denton, Texas, Hit with Lawsuits After Landslide Victory on Fracking Ban

Since the City of Denton Banned Fracking, Texas GOP Moves to Preempt Local Control

New Documentary Trailer Shows How Denton, Texas, Upstaged the Oil and Gas Industry

Clare TDs Asked to Support Fracking Ban

Planetary Boundaries: Gauging the Limits

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 

 

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Adrift in the Orwellian Haze: Part II

(Image Source: cagle.com)

Our Rights: Of course you’re free…in theory

What exactly is freedom? What does the word mean to you? Most people would probably answer being able to make your own choices in life, live the way you desire, or some may ascribe it our right to choose our leaders and our laws via voting a in elections and referenda. Out of interest, I Googled the definition of freedom, and the first result stated it is “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants”. However, what caught my eye was the example of its usage given directly below: “We do have some freedom of choice”. Some being the operative word.

The video above is one I came across some time ago, and I will admit that upon watching it first, I found it slightly paranoid, or perhaps it was the analogy of the farm and cattle that put me off balance. Having re-watched it several times since, it has begun to make more sense to me. We do have certain liberties. We’re given little choices along the way that make us believe we are the primary directors of the course our life takes. However, that belief distracts us from the fact that we are merely following one lane on a pre-defined highway that has no turns and no exits. Our choices only allow us to change lanes, not get off the beaten path.

For instance, when I attended secondary school, I could choose a certain number of my subjects, but there was no choice over others, whether they interested me or not. I was then, along with others, exposed to the same information, the same standardized testing, and the same options determined by my results. As in “The Lie We Live”, our education system treats us like subjects in a clinical trial and in doing so stunts creativity and independent thinking. Quoting Spencer Cathcart, “…taught not to make a difference in this world, taught to be no different”. But then why would governments and corporations want thinkers, or activists, or idealists entering into politics and economics. The answer is, of course, they wouldn’t.

We serve a function in the current framework. We are not people. We are not individuals. We are a labour force, and we have certain freedoms only because it makes us more productive, not because anyone in power values us and our rights. People choose their education within a certain scope of options, as not everyone can strike out on their own and do what they’re really passionate about, and even such people get drawn back into the system by using their passion to support themselves. People choose their career based upon the results achieved through their “education”, though many are happy just to attain work in their field and often that career you worked so hard for is nothing more than a job. That job then determines everything else. Where we live, our standard of living, the car we drive, and where we send our children for education.

Then you will spend the majority of your adult life working for a life that you do not have time to live, because you work, you commute, you run errands, do chores, deal with the kids, and then you have to sleep. You work so you have an income for the twilight years of your life, so you don’t have to spend it subsisting on state benefits. Then, you die. Your children have replaced you on the hamster wheel that keeps on spinning and spinning. That is the highway, the whole length and breadth of it.

Of course, if you have the skills, the determination, or if wealth happens to fall into your lap, you can jump the barrier, and head off into the wilderness, literally. However, for the sake of argument, let’s say you have none of those things. Let’s say I tell you to hit the eject button and leave the monetary trap, leave the farm, go be a truly free cow rather than just another one of the cattle. Well, for starters, you can’t go where you want to go unless you plan to travel everywhere on foot. You could always thumb a lift, but anyone who’s tried that knows that it’s at best a hit-and-miss strategy. Then more fundamental questions raise their ugly heads. Where are you going to stay? What are you going to eat, or drink for that matter?

It all comes down to money, the tool of control. We get it in exchange for being effective cogs serving the machine. It allows us to buy the car that takes us to work to earn the money. It allows us to buy the house we hardly live in because we’re working to pay the mortgage on the house. It buys us all the consumerist items that advertisements pry us with that we also can’t enjoy to their fullest because we’re working for the money to get them. You can’t go out and find food and water for free unless, like I said, you run off into the wilderness and become a hunter-gatherer. Your options are that, submit to a system of wage slavery and life-consuming drudgery, or be homeless and depend upon the goodwill of others.

Is that freedom? Not being able to go where you want to go, do what you want with your time, or learn and experience the world as you see fit. To live a monotonous, scheduled, unsatisfying life all in exchange for paper that you simply use to perpetuate that same existence. No, it is not. You are not free to choose your own path if you are simply fearful of the consequences of that choice, if all options but one seem unviable.

We are so constrained, yet we are so occupied by the lives we lead that we don’t have time to consider it and even when we get a few moments to ourselves, we do not want to “waste” them pondering such things. We’d rather watch the latest soap drama to take our minds out of the reality of our lives, if only for an hour. However, sometimes we do not get a choice in the matter.

As is stated at the end of the video above, this system is unsustainable. Freedoms were given initially with the promise that they would make people more productive, and they did. However, what few freedoms and rights we possess, we grow attached to, and the more we’re given, the more we begin to open our minds and question the status quo. For example, people begin to doubt our political leaders intentions, and whether the officials we have chosen really have our best interests at heart. Now governments depend on how occupied we all are with work and home life to allow them to operate almost with impunity, because people just don’t have time to care about one bill being passed or another. However, the system is self-destructive, as it seeks to take back the freedoms it gave in order to keep the herd in check.

It is its own undoing.

More freedoms equal more productivity, but more freedoms lead to more freedoms, leading to questioning of the establishment, with a predictable backlash against freedoms from the establishment. An example is the C-51 anti-terrorism bill currently navigating through the Canadian legislature. It purports to only be aimed at dealing with the threat of terrorist acts and inciting terrorism, but the broad language of the bill means it could easily be turned upon Canadian citizens for simply practising their rights to freedom of expression. It opens up the door to oppressive domestic policing and violations of privacy, problems that are curiously becoming rampant in most Western nations where people are supposed to be freer than anywhere else.

In the end, we are expected to be well-conditioned components, carrying out a specific role in the system, and in exchange we get doled out the wage that allows us to continue functioning, and to continue performing our role, a role we believe we chose without any direction. Humans are not machines, however, or animals of burden. We are sentient, feeling creatures whose natural state is to be free, and I mean true freedom. Freedom from injustice, toil, and monetary dependence. We have the technological know-how to meet the basic needs of everyone for food, water, shelter, healthcare, and education. Yet the social advances we can make are limited by their “cost”, by political dallying, and corporate lobbying.

What can we do in the face of this machine that promises to grind us all down eventually? What can we do but burn down that highway until we meet our inevitable crash and other drivers then take up the race? We can choose to exercise the freedoms granted to us in whatever way we can. We can make our voices heard, even as those in power try to silence us with fear of what will happen if we withdraw our support for them. For freedom begets freedom. Having some will never be enough when we know we can have more. It is up to us to take what is rightfully ours, and demand real change.

Links:

Canadians Rally to Defend Their Freedom: A Day of Action to Stop Bill C-51

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.


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Adrift in the Orwellian Haze: Part I

(Image Source: Reddit)

We are not free. We are constrained by a system that delivers the illusion of freedom. We do not live in a democracy. We live in a system where our choice is limited to two sides of the same coin, thereby allowing for the appearance of democratic choice. We consider ourselves unique, living unique lives, making choices that are all our own, not determined by any outside influence. That is a lie. Everyday you awake in the same place, eat the same food, work the same job, engage in the same chores and mindless entertainments, and then go back to sleep. If you think that is unique, then the question you need to ask yourself is did you ever wake up in the first place?

I have watched multiple videos and documentaries decrying our broken political and economic systems. The Venus Project, the Zeitgeist Movement, their productions all advocate a move to a better economy, a better society, one that works for the benefit of all people and not just a select few, not for profit. Yet I can say that none of these, no matter how much they influenced my thinking and opinions, impacted me as profoundly as this eight and a half minute clip. This short video by Spencer Cathcart summarises the problems of our world eloquently and powerfully. It is near impossible to deny the truth of his statements on our economy, our democracy, our rights, our food, and our environment. They are all in desperate need of repair. They are all corrupted to serve an elitist few who depend on our complacency, our apathy, and our willingness to serve as obedient cogs in their machine in exchange for a pittance.

I plan to do a series of blog posts covering the issues mentioned in the video. So let’s go into to detail of what is so broken with all the components that make up our society and our lives, starting with our economy:

Our Economy: The 1% Boom, We Bust

Corporations are everywhere. Your food, your hygiene products, your devices, your appliances, all of it is controlled by one corporation or another. The fact that everything you buy and many of our services are corporate-owned is scary enough. However, when you consider the “or another” is getting smaller and smaller with every quarter, the true extent of the control so few have over so much becomes terrifyingly clear. The Earth’s resources are being consolidated, concentrated into the hands of mega-corporations. You may enter a supermarket and think you’re spoiled for choice by the thousands of options but in reality, all of the brands before you are owned by less than a dozen companies.

Think about it. We’ve surrendered the abundance the Earth has to the elite who dole out exactly what their precious cogs need because we cogs are also a resource, the most important one. Unlike other resources, we have desires, hopes, fears, all of which can be exploited. We can be controlled this way, enticed or scared into perpetuating a system that only serves those at the top, our corporate overlords.

Corporations only exist to make a profit and to serve the interests of their shareholders, who also want to make a profit. Therefore, they have no incentive to display any social or environmental responsibility. Their power and influence alone can allow them to fly under the radar of legislation and cut corners to maximise profit at the expense of the environment, those they employ, and the communities directly affected by their activities.

So with power and wealth rising persistently to the top, and everyone else falling to the bottom, what is the inevitable outcome? Fascism? Oligarchy? Corporatism? All of the above? Most definitely. We live in an age where technological advancement is outstripping the expansion of human awareness. This technology continually allows us to do things faster, better, and with less and less human input but instead of being used for the benefit of humanity, it is being employed to maximise profits because corporations develop it, they own it. Therefore people are cast adrift in a system that has not caught up with our technology and pointlessly holds on to the outdated capitalist structures that built it, because corporations want it that way. They need to keep making worthless paper much like a hoarder who feels compelled to fill their home with useless junk.

This model is unsustainable for many reasons. From a social standpoint, most repetitive and boring work can and is being automated by use of machines and computers. So what happens to the human worker who once did that job? They are unemployed, forced to rely on social services that are also outdated because their expectation is that you will find some way to get off of them and find work again. If social changes were enacted to bring our society up to date with the technology then there would be no problem. However, our social systems are entwined with corporations through politics, and much like a business, governments rarely invest in anything that doesn’t turn a profit. People not working for the system are not productive in terms of contributing to corporate profits and/or national GDP.

So, people will eventually reject to a system where their needs are swept aside in the interests of capitalism and profit-making for those who already own a huge share of the world’s wealth and resources. It’s just a question of how big a bust we are willing to endure before that happens. The last financial crisis saw ruin for people right across the world whereas the richest were continuing to soak up the world’s wealth. That was insufficient to topple the system. We need a greater shock to trigger a mass demand for reform, and also one that sticks. For even now, business interests are undoing a lot of the safeguards in place to prevent another crash. Corporations have inexplicably become people in the eyes of US law with inalienable rights, donations to politicians are now no longer bound by any upper limits, making it easier for corporate lobbying to influence elections and government policy, and big banks can count on a taxpayer bailout during an economic downturn of their making, leaving us impoverished and them still wealthy.

We all need to ask ourselves if these injustices are not already enough. Is it okay that the eighty-five richest people in the world own more of the world’s wealth than the poorest three and half billion, that individual businesses have more power and money than many countries? Is it okay that banks can gamble taxpayer money like it’s a game, leaving us to cough up when their luck runs out? Do we want to live in a world where pieces of paper delimit our entire existence, where most of this so-called wealth exists digitally as ones and zeros on a computer somewhere? Do we want to live in a world of inescapable debt, of wage slavery, of booms and busts where the 99% always seem to get the latter end of the stick?

I, for one, believe better is possible. I don’t believe our current economic systems are the best that humanity can come up with. We are capable of so much innovation on so many fronts, yet we cannot overcome barriers to progress that we have put in place ourselves. We have to remember that we the people ultimately wield the power. It’s just about having the courage to use it. Corporations need workers, customers, faithful cogs running their machine, churning out more and more profits. Even making small choices like buying healthy, organic food from a local farmer, or coming together as communities and co-operatives to provide services and to initiate projects could make all the difference. Divesting your money from businesses and banks whose values are not in line with yours can really hit big business where it hurts.

An economy that works for all people and provides everyone with what they need while allowing them the freedom to do whatever they want with their time is not a utopian pipe dream, nor is it some socialist or communist nightmare. It is a potential future that is in no way absolutely perfect, but it is certainly better than what we’ve already created. The alternative to a resource-based economy, an economy for the benefit of all humans, is a capitalistic tidal wave that the elite will ride, crushing us all beneath, until it breaks upon an unyielding shore, and that shore will be the limits of what the Earth can sustain. Our world is finite, its natural systems have limits, and we are already pushing them with the ludicrous idea that infinite growth can occur under such constraints. Our society, our economy, needs a revamp in terms of priorities and values. Otherwise when the next bust happens, nor we or the elite may come back from it.

Links:

Oxfam: 85 richest people as wealthy as poorest half of the world

Citigroup Wrote the Wall Street Giveaway the House Just Approved

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.