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Third World America

Conscientious Objector

By Michael Blankenship · February 22nd, 2001 · News
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Remember back in our school days, the horrific examples of Third World poverty served up to us as proof of the triumph of the American way? Remember our disbelief at Caribbean or African countries, where the electricity came on only sporadically? That could never happen in America, we were told. And we believed it.

Remember how we were taught the failures of Soviet communism? Good Heavens! Those poor people had to wait in line just to purchase the simplest of necessities, an obvious example of the superiority of our free market. And we believed it.

We ridiculed the notion of "cradle to grave" medical care provided by government, and when our parents and teachers told us that we enjoyed the greatest health and medical system in the world, we believed it.

Remember what we were taught about the censorship of totalitarian states, which only recognized "official" styles of art or expression? Here in America, we were taught, we are free to say what we please, draw, paint, play, film, read and preach what we please. And we believed it.

Or remember the struggle of workers in Poland to organize themselves into unions and win concessions from a government intent on destroying their hopes for a more equitable society? We would never face such a situation over here; our workers rights are protected by law. And we believed it.

And what about the scandalous state of elections in these poor lands, with strongmen holding power within their family and passing it on to their sons, training all citizens to simply accept what leader was given them, and learn not to ask for anything or anyone better? Here in America, we were taught, each citizen has the same opportunity to rise to positions of power, and any classmate of ours could someday be President.

Again, we believed it.

Twenty years later, which of these do you still believe? Which of these promises has not been shredded in the shallow passing of one generation?

Our most populous, most prosperous state can't even keep the lights on. The high-tech industries of our much-vaunted Silicon Valley must shut down two or three times a day for want of power. And it's not because the power isn't there, but because the freedom to gouge consumers is unrestrained in homage to our sacred belief in profits. In search of higher profits, public utilities sold off their generators, and made a short-term fortune, the long-term effect of which was to put the utilities and their consumers at the mercy of loan-shark electrical entrepreneurs. The supply is there, but with demand so high, the new providers will charge their consumers whatever they think they can get away with. The "free market" has been cornered.

Try to buy a stamp lately? With the recent boost in postal rates, everyone needs a supply of one-cent stamps to augment their existing batch of old thirty-threes. The lines for this simple commodity stretch the length of the post office, then double back upon themselves, reminiscent of the old Soviet breadlines. And probably one-third of those in line have no health insurance. At least those Russian women in their babushkas had that.

As for expression, America's official art, when not having its content dictated by governmental agencies, is being determined by the real cultural power brokers, our benevolent, all-providing corporations. Our art and culture are diminished when forced to serve the interests of people whose sole purpose is to control our minds, our moods, our media and our spending habits.

And with the increasing influence of this corporate culture, and workers' increasing dependence on its "don't worry, be happy" anesthetics, the ability of workers to envision a better life, and of unions to achieve it, grows weaker by the day.

Just look at our politics. We can't even run a good election anymore. Following the lead of corporate marketing, image and name recognition have replaced substance and performance as the desirable traits for product-candidates. No need to look any further; the packaging is attractive, and the brand name is the same as the one your dad used to buy!

We have given our freedom away to an entitled political class. They're professionals, after all, so how should we know any better? They are supported by the people we trust our lives with, who pay our bills, put food on our tables, sell us what they insist we need and tell us what they think we should know.

They have reduced our expectations to those of a peasantry, unable, unwilling and ill-equipped to understand the complexities they have removed us from, and only the flickering of our diminished power gives us pause to consider our situation.

contact Michael Blankenship: letters@citybeat.com

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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