Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Piece Of The Pie

A monumental undulating steel wall by Richard Serra will be the first thing you see when you step inside the new Broad Contemporary Art Museum, Renzo Piano's three-story building for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Dead, our white bones lie silent
when pine trees lean toward spring.
Remembering, I sigh. Looking ahead,
I sigh once more.
This life is a mist. What fame?
What glory?
---Li Po
But, but, but...The Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Reason Foundation, the American Freedom Coalition and the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy (among others) have been spending considerable time and energy explaining that all is well with the world and that things could get even better if we would only come to our senses and get government off the backs of corporations...
Government is harmful and corporations and corporate libertarianism are a boundless good. I mean, ask DuPont, Chevron, Mobil, Monsanto, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, General Electric, General Dynamics, Philip Morris, Chemical Bank, Texaco, Westinghouse, the Western Coal Council and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
---comment yesterday evening by Anonymous
So what does this kind of "individualism" mean? Freedom from government? Okay, then does that mean we don’t want any of the services only government can provide? Such as good roads, schools, parks, public safety, clean air and water, oversight, restaurant and food inspections, fire and police services, health care, etc.?
I guess once all these “intrusive” government services (which steal our freedoms) are gone we can finally begin to enjoy the blessings of true freedom. Remember: “tax dollars don’t belong to big government, they belong to you.” Oh yeah? Then who is government if not us, a reflection of who we are? Even if bought up by every corporate interest with a lobbyist we still choose our reps. Select them.
---comment yesterday by Paul Quintanilla
I have a colleague at work who talks all the time about his piece of the pie. He's also semi-retired, a few years my junior, which placed him in Viet Nam as a Marine. Nearly every day he boasts he's a conservative, and often identifies me, in front of faculty and students, as his "favorite liberal." He means it mockingly though, and is not known as someone who listens patiently to someone's argument against what he believes. He comes from coalmining stock around here, learned to work hard as a boy, took tough discipline knocks, and found out what he thinks is important in life his own way. He attends an evangelical church and doesn't like uppity women---and let's 'em know it. He didn't think America was "ready" for a woman president. I've never heard him mention the name Barack Obama.
I'm not sure what he means exactly by his piece of the pie. I don't think it's limited just to stuff he can buy with his hard-earned dollars. But that's a lot of it. He hates taxes that limit his spending because the money seems to go to lazy, no-good people through the hands of corrupt bureaucrats. He follows the boss' orders (unless he can avoid it by laying low) but generally doesn't tolerate being told what to do. He often mentions his distaste for anti-littering campaigns---but chastises students more than anyone else if they toss something onto the ground. He's a pretty average joe I guess, especially in his own eyes.
I used to indulge him in the past more than I do now. I think he's gotten the point, over the last year especially, that I won't good-naturedly laugh off his jagged barbs anymore, but now come back in kind. He's not sure what to do with that, since I'm not sure he learned anywhere that there are good things to come from open discussion. He prefers a chain of command I think, where rank largely has been earned through demonstrable accomplishment. Corporations have been filled with men like this in the United States...but as to whether women approve of this approach---well, that would be a different article. This is about that piece of the pie, whether such a pie really exists, and what you really need to do to be part of it.
I imagine I probably was conceived around the Fourth of July holiday in 1939. My parents had been married for 3 years, and I guess they must have planned to wait that long. It's one of those things people of my generation maybe never thought to ask about while Mom and Dad still were alive. I never heard they had trouble creating children. My sister was chosen from out of Eternity sometime around Thanksgiving of 1945. It seems they waited until the War was over, and possibly more sound economic footing. My family was practical that way, and made do with very little money. My mother had training as a registered nurse, but never used it professionally after we kids were born. So probably my birth in March 1940 was set up because they had enough money, rather than whether we were about to plunge into war. I don't know, but I'm glad I came when I did, that I had a chance to experience that wartime, and that I'm not a Boomer.
The changes I've seen in this life of course have been extraordinary. No need to list all that: there still are enough of us duffers around to go through them with you. But what I have seen and been a part of has been a huge change in education. I taught both social studies (which meant Western history and government then) and English. When I started teaching in 1963, no one diagrammed sentences on the blackboard anymore. Creative writing was starting up. Within 10 years I had repented my flirtation with open classrooms and all that, and gone back to sentence structure and grammar. And spelling! I guess it was too late. I get memos from superintendents and principals now---and English teachers---with errors they shrug off if confronted. Doesn't matter to them---even though I know a badly worded memo on the production line can cost a company millions.
In social studies I liked to teach actual documents of history but maybe I sacrificed dates and timelines. I worked contemporary problems of our society into my courses, and encouraged debate about solutions. I tried not to push an agenda in any classroom, but not hide behind a devil's advocacy either or some kind of anonymity. I always have felt citizenship is what we're in school to learn. We need to be able to read, so we can learn from the free press and take stands on pending legislation. We need to know how our government works and to insist on its legitimacy. We must discuss issues openly with neighbors and the community, and be tolerant. I believe these aspects of life are basic to civilization itself, especially this one we've tried to operate in the United States.
Lately I've been harping increasingly about a loss of focus on these responsibilities of citizenship. I've written on the Internet and said often to those around me that I feel the American citizen has been replaced by the consumer. I hated that word "consumer" from the first time I heard it to describe people---maybe some 40 years ago? I only could think of this huge mouth whining for more and more to go into it. The consumer definitely takes stuff in...with decreasing interest in what he's supposed to put out. We go to work, but are we still filled with the same spirit of dedication we had in the 1940s---or anything like it? What has changed?
I'm seeing more and more people talk about what sort of process led us into consumerism, and whether in fact such a condition of capitalist and even patriotic devotion interferes with citizenship. Some suspect a conspiratorial plot has existed for a long time to dumb-down the populace. As an educator of 45 years, I have some pretty definite opinions about that. So I was greatly heartened to see this article in the Spring edition of World Affairs Journal. The author fears Americans are giving up their sovereignty as a people...and, my friends (as McCain would say), that's as serious as it gets! I plan to get better acquainted with this political thinker, whose name is Benjamin R. Barber~~~

1 comment:

Quinty said...

He makes a compelling case.

It’s curious but prophets have always predicted the end of the world. Apart from such a grim forecast’s imaginative possibilities, have those “ancient” prophets been onto something? Were they somehow in touch with a deep human reality? A logical conclusion following our behavior? And what does that all say about today? To what extent does superstition and a lively imagination mix with reality? Since today it is thoroughly possible for humanity to extinguish itself. And corporate power and greed would play no small part.

That corporate hegemony is growing is undeniable. Those of us of a certain age have watched the corporate world grow.

What’s greater, for example, here in the United States? An overall corporate culture as it appears in all our products, advertising, popular music, movies, etc.? Or the grassroots, where cultural advances have always in the past developed? From New Orleans whore houses to Florence in the Renaissance to Montmartre in 1890? Today, when we look about, it appears as if the corporate center has the edge, defining much of popular culture. As for “high” culture, it appears to hardly exist.

Are we merely jittery about this “brave new world,” the corporation and all its satellites? Obama has promised to put corporate power in its place. But he already appears to have been swallowed up by that greater power.

But the people comprise a mighty legion. We could change the world if we decided to. Ah, isn’t that an irony? We are constantly hemmed in by ironies. and contradictions. The overall flow of both power and culture in recent times has been dominated by corporations. And conspiracy theorists aside there is no central loci of all corporate power. Just as your author says. Though CEOs often see eye to eye.

Your author makes many very interesting points. And he may be onto the overall trend in recent times.