I would like to have one more go at the effects of the core philosophies of the elites among us. I have described those working from an early “Puritan Ethic” of community betterment and their opposite, those working from an early “Plantation Ethic” of being above the law with the freedom to control and exploit others and their property at will. How is this playing out in 2012?
The Republican Party seems to have been seized by elites with the Plantation Ethic during the past few decades. They love their money and privilege and will do anything to protect their private advantages. They have been preaching a host of destructive circular arguments. Here are a few examples:
They describe government as being out of control and being the root of all evil. They say that government needs to be slashed, reduced, and killed. No joke. Grover Norquist, the lobbyist and conservative “No Taxes” activist said, “… I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” Then they work to systematically cripple government so that it has trouble doing the good things that government is supposed to do. Finally, they point at this damaged government and say, “See, government really is worthless.”
They describe our government’s financial, pollution, and safety regulations as being out of control and the root of all evil. They say that government regulations are preventing businesses from making a profit and so there are fewer jobs. They have been working to systematically cripple important regulations so that financial, pollution, and safety issues pop up more often. Then they point at these preventable problems and say, “See, government really is worthless.”
They describe our public schools as being ineffective and the root of all evil. They work to underfund schools and lay-off teachers while burdening them with mountains of paperwork. With teaching becoming a thankless struggle against parental and community apathy, overwork, and buying your own books and supplies, good teachers give up. Then the elites point to these problems and say, “See, public education really is worthless.”
What is their alternative? Well, of course: contracts for private companies to provide services that were previously provided by public employees. Now, do you think that a corporation with these private contracts will actually work in the best interests of their employees and of those they “serve?” Or, will they work to maximize profits? Color me real skeptical. I absolutely believe that there are some things that public agencies and public servants are better able to do, and one of those things is caring for neighbors. The “public sector” isn’t just some big anonymous bureaucracy; it’s your neighbors and mine. When was the last time that a big multinational corporation brought you a casserole or tutored your child for free after class?
And, have you forgotten that “the love of money” is named as the root of all evil? While our economy is still struggling to recover from the last big private adventure in financial risk-taking, corporate profits are at a record high and employee wages, as a proportion of our economy, are at an all-time low. Yeah, tell me that the “job creators” need more tax cuts so that they can create more jobs. We’re fools to keep on thinking that the moisture we feel is the start of trickle down from the corporations who love us. I don’t think its trickle down; I can tell when I’m being pissed on.
© 2012, David Satterlee
Last week, I talked about the inevitable presence and place of elites in American Society. While we believe that all men are created equal and certain of their rights are unalienable and should never be threatened, we understand that some of us have advantages and abilities that others do not. Nonetheless, we hope that our children and grandchildren might yet find exceptional success for their efforts.
America has continued to struggle to define, expand, and guarantee our liberties. American slaves have been granted the rights of citizenship. Their descendants are increasingly able to vote freely, serve in the military, and sit, as free people, on any free seat on any bus. Women have been given the right to own property, vote, earn equal wages, and use birth control. Recently, more of us have received additional health care protection so that we don’t face the choice of staying healthy or dying quickly.
Nonetheless, America has always faced groups determined to twist government to favor their private wealth, power, and industry. In the years before World War I, this was called “The Gilded Age.” Corruption was open, corporations organized violence against their workers, stark poverty ravaged the lives of the poor crowded into tenement housing. If you were hurt on the job, you could consider yourself fired before you hit the ground.
The “Panic of 1893” was the result of corporate corruption and embezzlement on a massive scale. They even got the US Army to intervene in labor disputes. The “Great Depression” preceding World War II was triggered by the collapse of unregulated financial speculation by financiers. The Financial Collapse of 2007 was also the work of bankers and financiers trading in fabricated instruments derived from bundled lots of high-risk investments. Greece, other countries, and banks bought these investments, thinking that they could lower their own interest payments. The inevitable collapse shook the finances of not just Europe, but the entire world.
Today, self-serving business interests seem to have seized the reigns of the Republican Party. This goes far beyond the conservative or liberal dispositions of voters. They are dismantling needed regulation of finance, pollution, and labor practices. They are undermining and trying to privatize public workers including teachers, law enforcement, and even the military. They are outsourcing and cutting jobs while reducing wages and benefits for those who do still work. They are making it harder for most students to get or afford the college degrees that are demanded for entry into everything but minimum-wage service jobs. And, they are even trying to eliminate the minimum wage.
Today, well into our struggling recovery from the collapse of their economic house of cards, corporate profit margins are again at record highs while U.S. wages, as a share of our economy, are at record lows. If there is “class warfare” going on, they started it. Income inequality is stunning and it is getting worse. I believe that Americans of both parties need to push back against those who are intent on compounding their private wealth and power at the expense of everyone else.
© 2012, David Satterlee
You have seen me struggling to make sense of the differences between conservatives and liberals, the balance between personal liberties and public responsibilities, and persistent class differences in America. Today, I read an article that suggested a difference between American elites that fills in a gap in my thinking. Naturally, I’m excited and want to share.
Despite our belief that all men are created equal, we have always understood that some of us have advantages of education, wealth, connections, and influence that are not shared equally. And, as a competitive capitalistic society, we mostly accept these class differences in the hope that someday we, or our children, might get rich and powerful too. We expect to always have our elites.
The thing that got my attention was the idea that, in America, there are two major background philosophies among our elites. Some derive their life-views from Puritan thought while some get their thinking from Plantation attitudes. This makes a difference in how a person of privilege thinks about what they do with their wealth, what responsibilities they feel for others, and how they define liberty and freedom.
The Puritan ethic emphasizes community and the conviction that those having wealth and power also have the responsibility to use some of it to improve their societies. Historically, they typically responded to an inner call to community service and doing good for others. They have endowed universities and public libraries. They have endorsed government policies that improve the lot of the common man. The Roosevelts and Kennedys have fit this mold. People like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are determined to use their fortunes for good.
Holders of the Plantation ethic are very much different. Sara Robinson’s article describes its origins in the West Indian slave states and its “…utter lack of civic interest, its hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, its love of hierarchy, its fear of technology and progress, its reliance on brutality and violence to maintain “order,” and its outright celebration of inequality as an order divinely ordained by God.”
David Hackett Fischer further describes Plantation Elites that, “…always feared and opposed universal literacy, public schools and libraries, and a free press… they… sank their money into ostentatious homes and clothing and pursuit of pleasure – including lavish parties, games of fortune, predatory sexual conquests, and blood sports involving ritualized animal abuse spectacles.” They held themselves to be unaccountable and above the law.
In the Puritan Ethic, both liberty and authority reside with the community. Individuals are expected to balance their personal desires against the greater good and occasionally make sacrifices in behalf of others. This kind of support maximizes each citizen’s liberty, dignity, and potential. In the Plantation Ethic, one’s sense of liberty depended on their God-given place in society, and gave them the freedom to “take liberties” with the lives, rights, and property of other people. This results in their feeling the right to dominate, exploit, and abuse others and their property with impunity. This defines them, in their own eyes, as “free men.”
What sort of elites do you want writing your laws and running your government?
© 2012, David Satterlee
Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned about the moneyed and powerful elite in his day. Listen to his prophecy about how they will operate.
|The following list of 20 characteristics was developed by psychologist Robert Hare and have been noted as defining criteria to identify a “certain 1% of the U.S. population.”
One can use this list as a quick and informal identification guide if desired. Ideally, however, it will be more accurate if the individual and his/her acquaintances are interviewed. In this case, each item would be graded as:
0 – Does not apply
Do you personally know someone in the 1% of the population who might score 25-30 out of a maximum of 40? If so, they might fit the “gold standard” PCL-R assessment for psychopathy. (They may be a “psychopath” – lacking empathy, prone to being self-serving and insensitive to the needs of others.) In other words, these are typically amoral people who lack, or are indifferent to, a concern for others.
The term “sociopath” is sometimes used interchangeably. The choice of term often depends on whether one thinks the cause is due to psychological/genetic/environmental factors or due to social factors.
IMPORTANT NOTE – Before I Go On
_This assessment can only be considered valid if administered by a suitably qualified and experienced clinician under controlled conditions._
Now that I have taken you here and teased you with a “1%” label, can you think of any other small cluster or class of individuals who seem to lack empathy and are prone to being self-serving and insensitive to the needs of others? These people don’t need to be overtly criminal. In fact, they may be very good at staying just on the safe side of the law. They may be very skilled at finding and using loopholes. They are capable of doing everything they can to get away with serving themselves and increasing their wealth and power. But, in the last analysis, they often don’t seem to care who they hurt in the process.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) does not list or define “psychopathy.” However, it does diagnose “Antisocial Personality Disorder” (ASPD) – based entirely on behavioral observations. ASPD is defined as a ‘…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.’ A diagnosis of ASPD requires only three out of the following seven specific factors to be present:
Bill Moyers is his old, quiet, direct, and serious self. No car chases. No gun fights. Just the presentation of ideas worth discussing.
“On the Oregon Trail, more settlers died from gun accidents than from Indian attacks.”
RAGBRAI stands for “[Des Moines] Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.” This is not a competition. It’s just thousands of people out for up to seven days in our insane summer heat, enjoying the camaraderie of “the oldest, largest and longest bicycle touring event in the world.” Christie Vilsack is Iowa’s former First Lady and a Democrat running for the U.S. Congress in Iowa’s 4th District. She is opposing Republican incumbent Steve King, an “outspoken conservative who is a nationwide favorite of tea party activists.” My little town of Dayton, Iowa (population 837) is half-way through today’s 84-mile segment.
Today was a microcosm of the liberal ideals of community, fellowship, and social involvement. My 1880’s “workman’s Victorian” house was right on the route, just after the downtown events that included food concessions, a live band, and a dunking tank. As the bicyclists accelerated down a 1-block incline and past me, in my wheelchair by the curb with a political sign, I still had plenty of interactions.
Also, because my house fronts Main Street with a shade-tree-packed double lot, dozens of riders at a time stopped to take a break before heading down the long and hot road to Lehigh. My wife, Dianna, sent out a mostly-full pan of yesterday’s brownies. Everybody was so incredulous and thankful that she went back inside, cranked up her oven and made an additional five dozen large Snicker doodle cookies from scratch.
On the street, most riders smiled and waved or added a “good morning.” I figure I got a fair ration of exercise just sitting and waving back. Until the worst of the afternoon sun started taking its toll, most of these folks were having fun and were in an expansive and gregarious mood. You can’t have much of a conversation, passing by at 12 miles per hour, but you can share your good will and wave or call out a “good morning,” “hey,” “great hat,” or “thank-you” as appropriate to the moment.
Only four people in the six hours I was out were negative. It was nothing too strong – just an occasional “Obama is a socialist” or “I hope she loses.” It seemed fair enough; I was actually expecting more. Maybe this crowd was composed, more than usual, of people whose mommas had taught them that “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” You got to where you could see the people who glanced at the sign, clenched their jaw, and just starred sternly and unhappily ahead as they rolled by.
On the other hand, I got a LOT of approving finger-points, thumb-ups, smiles, “thank-yous,” and bell rings. I used to have a bell on my bike in the 1950s but this was unexpected at first. Two dings signal approval and come with a big smile. I liked to respond with a big wave, a big smile, and my own loud “thank-you.”
As the day wore on, there were even more thank-yous tossed my way. The expressions seemed more general than political. Having just enjoyed a church hospitality tent, a cold beer, and/or a dunk in a big water tank, the riders seemed to be taking me as an unexpected final representative of the city’s welcoming spirit as they headed out and onward. They seemed grateful to have someone to let know that they had been treated well and that they appreciated it.
I had a few short political conversations with the people taking a break under my trees. I wanted to stay low-key and didn’t shout out “Vote for Vilsack” or any such thing. Still, when you talk to someone in the grass, the sign suggests an obvious topic.
While I was passing out the first batch of fresh cookies and offering the last one on the pan, the fellow glanced at my sign and then asked, “I’m a Republican. Is it still okay to take it?” I just smiled and let him in on the secret, “Of course. Democrats believe that ‘we’re all in this together,’ that we’re all neighbors, and that we should all care about each other.” Maybe I shouldn’t have rubbed it in so pointedly, but he took his cookie, rolled his eyes, moaned a little, and told me to be sure to tell my wife that they were really, really good.
When the next batch of cookies came out, I took up where I’d left off. The next fellow under the tree, having had some time to think about the situation, took his snicker doodle, turned to the first fellow and said, “This is the kind of thing we’re thinking about when you call us socialists.”
As the day went on, the goodness of community just kept on as well. And, I’m not just patting myself on the back for getting out the water hose or fetching the kitchen trash can (which seemed to be particularly appreciated). People helped each other change punctured inner tubes. Someone made a detour to the first-aid station to get help for a stranger who had been weakened by the heat. People were at ease getting to know each other, telling stories, and exchanging ideas without getting cranky.
I’ve heard Christy Vilsack speak. She likes to tell a story about a small town where she lived. There was a well-used intersection that didn’t have stop or yield signs in any direction. She appreciated that neighbors just slowed down, took in the situation, and waved one or the other on through. Like most stories, it holds meaning and recommends future behavior. Such a story reflects on where her heart is and how she would govern.
I grieve for those who only care to look out for just themselves and for those they see as part of a limited “us.” However, I take heart on days like this, where so many people open an inclusive heart, accepting that we are all neighbors worthy of respect, concern, and support. What kind of candidate do you want representing you? What kind of representative will you vote for?
© 2012, David Satterlee
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