Looking into self.

Rounding off the week.

Starting with Monday’s video of Carl Sagan reminding us all that Planet Earth is just a grain of sand in the vast cosmos right through to yesterday’s Dealing with madness post, much of the week has been reminding us all of one very fundamental truth.  No better expressed than in a comment from Patrice Ayme [my emphasis]:

… there is no healthy man without a healthy world.

Regulars will have noted the high levels of debate this week.  Thank you all for those comments.

I have also received a couple of emails with feedback and comments, sent to me on a personal basis.  One of those emails had such a powerful message that I begged for permission to publish it on Learning from Dogs.  I was asked to keep the author’s identity private but, trust me, it is from someone I know well who subscribes to ideas of integrity and honesty in spades.

The author also strongly recommended publishing in association with his personal essay an extract from Chris Hedges’ book “Death of the Liberal Class”.  That extract follows straight on from the essay.


Reflections from a Vietnam Combat Veteran

War is an unnatural dichotomy.  Both sides are morally and materially diminished.  A future World War would most probably finish us as the self-appointed predominant intelligent species on planet earth.  It seems worth noting that German industrialists coordinated fundamentalist propaganda to foster the bigotry, hatred and fear which fueled their profitable war engines prior to World War II.

United States commercial media today reflects a financially dominated military-industrial culture with liberty and justice for sale.  The results are divisive and lead to both a declared international war against nebulous assailants we have been taught to dislike and an internal political war that has polarized our once fair nation.

We’ve stopped investing in the future in response to radicals who want to destroy government, human rights and what remains of the earth’s surface resources.  There is an emerging police state mentality on display with a variety of candidates for local dictator.

It’s well past time for moderate republicans to ignore their uber-conservative brethren.  It’s well past time for moderate democrats to renounce their corporate ties.  This will only happen when our financial and political leaders awaken to the reality of what is in the best long-term interests for all life on this planet rather than our present unsustainable global economy.

To complicate the problem, our planet is under attack by a swarm of vociferous human locusts seeking profit without regard to the consequences.  Meanwhile, despite human denial, the universe continues to emerge.  Species which do not adapt to change do not survive.

It’s important to remember that we’re in the midst of a battle that’s as old as the conscious awareness of the human species.  We generally have very little idea of the inclusive nature of our being; let alone the nature of our collective being as a species. We have as yet to learn how to surrender to reality.  The battle is with our own species.

Committing collective suicide for quarterly profit is not a sane way of life.  What we’ve created is a neo-feudal global economy without any foundation that feeds on an empire of consumption.  When we combine a neo-feudal economy with neo-fascist politics we arrive at a moral and biological dead end.

The coup d’état of the current Corporate State is the Citizen’s United ruling that makes money a form of free speech.  Money has no DNA.  In case anyone missed how the “occupy” movement was crushed, there’s no question that we’re rapidly criminalizing all forms of dissent.  These actions are being taking under the 1917 Espionage Act and related state secrets acts.  No discernment of moral value is considered and no public hearings are conducted.  People who speak up are locked up.  We’ve become a fearful and secretive population.

Our self-appointed elite power structure is completely irrational in its belief that human reason is our ultimate power and money is its servant.  We are made of the stuff of the stars.  At best, we’re in our adolescence as a species.  We think we know the answers rather than admitting our ignorance.  What little we know is vastly less than what we have as yet to learn.  We are often unaware of being unaware.

The lives we presently lead can not be sustained in ways that we have become accustomed to; ways we take for granted.  What’s going to need to change?  The simple answer is everything.  Our species has systemically corrupted the small part of the cosmos which sustains our being.  Nature has no sense of humor, no patience for human squabbles and no financial interest.

Fortunately, we already know what we need to do to adapt.  We know how nature works through the wisdom of our earth sciences.  The answer is simple.  Love the earth.  Love life.  Share compassion.  Educate, naturally energize, and transform.  The resulting process of change will help re-establish a realistic world economic foundation.


‘Death of the Liberal Class’

By Chris Hedges

From the book “Death of the Liberal Class,” by Chris Hedges.  Excerpted by arrangement with Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group.  Copyright © 2010.

The following selection is taken from the first chapter of the book, published in October 201 by Nation Books.

In a traditional democracy, the liberal class functions as a safety valve. It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible. It offers hope for change and proposes gradual steps toward greater equality. It endows the state and the mechanisms of power with virtue. It also serves as an attack dog that discredits radical social movements, making the liberal class a useful component within the power elite.

But the assault by the corporate state on the democratic state has claimed the liberal class as one of its victims. Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite. And reducing the liberal class to courtiers or mandarins, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, shuts off this safety valve and forces discontent to find other outlets that often end in violence. The inability of the liberal class to acknowledge that corporations have wrested power from the hands of citizens, that the Constitution and its guarantees of personal liberty have become irrelevant, and that the phrase consent of the governed is meaningless, has left it speaking and acting in ways that no longer correspond to reality. It has lent its voice to hollow acts of political theater, and the pretense that democratic debate and choice continue to exist.

The liberal class refuses to recognize the obvious because it does not want to lose its comfortable and often well-paid perch. Churches and universities—in elite schools such as Princeton, professors can earn $180,000 a year—enjoy tax-exempt status as long as they refrain from overt political critiques. Labor leaders make lavish salaries and are considered junior partners within corporate capitalism as long as they do not speak in the language of class struggle. Politicians, like generals, are loyal to the demands of the corporate state in power and retire to become millionaires as lobbyists or corporate managers. Artists who use their talents to foster the myths and illusions that bombard our society live comfortably in the Hollywood Hills.

The media, the church, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts, and labor unions—the pillars of the liberal class—have been bought off with corporate money and promises of scraps tossed to them by the narrow circles of power. Journalists, who prize access to the powerful more than they prize truth, report lies and propaganda to propel us into a war in Iraq. Many of these same journalists assured us it was prudent to entrust our life savings to a financial system run by speculators and thieves. Those life savings were gutted. The media, catering to corporate advertisers and sponsors, at the same time renders invisible whole sections of the population whose misery, poverty, and grievances should be the principal focus of journalism.

In the name of tolerance—a word the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., never used—the liberal church and the synagogue refuse to denounce Christian heretics who acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of consumerism, nationalism, greed, imperial hubris, violence, and bigotry. These institutions accept globalization and unfettered capitalism as natural law. Liberal religious institutions, which should concern themselves with justice, embrace a cloying personal piety expressed in a how-is-it-with-me kind of spirituality and small, self-righteous acts of publicly conspicuous charity. Years spent in seminary or rabbinical schools, years devoted to the study of ethics, justice, and morality, prove useless when it comes time to stand up to corporate forces that usurp religious and moral language for financial and political gain.

Universities no longer train students to think critically, to examine and critique systems of power and cultural and political assumptions, to ask the broad questions of meaning and morality once sustained by the humanities. These institutions have transformed themselves into vocational schools. They have become breeding grounds for systems managers trained to serve the corporate state. In a Faustian bargain with corporate power, many of these universities have swelled their endowments and the budgets of many of their departments with billions in corporate and government dollars. College presidents, paid enormous salaries as if they were the heads of corporations, are judged almost solely on their ability to raise money. In return, these universities, like the media and religious institutions, not only remain silent about corporate power but also condemn as “political” all within their walls who question corporate malfeasance and the excesses of unfettered capitalism.

Unions, organizations formerly steeped in the doctrine of class struggle and filled with members who sought broad social and political rights for the working class, have been transformed into domesticated negotiators with the capitalist class. Cars rolling off the Ford plants in Michigan were said to be made by UAW Ford. But where unions still exist, they have been reduced to simple bartering tools, if that. The social demands of unions in the early twentieth century that gave the working class weekends off, the right to strike, the eight-hour workday, and Social Security, have been abandoned. Universities, especially in political science and economics departments, parrot the discredited ideology of unregulated capitalism and have no new ideas. The arts, just as hungry as the media or the academy for corporate money and sponsorship, refuse to address the social and economic disparities that create suffering for tens of millions of citizens. Commercial artists peddle the mythical narrative, one propagated by corporations, self-help gurus, Oprah and the Christian Right, that if we dig deep enough within ourselves, focus on happiness, find our inner strength, or believe in miracles, we can have everything we desire.

Such magical thinking, a staple of the entertainment industry, blinds citizens to corporate structures that have made it impossible for families to lift themselves out of poverty or live with dignity. But perhaps the worst offender within the liberal class is the Democratic Party.

The party consciously sold out the working class for corporate money. Bill Clinton, who argued that labor had nowhere else to go, in 1994 passed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which betrayed the working class. He went on to destroy welfare and in 1999 ripped down the firewalls between commercial and investment banks to turn the banking system over to speculators. Barack Obama, who raised more than $600 million to run for president, most of it from corporations, has served corporate interests as assiduously as his party. He has continued the looting of the U.S. Treasury by corporations, refused to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes because of bank repossessions or foreclosures, and has failed to address the misery of our permanent class of unemployed.

Populations will endure the repression of tyrants, as long as these rulers continue to manage and wield power effectively. But human history has demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet insist on retaining the trappings and privileges of power, their subject populations will brutally discard them. Such a fate awaits the liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state. The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. And as corporate power pollutes and poisons the ecosystem and propels us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded. The death of the liberal class means there is no check to a corporate apparatus designed to enrich a tiny elite and plunder the nation. An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and middle classes will find expression outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy.

20 thoughts on “Looking into self.

  1. I am sorry Paul. For someone like me who has seen his homeland, Venezuela, drowning in resentment, in blaming someone else for everything, and in seeing a conspiracy everywhere, this writing reflects way too much resentment, way too much blaming somebody else for everything, and way too much seeing a conspiracy everywhere, so as to be of my liking.

    That said, the writing contains of course also a lot of truth… and if I was to be allowed to make just one single suggestion that could reinvigorate “the land of the brave”, that would be “zero corporate taxes”… primarily because nothing should be allowed to dilute the representation of taxpaying citizens.



    1. Per, your response is more than welcome. For those who are not familiar with Per’s background, he is a former Executive Director of the World Bank and, therefore, can write with a perspective that most others, including myself, don’t have.

      Before commenting further, I hope some of my other regulars will speak up as at this time of writing, I’m not clear in my own mind in terms of a response.


    2. Per, I am afraid I was not aware of (or had forgotten about) your being from Venezuela. However, this helps me to understand your remarks. With regard to Venezuela, I would agree that the regime of the late Hugo Chavez has been a disaster for Venezuela. At the same time, however, I think that Evo Morales in Bolivia has done well to promote environmental issues (although his country too is far from perfect). At the end of the day, I think extremely ideological politicians of any kind are bad news for society as a whole. Therefore, although I think Margaret Thatcher did a lot of good in her time, she also caused a lot of long-lasting resentment and so, I believe we would do much better without her kind in future. Extremely ideological people tend to be willfully-blind and – as you say – blame all society’s problems on those with opposing views.

      Sadly, the reality is that, both Marxism and unfettered Capitalism are utopian projects doomed to ultimate failure. Therefore, if we are to avoid sleepwalking our way into an ecological catastrophe, all such people will all have to compromise. In times of War, countries are often led by coalition governments that compromise on pursuing the agenda of special interest groups (at either end of the socio-economic spectrum) and, instead, implement policies that stand the best chance of achieving “the greatest good for the greatest number”. It is therefore not surprising that many have said that anthropogenic climate disruption can only now be minimised by means of War-like levels of mobilisation.

      However, in order to succeed, we will need non-ideological scientists and environmental campaigners to negotiate all the ideologues out of their entrenched positions (at either end of the political spectrum). As the first leader of the Green Party in Germany, Petra Kelly, once said, “Greens are neither left nor right, they are out in front!”

      For more on this “centralist” theme, please see my ‘Living on the edge of an environmental breakdown’ (24 January 2012).


      1. Martin. That is something with which someone from the radical middle or the extreme center fully agree with.


      2. What I think? That if we hope for the saving of our planet to be in hands of those who want to make a living by making the saving of the planet their political platform… our planet is lost. This is a responsibility that cannot be endorsed to some few, no matter how much some few ask for that.


        Look at the US. Here conservatives are not allowed by their own extreme to worry about conserving the earth, and not allowed to do so by the other extreme because you have to join them in all to have the right to participate in their cause. No wonder Paul takes to the sidelines…


  2. In the UK, the Sky Atlantic TV channel is currently screening ‘Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States’ (broadcast in the USA last October?). Although it is enough to turn anyone into a raving anti-Capitalist, which I am not, I think it is good therapy for me. Over the course of the 10-part series (starting in the early 20th Century), Stone documents all the many occasions on which:
    1. US politicians – both Democrat and Republican – have allowed anti-Communist hysteria/paranoia to dictate policy; and
    2. US institutions – such as the CIA and DEA – have helped to replace democratically elected governments with despotic regimes.

    Sadly, the USA was just copying what all other imperialist nations (UK, France, Spain, Portugal) have done throughout modern history. The trouble is, however, that no-one seems to be learning from the past: We may all be very reluctant to intervene in Syria but, the world is still predominantly being run by ideologues who think of Communism as intrinsically evil and/or cannot accept that a Capitalist meritocracy is anything other than perfect… I can’t help but conclude that this all proves the validity of the saying that, the love of money is the root of all evil.”


    1. Yes “the love of money is the root of all evil.” And that is why my country has been taken over by ideological opportunists who blame it all on capitalism, and sell their miraculous socialist concoction as the only remedy… all in order to lay their hands on oil revenues that goes right into government coffers and currently represent over 97 percent of all the nations exports.


      1. Thanks Per.

        The difficulty I had with your first comment was that it seemed at odds with the intended theme of the post. Hence me being unclear as to how to respond.

        Best wishes, Paul


      2. I must be far too naive, Per. I do not see Stone as a hypocrite at all. Leaving aside his dubious beleifs that the CIA had JFK (and his brother and MLK) assassinated, I find it hard to falsify his ‘rage against the machine’ message. However, rather than tempting me to become an Anarchist or a Communist, this just makes me all the more determined to try and talk some sense into the Capitalist ideologues who are currently driving our species to oblivion.


      3. I fully agree with talking some sense into capitalism…but, I am sorry, to me Oliver Stone, Michael Moore and Sean Penn, are just Three Bandidos serving those who have sequestered my country from others who had it sequestered too.


      4. You see Paul, I prefer capitalism because when capitalists are in power, they behave like capitalist, so we have a chance to control them. Socialists on the other hand, when in power, easily forget to behave like socialists, and this confounds and makes them much harder to control.


      5. PS. I’ll much prefer Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short all the time as my Three Amigos


  3. Per (and Martin), I am grateful for the discussion in this place. Maybe it is because as a Green Card holder and not able to vote; maybe because since meeting Jean and especially since arriving here in Southern Oregon I have turned inwards; whatever; but the fact is that I have lost my political clarity and, frankly, if able to vote wouldn’t have a clue as to where to leave my ‘X’!

    All a long-winded way of saying why I stand on the sidelines in this case.


  4. Such a fate awaits the liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state. The liberal class has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power. And as corporate power pollutes and poisons the ecosystem and propels us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded. The death of the liberal class means there is no check to a corporate apparatus designed to enrich a tiny elite and plunder the nation. An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal. It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and middle classes will find expression outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy.


  5. Hi Paul! So busy here, I just found the time to read this work of yours, and, once again, thank you for appreciating my thoughts!
    I do agree with what Chris Hedges says, of course. I disagree with Per in the sense I do not see the resentment part. Moreover, I have a philosophical objection (to Nietzsche!): what’s so wrong about resentment? If someone stepped on my foot every day hard, I would not doubt resent, but what’s wrong with that?

    Another point: Hedges makes an analogy with the rise of Nazi Germany. One of my themes is that there is actually an identification, not just an analogy: MUCH OF the rogue global USA plutocratic class supported (IBM, Browning, Bush, countless USA corporations) or even instigated (Ford, JP Morgan, GM, Brother Harriman, etc.) Nazism.

    This is the best kept secret of World War Two. Even some rich Jewish plutocrats (Warburgs) thought they could make a bridge of sort between USA and Nazism!

    This theme I have developed over many years (although I did not gather it in one sharp essay).


    1. All of which keeps reinforcing in spades what my ‘anon’ author wrote, with such clarity, being unaware of being unaware! It really does feel that the more I get to know, the less I know.


    2. “I do not see the resentment part”

      I do not think it is impossible that it is me who is standing too close to the trees to see the forest… but I do not think so.


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