Build … Don’t Tear Down

With the rise of Bernie Sanders, the socialist anti-capitalist rhetoric has surfaced again in the political arena. Only now it appears like it’s gaining traction. Sanders’ campaign, which in the past would be nothing more than an idealistic third-party run, has been a legitimate threat to the coronation of America’s first female president. Excuse my sarcasm but considering the Clinton legacy, it seems appropriate.

Screams of inequality and Sanders’ promises of universal healthcare and free college education for all has mobilized legions of young, male and female alike. I agree we have inequality. My #Occupy shirt has been worn so much it’s as much a part of me as my glasses and my morning yogurt. Still I don’t blindly follow campaign promises.

Ocupy shirt

We Must focus On The “How” … Not Just The “What”

My concern with Sanders stems from I believe in the “how” as much if not more than the “what.” And I’m not seeing the “how” from Bernie Sanders or from any other candidate for that fact. The three currently standing are vying for the top job in an institution that is so mired with polarizing dysfunction and ineptitude that none of them could hope to accomplish much more than basic housekeeping tasks. I wish they could, but recent history proves otherwise.

I cringe at the thought of Sanders’ universal healthcare initiative being attempted by the federal government. Remember this is same government who is in charge of the wellbeing of this country’s most revered citizens, our veterans. This is the same government when tasked to improve our veterans healthcare – made it insurmountably worse highlighted by appointment wait times of over six months and provider payments of at least that. Billings Clinic, where I was treated for my lymphoma and no bastion of operational excellence itself, has even stopped treating veterans on the government’s VA Choice plan because of slow or non-payment. Implementation is the hard work that gets little press and little glory … so therefore little attention.

I interact with many who espouse to the vision and philosophies set forth by Erik Olin Wright. This was brought to light by the response to a recent post by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation, “How to be an anti-capitalist in the 21st century? Four proposed strategies …” The basis of the piece was Wright’s ideals of societal reform built around a modern-day version Marxist socialism. 

I agree with his assumption that our current version of capitalism is far from ideal. In fact a case can be made that it’s outright awful with neoliberalism being the driving force of this awfulness. But I don’t agree in Wright’s belief we should “smash capitalism.” Using an overworked cliché, I don’t think we need to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Having spent a lifetime in the traditional strongholds of liberal thought (University of California Berkeley and University of Wisconsin) reworking Marxism, I can see why Wright thinks as he does. However I don’t believe his vision bodes well for a pragmatic solution to the problems and opportunities we currently face.

Is our desired endgame a repeat of Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 with its long-term consequences? Regardless of our intent, history indicates the socialistic ideal can turn into a metamorphosed abomination. Or even look at the current happenings in Venezuela where Nicolas Madura’s socialist government is in meltdown and taking the future of the country with it. With socialism we still have a hierarchy, often one even more rigid and institutionalized, leading us in a direction not determined by us, but rather by a privileged few. All we have to rely on is campaign promises … not plans for implementation as we should.

Turn Capitalism Into The solution

I don’t see capitalism in its original intent as the problem. It’s the neoliberal morph spawned by collusion of both political parties and unabated multinational corporate behemoths that is. It’s this morph that we should be attacking and “smashing.” Left to the volition of a community’s locally owned small businesses – capitalism produces jobs, civic involvement and a circular flow of money contained mainly within the community. It’s these local businesses and the support we give them I see as the road we need to take. This is my plan for implementation.

In the piece Orion … a Hybrid Governance Feline Metaphor,” I theorized an alternative two-pronged governance model birthed from the union of the David Hume philosophy of “spontaneous order” and our inherent benevolence, and Elinor Ostrom’s “opportunity of the commons.” Under this amalgamation, government would still exist in its present form, but in a lesser sense. Our over-reliance on it (economically and psychologically) would be replaced by pragmatic community based decision-making and implementation. I believe this alternative can enable change … a change that will help level the playing field through organic civic direct participation – not the blind faith bestowed upon less than sincere or competent self-serving politicians … regardless the party.

I want to focus only on the community empowerment side of the “Orion” hybrid now though. In this version of our Perfect World  (the Asian Leopard side of the hybrid) we would have a peer-to-peer system take influence over local matters through a network of neighborhood Front Porches (housed primarily but not exclusively in our community’s locally owned businesses). But since the Perfect World is not place but rather a journey, we need to have discussion on how we can map this journey – this transition or development of the hybrid.

Living in a society where all production is pooled commonly is hardly motivating for high achievers, the ones that drive innovation. I agree all of a society’s participants are entitled to minimum standard of well-being and the availability of opportunity. I also agree that isn’t happening today. But we can’t tether those who will lead the charge in constructing this Perfect World. I rather doubt that Erik Olin Wright or his protegés will give up their lives with the perks and niceties of their elite standing for the chance just to contribute to the pool. Our high-achievers, current and future, need to be able to bloom. They have to aspire to do great things. And for better or worse, these great things still need to be rewarded – yet not necessarily to the financial extent they are today.

And as a society, we need to create norms and acknowledgement of success that equates with benevolence not just material gain. Capitalism like socialism is a tool. How we use it and celebrate others that use it appropriately is up to us. Idolizing the wealthy, rather than the benevolent and expressive has created the world of inequality we live it. But our morals and societal personality cannot be legislated or dictated from above. They can only come from our collective heart and soul.

Rather than obsess on economic growth as most all governments societies do, we must focus on destroying the norms that retard our evolution while stressing the improvement of the well-being of our populace including its physical, cerebral (avenues to self-actualization) and spiritual health. Making “helping others” our new societal expectation will empower us to supplant the hopeless climb up the ladder of our current economic caste system with more altruistic ones – unleashing the inherent benevolence inside us.

This transition will not be easy though. It’s not that the resistance will only come from outside factions though. The resistance will be ourselves. It will be our struggle to change. It will be our refusal to give up on false ideals instilled in us when young and likely bequeathed by us to our children. This stifling tether connecting generations focused on material wealth and false sense of worth must be cut. Our relationship to materialism is no different from that we see in generations of abusers. As the Swiss philosopher Carl Jung said, “The healthy man does not torture others – generally it is the tortured who turn into torturers.” The abused often become the abusers themselves. This is their coping mechanism. They know no other way of life. We must show them there is.

The Eight Stages Of Social Movements

In the Spring of 1987, Bill Moyer unleashed his treatise, “History is a Weapon, The Movement Action Plan: A Strategic Framework Describing The Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements.” Moyer showed how patience is not only an advantage to a social cause – it’s mandatory to its success. His eight step framework uses the American anti-nuclear movement as its case study as it describes the steps needed for a successful movement to unfold and stick.

  • Stage one: Normal times
  • Stage two: Prove the failure of institutions
  • Stage three: Ripen Conditions
  • Stage four: Social movement takeoff
  • Stage five: Identity crisis of powerlessness
  • Stage six: Majority public opinion
  • Stage seven: Success
  • Stage eight: Continuing the struggle

One could say we are ready to enter Stage four. Normal times are long “past times behind” us, and over and over it’s been proven institutions are failing us. One only needs to look at the America’s current congressional dysfunction. And I believe Stage three is well upon us with #Blacklivesmatter and the rise of Donald Trump as a legitimate presidential option for many disenfranchised Americans.

Now is time for change; or as Moyer said “social movement takeoff.” But we need evolution not revolution. Complete overthrow, if even possible without Armageddon, most often results in unintended consequences like in Russia in 1917 or most recently in the Middle East. Just pick a country: Egypt, Iraq, Libya, etc. Social change takes time as Moyer has demonstrated. And patience and rooted organic support will be our biggest asset.

To do this we need not discard capitalism, but use it. We just have to return capitalism to the tool it can be, not what it’s become as we’ve sat idly by and let those with nefarious motives hijack it (public and private). We need to transform it to being a conduit for direct community involvement and decision-making. Whether it be government or corporate, more and larger static hierarchy is not the answer. No matter the intent, centralization and hierarchy inevitably breeds inequality and self-interest … not eliminate it. Socialism is no exception.

Bridging the chasm 2

Build … Don’t Tear Down

Rather than tear down … we must build. We don’t walk into the lion’s den and challenge the lion. We starve the lion. After all, the lion is a captive of ours. Our problem is that all along we have been feeding him through our habitual actions, creating a societal mega-corporate personality we’ve let dictate our world.

Gradually over time our new society will replace the old. Orion, Alexandria’s Bengal Cat is what they call an F8. F8 indicates he’s eight generational iterations removed from the original pairing of Asian Leopard Cat cross-bred with a domestic cat in Southern California. These multiple iterations of the breed have created what Orion is, a highly intelligent, engaged pet created for responsible experienced cat owners. This is what I hope to see in our societal future – an intelligent, engaged populace willing to take responsibility for their communities … not blindly accepting the decisions of others dictate their futures.

At first there will not be many of us. But as our success stories spread – others will want the same (i.e “starving the lion”). They will see there is a road other than the one they habitually travel without thinking. We must find ways to work with those intrenched in the status quo. Direct conflict will only harden their cemented views … accomplishing nothing. 

There will be defeats. There will be times we want to throw up our hands, let our impatience take over and rush head long into the lion’s den. These are times we need to continue to build, meticulously one societal brick at a time. Eventually our societal construct will be complete.

As Bill Moyer demonstrated: “Patience is our ally … and history is our weapon.”

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I invite you to join me on my journey in rebuilding community by reading my series,On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World.” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

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3 thoughts on “Build … Don’t Tear Down

    1. You have no idea if it will be successful. The mechanism of the U.S. government does not have a very good record recently for implementation. The VA debacle is a tell tale sign of what health care could become. And we need to take a serious look at the benefit of everyone attending a college system that is not addressing the needs of our current society. I’m all for education, but just pouring money into an antiquated system of questionable value make little sense to me.

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