Friday, October 30, 2009

OPINION: Incrementalism has failed against the enemies of the people

The Pencil Warrior
by Dave Wheelock

The last opinion piece I wrote for this publication, on September 9, was titled “We’ll miss you, Mountain Mail.” Obviously rumors about the death of the little newspaper that could - and apparently still can - were exaggerated. In my farewell piece I noted that “Over the course of five years and over 100 Pencil Warrior columns, the Mountain Mail’s editors never attempted to influence my written opinions.” (Even when I estimated the size of the fish I caught in rare columns involving that happy pursuit.) Having received the same pledge from the Mail’s new publishers, this return debut seems as good a time as any to test the premise.
We are in trouble. By “we” I mean not only the sick, poverty-battered, or otherwise underprivileged citizens of a state that perennially ranks near the top in those categories in which we’d rather rank near the bottom, but humankind in general. I purposefully include those folks with more toys than they know what to do with, since most of them are apparently every bit as oblivious to their plight as the average Joe or Joanna. And I’ll certainly throw in the tea baggers, those of the fantasy-based community who for all their intellectual shortcomings are at least admirable for their anger. And if you believe in justice for the innocent, you’ve gotta have a sad feeling in your heart for all the other species with whom we share this planet.
The trouble seems to be closing in from every side. Social and domestic violence on a scale that increasingly rivals that of a war zone. Corruption to make a thinking American pause before condemning that in any third world country. A citizenry that must be communicated with at a level previously reserved for sixth-graders. A gluttonous behemoth one Republican president referred to as the “military-industrial complex.” Climate change that will likely soon transform much of the earth (especially the American southwest) into a parched, unlivable moonscape. The breakdown from over-exploitation and manmade toxins of every life-sustaining ecological system on the planet. The rising threat of wars stemming from over-population, resource depletion, and religious arrogance. And increasingly, an expanding gap between capitalist profit seekers and the great mass of producers that risks open rebellion.
Confronting any one of these threats, of course, involves countless variables and challenges. As a bleeding heart liberal, I receive many more pleas online and through the mail than I can possibly answer, let alone contribute resources toward. I know I am not alone. By concentrating our efforts on details rather than making the radical changes that alone can save civilization and the earth (not to mention capitalism), we have divided and are conquering ourselves.
For inspiration, consider this past weekend’s “Showdown in Chicago,” wherein reality-based American citizens actually hit the streets in outrage. The occasion was the American Bankers’ Association annual conference at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Among others, the Service Employees International Union was there, joining other citizens in carrying signs that read “Hold the banks accountable,” “Reclaim America,” and “Jail ‘em and don’t bail ‘em.” If you watch videos of the event on the internet, you’ll hear among the people’s foremost demands, “bust up big banks.”
If these demands sound extreme, it is because virtually our entire culture – our workplaces, schools and universities, the media, formerly public places - has been morphed into a protection and enhancement scheme for the interests of a tiny minority. Instead of wielding laws already on the books to abolish huge financial monopolies totally devoid of any national allegiance or social commitment, we talk of establishing a new regulatory body for them to infiltrate and capture. Wouldn’t hard jail time and “three strikes and you’re out” sentencing laws be a lot more effective than even the heftiest fines in stopping corporate bottom dwellers from wrecking neighborhoods, polluting the soil and waters, and bribing public officials?
When someone who hasn’t read The Pencil Warrior asks me what I write about, I struggle for the short answer most people seem to only have the time for. Usually I end up blurting out a word rarely heard in casual conversation: “democracy.” I can tell you that answer is usually more likely to draw a blank - sometimes even pitying - look than it is to spark a conversation. But I usually can’t tell whether this is because the questioner already assumes we live in a democracy, doesn’t fully understand the concept, or has simply given up on the possibility, much as millions of Americans have given up trying to find a job.
It’s quite shocking for an American born in the 1950s but sometimes I wonder if I am pursuing a goal that’s no longer possible in this country. Should I instead focus on simple justice? Do the two necessarily go hand in hand? Or should I just tell another fishing story?
Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, is a collegiate sports administrator and rugby coach. Reach him at Mr. Wheelock's views do not necessarily represent those of the Mountain Mail.

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