Thursday, May 27, 2010

OPINION: The Rogue Elephant Needs Some Neutering -- At Least

The Pencil Warrior
By Dave Wheelock

The online UrbanDictionary. com defines the popular phrase “elephant in the room” thus: “A very large issue that everyone is acutely aware of, but nobody wants to talk about. Perhaps a sore spot, perhaps politically incorrect, or perhaps a political hot potato, it's something that no one wants to touch.” As the aspirations of a growing majority of Americans transform from the pursuit of whatever we defined as the American Dream to bare survival, are we finally ready to correct Ronald Reagan and agree it is corporate capitalism that is “the problem and not the solution?”
The problem with corporations is the incentives they impose. While achieving the original objective of attracting the capital necessary to bite off expensive PUBLIC works, corporate charters also institutionalized antisocial mechanisms. While the manager learned how to boost his “earnings” by cheating on time and wages, externalizing pollution and ecological damage, outsourcing labor, cooking the books and a hundred other tricks of the trade, investors merely had to look the other way. The single legal requirement that corporations make money for their investors translates into a concentration on short term profits at the direct expense of the long-range development real industrial progress requires.
The fully predictable result has been a mutually enriching situation for the insiders – and accelerating disaster for the rest of creation.
The elephant, we now know, is insatiable. In the curious case of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the big, bad federal government of the United States had to get down and beg to gain access to videos of the underwater oil gusher that resulted from the oil industry’s free market success at defeating government intrusion into their business –under the principle of “proprietary knowledge.” In the words of a CBS journalist who tried with her crew to videotape oil washing onto a Louisiana beach, “a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest." Helpfully, one of the officers called across the water “This is BP's rules, it's not ours."
The arrow of progress is not pointing up. As even a brief dip into unabridged history reveals, generation after generation of U.S. soldiers have been used as cannon fodder to protect and expand the interests of corporate business in all reaches of the globe. Now, in the age of globalization, we find ourselves covering for foreign companies.
With the exception of occasional slipups like that by the Coast Guard (don’t you know some low-ranking sailor caught hell for that one), the cover up is self-perpetuating. Note CBS’s response to an obvious breach of freedom of the press. Charge through and get arrested on principle, maybe receive an award for doing what journalists are supposed to do? No, raising a stink now would surely cost the network its holy “access” to the system of journalist embedding apparently being set up in the Gulf. Besides, the loss of BP’s lucrative advertising contract certainly wouldn’t be good for a corporate “news” outfit’s bottom line, would it?
Corporate power doesn’t confine itself to the arenas of business or government. There is a saying that the last thing a fish notices is the water in which it swims. For individuals and groups alike, growing corporate influence has been insidious. Not long ago, most people were engaged in directly producing the food, material, and artistic culture of the country. A justified level of national pride largely precluded the need to prove the nation’s strength in terms of military prowess.
Today’s privileged kids are attracted to salaried jobs making weaponry, designing exotic derivatives, and dreaming up new advertising slogans. For too many others, a military life (and death or dismemberment) is the only way out of neighborhoods where all the dreams have been outsourced. We have become a culture characterized by waste, reflected in overflowing curbside bins, bulging prisons, and emotional distress of epidemic proportions.
I could be wrong, but I believe when a river is filling with pollution, or heating up, or bleeding out through pipes, the fish instinctively know something is wrong. Do we still have the same powers? I wonder.
How do we get that arrow of progress turned around? First, by educating OURSELVES about the elephant. Bear in mind the mainstream corporate media, or even schools, are not going to help us. In fact they have become largely a sounding board for corporate power, much like polluted water to our allegorical fish.
An elephant is big and strong but has exploitable weaknesses. After all, those people often called Pygmies have successfully hunted them for centuries. Hint: they do it in groups. Seek out sources who can verify their assertions (contact me for recommendations). Keep a skeptical ear and eye, and share what you learn. Write me for recommendations. I hope to be hunting with you soon!

Dave Wheelock, a member of the Oneida Nation, lives and works in Socorro. Contact him at Mr. Wheelock’s views are not necessarily those of the Mountain Mail.

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