Colin Kaepernick, Patriotism, and the Owning Class

Colin Jenkins

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Colin Kaepernick took a courageous and principled stand this past season by kneeling during the national anthem before NFL games. This was done in response to a society that continues to systematically, culturally, and institutionally devalue non-white lives. This devaluation is played out in many areas, including politics, economics, housing, employment, and perhaps most notably, within the criminal justice system. Non-white lives are routinely extinguished by police in the streets without recourse, in the courts without pause, and in the prisons without hesitation. Entire generations of non-white Americans have essentially been destroyed through the “school-to-prison pipeline” and a system of mass incarceration.

Kaepernick recognized this and felt compelled to bring attention to it. He openly protested the national anthem, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to community agencies, and started a national youth camp program to teach children from marginalized communities about self-empowerment.

He is now a free agent, in the prime of his career, and without a job. By all “measurables” (and the NFL is big on “measurables”), Kaepernick should have a starting job somewhere. Despite playing for one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2016, he still managed to put up impressive numbers in only 12 games: 2,241 passing yard, 468 rushing yards on a 6.8 yards-per-carry average, a 16/4 TD/INT ratio, and a passer rating of 90.7. His passer rating was higher than that of 13 other starting QBs, including Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, and Joe Flacco.

The only reasonable explanation for Kaepernick’s newfound unemployment status is that he’s being blackballed by billionaire NFL owners. We’ve seen this before. Muhammad Ali, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Craig Hodges, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos all faced similar treatment after using their platforms to take principled stands. Kaepernick has made millions of dollars in the NFL, so he will be fine either way. But there are many lessons to be learned from this situation.

One important lesson is how the capitalist class relies on patriotism to help protect and secure its position in society. The notion of patriotism is one that tells the working class within any given country that they have a deep, common bond with the owning class. This, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the owning-class minority drives the working-class majority into widespread deprivation in order to secure more and more wealth for itself. One way to hide this reality is to create an artificial bond based in geographic nationalism — patriotism.

While globalizing its capital, the owning class calls for “national unity.” While laying off American workers in mass, it airs multi-million dollar ad campaigns celebrating patriotic loyalty. While employing foreign workers for slave wages, it parades its brand name during celebrations of national independence. While driving wages down and forcing American workers into welfare programs, it asks that you celebrate “American values.” While systematically exploiting the majority, it demands that this majority remain loyal to its nationalistic ties.

Patriotism is a crucial tool for the owning class. To them, Kaepernick’s refusal to submit to this nationalistic ritual was not merely “disrespect”; it was a potentially damaging challenge to this incredibly important tool that is wielded in their quest to extract all of society’s wealth. For this reason, it is vitally important that Kaepernick be taught a lesson. The NFL’s billionaire class is in the process of carrying out this lesson.

In solidarity.

 

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Bracing for Trump’s Anti-Worker Corporate Agenda

Colin Jenkins

 

This was originally published by Social Justice: a journal of crime, conflict, and world order as part of a series titled, The Possible Futures of the US Under Trump .

 

Rich people don’t have to have a life-and-death relationship with the truth and its questions; they can ignore the truth and still thrive materially. I am not surprised many of them understand literature only as an ornament. Life is an ornament to them, relationships are ornaments, their ‘work’ is but a flimsy, pretty ornament meant to momentarily thrill and capture attention.

-Sergio Troncoso
In a February speech on his campaign trail, then-candidate Donald Trump lambasted his opponents for their cozy relationships with Wall Street bankers. “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs. They have total, total control over [Cruz],” Trump said. “Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.” Trump’s campaigns for both the Republican candidacy and the US Presidency were heavily themed on this inside-out approach to posing as a whistleblower of the elite, a billionaire businessman gone rogue, eager to feed other members of his exclusive club to the lions. Americans by the tens of millions-ravaged by decades of predatory loan schemes, joblessness, and unfathomable debt-gathered in the den, fevered by this angst-ridden anti-establishment message, thirsting for the flesh he was to heave from the castle on the hill.

Nine months later, Trump was elected to the office of President of the United States. Taking a page from George W. Bush, Trump successfully packaged his billionaire, elitist self into an average dude sitting on the bar stool across from us. Taking a page from Ronald Reagan, Trump successfully molded the chronic economic woes of the American working class into avenues for racial and xenophobic hatred. Trump’s infamous wall is the modern-day version of Reagan’s mythological “welfare queen”-both masterful mind tricks designed to avert the attention of the understandably ravenous working-class lions away from the ringmasters and toward others in the den. The oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer. The end result: a billionaire businessman buoyed to the highest office of the land by 63 million working-class voters during a time of unprecedented poverty and wealth inequality.

Predictably, Trump’s ascension to the presidency has ended his inside-out shtick. Much like Barack Obama in 2008, Trump’s anti-establishment marketing assault has culminated into an uber-establishment cabinet. Within six weeks of his election victory, Trump has proceeded to form what some have referred to as the General Billionaires Administration . As of December 7th, Trump’s prospective cabinet topped a combined personal wealth of $14 billion , “more than 30 times greater than that of even President George W. Bush’s White House.” And that represents only half of the total appointees to come. Instead of “draining the swamp” as he promised to do on the campaign trail, Trump has called on his real-estate instincts to expand the swamp into a gargantuan monstrosity of a cesspool. For working-class Americans, this means the President and those surrounding him are even more out of touch with the common struggle than ever before.

Although personal wealth does not necessarily imply the embracing of a blatant anti-worker ideology, it almost always sets this tone through efforts to legitimize said wealth, promote false meritocracies, and push unrealistic narratives rooted in “personal responsibility” and “pulling up boot straps,” all of which ignore the material realities of working-class people. Taken on their words and actions, there is no reason to believe that Trump and his cabinet will be anything but disastrous for working-class Americans.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, wants to privatize education and treat it as an industry among others in a competitive capitalist market. “Let’s not kid ourselves that [public education] is not an industry,” she told a crowd in Texas , “we must open it up to entrepreneurs and innovators.” In other words, run it as a for-profit venture, which inevitably means lowering pay, benefits, and standards for employees (teachers) in order to maximize the bottom line. Not good for working-class Americans who teach for a living, and not good for working-class children whose educations will take a back seat to profit margins.

Andrew Puzder, Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, has proven to be fiercely anti-worker in his role as CEO of CKE Restaurants. NY’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman referred to this appointment as a ” cruel and baffling decision by Trump ” due to Puzder’s presiding over a fast-food chain “that repeatedly stole workers’ hard-earned wages.” As an employee at one of Puzder’s restaurants, Rogelio Hernandez called Puzder ” one of the worst fast food CEOs ,” adding that his appointment “sends a signal to workers that the Trump years are going to be about low pay, wage theft, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.” Not good for tens of millions of working-class Americans who are desperate for living-wage employment.

Ben Carson, Trump’s pick to run Housing and Urban Development, has been consistently opposed to government assistance programs like the one he is about to oversee. Rather than viewing such programs as necessities in a capitalist system that leaves many people without the means to fulfill basic needs, Carson sees them as “socialist experiments” that “attempt to infiltrate every part of our lives.” Carson even said that trusting the government “to use housing policy to enhance the opportunities available to lower-income citizens” can be “downright dangerous.” Ironically, he is now entrusted to do just that. Not good for the millions of working-class Americans who rely on public housing programs to shelter themselves and their families.

While most of Trump’s own plans have been hidden in vague political rhetoric (“Making America Great Again,” “create a dynamic booming economy” with “pro-growth tax plans” and “new modern regulatory frameworks”), they are mostly taken from the same neoliberal agenda that has shaped American policy for the past three decades, merely repackaged with Trump-speak. If his own business dealings are any indication of how he feels about working people, the Trump presidential agenda will most certainly be anti-worker. Workers have filed numerous lawsuits against Trump over the years, alleging everything from anti-union intimidation to paying below-minimum wages. ” In one case , the Trump Organization paid $475,000 to settle a claim with nearly 300 Los Angeles golf club employees in a class-action suit alleging unpaid wages and age discrimination, among other offenses.” In another case, the Trump Organization “settled for an unknown sum” regarding the employment of undocumented Polish immigrants who “were paid $5 an hour or less when they were paid at all,” and “worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week with no overtime.” Earlier this year, workers at Trump’s Las Vegas hotel filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging they were “interfered with, restrained, and coerced” in an effort to avoid unionization. Dozens of similar complaints against Trump businesses have come to light over the years, including alarming trends of misogyny against women employees.

Like most marketing slogans, “Make America Great Again” has no real meaning in regards to concrete plans. Its call on some glorious past allows for an embrace of generic change, and its purposeful vagueness speaks to whatever is important to each individual who embraces it, essentially allowing for a wide range of beauties in the eyes of a wide range of beholders. Trump’s “pro-growth tax plan” draws on the same neoliberal ideology that was implemented by Reagan and survived by every administration since, proclaiming that lowering corporate tax rates will incentivize American companies to stay in the US, which will create more jobs, and will inevitably allow the increased corporate wealth to trickle down to the rest of us. The only problem is that never happened. Ironically, the implementation of such policies actually paralleled the mass exodus of American companies, partly due to free trade agreements like NAFTA and partly due to the globalization of the capitalist system, which allowed for the formation of an international labor pool to replace the industrialized, unionized labor pools that once existed in countries like the US.

Between 1986 and 1988, Reagan lowered the corporate tax rate from 46% to 34%. To put this move in perspective, this rate had stayed between 46% and 52.8% since 1951. The Reagan rate has barely moved since, despite 16 years of Democratic administrations. And it has done nothing to keep American companies home; rather, it actually complemented massive outsourcing of American jobs. In fact, ” manufacturing employment collapsed from a high of 19.5 million workers in June 1979 to 11.5 workers in December 2009, a drop of 8 million workers over 30 years. Between August 2000 and February 2004, manufacturing jobs were lost for a stunning 43 consecutive months-the longest such stretch since the Great Depression.” This trend has continued as the US lost 5 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2016. According to the Center for American Progress, “US multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers… cut their work forces in the US by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million.” All of this despite historically low corporate tax rates. Trump’s solution: double down by cutting corporate tax rates even more.

Remaining consistent with the neoliberal agenda, Trump has also promised to “scale back years of disastrous regulations unilaterally imposed by our out-of-control bureaucracy.” Yet another failed policy direction, tried and tested for decades, being recycled to give already reckless corporations even more maneuverability. Trump plans to repatriate trillions of dollars of corporate money that has been hidden in foreign banks for years. By allowing special immunity to these corporations (which have essentially evaded taxes through loopholes) with a temporary reduction in the tax rate (from 35% to 10%), Trump believes roughly $5 trillion will return to the US (although reports estimate closer to $2.5 trillion ). Unfortunately, the last time such immunity was granted, in 2004, “a congressional report noted that some companies used more than 90 percent of the repatriated cash to enrich shareholders , generally through stock buybacks. Corporations that brought home the most cash, in fact, cut jobs.”

Trump’s recycled economic agenda has proven time and time again to boost corporate wealth at the expense of working-class interests. The widely reported deal made with Carrier recently, which was facilitated by Trump and promises to keep 800 jobs in Indiana, is a perfect example of this misguided approach. The Carrier deal was said to include a tax giveaway, the main tool in Trump’s corporate welfare tax plan, which stands to cost about $6.2 trillion in lost federal revenues over a decade. Not only does this approach ” starve the beast ,” as originally intended by Reagan, it simply does not create American jobs as promised. The past four decades have proven this. The corporate tax rate in the US (which is actually on par with G7 countries, whose rates average over 30% ) is not a tremendous factor in why companies move elsewhere. They avoid taxes because they can. There is no reason to believe they wouldn’t avoid them just the same with a lower rate. They also relocate for the “cheap labor,” which is near chattel-slavery levels in some places, and for preferable infrastructures. As the New York Times reported shortly after the Carrier deal, “Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies , never mentioned taxes as the reason for the offshoring move. Instead, it cited its ‘existing infrastructure’ and ‘strong supplier base’ in Mexico. More revealing, United Technologies says it can save $65 million a year by moving operations to low-wage Mexico.”

Trump’s economic plan does nothing to stray from the corporate-friendly neoliberal agenda of the past three decades. In many cases, it doubles down on it. These strategies have never benefited the working-class majority, and they will continue to represent an abysmal failure for those of us who depend on wages and salaries to live-a reality that Trump and his cabinet have never faced. Their out-of-touch, fairy-tale lives will undoubtedly amount to out-of-touch policies, leaving most of us entrenched in our ongoing struggle for living wages, affordable housing, reliable healthcare, and meaningful educations for our children. This struggle must take place in our communities, at our jobs, and in our children’s schools. Rejecting the corporate agenda embraced by Trump will not be easy-but it is a struggle we’ve inherited from decades ago, only with a new face at the helm.

Gangsters for Capitalism: Why the US Working Class Enlists

Colin Jenkins

 

This was published as part of the Transnational Institute’s State of Power 2017 report.

Through its reliance on the relationship between labour and capital, fortified by state-enforced protections for private property to facilitate this relationship, capitalism creates a natural dependency on wages for the vast majority. With the removal of ‘the commons’ during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the peasantry was transformed into a working-class majority that now must serve as both commodities and tools for those who own the means of production.

While those of us born into the working-class majority have little or no choice but to submit to our ritualistic commodification, we are sometimes presented with degrees of options regarding how far we allow capitalists, landlords, corporations, and their politicians to dehumanize us as their tools.

While we are forced into the labour market, for example, we can sometimes choose public jobs over private, therefore limiting the degree of exploitation. While we are forced to find housing, we may sometimes choose to live in communal situations with family or friends.

One of the areas where total choice is allowed is in the business of Empire, particularly in the maintenance and proliferation of the modern US Empire. Although governments worldwide are using technological advances in robotics to replace human bodies in their military ranks, and thus lessen their dependence on the working class, there is still a heavy reliance on people to act as tools of war. In ‘all-volunteer’ militaries like that of the United States’, ‘willingness’ is still a crucial component to the mission.

As global capitalism’s forerunner and guardian, the US military has nearly 3 million employees worldwide, including active duty and reserve personnel and ‘civilian full-time equivalents’. The US Department of Defense’s official proposed budget for FY 2017 is $582.7 billion , which, combined with corollary systems of ‘security’, swells to over $1 trillion.

According to public Pentagon reports , the US Empire officially comprises of 662 overseas military bases across 38 countries. Since the birth of the United States in 1776, the country has been involved in a war or military conflict in 219 of these 240 years.

Throughout this history, the US government, which has directly represented and acted upon the interests of capital and economic elites, has required the participation of many millions of its working-class citizens to join its military ranks in order to carry out its missions by force.

For many generations, the US working class has answered this call to serve as what US Marine General Smedley Butler once deemed, ‘gangsters for capitalism’. Millions upon millions have lost life and limb to clear the path for new global markets, steal and extract valuable natural resources from other lands, and ensure the procurement of trillions of dollars of corporate profit for a privileged few.

Why? Why does the working class willingly, even enthusiastically, join to serve in a military that bolsters the very system which undermines and alienates them in their everyday lives?
Cultural Hegemony and Capitalist Indoctrination

We can start to answer this question by drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony to see how capitalist interests have shaped the dominant culture in US society. Utilising Hegel’s binary of social influence, where societal power is jockeyed between ‘political society’ and ‘civil society’ Gramsci suggested that power is based on two forms: coercion (Dominio) or consensus (Direzione).

According to Gramsci, the battle over ideology between the ruling and subaltern classes is ultimately won through ‘the hegemony of one social group over the whole of society exercised through so-called private organizations, such as the church, trade unions, schools, etc.’

Under capitalism, the hierarchy relies on the state to control and dictate these central organs of ideological influence, thus establishing cultural hegemony. This isn’t necessarily done in a highly centralized or coordinated manner by a tight-knit group, but rather occurs naturally through the mechanisms of the economic system.

Just as the economic base shapes society’s ‘superstructure’, the superstructure in turn solidifies the interests of the economic base. In this cycle, the interests of the capitalist class are morphed into the interests of the working class.

Unearthing these dynamics allows us to explain why impoverished Americans living in dilapidated trailers and depending on government projects still proudly wave the red, white, and blue cloth; why tens of millions of impoverished people measure their value according to which designer clothes or sneakers they’re wearing; why these same tens of millions, who can barely afford basic necessities to survive, spend much of their waking time gawking at and worshipping obscenely wealthy celebrities; or why over 100 million working-class people show up every few years to vote for politicians that do not represent them.

It also allows us to explain, at least in part, why members of the working class so willingly carry out the brutalization of their class peers by serving in imperialistic militaries and militarized police forces.

This culture, which is ultimately shaped by capitalism, receives its values through many different channels, formal and informal. Part of this is accomplished through formal education, where traditional intellectuals become more specialized, and where the process of learning and thinking is replaced by indoctrination.

In his 1926 examination of the ‘Southern Question’ , Gramsci wrote of this phenomenon:

The old type of intellectual was the organizing element in a society with a mainly peasant and artisanal basis. To organize the State, to organize commerce, the dominant class bred a particular type of intellectual… the technical organizer, the specialist in applied science… it is this second type of intellectual which has prevailed, with all his characteristics of order and intellectual discipline.

While Gramsci was specifically referring to the dominant intellectuals in northern Italy during his time, and how they influenced the ‘rural bourgeoisie’ and their ‘crazy fear of the peasants’, he was also expounding on the general development of a cultural hegemony that characterizes the capitalist system:

The first problem to resolve… was how to modify the political stance and general ideology of the proletariat itself, as a national element which exists within the ensemble of State life and is unconsciously subjected to the influence of bourgeois education, the bourgeois press and bourgeois traditions.

Uncovering these hegemonic elements stemming from society’s economic base, according to Gramsci, was crucial in exposing the ruling-class propaganda that seeped through layer upon layer of working-class and peasant cultures of the time.

So, how does Gramsci’s analysis play out today? Within systems of formal education, it exposes the strict parameters set by the capitalist modes of production and the social norms that result. It explains why formal education, even at its highest level, often takes the form of indoctrination.

A prime example of this indoctrination can be seen in the field of Economics, whose students at the most prestigious institutions and earning the highest academic achievements seem unable to apply their thought beyond the narrow confines of classical liberalism and its modern form of neoliberal capitalism.

They may be Ivy League PhDs, members of the Federal Reserve, or highly influential presidential cabinet members, but all exhibit an unwillingness or inability to see the most obvious of contradictions within their theory.

The indoctrination that has essentially taken over all fields of formal ‘study’ and ‘expertise’ inevitably flows throughout society, originating from elite institutions that are specifically designed to justify and maintain the economic base, and transferred from there into so-called public policy.

In turn, public education programmes that are shaped by the capitalist hierarchy are not concerned with the students’ ability to comprehend or critically think, but rather with turning them into ‘docile and passive tools of production’.

Part of this process is focused on the creation of obedient workers who are minimally competent to fulfil their exploitative labour role; and another part is focused on preventing the same workers from being able to critically think about, and thus recognize, their exploited labour role within this system. The former fetishizes obedience, control, and ‘work ethic’; the latter obstructs awareness and resistance.

These formal, ‘public’ structures of dominant ideology are naturally coupled with more informal arrangements deriving from the market system, notably the consumption process. As such, workers are moulded through a structured progression that begins at birth.

In fulfilling this role, workers become consumers in the market for both necessary and conspicuous consumption. As the US capitalist system has become ever more reliant on conspicuous consumption (evidenced in the ‘supply-side’ phenomenon of the 1980s), this way of life once reserved for the ‘leisure class’ has now taken hold of the ‘industrious class’ (working class).

This intensification of the consumption process has exposed the working class to informal channels of indoctrination, established through advertising and marketing, popular entertainment such as television shows, movies, and video games, and the arrival of a billion-dollar voyeur industry based on worshipping the ‘cult of personality’ and celebrity (and, thus, wealth).

Clearly, when consumption becomes the only goal in life, people are pushed to consume more and more. In doing so, the working class is serving capitalist culture even in its ‘personal life’. And through this manufactured encouragement to consume lies a complementary ideology that convinces working-class folks to literally buy into, become vested in, and thus serve and protect, the capitalist system.
Whose Security?

In a class-based society, fear becomes a convenient and effective tool in shaping ideology and pushing through ruling-class agendas with widespread working-class approval.

As in Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony, where the interests of the owners and facilitators of capital are gradually accepted as the interests of the masses, issues of security also become blurred between those designed to protect the powerful and those designed to protect the powerless.

The modern security culture that has come to fruition in the US, especially after 9/11, compels masses of citizens to not only be subjected to increasing measures of authority and surveillance, but also to join in the effort to carry out these measures. Americans do so with a shocking willingness.

The reasons for this unquestioned submission to authority can be found in the most blatant of examples: the formation of the US Patriot Act. With the threat of ‘extreme Islam’ and ‘global terrorism,’ such legislation passed with ease because, like all such measures, it exploits the emotional (and irrational) needs brought on by fear.

Mark Neocleous tells us :

Security presupposes exclusion. Take the piece of legislation passed just a few weeks after the attack on the World Trade Centre, called the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Coming in at over 340 pages and carrying twenty-one legal amendments, the Act was said to be necessary and essential to the new security project about to be unleashed on the world.

It changed criminal law and immigration procedures to allow people to be held indefinitely, altered intelligence-gathering procedures to allow for the monitoring of people’s reading habits through surveillance of library and bookshop records, and introduced measures to allow for greater access to property, email, computers, and financial and educational records. But if the Act is about security, it is also immediately notable for the wordy title, designed for the acronym it produces: USA PATRIOT. The implication is clear: this is an Act for American patriotism. To oppose it is unpatriotic .

This modern security culture has also taken on an extremely broad and vague agenda of ‘national security’, a term that represents a very specific construction of government strategy designed to create a catch-all apparatus that accommodates the never-ending growth of the military-industrial complex.

In fact, the term was deliberately chosen as a play of words with ‘national defense’, used during post-World War II reconfiguration efforts aimed at creating ‘a unified military establishment along with a national defense council’.

‘By 1947, “common defense” had been dropped and replaced with “national security” – hence the creation of the National Security Council and the National Security Act.’ The purpose of this change in wording was tipped by Navy Secretary James Forrestal, who ‘commented that “national security” can only be secured with a broad and comprehensive front’, while explaining, ‘I am using the word “security” here consistently and continuously rather than “defense”.

As Neocleous notes, “security” was a far more expansive term than “defense”, which was seen as too narrowly military, and far more suggestive than “national interest”, seen by many as either too weak a concept to form the basis of the exercise of state power or, with its selfish connotations, simply too negative’.

This conscious shift from ‘defense’ to ‘security’ was made for fairly obvious reasons. President Dwight Eisenhower’s outgoing speech in 1961, which included an eerie warning of a creeping military-industrial complex that had become largely unaccountable, exposed the underlying reason in a rare act of deep truth coming from a major political figure.

In a similar act some four decades earlier, US Major General Smedley Butler exposed the embryo of this insidious institution , famously equating his 33-year military career to serving ‘as a high-class muscle man for big business, Wall St., and the bankers’ and ‘a racketeer and gangster for capitalism’ by making:

Mexico, and especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

This shift also highlights the importance of understanding Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony and how it plays out in the real world.

By examining the focus of US domestic policy over the past century, we can see how forms of ‘security’ can be dissected into two parts: those focusing on the interests of the ruling-class minority, and those focusing on the interests of the working-class majority.

An example of the latter, which can aptly be described as ‘social security’, can be seen in the aftermath of the Great Depression and the subsequent focus on working-class (social) security in the New Deal.Neocleous points to the literature of the time to highlight this culture rooted in social security :

The economist Abraham Epstein, for example, had published a book called ‘Insecurity: A Challenge to America,’ in which he spoke of ‘the specter of insecurity’ as the bane of the worker’s life under capitalism, while Max Rubinow had been articulating demands for ‘a complete structure of security’ in a book called ‘The Quest for Security’.

A 2012 report issued by The Corner House provides a very clear and useful differentiation between what is referred to as ‘lower-case’ and ‘upper-case’ security.

The first type, which they label as ‘lower-case’ (which Neocleous refers to as ‘social’), specifically applies to that of the working-class majority. This type of security, which relates to us all, include ‘the mundane, plural protections of subsistence: holding the land you work and depend on; having a roof over your head; being able to count on clean water and regular seasons; knowing you can walk home without being assaulted by thieves or marauders; getting a good enough price for your crop to make ends meet; above all, knowing you have the right to the wherewithal for survival’.

The second type of security, which they label as ‘upper-case’ (and which Neocleous refers to as ‘national’), applies specifically to the capitalist class. ‘This is the Security that matters particularly to ruling elites: security of property and privilege, as well as access to enough force to contain any gains made by, or to counter the resistance of, the dispossessed or deprived.’

Actions taken under the umbrella of national security are done so for two main reasons: to protect ruling-class interests, and to feed the immensely profitable military-industrial complex. When major political figures own personal financial stock in the arms industry, as they often do in the US, these dual purposes go hand in hand. The fact that it has developed so intensely within the global epicentre of capitalist power (the US) is expected.

Karl Kautsky’s 1914 essay on ‘ultra-imperialism’ described this inevitable stage clearly, stating that, as capitalist governments, in representing their profit sectors, were forced to seek out new industrial zones, ‘the sweet dream of international harmony (free trade) quickly came to an end’ because, ‘as a rule, industrial zones overmaster and dominate agrarian zones’.

Hence, the massive outgrowth of industrial capitalism, in its constant search for new markets to exploit, can be accomplished only through widespread shows of force and power. Once the ball is rolling, this forceful expansion becomes a perpetual cycle through the opening of markets, the manufacturing and deployment of massively destructive armaments, and the rebuilding of markets.

In this process, the enormous loss of human life is viewed as a necessary and acceptable sacrifice in light of the potential profit to be made.

The final stage of capitalism, which has materialized over the course of the last 50 years or so, confirms these power relations based in the obsessive search for more profit. It is occupied by corporations that ‘gobble down government expenditures, in essence taxpayer money, like pigs at a trough’, and are facilitated by a ‘security’ industry that is funded ‘with its official $612 billion defense authorization bill’ that contributes to ‘real expenditures on national security expenses to over $1 trillion a year’ and ‘has gotten the government this year (2015) to commit to spending $348 billio n over the next decade to modernize our nuclear weapons and build 12 new Ohio-class nuclear submarines, estimated at $8 billion each’.

Ironically, by upholding upper-case Security, the working-class majority undermines its own security. As upper-case Security strengthens so too does our insecurity. Despite this, we remain active participants in maintaining the highly militarized status quo.
Patriotism and Penury

Realizing the difference between ‘lower-case’ and ‘upper-case’ security allows us to see how the interests of the ruling class can be inherited by the working-class majority through the construction of an ‘outside threat’ or common enemy:

Traditionally the business of lord or state, Security has always had an uneasy, ambivalent relationship with the lower-case ‘securities’ of the commons. The law was used to take people’s land and subsistence away, but it could also occasionally be mobilised in their defence. The lord or the state’s ability to make war was typically used against many of the common people both at home and abroad, but could also enlist a willing community to defend territory and livelihoods against common enemies.

Today, outside threats and common enemies are constructed through popular culture. Corporate news stations that are concerned only with ratings (thus, profit) choose sensationalist narratives that strike fear and shock in the viewer.

In this realm of profit-based ‘news’, there is no need for government propaganda because corporate ‘news’ outlets fill this role through sensationalism. The successful creation of foreign threats runs hand in hand with the dominant narrative of safety that is centred in upper-case Security.

It is also made possible through an intense conditioning of patriotism to which every US citizen is subjected from an early age, where as children we are forced to stand in formation in school classrooms with our hands to our hearts, citing a pledge of allegiance in drone-like fashion.

Children as young as five are made to participate in this ritual, with absolutely no idea what they’re saying, why they’re saying it, and what this odd pledge to a piece of cloth hanging in the corner means. As we grow older, this forced allegiance is layered with vague notions of pride and loyalty, all of which remain defined in the eyes of the beholder, with virtually no substance.

The notion of American exceptionalism serves as the foundation for this conditioning, and has roots in the cultural and religious practices of the original European settler-colonists. ‘It’s there in the first settlers’ belief that they were conducting a special errand into the wilderness to construct a city on a hill in the name of their heavenly father’, explains Ron Jacobs :

It is this belief that gave the Pilgrims their heavenly go-ahead to murder Pequot women and children and it was this belief that gave General Custer his approval to kill as many Sioux as he could. It made the mass murder of Korean and Vietnamese civilians acceptable to the soldiers at No Gun Ri and My Lai, and exonerated the officers who tried to hide those and many other war crimes from the world. It [gave] George Bush the only rationale he needed to continue his crusade against the part of the world that stands in the way of the more mercenary men and women behind his throne as they pursue their project for a new American century.

This notion has motivated the ruling classes of the US (and subsequently, the global capitalist order) to ride roughshod over the world’s people in order to establish a global hegemony conducive to capitalist growth.

And it is this notion, often rooted in white-Christian supremacy, that has given many working-class Americans a false sense of superiority over the global population – whether labelled ‘savages’, ‘uncivilized heathens’, ‘filthy Communists’, ‘backwards Arabs’, or ‘Muslim extremists’.

Because of its Eurocentric organization, the global capitalist onslaught that has dominated the modern world has blatantly racial underpinnings. The ‘core nations’ that have led this global hegemony (US, UK, France, Germany) tend to be ‘lighter’ on the skin-colour scale, while the ‘periphery nations’ that make up its dominated group (primarily in the global South) tend to be ‘darker’.

This oppression based in white makes it easier for core-nation ruling classes to justify their actions to their own. As world-systems theorist Samir Amin tells us , for the peoples who live within periphery nations, ‘colonization was (and is) atrocious. Like slavery, it was (and is) an attack on fundamental rights’, and its perpetuation is motivated by material gain.

‘If you want to understand why these rights were trampled on and why they still are being trodden on in the world today’, explains Amin, ‘you have to get rid of the idea that colonialism was the result of some sort of conspiracy. What was at stake was the economic and social logic that must be called by its real name: capitalism’.

In relation to the trajectory of imperialism, notions of American exceptionalism and patriotism are almost always fronts for deeper emotional calls to obey capitalism and white supremacy. These are effective and powerful tools.

Most answer this call because, quite frankly, we are incapable of comprehending the systemic exploitation that plagues us under capitalism. It is difficult for many to understand that cheering for the carpet-bombing of Arab and Muslim peoples worldwide, or publicly calling for the mass killing of black protestors in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, only strengthens the proverbial boot that crushes us in our daily lives.

This inability to understand is rooted in the aforementioned formal education system that prioritizes obedience over enquiry, with the ultimate goal of obstructing any degree of class consciousness from forming among American citizens.

For working-class kids in the US, this ‘manufactured consent’ doubles down on the existing desperation that materializes through a forced dependence on wage labour. Jobs and income are needed to sustain us, but often these do not exist. In the US, unemployment, a staple of capitalism, consistently fluctuates between 4% and 8%.

Underemployment, or the lack of jobs that provide a living wage, plagues another 25-30% of the population, with some estimates as high as 40% in the age of neoliberalism and globalization, where many former unionized, ‘middle-class’ jobs have been sent overseas. The poverty rate, as defined by the government, consistently rests between 13% and 15% of the US population. As of 2015, 15.8 million households (42.2 million Americans) suffer food insecurity.

Because of this bleak economic landscape, many in the US are forced to consider military enlistment. My own entry into military service, for which I served four years in the US Army, was strongly influenced by a lack of options. With college appearing too costly, the job market appearing too scarce, and with few resources to explore life as an adult, it was a relatively easy decision despite the severity that it posed.

Choosing an unknown future where I could find myself anywhere in the world, fighting whichever enemy my government chooses, and ultimately risking my life and well-being was, I concluded, a better option than wandering aimlessly into a world where my basic needs were not guaranteed, and where jobs, living wages, and affordable housing were scarce.

During my time in basic military training, I recall each soldier being asked why they enlisted. The most common answers were, ‘because I needed a job’ or ‘I need money for college’.

My personal experience is confirmed by a 2015 field study conducted by Brad Thomson for the Institute of Anarchist Studies, where a series interviews with veterans concluded that ‘a significant common thread is that they came from working-class backgrounds and overwhelmingly named financial reasons as their motivation to enlist’.

As one veteran, Crystal Colon, said: ‘Most of them [recruits] are people that just want money for college, or medical care, or have a family and need money.’

Another veteran, Seth Manzel, sacrificed personal beliefs in order to satisfy material needs, saying: ‘I was aware of the war in Afghanistan – it seemed misguided but I was willing to go. I heard the drums beating for Iraq. We hadn’t invaded yet but it was pretty clear that we were going to. I was opposed to the idea, but again I didn’t really have a lot of options as far as skills that could transfer to other jobs.’

In the face of material desperation, the addition of spiritual and emotional calls to duty becomes even more effective. As one interviewee recalled: ‘When I joined, in all honesty, I was very, well, that way I would put it now is indoctrinated… your thinking is that this is your country, you’re giving back, it harkens on those strings, and then there’s the pragmatic side – how am I going to pay for college? I’ve got these problems, my family didn’t plan well, financially, so I’ve gotta take care of my own, and how am I going to do that?’ For me, the calls to duty were firmly planted through the repetitive ritual of pledging allegiance.

And, growing up in the 1980s, Hollywood had no shortage of blockbusters that glorified war and military service. From Red Dawn to Rambo to Top Gun, working-class kids like myself were (and continue to be) inundated with films that delivered passionate and emotional calls to serve.

It is no coincidence that US military recruiters strategically seek out economically marginalized populations to fill their ranks – which explains why the ranks are disproportionately Black, Latino, poor, and working class.

This modern practice reflects historical precedence. During the Vietnam War, African Americans and poor whites were drafted at much higher rates than their middle-class counterparts, leading to numerous allegations that ‘blacks and the poor were intentionally used as cannon fodder’.

Today, African Americans represent 20% of the military population, but only 13% of the general population. In contrast, Whites make up about 60% of the military ranks, despite representing 78% of the general population. Only 7% of all enlistees hold a Bachelor’s degree. Nearly 30% of military recruits in 2008 did not possess a high-school diploma, a large proportion of whom came from families with incomes of less than $40,000 a year.

The military (all branches combined) spends roughly $1 billion per year on advertising, which is specifically designed to pull at these emotional strings. The content of these ads, along with recruitment promises, are largely misleading. The money for college, whether through the GI Bill or the College Fund, is overestimated; the supposed job skills that can transfer to the civilian sector are almost always non-existent; and the compensation itself, which is skewed by ‘housing’ and ‘meal’ adjustments, is drastically overvalued.

During my time in service, it wasn’t unusual to see soldiers using public assistance programmes and receiving Article-15 punishment for writing bad cheques in order to buy groceries.

At each of my duty stations – Ft. Jackson (South Carolina), Ft. Sill (Oklahoma), and Ft. Campbell (Kentucky) – pawnbrokers and cheque-cashing establishments were strategically positioned nearby, ready to exploit the many soldiers who needed their services. My last two years in service were sustained by using cheque-cashing services that charged up to 40% interest on advancing money one or two weeks ahead. For me, as for many, this was a necessary evil to sustain any semblance of a reasonable standard of living.
Conclusion

Under capitalism, the working-class majority constantly finds itself in a paradoxical state. Our entire lives are dominated by activities that directly benefit those who own the houses we live in, control the production of the commodities we buy, and own the businesses we work for. Our participation in these activities both strengthens those owners while also further alienating us from what would otherwise be productive and creative lives. Our activities increase the owners’ social and political capital while at the same time separating us from our own families and communities.

This soul-sapping existence takes on a more severe form when we are called upon to fight and die in wars that, once again, only benefit these owners.

In our social capacities, we are conditioned to follow the status quo, despite its propensity to subject many of us to authoritative and militaristic avenues. The vague notion of patriotism ironically leaves us vulnerable to direct repression from our own government. For those who run our worlds, the use of the term ‘patriot’ in the Patriot Act was not arbitrary, just as the decision to replace ‘defense’ with ‘security’ in official policy discussions was not.

This play on words is very effective to an already dumbed-down population. And the cognitive dissonance it creates is blatant – while over 80% of Americans do not believe the government represents our interests, most of us go along with the authoritative policies stemming from this same government, as long as they’re labelled patriotic or presented as being designed to keep ‘the Other’ in check.

Even blind faith in a Constitution that was written 229 years ago by wealthy elite landowners (many of whom were also slave-owners) strengthens this method of control, for it creates another vague form of Americanism that can be used for coercive means.

Just as patriotism is a naturally vague notion, so too are our respective ideas of freedom, liberty, justice, loyalty, and service to our country. So, when called upon to give our lives for the ‘greater good’, ‘for God and country’, for ‘defense of the homeland’, or ‘for freedom’, working-class Americans volunteer en masse, without question, are slaughtered and maimed en masse, and remain socially and economically disenfranchised en masse, despite our ‘service’.

Capitalism’s tendency toward mass dependence on wage labour (and, thus, widespread desperation) serves the military-industrial complex well. The politicians who facilitate the system know this, and actively seek to maintain this advantageous breeding ground. Arizona Senator John McCain’s off-hand comments during his 2008 presidential campaign, warning about the dangers of ‘making veterans’ benefits so good that nobody will stay in service’, alluded to this fact.

When tens of millions of working-class kids are faced with the dire options of McDonald’s or the military, or perhaps college followed by impotent job markets and lifelong student-loan debt, the coercive nature of military recruitment tends to set in.

So, we join en masse, travel the world in metal machines, kill impoverished people whom we’ve never met, fight, get maimed, sometimes die… and return home still broke, living paycheque-to-paycheque, with inadequate benefits and medical care, struggling to support our families and keep our heads above proverbial water. All the while, arms manufacturers enjoy skyrocketing stock prices and unfathomable profits. And the American military machine keeps churning, spitting us all out in its tracks.

Remembering Martin Luther King in the Age of Trump

Jim Burns

 

This year’s celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. assumes special significance, poignancy, and urgency as we remember King during the same week that Donald Trump assumes the U.S. Presidency. My university, like many other institutions across the United States, paid homage to Dr. King. Yet leaving the commemoration, replete with speeches that praised King’s dream, I wondered whether the paradox of celebrating the life of a Black anti-capitalist, anti-war radical juxtaposed with Trump’s empty “Make America Great Again” sloganeering was lost on many of those in attendance. Trump’s victory, which stunned so many White liberals, resulted from a historically proven winning strategy that tapped White fear through racist appeals for “law and order” and virulent anti-immigrant sentiment tied to economic stagnation.

In the aftermath of Trump’s victory, many in the White liberal academic, media, and political establishment, who apparently viewed Hillary Clinton as entitled to the U.S. Presidency, fumbled to explain Clinton’s defeat. Columbia University Humanities Professor Mark Lilla, for example, in a New York Times Op-Ed , characterizes the electoral outcome as “repugnant,” yet he condemns liberal identity politics and the “obsession with diversity” for producing Trump’s victory. Lilla offers his own “make America great again” prescription for a “healthy” national politics based not on affirming and appreciating difference, but on “commonality” and returning to the liberal politics of the New Deal, racial exclusivity and all. Lilla’s appeal to contextualize education about the “major forces shaping the world” in their “historical dimension” sits uncomfortably beside a stunning lack of historical perspective, particularly in the presentation of Whiteness as a neutral norm and the glorification of the American project as the assimilation of difference.

Katherine Franke, Lilla’s colleague at Columbia, provides that critical perspective in her response in theLos Angeles Review of Books . Franke characterizes the liberalism championed by Lilla as the “liberalism of white supremacy…that regards the efforts of people of color and women to call out forms of power that sustain white supremacy and patriarchy as a distraction.” The Trump phenomenon, and analyses of it such as Lilla’s, represent, as Franke points out and as Michael Kimmel writes in Angry White Men , a sense of White, heteropatriarchal aggrieved entitlement. Anyone who possesses the deep understanding of American history advocated by Lilla would conclude that Trump’s victory actually demonstrates the victory of the White heteropatriarchal identity politics long deployed through relations of institutional power against many Others. Trump’s election is no anomaly; it illustrates a history of White terror and backlash against demands by historically oppressed groups for their rights and human dignity.

Returning to the memory of Dr. King, his life and legacy have long suffered the tragedy of many civil rights leaders, who have been caricatured to comfort White America and fit a partial historical narrative to preserve the status quo. King’s vast body of public intellectual work and activism have been reduced to his “I Have a Dream” speech, trotted out yearly to absolve the guilt and paralysis many Whites feel for their lack of personal commitment and action in the struggle for justice-racial, economic, social, and political-for which King and many others fought and died. Understanding King requires engagement with the entirety of his evolutionary thought, for example his Letter from Birmingham City Jail , in which he clearly articulated his disappointment with the white moderate “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

Yet a major aspect of the justice that King fought for, which seems lost in the sanitized celebrations of his life and work, included economic justice for all the people of the world. In an August 16, 1967 speech entitled ” Where do We Go from Here? ” King concluded that “the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society”:

“There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”

James Baldwin echoed King’s skepticism of the White moderate in his 1965 essay The White Man’s Guilt . White Americans, Baldwin wrote, possess the ability to see the “disastrous, continuing, present, condition which menaces them and for which they bear an inescapable responsibility,” but in lacking the “energy to change this condition, they would rather not be reminded of it.” Baldwin, like King, appeals to the force of history, not as something exterior to us, but as something that we embody, a force that exercises unconscious control over us and “is literally present in all that we do.”

Yes, the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency in what Gore Vidal famously called the United States of Amnesia illustrates yet again the masterful and predictable use of the White identity politics of fear, racial divisiveness, and class oppression. Trump’s election demonstrates the dearth of meaningful dialogues about class in our political discourses, specifically the intersection of race and class, and the historic expunging of the class consciousness of working people through the destruction of organized labor. Super-wealthy plutocrats like Trump and much of his cabinet, to whom Adam Smith referred in his day as “the masters of mankind,” maintain a clear sense of class consciousness lost by so many in the burgeoning precariat of disposable people mired in contingent work and living increasingly tenuous lives. Remembering Dr. King in the age of Trump should remind us that we cannot realize the totality of King’s dream without immersing ourselves in the full range of his thought and the grandeur of the Black intellectual tradition more broadly. Commemorating King’s life should also remind White Americans that we cannot develop a more complete and humane understanding of our country, ourselves, or the world without engaging with the force of history to which the African American intellectual tradition is integral.

Deconstructing Hierarchies: On Contrived Leadership and Arbitrary Positions of Power

Colin Jenkins

 

Bosses don’t grow on trees. They don’t magically appear at your job. They aren’t born into their roles. They are created. They are manufactured to fulfill arbitrary positions of power within organizational hierarchies. They possess no natural or learned talents, and they are not tried and tested through any type of meritocratic system. Rather, they gravitate to these positions of authority by consciously exhibiting attributes that make them both controllable and controlling – being punctual, highly conformist, placing a premium on appearance, knowing how to talk sternly without saying much of anything, blessed with the ability to bullshit.

Hierarchies aren’t natural phenomena within the human race. Outside of parenting, human beings aren’t born with the inclination to be ruled, controlled, “managed,” and “supervised” by other human beings. Hierarchies are artificial constructs designed to serve a purpose. They are a necessity within any society that boasts high degrees of wealth and power inequities. They are a necessity for maintaining these inequities and ensuring they are not challenged from below. They exert control, conformity, and stability within a broader society that is characterized by artificial scarcity, widespread insecurity, unfathomable concentrations of wealth and power, and extreme inequality. Without such control, these societies would unravel from within as human beings would naturally seek autonomy and more control over their lives and the lives of their loved ones – control that would amount to nothing more than the ability to fulfill basic needs.

Despite the artificial and arbitrary nature of both bosses and hierarchies, they persist. They dominate our days from the time we wake until the time we go to sleep. They control our lives, our livelihoods, and our ability to acquire food, clothing, shelter, and all that is necessary to merely survive. If we do not subject ourselves to them, we run the risk of starving, being homeless, and being unable to clothe or feed our children. Despite this, we seldom examine them, seldom question their existence or purpose, and seldom consider a life without them.
Capitalism, Hierarchies, and “Management”

“People stopped being people in 1913. That was the year Henry Ford put his cars on rollers and made his workers adopt the speed of the assembly line. At first, workers rebelled. They quit in droves, unable to accustom their bodies to the new pace of the age. Since then, however, the adaptation has been passed down: we’ve all inherited it to some degree, so that we plug right into joy-sticks and remotes, to repetitive motions of a hundred kinds.”

– Jeffrey Eugenides
While hierarchical human relations have existed in many forms throughout history, the dominant modern hierarchy stems largely from capitalist modes of production. Capitalism is a system that relies on private ownership of land and the means of production for the purpose of transforming capital and commodities into profit for the owners of said land. Under the predominant system of industrial capitalism, those with sufficient capital may purchase parcels of land, build means of production (i.e. factories) on that land, and employ masses of workers to create products which can be sold on the market for a profit. Owning this land, and accessing the capital required to transform it into a means to produce, is a privilege reserved for only a very few. When land is privately owned in this manner, it represents a social relationship between those privileged few (owners/capital) and the rest of us (workers/labor). It is not owned for personal use, but rather for use as a location to extract labor value for production and profit. The owners of private property do not use it to satisfy any personal needs, and rarely even step foot on or in it. Understanding the difference between personal property and private property is crucial in this regard, as the term “private property” is often misused to falsely associate capitalism with freedom. In reality, when private property is used as a social relationship, as it is in a capitalist system, it becomes antithetical to any sense of freedom or liberty. A large degree of the profit that is created in this process is done through the exploitation of labor, whereas the owner will pay each worker a set wage in exchange for labor that ultimately creates commodities worth much more than this wage. And with the legislative destruction of the commons that took place during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, performing labor for an owner essentially became a coercive proposition, not a voluntary one. For under capitalism, those of us who must sell our labor to survive essentially have two options: (1) work for someone or (2) starve (this reality is the exact reason why the welfare state became a necessity alongside industrialization).

Because the development of capitalism represents the latest form of coercive social relations between human beings, the need for industrial “management” and “supervision” is paramount. After establishing the coercive conditions necessary to compel workers to sell their labor to owners (through the legislative destruction of the commons), owners were left with figuring out how to maximize their exploitation of a workforce that was ultimately forced to spend half its waking hours (if not more) in a place they do not want to be in, doing something they do not want to do. This task has endured ever since. Not surprisingly, scientific management, or Taylorism, developed alongside industrial capitalism with this very purpose: to improve “economic efficiency” through the improvement of “labor productivity.” Fordism also surfaced around this time, taking a more all-encompassing approach to issues of mass productivity and management under capitalism. The common denominator in these fields of “human management” was to figure out how to effectively commodify a human being; in other words, how to turn a human being into a machine in order to perform menial, repetitive tasks for several hours at a time. Capitalist management systems looked to slave plantations for ideas on how to best accomplish this task. “The plantation didn’t just produce the commodities that fueled the broader economy; it also generated innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management,” Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman write . “As some of the most heavily capitalized enterprises in antebellum America, plantations offered early examples of time-motion studies and regimentation through clocks and bells. Seeking ever-greater efficiencies in cotton picking, slaveholders reorganized their fields, regimented the workday, and implemented a system of vertical reporting that made overseers into managers answerable to those above for the labor of those below.”

The hierarchies of slave plantation management have effectively been transferred to modern office buildings in both the private and public sectors. To this day, entire fields of study have been dedicated to “organizational management” and “workforce optimization.” The hierarchies that exist today, whether in private or public organizations, stem from archaic forms of management designed to essentially make humans less human. The fact that the term “human resources” has been fully integrated into our vernacular highlights the inhumane nature of labor in this regard. Coercion is simply not enough to ensure productivity. Frederick Taylor’s contributions made this clear, at times valuing workers as less than “intelligent gorillas;” while Henry Ford’s assembly-line, mass-production operations carried out Marx’s warning from decades prior, essentially turning workers into mere “appendages of machines.” Ford even went as far as creating a Sociological Department designed to study and standardize workers’ private lives in order to further streamline them into visages of machinery. Ultimately, these fields of study have developed the corporate culture that has become synonymous with capitalist society: extreme hierarchies, a total absence of autonomy, strict guidelines and rules, threats of disciplinary action, and complete submission to conformity. These organizational hierarchies have been placed everywhere – within most corporations, most companies, most schools, most non-profits, most NGOs, and most public agencies. Quite simply stated, they are a necessary component in maintaining the unnatural wealth and power inequities that are so rampant within the capitalist system. Without high levels of control to keep people in line, this system would inevitably collapse.
The Contradictions and Inefficiencies within Hierarchies

“Maybe it is not a coincidence that, even in heaven, under the perspective of the Bible, there is a hierarchy. After all, what better way to impose the “benefits” of accepting the power of a hierarchy in the human mind?”

– Miguel Reynolds Brandao (“entrepreneur, business developer, and investor”)
While hierarchies serve a systemic purpose in regards to how they relate to broader society, they also develop internal cultures that mimic the unequal power relations that have come to characterize our society under capitalism. These internal cultures breed competition among workers by creating an exclusive, managerial class that must be filled by a select few. In order to satisfy the inherent power inequities that exist within all hierarchies, organizations create arbitrary positions of authority, advertise these positions as being available to those who “qualify,” and encourage people to pursue these positions in exchange for material gain. In this pursuit, however, contradictions and inefficiencies naturally arise.

In a professional capacity, whether we’re talking about a public or private organization, people climb the proverbial ladder for two reasons: 1) to make more money and 2) to work less. The narrow-minded pursuit of authority and power, whether conscious or subconscious, essentially lies within these two, fundamental objectives that are inherent to human beings who are placed within hierarchical (competitive, not cooperative) systems defined by capitalist/corporate culture. In other words, when forced into a top-down organizational structure, it becomes natural to want to make more (money) and work less (idleness). The often-subconsciously attractive idea of acquiring a position of authority is the singular casing around these material wants. While the uncivilized act of exerting power over another human being may boost self-esteem, this form of psychosis ultimately operates secondary to the material benefits that come with this power. Therefore, it is safe to assume that if material benefits did not accompany positions of authority, they likely would not exist.

Regardless of this inclination, there are still many people who have no interest in climbing the ladder. Ironically, these people, for one reason or another, are more beholden to the natural human attribute of cooperation. They are either able to see beyond the self-centered pursuit of power (money and idleness) and are simply turned off by it, or they are just not interested in climbing over (and eventually overseeing) others for personal gain. In turn, those who choose to seek power (money and idleness) – those who are willing to spend time and energy climbing the ladder – do so in a purely self-serving way. They simply want to make more and work less, have no qualms about taking positions of artificial superiority over their fellow workers, and thus do whatever it takes to obtain that status within the organization. This flow creates an interesting paradox, as the most self-serving members of an organization inevitably gravitate to the top of the hierarchy. Thus, while organizations theoretically consist of groups of people working toward a common goal, this natural phenomenon based in hierarchical ascendency inevitably destroys any hopes of a collective will, while also breeding a culture of incompetence (as those self-serving individuals take the reins).

This culture of incompetence almost always comes to the forefront, as a majority of workers will inevitably experience it through daily occurrences of redundancy, inefficiency, and frustration. When there is work to be done, bosses almost inevitably seek refuge in their offices. When crises arrive, bosses do not take it upon themselves to work, but rather demand more work from those below. In most cases, bosses become so far removed from the actual work and mission of an organization that they essentially alienate themselves. As this disconnect grows, so too does the culture of incompetency. And with the tendency for animosity to develop from the majority of the workforce that is perceived to be “at the bottom,” the only option for those who seek to control, supervise, and “manage” other human beings is to instill fear in their subjects. At this stage, trust is non-existent, organizational problems are always reduced to workers not doing enough, and solutions are always rooted in disciplinary action.

Furthermore, this phenomenon creates a natural inefficiency as those who are paid more money are essentially contributing less to the mission. In the case of so-called “supervisory” and “management” positions, this inefficiency becomes two-fold by not only creating a scenario where the organization is getting less for more, but also seeking more for less from the majority of its workforce (since this void must be filled somewhere). With this realization, we can see that hierarchies are not only unnatural forms of organization, but also inefficient and incompetent ones. Their purpose for existing lies in controlling this unnatural environment predicated upon massive inequities of power and wealth. However, beyond this need to reinforce the coercive nature of society, they are useless from within. This paradoxical existence is thus forced to construct mythological purposes for the arbitrary power positions that serve no real purpose internally, yet must maintain and mimic the power relations that exist externally. Ironically, wielding fear through micromanagement and the constant threat of disciplinary action ultimately becomes this artificial purpose. And it convinces those who occupy these power positions that workers are inherently lazy and, therefore, must be prodded like cattle. The irony comes in the fact that any development of so-called laziness, or a lack of effort, that comes to fruition from below almost always is the result of widespread animosity toward those who exist “higher up” on the ladder for the sole purpose of making more and doing less. Human beings simply do not respond to arbitrary positions of authority (often candy-coated as “leadership positions”) because such positions serve no purpose in any real sense of organizational operations. Frankly put, the mere existence of these positions is an insult to all of those who perform the brunt of the work from “below.”
Corporate Doublespeak, Contrived Leadership, and Insecurity

“Corporations are totalitarian institutions. Board of directors at the top of managers give orders, everyone follows orders. At the very bottom of command, if you are lucky you can rent yourself to it and get a job, and if you are sufficiently propagandized you may even buy some of the junk they produce and so on.”

– Noam Chomsky
The totalitarianism inherent in corporate structures is defined and preserved by the hierarchy, and these structures stretch far beyond for-profit, private enterprises. In an attempt to justify arbitrary positions of power, organizations often portray them as “leadership” positions, deploying corporate doublespeak like “team leaders” or “officers” in their hierarchical arrangement. The problem with this is that leadership, in any true sense, is an absolute contradiction from power; and especially from arbitrary power. The acquisition of money and idleness that becomes synonymous with climbing the ladder makes leadership roles impossible for those who fill these positions to obtain. Never mind that the term “leadership” itself often includes connotations of superiority, or at the very least attempts to differentiate oneself from “the pack.” Leadership can never be arbitrarily assigned through “promotions” or self-proclamation. If leaders truly exist among people, they only do so through a form of facilitating. And it may only develop organically, as the result of unplanned developments springing from natural occurrences of facilitation from within a group. Leaders are facilitators who may provide organic direction in a group, and they are always those who exhibit a selfless willingness to take on a brunt of the effort, or at the very least their share of the collective effort, while expecting nothing of individual value in return. Dictating from behind a desk is not leadership. Screaming down from a supervisory booth is not leadership. Analyzing and calibrating labor productivity is not leadership. Those who climb the proverbial ladder to (1) make more and (2) work less can never be leaders. Thus, filling arbitrary positions in hierarchies can never produce any semblance of leadership. Coercion, yes. Fear, yes. But never leadership.

The fact that hierarchies remain the predominant organizational structure throughout capitalist society tells us two things: (1) they are the most effective structure for exerting control; and (2) control is most desirable characteristic of any organization existing under capitalism. The inherent cultures of incompetence and contradictions which develop within these structures remain a secondary concern to that of maintaining control. And by masking this controlled environment through corporate doublespeak, organizations are often able to stoke a cognitive dissonance among its workforce that simultaneously puts forth a healthy dose of faith in the “team approach” by day while complaining about the incompetent and overbearing bosses by night. This is accomplished through a rebranding of arbitrary power to justify it with the appearance of a (non-existent) meritocracy, and tame it by transforming self-serving overseers into “leaders.” The insidious nature of this rebranding even goes as far as trying to convince those in arbitrary positions of power that they not only belong there, but invariably serve an important purpose there. The natural insecurities that develop within managers and supervisors, who are plagued with a never-ending paranoia about being exposed as the frauds they are, are put at ease with cycles upon cycles of “leadership courses” and mounds of self-help books that call on their inner-CEOs to seize the moment!

Despite these contrived efforts to establish competence and confidence, those in arbitrary positions of power within a hierarchy are undoubtedly reminded of their uselessness during daily operations. The material benefits that come with these positions are typically all that’s needed to cope with this realization; however, the organizational contradictions and inefficiencies always remain, and with them enduring fissures seeping with animosity and fearfulness from below, and insecurity and paranoia from above. There is simply no getting past the fact that the mere act of “supervising” another person is inhumane, because its purpose is premised on the belief that people are inherently lazy, dishonest, irresponsible, and incompetent. Or, at the very least, the existence of supervision confirms the coercive and inhumane nature of both traditional labor and hierarchies. Supervision is only necessary in a world where workers are viewed as cattle to be prodded, pushed, “motivated,” and directed. The fact that those placed with this task of supervision possess no special skills or talents only makes this relationship even more precarious, as those being supervised will almost always recognize the illegitimacy of their supposed superior. Whether through interviews or exams, there simply is no way to find people suitable for supervising others… because, quite frankly, they don’t exist. The supervision or management of a human being is never a suitable proposition, no matter how many executives, boards, curriculum developers, trainers, and corporate planners try to make it so.

Delusions Shattered: How Democrats Lost Claims to a Moral High Ground by Ignoring Obama’s Transformation Into Bush

Jon Reynolds

 

When President Obama was sworn into office back in January 2009, and just a few months later agreed to ” look forward” and disregard gross human rights violations committed by Bush officials (such as waterboarding, insect pits, solitary confinement, and more), they were quiet.

When President Obama oversaw the brutal force-feeding of untried prisoners at a detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, they said nothing.

When President Obama’s mass-deportations of undocumented immigrants in the US outpaced deportations under his predecessor, they stayed silent. As the Nation reported, “To pay for the ballooning enforcement-first approach, the budget for immigration enforcement grew 300 percent from the resources given at the time of its founding under Bush to $18 billion annually, more than all other federal law-enforcement agencies’ budget combined.”

When President Obama spent his first term in office outspending his predecessor on raids against legal marijuana dispensaries , his supporters had little to say. “There’s no question that Obama’s the worst president on medical marijuana,” Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Rolling Stone magazine. “He’s gone from first to worst.”

When President Obama extended the US military occupation of Afghanistan until 2024, anti-war Democrats under George W. Bush were nowhere to be found.

When President Obama fabricated a reason to bomb oil-rich Libya in 2011, and then just a year later,reauthorized the US invasion of Iraq, they were voiceless, with the exception of a few scattered protests in the US, none of which came anywhere close to the size of those against the 2003 invasion of Iraq carried out by a Republican president.

When it was revealed that President Obama met weekly with his advisers for what was dubbed ” Terror Tuesday” to decide who was worthy of being picked off by US predator drones around the world – and when it came to light that President Obama had a “kill list” and US citizens were on it, and were being killed, all without due process – again, barely a peep.

When Obama granted legal immunity to telecom companies that had conducted invasive spying during the George W. Bush years, when he extended the Patriot Act, when he prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all past presidents combined , when he expanded the NSA’s surveillance programs , and when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and greenlit indefinite detention of US citizens without trial, Democrats remained complacent.

From January 2009 to the end of 2016, there has been a near-virtual silence from those identifying as Democrats against a variety of violations committed under President Obama, violations which were widely protested during the George W. Bush years, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by researchers at the University of Michigan, who released the results of an analysis of antiwar activity and found that after Obama’s election, “Democratic participation in antiwar activities plunged, falling from 37 percent in January 2009 to a low of 19 percent in November 2009.” Unsurprisingly, they also discovered that “anti-Republican attitudes had a significant, positive effect on the likelihood that Democrats attended antiwar rallies.” Moreover, polling data from early 2012 showed Democrats supporting the same policies they heavily opposed during the Bush years, like keeping Guantanamo Bay open and drone warfare.

Under a Democratic president, the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was continued, US boots hit the ground in Syria and Iraq, US bombs fell in Libya, US drones terrorized the skies over Pakistan and Yemen, America’s nuclear arsenal was upgraded, and highly provocative military drills were conducted along the borders ofRussia and China. Eight years of warmongering by the Nobel Peace Prize winner has been met with eight years of silence by the very same members of his party who protested such activities under a president whose main difference was the political party he was affiliated with.

But the eight year drought of direct action by Democrats abruptly ended in November of 2016 when someone from the “other” party just barely managed to score a presidential nomination. Facing a loss of power, suddenly, Democrats reappointed themselves as the sole defenders of minorities everywhere and quickly attempted to seize the moral high ground. Faces familiar during the Bush years clawed their way out from under enormous piles of steaming hypocrisy to lecture the world on human rights,faces like Michael Moore , who for the past two elections (2008, 2012) encouraged everyone to go out and vote for the guy blowing the legs off Muslim teenagers in faraway lands with aerial death machines. Protests filled major cities across the US with demonstrators wielding signs about human rights, equality, and social justice, the irony lost on them that the candidate they wanted so badly to win would have been just as dangerous to the very minorities they attempted to champion.

Muslims, both domestic and foreign, would have continued to fall under the threat of persecution, violence, or radicalization under a Hillary Clinton administration. She supported the US occupation of Afghanistan and both the 2003 invasion and 2012 reinvasion of Iraq, she supported the drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, and she supported Obama’s meddling in Egypt and Syria, as well as the bombardment of Libya in 2011. Where was the outcry during the Obama years? Where was the outcry when she took these positions as a presidential candidate? As Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian wrote back in 2013, “Does anyone doubt that if Obama’s bombs were killing nice white British teenagers or smiling blond Swiss infants – rather than unnamed Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Somalis – that the reaction to this sustained killing would be drastically different? Does anyone doubt that if his overhead buzzing drones were terrorizing Western European nations rather than predominantly Muslim ones, the horror of them would be much easier to grasp? Does it really take any debate to know that if the 16-year-old American suspiciously killed by the US government two weeks after killing his father had been Jimmy Martin in Sweden rather than Abdulrahman al-Awlaki in Yemen, the media interest and public outcry would be far more substantial?”

And let’s not forget that Obama, like Bush before him, and certainly like Hillary Clinton after him had she won, offered support to regimes like Saudi Arabia , which are notorious for oppressing homosexuals and women.

Domestically, the War on Terror has also caused a variety of discriminatory problems for the same minorities Hillary Clinton and other Democrats claim to be interested in protecting. In early 2016, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the Obama administration over government surveillance programs allegedly aimed at curtailing domestic Muslim extremism. According to the ACLU, based on public documents, “the initiatives appear based on theories about so-called radicalization and violence that years of social science research have proven wrong. They also result in ineffective law enforcement and unfairly stigmatize American Muslims.” Just a few years prior, it was also reported that the Obama administration was continuing to fund Bush-era programs in New York City that helped police departments spy on predominately Muslim American neighborhoods. As USA Today reported, money from Washington helped pay for “computers that store innocuous information about Muslim college students, mosque sermons and social events.” In the event of a Hillary Clinton victory, it seems likely that these types of policies wouldn’t disappear given her passionate support for and involvement in the Obama administration.

And then there’s the War on Drugs, another minority-crushing gem supported by both Republicans and Democrats alike. In 2010, just a year after Obama was sworn into office, black men and women were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession , even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates. African-Americans are 62 percent of drug offenders sent to state prisons, convicted at a rate 57 times higher than white men, yet they represent only 12 percent of the US population . In New York, Latinos are arrested at nearly 4 times the rate of whites for marijuana even though, as with blacks, the rates of use are nearly the same, and from 2008 to 2014, one-quarter of a million people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses, often due to low-level marijuana possession. Hillary Clinton vowed to continue failed drug prohibition policies and disregard the overwhelming evidence illustrating its blatantly racist overtones.

The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way, shape, or form entitled to the moral high ground over the equally horrific opposing party is a beyond ridiculous assertion without any basis in reality. To see crowds of people motivated to action by the loss of their party, protesting an archaic electoral college system that they would have likely accepted the results from had their candidate won, tests the limits of ones ability to empathize with their plight. Kill lists, defense of torture, mass surveillance, US citizens being picked off by drone missiles, the continued buildup of a vast empire – none of it prompted thousands upon thousands of American Democrats to fill cities across the US in a fit of anger because at the time, their chosen political racehorse was in Washington.

If Hillary had won, the drone strikes would have continued. The wars would have continued. The spying would continue. Prohibition would continue. Whistleblowers would continue being prosecuted and hunted down. And minorities would continue bearing the brunt of these policies, both in the US and across the world. The difference is that in such a scenario, Democrats, if the last eight years are any indication, would remain silent – as they did under Obama – offering bare minimum concern and vilifying anyone attacking their beloved president as some sort of hater. Cities across the US would remain free of protests, and for another 4-8 years, Democrats would continue doing absolutely nothing to end the same horrifying policies now promoted by a Republican.

Trump’s victory, if there is anything good to say about it, will at least breathe much needed life into an antiwar sentiment that has been largely dormant since Bush left office. Issues like drone strikes, torture, military occupations, mass surveillance, and other hot button subjects once protested by Democratic partisans during the Bush era will again – hopefully – be criticized and fought against. Yet the shame about it all is that this time, those unaffiliated with either of the two major parties – those who have been focused on these issues while Democrats have offered pathetic excuses and baseless justifications in defense of them – won’t make the mistake of thinking Democrats will stick around for the fight if they win office again in the next election.
This article was reprinted from the Screeching Kettle .

Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species

Kenn Orphan

 

The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself. To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself. The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond. These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.

I believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies. Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time. These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright. But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.

One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society. It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition. It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression. It is against aggression and wars of conquest. It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit. It commodifies everything, living and non. It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence. It is the way of Empire.

The language of Empire is duplicitous. It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions. It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism. It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse. But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.

In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement. They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels. They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance. They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings. They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment. And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.

The war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth. And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire. It is literally about life and death. We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow. We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry. We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable. We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year. And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves. When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy. We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests. But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.

The powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next. It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand. This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story. It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out. If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine. We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach. This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not. But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.
This was originally posted at Kenn’s personal blog.