The Cambridge Candle

 

Vol. 1, No. 1

November/December 1998

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UnderLying Assumptions

By Jay Scheide

Hello Cambridge. I want to talk to you about what I deeply feel are the underlying problems in our society, and the assumptions and presuppositions that continue virtually unnoticed and enable those problems to grow and become seemingly unsolvable, leading to an unspeakable amount of unnecessary suffering, and wasted human potential. Let me begin with a few snapshots.

Our country is a place where some women (and some men) must rely on a kick-boxing career to put food on the table (nor is that anywhere near the most degrading career one can think of); it is where OJ and Monica are all that should be given any serious attention; and it is where there are marketing mandates such that many (most?) TV and radio ads must have music which emulates nuclear assault noise, with maybe a touch of violent vomiting noises thrown in.

It is also where one of the leaders in a huge “moral” crusade on behalf of “personal responsibility” and “tough love” for disadvantaged people, Newt Gingrich, brings home more tax-payer largesse to his very wealthy district than any other district apart from the federal system1; nor is he very atypical of those “moral leaders.”

It is where a president who has directly caused innocent civilians to die in Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan by authorizing “heroic” and “defensive” bombing missions in hideous contravention of international law, the moral equivalent of grown men beating up small children; caused unutterable suffering in places such as Iraq and Cuba through grotesque boycotts; caused unutterable suffering all over this country by the attack on poor people known as welfare reform; but this guy may be impeached for the incomparably greater crime of extramarital sex and lying about it -- it is more than clear that no bill of impeachment will even mention the first-named “peccadilloes.” I invite readers to think of their own examples of national disgrace.

Now of course there comes the question, why? How do these things not only happen but become institutionally sanctioned in our system? Do we not have guardians, oh, say maybe a free press as watchdogs to prevent such egregious abuses and hypocrisy?

Let me say first that I dare to believe that there are clear answers, and that these answers, though clear as a bell to an unindoctrinated 8-year-old, are not even permitted into the realm of “respectable” discussion. There are clear and understandable reasons why people are forced into bizarrely masochistic and ignominious careers; why the “free press” obsesses with private lives instead of reporting facts that could help the great masses rather than the elite few,2 and why the elite consensus is taken for granted, like the air we breathe.

Without going into what I believe these answers are, let me allow readers to decide for themselves. For example, are those in privileged and powerful positions anxious to give up those positions? Do the people who own the media institutions (TV, radio, and newspapers)  --  all of them private corporations (nearly unaccountable except for the extremely weak regulatory system) --  do these people want to reveal the fundamentally illegitimate nature of their enterprises? There is, for example, the fact that their charters, granted to them by the people (i.e., the representative government), contain a clear mandate to act in the public interest, and that this mandate is routinely flouted in favor of private profit. Very few people know the history of how 19th- and early 20th-century judicial activism made corporate power almost unassailable from popular control.3

But does not the public still have some recourse in the political arena? Let me give, for now, just one illustration of the nature of politics and political debate, going back to the aforementioned House Speaker. Do Gingrich’s Democratic opponents, to say nothing of the press, point out the particular hypocrisy mentioned above, or do they with their deafening silence clearly support the right of big business to lap at the public trough and lecture poor welfare mothers about self-reliance, despite the partisan advantage that could be gained by calling Gingrich on this? What does this say about the “two-party system,” as well as the “free press”?

In the months ahead, I plan to continue talking about the role of indoctrination in mass media and the education system, focusing in particular on local media; about why arguments (which I already anticipate) using terms of the completely defiled language of political debate such as “class warfare,” “conspiracy-mongering,” “free trade,” “political correctness,” and even “conservative” can and must be turned on their head; why focusing on the need for charity, especially among liberals, crucially undermines the need for real justice; why believing that people should have decisive influence over issues affecting their own lives brands you as a hopeless radical; and why I believe the most important metaphor for our time is “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I also want to attempt what I hope will not turn out to be just another white person’s pontifications on racism.

I invite readers’ responses. In fact, if I hear nothing, I will assume everybody in Cambridge agrees with me, and I will wonder why so many people are clearly not fomenting some aspect of the social revolution we obviously need, and why so many fail to question the underlying assumptions of the privileged consensus. I await the day that average government-hating &emdash; or at least deeply suspicious and angry &emdash; Americans wake up to find out who really has got hold of the strings above the government puppets. To paraphrase John Dewey’s words in 1931 (and it has only gotten worse since then), what is politics other than “the shadow cast on society by big business?”4

Footnotes

1 Gingrich’s district, in Cobb County, Georgia, obtains massive subsidies in particular as the home of “defense” contractor Lockheed-Martin Corp. plants and other high-tech industry. Only the district in Arlington, VA, containing the Pentagon and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida gets more federal dollars.

2 Let me mention two interesting comparisons between street crime and suite crime that, if examined and amplified upon in the press, would make a huge difference:

a) FBI estimates put yearly street crime at about $4 billion a year; Multinational Monitor magazine believes corporate crime comes to $200 billion a year (and I personally think that is a very conservative estimate) --  a fifty-fold difference.

b) Russell Mokhiber of Corporate Crime Reporter compares yearly loss of life by homicide --  24,000 --  with deaths by job-related diseases and accidents --  56,000. But of course the press, representing as it does the overclass, believes that it is the underclass which constitutes the greatest threat to others.

3 See the pamphlet, “Taking Care of Business: Citizenship and the Charter of Incorporation,” by Richard L. Grossman and Frank T. Adams, available from Charter Ink./CSPP, PO Box 806, Cambridge 02140.

4 Quoted in Robert Westbrook, “John Dewey and American Democracy” (Cornell U. Press, 1991), p. 440.


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