Part One: Thou Darest Not Question Park Avenue
It’s gotten to the point where questioning your government, or the economic system in which you live, is filled with this same kind of paranoid guilt as, let’s say, questioning religion. Just say the word “unpatriotic” and you feel this sort of greasy, hangdog guilt slither over you, like you’re a bad person. In the same way, saying that you don’t believe that a white man in sandals with cool 70s rocker hair created the universe carries with it its own heavy weight. Even if you are spiritual, even if you believe in God, questioning Jesus makes you wince, like a nun is watching over your shoulder, about to wrap you on the knuckles.
I think the reason we may feel these things is due to an emotional connection to someone we love who believes strongly in, say, the free market enterprise, or in Jesus. The last thing we want to do is hurt that person. The other reason is because of the fear built into the belief system of each. Consider, if you dare: to not believe in Jesus as the Main Dude Behind Everything has some serious consequences; you could spend eternity in the Valley of Hinnom. Equally disturbing is the kind of hell-on-earth existence which can answer unpatriotic actions. Unpatriotic easily translates into “enemy,” or “terrorist,” and we’ve seen and heard about the subhuman terrors of places like Gitmo where human beings are, in effect, “removed from God’s sight.” One the other hand, we now live in a world where the government can look up our arse with a flashlight to spy on us anywhere, anytime – a true Big Brother. Archangels, er, I mean, Drones could come to our homes and zap us to bits. Either way, it’s a dystopian nightmare if you’re on the wrong side.
Why has it gotten so drastic? Why do we pervert the original intentions and messages of men who set in motion well-tempered philosophies? In the beginning of our government, the founders seemed to understand that there were the ingredients present for possible abuse of power. Jefferson warned that the Tree of Liberty would need to be refreshed by “the blood of patriots and tyrants.” It seems his idea of the patriot was one who kept government in check and held the leaders accountable. In his book “740 Park,” Author Michael Gross cites several conservatives, who, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, seemed to have balanced views, expressing that while individual liberty was paramount, man had a responsibility to the rest of his society. In the time of Jesus (if you subscribe to the idea that a historical version of the man walked the Earth), he questioned the established order, indicting the corrupt government, and urging people to discover God and spirituality in ways that eventually got him into big trouble. Today, to question the Government is synonymous with questioning God Himself, since the Judeo-Christian religion has been co-opted by many so-called leaders of the country.
While it’s easy to idealize the past, the facts don’t lie. Our country once featured a much more robust, vast middle class that was thought to be the key to its sustainability. In the last few decades, that middle class has gotten squeezed and has shrunk dramatically. The rich and superrich have taken more and more of the total pie of wealth and resources. The top 400 now have as much wealth as half the country – 150 million people.
Let me just say that again – the Forbes 400 have as much money as 150 million people.
It’s astonishing. Moreover, political lobbyists write their own bills to push through congress and make laws which serve their interests above the common good. This is something which has been shown in case after case – with Jack Abramoff fresh in mind. Yet many conservatives will invoke the terms “free market enterprise” and talk about a level playing field for everyone equal opportunity for each citizen born in the country to pursue success.
Pointing this out can brand you a conspiracy theorist, or a liberal, a socialist, or even a communist. But this is propaganda. Like Paul Ryan invoking Ayn Rand in his speeches, or the Koch brothers talking about libertarianism against the decline of our society due to big government, the propaganda is designed to throw off the focus in an often unctuously self-flattering way, extolling the virtues of capitalism while conveniently ignoring the vices of increasingly stratified society. (Consider the black and white thinking of the lofty term “Makers” and the pejorative “Takers.”)
And part of throwing off the focus is to call you unpatriotic, an unbeliever, or worse if you question the establishment of the day.
The focus, the truth, is always the same. It is the same as it was two thousand years ago: You have to follow the dollar to find it.
Liberty, personal freedom, civil rights, the ability to chart one’s own course without undue interference, these things are all good. I believe in the values conceived of in our country. But, greed is not good. And one of the reasons greed is not good is because we need to maintain a popular democracy in order to sustain moral and fiscal order, and we can’t do this with libertarians buying laws for their own agendas; we can’t stay civilized when all the economic gains of the country go to the very top, and that is what’s happening.
Without a shred of “conspiracy theorist” feeling in my body, I know that we live now in a corporate-run government. The ideologies cited by the perpetrators of this corporate controlled society to reinforce their M.O.s are ideas that were once in motion, but not any longer. There is no longer equal opportunity. There is no longer a “free” market system. The wealth has been set and the players hold their cards. Generation after generation, rich families stay rich and poor stay poor. It’s just logical. I’m not saying someone initially set out to rig the game this way (though the establishment of the Federal Reserve Act ought to raise anyone’s eyebrows), but given time and entropy, this is the logical course. And the way to maintain the illusion that the Haves are simply using the God-given system of economics available in the same way to everyone else is to tap into those unpatriotic paranoid feelings, those deep-seeded religious influences, and to use them against people.
It is not wrong to question the system in which we live. It is not wrong to look to the roots of religion, and find the value there in the early teachings, before the message was co-opted and perverted by people seeking insular power and wealth.