Monday, January 26, 2004

My Dad, Walmart and the State of the World

My Dad is not political. In fact, when he asked if I was doing any writing, I was real vague and did not provide a link to this site. After all, as my dad, I think he could still legally have me committed!

He's a a branch in a small town. No Rockefeller, he. He understands that as a graduate of a local public college and not being from the one of the "right" families, he was always limited in how far he would advance.

So, in his own life, he sees how the world works. He sees "conpiracies" in action. For example, he lent some money to a couple of real-estate guys. "Rich people always get inside information," he explained. These guys knew that Wal-Mart was going to be putting in a new store in a certain part of town. So, they bought some land in order to sell it to WalMart. They had no doubts that the parcel they owned would be the parcel WalMart bought. (People, don't shop there. They treat their workers like crap and put more ethical businesses out of business. In addition, certain theological perspectives posit that the omnipresence of WalMarts is a SIGN OF THE END TIMES. (Okay, maybe I made that last part up, but hyperbole is a time honored literary device.))

Back to our story. Dad asked these guys if they were at all concerned about all the opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart. The councilman for the district was on record as opposing the deal. These guys just smiled and said, "We're not worried. We'll just need the loan for 90 days." You know how the story ends. Despite fairly well organized opposition, the councilman switched his vote, and the WalMart was a done deal.

Out in his own small town, he attended a council meeting in which dozens of locals spoke out against a proposed plan to expand the city limits. They'd have to pay a lot of money to hook into the sewer system, for one thing. Speaker after speaker rose to oppose the idea. After they all spoke, the mayor held the vote...unanimous FOR the proposal. As my dad told someone next to him: "If you don't think this was already a done deal, you are naive about politics."

Is anyone picking themselves from the floor after passing out in shock from these little stories? I doubt it. You know this is how things get done. I bring it up because MOST people know this is how things get done. What I don't get is the disconnect between the knowledge and their actions based on this knowledge. Those who still participate in electoral politics follow the debates, vote and act like THAT is the way things are decided in this country. They know it doesn't work that way in their own neighborhoods. They know it doesn't work that way in their own places of work. And yet, somehow, to suggest that the country as a whole is run in the same fashion is "conspiratorial" or at least "cynical."

I am also fascinated by the fact that many people who are very "anti-Washington" are drawn in by right-wing talkshows and end up supporting agendas that are right off of some corporate lobbyists' hard drives. One reader suggests that the "left's", refusal to deal with issues such as the regressive payroll tax is responsible. Good point. The right seems to be the ones trying to get rid of those taxes. Problem is, they get rid of the WRONG taxes. They get rid of the corporate taxes and taxes that affect primarily the very wealthy.

What's going on here? People consistently voting against their own interests...why? Well it is not ignorance of their own interests. People know they are unemployed, or underemployed. They know they don't have health insurance. They know their rent is past due.

There are a few reasons, I think. First of all, the propaganda in play here, while appearing crude to us (think Rush, think Fox) is actually VERY sophisticated. It is not for nothing that the defense department had some officers from its Psychological Operations department "interning at CNN." In addition, because corporate and government interests are pretty much the same, all that corporate money and PR expertise gets put into play as well.

The study of propaganda is a fascinating one, and I am no expert and won't go into great detail. None of us is immune, however. Take stock in your own kitchens and pantries and see how many brand names you bought, just because you recognized the label. (Actually, readers of this site, I imagine, are less susceptible to that, but you get my point.)

Now, think about the way the corporate media marginalizes politicians. Kucinich, for example, is not a "brand name" so we won't be purchasing that particular product. (Translator's note: "brand name" in commercial advertising = "electable" in election PR.)

How centralized is the planning of all this propaganda? I have no idea, but it really doesn't have to be. Just like individuals know what is in their own interests, corporations do as well. Acting under some unified "conspiracy" or simply following their individual agendas and cooperating as needed amounts to pretty much the same thing.

But we are asking why people act against their own interests and buy into a system that they know, on some level, to be corrupt. I think a second reason is that if you really step back and allow yourself to understand how it works, it is quite difficult to find any peace of mind, any glimmer of hope. We like to imagine that our vote is the one thing that keeps these powers at least somewhat in check. Unfortunately, it will take a lot more than voting to stop these guys. They are extemely good at what they do and there are enough redundancies in the system that even when they screw up, there are lots of other options for them. I am having a sinking feeling, for example, that Kerry may be an example of this. All of sudden he's the frontrunner? Oh, he thought the Iraq war was a good idea? Oh, he wants to ADD 40,000 to those already in Iraq? So maybe Kerry is the insurance policy in case Bush is just TOO much of a liability (I thought that was what Clark was for). Who knows. The main point is, these guys have different ways to get things done.

I don't have a solution to this phenomenon of denial on the one hand and supporting agendas contrary to one's own interests on the other. I don't really have hope for the "educate the masses" or "raise awareness" approaches. I think information is great for those who are, for their own reasons, beginning to question, but it does little for those who are still "trapped in the matrix" so to speak. I think perhaps that more people will awaken as the conditions deteriorate enough that they realize they are being had. Enough of their sons and daughters come home in body bags. Enough neighbors are out of work. Enough family members are without good medical care. Enough violent repression of formerly legal protest activities. Enough "Waco's". Enough plane crashes. Eventually...maybe, a critical mass will be reached and the scales will tip. What happens then? In the words of that famed revolutionary, Bette Davis: "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."


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