Monthly Archives: June 2011

Rebél Against the Human Condition and Empire

What are the people of Germany doing?  Sleeping.  Their sleep is filled with nightmares and anxiety, but they are sleeping.  We have awaited their awakening for so long, yet they continue to remain stolid, stubborn, and silent as to the crimes committed in their names, as if the entire world and its own destiny had become alien to them.  All agree: the German people slumber on amid the twilight of their gods.  They do not love liberty, because they hate criticism.  That is why they are sleeping today.

Albert Camus

September 17, 1944

Albert Camus’s insightful description of life in Nazi Germany, which appeared in the clandestine Resistance newspaper Combat a few weeks after the Liberation of Paris, could just as well have been written about life in the United States today.  Not unlike the people of Nazi Germany, the American people are also asleep.

We have slept through over two decades of technofascism—the melding of corporate, state, military, and technological power by a handful of political elites which enables them to manipulate and control most of the population.  Technofascism has evolved into a global system of dominance and deceit in which ostensibly free individuals allow transnational megacompanies and big government to control their lives through money, markets, media, and technology resulting in the loss of political will, civil liberties, collective memory, and traditional culture.  It includes, but is not limited to, affluenza, technomania, e-mania, megalomania, robotism, globalization, and imperialism.

While claiming to be individualists, we behave as world-class conformists.  We think the same, share many of the same religious beliefs, vote the same, watch the same TV programs, visit the same websites, and buy the same low-priced Chinese plastic yuck from Wal-Mart.  “All the women are strong, the men are all good looking, and all the children are above average,” just as they are in Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Wobegon.  And we all pretend to be happy.  But is it really true?

Even though we spend $10 trillion annually on consumer goods and services, $2.5 trillion of which is for health care, and billions more on spiritual gurus and religious shaman, are we as happy as we pretend to be?  I think not, because what we are up against is the human condition, God’s gift to us in the Garden of Eden from which there is no escape – separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and death.  Not a pretty sight.  Our feel-good religious and spiritual leaders to whom we turn for solace try unsuccessfully to sugarcoat it.  French existentialist Albert Camus called it absurd.

Unfortunately, the American Empire itself is a metaphor for the human condition.  Tens of millions are drawn to the Empire in search of a refuge from the human condition only to discover that the Empire is an integral part of the problem, not the solution.

What are our options in terms of possible responses to the existential angst produced by the human condition?  Escape, denial, engagement, and confrontation.

First, we may escape the human condition altogether through suicide.  We may choose death and nothingness now over the pain and suffering associated with separation, meaninglessness, powerlessness, and fear of eventual death.

Second, we may deny the human condition through a life based on having—owning, possessing, manipulating, and controlling people, power, money, machines, and material wealth.  Through having we try to find security and certainty in an otherwise uncertain world.  Our compulsive desire to have often leads to technofascism.

Third, we may choose to engage the human condition through being—by our creations, our personal relationships, our spirituality, our sense of community, and our stand towards pain, suffering and death.  So-called simple living is a popular form of being.  But if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, for how long can a life based only on being allay our angst?

Fourth, we may confront the human condition and peacefully rebél against the money, power, speed, greed, and size of the icons of the Empire—the White House, the Congress, the Pentagon, Wall Street, the Internet, Fox News, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, as well as the churches, schools, and universities which suck up to them.

Rebél is a philosophy of rebellion.  It provides us with the faith to claw meaning out of meaninglessness, the energy to connect with those from whom we are separate, the power to surmount powerlessness, and the strength to face death rather than deny it.  Since the word rebel has more than one meaning, we use Rebél to connote resistance to authority and control.

If life is absurd, is there any reason to believe that tomorrow or the day after will be any different from yesterday or the day before, as in the movie Ground Hog Day starring Bill Murray?  Even though no cosmic source of meaning has been revealed to us, we find ourselves drawn to Camus’s idea that the purpose of life is to die happy and that the path to a happy death leads straight to rebellion.

Therefore, rebél against the human condition and the Empire, live life to the fullest, and try to die happy by mindfully defining your personal legacy, which some call your soul.

But Rebél is not for everyone, particularly not the faint of heart, for it offers no spiritual elixir or magic potion to relieve our existential pain.  It is neither a fire insurance policy against hell, nor a ticket to heaven.  It is not a touchy-feely, self-help, feel-good, be-happy philosophy promising pie-in-the-sky to its adherents.  Religious fundamentalists, pacifists, and those in search of a spiritual nirvana are not likely to be drawn to Rebél. Although it may not be what we learned in Sunday School, it surely beats nothingness.

Rebél is about the peaceful denunciation, demystification, and defiance of the tyranny of ciphers.  Its radical imperative involves disengagement, decryption, decentralization, downsizing, and dissolution.

In the meantime,

Rebél

Thomas H. Naylor

June 25, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus at Duke University;  co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaningwww.vermontrepublic.org.

Six Myths of the Vermont Political Left

In return for the support the Vermont political Left receives from the American Empire for its social agenda including abortion, gay rights, and affirmative action, the Vermont Left turns a blind eye towards the egregious behavior of Corporate America, Wall Street, and the Pentagon and provides implicit support for a foreign policy which embraces globalization, full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, and unconditional support for the Israeli military machine.  Underlying this hypocritical stance are six myths:

Bernie Sanders.  One of the most important myths is that Senator Bernie Sanders, the darling of the Vermont Left, is a political liberal.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Sanders is a technofascist war monger disguised as a progressive.  He has done everything within his power to keep the myth of Islamic terrorism alive.  He supports the illegal wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen; Israeli genocide against the Palestinians; the deployment of the Vermont National Guard troops abroad; F-35 fighter jets at $115 million a pop; a Vermont based drone aircraft center; and recruitment to Vermont of a firm which designs, manufactures, and tests weapons of mass destruction – all to prevent Vermont from being attacked by Islamic terrorists.
Sanders loves to rail against Corporate America, Wall Street, and the  super-rich, but does little to constrain their power and influence.

Single Payer Health Care.  Governor Peter Shumlin has convinced the political Left in Vermont and elsewhere that Vermont will soon have the first single payer health care system in America.  This is utter fantasy.  The recent health care legislation passed by the Vermont Legislature not only fails to specify the exact nature of the proposed system but completely ducks all questions related to how much it will cost or how it will be financed.  It is pure pie-in-the-sky.

The demand for health care services in the U.S. is driven by fear of death and the supply side by greed.  When fear of death meets greed, the sky is the limit in terms of health care costs.  They can only spiral upwards.  There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that either Governor Shumlin or the Vermont Legislature grasp this fundamental concept.

Vermont Yankee.  Since the Vermont Legislature passed a resolution calling for the shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in 2012, most left-leaning Vermonters assume the plant will be closed by its owner Entergy Corporation next year.  What this view fails to consider is that the U.S. government, including the Supreme Court, is owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street and Corporate America.  The conservative controlled Supreme Court always favors Corporate America over the will of the people.

Barack Obama.  Notwithstanding the fact that Barack Obama is in bed with Wall Street, Corporate America, the Pentagon, and the Likud government of Israel, Vermont Democrats and Progressives seem to still think that he walks on water.  Obama is essentially a smirk free George W. Bush.  But because he is so much more intelligent and more articulate than Bush, he is, therefore, much more dangerous.  Most Vermonters just don’t get it.

Israel.  There are few states other than Vermont in which the American Israeli Political Action Committee has been more successful in convincing the electorate that Israel deserves special attention.  Few left-wing Vermonters seem to be aware of the fact that for over 60 years Israel has engaged in acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.  Anyone who has the audacity to question the U.S. government’s unconditional support of Israel is said to be a racist, anti-Semite.

Federal Government.  Perhaps the greatest myth of them all is the belief that only the U.S. government can solve all of our problems all of the time, failing to realize that the U.S. government is indeed the problem.

Thomas H. Naylor

June 25, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaning.

www.vermontrepublic.org.

So You Say You Are Not A Secessionist

Then what are you going to do about the Empire?  More specifically, how will you deal with the following:

Governance

  1. The complete loss of moral authority of a government owned, operated, and controlled by Wall Street, Corporate America, and the Israeli Lobby.
  2. An empire which is economically, militarily, politically, morally, socially, and environmentally unsustainable because it is too big.
  3. A nation governed by a single political party disguised as a two-party system.
  4. Congressional gridlock – an ungovernable nation which is, therefore, unfixable.
  5. The fantasy of campaign finance reform as a panacea for solving most of our problems.
  6. A populace which still believes that only the U.S. government can solve all of our problems all of the time, failing to realize that the U.S. government is the problem.

Foreign Policy

  1. A foreign policy based on full spectrum dominance, imperial overstretch, might makes right, and the proposition, just be like us.
  2. The disproportionately large influence which the Israeli Lobby has on American foreign policy.
  3. Our inflammatory policy towards Iran.
  4. Our lack of commitment to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
  5. The support we provide to dictators and authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, North Africa, and the rest of the world.
  6. The Cuban embargo.
  7. Our predisposition towards the use of the military option in resolving international conflicts.

Military Might

  1. The never ending, highly racist war on terror (Islam).
  2. Our immoral, illegal, undeclared wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Palestine (via Israel), and Yemen.
  3. The 1.6 million American troops stationed at over 1,000 military bases in 153 countries.
  4. The 80,000 American troops stationed in Europe, the 36,000 in Japan, and the 30,000 in Korea.
  5. NATO, the 27-nation Cold War relic which has lost its way.
  6. Ronald Reagan’s fantasy of a strategic missile defense system.
  7. The American led proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  8. The unconditional military support provided to the right-wing Likud government of Israel.
  9. America‘s unchallenged position as the world’s leading arms merchant.
  10. American pilotless drone aircraft spreading death and destruction worldwide.
  11. The outrageously expensive F-35 fighter jets which cost $115 million a pop.
  12. The trillion-dollar plus military and national security budget.

Civil Liberties

  1. The Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the proposed Detainee Security Act.
  2. The highly intrusive, money-guzzling Department of Homeland Security.
  3. Prisoner abuse and torture.
  4. The rendition of terrorist suspects.
  5. White House ordered assassinations.
  6. The Guantanamo prison.
  7. Citizen surveillance and the suppression of civil liberties.

The Economy

  1. A moribund housing market.
  2. An inability to create enough real jobs to compensate for those exported to China, India, and elsewhere over the past two decades.
  3. Stagnant real incomes for all but the super-rich.
  4. An ever widening income gap between the rich and the poor.
  5. Increases in the number of people who find themselves to be among the poor, homeless, or uninsured (no health insurance).
  6. A multi-trillion dollar national debt.
  7. Increased dependence on China, Japan, and other foreign countries to finance our national debt.
  8. A government which prints money as though it were going out of style.
  9. Uncertainty about the future value of the U.S. dollar and the rate of inflation.
  10. An unreliable system of public and private retirement pension systems.
  11. Uncertainty over the sustainability of Social Security and Medicare.
  12. A financial regulatory system which favors Wall Street mega-banks at the expense of ordinary citizens.
  13. An organized labor movement which has been rendered impotent by two decades of hostile, anti-labor employers such as Wal-Mart.
  14. An economy driven by our intense psychological need to fill our spiritual and emotional vacuum with more and more stuff and the illusion that the accumulation of wealth and material possessions can provide meaning to life.  Whoever dies with the most toys, wins the game.
  15. Wal-Mart with its seductive low prices and the promotion of the idea that what life is all about is unrestrained personal consumption.

Social Services

  1. A health care system driven by fear of death on the demand side and greed on the supply side which is spiraling out of control.
  2. Over two million people in prison.
  3. An international war on drugs that is a complete failure.
  4. A federal education program committed to a one-size-fits-all corporate model of education.
  5. A social welfare net that is woefully inadequate.
  6. Patronizing, racist programs of support for Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, Eskimos, and Inuits.

Energy and Environment

  1. Unabated dependence on imported foreign oil and its inherent price fluctuations.
  2. Under investment in alternative energy sources by government and private industry alike.
  3. A failure to confront the problem of climate change.

Infrastructure

  1. Widespread aging infrastructure including highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, dams, levees, and public water systems.
  2. Obsolete air traffic control system.
  3. Grossly inadequate railroad passenger train system.

Summary

A government that is too big, too centralized, too powerful, too undemocratic, too intrusive, too materialistic, too environmentally destructive, too racist, too violent, too militaristic, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens and small communities.

Thomas H. Naylor

June 15, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaningwww.vermontrepublic.org.

Farewell to Mississippi With Love and Anger

On July 1, 1966, when thirty year old Norma Watkins bid farewell to her husband of ten years, her four young children, and the good life in Jackson, Mississippi, she was effectively engaging in a personal act of secession from the Magnolia State.  Not only did she say “good-bye” to days filled with tennis, bridge, and church bazaars, tasteful, noncontroversial volunteer work for the Junior League and the Jackson Country Club, but she also fled the racism, sexism, violence, repressive politics, and family intolerance, all associated with the so-called “Mississippi way of life.”  As Ole Miss historian James Silver wrote in 1963, Mississippi was indeed a “closed society.”

Ms. Watkins, my cousin whom I have not seen since 1957, has just published a riveting, soul-searching, brutally frank memoir about growing up in segregated Mississippi in the 40s and 50s, and becoming disillusioned with the state’s big lie – “Blacks are inferior to whites, and, therefore, deserve to be treated accordingly.”  In her new book, The Last Resort: Taking the Mississippi Cure, Watkins demonstrates an uncanny grasp of every nuance of what it meant to live in a state-enforced racially segregated society. Although she was the daughter of firebrand, racist Governor Ross Barnett’s personal attorney, she developed an empathy for the plight of her family’s black servants trying to survive in a culture in which literally everything was stacked against them.

Norma Watkins combines the story-telling skills of Mississippi writer Eudora Welty with the compassion and political passion of North Towards Home author Willie Morris and the psychological sophistication of psychotherapists such as Rollo May and M. Scott Peck.  Interestingly enough, the book was published as part of the Willie Morris Books in Memoir and Biography Series by The University Press of Mississippi.  Ironically, in 1962 when Governor Barnett tried unsuccessfully to keep African American James Meredith out of Ole Miss, Tom Watkins, Norma’s father, was in charge of Barnett’s legal team.

The setting for nearly half of the book is the family’s hotel and spa, Allison’s Wells, located a half hour north of Jackson.  Norma and her family lived there between 1943 and 1945 while her father was serving in World War II.  She and her sister Mary Elizabeth worked there every summer until they finished high school. Allison’s Wells was Norma’s metaphor for Mississippi and laboratory testing ground for her evolving attitudes about black-white relations in the South.  It was there that she had a chance to observe and ponder the Mississippi Caste system in which blacks cooked all of the meals for the elite hotel guests but were never allowed to eat with them or socialize with them.  It was at Allison’s Wells where the seeds for the radicalization of Norma Watkins were first sewn.

Notwithstanding her increasing doubts about the Mississippi form of justice, or lack thereof, Watkins allowed herself to be temporarily seduced by the lifestyle afforded the daughter of a prominent Mississippi attorney married to a successful white businessman.  By late 1963 she and Fred Craig, whom she married in 1955, had four children, but a happy marriage it was not.

By that time Watkins’s life was in a state of turmoil.  She had resumed her pursuit of a college degree, the James Meredith affair had taken its toll, racial violence was on the increase, the civil rights movement had reached fever pitch proportions, and JFK had been assassinated.  In the midst of all of this Allison’s Wells, The Last Resort, burned to the ground.

Allison’s Wells was Norma’s safe haven where she was loved and understood by her aunt who ran the place, all of the black employees, and the white hotel guests as well.  Life in Mississippi for Norma was effectively over once Allison’s Wells was gone.  She stood alone as the old system continued to implode.  She became increasingly radicalized and politicized as her personal life came unglued at the seams.  Norma had to go.

Then one afternoon in early July in 1966, much to the chagrin of her family and friends, Norma climbed into the blue Triumph convertible of her lover, a Jewish civil rights lawyer, and off they drove to Miami to a life of teaching, writing, and political activism at Miami Dade College.  Free at last!

Life is full of an endless series of secessions including birth, death, divorce, graduation, job changes, leaving home, ending relationships, and moving to another place.  Secessions are often painful, unpleasant, and unpopular with others.  Norma Watkins’s decision to leave Mississippi was no exception to the rule.  Although her decision was based on a strong sense of betrayal and moral outrage, she has written about it with honesty, clarity, sensitivity, style, and class.

The Last Resort reads like a well written classical Southern novel in the tradition of Harper Lee, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty.  Only it happens to be true.

My only regret about this compelling book is that it makes me wish that I had known Norma Watkins a lot better back in the 1950s when we grew up together in Jackson, Mississippi.  We might have had a lot to talk about.  My father’s job also depended on Governor Ross Barnett.  I seceded in 1957.

Thomas H. Naylor

June 13, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaningwww.vermontrepublic.org.

The Second Vermont Republic Mission Statement

The Second Vermont Republic is a nonviolent citizens’ network and think tank committed to: (1) the peaceful breakup of meganations such as the United States, Russia, and China; (2) the political independence of breakaway states such as Quebec, Scotland, and Vermont; and (3) a strategic alliance with other small, democratic, nonviolent, affluent, socially responsible, cooperative, egalitarian, sustainable, ecofriendly nations such as Austria, Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland which share a high degree of environmental integrity and a strong sense of community.

Supporters of the Second Vermont Republic subscribe to the following set of principles:

1.  Political Independence.  Our primary objectives are political independence for Vermont and other breakaway states as well as the peaceful dissolution of meganations such as the United States, Russia, and China.

2.  Human Scale. We believe life should be lived only on a human scale.  Small is still beautiful.  Our role models include Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland.

3.  Sustainability. We celebrate and support Vermont’s small, clean, green, ecofriendly, sustainable, socially responsible towns, farms, businesses, schools, and churches.  We encourage family-owned farms and businesses to produce innovative, premium-quality, healthy products.  Energy independence is an important goal towards which to strive.

4.  Economic Solidarity.  We encourage Vermonters to buy locally produced products from small local merchants rather than purchase from giant, out-of-state megastores controlled by Wall Street and Corporate America.  We support trade with nearby states and other small nations.  Globalization is antithetical to our humanity.

5.  Power Sharing.  Vermont’s strong democratic tradition is grounded in its town meetings.  We favor devolution of political power from the state back to local communities, making the governing structure for towns, schools, hospitals, and social services much like that of Switzerland.  Shared power also underlies our approach to relations with other small nations.

6.  Equal Opportunity.  We support equal access for all Vermont citizens to quality education, housing, employment, and health care.  Any effective health care system must take cognizance of the fact that the demand for health care services is driven by fear of death and supply is driven by greed.  The highly decentralized Swiss health care system is second to none.

7.  Tension Reduction.  Consistent with Vermont’s long tradition of “live and let live” and nonviolence, we do not condone any form of state-sponsored violence.  An independent Vermont will have no standing army.  In its place will be a voluntary citizens’ brigade to reduce tension and restore order in the event of civil unrest and to provide assistance when natural disasters occur.  Tension reduction is the bedrock principle on which all international conflicts are to be resolved.

8.  Community.  We support a strong sense of community among our citizens and their neighbors including their international neighbors.  An invitation to join the Vermont community must be sponsored by a town meeting vote as evidence of community support.

Thomas H. Naylor

May 30, 2011

Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of Affluenza, Downsizing the USA, and The Search for Meaningwww.vermontrepublic.org.