Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

All Fire’s Eve

To Baltimore

30 April 2015

 

The woody hills are sleeping

The cold, stale sleep of death.

While weeping wind whispers past

Black trunks, exhausted, out of breath.

 

A deafening silence drowns the air

In nothing, not a flutter.

The sun beats down the charcoal ground

The final drops of strength are mustered.

 

Creeping limbs claw and stretch

And squinting, step into the sun.

Gray-black snowflakes powder the land

Celebrating unions, embers of fun.

 

A sneeze! A tuft of feathery leaves,

The breeze, soft and somber.

Tired eyes gaze amazed

At all that’s left of night’s bright wonder.

 

All night long a blaze went on

Until this stretch of earth turned cinder.

Entropy laughed and chaos danced

While beasts of wood screamed out in splendor.

 

First went wings, the birds of sky

Flew off in all directions.

Scarred and scalding, scared and hauling

All they left alone and destined.

 

Next the bugs and biting critters

Pittered, pattered, shuffled and scattered,

Hid under rocks where the ground was still cool,

Beaten, broken, busted and battered.

 

Then the paws who sniffed the air

With darting eyes, turned and ran

Sprinting through fields with standing hair

And howling cries of living damned.

 

For the flames were alive this yesterday’s night!

So bright they outshined the stars.

To the forest it felt like the whole world would melt

But it lit up the vastness of night from afar.

 

They jumped and they flew and fought through the blue

And their orange grins laughed from tinder to tinder.

They ripped out the trees they would need to keep prancing

But shrugged off the rain and burned off the splinters.

 

The forest was furious this All Fire’s Eve!

The mountains and oceans could tell.

But like the great oceans and mountains it knew

That you’ve got to keep going if you’re going through Hell.

 

So the sun has arisen and the fires have died.

Creatures come back to the light!

The forest you used has been leveled, abused,

Everyone’s always left home overnight.

 

Shaken, you step over kindling

Famished, you flip stones and ponder

Wandering orphans and neighbors cross paths

And glistening eyes in tender sonder.

‘What will we do?’ you ask.

‘What ever could possibly come next?’

Afraid, in despair, unaware, there unseen

The seed that from fur falls in your steps.

Hello friends and family across the screens, I hope this post finds you well.

It’s Thanksgiving again, and as usual, the holidaze is in effect. This Thanksgiving, as with each, I am thankful for many things. This year I am in a new house, in a new country, speaking a new language, working in a new field I actually consider useful, and I can’t help but be thankful for it all. But on this, the American day of “thanks,” I think I might be most thankful to understand the true, actual history behind arguably the most quintessentially American celebration. After all, the history of Thanksgiving is quite literally the history of America’s beginnings, and thus America itself.

Thanks-giving feasts are and have been celebrated around the world throughout history. In the United States, the end-of-November “Thanksgiving Day” holiday was declared by President Abraham Lincoln to recognize and celebrate the founding colonists’ first year of survival in North America. Unfortunately however, this is not the whole story. Though taught as a wholesome celebration of the natural bounty that springs from the American way of life with the help of our friends, the generous Native people, the history of this day of thanks is actually a bit more complicated, and a bit more sinister.

There is some truth behind the Thanksgiving story we all know, going back to 1621, one year after midwinter of 1620 when the famous Mayflower first landed on the North American coast. The Thanksgiving holiday is celebrated in reference to the three-day feast Governor William Bradford declared to thank God for their survival. But what get’s lost in the traditional teachings of the holiday’s history is exactly what that survival entailed.

In 1620 the ship known as the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock with 102 British exiles, ready to start fresh with their newly founded, Puritan way of life. However as we know they were not the first Europeans to set foot on North American shores. Six years earlier, in 1614, a small expedition of Brits had scoped out the East coast on behalf of the British crown. They only stayed on land for a short time but when they left they brought 24 Natives back to England with them as slaves, and left Smallpox in their wake. In just a few years the smallpox they first introduced to the Natives had spread and decimated 90% of the 500+ nations.

Fast forward to 1620 and our beloved Mayflower landed on what looked more like Plymouth Tombstone than Plymouth Rock. Plymouth itself was erected just beside the ruins of an abandoned Native village that had been devastated by Smallpox. Now, it’s true that the English immigrants of 1620 probably would have died without Native help and generosity. But that help was only possible due to – and in fact came primarily from – the sole survivor of that ghost village by Plymouth, Squanto.

Squanto was a former slave of the English and Spanish, and had thus learned the respective languages of his European masters. For asylum he offered himself to the settlers who used his insights to grow corn for their people, and his translation skills to negotiate peace treaties with the surrounding tribes. So in 1621 after a year of plentiful corn crops and relative peace, the first, three-day, thanks-giving feast and celebration was declared. This was not the official holiday we all know of course, but it served as the benchmark for colonists living on the former land of exterminated Natives to declare thanks to their Christian God for allowing such “blessings.” In reality much of their survival was actually dependant on the former enslavement and subsequent cooperation of Squanto, and the biological devastation of the Smallpox their predecessors had unleashed upon North America.

Fast forward another 15 years. A decade of prosperity had attracted greater numbers of Europeans to North American shores, and with them had come their Puritan methods of trade dependent on the individual ownership of property. This was far different from and highly contradictory to the Native ideals of communal land ownership. In fact this was far different from what much of the world had seen at the time, and proved to be the critical vehicle for the establishment and expansion of capitalist economics. So with an increased population of settlers interested in trading private property, the question arose: who did the land legally belong to?

To propagate their economic way of life, the settlers agreed that public land belonged to the King (by way of his divine right), represented in the Americas by the Governor. The Puritans believed themselves to be God’s chosen people, and that the rest of the world was damned. As a result, their invasion and the fight for their prosperity was justified by the support of God, and the lives of those not aligned with their ideals were expendable. The rest of the world was doomed to damnation either way. Any within the colonies who opposed this idea and claimed the Natives as the rightful land owners were quickly excommunicated and literally thrown out into the woods to starve. The Puritans needed only to look to Psalms, chapter 2, verse 8 for their justification, in which the Bible writes, “Ask of me and I shall give thee the brethren for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” The whole of the earth was theirs for the taking.

This justification worked perfectly for the paralleled ideals of expansion that form the basis of capitalist economics. So much so that stockholders in an English trading company – who had been awarded by the King the right to govern their company’s own internal affairs – voted in 1629 to move the company and themselves to North America. These stockholders landed north of Plymouth, establishing Massachusetts as a self-governing company of stockholders. Once on North American soil, it did not take long for these money-driven stockholders to realize that their most profitable commodity was the slave trade. Labor, after all, essentially pays for itself.

The conquest and enslavement of Natives became so profitable that for decades it was the centerpiece of their new trade markets. In 1641, the Dutch Governor of Connecticut offered the first scalp (or “redskin”) bounty, drastically increasing the number of massacres against Native communities once again. Of course, because the mere eradication of threats was not nearly as profitable as enslavement, Native men were slaughtered while women and children were sold off into slavery. Several years later, various Manhattan churches decided to celebrate the prosperity that had come from this State-sanctioned genocide and mass-enslavement, and the first official “Thanksgiving Day” was declared.

Well into the 1670’s, Natives tried fighting back against the colonists with little success. But just to insure the continued success of the slave economy, a final call for massacre and enslavement was made. At the rate of 20 shillings per scalp and 40 per slave, the rest of the Native resistance was silenced. In 1676, Massachusetts declared “Thanksgiving,” to engrain within the State a public day of thanks to God, for once again eliminating all obstacles in their way. After that, the rest is history.

President Washington was the first to call for a national day of Thanksgiving, though as we know, it wasn’t until Lincoln that the national holiday of Thanksgiving was made an official, annual event. For Lincoln, the day served as a most useful tool. It was the perfect myth to aid in his efforts at solidifying and unifying the nation. Thanksgiving celebrated the prosperity and the bounty of the American way of life while not only ignoring, but masking and silencing the brutal nature behind the red, white, and blue curtain.

So where does that leave us today? Americans everywhere have heard the stories of Native genocide perpetrated by the European settlers of the colonies’ early days, yet most still celebrate the wholesome-looking holiday nonetheless. Some may not believe the holiday is directly related. Some may try to rationalize that the murder and enslavement that got us here isn’t what they and their families celebrate around the Thanksgiving table. Some may even write it all off as an unfortunate hiccup, or ignore our bloody past all together. But we can’t go on ignoring our past. The rest of the world knows how the United States forged its beginnings and see the hypocrisy in holidays like Thanksgiving clear as day. The fact of the matter is that to not only accept, but celebrate these atrocities as they were designed to be celebrated while perpetuating worldwide “humanitarian” campaigns for “democracy,” “freedom,” and “justice” is hypocrisy at its worst.

There is hope though. There are ways we can call attention to this hypocrisy and begin to overturn the oppressive power structures that carry through to today and spill out onto the streets of places like Ferguson, Syria, and Palestine: our homes. We can start by stopping. Stop honoring this day of genocide. We can gather with our families and give thanks to our Gods for all that we have been blessed with, but we hold no obligation to the “Thanksgiving” title. Instead we could celebrate Harvest Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Universities like Brown U. and Hampshire College have already brought petitions to their administrations demanding they change the name of the holiday to reflect and honor the countless native lives and land stolen by the early European settlers. We could all follow in their footsteps and change the name of the holiday to honor those who died so we could be here. It is possible to change things. Just this year Seattle became the first city to abolish their celebration of Christopher Columbus, arguably the father of modern slavery and genocide. The rest of the United States could take these steps and start moving ourselves in the right direction.

When Ghandi was asked what he though of Western civilization, he said he thought it sounded like a good idea. Plato said that the origins of a just society must come from equal access to a good education. Well, learning the true history behind our world and honoring those who actually deserve it is a damn good first step. Holidays are a fantastic way to teach our children about our ever-increasingly complicated world one piece at a time, so why not teach them to honor the people whose lives were stolen from them to build the world we see today. Let’s stop retelling the fantasies we’ve been taught to cover the truth, and start teaching the truth. Let’s abandon our old, false stories and embrace the real ones. Only then can we hope to start writing new futures. Who knows, maybe if our children learn to value the lives that have been decimated by history they’ll start to value their brothers’ and sisters’ lives as well.

Onward and upward.

Z

If you would like to look deeper into what I’ve written about here, check out “Native Blood,” an essay found at Kasamaproject.org

Or watch my good friend and mentor Solomon Comissiong from the University of Maryland discuss the topic further here. (YouTube)

Good day to you all, surfers of the electronic ocean!

It’s No-shave November again, and I’ve got to say I just can’t do it this year. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing but heat and dust in my future so I figure I could stick with tradition once again but it might be the last thing I do. My week has been relatively uneventful. I’m still in the process of learning French while getting my name out as an English teacher. Gotta make yourself useful somehow. On a global scale this has been a bit more of an interesting one however. That is, depending on what you consider to be interesting.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This of course was more than just a wall; it was a symbol of the oppression and isolation people felt living behind the “iron curtain” of communism. So as the Cold War ended, the Wall was torn down and with it the Soviet Union. Generally thought of as the moment the good guys won and the bad guys’ dreams were rightfully crushed forever, there’s no wonder why this is kind of a big deal. But as with most issues worth their weight, this whole process was and is actually more complicated than we were taught in History class.

The biases that came out of McCarthyism and the Red Scare veiled most of the important issues surrounding the entire ideological battle between capitalism and communism (which, ironically, aren’t even ideological systems; they’re economic). QUICK!! THEY’RE AFTER OUR FREEDOM!!! I can already hear the browser tabs closing so I won’t touch on most of my thoughts on the matter, but one issue in particular stands out to me. Since the fall of the Wall many have conceded that communism lost, it was the wrong economic system, and that it will never again be an issue. Following the same logic capitalism won, is the right economic system, and will never again be challenged. Unfortunately though, this is not the case. Neither side exemplified a pure, unadulterated state of either of these systems, so the debate over which “works” is still far from over. Yet one need only whisper the name Marx to be reminded that debate has nonetheless been stifled under the assumption that the jury is in and the verdict has been read. If democracy really is the right to argue, this poses an issue.

The Soviet Union, the actual regime that fell, claimed to operate on a communist system, “from each according to his ability and to each according to her need.” On what is commonly though of as the other end of the linear scale then, the U.S.A. and its Western allies claim to operate under a capitalist system of “free market trade.” However neither of these state institutions strictly followed or follows the doctrinal teachings of these systems. The U.S.S.R. redistributed most of their resources away from the laborers allowing some to receive much more than they needed for much less work than they could contribute and the U.S.A. happily enjoys it’s public roads and schools funded by and built for all.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S.S.R. with its iron curtain was simply considered more oppressive than the only alternative powerful enough to do anything about it once its inherent contradictions overpowered its productive capabilities. But the differences regarding philosophical economic structure and similarities regarding actual practices were mainly swept under the rug once the curtain fell (poverty despite resources, war despite “peace treaties,” most wealth in the hands of the top few, etc.). The debate turned into being “with” the winners or “with” the losers. Just because the capitalists had bigger weapons first however, that doesn’t mean their system didn’t have contradictions of its own.

At some point during the weekend someone pointed out that it has been 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell and what has really changed? Yes, there is more technology available on a global scale but access to that technology is still limited and there is just as much division as ever. The differences now are that a) the conflicts erupting across the world daily are nowhere near cold, and b) instead of one apparently clear division, we’ve got a muddy entanglement of smaller, less defined differences. The capitalist victory didn’t end poverty or slavery, just as technology is not doing away with the need to work. Quite to the contrary, income inequality and slave labor exist at the highest magnitude in history. The free market trade system prevails but capitalists are blind behind their own green curtain to the global problems they not only do not help to fix, but perpetuate. Its own internal contradictions are beginning to show their ugly faces.

During the 2008 financial crisis the Queen of England put together a task force of her best economists to tell her what they missed. She wanted to know how we all could have not seen the financial collapse coming. After deliberation and research the team wrote her a letter in which they said the one thing no one had accounted for was “systemic risk.” They found everything to have gone according to plan within the rules and goals of the capitalist idea, but no one considered the chance that the system itself doesn’t work as well as we say it does. How does a system reliant on ever-expanding growth deal with an actually limited amount of resources? They say the U.S. has 100 years worth of natural gases. What do we do in 1000?

My father says he began studying (capitalist) economics because he wanted to know why poverty exists. If it really is as simple as buying a chicken for $10 and selling it for $20, why was there so much poverty crushing the globe? To me, the issue of how we could best handle our money is a difficult but important one to criticize and analyze over and over, but the bigger issue is whether we can even talk about it. Even now I’m sure this post has the words “capitalism” and “communism” written enough to be bookmarked by the NSA (not to mention mentioning the NSA). Then again, I’ve probably been bookmarked ever since I started running UMD’s NORML chapter in college. Hey, at least someone’s listening. The point is, we can’t let ourselves be scared to even talk about the way things are and how they could be better, even (and I would even argue especially) if that might mean changing up the system as a whole.

Capitalism isn’t the answer and nor is communism. These are not the ends of the scale though. Somewhere between them is socialism, somewhere toward the back is feudalism, and somewhere else is the idea for a resource – based economy. The answer, like most others, will be an amalgamation of most of these ideas, hopefully stemming from the goal of helping people who can’t help themselves first. Who knows though.

It was once said that only when the power of love overcomes the love of power will we find peace. I wholeheartedly agree. The problem with both of these massive economic experiments many of us have been witness to is simply that they are two different masks for the same processes of corruption and manipulation of the poor for the betterment of the elites. Why else would it be a problem in the eyes of business to have to raise workers wages and provide health insurance? Because across the board it hasn’t ever been about the people at the bottom trying to survive, it’s always been about the ones at the top trying to hold onto whatever pennies they can.

Now in the United States we see the same Republicans who shut down the government in a temper tantrum (against universal health care, like wtf) controlling both houses of Congress. No doubt this means nothing if not backwards movement will occur in the next, final couple years of Obama’s term. All of us fighting to end the failed War on Drugs for example might as well go on vacation because most likely every progressive move will be halted until the next congressional election (please don’t actually do that; every little bit helps). But hey, two years of stagnation may be just what the country needs to get some of its shit together and actually start demanding some of the change it thought Obama would drop on its doorstep. After all, without order nothing can exist, but without chaos nothing can evolve.

So what can we do? The answer is simple. Open up the dialogue and begin the debate again. It’s not our fault that most of us didn’t even learn the word “capitalism” growing up. It’s no coincidence that even in post – apocalyptic movies like Mad Max, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Our education painted our world to make capitalism look like nature, like it was just “the way things are.” Even the separation of the subjects (into Math, Science, History, English, etc.) makes their interrelation not only impossibly difficult to grasp but effort to do so frowned upon as well. But we don’t need to live with those blinders anymore.

With the internet chugging away at full speed now more than ever it is essential for each of us to research the contradictions we see in the intersecting structures around us, at the very least just to know the relevant terms for this debate. Youtube alone has a lifetime of educational content if you only take the time to look past the laughing babies. The Red Scare is over. McCarthy is dead. So if we can’t even talk about the objective differences between the two sides and how we could actually bring an end to poverty and war, are there really even any? Speak up, speak out, and question everything. You’d be surprised at how many people would join you if they only knew the words.

To those of you who couldn’t stand to read all that, the TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) version is this:

Think outside the box.

Onward and upward,

Z

P.s. Here is an article from The Guardian on how closely the current global atmosphere resembles that of the Cold War. Additional reading I suppose. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/10/close-military-encounters-russia-west-cold-war?CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2