Who hasn't had that experience?
These are the words of Wendy Lesko, the Executive Director of the "Youth Activism Project."
Not too long ago, in recent modern day history, the former Soviet Union collapsed, largely resulting from a bureaucratic government that grew unsustainable. During Communist rule, resources were siphoned for nuclear armaments and a tiny elite. Those of us who grew up in the sixties remember the Soviet Union as a superpower.
In theory, the Communist state -- based on the socialist teachings of Marx, Engels and Lenin -- was to provide for an "equal sharing." In practice, there was an equal sharing of misery, a throttling of human rights, spirit and endeavor. Yet, people found a way to keep hope alive, to work through underground networks to have their voices heard.
It must have been grim behind the Iron Curtain. I know so from my extended family, that stayed behind in Lithuania (one of the three Baltic states first occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, then reoccupied in 1944). I never met my paternal grandparents, nor cousins, aunts or uncles. During Joseph Stalin's rule, some 25 million innocent men, women and children were deported to the Siberian concentration camps. One of them was my aunt, who survived the Siberian Gulag and lived to tell her story. Her crime -- she was a teacher and married to a military officer.
After decades of oppression, one man, Lech Walesa, stood up in the Gdansk (then "Lenin") Shipyards -- to speak the truth, to form "Solidarity," the first independent trade union in the Soviet Union. His voice was heard around the world. With the help of a few good souls and many others who followed him peacefully, he fought the battle on the grounds of universal principles, which put into motion the fall of the Communist Soviet Union.
Each of us is unique, but truly we are not all that different. Many of us see that something deeply wrong has taken place in the making of this most recent financial crisis, many of us feel that something's amiss when no one, as of yet, has been held accountable where it matters. It's not what party we belong to, it's not whether we are liberal, conservative or whatever other politics we ascribe to, we are united in our "humanness," in our being and desire to be treated with justice and human dignity. By and large, we seek validation, from an early age, to be valued and loved as unique human beings. From this we can draw much strength.
Best summarized in the words of Lech Walesa:
The sole and basic source of our strength is the solidarity of workers, peasants and the intelligentsia, the solidarity of the nation, the solidarity of people who seek to live in dignity, truth, and in harmony with their conscience.
Systems, be it capitalism or socialism, can start out from two entirely different premises but end up in the same place -- lead to exploitation, through human distortion of their theoretical principles. In order for capitalism to work over the long run, it requires an underlying ethical foundation -- a seeing that there is a human being behind a transaction. It is only through this channel that the pursuit of self-interest and profit will "lift all boats."
If you have not yet seen former Labor Secretary Robert Reich's video, "The Truth About The Economy," in two minutes -- that's all it'll take. The state of current affairs is further substantiated by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz in "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%." I would also highlight Charles Ferguson's Oscar-award winning documentary about the financial crisis, titled Inside Job, and his Huffington Post blog titled "The Financial Crisis and America's Political Duopoly."
Maybe we should ask the question, what kind of economic and political system do we have -- capitalism, socialism, plutocracy (rule of the wealthy) or some hybrid? Seems like boundaries are increasingly blurred.
On the one hand, the U.S. government has taken control of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and other industry, let alone allowed "Too Big to Fails" to exist, keeping the big banks on life support. Bailouts aren't supposed to happen under capitalism -- we rise and fall on our own successes and failures. How do we reconcile this with a free market enterprise system?
On the other hand, we have our small business economy, where the rules of capitalism do apply -- mismanage your business and you fail. Many now struggle in terms of funding and competition from the conglomerates and globalization. If we take to heart the statistics cited by Joseph Stiglitz and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, it would make one think that we're living in a plutocracy. Consider the consequences of the Supreme Court ruling allowing "unlimited corporate spending" for federal elections. I seem to recall that Karl Marx referred to capitalism as a "dictatorship of the bourgeoisie" and said that it inevitably would lead to its own destruction and be supplanted by socialism.
Robert M. Hutchins once said:
Justice and freedom; discussion and criticism; intelligence and character -- these are the indispensable ingredients of the democratic state. We can be rich and powerful without them. But not for long.
The arrows point to a money concentration problem -- some call it "monopoly power." Let's reflect upon Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman's (and Robin Wells') recent article titled, "The Busts Keep Getting Bigger: Why?"
What happens when "money talks?"
When things went bad, they turned to the government for help, relying on emergency aid and federal guarantees -- thereby putting large amounts of taxpayer money at risk -- in order to get by. And then, once the crisis was past, they went right back to denouncing big government, and resumed the very practices that created the crisis.
We all know human fallibility. We make mistakes, but to persist in them is corrosive -- to knowingly do wrong, to treat another as an object rather than a human being is corrosive to oneself, others and society at large. Behind the complicated experimental mortgage-backed securities, lives. In his essay, "I and Thou," the philosopher Martin Buber, explores how we approach one another -- the "I and Thou" versus "I and It."
At just about every level of interaction, up the loan packaging food chain, money trumped the human face, leading to such waste (bailouts and massive debt for our nation) and devastation of lives (foreclosures and destruction of communities). Imagine, 16 million U.S. children now live in poverty, up two million in just two short years. This is but one heartbreaking face of the foreclosure crisis with wrenching societal ramifications.
Now, some say what's the point of speaking up, everyone's out for themselves, or there's no accountability for what has been done and "what can we do about it" -- but that's exactly the point -- this kind of societal existence is unsustainable. Person-to-person reciprocity, known as the "Golden Rule," is the basis of an ordered society. Quite frankly, it's the bedrock upon which the survival of humanity rests. Look what fraud and manipulation led to.
Paul Krugman goes on to ask the question, "But why have villains triumphed so repeatedly?"
The proximate answer, clearly, is the abdication of regulatory oversight... Undoubtedly the most outrageous act -- and the most economically damaging to the country -- was Greenspan's refusal to use regulatory powers at his disposal to rein in the exploding sub-prime market, despite being warned repeatedly that a catastrophe was brewing.
Have we learned?
...it's hard to make sense of the growing ability of bankers to get the rules rewritten in their favor without talking about the role of money in politics, and how that role has metastasized over the past thirty years.
The triumph of Wall Street and the decline of America...
In the words of Lech Walesa:
As a nation we have the right to decide our own affairs, to mould our own future. This does not pose any danger to anybody. Our nation is fully aware of the responsibility for its own fate in the complicated situation of the contemporary world.
As individuals, we are not "too small to be effective." Think Rosa Parks. We can choose how we do commerce -- where we shop, where we eat, where we bank, whether or not we take on more debt...
Coming together, solidarity, on that which unifies us, is a start.