The Hazards of Ideology When Critical Thinking is Removed: Part I

Because I’ve learned that blogging requires relatively short commentaries I have broken this post down into two parts to make its consumption more palatable.  Both may be too lengthy for some but brevity is seldom my better suit.  Thanks for your indulgence.

“Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed. ” – Chinese proverb 

We urgently need to generate job growth but not in energy fields where supplies are running out, costs to find, gather and protect those dwindling sources will only escalate and their use will have significant adverse impacts on personal health as well as the health of the eco-system we all depend on for clean air, water and adequate food supplies.

Do some jobs take more from us than they give?


A fable: A snake lover was taking a nature walk when he felt a sting on one ankle.  As he looked down he saw a snake that was moving away from him.  Because he was a lover of snakes and felt sure snakes only bit defensively when threatened, he didn’t think it was the snake that bit him but that a sticker weed in the high grass at the edge of the trail had caused the slight pain. Or so he convinced himself.  He kept on walking but soon collapsed.  The next day his corpse was found on the nature path by another hiker.  The man’s body was taken to the medical examiner’s office who determined that the cause of death was due to toxic venom in his blood, most likely from a snake bite.

Today it seems like many on the far right are like that snake lover.   The evidence abounds but contradicts what they have chosen to believe about things like global warming, industrial pollution and trickle down economics.  Some of their views are relatively accurate but misdirected like the one that asserts we’re losing our personal freedoms as a result of government over reach when in fact government is being taken over by wealthy corporate interests to create policies and perceptions that too often disregard the rights of individuals. The belief by some that free markets are infallible is a misconception that could lead to the elimination of a strong middle class.

There is an ideological bloc in this country that preys on poorly informed people, especially those of a conservative stripe, that insists we must choose jobs over environmental threats, contaminated water, air and food, and lower wages without benefits.  Their argument is less concerned about job creation than it is about protecting their own self-interests, which is always searching for ways to find greater profits.

Unemployment is a real-time crisis whereas environmental consequences appear to be something we can deal with down the road.  What we actually don’t see or feel is less likely to influence us.  Toxic air and water at low levels can go unnoticed for years whereas the immediate affects of no income from joblessness threatens individuals and families today.  Without an income it is argued, all other things are impossible.

The perception conveyed here is that some ill effects from doing business will occur but the markets will prevent excesses or pushing things beyond the envelope that threaten the self-interests of capitalistic endeavors.  How ironic that there is a fervent belief amongst many zealots of laissez faire capitalism that the markets will protect us while casting pejoratives on an “overreaching government” who some may claim will also watch out for the general welfare of its citizens.  Both are designed and impacted by fallible humans yet somehow free marketers believe in an invisible hand of the market as if were controlled by an unseen omniscient and benevolent force.

“The propagandist’s purpose is to make one set of people forget that certain other sets of people are human.” -Aldous Huxley

The core values of capitalism is that entrepreneurship is the engine of economic success along with its corollaries that not all people are promised great fortunes and government intervention obstructs economic success.  An element of truth exists here but adherents to Miltonian free markets and Ayn Rand lassiez faire economies circle the wagons around these concepts and defend them as if they were totally inflexible.  Ascribing an inertia to them allows them to ignore the weakness of there claims and like the fundamentalist christian prophets who claim the Bible is the “inerrant word of God”, the capitalist credo is to be interpreted likewise as defined by the corporate prophets from that Libertarian mountaintop.

This sacrosanct view was pretty much turned on its head in 2008 as the housing mortgage bubble burst and large unregulated financial systems went belly up, requiring massive amounts of bailout funds from that government that was expected to keep it’s distance.  This utter failure of the free markets stunned its supporters and as they wandered aimlessly amongst the wreckage that occurred under a White House and Congress that were mostly members of the same economic view as them, they were lost to explain what was a plain and simple fact – their views of an inerrant word had been a sham.

But like the Old testament prophets who helped the “chosen people of God” rise from their defeats, rather than admit that maybe they got it wrong about who they were and what they were there for, the calamities they incurred were instead seen as the result of a tainted faith, a following that did not adhere to the strictest precepts of the code that God allegedly laid down for them.  They needed to re-do themselves and purify their beliefs, following every dot and tittle written down and castigate, ostracize and put to death any one of them that stepped outside these rigid expectations.

So from the ashes of the financial market meltdown comes the TeaParty phoenix from the small band of libertarians that have been around for decades but on the fringes, hollering out to everyone else about the purity of their views.  This time the core constituencies in this country began to listen because the economic devastation was so massive beyond anything most of them had seen in their lives.  The stereotypical spending Democrat and the pro-corporate Republican that always bestowed federal largesse upon special interests groups were the cause for our failures and need not be trusted.  Caught up in the surface common sense of it all, many who wouldn’t know a libertarian from a lemming jumped on this initial grass-roots movement to go after a government that had failed us.

[Adam]Smith (father of capitalism) roundly mistrusted businessmen. … [H]e insisted that businessmen, for all they may talk of freedom and fairness, “generally have an interest to deceive and even oppress the public.”Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nicholas Phillipson.  

But the surface message that packed so much power at first has faded with time as the devil in the details become apparent and the corruption of the movement exposed.  Government wasn’t the direct cause of our ills.  It was the capitulation of government to the whims of what Eisenhower referred to in his farewell address – the military-industrial complex – that small sector of our economic system that generated great wealth for this nation, especially for the few entrepreneurs who controlled large companies that during WWII put out the planes, ships and weaponry that overwhelmed and defeated the militaristic nations of Germany and Japan.

In this victory however we transplanted ourself as the military giant out of the initial need to secure the global threats out there to prevent a WWIII.  But, now enters one of the flaws of unregulated free markets and its precept about profits.  This behemoth that helped secure our freedom from  foreign despots had developed a life of its own and needed to be continually fed.  There was after all the need to provide jobs for returning vets who, when they first left, the economy was still struggling some to relieve itself from the Great Depression.  But also, there was now a greater global need that the U.S. could serve to help those countries in Europe and Asia that had been devastated by the war, furnishing needed essentials to help them rebuild.

This noble and generous act however led to a pattern of behavior that was on-going and when the government began subsidizing private interests to take over this chore, a global market was developed, revolving around consumption.  Not the type of minimal consumption to sustain oneself but the profit motive type of consumption that free marketers in Adam Smith’s day never envisioned. Wealth grew to a level that would have put to shame the richest aristocrats in early America.

“Capitalism has defeated communism. It is now well on its way to defeating democracy.”  – David Korten

Every conceivable need or want that made our life even just a shade more simpler and happier became a growth industry and through skillful marketing techniques the free market euphoria amongst some developed a culture of consumers that came to believe that having everything we ever wanted was part of the pursuit of happiness our founding fathers alluded to in our primary documents that formed this nation.  Little was thought of concerning the consequences of over consuming and the processes required to make the goods that we felt compelled to buy.  America was a new and vast domain.  The notion that there would never be enough resources to constantly supply us with the wherewithal to pursue this lifestyle indefinitely or the room to dispose of it all just simply never struck a chord with many.

In its early post war days this new found wealth in America’s economic growth benefitted most of it’s citizens but not simply by virtue of the jobs that were created.  Through government policies and regulations to curb corporate excesses, a strong middle class was formed.  This nation had learn from an earlier decadent period in the late 19th century where the wealth of a few had been derived by paying unlivable wages to laborers with no health care benefits and forcing most of them to often produce their products in unsafe and unhealthy environments.  Capital was hoarded by a small elite and the ability of most hard working Americans to get a great education to advance themselves and own a home was an unrealistic goal for low and middle income families.

Tomorrow: 

HOW WE GOT TO THIS POINT

RELATED ARTICLES:

The Hazards of Ideology When Critical Thinking is Removed: Part II

What The Founding Fathers Thought About Corporations

30 Major U.S. Corporations Paid More to Lobby Congress Than Income Taxes, 2008-2010 

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8 responses to “The Hazards of Ideology When Critical Thinking is Removed: Part I

  1. Larry, as usual another great post……my favorite quote is from Lincoln….”these capitalists generally act harmoniously and on concert, to fleece the people…..”

    • We needed more people in government that thought like Lincoln. But what we got is reflective in the Boehners and McConnells that fill GOP seats today.

      Before Lincoln though there was Madison and Jefferson who warned against corporate excesses. I’ll be quoting them in the second half of this article tomorrow.

  2. Thanks Donna. The more I dig into this subject matter the more I find how little we really know of the insidious efforts of the one-percenters throughout our history to dominate the political power structure to benefit their desire to expand their vast wealth.

    • I thought the cartoon below that also added to this notion that some people seem to vote against their own economic self interests because their candidate shares their hate for a specific wedge issue

  3. Larry,

    I don’t know why you bother apologizing for your long-winded nature. LOL. That is you. I always set aside a certain time of the day to come by and read your blog, ensuring I have at least 30 minutes to spare, because you’re a long-winded fellow. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just you.

    I found that bit about Adam Smith interesting. He didn’t seem to trust businesses either, so I wonder if he believed the free market would prevent widespread abuse? If so, he was wrong.

    • Thanks Terrance. One of the reasons I add illustrations is to break up my long-winded commentary. Makes it a bit more easier for some I think. Thanks for taking time to read what I wrote.

      Adam Smith wasn’t really an economist as much as he was a philosopher so his view of free markets was in line with the enlightenment thinking of that era. He was looking for something that would replace the control from the oligarchs of his day, mainly royalty. His comments do reflect however that men were capable of abuses and that greed would negatively impact his economic view, as it has.

      He was also trying to apply the naturalistic view to economics and felt that his notion of “self-interest” was a factor of some invisible hand that would prevent the type of self-interest (greed) that would be excessive and ultimately prevent him from hurting those he needed to sustain his self-interests. Seems naive but people often can’t see their actions as hurting others when their own self-interest are projected as a means of helping others. I kind of touch on this in my follow up today.

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