There is a state of emergency in this country and while many are pointing to the environmental issues and the corporate greed as seen with Occupy Wall Street, I have been professing that the issue is cultural. The cultural issue is with our education and our values.
For several years I have struggled to do the best I can to arm my students with the skills of reading and writing. As an English Professor, I am constantly trying to profess the value of language for human conduct. I may be biased, but I firmly believe that the most important skills, next to growing your own food, are reading and writing.
I can argue many arguments to the effect that reading and writing are the essential elements of our civilization. Our history and culture depend on strong literary and rhetorical awareness. Lately, and in periods of history, our focus on critical and practical rhetoric wanes. We generally are not so focused on teaching critical literacy except at the colleges and Universities, oh, and at certain nicer or more affluent public and private grade schools. During these periods when critical literacy is minimized, we have dark times. Authoritative, despotic, exploitative regimes cull cheap labor (exploitable) to make profits for a relatively few powerful elites who control the rhetoric through corporate media outlets. Propaganda, which is constant, becomes more effective when our focus is lured away from healthy rhetorical capabilities of individual citizens.
A rudimentary study of the History of Consciousness or our historical-cultural paradigms reveals this pattern to be repetitive. In the periods of positive prosperity (enterprise balanced by critical literacy), we find society to be significantly more focused on social well-being (education of intellectual capabilities among more members) and generally less focused on money, as in periods of progressive exploitation. In other words, there is an up and down relationship between our focus on money and our focus on social well-being. Historically, the high points in our culture come when more people are more capable of controlling the value of their lives, while society is supporting healthy emotional and physical relationships between members of the community and the environment on which we depend. Our education in periods of true high points in culture is fuller and more meaningful to the community and the individual. We might recognize it as education for critical awareness and self determination. And conversely, when our attention is not upholding critical literacy, we find our culture in low points.
There has never been a complete focus away from money. Money has always been the dominant focus ever since we moved people off land where they would have self determinacy and moved them into cities where labor was exchanged for a price. The dominance of a capital market is evident and so much so that we can, as Marx had done, trace the evolution of humanity through the evolution of economies. However, when a significant portion of the society is turned away from thoughts of profit to thoughts of virtues, of character, and of family, our society creates high points in our collective history.
However, it is undeniable that when the populace is turned away from rhetorical awareness, from critical thinking, from critical literacy, that populace is vulnerable to exploitation. I think Hitler knew this well when he sadistically announces, “What good fortunate for those in power that people do not think.” When critical literacy wanes, we see that life is difficult for the least advantaged. We see neediness, crime, violence. We see genocides propagated by power. We see serfdom, slavery, racism. We see real poverty and grotesque wealth. We see feudal society again and again.
During these feudal times, people live with little and learn much. We learn how to survive and keep our families intact. We learn to sustain ourselves while we develop resistance or avenues of rebellion. We relearn the values that we had collectively forgotten. And when we cannot bare the exploitation and injustices, we rebel to retool ourselves again, to give ourselves our liberties to use our capabilities to determine ourselves.
Nevertheless, when we look out our windows, when we step into our classrooms, we are seeing that our first focus is money. We ignore the wisdom passed to us that “money does not buy happiness,” that “Money is the root of all evil.” Money has corrupted civilizations, and it is corrupting ours. We all want it, and we lie to ourselves when we place a Starbucks in our hand and enjoy it without realizing that on the other end of that cup of joe is a human suffering from exploitation. We get a trendy coffee beverage, and addict ourselves to playing the part of exploiter. Whether it is the truck driver over worked bringing the grinds to each Starbucks, whether it is the sadly inefficient wage of a barista to meet living costs of a Californian life, or whether it is the laborer picking the beans who lives with a dirt floor and struggles feeding his children and providing for vital medicines to prevent his beautiful daughters from maiming diseases, there is exploitation for profit. Denying it is delusional.
The 99%, whoever we may be, are feeling the exploitations in the name of money. Corporate entities boil things down to numbers. They are constantly measuring ways to cut costs to make profits. If you can’t sell more or something for a higher price, then cuts are clear corporate logic. A corporation cannot continue to exist as an entity if profits are not made. Can they exist in stasis? Stasis is a deliberate constant meditation on balance with the goal of neither gaining nor loosing value. Immediately, we must recognize that breaking-even is not capitalism. Capitalism is exactly what the word implies, it implies a belief in the “ruling” heads, a belief in money. Capitalism is a belief that those with money will make things good. It is a belief that money will solve our problems. It is a belief that money is the highest good. It is idolatry plain and simple.
There is no wonder that Jesus had chastised the money changers. He was an anti-capitalist!