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Saturday, 4 June 2016

""Tribes" - Should we be looking backward for answers today?


“Nasty, brutish and short.”  That’s how tribal life was described by Thomas Hobbes, an old, rich dude with time to write and think back in the 1600s.  Better to have some inbred man or woman originating from one family in charge than allow the chaos of ignorant masses to reign.  

Akha Hill Tribe Mother and Daughter
Dudes we met trekking north of Chiangmai, Thailand.  

Ironically though, it would appear that humankind was happier when we were living like these two little dudes.  Everyone was relatively equal, we didn’t work nearly as hard, and we were never alone or without companions.  This was a point of frustration for the earliest European settlers to North America.  When given a taste of tribal life, they preferred it to their own.  Ungrateful women and children captured by North American Indians and later freed by the army wanted only to be returned to the tribe.  Said one observer back in 1763, "The Shawanese were obliged to bind several of their prisoners . . , and some women, who had been delivered up, afterward found means to escape and run back to the Indian towns."  The desire was never reciprocated.  The indigenous people introduced to European culture never preferred it to their own.     

But why?

Sebastian Junger is best known for the creative non-fiction book, “The Perfect Storm” which was later made into a movie.  After, you’d think Mr. Junger would have pursued similar stories of heroism, lived well and built on his wealth and glory.  Instead, he decides to hang out with Mujahedeen who were fighting the Taliban before the NATO invasion of Afghanistan.  Then, in 2007, he convinces the American army to allow him to film a bunch of American soldiers defending the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan, the Korengal Valley.  52 American soldiers had been killed and hundreds injured between 2006 and 2010 when they left, 

Sebastian and fellow film maker, Tim Hetherington, lived with the men of the 2nd platoon and followed them on reconnaissance.  When they were caught in a firefight later dubbed Operation Rock Avalanche, two soldiers were killed and, were it not for the heroics of Salvatore Giunta, more would have followed.  The result of Sebastian’s adventure was the film, “Restropo” which received the Grand Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an academy award in 2011.  (See full movie at end of blog.)

As an adrenalin junky, Mr. Junger sympathizes with the American soldier finding meaning in the hum drum existence of everyday life upon their return to America. As well, he experiences episodes of terror and anxiety in confined spaces like the New York subway.  He understands the origins of post-traumatic syndrome that many American soldiers experience upon their return.  What he questions is their lack of recovery. 

In traditional societies warriors would return after committing and witnessing all kinds of atrocities. (May I suggest “Orenda” by Joseph Boyden for a particularly graphic description of these.)  They too would have suffered episodes of PTSD however, they couldn't lapse into long periods of depression and despair like those experience by the modern soldier.  Otherwise their people wouldn’t have survived.  Warriors were integrated into an egalitarian society where they were surrounded by companions and given tasks that needed immediate completion.  

Mr. Junger argues that we are not so different from our tribal ancestors.  If it takes 25,000 years for genetic adaptations to occur and if agriculture’s only been around for 10,000, then it’s very possible we could look to them for solutions to solve many of the social problems we experience today. 

According to Mr. Junger’s research, we're most unhappy when we're alone, we don’t feel a connection with those around us and feel we feel that we have nothing to contribute.  These would all be feelings the polar opposite to soldiers at war.  Survival on the battlefield requires a mutual trust and cooperation in a relatively egalitarian environment.   

Obviously, Mr. Junger doesn’t argue we should return to tribal life however, we do need to recognize it as our origin.  We need one another.  We want to help one another.  We feel good about sharing when it strengthens that connection.  We like to contribute and we like to feel that our contribution is appreciated.  Our skills are recognized.  Studies have found that our accumulation of wealth and our resultant isolated and independent existence has only made us unhappy.  

So, perhaps, that’s why many Europeans captured by North American Indians weren’t so happy when they were “freed” by the British soldiers.  As stated by Mary Jemison, a Seneca captive, “No people can live more happy than the Indians did in times of peace . . . Their lives were a continual round of pleasures.” 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Dark as in “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer

Let’s say you had 14 billion dollars in 2008.  Your brother had the same amount and you knew that you were going to continue to build on that fortune.  Would the purpose of your existence be based on making more of that money or would $14 billion be enough?  Would you organize a bunch of your fellow billionaires to coordinate their considerable resources for the purpose of protecting your billions from the greedy hands of the government?  After all, this is America.  If a person wants to get ahead, then they should jolly well learn how to work for it.  Government takes away from initiative.  It doesn’t add to it.   

Then, the people went and elected the socialist Barrack Obama.  Obviously, they don’t know what’s good for them.  They certainly don’t need minimum wage laws or a public health care system or environmental controls placed on the upstanding resource companies you happen to own.  Your companies have to compete with others around the globe, many that don’t have to abide by environmental standards. 

At first, your idea is simply to provide a conduit to funnel money into the campaigns of candidates that support your interests.  And that turns out to be a lot because it’s not just you, it’s all your buddies as well.  You put your money into “Social Welfare” groups like "Americans for Prosperity" that in turn uses that money to finance the Republican candidates that you support.  Your donation is completely anonymous and get this, it’s also tax deductible.  You can use tax deductible money to protect your own money.  Some may call that dark money because it can’t be traced but it’s that kind of individual initiative that helped make America great.   

And then, in 2012, even though you’d outspent the opposing candidates, Barrack Obama gets re-elected.  Time for a rethink.  More to the point, you need the masses to do a rethink.  And, where does all that thinking take place?  In colleges and universities of course.  And, who are those controlled by?  The liberals of course.  You need to sponsor your own institutions of higher learning.  You need to take control of the ideas.

You knew of the Olin Foundation that had been in existence since the 1950s.  It had sponsored academic programs focused on the law and economics so that between 1985 and ’89, the Olin Foundation organization had underwritten 85% of the costs for such programs.  You decide to do the same and create your own foundation that sponsors pro-business, anti-regulatory, and anti-tax program in 307 different institutions of higher learning including Ivy League schools.  However, your pet project is George Mason University in Virginia, a hotbed of neo-conservative thought where you give more of your money that anywhere else.   And remember, not only are your supporting a good cause but it’s tax deductible. 

Then, in the 2010 civil case, Citizens United against the Federal Electoral Commission, the Supreme Court’s voted to end restrictions on the amount of money corporations and unions could spend on campaigns.  This was followed by an end to restrictions individuals could make to political action committees (PACs) so long as you weren’t directly involved in a candidate’s campaigns.  Now, you realized the influence could really begin.  Elections got so expensive that candidates couldn’t afford to ignore the kind of finances you could provide them.  They needed the money provided by you and your buddies to have any chance of getting elected.

Charles Koch
Even with Barrack Obama in power, your wealth has grown to $41 billion.  The same as your brother's.  Some people may ask, what the fuck do you do with $41 billion dollars and you know what I say?  It doesn’t matter.  It’s mine.  Some say that with the kind of money and influence my buddies and I have over the American political system, it’s become an oligarchy like Russia where a small group of people have control of the country.  Obviously, with Barrack Obama in power and Hillary Clinton about to replace him, that’s not entirely the case and even if it was, would that be so bad?  Who said democracy was the best system of government?