George Scialabba’s excellent collection of essays continues to provoke thought. One arena with a great deal of complexity and contradiction is local control versus centralized control. That dilemma can be extended to all sorts of things, like education, health care, the environment, the arts, the economy and so on. Where should we cede control to localities, and where should we insist on universals of one kind or another?
There are arguments to be made on many sides of many issues along those lines, and it’s one place that makes “consistency” a vice, not a virtue. As in, whereas I think capitalism, globalization and the “free market” have had highly negative effects, overall, on local cultures, especially in the arts (and should be ameliorated), I think it’s essential that we establish universal health care, universal education, universal environmental protections, and so on, regardless of local differences. I also believe strongly that we should teach a solid core of subjects from the point of view of accepted, peer-reviewed, established scholarship, and not let local prejudices chase away science, broadly accepted historical facts, general civics and so on.
In short, I think we need a universal application of human rights to all corners, a national curriculum that is filled with what Mathew Arnold called “the best that is known and thought in the world,” and an economy that respects local differences. That same economy should also respect individual autonomy over robotics, quality over quantity, inherent goodness over public relations, and integrity in all things. We have got to stop thinking of profits as the center of all meaning. We have got to begin to think again in terms of the possibility of an economy that works like photosynthesis, cycling back into the community what the community puts into its companies, rather than letting huge multinationals cart away resources, leaving those communities high and dry.
To me, there should be a new form and a new way. By writ. By law. By statute. If someone in America wants to get rich, that’s fine and dandy. But if they impact local resources, have employees, and their company is above a certain size, then they must readjust their ideas of just how much profit they can take. They must build into that equation at least two things:
1. Higher taxes than they currently pay, which according to the GAO, are minimal (2/3rds paid zero in the last decade; 90% paid just 5% or less), so that we can lift the foundation of basic human rights for everyone in America. And . . .
2. Factor in a certain amount of return to the community for its share of local resources. Land, energy, people, etc.
Work, culture, wealth and cycles. Part of that photosynthesis must also go back into the national coffers. It must then be distributed to build that national foundation for everyone, so that everyone has the basic tools and necessities needed to pursue their finest selves. They won’t be given that self, they won’t be coddled into pursuing it, but the society will provide the basic launching pad for that pursuit, and make sure that no one is without such tools and such grounding. Diversity of wealth accumulation will happen, but it will happen under new rules. Some will get richer than others, but as a price of admission to the club of great wealth, they will give back to the society that makes that wealth possible. The vast inequalities that mar the American landscape at the moment will slowly but surely disappear, and we will become more like the nation the founders envisioned, where democracy meant equal access to the fruits of this society, equal access to its cultural riches, to the protection of its laws, and to the potential for health and happiness.
Common access to cultural wealth, not individual hoarding of that wealth.
Another key point of change: Building alternative economies on a human scale. Local, vibrant, direct. Rather than assume that corporations are the norm, I would take some of the extra capital generated through taxes and teach local crafts and arts. I would launch hundreds of thousands of Master/Apprentice programs, where people would learn how to build craft-businesses on a very small scale and sell direct. To me, that’s the purest and healthiest form of commerce, whereas corporatism is the most remote, distant, and unhealthy of all forms.
Again, George Scialabba on Christopher Lasch:
Lasch argued that the evolution of capitalism has affected family structure and the socialization of children in a number of ways. In reorganizing the production process, it has removed the father from the child’s everyday experience and deprived him of the skills that formerly evoked the child’s emulation and gratitude. . . . In encouraging geographic mobility, it has uprooted families from kin communities and replaced intergenerationally transmitted folk wisdom about child-rearing with social-scientific expertise dispensed by professionals. . . . In promoting mass consumption, advertisers . . . have convinced parents that their children are entitled to the best of everything but that, without expert assistance, parents are helpless to determine what that might be.
I don’t think the onslaught of corporate control and the Walmartization of America (and the world) should be a given. It shouldn’t be something we just roll over and accept. There are alternatives and we should demand them. Demand the choice. Yeah, I’m a dreamer, but nothing good ever happened in this world without dreams . . .