I know it's been a while since my last letter,
but we really need to talk some things over...
By Chance Martin,
special to Fog City Journal
November 27, 2007
My big news is I shaved my beard a little over a week ago. It's
something I don't normally do. A few years passed since I last
paraded my naked face before the world. So I had to confront the
reality that I was largely out of practice with this whole business
of buying and using consumer products (and you know how much I
dislike that) to remove from my face that which nature
decided to festoon upon it.
Last Friday morning I was laying in bed, savoring a temporary
respite from speaking to people about how free market prerogatives
just freewheeled over their individual rights and lives and futures,
and I was already procrastinating about my morning shave. So I'm
thinking: Gee, wouldn't it be simpler if I just pasted a headshot
of my clean-shaven face on the mirror over my sink; a projection
of what I wanted to think my visage looked like to others?
Realistic? Yes. But real? Well, it's not exactly a practical
remedy after one considers the reality of a razor held against
one's neck, is it?
But isn't that precisely what capital and government already
work in close collaboration to do
to all of us?
If we can accept the premise that the U.S. government and its
corporate patrons are in the business of controlling the rest
of us by bombarding us with projections of a twisted utopian image,
and if we come to recognize that reality is a much darker reflection
of the needs of humanity cast versus the prerogatives of capital
than we are ever likely to see on CNN, then some obvious questions
emerge for us to answer. The first is why corporate America labors
so to turn us away from the dark reality most of humanity is compelled
Utopianism arises from our impulse to dream our way out of what
actually is. This capacity for imagination is part of what marks
us as human beings. But real danger lies in our ability to idealize
ourselves as just or right or correct-that we hold the only true
vision of utopia-because then we find ourselves proselytizing
an exclusive, and by consequence, an essentially false American
ideology. Couldn't that impulse to dream instead lead us to a
different world, a shared vision of utopia, and the means by we
can achieve it?
If we could first pull down the idealized portrait obscuring
our American society's mirror, we might better see how we are
truly reflected in the world.
Today's advances in technology, coupled with their accelerative
effect on global economy, have empowered some few isolated individuals
in this world--that for want of a more didactic description we
shall term capitalists--to wield as much power as some governments.
This is what we call globalization. As a consequence of globalization,
there is now also vastly accelerated contact between global populations.
Human beings explored, moved, and migrated since the world was
new, or at least since it was new to us. That's how humans have
always been. It's wired into our DNA; our will to survive as a
From its origins in Africa, our species has since wandered all
across the planet. But only in the last generation has this migrating
has assumed global proportions, resulting in problems of global
21st Century points of departure and arrival have changed as
well, rendering human mobility as uncontrollable as the spread
of a virus
unless the forces of coercion and control act
on what motivates our human species to migrate.
The primary impetus for human migration has always been inequality.
Today it is not only an inequality of socio-economic conditions,
but an inequality of opportunities as well. One popular version
of the prevailing capitalist utopia is that globalization will
provide opportunities for countries of potential immigrants to
collaborate with the power of capital, creating such opportunities
where they live, so the motives to come to America are diminished.
So far, this hasn't been the case in any tangible, measurable
sense. What's worse, we can now see that global warming adds its
own motive, since we now find much more water inundating many
populated areas of poor countries
an environmentally driven
migration we have only begun to witness, or assess.
These motives for human migration-environmental, economic, evasion
of wars and atrocities, privatization of land, the pushing away
of people-are happening now all over the world.
Another fundamental reality corporate America routinely denies
is overpopulation, both in terms of human numbers and the environmental
burden we place on our planet's ability to sustain us. The danger
in this denial is that unless we first accept, and then hopefully
understand, the full extent to which we've already damaged Earth,
to which climate change is already irreversible, then whatever
environmental remedies we propose will have no real long-term
Earth's health is already so frail that her ability to regulate
her temperature and composition is already crashing like an AIDS
victim's immune system-another story we're not like to see on
Fox News or CNN.
We no longer enjoy a shared world, a meaningful and common experience
of what reality is rooted in culture and language. The most radical
impact of global capitalism is that we now find ourselves lacking
a basic, literal, world view
a meaningful experience of
Globalization demands that barriers to the creation of wealth
to be mitigated, even eliminated. A frontier or border is an obstacle
to the accumulation of money in global economics. By contrast,
for people boundaries and borders are still kept, and now even
fortified. Globalization can't erase other cultures, because it
takes a long time for those cultures to disappear. But migrating
populations lose their initial cultures, especially among their
children, and they also don't acquire a new culture. This can
be rightly seen as the destruction of their basic humanity, their
As a consequence today the main mode of politics and primary
motivation for us Americans has become fear. The associations
we create, our political groups, are mobilized by this fear: fear
of immigrants, of different races, of political agendas, of religions,
of governments, of taxes. Any society that finds its primarily
motivations in its comforts and its fears is thereby rendered
Fear is only one side of the coin in play on the global gaming
table; its counterpart is humiliation. And the two sides of this
coin originate in humanity's reaction to our inequalities. Humiliation
is experienced by the powerless in reaction to the powerful. Coupled
with fear, these two become the primary source for the violence
we see played out in our daily lives.
It's because we Americans are so afraid of what could happen
that we can turn a myopic eye toward present day American atrocities
such as Abu Graib, Guantanamo, rendition, waterboarding, and especially
war. Fear robs us of our reason, and permits us to rationalize
suspension of the normal rules of conduct between different human
beings. The more frightened we become, the more willing we are
to trade away the very liberty and freedom we claim to love, that
we still profess as being central to our American way of life.
We Americans appear to have fallen in love with this false, perfected
image of ourselves. And we love this image more than we love other
people or places. We regard the rest of the world's problems as
an unwelcome interference to our imaginary ideology-an ideology
that exists solely in the lies our political and religious leaders
tell us, and the systems they're creating to enforce such beliefs.
If we should fear anyone, we should rightly fear these
people who love their systems to maintain their false ideology
more than they love other people. Because the flip side of the
love they hold for their perfected image of themselves is the
hatred they hold for anyone or anything that interferes with the
realization of an ideology and self image that was already false
to begin with. Like the prima donnas they reveal themselves to
be, they assume the whole world's stage is exclusively theirs,
so they can't coexist peacefully with other ideologies, other
systems, other images, or other people.
In their global capitalist system, economic inequality is acceptable,
it's the very engine of production. This means
that our government and its corporate patrons must maintain this
inequality because they believe that inequality creates wealth.
Globalization's features are the true face in America's mirror.
This globalization can't reason like the rest of us; it can't
learn wisely. Its ruthless logic is often compared to that of
an addict: "Where can I get my next fix?" Wisdom dictates
that if a mistake is made, then it's corrected the next time around.
But when addicts err they can only feel their own pain, and their
only thought is where they can get more. So we are burdened with
a global economic model that thinks like an addict. And that's
a dangerous situation for us and everyone else.
But real hope is only found where we find true despair. New beginnings
are only possible when these situations deteriorate to the point
that there is no other way out, no clear path to escape. In order
to survive, we'll have to create something new.
And maybe that new thing won't be based on membership. Perhaps
we can extend the same rights to everyone, regardless of citizenship
or their current location on the planet. In the meantime, we would
all do well to if we acted to balance the existing inequalities.
It's very important that we hold on to our hope that something
can be done to protect what's truly valuable in our world. But
our hopes must be informed by a real reflection of who we are,
instead of this false hope characterized by blocking reality because
our leaders think it's too challenging for Americans to contemplate.
Because that's the truly hopeless view.
I'll confess here that I refuse to give up hope
if not hope
for my own, then hope for my daughter's and my grandson's futures.
After all, we all begin as children, dependent on others for our
care and nurture for the first years of our lives. Most of all,
I hope this means that there is something in Americans, in humanity,
that tells us our survival is rooted in how we decide to care
for the weaker and less able among us.
I guess that's all I have to say for now, America. I'm sorry
if I was asking hard questions or scaring you or making your heads
hurt. You know I only do it because I love you, and I promise
I always will.
Chance Martin has retired from homeless advocacy until public
consensus confirms Mayor Newsom's "innovative homeless policy"
is 99% public relations. Today he interviews potential clients
for a local plaintiff-side law practice because, in his words:
"Until such time as homeless people in San Francisco can
expect Justice, at least they can get paid."