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Dear America

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 to live?

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 species.

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 dimensions.

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 effect.

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 totality.

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 world.

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 sterile.

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, desirable… 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

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."

Chance Martin





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