Author Archive: Mark Tiedemann
Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.
In an earlier post on this topic I made the claim that the thing which changed everything in this country was the rise of capitalism as the dominant economic model. It’s time to make good on that claim.
Firstly, we need to understand, once and for all, just what Capitalism is and how it is misunderstood in these sorts of discussions.
Capitalism is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of practices under one general heading, practices like mercantilism, industrialization, and interest-based lending. But to be precise, all these different practices overlap but are not themselves capitalism.
Capitalism is the strategic use of money to determine the value of money and thereby transfer latent wealth from one sector of an economy to another.
This simple distinction does much to explain the animosity throughout the 19th Century toward any kind of centralized bank, including the Jacksonian war on the United States Bank, and Jeffersonian suspicion of corporate power. It is nothing less than the ability of a small group to determine the value of local currency and the buying power of a community, all through the manipulation of currency exchange markets (like Wall Street), regardless of intrinsic values of manufactures and production.
But we have so conflated this with all other aspects of our much-vaunted “free” enterprise system that to criticize capitalism is seen as an attack on the American Way of Life. It is not. Although many Left attacks on it become hopelessly mired in broad attacks on wealth, it is not so much an attack on wealth per se—that is, wealth based on the prosperity of a community—but wealth derived at the expense of the community.
Which is what we are seeing take place today. Which has taken place often in our history.
The difficulty is, this has been one of the most successful economic systems ever for creating prosperity, especially for the individual who understands it and works it, and, if properly regulated, has been the foundation of American achievement, at least materially. So any critique can be made to seem like a critique of America itself. This fact has been useful to plutocrats defending their practices against attempts to rein in and control abuses. The coupling of what in extremes are parasitic practices of economic pillage with grass roots patriotism has been the most difficult combination to deal with in our history. In its contemporary guise, it couches itself in an argument that socially responsible community-based efforts to address economic and resource inequality are Socialist and therefore fundamentally un-American. This is historically inaccurate and strategically manipulative, but the bounds between the anti-federalist sentiments that began even before the revolution and became quasi-religious among certain groups in the aftermath of the Civil War are many and strange and need teasing apart to understand.
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Representative Michelle Bachman is the national voice of The Tea Party. Recently, in speaking to a group of Iowans, she made some claims about American history that would be laughable if they had not come from someone who likes to style herself an authority of Constitutional matters. She claimed that the glory of our country is that color and language didn’t matter, nor did class or parentage, that once people got here, “we were all the same.”
Wishful thinking at best. Certainly that was the idea behind the Declaration of Independence, with its grand opening phrases, but like all such ambitions, it took reality a long, long time to catch up—and it still hasn’t. The fact is, despite our stated political and social goals, immigrants have always had difficulty upon arriving here, some more than others, and those already here have always resented new arrivals. And even for those who were already living here, equality was simply not a reality. African slaves aside, women did not achieve equality until…well, some would say they’re still trying to achieve it, but just for one metric, they didn’t get the vote until 1921. People who owned no property were barred from the vote for a good portion of the 19th Century and other barriers were put up here and there, time and again, such as literacy tests. Anything to keep certain groups from being able to vote against the self-selected “true” Americans.
She went further, though, and suggested that slavery was an unfortunate holdover from colonial times and that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was gone from the United States.” She cited John Quincey Adams, who was a staunch campaigner against slavery. The problem, though, is that he was not a Founder. He was the son of one.
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In the last post, I opined about the atmosphere in the country generated by overheated rhetoric and the irrationality that has resulted from seemingly intransigent positions. Some of the responses I received to that were of the “well, both sides do it” variety (which is true to an extent, but I think beside the point) and the “you can’t legislate civility or impose censorship” stripe.
As it is developing, the young man who attempted to murder Representative Gifford—and succeeded in killing six others—appears to be not of sound mind. We’re getting a picture of a loner who made no friends and indulged in a distorted worldview tending toward the paranoid. How much of his actions can be laid on politics and how much on his own obsessions is debatable. Many commentators very quickly tried to label him a right-winger, based largely on the political climate in Arizona and that he targeted a moderate, “blue dog” Democrat. This in the context of years of shrill right-wing political rhetoric that fully employs a take-no-prisoner ethic, including comments from some Tea Party candidates about so-called Second Amendment solutions. It’s looking like trying to label this man’s politics will be next to impossible and, as I say, if he is mentally unbalanced, what real difference does that make? (Although to see some people say “Look, he’s a Lefty, one of his favorite books is Mein Kampf ” is in itself bizarre—how does anyone figure Mein Kampf indicates leftist political leanings? Because the Nazis were “National Socialists”? Please.)
Whatever the determination of Mr. Loughner’s motives may turn out to be, his actions have forced the topic of political stupidity and slipshod rhetoric to the forefront, at least until Gabrielle Gifford is out of danger of dying. Regardless of his influences, in this instance he has served as the trigger for a debate we have been needing to have for decades. This time, hopefully, it won’t be shoved aside after a few well-meaning sound-bites from politicians wanting to appear sensitive and concerned, only to have everyone go right back to beating each other bloody with nouns and verbs.
But while it may be fair to say that Mr. Loughner is unbalanced and might have gone off and shot anyone, the fact is he shot a politician, one who had been targeted by the Right. Perhaps the heated rhetoric did not make Mr. Loughner prone to violence, but what about his choice of victims?
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We finally have our Kennedy Moment in the current political climate. Saturday, January 8th, 2011, is likely to go down as exactly that in the “Where were you when?” canon. On that day, Jared Lee Loughner, age 22, went on a shooting rampage at a supermarket parking lot in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people and […]