Decorporatize Your Life

By Jim Van Der Pol

It is difficult to see how we can keep corporate power out of our elections without real change in every other aspect of our lives. We live in a corporate sponsored cradle to grave cocoon. Corporate purchase of elections is the least of it.

Part of the trouble for the Democrats and Obama comes from the widespread feeling in the working class that the hard work of real change has not even been approached yet. We have the health care reform that the insurance and drug industries allowed us to have and the financial regulation reform that the Wall Street banks bought and paid for. Even the consumer protection agency that Elizabeth Warren pushed and probably will not head is housed in the Federal Reserve, with major control in the hands of Bernanke and his successors. Meanwhile, nothing has been done on climate, and nothing has been done on immigration, both of which will require an honest rethinking of the “free trade” agreements and outsourcing. If we won’t modify or back away from free trade, we cannot rebuild the middle class. The Senate cannot even extend unemployment benefits in a timely fashion. The regulatory agencies are in bed, as usual, with the industries they are charged with overseeing. The term “banana republic” jumps to mind.

Corporations have been with us since they were brought into being five centuries ago by the elites of Europe for use as a tool with which to confiscate the riches of the New World. They serve to pool capital by short circuiting the public ethics attached to money. Shareholders are able to get returns from investing their money in return for reduced risk and very little in the way of legal liability. Liability limits are the core of the problem with corporations, not the lifting of the ban on purchase of elections, with which corporations have lived very well all along. Liability is the way our society assigns responsibility for behavior. Separating morality from money results in Wall Street. And Wall Street fosters rot in our common culture.

The diagnosis is easy. Seeing the way out of the dilemma is not. It is difficult, not to say impossible, for a 21st-century person to imagine what kind of economic system might have been built in these five centuries if certain fundamentals had not fallen into place then to make the way for development of the corporate ethic. And if as seems likely, we cannot change the Supreme Court’s ruling about elections, how are we going to change the chartering of corporations? But on the other hand, change does happen. It is, in fact, continuous, and that we cannot see how to undo five centuries of history in order to organize our common lives differently does not mean that five centuries of history are not going to be undone or extensively modified. While I cannot see a solution, I can see a few possibilities that might lead in the right direction, toward setting some forces loose in the guts of the machine that may eventually tear it apart.

Most of these observations spring from thinking about whatever intentional communities we have in our midst. For farmers, the Amish, whose Christianity includes and informs their economic lives, are the most obvious teachers. They have their problems, and it won’t do to minimize them. But they quite simply hold it to be wrong to allow an economic decision to destroy neighboring or neighborliness. That sensibility alone blows through our current moral and economic swamp like a sharp north wind in October. How can we make useful to us some of what the Amish have figured out? Here are a few thoughts, all of them conservative without being right wing:

Gather close. The corporate structure has no interest in our well being. Monsanto plans to own all the genetics for the earth’s food supply. It has an effective enabler on the Supreme Court in Clarence Thomas. Other corporations are quietly cornering the earth’s supply of useable water. This is an emergency and we need to wake up. We shall have to look out for ourselves. Our first step is to bring our necessities close to us so that we can control them. Food needs to be locally sourced. Farming and gardening skills are essential. We need to know someone who can work with solar heating. We need to learn to patch our own pants. Someone who can construct clothes is a valuable community asset. Backyard mechanics and handymen are invaluable. None of this is cute or quaint. It is vital and we ignore it at our peril.

Diversified funds such as 401k’s or other investment in the stock market of extra or retirement money is suspect and should be gotten out of. Our own communities need whatever money we have to invest. And we need to be regularly exercising real responsibility for our own behavior, including the use of our money. Not to do so is simply to keep saluting the same old delusions that got us here in the first place.

Get smaller. A human scale economy is a small scale one. It is layered deep with smaller enterprises in the areas such as food, shelter, fuel and so forth where we dare not have it fail. Such an approach delivers us from the illusion that we are safe because some big concern or some big machine is doing it for us and encourages us instead to rely upon our own competence. And more, it teaches us that our economic safety rests on the success and good will of our neighbor. If my crop fails, his may not. This combination of self reliance and cooperation is the best human response to the vagaries of life on earth and in fact, is the only safety net that can be counted upon.

Go slower. Get some perspective. Speedboats and motorcycles and cul-de-sacs in the country are not important, food is. If it takes an hour or two to harvest the food and prepare the meal, let it. Then invite your neighbor to share it. Perhaps he will bring some of his wine or beer. He may know a story you haven’t heard yet. Offer to help him build his chicken coop if he will help you figure out how to get your house to quit leaking whenever it rains. Elevate quality and deemphasize quantity. Get off the computer. Throw away the phone. Calm down. Think and act.

Jim Van Der Pol farms near Kerkhoven, Minn.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2010

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