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​Dreams and Nightmares

Gadfly | June 10th, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Idea of the Common Good?

I have always been a faithful reader of Lloyd Omdal’s columns because he can pick a problem apart and submit a reasonable solution with a dollop of humor without preaching. But the former N.D. Lt. governor and retired UND prof was very serious in his May 24 Forum column “’Dream’, is Fast Fading.”

He wrote: “The American Dream is slowly fading as the size of our dependent population grows. North Dakota has thousands of dependents and the nation has millions of dependents who are being propped up with a wide variety of private and government programs designed to alleviate poverty…..Looking to the future, the dependent population is going to increase if we depend on the failing programs of the present to produce different outcomes.”

I didn’t register even a whiff of humor in any paragraph. Unusual.

I share his concern. And so did 19th Century political theorist Louis-Auguste Bianqui: “Humanity is never stationary. It advances or goes backwards. Its progressive march goes back through every stage of privilege to human slavery, the final word of the right to poverty. Further, I am not among those who claim that progress can be taken for granted, that humanity cannot go backwards.”

Education seems to be losing its battle with ignorance. The fact that the U.S. economy actually shrunk in the last quarter may be a sign of our civil and economic decay. Chris Hedges in Truthdig sums up our current situation: “The blundering history of the human race is always given coherence by power elites and their courtiers in the press and academia who endow it with a meaning and coherence it lacks. They need to manufacture national myths to hide the greed, violence and stupidity that characterize the march of most human societies. For the United States, refusal to confront the crisis of climate change and our endless and costly wars in the Middle East are but two examples of the follies that propel us toward catastrophe.”

Our oligarchs and plutocrats, the Koch brothers and a plethora of billionaires, already own the Best Congress Money Can Buy, and now are making huge down payments on their final goal, the auction-election for the presidency of the United States. Those who say American democracy is doomed indicate that we presently exhibit 11 of the 13 main signs of a fascist dictatorship. They could be right.

Lessons About the “Common Good” We Can Learn From Other Animals and Insects

Elephants, bison, wolves, muskrats, and otters band together for the common good. African mole rats keep their burrows very clean and protect themselves from predators by building dedicated lavatories underground away from their underground living quarters. When their waste chamber is full they backfill it, seal it up, and build a new one. They use their lavatory to relieve themselves and to groom hair. It’s a community enterprise.

Honey bees are very social insects who also keep their nests and hives clean. We used to keep bees for honey on our farm, but I never realized how well organized our five hives were.

Bees do not live very long and many die within the hive. Each hive establishes a group of bee undertakers. They are generally middle-aged bees who are selected by the hive by some mysterious process we haven’t discovered yet. These bees patrol the hives and remove dead bees to bee “cemeteries” about 20 feet from the hive. This is hard work because dead bees are heavier than pollen.

Sometimes thousands of bees swarm out of the hives to evacuate their wastes, creating a yellow-brown mist in the air. Bees do not soil the hive with personal droppings.

In this Age of Aquarius about two billion people on earth still do not have toilets. A hive is organized for the common good. So is a wolfpack. Why can’t a country be organized and responsible for the common good of all of its citizens?

Young men could learn a great deal from the northern flicker and other woodpeckers on how to share household duties with their mates. It’s one of a few sex-role-reversed species. Male flickers spend more time than females in incubating the eggs and feeding the young.

The young have diaper-fecal sacs, so the male cleans up after the young and drops it far from the nest. Humans may “handle” 50-80 diapers a week. A male flicker may handle up to 80 fecal sacs a day. A flicker researcher gives the reason: “It takes away microbes, removes smells that might alert predators, and makes the whole nest cleaner. It’s an important aspect of parental care that we often forget about.” Particularly human males.

We live On “A Mote Of Dust Suspended In A Sunbeam”

In 1990 on Valentine’s Day our spacecraft Voyager 1 took pictures of earth when it was four billion miles away as it hurtled through the universe. One picture became famous. It showed the earth as a little speck lighted by a few of our sun’s rays. Scientist Carl Sagan had insisted that Voyager be programmed to take pictures from that spot as it sped into deep space (where it is today—someplace).

Sagan wrote “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. …Every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there---on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

To me, Sagan is suggesting that we know very little about where we came from and where we are going--regardless of what the theologians say. What role does religion and government play in our lives? Did Genesis take place only on that mote of dust in space? What other “life” is in far away dark places?

On this dust mote we are divided by species, with humans temporarily on the top of the chain of being. So why don’t humans learn from other species about the benefits of working together for the common good of all humans? We pretend to have some dominion over other species on earth. Why can’t we use that dominion for the common good? We call nature wild but it really is quite orderly. Animals from elephants to fleas follow strict rules for living together on earth and avoiding contamination of their living quarters. Why can’t we follow their examples?

When Will The Mass Of Pitchforks Rise?

There is perhaps more economic inequality in the modern world today than ever before in history. The Arab Springs in Middle East countries were more about economics and inequality than religion—although religion certainly played a role in distinguishing tribes from one another.

We are not only in the 15th Crusade in the battle between Christianity and Islam, we are also in another Gilded Age, another feudal period, another Great Depression for the majority, dominated by more billionaires than the world has ever seen.

In the U.S. the middle-class is being systematically destroyed by the oligarchs and plutocrats nurtured by the Best Congress Money Can Buy. The median family income is $5,000 less than it was 16 years ago. Income inequality is among the worst in the world while people are left in poverty by the low federal minimum wage.

The rich and corporations hide their wealth in little island tax havens. The 99 Percent hear of Picasso paintings being sold for $180 million and single homes being appraised for $450 million. A billion dollar home has been built in India, one of the poorest countries.

A special report by USATODAY cited the world’s least affordable cities are Hong Kong, Vancouver, Sydney, San Francisco, Melbourne,; and London in that order. Miami, New York, Panama City, and Istanbul also have the highest home prices.

Billionaires from around the world, sometimes from countries that are very unstable, are moving their wealth to more stable economies, thus increasing the prices of real estate.

The middle-class cannot afford homes in any of the listed cities. The world currently has 330 million living in substandard urban housing. While the average middle-class individual lost money, Hong Kong home prices rose 117% from 2008 to 2012. The median average property in London sells for $750,000, a 19% increase in one year.

Sotheby’s, the auction company for the rich, says there are 211,275 ultra-high-net-worth families in the world with a minimum of $30 million in cash and assets.

Somebody Is Making Money in Minnesota

A study by the Star Tribune’s Editorial Board revealed that median incomes declined in 58 out of the 87 Minnesota counties between 2010 and 2012. The Board’s editorial stated: “The widening income inequality isn’t good news for a state that has thrived for decades by striving to function as one economic entity. Inequality breeds jealousy and erodes political will to aggregate resources for the common good.”

“Minnesota Nice” is not nice anymore. How has this come about? The Wall Street casino caused most of the income inequality.

A New York Times/CBS News Poll has come up with the reason: money in politics. 84% of Americans believe that too much money in politics has too much influence. That breaks down to 90% Democrats and 80% Republicans. Even 85% of those making $100,000 or more believe money has too much influence.

The five Republicans on the Supreme Court with the Citizens United campaign funding decision have certainly lengthened the life of The Best Congress Money Can Buy.

I have a partial solution to the inequality problem. Vote Democratic. The following economic statements have been published in many state and federal election voter guides over the last few years:

  1. If you believe corporations are people, vote Republican.
  2. If you believe money is free speech, vote Republican.
  3. If you believe our government should take care of corporations first, vote Republican.
  4. If you believe unions are your enemy, vote Republican.
  5. If you believe trickle-down economics has been successful, vote Republican.
  6. If you believe only the rich, CEOs, and politicians should have health insurance, vote Republican.
  7. If you believe the minimum wage should be eliminated, vote Republican.
  8. If you believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be eliminated, vote Republican.
  9. If you believe sick people who cannot afford health insurance should die in the street, vote Republican.
  10. If you believe regulations on everything should be deleted because nobody in another country would sell us contaminated toys any more than our own companies, vote Republican.
  11. If you don’t believe in science, vote Republican.
  12. If you believe God will take care of the environment for us and that global warming, better known now as climate change, is a hoax perpetrated by scientists, vote Republican.
  13. If you believe “job creators” such as billionaire hedge fund managers should pay less in taxes, vote Republican.
  14. If you believe business would never do anything to compromise safety in the working place, vote Republican.
  15. If you believe we should privatize Social Security, vote Republican.

Our politicians need to study the most grotesque income inequality in the world taking place in Luanda, Angola because of oil. It might happen here. Because of the discovery of oil in Angola, monthly rent for an average house is $16,000, a bottle of Coke goes for $10, and cars cost twice as much as sticker prices--while half of Angolans live on less than $2 a day. A ten-mile taxi ride costs $450. A bottle of Scotch whiskey runs $300 and cheap wine goes for $65 a bottle. Half of the population is undernourished. Study it. It’s fascinating what greed can do to a society.

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