April 15, 1992
this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Greed/GoldRush.htm
A talk at the forum
The "New World Order" and the
Search for Enemies:
Organized by the University of Massachusetts/Boston Coalition
First I want to thank Leah Brown, Dick Lourie, Opal Mita, Tasha Baizerman, Tom Goodkind, and Stefanie Valovic, and possibly other good folks whose energy and commitment made this forum happen. And that's what we've got to remember: the good things that happen in this world happen because of the efforts of ordinary everyday people like you and me, each struggling with her or his own life to make of it a tapestry connected with other people's lives--a tapestry worth living.
Good things don't happen because of what governments do, or as a result of corporate or other hierarchical initiatives. Good things--when they happen at all--happen because of us, the so-called little people--in spite of all the powerful and coercive institutions that are destroying even the possibility of a viable ecosphere, let alone a decent life for all people.
I'm supposed to give a 15- to 20-minute rap here, but I know it's impossible to say what I think ought to be said in that time. So to be sure I get to the end, let me finish right away: the answer to the question posed by the forum's title, as you all know, is No!, Peace doesn't have a chance in hell in today's world. Now I can begin. I'll call this little talk The Gold Rush.
On the night of March 9th, 1930, in the depths of the worldwide Great Depression, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's epic opera Mahagonny opened in the German city of Leipzig. At its first-ever performance that night it started, says Lotte Lenya [a well-known operatic singer, married to Kurt Weill], what has been called the worst theatre riot in history. She was there, in the audience, and describes it graphically: by the last scene, fist fights in the aisles, the theatre a screaming mass of people, panicky spectators trying to claw their way out. Why? Because it dared to bare the truth, and to many people the truth was unacceptable: they would, if they could, destroy it rather than acknowledge it.
Mahagonny, its full title, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, can be seen as metaphor, metaphor for what is called Western Civilization. A city built on lust for gold, for sloth, for both eating and fucking to excess, for draining other people's pockets, a city where everything goes--complete license--except inability to pay your bill: that, and that alone, is a capital crime, punished by electrocution.
The world we live in, the "New World Order", is the world that Brecht and Weill so brilliantly illuminated, the world whose existence sixty-two years ago the placard-carrying Nazi Brown Shirts filling the square outside the Neue Theatre in Leipzig that opening night wanted to deny, and their ideological descendants today, and many others, still want to deny. But it is the real world. We live in Mahagonny.
A letter I got from Oxfam America in the winter of 1990-91 starts with two assertions:
1) Our planet produces more than enough food to feed the world's population. 2) Today, 60,000 people died of hunger.
Sixty thousand people every day? Can that be true? I believe it is true, and I find it unbearable. Here in Mahagonny, industrialized agribusiness produces edible commodities--not food, mind you, but commodities whose purpose is to line the pockets of the corporate owners. These commodities are for buying and selling; their value, their money value, is in the market place, not in people's stomachs.
So 60,000 people each day, who are guilty of being unable to pay for food commodities, are executed, not by electrocution as in the opera but by gradual starvation, which is cheaper because there's no cost for electricity, for the electric chair, and so on. They just die by themselves, for the most part quietly.
Pick up Frances Moore Lappé's little book, Diet for a Small Planet, 1982 edition, and the first thing you learn is the enormous wastefulness and destructiveness of U.S. agribusiness:
--16 pounds of grain and soybeans to produce 1 pound of beef
--2,500 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of steak
--half of all U.S. water use is for livestock production (includes water use for U.S.-grown feedcrops)
--20,000 kilocalories of fossil fuel energy to produce the 500 kilocalories of food energy in 1 pound of steak (mainly for feed-crop production)
The monopolization in the food-commodity industry is staggering: Cargill and the next four largest grain-trading companies account for 70 to 80 percent of all U.S. grain trade; Kellogg's, General Mills, and General Foods account (1979 figures) for over 90 percent of breakfast cereal sales.
No less staggering are the profits and political power flowing to these giant national and transnational corporations. That too you can glimpse in Ms. Lappe's book.
What is true of Cargill is true of all the other major corporate entities in Mahagonny. The first rule--The Golden Rule we might call it--is to make money. The Gold Rush didn't start with the Spanish invasion of Latinized America, and it didn't end in the Alaskan Yukon. The Gold Rush--the accumulation of material wealth by some at the expense of many certainly goes back to Egypt, to China, to societies thousands of years ago.
Now, close to the twenty-first century, this cult of greed, predominant in much of the world, is executing 60,000 poor and hungry people every day, and bringing the human species close to its ultimate ecological catastrophe. Either we--the world's people--wise up fast, or we've had it.
How can we simultaneously achieve good lives for all the world's people and save the earth's green mantle for ourselves and future generations? Unless we can do the first there will be no peace, and unless we can do the second, the human species--and possibly all species--will perish. The most basic requirement--the underlying need, as I see it, is that of
Ending the Gold Rush
The driving force behind the development of all large-scale systems of coercive power--state and economic power, and the enforcement arms of that power--military forces, police forces, and the so-called systems of justice--the fundamental driving force from which all such institutionalization of coercive power stems is, I am convinced, greed for material wealth, and for the privilege and power to extort wealth from other people and, of course, to plunder it from the earth's store of natural resources.
The "right to satisfy one's greed" for material wealth and privilege and power is here called the "free enterprise system." The purpose of nation states is to maintain and stabilize the unequal distribution of wealth within their domains--to keep the poor in their place, and whenever possible, each nation strives to aggrandize its total wealth by any means whatever, primarily in order to further enrich the already rich.
The injustices caused by the institutionalization of greed are so obvious, so glaring, that the victims must be prevented from rebelling and seizing what they see as their fair share of the wealth. In other, less honest words, the nation must "insure domestic tranquility", more accurately, the tranquility of the wealthy, who do not wish to be disturbed or threatened by the poor.
And so a vast machinery develops to control unrest, a machinery that uses raw power when that seems necessary to control a situation, but which relies also on an enormous propaganda apparatus to obscure reality, and on the social balm of an endless and futile task of regulating greed. People of liberal and generous inclination are often stalwart supporters of the myth that it is possible to work towards a just social order by establishing bureaucratic institutions to regulate greed, and by reform measures intended to correct abuses, eliminate corruption, and so on.
Regulatory bureaucracies thrive at all levels of government, as we know. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supposedly guards us against damage to our health that would occur if food commodity producers and processors were free to use all the pesticides and radiation and fungicides and herbicides and chemical preservatives they wished in order to maximize their profits. The FDA supposedly protects us against the dangers of such horrors as silica-gel breast implants, a result of the greed of Dow-Corning, several other companies, and of a host of plastic surgeons all too ready to capitalize on the sexist brainwashing that convinces the victims-to-be that they need big tits to achieve happiness (I can think of no words obscene enough to match the obscenity of this medically needless and dangerous surgical intervention).
The U.S. Forest Service supposedly protects "our" national forests against excessive exploitation by timber and paper giants. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency supposedly protects us against dangerous practices motivated by the nuclear power industry's lust to increase its profits. The federal and state environmental protection agencies (EPA's), the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Reserve, this last accurately described as "the uniquely independent and extraordinarily powerful organization that is concerned with regulating the nation's economic life" (William Greider, The New Yorker magazine, November 9, 1987)--all these agencies allegedly exist to prevent "the free enterprise system" from running amok.
At the state level are the bureaus that supposedly regulate utility rates for our benefit, that protect "our" state parks from greedy developers, and so on. And locally, at least in Cambridge where I live, there is a rent control bureaucracy supposedly to prevent excessively greedy landlords from draining even more money from the pockets of their tenants.
It is a regulatory system built upon quicksand, a system whose ability ever to achieve its supposed purpose was impossible from the start. But in its real purpose, to give the illusion that government is trying to serve the general well-being, is trying to promote fairness and justice, and thereby to help mollify the troubled population, in this it has been, and continues to be, quite successful. And of course the list of needed reforms grows endlessly. However, more reforms, more attempts to regulate greed are not the answer. What we need is a culture, worldwide, that eliminates greed. We need to end The Gold Rush.
How are we to do this? It is no mean task. I believe the first thing we need is to know the truth. We need to educate ourselves and each other about why the world is as it is. And then we need to change it in ways that are so radical they are hard for many of us even to imagine. I will simply list a few of the changes that I believe are essential for humane and long-term ecological survival of the human species.
--All coercive power relationships between and among people ought to be done away with to the greatest extent possible. Love ought to replace power as the basis for human relationships, or, at the very least, respect for each person's autonomy.
--Every child ought to be free of hunger, free to have fun, brought up as a member of a community in an environment that maximizes the child's sense of self-worth, taught to value cooperativeness and sharing, and encouraged to seek satisfaction in mutual aid rather than in competition .
--An overarching program of rurification of the world's cities ought to be initiated, with the goal of vastly reducing all forms of pollution, all forms of motorized transport, and replacing, as much as possible, surfaces paved for autos with bicycle paths, walkways, parks, vegetable gardens, orchards, and refuges for birds and small animals, so that cities become healthy, hospitable places for people to live, places where we will not be alienated from the natural world.
--Local and regional food self-sufficiency ought to be reestablished, and local manufactures using, as much as possible, local resources, ought to become the principal basis of local economies.
--Money as we now know it ought to be phased out as a major medium of exchange, to be replaced by direct barter, local scrip currencies, and/or accounts of exchange.
--Unearned income of all kinds ought to be eliminated, along with ownership of property held for the purpose of making profit either by renting it to others, or by exploiting the labor of others.
--Ownership of private property ought to be seen as a transitory arrangement, desirable for insuring adequate privacy until possession-for-use largely replaces outright ownership-regardless-of-use.
--All secrecy ought to be eliminated from government, manufacturing, and all areas of community life.
--All compulsory taxes ought to be eliminated, along with secrecy about private wealth.
--Inheritance-for-use ought to replace inheritance-of-wealth, until the social order evolves sufficiently to make inheritance of all but keepsakes irrelevant.
--All flush toilets ought to be replaced by composting toilets as part of the effort to reduce organic pollution of surface waters, and to reduce the profligate waste of water in the so-called advanced countries.
--All organic "wastes" ought to be composted as part of the effort to rebuild as much healthy soil as possible.
--Reforestation, and the planting of trees in every community, ought to be a major priority, for the building of soil, prevention of erosion, providing habitat for birds and animals, gaining flood control through mediation of the earth's water cycle, conversion of carbon dioxide into organic matter and enrichment of the atmosphere' s oxygen.
--The large-scale cultivation of tree crops ought to be developed as a part of the effort to decentralize and replace food "production" by food cultivation .
--Communities ought to emphasize mixed agriculture rather than monoculture , and increasing use of self-pollinating varieties of seeds indigenous to their geographical regions.
--All people who are physically able to do so ought to be engaged to some extent in the basic activities needed to sustain human life, primarily in the cultivation of food and the care of the soil.
--The concept of "needing a job" ought to be replaced by the concept of "needing to be engaged in satisfying and socially useful activities", so that we develop a culture without economic slavery and without parasites, in which all people take part in the fundamental and necessary "bread labor", and all people take part in artistic, educational , musical, intellectual, scientific, literary or technical pursuits, according to their inclinations and the needs of the community.
--The use of "capital punishment" ought to be abolished.
When asked what he thought of Western Civilization by newspaper reporters in London, Ghandi said, "It would be a good idea." He was right.
When asked what she thought of Western Civilization, Little Lulu said
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