Too often too many of us pretend we live in democracies, though most of us know that we actually live in democracy’s toxic mimic: something that has the form yet perverts the content of what it pretends to be.
I’ve asked thousands of people a simple question: Who, in their opinion, do governments take better care of — human beings or corporations? And most everyone laughs. It’s a stupid and obvious question. No one says human beings. When I ask whether these governments take better care of the real world — the source of all life — than they do the legal fictions of corporations, I’m often met with blank stares: such a notion is inconceivable to most people.
But for all our private understanding that we live in plutocracies (governments by, of, and for the wealthy), or more accurately, kleptocracies (governments which have as their primary organising principle theft — from the poor, from the land, from the future), we publicly speak and act as though we do live in democracies.
Governments of occupation
As a politically conservative teenager, I liked to laugh at the fact that the Politburo of the old Soviet Union was made up of something like 97% members of the Communist Party. What a joke of a democracy, I thought. Yet how often do we ask ourselves what percentage of the United States House and Senate consists of members of the Capitalist Party? Who’s the joke on now?
Another phrase for these governments — which better serve corporations than human beings — is governments of occupation. What do governments of occupation do? They facilitate resource extraction and maximise production, at the expense of communities and of the natural world. That’s what they do. So, what does the United States government do? It facilitates resource extraction and maximises production, at the expense of communities and of the natural world. The United States is functionally, systematically, a government of occupation, and capitalism is functionally, systematically, an economics of occupation. Of course all my indigenous friends say, “What took you so long to figure this one out?”
Here’s another way to say this: we have long been taught that the legal system is set up to protect us. But we have been lied to. It is well established that judicial accountability does not extend to those who kill or maim in the name of business, nor to those who impoverish our land-bases.
Role of the cops
A few years ago I communicated with a policeman who wanted me to understand that it is the job of police to protect people from sociopaths. I asked why it is they don’t protect us from rich sociopaths. And my African American friends ask why they so rarely protect African Americans from racists and from functional racism. And my women friends ask why they so rarely protect women from misogyny: only 6% of rapists spend even one night in jail. And I ask why, when there is a strike, do they protect capitalists from strikers? Why do they not protect strikers from capitalists? They use their batons or guns on strikers. Why do they not use their batons or guns to force capitalists to come to terms? Why, when there is a meeting of global financiers, do they protect the financiers from the people, and not the other way around?
Of course the answer is that they are doing their jobs, which is to be hired muscle for the rich. Here are a couple of riddles, not very funny. Question: what do you get when you cross a long drug habit, a quick temper, and a gun? Answer: two life terms for murder, earliest release date, 2026. Question: what do you get when you cross two nation states, a large corporation, 40 tons of poison, and at least 8000 dead human beings? Answer: Retirement with full pay and benefits. Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide, Bhopal.
Let’s spin out a fantasy here, where at least some of the police have the courage to recognise they share class interests not with the rich, but with those whose heads they’ve been cracking. Let’s pretend that some of them begin thinking about their legacies. Do they really want for their legacy to be that they were muscle for anti-democratic forces? When their grandchildren ask which side they were on, do they really want to say they were on the side of protecting corporations against human beings? That’s a hell of a legacy, ain’t it?
Of course we can ask these same questions not just of police, but of ourselves. If the police will not do their jobs to stop rich sociopaths, then we are the ones who must do this. What would happen if we the people were to organise into militias, with or without the assistance of the police, to enforce cancer-free zones, oil spill-free zones, extinction-free zones, home foreclosure-free zones — hell, why don’t we enforce rape-free zones, hunger-free zones, economic and political democracy zones? And what if these zones were to extend all across our countries? Because here’s a question, for all of us, not just the police: if you are going to have a government, and if you’re going to have a government worth a good goddamn, whom should this government serve: corporations or human beings?
Since the legal system won’t hold destructive institutions accountable, the responsibility falls on each of us. This means that all of us who care about the health of the land where we live, for example, must learn to be accountable to this land rather than be loyal to political and economic institutions that do not serve us well.
The same is true for those who care about democracy, for those who care about communities, for those who care about the future, for those who care about any living being. We must act on this loyalty; we must do whatever is necessary to protect our homes and our land-bases from those who would destroy them. Only then will mountains and rivers and forests be saved. Only then will toxic dumping be stopped. Only then will we have democratic self-governance. Only then will we have a future. Because allowing destructive economic or political entities to destroy our land-bases is not merely unethical and unwise but suicidal.
The Declaration of Independence for what became the United States holds, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . .” It would be more precise, however, to say that it is not the Right of the People, nor even their responsibility, but instead something more like breathing — something that if we fail to do we die.
If we as a People fail to rid our community of destructive institutions, they will destroy our community. If we as a community cannot provide meaningful and non-destructive ways for people to gain food, clothing, and shelter, then we must recognise it’s not just destructive institutions but the entire economic system pushing the natural world past breaking points. Once we’ve recognised the destructiveness of this economic system we’ve no choice, unless we wish to sign our own and our children’s death warrants, but to fight for all we’re worth and in every way we can to overturn it. There is nothing else to do.
You can ask: by quoting the Declaration of Independence am I calling for revolution, to which I will respond that the answer should be clear. You can ask, then, if this means that I am calling for the overthrow of the United States and other governments, to which I will respond that this question comes far, far, far too late. For the governments were long since overthrown, and those who overthrew them are known as ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, Halliburton, Monsanto, ADM, Wal-Mart, Massey Coal, Goldman Sachs, Citibank. They are the real governors, and the United States and other governments are wholly-owned subsidiaries, brought to you by McDonald’s, Pfizer, and Lockheed Martin.
So then you can ask, am I advocating the overthrow of governments that are by, for, and of corporations, advocating the overthrow of corporate states, to which I will say, “Hell, yes.”
Originally published at Daily News and Analysis IndiaFiled in Essays