Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chapter 2: Up to My Neck in Kool Aid

Up to My Neck in Kool Aid
by Stephen Lucas

For those of you who are not familiar with the origin of the term “drinking the Kool Aid”, let me explain.  The origin of the term comes from the Jonestown massacre.  The Rev. Jim Jones enticed his unfortunate followers to drink poisoned fruit punch.  He told them that the government was coming to get them.  Parents even gave it to their children and babies.  When authorities arrived, they found the  dead bodies of hundreds of his followers.  So drinking the Kool Aid simply means accepting the message without question.
We all drink the Kool Aid to some extent.  Primarily, our beverage is served to us by our cultural authority figures.  Our immediate family, including parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters are probably the first ones we listen to.  Later in life we are introduced to other vendors of this delightful beverage in the personages of clergy, teachers, politicians, and other authority figures.  Reliance on authority is one of the major blocks to critical thinking and for the most part, our culture determines who our authority figures are.
For me, my political Kool Aid was first served to me by my father.  Dad was pretty much right wing.  In our household, the word “union” was a four letter word.  He was employed as middle management and so drank deeply from the corporate myth that unions were bad.  I remember him saying many times the the problem with capitalism was that workers, through their unions, extracted wages in excess of their productivity.  He bought into the capitalistic myth that workers were not an asset to a company, but rather a liability.  The primary responsibility of management was to enhance the bottom line and increase share holder value by any means necessary.  Workers were an expense just like raw materials.  So one way to increase the bottom line is to reduce either the workforce or reduce their wages etc.  I am sure you get the picture.
Dad also became enamored with the philosophy of Objectivism of Ayn Rand.  He urged me to read her books which touted that virtue of “selfishness”.  Altruism was an abject evil.  Also through the many books like “Atlas Shrugged”.  He tried to sell me on the myth that government was bad and that, given the opportunity, that the free market could regulate itself without unnecessary interference.
I must admit that I bought into this Randian fantasy for quite awhile. It made perfect sense that if government destroyed the profit motive that business an industry would collapse.  I even believed that liaise fa ire capitalism was sacred.  I wonder how Ayn would explain the Wall Street melt down and how the so called “Masters of the Universe”.  They destroyed the economies of the world and the US.  What we found out was that capitalism cannot exist without government “bailing it out”.  Capitalists love to talk about privatization of such things like social security.  I wonder where we would have been if the banksters of Wall Street had invested our social security trust fund in Enron.  I don't think that there would be soup lines long enough.  A key concept of corporatism is to privatize the profits and socialize the losses.
Another thing that my dear Dad taught me was the axiom:  “Let the Free Market Prevail!”
I accepted this to be true also.  It was not until later that I discovered that the so called term “free trade” is a myth.  Markets are made by governments through such things as currencies, courts, trade treaties etc.  When you remove government regulations such as tariffs, you get what we have now.  Corporations eager to “enhance the bottom line” export jobs to cheaper labor markets and pocket the profits from the sale of cheaper produced goods.
What these new predatory capitalists fail to realize is that they are killing the “Golden Goose” by taking away the buying power of their customers.  Henry Ford believed in paying his workers well enough so that they could afford to buy the cars that they were building.  In today's world, the unemployed auto worker cannot buy even a used car.  In the greatest transfer of wealth in the world's history, we drank the Kool Aid of greed that the myth of capitalism and the free market.  We have learned that it works very well for the top one percent and is a disaster for the remaining ninety-nine percent.
So I was drinking the Kool Aid right along with millions of you all.  I remember Ronald Reagan saying that the nine most frightening words in the English language was:  “I'm from the government and I'm here to help”.  I remember thinking just how cute this little phrase was.  Little did I know just how disastrous these words would later become.  This seemingly innocent humorous joke sewed the seed of our distrust of our own government and reinforced the Randian nightmare of evil government invading our lives and tromping on our individual rights as free men and women.
Never did we stop to think that the so call government in a democracy is “we the people”.  Are those people today that decry things like "government regulation and evasiveness" antidemocratic?
It would seem that they believe that government does not serve a proper function and that the government that governs best governs least.  An examination of founding documents clearly states that our government is to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and to ensure the blessings of liberty to us “we the people”  So it is clear that government does have a proper function despite what the poor misguided Tea Party Patriots and Randian Libertarians think.  I love the sign at a recent Tea Party rally where a blue haired lady proudly displayed a sign stating “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Social Security".  All I can say is: “Houston, we have a problem”.
Reagan brought us the capitalistic myth of “Trickle Down” economics.  The theory holds that if you reduce the taxes on the upper class they will invest it in businesses and these investments will allow them to hire more of us poor unfortunate ninety-nine per centers and the prosperity will “trickle down to all of us.    I also remember that George Bush Sr. called it “voodoo economics”  How right we was.
Today we are seeing the result of this economic philosophy.  On a world wide scale, the rich have indeed gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer.  The Occupy Wall Street Movement has spread on a world wide basis.  I guess the quote: “You can fool some of the people some of the time but you can't fool all the people all of the time." is relevant.  The ninety-nine percent finally woke up.
You can't drink Kool Aid forever.

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