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.

Chapter 1: Being Raised “Right”

      Most people inherit their religion and their politics.  I am not an exception except for the fact that I now am different in both respects from my parents and other relatives.  I am now a liberal and a Buddhist.  I hope that my beloved parents and my other precursors are not rolling in their graves.  It has been a remarkable, if not challenging journey.  As with all good journeys, there is a beginning, a middle and an end.  Mine is no exception.

      I was born in Texas and moved at a young age to a sleepy little Ozark town in southwest Missouri.  Carthage, is a small town located about thirty miles east of Joplin.  It was founded by owners of the lead and zinc mines of the 1800's.  They came to found this as a refuge from the bars and brothels of Joplin and Pitcher, Oklahoma.  So they built breathtaking Victorian mansion and a church on every corner of the city's center.  Carthage is the county seat of Jasper county and has one of the most beautiful court houses in the middle of a classical town square.

      My childhood was much like the TV show “Leave it to Beaver”.  I was Walley and my brother Jim was the Beaver.   He was always getting into everything with the next door neighbors kids Will and Dan.  I pretty much did what an older brother was expected to do-- especially when it came to picking on my little brother.

      One thing unique about growing up in Carthage was the number of very successful family businesses.  Carthage, in fact, was at one time in the top ten per capita  millionaires in the US  Carthage is the home of the spring industry for America.  If you sleep or sit on springs, they came from Flex-o-lators or Leggett and Platt made in Carthage.   Also, we have the largest gray marble quarry in the country.  Add to this Tri-State Trucking, Atlas, Hercules Explosive/Chemical plants, and Big Smith Clothing - you have a formidable mix of manufacturing for even a large metro area, let alone a small town of eleven thousand people.

      The families that owned these companies provided the backbone of local politics.  Yes, you probably guessed, died in the wool right wing Republicans!.  My parents were what you could call middle class.  My father was an engineer and graduate of the United Stated Naval Academy and my mother was a stay at home mom.  Dad worked for a brief  for Big Smith Clothing. I remember getting new blue jeans and western shirt in the first few years of my education.  At least I did not have to wear bib overalls.

      About all I remember of politics and religion growing up is that I was raised Methodist.  My mom was Methodist and so were my grandparents on my mother's side.  I was told the story that my father was a Presbyterian, but Carthage did not have a church of that denomination at that time they moved there, so he converted when they were married.  The kids of the rich factory owner all went to the Episcopal Church.   The working class either went to the Baptist or several various small fundamentalist churches.

      Church going for me was pretty usual.  Every Sunday it was both Sunday school and church.

If you were less than ten years old you usually sat in the balcony at the back of the church so if you misbehaved or started to cry, your parents could quickly take you outside for a quick diaper dusting.

      The first president that I remember was Ike Eisenhower.  I would lay down on my little kindergarten mat under his framed picture.  I found out later that the Catholic kids slept under the benevolent and watchful eye of John the XXIII.  Later I found out just how remarkable these two human beings were.  The world was left much poorer with their passing.

      The first presidential campaign I remember was that of Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960.  Of the little I remember, my family were ardent Nixon supporters.  I must admit that I was taken with Jack and shed tears when when he was taken from us.  The day that President Kennedy was assassinated,   I had played hookey from school.  I was at home in bed watching my black and white TV that my grandparents had bought me for Christmas.  My mother had left me home alone and was over at my her mother's house playing bridge.  Later when I was in college, grandma tried to teach me the game.  I must admit that I never thought it was as exciting as Black Jack or Five Card Stud.  Anyhow, all of a sudden, Art Linkletter was interrupted and it was announced that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas.  I ran to the phone and called my mother and gave her the tragic news.

      From that time on, I and the rest of the world became glued to the television.  I hardly moved from the announcement of his death to his state funeral.  My parents and grandparents did not say much.  As much as they say they hated Democrats and Kennedys, they were too shaken to comment much.

  The Johnson years were quite telling.  My parents were not fans of him, but whole heartedly supported America's involvement in Viet Nam.  My dad was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy (class of 1948).  He was always a hawk.  My family came from a long tradition of military service.  My ancestor General Oliver Shroud served with General Washington and froze with the Contenenntal Army at Valley Forge.  His descendant, also named Oliver, died at the bloody battle of Pea Ridge Arkansas proudly serving the Union cause.  On my father's side,  my great great grandmother and General Ulysses Grant's mother were first cousins.  Actually his given name was Hiram.  He hated the name and upon enrollment in West Point, wanted to reverse his name to Ulysses Hiram Grant.  However, his appointment was mistakenly for Ulysses Simpson Grant.  The appointment has mistakenly used his mother's maiden name as his middle one.  Often he was referred to as “Sam” by his class mates.    Given this honored military tradition, Dad would have been fully supportive of bombing the “gooks” in Viet Nam back to the stone age.  This feeling was no different than millions of Americans who bought into the Cold War propaganda of "Better Dead Than Red".

      The Bay of Pigs fiasco was totally Kennedy's fault.  After all, he withdrew air support from an invasion planned by Ike Eisenhower.  If Eisenhower could do D Day, then his plans were more than adequate to take a piss ant island called Cuba!  It had to be that JFK screwed it up.  'Nuff said!

      The Cuban invasion behind us, not a single word was uttered in support of President Kennedy's facing down of Nikita Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Again, in our family, giving a Democrat credit for anything was a "no-no".  After all, Franklin (the Great White Father) Roosevelt was still responsible for all the national and international woes as had he led us all down the path to godless socialism.  I remember that my grandfather told me once that he voted for the “bastard” four times and that was enough to cure him of ever voting for another Democrat again. He never told me why he had voted for him in the first place.

      In contrast, my great grandmother Pearl was a “Yellow Dog” Democrat.  It is said that a Democrat of this persuasion would vote for a yellow dog if it ran on the Democratic ticket.  My great grandfather Clayton once ran for mayor of Carthage, Missouri.  He came home one evening and announced to Pearl that we was running as a Republican.  She looked at him, and without blinking told him that she hoped that he won, but could not vote for him.  To preserve peace in the family, I am pleased to say that he won.  All hell would have probably broken loose if he had lost by one vote.

      I went off to college after high school graduation in 1967.  It was at Missouri Southern Community College that I first jointed the Young Republicans.  The main reason for doing so was purely political.  The college Republicans had some of the hottest girls on campus.  I got to participate in a mock state legislature an event that I enjoyed very much.  But it was when my father took a position in Denver, Colorado and my subsequent transfer to the University of Colorado in Boulder that I really became involved in politics.

By Stephen R. Lucas


The purpose of this missive is to document my journey to rationality as a critically thinking political animal.  All too many times people just merely accept what they are told by the mass media and other individuals on blind faith and without question.  This is natural condition.  We all are born into a culture with certain authority figures that we, as children, are taught not to question.  Therefore, later as adults, we are totally susceptible to the dealers of intellectual Kool-Aid.  We fall into their propaganda. And are willing to abrogate our thinking to someone else.  This is sad. This intellectual laziness has led the world to a sorry state.
However, we can take it back. We can learn to think again.  If I can do it, you can too.