"Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defense of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” – Adam Smith, Wealth Of Nations.
I've never been much for the left and right, to me both are utterly failed movements with no true or honest vision for the present or the future, both utterly consumed and corrupted by the money of people who some called the masters. They have failed to inspire people outside of their own narrow circles.
I know that people love to put labels on other people, but I don't accept any single label for me, I annoy people on both sides of this sclerotic political divide regularly and get a stream of huffy and disappointed messages from both.
This is how I know I am alive and thinking. When everyone loves me and purrs at me, I will know its time to wrap things up and start my painting lessons.
My political idea has always been what I call solidarity, the idea of a common interest, the idea that we may differ on many things, but come together in accord and fraternity on broad values.
My big idea about America has been that our most common value is in welcoming people with ideals and ambitions and creating a world where they can lift themselves up. We care about others, not just ourselves. I think that is what we are really fighting about in America today. Some of believe that, and others – lots of others – no longer believe that, if they ever did.
To put it more simply, my political idea has always been that I am supposed to care about others. The new idea, I'll call it the corporate idea, the new and ascending political idea, is that you're only supposed to care about yourself. In the wealthiest country in the history of the earth, at least half of the country no longer believes there is enough to go around or to be shared.
You have to keep what you have, build fences and walls around it, and worry only about your own interests. In the Corporate Nation, there is never enough, not if you're a millionaire, not if you're a billionaire, not if your company posted record profits year after year. As long as anybody else has any money, you have to have it too.
Empathy, sympathy, generosity, tolerance have somehow slipped out of the system. I am not interested in the he-said, she-said screaming on cable news. In that barren space, there is no talk of hearts and souls.
I don't blame Republicans or Democrats, I attribute the collapse of solidarity to the unchecked rise of corporatism, which has overrun and corrupted our political system with money, and whose ideology, by definition is to get hold of all the money there is, and then go after the rest. Neither the left nor the right can claim the high ground.
Solidarityy, writes political theorist Naom Chomsky in his book Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration Of Wealth And Power, is a dangerous idea for the people at the top, for the billionaires shaping our public policy. There is no concern for others.
If you want to understand where the idea of a national economy came from, I'd recommend reading Adam Smith, who write Wealth Of Nations, considered the bible of capitalism, and a revered book among conservative economists. Smith is often cited by people who wish to dismantle health care and entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Smith invented the idea of a political economy, and his groundbreaking philosophy was based on the principle that sympathy is a fundamental human trait and emotion, but that it has no place in modern economics. It has no place in economic policy. You must expunge it from economic policy.
He preached that the modern economist must not care about others, only himself. This is an effective philosophy for the rich and the powerful – for our masters – but increasingly devastating for everyone else, as we are seeing in our own national economy now, where wealth is flowing like a raging river only one way: upward.
When it comes to solidarity and shared values, I have always admired the program called Social Security, it was of the great and most successful and humane experiments in social history.
You work hard all of your life and contribute a portion of everything you earn to a fund that gathers interest and returns to you when you and others may need it the most. It is not a gift but an investment. The program has been extraordinarily successful, and yet is relentlessly under attack by the masters, it seems to drive them crazy to see all that money going to someone else, or to fund any program that cares for others.
I am now receiving Social Security, and it is one of those things I believe I have fully earned, I have worked hard all of my life, and I see so many people around me who depend on this money as they falter and fail through old age. I am happy for this money to go to help others than just me, Social Security is life and death for so many older people. Some of my money goes to them, some goes to me.
I am proud to be doing that, to help others get what they need for working all of their lives. Isn't that what solidarity – and humanity – is?
You don't really have to be a bleeding heart liberal, do you, to want to help hard-working people eat and be secure in their final years? Is that really an undeserved giveaway to parasites?
There is a lot of talk about the crisis facing Social Security, but most economists believe it is in good shape, it's problems are easily fixable and that it is that rare government program that has done exactly what it promised to do.
In 1945, mass higher education was primarily funded by taxes. Now, in more than half of the states in the U.S., most of the funding for state colleges comes from tuition, not from the state. That is an awful burden on students, many of whom are staggering under loan debts they may never be able to fully repay.
And it has cut off education from millions of young people who would otherwise get to benefit from it.
I feel solidarity for these students, I feel sympathy for them, higher education ought to be free to anyone, I can't imagine any program that would create more jobs or boost our economy. But the masters can afford to send their children to Harvard and Yale, so they don't need to care about those who can't. And increasingly, they don't.
"In the 1950's," writes Chaomsky, "it was a much poorer society than it is today but, nevertheless, it could easily handle essentially free mass higher education.. Today a much richer society claims it doesn't have the resources for it. That's the general attack on principles that – not only are they inhumane – but are the basis for the prosperity and health of this society."
Social Security, writes Chaomsky, is based on the principle of solidarity. Solidarity means caring for others. Social Security means that I pay taxes so the widow down the road can get something to live on and food to eat and maybe even keep her home. For nearly half of the elderly population, Social Security is what people live on, it is all they have to live on.
The rich don't need it, therefore, there is a concerted and relentless effort in Washington to destroy it, primarily by defunding it or privatizing it.
In Washington, wrote Chaomsky presciently, the idea is to defund something so that it can't work, and then people will be so angry they will be happy to see it destroyed. That is how resistance is overcome. We can see this idea unfold today with health care, the government is openly doing everything they can to defund and destroy the existing system so that people will hate it so much they won't care if it is taken away.
And the masters have done a remarkable job of convincing the very people who will suffer the most to embrace the destruction of their very own health care. If you read Adam Smith, you will easily grasp the principle behind this cruel policy – if programs like that are destroyed, taxes will be lower for the wealthy and they can make even more money they don't need and can barely spend.
My political philosophy is Solidarity.
Sympathy and empathy are precious political goals for me, and I have yet to find my party or candidate. I can try to practice these ideas in my own life. I have empathy for the residents of the Mansion, I know what will happen to them is Medicaid is cut further, as many people Congress is eager to do. I have sympathy for the refugees and immigrants, who come her in peace and good faith to be safe and prosperous and for their children to be able to live and prosper here.
Adam Smith was certainly honest, if not particularly empathetic. The very point of government, he wrote, is to protect the rich from the poor and keep them at bay.
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner," Smith wrote, "but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages”
Why does this sound to familiar to me, so contemporary? It makes me queasy, almost ill.
I have empathy for the hard working people who have come here illegally to work hard and support their families, I think my Solidarity Party would look for ways to help them to contribute and keep their lives intact and their families together.
To me, every great leader – Gandhi, Mandela, Jefferson, Hamilton, King – has embraced the idea of solidarity, the idea that you are supposed to care about other people, not only yourself. For me, that is the black hole into which I sometimes feel we are descending, the lack of sympathy and concern for others.
I will keep it alive in my own life, and hope it is born again in the wider world. I believe it will be, it is a much more powerful idea than greed.