No Matter Your Skills, It All Comes Down to Wages: A 180-degree Turn Away from Debt Economy

The words after the Fire of 1889, “We Will Build Spokane Bigger and Better!”

Dog eat dog?

Think of any number of all-American axioms: Survival of the fittest? Winner takes all? Those who have, rule; those who do not have are the reason for their own destitution and undoing? The meek shall inherit the earth?

I have the luxury of being 59, having had dozens of jobs inside and outside my skills sets, experience, and educational background. This 35,000-foot view has also been honed by living abroad in such places as Azores, Paris, Edinburgh, Germany, Vietnam, Mexico, Central America, Canada, and England. The perspectives I have also have been shaped by a career military father, grandparents who immigrated from England to Canada and Germany to Iowa and South Dakota.

One cornerstone of my thoughts about the best way to survive in a pretty ruthless economic world here in this state and these “united” states was my family’s insistence on getting educated. Two graduate degrees later, many states and cities under my belt, as part of the passage of American work, I am faced – as are millions of others Americans — with working into my 70s.

I have seen many men and women in their late 60s leave so-called retirement and enter the workforce as Big Mac cooks and Walmart greeters.

This is against a backdrop of youth in general and younger people of color most notably having astronomical under-employment and unemployment rates. When an informed person hears three-time bankruptcy filer Donald Trump (or any number of the thousands in both the Republican and Democrat party leadership) that all it takes is hard work to be a success in America, both laughter and revulsion ebb up in one’s throat.

Washington State-based writer Mike Whitney studies economics and federal and international banking policies and writes profusely about the socio-dynamics of capitalism:

It all gets down to wages, wages, wages. If wages don’t grow, neither will the economy. The ‘trickle down’ Voodoo economic model was destined to fail because it was built on a fiction. Prosperity is not possible without the equitable distribution of wealth and fair worker compensation.

Every Billionaire Was Made by a Million Hard Workers — “Time to Strip Search them all”

It’s obvious that those at the top of the economic ladder are not the smartest, worldliest, best educated, most humble, and most deserving – consider Romney, Bush, Trump, any number of sports franchise owners, or Hollywood movers and shakers. When the bottom line is profits (and really large profits) at the expense of workers’ lives, then we can see any amount of gap in skills or the “wrong zip code” to be from are far from the only determinants of why people live or die in Spokane-LA-The Big Apple-Chicago-Detroit (the reader gets the picture).

We can rejigger so-called entitlement programs and education policy far and wide – infusion of software programs to realign our students’ and workers’ skills; encourage youth to get into up and coming professioins (i.e. all health care occupations, from blood drawing, to medical coding to every aspect of a hospital’s inner and outer workings); pretend that self-employment and the Uber movement will solve anything; create public-private partnerships to provide supply and demand algorithms to assist the super rich and stock holders’ profits.

The other choice is develop a true single payer health care system, tax the rich’s incomes, from wage to social security, make illegal all predatory lending and usury, create a national income (Finland is attempting this) and nationwide a real work for authentic community needs vis-a-vis a paid volunteer brigade.

It’s not what you know, how well you know it or who you know anymore. Exceptionalism is a myth, as well as the concept of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps to get out of working class poverty. Here’s pretty basic debunking of the meritocracy systems Trump and others tout, by authors Robert K. Miller Jr. and Stephen J. McNamee:

“We argue that meritocracy — the idea that societal resources are distributed exclusively or primarily on the basis of individual merit – is a myth,” they state. “It is a myth because of the combined effects of non-merit factors such as inheritance, social and cultural advantages, unequal educational opportunity, luck and the changing structure of job opportunities, the decline of self-employment, and discrimination in all of its forms. If meritocracy is a myth, how can the system be made to operate more closely according to meritocratic principles that Americans so uniformly endorse?”

Both authors have ways to move this country toward genuine meritocracy:

  • the tax system could be redesigned to be genuinely progressive in ways that would close the distance between those at the top and the bottom of the system;
  • current forms of discrimination could be reduced or eliminated the wealthy could be encouraged to redistribute greater amounts of their accumulated wealth through philanthropy in ways that would provide greater opportunity for the less privileged; and,
  • more government resources could be allocated to provide more equal access to critical services such as education and health care

This is a life and death story – the life of some sort of decent, fair, and community-driven society which prohibits predatory financing, redistributes the profits of our hard work back to us, and reinvests in the workers’ civic, public, intellectual, and physical health. The poor and destitute are increasing in numbers and exponentially in Spokane, this county, this state and these un-united states.

Stop Dividing and Conquering the Workers

First, I offer a digression from the local perspective on wage gap, the skills “gap,” and the great sucking sound of the middle class fluttering down to hand to mouth existence. One in four under five years of age is living in poverty in this country, something Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz laments in his New York Times series called, “The Great Divide”.

“Our divisions are deep. Economic and geographic segregation have immunized those at the top from the problems of those down below,” Stiglitz writes. “Like the kings of yore, they have come to perceive their privileged positions essentially as a natural right. Our economy, our democracy and our society have paid for these gross inequities. The true test of an economy is not how much wealth its princes can accumulate in tax havens, but how well off the typical citizen is — even more so in America where our self-image is rooted in our claim to be the great middle-class society. But median incomes are lower than they were a quarter-century ago. Growth has gone to the very, very top, whose share has almost quadrupled since 1980. Money that was meant to have trickled down has instead evaporated in the balmy climate of the Cayman Islands.”

Planning Crisis to Crisis, and Still, the Majority are Barely Getting By

Crisis after crisis invades our communities like plagues – from a $1.5 trillion dollar student loan collective albatross around future generations’ necks, to highly skilled and educated workers getting short shrift through billionaires and political failures working in concert for their paymasters to maximize profits by downsizing, outsourcing and mechanizing/digitizing good work. We can whittle it all down to a disconnected and unfair system that privatizes profits but socializes all the costs, including pollution (think of Flint, Michigan); wars (who benefits from oil wars?); welfare (more prisoners, more for profit prison profiteers); education (firing teachers in lieu of packed classrooms and standardized computer correspondence “schooling”); research and development (everything from pharmaceuticals, medical cures, engineering feats, computing genius comes from publicly-funding top-notch universities); and much more.

Every technical and community college in Washington has had wave after wave of re-centering and boondoggle programming around each “next big thing” the business community promotes and continues to pressure legislators to get paid for in education and training at the public’s expense. I’ll rattle off a foreboding fact on the state of things: the federal government pays employers a $5,500 sum to hire felons.

It still all boils down to wages which are by many conservative economists 40 years stagnant. Here, readers who consider themselves part of the working lower middle class category, take a big breath before continuing:

the $4.03-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 has the same purchasing power
as $22.41 would today

I don’t get paid $22.41 an hour for researching and interviewing sources for and actually writing/editing this article, and I do not get that as a certified PK12 substitute teacher with two masters degrees, and I certainly never got that teaching at Gonzaga University, Spokane Falls Community College, University of Texas, and so on …

Show Me the Money, Or Make that Dollar Stretch!

Asked about the so-called $15 an hour minimum wage for workers movement, Kai Huschke, local (Spokane, WA) civic engagement and social justice activist — who helped spearhead the Community Bill of Rights and the Workers’ Bill of Rights – sees the number One-Five as a “sweet spot” for the state overall.

“My sense is that having a number is easy,” Kai says. “You get paid $9 and we are advocating that you get paid $15. Straight forward math. $15 or $17 is also a sweet spot, at least in Washington state, being that it would mean a living wage for a single person most everywhere in the state.”

This state is one where that wealth gap – inequality – is most dramatic. Maybe not so physically in your face as a place like Seattle or Vancouver since the housing stock in Spokane is aging, and how much more money one has over their neighbors is not evident by the facades of old Craftsman homes side by side. In Seattle and throughout the land, those old suburbs with winding roads and endless cul-de-sacs are being called the “new ghettos,” as 1950s and even 1980s homes are worn down, in need of major repairs and serves as abodes to workers and multiple workers each. Many foster homes for adults with dementia, disabilities or just as convalescent centers are also sited in those suburbs.

As always, the old adages – appearances are deceiving, or don’t judge a book by its cover – have been remixed and retrofitted in a world where even the poor have android phones and 68-inch flat screen TVs and newer cars.

In fact, folks like Joe Stiglitz, Ellen Brown (writer and economist), Elizabeth Warren (D- Mass), Washington State political and economic writer Mike Whitney, and Evergreen State College emeritus professor of political economy Alan Nasser, all agree the current systems tied to huge multiple billions going to the likes of Washington state’s Bill and Melinda Gates, Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos, the so-called Koch Brothers, Michael Bloomberg, and even wannabe Donald Trump is more than a travesty of economic justice.

The Ties That Bind People – Education, Shifting Economies, Corporations Call the Shots

This piece published in a small town magazine looking at the skills gap, reskilling of Spokane’s workforce and wages, as well as all those vagaries tied to “what are the next big things to be when I grow up,” believe it or not, tie into this writer’s own struggle to find work to match his skills. My dilemma coming out of journalism school (1979) looking for real living wage work began before I was born (think 1890s):

“In All the Presidents’ Bankers, Nomi Prins names six banking giants and associated banking families that have dominated politics for over a century. No popular third party candidates have a real chance of prevailing, because they have to compete with two entrenched parties funded by these massively powerful Wall Street banks,” states Ellen Brown, author of the books Web of Debt and Public Bank Solution. “Control of the media and financial leverage over elected officials then enabled those other curbs on democracy we know today, including high barriers to ballot placement for third parties and their elimination from presidential debates, vote suppression, registration restrictions, identification laws, voter roll purges, gerrymandering, computer voting, and secrecy in government. The final blow to democracy … was ‘globalization’ – an expanding global market that overrides national interests.”

Coming out of University of Arizona in 1979 with journalism-English bachelor’s in hand, I listened to some of my tenured J-professors trying to convince some of us grads – who had done amazing work on the college daily, the lab paper, Tombstone Epitaph, and internships with dailies and weeklies all over that state and Southwest – the world was our oyster. The sad fact was that one of every 250 or 300 journalism graduates in the US in 1979 would find work at a medium- to large-sized daily.

I’ve worked in small towns in Southern Arizona covering three counties and northern Mexico, laying down 300 miles a week in my Toyota Corolla and clocking 80 hours a week for poverty wages filing significant (award-winning) stories for three small town dailies and a half dozen weeklies and bi-weeklies the family of the small conglomerate owned.

Thirty six years later and with masters in English (composition, literature, writing) and another graduate degree in urban planning (sustainability and community development) here I am writing part-time for these “Metro Living” columns, for a magazine that writers have to continue to beg for our pay checks, and each and every shekel coming in as a writer is how I survive while I work for a Portland non-profit (completely outside my skills training) as a job developer-case manager for homeless, out-of-prison and recovering substance abuse citizens. Each day I walk by (and converse with) hundreds of homeless men and women, young and old, hobbled by disabilities, both physical and mental.

Down and Out in Any City, USA

I’ve had in three months talks with five people who were born and raised in Spokane, now houseless and what the Trump followers would deem as “down and out nobodies, poor and disheveled and precarious because of their own doing.” Construction skills, a master carpenter, amazingly the head of a hotel catering team, a veterinarian tech, small business owner, and a certified LPN. Spokane raised and down and out in Portlandia!

I’ve looked in the eyes of one of the world’s richest men – Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – and stood up at a stockholders meeting and asked him why his company’s fulfillment centers (warehouse distribution hubs) work people to fatigue/collapse, pay sub-living wages, and continually dock pay and hours when quotas go unfilled? I know these people are heartless businessmen/ women, really, and when it boils down to the reality of all those homeless and poverty wage citizens surviving in his own Emerald City, Bezos is one of the worst philanthropists. However, Bezos and his ilk benefit from loopholes you could pilot an aircraft carrier through, hiding taxable profits (tens of billions of dollars) in foreign banks and just carrying out ruthless business models that put small mom and pop business owners out of work.

I was with SEIU, the service workers union, and Mister Bezos had hired on a boatload of police to handle the protesters – mostly clergy and young people wanting more to life than a $80,000 college bill and a $10 an hour job at Amazon. Sadly, one in 10 workers now are part of a union, compared to a third of all workers being unionized half a century ago.

Bite the Hand that Steals from You

We are our own worst enemies, since Americans consume corporate press propaganda, have zero labor education history classes, and are seeing more and more teachers throwing in the towel while state school departments are buying more and more packaged, substandard and standardized test prep software where now teaching is turning into managing bubble-in exams.

So it’s not amazing that so many working people in the US who are poor see themselves as middle class, and many in my ranks support the likes of billionaires running roughshod on our public education and publicly managed utilities, transportation, and other citizen-supporting systems.

I asked Kai Huschke to answer all those hyper-active critics on the blogsphere and at Tea Party rallies who see any form of public commons, public safety nets and wage parity and taxation system to exact from the CEOs and owners of companies their fair share of burdens heaped upon workers and the communities they work in as socialism, communism.

“My question back, is what is it costing right now by not paying workers a fair wage or treating them fairly on the job?” Kai asks. “Let’s see: massive personal debt, drug use, high crime rates, domestic instability, poor health, close to zero civic engagement, and a disconnection from nature itself. Paying workers $15 doesn’t even come close to rectifying the cataclysmic deficit that has mounted because the ‘free market’ has been allowed to dictate, not only wages for the overwhelming majority of people in Spokane and this country, but nearly every aspect of corporate behavior that directly impacts our lives.”

This dis-empowering of young people I see every day, since I also serve as a substitute teacher in three rural districts in the Vancouver area, and taught at Clark Community College. That privatization of many aspects of PK12 and college education has over the last three decades penetrated into the minds of parents and their offspring. “Shut up, watch your rebelliousness, and if you have no skin in the game, skedaddle,” are the bizarre sentiments.

That skedaddling has included skilled jobs, and now we are at the point where our country is driven by consumer spending (70 percent). Rich get richer, the low classes get poorer, and the kind of work young people can be expected to pursue is most times low skill and precarious, at will, driven by a no- benefits and “you are replaceable” corporate mindset.

Again, the local $17 an hour activist weighs in:

“Just like profit for profit’s sake or development for development’s sake, we must get away from the mindset of a job for job’s sake, no matter how well that job may pay,” Huschke says. “You’d think that people would be drawing a line, saying we want fairness and just compensation but not at the expense of destroying the planet or exploiting other people. The brotherhood and sisterhood of workers, whether they come together in an organized fashion or not, needs to claim the greatest say in what kind of economy we will have.”

Huschke and hundreds of teachers, writers, thinkers and workers I know and talk with wonder why the American worker today is so unwilling to strike, now that we see an extractive economy that is “literally killing us” with the by-product being climate change and destabilized global economies. I find it like talking in Greek to young people today when attempting to school them on the history of early 20th century American labor activism and the hundreds and hundreds of strikes where the means of production stopped. One key fact is the non-strikers also supported this tactic.

It’s Decreasing Poverty, Stupid . . . The Centerpiece of Almost Everything is the Health of People

The reader might find it interesting that people like education historian Diane Ravitch, the lone liberal who helped George H.W. Bush’s administration create No Child Left Behind (she now curses the program), sees bridging the poverty gap as the only way to attain educational markers many states like Washington and Oregon are aspiring toward – all students graduating with a high school degree, forty percent going on to obtain a two-year school diploma ,and another 40 percent hitting the books for a bachelor’s degree with the other twenty percent entering skilled or certification trade programs.

Getting feedback on the wage and skills gap from Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD), I find it’s clear that all economic issues are closely tied together – educational attainment, economic sustainability, and physical/mental health.

“The unfair distribution of health and length of life provides compelling enough reason for action across all social determinants,” says Kim Papich, public information officer for SRHD. “However, there are other important reasons for taking action. Addressing continued inequities in early child development, in young people’s educational achievement and acquisition of skills, in sustainable and healthy communities, in social and health services, and in employment and working conditions will have multiple benefits that extend beyond reductions in health inequities.”

Papich asked several at Spokane Regional Health District to weigh in on the wage and skills gap here in Spokane. Any number of experts and non-profits know that Spokane’s higher than state level poverty and educational attainment factor into the health equation. Better education is the key, but young people need involved parents, extracurricular activities, better neighborhood schools and a society that values all sorts of education, beyond the corporations’ bottom line.

“Reducing our large and persistent health inequities requires taking a broader, deeper look at how health is shaped across lifetimes and generations,” Papich reiterated. “Finding solutions to avoidable differences in the health of our community requires looking beyond the medical care system to acknowledge and address the many other social and economic factors that also can determine a person’s health.”

Systemic changes around wages, the types of work we pursue, and the rights around labor and citizen control over the playing field and political landscape are always at the forefront of change agents and thinkers, but as Huschke and others know, the corporations currently control the media, the message, the courts, education centers, and the means of getting politicians to listen.

A Healthy Economy is Unfettered People’s Banks and People Calling the Shots

For Elizabeth Warren and Ellen Brown, a nationwide state bank system is required for people to have the power of savings accounts, loans at the local level, certificate of deposits that make interest, and possessing a neutral place to do financial transactions. North Dakota is one place with a state bank, reaching back 97 years.

The types of companies coming to a city and the type of work we are expected to do as workers must be through the right of local community self-government, many believe. We can’t let companies dictate future generations’ lives through indebtedness around profit margins.

It’s clear to a large number of citizens and experts that we have to plan for food shortages, water security and droughts through regional and multi-state bio-regional planning. The same holds true of all things tied to economics. Dog eat dog can’t work to anyone’s benefit. Coeur d’Alene (ID), Spokane and Colville (WA) probably need a new overlay for joint economic development, working seamlessly to make sure we do not have duplication of services, competing industries and this boom or bust mentality that has been the hallmark of America since first contact.

No matter how much we work putting intellectual and financial energy into think tanks, policy studies, reports and research projects tied to what can bridge the wage and skills gap, we have to rethink this consumer society.

Many in the $15 an hour movement, from Seattle to Missoula, and all parts south, want real progress toward living wages. It is revolutionary, only in that we might have to go back in history when the rich were taxed at a higher rate, corporations were regulated and workers were really organized. Kai sees it this way:

A constitutionally protected power – at the state and federal level – that would allow communities to implement greater rights and protections whether it be for people, workers, neighborhoods, or nature . . . . elimination of corporate rights, powers, and privileges when it conflicts with that of the community’s rights. Put another way, a subordination of corporations (a piece of property) to living, breathing, sentient beings (people and nature).

Note: What follows is an interview with a local (Spokane, Inland Northwest) economist from Eastern Washington University. Ironically, this piece was slated for the gig I have had at Spokane Living Magazine. I’ve worked for the magazine off and one since 2002, and alas, the paychecks for stories and photographs have been delayed, mismanaged and ironically, writing from a worker’s perspective ALWAYS, this piece ended up on the cutting floor, so to speak, because the publisher over-spent and under-valued the writing and journalism he was supposed to honor even as a for-profit businessman. Under so many circumstances for me over four decades, the entire project of writing and investigating and editorializing and plain reporting has been gobbled up by folks who have no ethical training in the soft art of journalism and what duties we all have to honor traditions of getting truth right and respecting those of us soldiers who have a higher ethical bar to reach learning the narratives of our sources and the challenges of our communities and these times.

I have a piece in the magazine for March on the value of trees, on arborculture, from the 5,000 foot perspective of small town journalism shifting as always in my pieces to a global (national) reach. I shall repost it here when that magazine issue goes live.

Out of respect for those I hound for comments, here, pasted, the interview with Michael L. Zukosky, Ph.D., 2014-2016 Faculty Engaged Scholar, Department of Geography and Anthropology, EWU:

Interview

Paul Haeder: What are the reasons for a $15 or $17 an hour wage for workers?

Michael L. Zukosky: Such a wage would assist workers in committing to a place of employment and obtaining affordable housing, decent clothing, and healthy food as well as debt reduction and savings. It would give them the needed free time to participate in local democracy. Of course, there are broader structural economic issues that need to be addressed for many struggling small businesses in raising wages as seen in resistance to past initiatives. Our whole economy is not designed with basic human needs and political participation as an objective.

PH: Many see institutional violence as over-policing minorities, economic disparities, and that includes this vast underclass of Americans of all stripes not even scraping by on minimum wages that have the buying power of someone living in the 1960s. Discuss.

MZ: In the social sciences, we call it structural violence. Violence is simply the use of coercion to achieve a goal, rather than say dialogue and cooperation. It can be individual –and for a simple objective like a fistfight over a parking space- or structural and based on extensive monetary and property resources like different racially defined groups and access to good employment. Clearly, the existing distribution of resources according to gender, class, and race entails structural violence that involves individuals (say a sexist boss) as well as police forces, military, private security apparatuses – overt violent forces. I think the important issue here is also that the threat of violence is often as important as the use of violence.

PH: Other ways to bring up people and do justice to wage equity includes down-home socialism and ecosocialism. In the end, anything tweaked in a capitalistic society is barely the lesser of two evils, with the same result of inequality, exploitation, slave wages, debt, etc. Discuss your feelings there.

MZ: I am skeptical of top-down, broad attempts at social engineering. We need to start organizing locally, and building a movement. It should explore different approaches, different economic forms, and be pluralist. It is going to take time, and will never be utopia, a world without inequality. But we can achieve a serious reduction in inequality as a first step towards something more humane. Some central redistribution (strong welfare state), some market activities, and some planned components (say communalized-nationalized industries).

PH: Our system is based on consumerism, a service economy, one that produces wasteful, polluting and human hobbling things or processes. It seems as if we have to reset the clock to another way of doing business, and being people and workers. Discuss — what is the power of the worker?

MZ: I agree with these systemic problems. But I am skeptical of “resetting the clock.” I think human society is more organic. It isn’t one thing that we are outside and which can simply reset via switch. The power of workers to improve their livelihood lie in their relationships to other workers, to like-minded others in the community, and its in social relationships that change will come.

PH: Why are Americans so blinded by the plutocrats, the mythology of anyone can be a millionaire — takes hard work?

MZ: In addition to capitalist culture generally, I think it is partially human nature. So many people love the idea of living like a king – big mansion, all the amenities, and a life of pleasure. Having lived like slaves, most of us can understand the desire for good housing and the pleasures of life. Many people are willing to gamble for all and risk everything. At the same time, with the rise of both left and right populism, it would also seem that many of the losers are not blinded at all. They are angry. We just need to direct that anger to a critique of capitalist culture.

PH: What are some systemic things around wages, work and labor that need changing?

MZ: A pressing issue – we need new forms of labor unions that can better serve the service industries.

PH: What more and what better things can the labor and workers’ rights movement do to break through the log jam of propaganda set up by the One Percent and their Corporate Media?

MZ: Engage physical public spaces for information dispersal and meetings and the virtual public spaces like community-based media. Capital clearly dominates both spaces, and a start would be to reclaim them one at a time. The labor movement is almost completely invisible.

PH: Spokane has some unique economic and worker markers and characteristics. Can you discuss them?

MZ: I cannot. I have reached out to our local AFL-CIO without luck. I want to learn more about labor issues in Spokane.

Double Note: As always, I appreciate the skill and tenor of those folks I used to be associated with vis-a-vis my decades as a so-called faculty member of private, state and community colleges. So hats off to Michael for throwing in for this piece.

However, to keep true to my defiance of systems and pedagogues, I have to weigh in on the incredible devaluing of tribalism’s inherent foundation to move us away from this concept that “human nature is what it is and no need to tear down inherently human and earth killing systems or advocate against-push down-physically break the powers that be.”

I have now monumentally boring and vapid conversations with good friends about America’s political class, the current freak show called the presidential election, as if we have collective amnesia. Like, sure, which whoring politician, president, entire Administrations, have done ANY good for those of us fighting the very thought of misleadership, representative (sic) capitalism, Empire, Manifest Destiny?

Most revolutionaries don’t want to go back to a time of dysfunction and horror to replace these times of transnational and globalized horror, as Kurtz says in The Heart of Darkness. 

We do want to reappropriate the qualities and quantifiables that were lifeboats for the working class — reading, experiential education, collective action, face-to-face communication, a desire to better the brain and body-temple through organic processes, knowledge of and respect for wild systems.

None of that can happen in this faux global digital human and ecological precarity.

Blending revolt and resetting our thinking processes and retaking our cultural and historical narratives have to be part and parcel tied to any educational frame, subjugating sciences or economics or the arts. Again, Daniel Quinn, author of many books, with Ishmael and My Ishmael shaping new tribalism’s place in discourse. Here at DV,  William Hawes writes of Quinn’s gift in, The Spread of Ecological Wisdom and Confronting the Artifice of Capitalism“:

Quinn quotes:

Given an expanding food supply, any population will expand. This is true of any species, including the human. The Takers have been proving this here for ten thousand years. For ten thousand years they’ve been steadily increasing food production to feed an increased population, and every time they’ve done this, the population has increased still more.

— the gorilla in Ishmael

The tribalism of the New Tribal Revolution isn’t proposed as an end–as something right and to be clung to at any cost–it’s proposed as a beginning, at a time when we must either make a new beginning or reconcile ourselves to joining the dinosaurs in the very near future.

Beyond Civilization

We don’t need to have all six billion of us living like environmental saints tomorrow–or ever, for that matter. To take such a thing as our objective would merely assure failure.

Beyond Civilization

We’ve got to find our way back into the community. We’ve got to stop living like outlaws. When we begin to do that–when we begin to acknowledge that the world needs us and that we belong to it, not it to us–I think our feelings of desperate loneliness and neediness will begin to evaporate, all by themselves.

— Providence

A lethal meme is one that kills its possessor.

Beyond Civilization

In our cultural mythology we see ourselves as having left tribalism behind the way modern medicine left the leech and the bleeding bowl behind, and we did so decisively and irrevocably. This is why it’s so difficult for us to acknowledge that tribalism is not only the preeminently human social organization, it’s also the only unequivocally successful social organization in human history. Thus, when even so wise and thoughtful a statesman as Mikhail Gorbachev calls for “a new beginning” and “a new civilization,” he doesn’t doubt for a single moment that the pattern for it lies in the social organization that has introduced humanity to oppression, injustice, poverty, chronic famine, incessant violence, genocide, global warfare, crime, corruption, and wholesale environmental destruction. To consult, in our time of deepest crisis, with the unqualified success that humanity enjoyed here for more than three million years is quite simply and utterly unthinkable.

— Beyond Civilization

Paul Kirk Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. He organized Part-time faulty in Washington State. His book, Reimagining Sanity: Voices Beyond the Echo Chamber (2016), looks at 10 years of his writing at Dissident Voice. Read his autobiography, weekly or bi-weekly musings and hard hitting work in chapter installments, at LA Progressive. He blogs from Waldport, Oregon. Read his short story collection, Wide Open Eyes: Surfacing from Vietnam, coming out Jan. 2020 from Cirque Journal. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.