Thursday, 28 October 2004

The Steamroller

Imagine a mother looking out of a third story window at her 10 month old baby crawling in the street, oblivious to the approaching steamroller. She could scream in distress at the child, who might in response look up bewildered at her, but fail to move out of the way. Or she could fake a happy demeanor and point out to the child something of interest along the side of the road and out of the way. The second approach is probably more effective, but it is harder to manage.

It's an imperfect analogy, but it does get at the frustration some of us feel in our attempt to guide our fellow citizens to what we feel is an obvious choice in the upcoming election.

The steamroller is unbridled corporate power. The baby is the freedom and prosperity of the common folk. The driver of the steamroller may or may not be able to see the baby. The screaming response is shouting that the interests of the many are being sacrificed for the obscene gains for the few. The putting on of a happy face, is avoiding stating the starkness of the truth we believe for fear it will alienate those who have too much investment in the paving of the road to recognize the greater danger. The something of interest along the side of the road is the minor issue we call attention to in lieu of the big one.

One might read into this analogy that I believe that corporations are a hegemonic force of evil that must be brought down at any cost. I don't. Like individuals though, corporations are imperfect and need to have limits set, or else the unscrupulous among them gain the upper hand. I also recognize that "changing the driver" doesn't get rid of the steamroller, but if one comes to the conclusion that the current driver has no motivation to use the brakes in a reasonable fashion, changing the driver is at least a start to getting at the problem.

I conceded that the analogy is imperfect. Most significantly the analogy suggests doom or salvation, when it is clearly not an all or nothing situation. I do not believe that a second Bush presidency wipes out all controls on corporations, nor that a Kerry Presidency will do nearly as much as I would like to rein in the excesses of corporatedom. For another I'm likening the driver to the President/Government of the United States, when clearly corporate power derives from many sources, and exists in the world today apart from the sovereign influence of any one government. Kerry acknowledges that he can't eliminate outsourcing simply by changing the rules for corporations in this country, for instance.

But at the core of my distress about the current administration is their unashamed willingness to consistently put the interests of the boardrooms above the interests of the public at large. Then they sell the program as good for the country and good for the world. All the while the gap between the rich and the poor widens, protections for the environment are gutted, and our wealth is being squandered on risky military adventures whose only certain winners are the corporations being given the lucrative contracts to assist in the effort.

America, wake up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like the analogy. No one could expect perfection from it. I would add to your analysis how well the analogy portrays the desperate imprecision of our democratic process that can never simply pick up the baby directly and move her or him to safety. We always end up applying forces in complex, indirect ways, like lately when peace activists stump for the warmongering Kerry as the most expedient way to end the violence in Iraq.

> America, wake up!

Waking up can be extremely painful when it means that a long legacy of repressed brutality will become conscious. You described the baby as "the freedom and prosperity of the common folk." By "common folk" I understand you to mean Americans, in this context. Americans naturally have a self-centered view of the world. If we wake up too far we will realize that much of our freedom, together with most of our prosperity, has come at the expense of the peoples of the third world who have paid an inhumane price. If securing our freedom and prosperity is interpreted to mean that we should always be able to walk into Wal-Mart and pick up a $49 TV, then we won't be able to wake-- we, as a collectivity, will have to keep awareness of US death squads, puppet governments, and all manner of skullduggery unconscious. If we wake up all the way we will know that the path to Wal-Mart is paved with malnourished children from around the world.

The rapid restructuring of world powers is forcing American "common folk" to join the rest of the world in being painfully pour and powerless. I don't believe it is possible for Americans to regain anything like the freedom and prosperity of past decades by business as usual, which factors out (denies) global poverty and oppression. If we are to be lifted up again, it will have to come as a long, grueling effort done in harmony with an entire planet full of common folk.

I don't think Americans are anywhere near waking up to that. Denial runs too deep here. The success of the Bush administration is due largely to its ability to orchestrate our natural tendency to deny bad deeds. Meanwhile the steamroller approaches, but we can no longer save ourselves without saving the entire planet.

Jerry George
Bainbridge Island, WA