By Joey Engebak
Nov 14, 2015
Even with degrees in political science and sustainable development I still get overwhelmed when discussing politics. I think every existing political philosophy has merit. Conservative, liberal, libertarian, social democrat, anarchy. I think if you slavishly subscribe to only one that you are pretty uninformed. Each political philosophy, while claiming to be all-encompassing, is a pretty thin slice of reality. They have each evolved throughout the centuries, and have inevitably become twisted by powerful individuals seeking to turn an entire ideology to their selfish benefit.
As a Norwegian by birth and American resident by choice, I am often horrified by the social barbarism that is American social policy. Americans pay almost as much in taxes as Norwegians and they get less than nothing in return. Limited to no healthcare, sub-par public schooling and no higher education, low general wages, a laughable minimum wage, and crumbling infrastructure. Nearly 60% of the national budget goes to fund the military industrial complex because having over 900 bases spread across the world isn’t cheap. Understandably, most Americans I come across in my daily life are horrified by these facts, too. But it took me a while to understand the underlying American culture that is responsible for this climate to exist at all.
The frontier spirit of the 1800’s is alive and well in America. It manifests most noticeable on the right-wing side of the current political spectrum; in conservatives, republicans and libertarians, but I also notice it in many left-leaning Americans. This notion, this absolute belief, that you are responsible for your own circumstances. Never mind that we are living in extreme times, of wealth inequality, global capitalism, neo-liberal imperialism, 50 million refugees and displaced people, mass consumption and resource extraction the world has never seen before. Less than 300 years ago, back in frontier days, America was an untouched oasis. Native Americans left little to no footprint on the planet at all. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine a time when you could just get on a horse and ride west, and when you found untouched land, you could claim it and be the rightful owner. Not only that, you were praised for your bravery of attempting such a journey. Sure, many perished and died in search of paradise but overall, America was pretty easily conquered. And now that land was in your possession, you could defend it by killing anyone who ventured onto it. For a brief moment in time, you were solely responsible for your life and circumstance. If crops failed, you died. If you got ill, you died. I don’t know about you but I say, luckily, we don’t live in those times anymore. We live in a complex society in which everything we do to survive is deeply connected with those around us, and now in the global age, deeply connected to workers all over the world whom we will never see or speak to. Unnamed, unseen workers feed and clothe us. Any service or help you need is only a phone call away. If your house catches fire, the fire truck comes blazing without you having to do anything.
Complex societies require complex politics, which again require a highly educated public. We have neither. We have simpleton politicians, half of which claim to hate government, and a corporate media news circus that breaks everything down to the lowest common denominator. America is officially an oligarchy – ruled by the richest to extract every ounce of wealth from a rapidly declining planet. Climate change is real, say 98% of the world’s scientists. Let’s debate climate change some more, say the world’s politicians. By 2016, 1% of the world’s population will control 51% of the planet’s wealth. Football fields of rainforest disappear, cropped down and burned, every second. Some scientists estimate that we are losing dozens of species every single day, some not even discovered and could hold future cures for disease. One sailor even went as far as saying “the ocean is dead” because of the lack of life he saw sailing across the Pacific. Fish as a dietary staple may be gone as soon as 2040. It’s the main source of protein for over 1 billion people. As the oil wars burn themselves out, the water wars are just getting started.
We live in extreme times. We are surveilled, over-worked, undernourished. Those of us not caught in violence and poverty, are traumatized by images and wrecked with guilt. Depression is running rampant among those of us who are fortunate enough to have the time and security to feel it. Despite billions of years of evolution and fighting to stay alive, members of the most advanced species on the planet are now choosing to end their own life through lack of purpose. We live in pretty insane times, and the politics are not mirroring that at all.
Why should you care about politics? It doesn’t seem to do much. I’m always astonished when I run across people who act as though caring about politics is optional. As if it somehow doesn’t affect them. As if it’s just someone’s hobby.
The way I see it most of the above problems, as bleak as they seem, are pretty solvable. Through politics and an evolved consciousness. First we have to accept that we no longer live in frontier times. The world is full and we are all in this together. If consumption is what’s destroying this planet, the only one we’ve got, we have to question the motive for it. In the past 50 years the human race have been granted various rights through global organizations, such as right to life, liberty, security, and freedom from cruel treatment. But I find it very strange that the two most basic things needed to live within such rights, food and a home, are still not a right. To have a safe place to sleep and food to eat is the foundation of all life. And that still costs money, which is created and hoarded by a tiny elite, in effect making all other rights void because people have to submit to all kinds of cruel and undignified ways to make enough money to simply stay alive.
So it all comes down to money. The hippies and the Marxists got it right. Freedom costs money, and money is now more concentrated than ever. A most enlightening article states that it will take 100 years for the poorest people to earn $1.25 a day. That is just about the most sobering thing I have read about the state of the world and global capitalism – the one that promised to lift us all out of poverty. If we keep going the way we do, there won’t be a planet left in 100 years for those people to be earning $1.25. The way we live is so unsustainable it borders on madness. Radical change is needed, fast.
For me, universal basic income is that radical change. Make money a human right. A small sum deposited each month into every person’s bank account – enough to pay for a small apartment and healthy food. Automate whatever menial jobs can be automated, get rid of unnecessary jobs, and raise the wages on the ones that are left for those who wish to make additional money. Those satisfied with a small space can spend their days creating art and inventions, raise children, talk philosophy or relax. Growing food can be a community service – each member working 4 hours a week. It might not be perfect but it’s a heck of a lot better than what we have going on now. Eventually the goal would be to phase out currency completely, something along the line of Resource Based Economy from The Zeitgeist Movement and The Venus Project.
And what will eventually happen to wealthy people? Seriously, who cares. A study concluded that the financial ‘happiness’ level is $75,000 a year. With that sum you can live in a nice house, in a nice place and eat good food and have hobbies. Everything over that amount does not increase your happiness. In fact, when you earn much more than that your unhappiness grows because of all the responsibility that comes with owning and maintaining so much stuff.
Eventually private property rights is something that must be discussed because it is absurd to live on a planet where wealthy people can claim so much space as their own and poor people will never feel secure. While I believe it is our animal instinct to want to claim territory, much like our animal friends in the wild, there must be a fair way to do so. Maybe it should be a human right to own land? But then who would decide who gets the best parts? Can we evolve beyond the need to claim territory? These should be the political questions in our time of crisis.