3 Mar 2010, 11:52am
1 comment

people are people

so in the past year or so since i have broken open (that is what it felt like, a little bit) w/r/t everything in the whole entire world being totally fucked (y’know more or less, but as derrick jensen says, “we are SO fucked. life is SO good”) i have had this belief that eventually things will get SO BAD that everyone else will break open too and there will be a critical mass of awake, alert, and angrily optimistic people ready to fix things. i mean, that’s, like, the worst case scenario i have imagined. maybe it would be too little too late, but at least people would GET IT.

(ideally we as a species figure shit out before it gets “SO BAD,” and/or i and every climate scientist and environmentally-concerned citizen are wrong, in which case:

yup.)

but infinite jest is disabusing me of that notion. it was written in the mid-1990’s and dfw was remarkably prescient w/r/t to culture, the rhetoric of consumerism and corporatism, etc… i would have to reread the whole book (i’m on page 620!) to properly digest and summarize some supporting details for you all, so you’ll have to take my word for it. there’s this ad for some cable company that sometimes plays while a. and i are watching the daily show on hulu, and every time i see it i tell a. “this is just STRAIGHT OUT OF infinite jest!” and he sort of rolls his eyes at me.

anyway, in infinite jest, things get worse and worse and tons of hydrocephalic babies are born in the region of vermont, new hampshire, quebec, and there’s growing waste problems elsewhere, etc etc etc, but no one wakes up and tries to fix things… instead, a bunch of weird imperialist (”experialist”) shit goes down and the u.s. evacuates the whole region and creates this insane waste-land and the status quo continues its fucked up march through time. and i feel like i have not been creative enough, in my silly belief that at some point as environmental and community destruction continues, destructive corporations’ lies will cease to be believable by anyone.

now i am thinking of the proverbial frog in the pot. you know, the story of how if you put a frog in a pot full of room temperature water and then slowly, slowly heat the water, the frog will lay back and let itself be boiled to death?

the good news is that wikipedia says that according to contemporary biologists, and contrary to the 19th century experiments that birthed the parable to begin with, the frog will wise up and jump out eventually. so let’s wise up! THE WATER IS GETTING AWFULLY HOT, PEOPLE.

from abraham lincoln’s inaugural address:

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I cannot be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.

(notwithstanding the fact that lincoln went on to fight the civil war—i don’t know enough of that history to comment on it—) can you imagine a president saying that stuff today?

let me tell you about corporate personhood. it’s been in the news more than usual recently because of the supreme court decision on january 21st re: citizens united vs. the federal election commission, but corporate personhood is much older than that. the january decision basically declared that limits on campaign spending by corporations are unconstitutional, because of two assumptions for which, apparently, there is ample precedent (at least for the first; i’m not sure about the second):
1. corporations have first amendment rights, and
2. money is speech (and therefore protected).

(on monday night at the bar i got into a conversation with some friends about this stuff, and their reaction of course was “no way! that’s insane!” and i don’t think my friends are much more out of this particular loop than anyone else, which is why i’m writing about this despite my ever-present feeling that i don’t know enough to argue these points well and blah blah blah… i will never know “enough” to stop feeling self-conscious about standing up for shit, but i know enough to know i need to do it anyway. so. i want to write about the things i care about even when i’m not sure what i still have to learn. blogging is a little scary because the words seem permanent and sometimes i feel pretty foolish when i read back on stuff i’ve written a year or several years ago. but it also feels really valuable to me to do. oh there’s something from always coming home that’s sort of about this—i quoted it here—about letting words die and leaving silence for new words. i like blogs because new information and feelings constantly supplant the old but are buoyed by them; the old stuff is always there to learn from or reference. whatever, i am overthinking this.)

also, one reason genetically-modified foods are not labeled in the united states is because of corporations’ “negative free speech rights”—i.e. the right to NOT say something if they don’t want to. (a couple sources: see here or footnote 8 here.) what!? (and for the best argument i have read w/r/t why you should be really fucking suspicious of g.m. crops, read michael pollan’s the botany of desire, which i really cannot recommend strongly enough. i should really read some of his other books as well.)

y’all, corporations are not people. and a nation in which corporations with billion-dollar budgets have free speech rights is not a democracy. paul cienfuegos, who i have now seen speak twice (first at the village building convergence last summer, and more recently just last friday), talks a lot about how insane it is that instead of prohibiting corporations from doing harm, we have varyingly impotent regulatory institutions to sort of attempt to lessen or limit the harm they do.

so what can we do? paul talked on friday about communities all over the country, including a bunch of townships in pennsylvania who have recently joined forces and written a manifesto of sorts calling for a state constitutional convention, who are establishing local initiatives to forbid corporations from perpetrating environmental harm and outlaw corporate personhood. you can read the pennsylvania declaration here.

i am hoping to learn more about this. in the meantime, here are some resources:
the community environmental legal defense fund
reclaim democracy
and some background info, written in 2003

and here is a petition you can sign: campaign to legalize democracy.

.
re: infinite jest, btw: i love this book, holy crap.

facebook comments–

SCOTT:
“2. money is speech (and therefore protected).”

I think there are lots of precedents both for and against this, right? Isn’t capping campaign spending roughly akin to fixing a price for a good or commodity? It seems like the government has both done that and banned doing that quite a bit in the last century or so.

There are some obvious cases, though, where the right to donate money to an organization has been restricted for the same reasons it might be legally justifiable to restrict speech–for example, if the recipient in question is guilty of terrorism or hate crimes…. See More

If you restrict campaign spending, though, corporations could still find lots of ways to channel wealth or resources to politicians/parties.

I think that first bit:
“1. corporations have first amendment rights”
is by far the more threatening of those two prospects, and the greater threat to democracy.

LAURA:
i know what you mean about not wanting to bring things up because you’re not sure if you know enough about it. i think it’s good anyway, though! maybe it will start a conversation that a lot of people can learn from! i personally learn from (and enjoy!) your blog. thank you for writing! :)

ME:
scott, i don’t think “they’d find a way to give ‘em money anyway” is a good reason not to restrict campaign spending, imho. the 1st assumption (corporations have free speech rights) has actually been established for quite awhile; it’s the 2nd, and the resulting declaration of campaign spending limits as unconstitutional, that’s new. or at least, … See Morethis clarification of it is new. obviously the idea that corporations have the same rights as individual citizens is really awful and threatening, but what concerns me about this new legal decision especially is that if money is speech, corporations have, like, MORE free speech rights than ordinary citizens, because they will always have the bigger, more powerful, more expensive platform to speak from. but, yeah, i don’t think we disagree.

laura, thanks for your kind feedback :)

ARI:
nah, as far as i know, the “money is speech” thing is pretty well-rooted in the mainstream of constitutional law. even the 4 justices who dissented in citizens united still acknowledged that the 1st amendment applied to corporate spending; their dissent just said that the state had a compelling interest in overruling the 1st amendment right in this… See More case. i actually think the “money is not speech” people have a decent argument, but it’s a pretty radical position to take compared with anyone on the court.

the kicker is, if everyone has an equal right to free speech, and this right is equivalent to money…have citizens united now given us a new rationale for the socialist workers’ utopia?

ME:
i’m down for the socialist utopia :)

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