Yesterday, Johnson State College raised flags in support of Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ+ communities. At a time when there needs to be unified voices rising against bigotry and hatred, the gesture is extremely important, if symbolic. JSC is already an inclusive and safe campus, but to take this action now is to reaffirm that commitment. Having been an undergrad, grad student, and now an alumni with a wife and son attending, I’m proud and honored to be associated with JSC.
I had an opportunity to participate in a small part of what is becoming a large movement in support of the “Move to Amend” campaign to adopt an amendment to the United States Constitution that declares in no uncertain terms that corporations are not people. The local group here is comprised of a handful of passionate and determined men and women — veterans of progressive campaigns and protests all — who want nothing more than the elimination of corporate control over elected officials. I couldn’t agree more with the aims of this group. There’s obviously a corruption, and it can be readily traced back to lobbying, corporate interests, and campaign donations. All of which needs to stop and control of elected officials needs to be returned to the voters for whom they serve. So while I support the movement and its aims, I feel that there are talking points that are not being addressed in the public discourse that are an essential part of deciding if this movement is worth supporting.
Firstly, there are two versions of the amendment: the version I linked above, and the one penned by Senator Bernie Sanders here [PDF]. They are actually quite different from each other, and address different points of concerns. The MtA version attempts to establish that a) all corporations are not people, that b) money is specifically not speech and b) neither a nor b apply to the press. Bernie’s version states simply that for-profit corporations would no longer be allowed to participate — through financial means — in the electoral process. These are two fundamentally different statements and to put our support behind a “non-corporate-personhood” movement would seem to imply that they are both the same. Which to choose, which to choose. I will address the specific wordings of each in a later post, but suffice it to say that we have to either merge them or pick one to support or all of our efforts are for naught. For the sake of this post, let’s assume that we’ve settled on a compromise version of the two that includes proper wording addressing the MtA points.
The second talking point is the question of what will happen if the amendment succeeds. It seems like a simple question because we tend to see the success and lack thereof as a binary result. On the one hand corporations are removed from matters of free speech, their money is kept out of politics, and people will regain control of their representatives. Without this amendment, we imagine a country where more money means more speech, where politicians make decisions based on who their largest donors are, where the voting public is unwittingly duped into electing a puppet of some foreign power. I submit however that it is not so cut and dried as it would seem.
For instance, in the case of success will the corruption we’re railing against be cured? Will this amendment keep corporations from establishing some kind of legalized slush fund through which individuals can send donations or pay for campaigns on behalf of the corporation? Will this amendment keep corporations from providing ever-increasing funds to lobbyists and directly influence law making after the election process? Will this amendment in fact make elected officials more subservient to their constituents and less so to their donors? It’s reasonable to assume given the specificity of the language and purpose that the answer to all these questions is no. Let’s suppose, though, we live in a country where the press is free, money is not the same as speech (which means it can be regulated far more than just through time, manner, and place), and corporations are not covered under the Bill of Rights.
In this new country, the government is allowed to regulate the flow of money that supports individuals who are trying to speak because money is not speech and — given the precedent of Citizens United — could not legally be used for speech. If an individual is seeking a grant from the government or a government-funded agency, that grant could be denied if the money was going to be used to perform “speech”. Could a corporation rent a hall in town to present a documentary or educational film? What are we limiting by saying money is not protected speech?
Corporations in our new country would also no longer be covered by the Bill of Rights because of our new amendment. The government would be able to freely seize, shut down, censure, or otherwise inhibit the activities of any corporation regardless of due process, etc. This could be Monsanto, or your local church (a not-for-profit corporation). The Bill of Rights is what keeps the government from doing that. If it no longer applies to corporations, they are removed from its protections. Extending this a bit further, would a work-around be that corporate rules are changed so that they can be represented by a person? Can the chairman of the board work on behalf of the corporation, but still be protected by our new amendment and the Bill of Rights? It’s not unreasonable to believe so since this has not come up as a point of discussion.
Hyperbole aside, are these likely events? Given the history of government behavior when given the latitude for that behavior, it is safe to assume that we are not outside the realm of possibility. England, Italy, Japan, China, Germany, Russia, and the United States all have glaring histories that show how their government behaves when given the right mixture of latitude, reason, and will. Could this amendment provide or be a catalyst for that kind of mixture? It’s possible given what laws are passed afterwards and how desperate certain parties are. While the future is never certain nor predictable, we can safely say that there are unforeseen circumstances that are worse than what we face now.
Lastly, we’re presented with a state of affairs where our chosen version of the amendment doesn’t pass. What if what we’re left with is a post-2009 world where corporations spending money on campaigns is a form of speech, where they can create Superpacs and support a candidate? What is our recourse to such a world? In fact, it is the same as it is in our fictional future-world above: people and their level of determination to change government through the electoral process — which is on a basic level inviolate and sacred if handled in the correct way.
No matter how much money is thrown into a campaign, how muddled a message may get, people have the ability to find their way to the truth of things if they are determined enough. the Federal Election Commission publishes all donations a candidate receives. Corporate board members can be looked up. Individual’s associations can be researched. Who paid how much to whom is a question that in the age of Google, govtrack.us, and Wikipedia is not terribly difficult to answer. Public libraries provide Internet access, free magazines and newspapers. In other words, the methodology for dealing with corruption is as powerful as the citizenry’s desire to use it.
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While I support the idea that corporations are not people, and while I support the idea that money on the scale of the millions and millions of dollars we’re seeing should not be in politics, I support the amendment movement with caution. Whether the amendment succeeds or fails, there are outcomes that are unforeseen. This is because the problem is not a question of corporate personhood, campaign donations, or lobbying. The problem is that the majority of those who are currently in government are not governing well. The only sure way to deal with such a thing is through the willingness of the governed public to take control of their own destinies.
What we’re left with after all the dust clears are some basic tenets that have always been true about our country and are mentioned numerous times in the “Federalist Papers”. The first is that participation in government is a requirement of all voting age citizens. It is not a privilege, nor a right, but a responsibility of each governed citizen who is able to participate. The second is that when the citizenry do not participate, government is pulled from their hands by factions: religious, business, cultish, political. The nature of the faction doesn’t matter, what matters is that a minority (say 33%) becomes a majority as fewer and fewer people participate.
Simplified, I think my argument for supporting the move for a constitutional amendment could be written like this:
- Factions are anathema to a government that is meant to represent the entirety of the governed (Federalist Papers)
- Corporations are a faction that harms government (Assumption)
- The amendment is an attempt at limiting the powers of corporations (ibid.)
- Therefore, supporting the amendment helps limit the power of factions (1,3)
- Therefore, it is reasonable to support the amendment (4)
Reasonably speaking, then, should we support the amendment movement? Given that in either a passed or failed scenario, we are still relying on the citizenry to vote, participate, and ensure corporations don’t take over elections anymore than they have then yes, but only in understanding that it’s not the solution to all of the problems of government. In other words, support or not, the problems plaguing our government are not going to go away with the success or failure of this amendment. Since there’s no real way to tell if it will do more harm than good, it’s not unreasonable to support it, but it also may not lead the country to the solution that is expected.
How does one balance the importance of a strong, personal belief with the overarching needs of an entire society? The answer to this question — if there is an answer — could very well decide whether the human race is able to pull back from the environmental brink we’ve landed ourselves upon. Specifically, I’m talking about the unwillingness I’ve seen in — what I hope is a few — certain sects of veganism. These folks believe that the way to salvation for both human health and the earth’s environment is to completely eliminate any dependent relationship humans have with animals. No dairy. No leather. Certainly no meat. The idea is that by doing so we will reduce the number of greenhouse gases (methane), increase the amount of usable land (less acreage used for corn), and improve human health. I don’t doubt that they’re right, but the cost of their proposed changes is too great.
From the very first fencepost humankind put down, we started ourselves on a path that is impossible to veer from or go back down. We are the only species in the animal kingdom who practices husbandry: the raising and caring for other species as a survival mechanism. To that end, we have altered or created new strains of domesticated animals through selective breeding practices and — less endearingly — kill-offs of entire species (Aurochs among others). While this has been largely successful, there are severe drawbacks that need to be corrected. Industrial farming has impersonalized the husbandry process and turned the slaughter of other species into nothing more than a step on an assembly line. It has produced more methane than we can contain. It has taken up large chunks of land for growing genetically altered corn to feed to these species. It has also placed the control of the world’s food supplies into the hands of the powerful and wealthy. Not to mention the small cages, deplorable living conditions for the animals, etc. So yes, there’s a serious problem here that needs a serious solution. Unfortunately, veganism isn’t it.
For one thing, we’ve got billions of animals to care for. If the vegans had their way we would no longer have a use for them, but then what? Release them into the wild where they endanger or destroy indigenous species or worse? Will the methane production cease because we no longer care for these creatures, or is it more likely to get worse as it will go completely unchecked. I’ve heard it suggested by a self-described vegan that the best solution would be to slaughter all of them. Because after all, killing millions of animals all at once in a bath of blood for no reason other than they’ve outlived their usefulness is far better than sitting by while they’re slaughtered for food. This is a problem that has to be solved.
My greatest concern is on the environmental side. For any environmental solution to be effective, it has to be adopted by a vast majority of humankind. Humans are pretty particular about “adopting” things. We want to be less wasteful, but not at the cost of our families, income, personal property, or freedoms. Militant veganism with its confrontational nature, its “do this or you’re wrong” attitude, and its lack of real solutions is not attractive to vast majority of us and can never succeed on the scale required.
It’s a totalitarian perspective on an issue too complex for black and white reasoning. Totalitarianism just doesn’t work. It’s unethical, inefficient, and it chafes. The same group of people who would tell us to stop listening to the “meat and dairy lobby” will in the same breath tell us to listen to only them. There’s a middle ground; however, and while it doesn’t keep us all from eating dairy and meat, it does seem to have a positive effect on our health, the environment, and the overall well-being of the species we’ve domesticated.
The practices of permaculture and localvore by themselves are effective ways of managing resources and health, respectively. If taken together I believe that the bulk of our environmental and health issues related to animal husbandry can be solved. Firstly, permaculture removes the concept of factory farming from our society. No longer would we see mile-long, stainless steel pens and slaughterhouses funded by the government and managed by the powerful, and centralized out of reach. Each family or community would be in charge of their own food production, no matter their location. It’s pure self-sufficiency. Some would choose a vegetarian lifestyle, others would not. Some might raise timber and barter for food or wool. Either way, we end up with closer communities, cleaner air and water, decentralized food production, and a serious reduction in the number of food-borne illnesses and health issues.
Localvore is the economic model and community promise that provides the motivation for permaculture practices. It is the practice of buying and eating a certain percentage of locally-grown foods. Some communities try to be 100% localvore, others shoot for a smaller percentage with an eye on increasing it over time. Whatever the current level of consumption, by choosing to purchase our food locally we reduce the necessity for government-subsidized farming, gain a vested interest in the husbandry methods our communities use, and support the self-sufficiency or oursleves, our neighbors, and our communities. All of the issues — other than the actual eating of meat and dairy — often raised by militant vegans are solved with these two philosophies practiced in tandem.
The species husbanded in this way have healthier, happier lives and are never killed without need. The humans in these environments feel closer to the natural law and order of things. The food — vegetable or animal — is cleaner and safer. The use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds is eliminated. This is a middle ground that works. There are communities doing this today and more are coming on board every year.
The environment and the caring thereof is one of the greatest weapons vegans have in their arsenal. By showing how industrial farming practices, government subsidies, and wasteful eating are affecting not only human health but the health of the planet, vegans have started a positive dialog. The healthier ones among them have shown how — with enough money in the right location — one can live free of meat and dairy. However, in order for that positive dialog to turn into positive action. In order for the people who can make a difference to stand up and change things, the totalitarian, all-or-none diatribes must stop. The cries of “flesh eater” and “food for pleasure” must stop. The hyperbole needs to be put away. It’s blocking the real issues that have real solutions. The problems of our society and our planet are larger than anyone’s personal belief system.
Fear is one of humanity’s most profound weaknesses. If we allow fear to stay with us in any kind of prolonged capacity, it holds us captive. Degenerates our ability to reason and react in effective ways. Prolonged fear can be used as an effective lever for the masses to move us in any particular direction so desired. This is what has happened in the first decade of the 21st century.
When the World Trade Center buildings were attacked in 2001, Americans had a brief and overwhelming sense of fear. What will be attacked next? Are my friends and family okay? How do I talk to my children about this? That is normal. Fear is a logical emotion after something like that happens. It keeps us on our toes. After that first day or so, though, our fear gave way to feelings of resolution (we will carry on no matter what), vengeance (let’s kill the bastards who did this) and pride (you didn’t break our spirit). Those emotions are also normal. They are what ultimately lead us to seek out peace and justice (vengeance can’t last forever, for example, and rarely turns out well). Perfect and just as longer-term states of being. In order to mount the wars that our leaders thought necessary, however, those second-stage emotions had to be transmuted back to more easily-controlled states of mind.
Our need for vengeance was bastardized into fear (weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, Saddam Hussein). Our feelings of resolution and pride were twisted into a sort of fanatic patriotism (with us or against us, etc.). After a few months, we become a society of 280 million fearful fanatics who would justify anything we were told was an act of vengeance. And so the attacks on Iraq began and too late we realized our mistakes. What bothers me, though, is that we did nothing once we were shown the truth. Why?
The fear and jingoism had paralyzed us. Like a man locked in a death grip with the rock face he’s trying to climb. He can no more move up than he can down. He is frozen in fear. Paralyzed until his inevitable fall unless he finds that will within himself to carry on or back down. Now we stand as a society controlled and manipulated by that same paralyzing fear. Do we stay here until we fall, or do we find the will to move on?
This decision is what we must make on the cusp of this second decade. Can we reclaim our resolute pride and honor? Can we eradicate the vestiges of fear, paranoia and jingoism from our laws and become who we should be? There is only one right answer. If we do not recover now we never will. We will become that which we have always railed against: a fearful police state hellbent on world domination. It’s not too late, but it’s getting to be.
The 2010 mid-term elections are complete. I’ve always hated that term: “mid-term”. I don’t like that the election cycle is defined by the president’s time in office. It somehow dumbs-down the legislative elections in the same way that a mid-term exam might not be worth as much as the final when in fact the legislative elections are worth much more.
This is the election cycle that has the potential to drive and shape policy, most accurately voice the will of the voters, and generally set direction for the country in terms of what is likely to be debated. It’s a huge deal. I prefer we go with the term “general elections” and “presidential elections”.
The democrats finished badly — though not as badly as some had said — and it looks like we’re in for an interesting and corruption-filled two years before we try and fix this. I can’t believe you all voted for republicans. What were you thinking? Do you seriously think we’re better off with the same people who supported Bush for eight years? Really?! Why do you think we’re in the mess we’re in. The debt, unemployment, financial crisis, wars, pollution: all of them were inherited by the current administration. Left as a legacy by Bush.
So that’s the national picture, and I’m unpleased. While I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a democrat, I’m certainly not in the fold of the current republicans. Locally, things look a bit better.
My county district voted back in our long-standing representative at the state level — Lucy Leriche — over a former schoolmate of mine, Nicole Ling. I had to learn quickly about the two, and found out that Leriche would be my choice. For one, she’s experienced and has actually accomplished stuff. Secondly, she can spell her position. Thirdly, she’s not republican and doesn’t seem to let religion or morality interfere with her political work. I’m happy there. I don’t know that much about our state senators, but I will find out.
As the dust settles, I’ll be posting data on the turnout and who voted for whom. We’ll see exactly how many people have just decided upon fate for the rest of us, eh?