Breaking the Spell of Money

ANYONE WHO PAYS ATTENTION to the state of the planet realizes that all natural systems on which human life depends are deteriorating, and they are doing so largely because of human actions. By natural systems I mean the topsoil, forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, oceans, atmosphere, the host of other species, and the cycles that bind them together into a living whole. By human life I mean not merely the survival of our species, but the quality of our existence, the prospects for adequate food, shelter, work, education, health care, conviviality, intellectual endeavor, and spiritual growth for our kind far into the future.

So the crucial question is, why? Why are those of us in the richest countries acting in such a way as to undermine the conditions on which our own lives, the lives of other species, and the lives of future generations depend? And why are we so intent on coaxing or coercing the poorer countries to follow our example? There are many possible answers, of course, from human shortsightedness to selfish genes to otherworldly religions to consumerism to global corporations. I would like to focus on a different one — our confusion of financial wealth with real wealth.

To grasp the impact of that confusion, think of someone you love. Then recall that if you were to reduce a human body to its elements — oxygen, carbon, phosphorus, copper, sulfur, potassium, magnesium, iodine, and so on — you would end up with a few dollars’ worth of raw materials. But even with inflation, and allowing for the obesity epidemic, this person you cherish still would not fetch as much as ten dollars on the commodities market. A child would fetch less, roughly in proportion to body weight.

Such calculations seem absurd, of course, because none of us would consider dismantling a human being for any amount of money, least of all someone we love. Nor would we entertain the milder suggestion of lopping off someone’s arm or leg and putting it up for sale, even if the limb belonged to our worst enemy. Our objection would not be overcome by the assurance that the person still has another arm, another leg, and seems to be getting along just fine. We’d be likely to say that it’s not acceptable under any circumstances to treat a person as a commodity, worth so much per pound.

And yet this is how our economy treats every portion of the natural world — as a commodity for sale, subject to damage or destruction if enough money can be made from the transaction. Nothing in nature has been spared — not forests, grasslands, wetlands, mountains, rivers, oceans, atmosphere, nor any of the creatures that dwell therein. Nor have human beings been spared. Through its routine practices, this economy subjects people to shoddy products, unsafe working conditions, medical scams, poisoned air and water, propaganda dressed up as journalism, and countless other assaults, all in pursuit of profits.

When tobacco or pharmaceutical companies suppress research that shows their products are killing people, they may not single out particular human beings for execution, yet they deliberately sentence a large number of strangers to premature death. Likewise, when banks launder drug money, when the insurance industry opposes public health care, when the auto industry lobbies against higher fuel-efficiency standards, when arms manufacturers fight any restraint on the trade in guns, when agribusiness opposes limits on the spraying of poisons, when electric utilities evade regulations that would clean up smoke from power plants, when chambers of commerce lobby against efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are just as surely condemning vast numbers of people to illness, injury, and death.

THE ECONOMIST MILTON FRIEDMAN stated flatly that “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” The second half of Friedman’s sentence would place a curb on the first half only in a universe where enterprises motivated entirely by greed never engaged in deception or fraud. This may have seemed like a possibility in the rarefied atmosphere of the Chicago School of Economics, where Friedman held sway and helped to shape the free-market ideology that has dominated American society in recent decades. But in the world where the rest of us live, deception and fraud have been commonplace among corporate giants, from Enron to Exxon, from United Fruit to Union Carbide. Consider a short list of recent malefactors: Halliburton, Philip Morris, WorldCom, Wachovia, Arthur Andersen, Adelphia, Blackwater, Monsanto, Massey Energy, Tyco, HealthSouth, Wal-Mart, Global Crossing, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Countrywide Financial, AIG, and BP. These companies, and legions of others, have cooked the account books, misrepresented their financial condition with end-of-quarter window dressing, abused their employees, cheated their investors, sold lethal products, violated safety regulations, lied, bribed, swindled, or otherwise refused to stay within “the rules of the game.”

In our country, when the rules become a nuisance or do not sufficiently favor their interests, big companies purchase enough support in the White House or Congress or regulatory agencies to have the rules revised or abolished. Examples of this abuse could be cited from all industries, but none are more egregious than those in finance. Until the mid-1980s, the U.S. financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of all corporate profits, but over the past decade it has averaged more than 41 percent, and it has done so while contributing only modestly to social needs, chiefly through local banks and credit unions, and while doing a great deal of harm, chiefly through the creation and trade of financial paper. Most of the economic advisors for President Obama, as for President Bush, have come straight from Wall Street, and, not surprisingly, they have shaped government policy to benefit the biggest Wall Street firms and the richest investors. The global economic meltdown was largely a result of such rigging of the system, which freed commercial and investment banks, trading companies, and rating agencies to gamble recklessly with other people’s money.

In spite of the worldwide suffering caused by this casino capitalism, the financial reform bill passed by Congress in the summer of 2010 does little to rein it in. The managers of hedge funds, for example, have kept their operations essentially free of oversight, while preserving the loophole that treats their earnings as capital gains, taxed at 15 percent, rather than as regular income, which would be taxed in the top bracket at 35 percent. In 2009, when the CEOs of the twenty-five largest American hedge funds split over $26 billion, this cozy arrangement cost the Treasury, and therefore the rest of us, several billion dollars in lost tax revenue. When President Obama urged Congress to close this tax loophole, the billionaire chairman of one hedge fund responded by comparing such a move with the Nazi invasion of Poland.

Now, why would a billionaire want more money, and why have some billionaires sought to increase their fortunes by purchasing television networks and newspapers, funding think tanks, hiring armies of lobbyists and propagandists, and setting up phony front groups, all to spread the gospel of no-holds-barred capitalism? You might say that such behavior is natural, because everybody wants more money. But consider: Suppose you keep a billion dollars under your mattress, where it will earn no income, and you set out to spend it; in order to burn through it all within an adult lifetime of, say, fifty years, you would have to spend $1.7 million per month, or $55,000 per day. If you took your billion dollars out from under the mattress and invested it in long-term U.S. Treasury bonds at current rates, you could spend $40 million per year, or $110,000 per day, forever, without touching your capital. It so happens that $110,000 is a bit more than twice the median household income in the United States. If you do the math, you will find that the twenty-five hedge fund managers who pulled in $26 billion last year claimed an income equivalent to roughly 500,000 households, or some 2 million people.

What are Rupert Murdoch, David and Charles Koch, Adolph Coors, Richard Mellon Scaife, and other billionaire advocates of unbridled capitalism after? They certainly are not worrying about sending their kids to college or paying their medical bills. Then what are they seeking? A psychiatrist might be better qualified to answer the question, but let me offer an amateur’s hunch, which arises from six decades of watching our legislatures, regulatory agencies, judiciary, public lands, mass media, and schools come under the influence, and often under the total control, of the richest Americans. What the free-enterprise billionaires are greedy for is not money but power, and not merely the power to take care of themselves and their families, which would be reasonable, but the power to have anything they want and do anything they want without limit, which is decidedly unreasonable. Anyone who has shared a house with a two-year-old or a fifteen-year-old has witnessed such a craving to fulfill every desire and throw off every constraint. Most children grow beyond this hankering for omnipotence. Those who carry the craving into adulthood may become sociopaths — incapable of sensing or caring for the needs of other people, indifferent to the harm they cause, reacting aggressively toward anyone or anything that blocks their will.

I’m not saying that all billionaires, or megamillionaires, are sociopaths. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett clearly aren’t, for example, for they are using their fortunes to serve the public good, including funding programs for those who dwell at the other end of the money spectrum. In June of 2010, Gates and Buffett invited the richest individuals and families in America to sign a pledge to donate the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. As of this writing, fifty-seven have accepted the invitation, including Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York; Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder of Facebook; Paul Allen, cofounder of Microsoft; and Ted Turner, founder of CNN. Perhaps they have signed the pledge out of pure altruism. But I would like to believe they also understand that they themselves did not create their financial wealth, however skillful and hardworking they may be; they amassed their money by drawing on the efforts of countless people, living and dead; by drawing on public resources, such as schools and courts; by reaping the benefits of madcap bidding on the stock market; and by drawing on the natural resources of the planet. I would like to believe that, having derived their riches from the commons, they feel obliged to return a substantial portion of those riches for the benefit of the commons.

Whatever their motives, the signers of the Giving Pledge are following the example of Andrew Carnegie. Although he acquired his fortune by methods as ruthless as any employed by buccaneer capitalists today, having made his money, Carnegie gave it all away, except for a modest amount left to his family. We associate his name especially with the more than twenty-five hundred libraries he endowed, but he also funded many other public goods, including a university, a museum, and a foundation for promoting not free enterprise, but education and world peace. In an essay published in 1889 called “The Gospel of Wealth,” he argued that the concentration of great fortunes in the hands of a few was an inevitable result of capitalism, but also a dangerous one, because the resulting disparity between the haves and have-nots would cause social unrest. And so, he insisted, these great fortunes should be restored to society, either through philanthropy or through taxation.

In view of the current efforts, backed by many of the richest Americans, to abolish the estate tax, it is striking to read Carnegie’s view of the matter:

The growing disposition to tax more and more heavily large estates left at death is a cheering indication of the growth of a salutary change in public opinion.… Of all forms of taxation, this seems the wisest. Men who continue hoarding great sums all their lives, the proper use of which for public ends would work good to the community, should be made to feel that the community, in the form of the state, cannot thus be deprived of its proper share. By taxing estates heavily at death, the state marks its condemnation of the selfish millionaire’s unworthy life.

That is not a passage you are likely to find cited by the Cato Institute, Free Enterprise Fund, Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth, or any of the other strident opponents of the federal estate tax, a tax that under current regulations affects only the richest 1 percent of Americans — the very citizens, by coincidence, who fund the Cato Institute, etc., etc.

Now let us return to pondering the richest of our fellow citizens who show no inclination to share their wealth, but rather seem intent on growing richer by hook or crook, regardless of the consequences for our democracy, the environment, or future generations. Unlike Andrew Carnegie, unlike Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, these individuals use their wealth only to increase their power, and use their power only to guard and increase their wealth, and so on, in an upward spiral toward infinity. Their success in this endeavor can be measured by the fact that the top 1 percent of earners now receives 24 percent of all income in the United States, the highest proportion since the eve of the Great Depression in 1929.

Giant corporations operate in a similar way, using their wealth to increase their power over markets and governments, and using their power to increase their wealth. When I say giant, I am not referring to retailers, banks, factories, or other firms that operate on a modest scale and in one or a few locations. I am referring to the behemoths of business. Of the one hundred largest economies in the world, more than half are multinational corporations. Exxon alone surpasses in revenues the economies of 180 nations. These gigantic empires, spanning the globe, answer to no electorate, move jobs and money about at will, keep much of their operations secret, and oppose any regulation that might cut into their profits. Thus, over the past several decades, Exxon has used its enormous might to oppose higher fuel-efficiency standards, to resist safety regulations that might have prevented the catastrophic oil spill in Prince William Sound, to push for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and to thwart legislation aimed at controlling carbon emissions. In doing so, the managers of Exxon have simply obeyed the logic of capitalism, which is to maximize profIts regardless of social and environmental costs. Through trade organizations such as the American Petroleum Institute and numerous front groups, Exxon, Shell, BP, and other energy titans have spent millions of dollars trying to persuade the public that the climate isn’t shifting dangerously, or if it is shifting then humans play no part in the change, or if humans do play a part then nothing can be done about it without stifling the economy.

“Saving the economy” is the slogan used to defend every sort of injustice and negligence, from defeating health-care legislation to ignoring the Clean Water Act to shunning the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. But should we save an economy in which the finance industry claims over 40 percent of all corporate profits and a single hedge fund manager claims an income equivalent to that of twenty thousand households? Should we save an economy in which the top 1 percent of earners rake in a quarter of all income? Should we embrace an economy in which one in ten households faces foreclosure, 44 million people live in poverty, and 51 million lack health insurance, an economy in which the unemployment rate for African Americans is above 17 percent and for all workers is nearly 10 percent? Should we defend an economy that even in a recession generates a GDP over $14 trillion, a quarter of the world’s total, and yet is supposedly unable to afford to reduce its carbon emissions? Should we serve an economy that represents less than 5 percent of Earth’s population and yet accounts for nearly half of world military spending? A reasonable person might conclude that such an economy is fatally flawed, and that the flaws will not be repaired by those who profit from them the most.

THE ACCUMULATION OF MONEY gives the richest individuals and corporations godlike power over the rest of us. Yet money itself has no intrinsic value; it is a medium of exchange, a token that we have tacitly agreed to recognize and swap for things that do possess intrinsic value, such as potatoes or poetry, salmon or surgery. Money is a symbolic tool, wholly dependent for its usefulness on an underlying social compact. It is paradoxical, therefore, that those who have benefited the most financially from the existence of this compact have been most aggressive in seeking to undermine it, by attacking unions, cooperatives, public education, independent media, social welfare programs, nonprofits that serve the poor, land-use planning, and every aspect of government that doesn’t directly serve the rich. For the social compact to hold, ordinary people must feel that they are participating in a common enterprise that benefits everyone fairly, and not a pyramid scheme designed to benefit a few at the very top. While the superrich often pretend to oppose government as an imposition on their freedom, they are usually great fans of government contracts, crop subsidies, oil depletion allowances, and other forms of corporate welfare, and even greater fans of military spending.

Among those who have grasped the link between U.S. militarism and the cult of money was Martin Luther King Jr. In a speech entitled “A Time to Break Silence,” delivered a year to the day before he was assassinated, King went against the counsel of his friends and advisors by denouncing the Vietnam War. Like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, indeed like every U.S. military operation from the 1950s onward, the war in Vietnam was justified as an effort to promote freedom and democracy and to protect American security. What our military was actually protecting, King argued, were “the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.” For saying so, he was denounced as a communist or socialist by newspapers and self-proclaimed patriots nationwide, just as President Obama has been denounced as a socialist for proposing national health care.

The slur is an old one, going back to the late nineteenth century when movements to organize unions or end child labor in factories or secure votes for women were decried as socialist by the robber barons and their henchmen in politics and journalism. Since the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the labels communist and socialist have been used interchangeably by the superrich to condemn any cooperative efforts by citizens to secure basic rights or to serve common needs. These twin labels have been used to vilify the income tax, the estate tax, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Civil Rights Act, every major piece of environmental legislation, American participation in the UN, disarmament treaties, aid to the poor, humanitarian aid to other nations — any endeavor by government, in short, that might reduce the coffers or curb the power of those who sit atop the greatest heaps of capital.

That power is steadily increasing, as witness the Supreme Court’s decision in early 2010, by a 5-4 vote, in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, which holds that corporate funding of political broadcasts during elections cannot be limited. The majority based their argument on the twin claims, never mentioned in the Constitution, that corporations are entitled to be treated as persons under the law and that money is a form of speech, and therefore any constraint on spending by corporations to influence elections would be a denial of their right to free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. The decision means that our electoral process, already corrupted by big money, will fall even more under the sway of corporations and their innocuous-sounding front groups, such as “Citizens United.” The nearly unanimous view among the nation’s leading First Amendment scholars, voiced at a meeting in March of 2010, was that the case was wrongly decided. But the only five opinions that count are those of the judges in the majority, who were appointed to the Supreme Court by administrations that have benefited most handsomely from corporate financing.

MONEY DERIVES ITS MEANING from society, not from those who own the largest piles of it. Recognizing this fact is the first move toward liberating ourselves from the thrall of concentrated capital. We need to desanctify money, reminding ourselves that it is not a god ordained to rule over us, nor is it a natural force like gravity, which operates beyond our control. It is a human invention, like baseball or Monopoly, governed by rules that are subject to change and viable only so long as we agree to play the game. We need to see and to declare that the money game as it is currently played in America produces a few big winners, who thereby acquire tyrannical power over the rest of us as great as that of any dictator or monarch; that they are using this power to skew the game more and more in their favor; and that the net result of this money game is to degrade the real sources of our well-being.

It is just as important that we shake off the spell of consumerism. In 1955, a retailing analyst named Victor Lebow bluntly described what an ever-expanding capitalism would require of us: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption. The economy needs things consumed, burned, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever-increasing rate.” And so it has come to pass. Americans, by and large, have made consumption a way of life, and a prime source, if not of spiritual satisfaction, then of compensation for whatever else might be missing from our lives, such as meaningful work, intact families, high-quality schools, honest government, safe streets, a healthy environment, a nation at peace, leisure time, neighborliness, community engagement, and other fast-disappearing or entirely vanished boons.

Advertisers maintain the consumerist illusion by appealing to our every impulse, from lust and envy to love of family and nature. The estimates for annual spending on advertising in the U.S. hover around $500 billion. This is roughly the amount we spend annually on public education. While taxpayers complain about the cost of schools, they do not protest the cost of advertising, which inflates the price of everything we purchase, and which aims at persuading us to view the buying of stuff as the pathway to happiness. A current ad for Coke, showing a frosty bottle, actually uses the slogan “Open Happiness.” The promise is false, and all of us know it, yet we keep falling for the illusion. We can begin to free ourselves from that illusion by reducing our exposure to those media, such as commercial television and radio, that are primarily devoted to merchandising. We can laugh at advertising. We can distinguish between our needs, which are finite, and our wants, which are limitless. Beyond meeting our basic needs, money cannot give us any of the things that actually bring happiness — family, community, good health, good work, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, spiritual insight.

When we do spend money, so far as possible we should put it in the hands of our neighbors — local merchants, professionals, growers, craft workers, artists, chefs, and makers of useful things — and we should put as little as possible in the coffers of distant corporations and plutocrats, who know and care nothing about our communities. We should encourage efforts to restore local economies through small-scale manufacturing, sustainable agriculture and forestry, distributed energy generation, credit unions, public-access television and radio, nonprofits, and cooperatives. We should experiment with local currencies, as a number of cities across the U.S. have done. When possible, we should barter goods and services, avoiding the use of money altogether.

As a nation, we need to quit using the flow of money as the chief measure of our well-being. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product is the dollar value of our nation’s economic output in a given period, without regard to the purpose of that output. So the cost of cleaning up an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico adds to the GDP, as does an epidemic of cancer, a recall of salmonella-laced eggs, a bombing campaign in Afghanistan, lawsuits against Ponzi schemers, prison construction, and every other sort of ill. The GDP does not reflect work done at home without pay, volunteer work in the community, or mutual aid exchanged between neighbors. It counts junk food you buy on the highway but not food you grow in your backyard. It counts the child care you purchase but not the care you provide. If you lead a healthy life, you contribute little to the GDP through medical expenditures, but if you smoke, become addicted to drugs or alcohol, become dangerously obese, neglect your health in any way at all, you’re sure to boost the GDP. War also swells the GDP, but peacemaking does not. We need to devise measures of well-being that take into account the actual quality of life in our society, from the rate of incarceration (currently the highest in the world) to the rate of infant mortality (currently thirty-third in the world), from the condition of our soils and rivers and air to the safety of our streets.

One need not be an economist — as I am not — to see that our economic system is profoundly unjust in its distribution of benefits and damage, that it relies on violence toward people and planet, and that it is eroding the foundations of democracy. What should we do? Not as any sort of expert, but as a citizen, I say we need to get big money out of politics by publicly financing elections and strictly regulating lobbyists. We need to preserve the estate tax, for its abolition would lead to rule by an aristocracy of inherited wealth, just the sort of tyranny we threw off in our revolt against Britain. We need to defend the natural and cultural goods we share, such as the oceans and the internet, from those who seek to exploit the common wealth for their sole profit. We need to stop private-sector companies from dictating research agendas in our public universities. We need legislation that strips corporations of the legal status of persons. We need to restore the original definition of a corporation as an association granted temporary privileges for the purpose of carrying out some socially useful task, with charters that must be reviewed and renewed periodically by state legislatures. We need to enforce the anti-trust laws, breaking up giant corporations into units small enough to be answerable to democratic control. We need to require that the public airwaves, now used mainly to sell the products of global corporations, serve public interests.

To recover our democracy, relieve human suffering, and protect our planet, we need to do a great many things that may seem unlikely or impossible. But they seem so only if we define ourselves as isolated consumers rather than citizens, if we surrender our will and imagination to the masters of money. Over the next few generations, we will either create a civilization that treats all of its members compassionately and treats Earth respectfully, or we will sink into barbarism. Whatever the odds, I say we should work toward that just and ecologically wise civilization, with all our powers.

Scott Russell Sanders is the author of twenty books of fiction and nonfiction, including A Private History of Awe and A Conservationist Manifesto. The best of his essays from the past thirty years, plus nine new essays, are collected in Earth Works, published in 2012 by Indiana University Press. Among his honors are the Lannan Literary Award, the John Burroughs Essay Award, the Mark Twain Award, the Cecil Woods Award for Nonfiction, the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His latest book is The Way of Imagination: Essays, a novel, published in 2020.


  1. Want to have some fun with your kids? Make jokes and laugh with them about print, television and billboard advertising. This stuff is absurd, even (especially?) to a child. Wish they would never even have to see it, but let’s be realistic. Vaccinate them now.

  2. Kids can be quite clever. My five year old once told me while watching a television commercial that the advertised toys were no good. His reasoning was that kids told each other about the good toys and that only junk was on TV.

  3. I’m a progressive-minded fundraiser who teaches stewardship education, and I’ve been reading about alternatives in micro- and macro-economics for years. It’s hard to find an essay that doesn’t just restate the bad news and tell us that we should all be living more simply.

    This article seems to conflate a bunch of Bad Things that might be better examined by teasing them apart. We read that we are poisoning the earth’s natural systems; okay, yes. We read that corporations and their executives are greedy; okay, yes. But look: the soil, air and water are choking *not* because of the actions of a few, but because of all of us. Even the virtuous ones. It’s a cumulative effect: all of our driving, our air travel, our foodstuffs, our electricity. And that’s not even counting “luxury” items. The problem is that we are stuck in an us/them mindset that oversimplifies the issue. And if we can’t even name the problem correctly, how can we ever hope to get to a solution?

  4. As noted, it will take generations to re-establish some of the lost values such as neighborliness and community-oriented outlooks…those old enough to recall the spirit of the 60’s know that it is possible for positive values to seep into the culture. The challenge is to resist the whole scale efforts to disrupt that point of view. Each one of us can take steps to contribute to the whole, and as with all good things, the more you do, the better it gets.

  5. In the article, the author states, “Until the mid-1980s, the U.S. financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of all corporate profits, but over the past decade it has averaged more than 41 percent”.

    No source of this statistic is provided and the data from the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis shows the financial services industry averaging 22% over the past decade.

  6. This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking essay. However, the statement “Beyond meeting our basic needs, money cannot give us any of the things that actually bring happiness—family, community, good health, good work, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, spiritual insight” seems naive and inadequately considered. Presently, in the small city on the eastern seaboard where I live, supporting a family is an expensive proposition: beyond housing and food, to help children reach their potential in sports or music and arts costs mightily; the degraded school system no longer providing these options, which are also community builders. My own good health, in my seventies, is supported by food that is grown organically or locally to the extent possible in this climate, but at high cost, and by an intensive vitamin and supplement regime that takes the place of ineffective anti-depressants and pain medication. It works well, but costs my husband and me over $1500 per year, and is not covered by insurance, the price of which goes up yearly. Anyone whose chosen work is outside the financial industry or the top tier of corporations or their professions, needs to work at more than one job to survive. The cost of going to the art museum is now prohibitive if one wants to take more than oneself with a library pass. Nature is a joy for which I give thanks daily, aware that my enjoyment of it is very much the result of living where many people cannot afford to live. That leaves service to others, spiritual insight, a sense of purpose, hard-won privileges at this end of life, hard to access when struggling to raise a family on inadequate income, as I see the younger generation doing. It is very difficult to get out of the prison skilfully constructed over the past hundred years by the Military/industrial, Corporate imperialistic and Financial Industry, with the help of people like Vincent Lebow.

  7. This article hits the nail squarely on the head: the rich and powerful are destroying our world. Those who cannot or will not see this are truly deluded. To wake them from their cultural trance is the first order of business to save the possibility of a world based on justice, mutual care, and higher values. From there we might be in a position to consider how to check the destructive influence of these sick people, and turn the direction of our world culture towards more healthy and positive outcomes. As long as the mass of people believe the lies being promulgated by the wealthy, nothing will change, except to become progressively worse, ending in a nightmarish situation on Earth beyond imagining. It is being able to really understand this that leads folks like Derrick Jensen to say that we must stop these folks by any means possible. Until you understand that the danger he points to is real and imminent, you may consider his views to be extreme or improbable. Unfortunately the voices that tell it like it really is are rare in our world at this time. The author of this piece has dared to confront the monstrous elephant in our living rooms. Let us take heed, and lay our plans to counter those who are now plotting to enslave and ultimately destroy us.

  8. We have seen revolutions in arms topple governments and re-establish – or establish for the first time – democratic rule (which ought to be an oxymoron, but I’m going to let it go till another time.) What Breaking the Spell Of Money addresses is the necessary break-point around which a revolution of values must occur. I’ve been fuming at Obama from the git-go for either setting aside values he had espoused as a community organizer or completely repudiating them by embracing our costly and pernicious military adventures. For a moment, we, as a nation, caught our breath as a new president, presumably value-rich and community-oriented, would begin to overthrow the stranglehold of corporate power and the military might it helps support. Yet instead of talking about shrinking these things down, he clearly wished to grow them. I could not listen to his inaugural address, as it pointed down the same path Bush, Cheney, and his “grisly gang” had taken us. He said nothing of the community gardens that would foster health and neighborly cooperation; he ommitted to talk about the native talents of Americans, who could make things their fellow citizens might care to use; he seemed oblivious of of that delicate, but essential compact between well-intentioned people that revolves around seeking the best possible solutions that will do the least possible harm.

    And so it has happened. We find ourselves embroiled in perhaps nastier sharpshooting, both domestically and on foreign soil, than we saw during the Bush years. And precisely because Obama awakened a sense of possibility, his dismal showing as a national community organizer has hit home even more profoundly. We expected nothing from Bush and his gang.

    However, I don’t wish to merely critique a president. He has, however, given us, as a nation, to believe that our solutions do lie in getting and spending. In spite of his good wife’s gardening, there isn’t much of a “buy local” culture around the White House. And, aside from a few solar panels, I don’t see alternative energies being discussed or implemented. And rather than push for the health care that would help the most people, our president hedged his bets and gave us just a taste of it. Those who can afford health care, however, won’t necessarily benefit from it. Claims can be denied – or adjusted – to suit insurance providers. In some cases, these adjustments can be deadly.

    In rejecting the values of a global economy, of corporate rule and military abundance, a lot of us will alienate fellow citizens who won’t follow us there – just as the peace marches divided well-meaning conservatives from get-off your-duff activists. A lot of people will find themselves marginalized in a culture that has always moved too fast. However, if the rest do not catch up, all of our lives will be incurably degraded. We have already passed the zero-sum point in global warming. Not being above an “I-told-you-so” spirit, I wouldn’t at all mind leaving climate change deniers to the vicisstudes of wind and weather. But we are likely to be lumped together. And I wonder what that’ll be like. The better angels of our nature should always offset the tempations of revenge. Yet it seems to me that those who would force our backs to the wall would be the very first to abandon us there. Assuming there is ever a new “us and them” paradigm, in which the sensibly self-denying have the upper hand, it’ll be interesting to see how the guilty are punished. Perhaps all of us will be so sorely needed that anybody will get a chance to redeem himself. I hope so.

  9. Good comment Brett. Obama is a fraud. Those who cannot see that may doom themselves to swallowing his hogwash another four years. One of the pillars of our predicament is a large population incapable of clear and original thought, but prone to swallow slickly constructed lies. Education, among all the other major institutions of our culture, has failed us miserably. Our over all population here in America has imbibed so many gross distortions of the truth that they are not to be counted on to be of much use until they come to their senses (if ever) and repudiate the lies they have been sold. Our glorious military, indeed. Our outstanding democracy, etc. etc…. Wake up folks! That kool aid goes down real easy, but it leaves an awful hangover…

  10. SRS,

    In the last line of your Log from Andrews Forest, you “vow to repay the earth’s gifts in whatever way you can”. This essay, it seems to me, is a big part of that repayment. Your commentary on economics, culture, and psychology is well-articulated and profoundly comprehensive. This is a good example of the kind of “mind” we need to develop in order to envision and realize a flourishing future for all life on earth.

  11. When I wrote my first book, Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered, back in 1995, I said that business as usual is killing the Earth, and that the economy isn’t something that is god-given, handed down from “on high”, it was created by human beings and could be changed by human beings. Yet most people, then, as now somehow behave as if it were otherwise. I had hoped, in that book, to awaken more people than I did to the true cost of this so-called civilization we now live in. Things are so much worse now than they were then, in so many ways. Corporate control, huge then, has been mega-super-sized. Though there is now a resurgence of valuing local, esp. local food, we have lost much of our local and regional infrastructure from food to energy, even to transportation.

    I hope this article, so well-written and right-on, can play a role in revitalizing, reawakening what is of real value, from goods to relationships, to understanding the primacy of the natural systems, the Earth, upon which all life depends.

  12. I am most appreciative of this (your) piece –and want to say THANK YOU. I am a martial arts teacher (and a fan of Orion) and this piece has “self-defense” written all over it.

    I am forwarding it to more than 100 of my clients (martial arts school owners) as I feel it’s a great way to begin some dialog about what self-defense really is, in today’s world.

    We (martial artists) spend an inordinate amount of time training our bodies as tools for personal protection and/or the protection of others, but in my opinion it’s not the punch in the nose that should be our concern, but the pollution of our minds and our values.

    “Breaking the Spell of Money” represents issues that are, in today’s world, far more relevant to self-defense than the block, the kick, and the punch.

    Again, thank you!

  13. Rarely do you see it all said so concisely and so cogently.


  14. This is a global problem which requires a global solution. If only Americans would spend less time contemplating themselves and more time considering their role as members of a global community.

  15. Thanks for the article. To stay close to the earth and keeping my spending down, I have worked a 12 step program called Debtors Anonymous. I suggest it as a low tech way to stay grounded and “live extravagantly within our means”. Wichozani wo wookiya “may we walk in the center of our lives in abundance with the Creation” D/Lakota
    Doing my little peace to break the spell 🙂

  16. No we shouldn’t be going all Paul Krugmany/neo-Keynesian and stimulating this economy back to life–by zapping consumer spending with the electric paddlers of government spending. Instead we should be appreciating that greed and lust for power have done what we greenies never could–crashed the global system.

    All the pleading and hang-wringing about global warming and species loss have fallen mostly on deaf ears, as China and India’s billions race ahead to modern, US-style prosperity, complete with car culture, industrial agriculture and fossil fuel addiction.

    The billionaire bankers and hedge fund managers who broke the WTO don’t warrant our praise, but we shouldn’t squander the respite they’ve unintentionally bequeathed us.

    Time to re-read Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy,” David Korten’s “Agenda for a New Economy,” Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption” (which posits the end of shopping!)and other works exploring where we might go from here to build a sustainable and convivial alternative to consumer-driven ecocide. And then to act.

  17. I was following right along until I saw that the list of names left off George Soros. After that omisson, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.

    Bad form, Orion.

  18. I have read and admired Scott Sanders’ work for almost four decade, and this piece is astounding. Perhaps the clearest, most Thoreauvian, most far-reaching piece of American writing since King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” I will share this piece with others and teach it in my classes.

  19. Let me reccomend ‘The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics’ by Riane Eisler. One of her several books on how to move beyond dominator politics and culture.

  20. It’s good to see that my essay has spoken to concerns shared by others, and that in the eyes of most respondents it has done so persuasively. Let me briefly comment on a few entries.

    In number 4, “flaneuse” objects that I don’t acknowledge the role played by individual consumption in degrading the planet. Actually, I do; in fact I devote the last third of the essay to calling for us—each and every one of us—to reject the ideology of “consumerism.” That being said, we need to recognize how that ideology is articulated, broadcast, and sold, not only in our nation but around the world. The choices individuals make are constrained not only by multi-billion dollar advertising and propaganda from“think tanks” but also by public policies and corporate decisions. Our government has subsidized automobile travel while underfunding public transportation; it has supported coal-fired power plants while neglecting renewable energy; it has subsidized industrial agriculture at the expense of organic and local agriculture. Corporations have decided to blow the tops off mountains and dump the rubble in rivers; they have secretly increased the addictive power of cigarettes; they have sold toxic financial instruments while hiding the risks. I write an essay that reflects my views; Rupert Murdoch dictates the politics of Fox Broadcasting, the Wall Street Journal, the London Times, 20th Century Fox, and hundreds of other radio, television, and print media. Which of us bears the greater responsibility for influencing public behavior and the fate of the planet?

    Paul Puckett (#6) asks where I got the 41% figure for the financial sector’s share of corporate earnings. The answer is, from a column by Frank Rich, “Fight On, Goldman Sachs,” New York Times, 24 April 2010. Here’s the relevant sentence from his article: “That ‘financial alchemy,’ as Zuckerman calls it, explains why the finance sector’s share of domestic corporate profits, never higher than 16 percent until 1986, hit 41 percent in the last decade.” Rich cites as his source “The Quiet Coup” (The Atlantic, May 2009), by Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund.

    I assure Clare Keller (#7) that I am aware it’s expensive to provide for a family and run a household. I don’t suggest in the essay that money is unnecessary; I say that, “Beyond meeting our basic needs, money cannot give us any of the things that actually bring happiness—family, community, good health, good work, experience of art and nature, service to others, a sense of purpose, spiritual insight.” We need to ask: What are our basic needs? And why is it so expensive to meet those needs—for health care, say, or insurance, or college tuition? Remember that the “earnings” of the superrich factor into virtually everything we buy. Remember that the U.S. accounts for nearly half of all military expenditures on the planet, and those bloated costs swell our taxes.

    I share Susan Meeker-Lowry’s (#13) regret that the argument in her 1995 book, Economics as if Earth Mattered, has had minimal impact by comparison with the impact of round-the-clock commercial messages. She follows in the tradition of E. F. Schumacher, Kenneth Boulding, Herman Daly, and other economists who have vigorously argued that the human economy is subordinate to and wholly dependent upon nature’s economy. Most economists, however, including those advising the White House and the majority of those in universities, have ignored this fundamental fact. Nature doesn’t pay salaries or make campaign contributions.

    I share most of the reservations that Brett Busang (#9) voices about the Obama administration’s military and economic policies. I welcome Tom Callos’ (#14) reminder that we need to defend our minds as well as our bodies. I’m intrigued by the Debtors Anonymous program cited by Tom Weaver (#17). I second the reading suggestions made by Dale Sturdavant (#18). I agree with McKenzie’s (#19) comment that my essay should have named George Soros as one of the world’s grotesquely overcompensated superrich manipulators of money. And I thank Ned Stuckey-French for his kind, if far too generous, comparison between my essay and that passionate, eloquent, riveting call to conscience by Dr. King.

  21. As always Scott Russell Sanders dips his quill in some very soulful ink. When he writes:

    “As a nation, we need to quit using the flow of money as the chief measure of our well-being.”

    I’m with you Sanders. How to change culture and political priorities? How do we make this value shift?

    The only way I know is for the Earth itself to entice individuals to love the natural world. Everyone needs time to silence the voices of consumerism. Everyone needs some wilderness time.

    Nature’s influence can draw people away from the electronic voices of consumerism that fill us with addictive urges to own more things that always fail to deliver a rich life.

    People are part of that natural world. Although Sanders isn’t using the “L” word, I think this is the core of his message. Unless we spread the value of loving each other and loving our Earth, we pave the path to a harsh and hateful story for humanity.

    We can write a better future. I have to believe that this is true.

  22. Let us all email this essay to the White House.

  23. Well written, good data, places money outta politics in the broader context of reducing the role of money in society. But it is interesting that at the very place where the author should have written a sentence on getting money out of politics, a strategic response to Citizens United. he instead propagates a false remedy circulating on the net that makes a good soundbite, but useless policy:

    “We need legislation that strips corporations of the legal status of persons. We need to restore the original definition of a corporation as an association granted temporary privileges for the purpose of carrying out some socially useful task, with charters that must be reviewed and renewed periodically by state legislatures.”

    Corporate personhood is nowhere mentioned or relied upon in Citizens United. The problem is that the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates to money in politics from any source and last month eviscerated an Arizona public funding law, the only know remedy.

    Once money is out of politics, these aspects of corporate law become minor concerns of economic tinkering at best, unworthy of discussion in the context of the crisis of crises threatening our civilization

  24. Thank you for citing the source and it is an interesting article. Unfortunately, neither the Frank Rich article or the Atlantic Monthly article cite their source for the statistic. One can presume the IMF. According to the GAO, the financial services sector remained relatively flat in the 19-24% range throughout the period.

    I was just curious about the statistic and appreciative of your kind reply.

    I’m a conservationist and agree with your observations about the destruction from mining and other activities. I’m also very concerned about the chemicals we accept in our food and labels that say 100% Cheese while ingredients include wood cellulose. I also have deep respect for your commitment to conservation and the environment.

    But the economic system you seem to be advocating is not something I can support. I am committed to a free society, including the markets, and to capitalism because I believe it is the only system where citizens have the power to force change.

    The greed for power by politicians is no less dangerous to the environment than the greed for money shown by financiers.

    I will read the Conservationist Manifesto and look forward to understanding your economic views in more detail. Best regards to you and all who commented. Orion is a great publication even in the opinion of this admitted capitalist.

  25. “Capitalism” is a major factor in the mess we have created on Earth. The Deification of this “system” in the minds of many stands in the way of creating a better world for all. When an idea arises that has has no other purpose than the impoverishment of the many for the enrichment of the few, it is time to repudiate it, and come up with something more in line with our higher aspirations.

    Every criminal enterprise comes up with some excuses for its deplorable behaviors. “Capitalism” is the sickening alibi that the rich and powerful use to cover their shameful depredations. It is unfortunate that so many who are victims of it have bought into this blatant fraud. Wake up folks, you are being had.

  26. #17 Dr Tom — Thanks for the info on debtors anonymous. For many years now I have not owed anyone a single dime, and I intend to keep it that way. Far too many live in debt slavery to the capitalist system. I believe that 12 step programs have tremendous potential to change our lives for the better, if only people will turn to them. Our culture is riddled with addictions, and most people do not have a clue how addicted they are, or what help exists to heal them. I will definitely pass the word on to friends of mine who are deep in debt.

  27. Quite telling, isn’t it, that Mr. Sanders chose to dip through the comments and respond to concerns ideological and statistical. A rare journalist, indeed.

    For my part, I read this article and was shocked, almost moment-by-moment, to feel an urgency growing in me that said, like Rilke’s “Torso”: ‘you, YOU must change.’ If this were the solitary piece in our current issue, the magazine would be worth its full weight.

    Hope to see some of you at Mt. Greylock!

  28. We all are selfish,we want to survive in the world in any condition.Money is essential for survival.When struggle for living is critical man can destroy forest,start war for power of energy.We want to live forever.Really speaking death is giving meaning to our life.Can we diminish greediness of man?Every man in unique so why some behave selfishly and some unselfishly there is no logic.

  29. I think the sentence I quote below says it all. Whatever you want to quibble with in Sanders’ essay, you cannot deny this. And arguing statistics, etc., with him is merely a way of not facing the overarching problem we need to try to figure out how to fix before we are all the broken victims of a power-insatiable, global financial elite.

    “One need not be an economist—as I am not—to see that our economic system is profoundly unjust in its distribution of benefits and damage, that it relies on violence toward people and planet, and that it is eroding the foundations of democracy.”

  30. You got it Catherine, you seized on the essence of the essay! The rest is just fleshing it out. When enough of us wake up to the fact that the SuperRich are screwing the rest of us, and destroying our world, then we can figure out how we are going to stop them. Does that sound like a revolution? I sure hope so. But how to do it without the usual sorry results is our ultimate problem. The fate of our world hangs on finding the right answer to this koan.

    I do have some tentative answers to how this change might be carried off with a minimum of collateral damage and unintended side effects, but it all depends on shaking people out of their sleep, so that they can confront the disaster that is already engulfing us. That first step is crucial to anything constructive that might ensue. Hence the value of the town criers who are trying to alert people to the imminent collapse of all that is worthwhile in our world. No need to recite their names, they are many. Derrick Jensen is one appearing in the pages of Orion. His detractors are mostly those who are clinging to their pleasant dreams, and resent anyone shaking them awake. Sander’s critics have a similar motivation.

  31. Thanks, mike k. You’re right about people living in their little bubbles. Lots of people have joined the ranks of the relentlessly cheerful and they don’t want to hear anything that upsets them. I think some prefer to be lied to.

    Sanders speaks the truth, and people need to wake up. Simple living, complex thinking is my motto.

  32. Nice motto, Catherine. Don’t know if you have seen Barbara Ehrenreich’s book ‘Bright Sided’. It is a penetrating history and critique of positive thinking and its severe downsides. I think some of these smiley salespeople need a good dose of Voltaire’s ‘Candide’. To pretend everything is OK when it is not, is a dangerous form of lying to oneself, others, and the Truth.

  33. Although many of us agree that Scott has written a very cogent (I love that word, don’t you?) article, here we (the choir) are again talking to each other about it. I suggest we each take what we feel is best about the article, and use that information as a starting point to write a LTE or an OpEd piece for a local or national paper. At the very least, when you’re finished reading this issue of Orion, take a tip from the evangelicals and drop the magazine off in some waiting room somewhere. I do wish that the references would be available. That’s the first thing “nonbelievers” ask for when they question the data presented.

  34. Kudos for Scott’s remarkably well-written and insightful essay! One of his best, and yours as a publication. Please reprint and distribute this piece in broader venues.

    As Ned Stuckey-French commented: “I have read and admired Scott Sanders’ work for almost four decades, and this piece is astounding. Perhaps the clearest, most Thoreauvian, most far-reaching piece of American writing since King’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ I will share this piece with others and teach it in my classes.”

    I agree wholeheartedly. I too will share it in my environmental studies classes, not to indoctrinate but to engage. More than ever, we need deeper dialogue like this, not just economic debate but also plain-spoken spiritual consideration. Thank you!

  35. Lots of us seem to find the unvarnished truth without all the placating platitudes refreshing. It is this plain truth that could eventually set us free. Nothing else really will.

  36. It is good to pass on this kind of clear, sane writing. If people want footnotes, they’ll need to track down the data and it is there.

    Ehrenreich’s book is very good, and I agree wholeheartedly that militant optimism and cheerfulness is dangerous. A considered, cautious optimism is helpful, but willful blindness is mostly what I see around me. My students, alas, are also deaf, or at least many of them.

  37. Very well done article.

    My only comment regards the Gates Foundation. Much of their work helping developing countries is decidedly not environmentally sound and is more in line with increasing the scope of resource-depleting industrial capitalism. I suppose Bill Gates and Warren Buffet consider GMO-based industrial agriculture and insecticides beneficial, since they have made their billions in this system based on these types of “solutions”.

    Personally, I think it would be better to have a system that did not allow any one person (or corporation) to control so much of the earth’s resources (in the form of money or otherwise), rather than one in which – if they want to be cannonized after their deaths – they determine what is best for us, in the name of charity, based on their limited knowledge but seemingly infinite wealth.

  38. You make an excellent point, Pearl. There is nothing these ubercapitalists want more than to have us regular folks kiss the ring on their hand and praise them for their ‘great works’. After they con us out of our money and destroy the environment, they want us to endorse the theft. In the world I dream of, there would be a strict limit on the wealth any one person could accumulate, and it would be a low one.

  39. Mike, you’ll be interested in what I learned through a “what-if” activity in an honors program class I teach. I asked, what if the personal income of an individual per year were limited, say to 500K or 1 million, or whatever. After that, all the money would go back into the common pot.

    Now, mind you, none of my students are likely ever to make even close to 500K per year, even in their dreams. Nevertheless, you would have thought I’d suggested we pass a law sentencing everyone to death at age 25. I was shocked. They were actually fiercely angry over a hypothetical. These are bright students and the student body is not particularly conservative. However, they would rather dream of the outlandishly remote possibility of making billions, rather than themselves benefit from a society in which the infrastructure is much improved by caps on transnational billionaire exploitation. Go figure.

  40. Catherine — I am shocked by your student’s response, but not really surprised. The real religion of America, and the rest of the world, is money. We worship the golden calf. The Dollar is our God. Our goal in life, and our personal value is determined by our success in acquiring and spending money. Money trumps every other value, and pervades our life from cradle to grave. The article we are commenting on dares to question this Holy Cow.

    I will always remember the Phil Donahue show where he invited two exponents of voluntary simplicity to share their secrets of how to need less money and stuff. Donahue was completely taken off guard by the unanimous hostility this couple was met with by an audience outraged that they would recommend buying less stuff and reducing their need to struggle to achieve a higher income in order to meet the demands of the ‘American Way of Life’ ! They were accused of being agents of a conspiracy to destroy Capitalism, and by implication ‘Democracy’.

    Never underestimate the depth of mindless conformity and hypnotic acceptance of our cultural mythology by your fellow citizens. This widespread trance serves the ends of our ruling class perfectly, as indeed it was designed to do by them and their supporters. Breaking this spell is an essential problem that must be solved in order for a better world for all to be born.

    The idea I was playing with was like a top 100,000 dollar income permitted, and everyone guaranteed a 40,000 d. minimum income whether they “worked” or not. I can only imagine how your students would have reacted to that one!

  41. I made a New Year resolution one year to buy only to meet my needs, not to feed The Want Monster. Of course, the definition of ‘need’ is subjective, but it was a great year which taught me a lot about myself. It also taught me a lot about my friends. Many of them were resistant to even hearing about it and one in particular got quite angry about it. The reason why came out when he said, “I can’t see myself doing it.” The bell rung and the light came on and when I answered him, “I’m not expecting YOU to do it,” the tension over the subject went away. Apparently, to him, it was implied that I expected him to follow suit and was judging him for not doing so. Crazy world…

  42. The current issue of Mother Jones has an excellent series of articles and charts that really spells out who is benefiting and who isn’t in our current, corporate/elite dominated economy & political system. It’s appalling. One thing I’ve been noticing a lot lately is the language the politicos and media use to describe social security/medicare and closing the tax loopholes and tax breaks for, again, the corps. and the rich. Social security is now an “entitlement” program just like food stamps and other forms of welfare. I suppose technically, if you look up the dictionary definition of “entitlement” it fits, but it is only recently, since the war on social security began that it has been called that. And since when is closing tax loopholes actually raising taxes? And I don’t hear anyone, Obama or any Democrat at all, calling anyone out on it. What’s happening (and it happens all the time, unfortunately), is language is being used to subtly change how people think about certain programs and actions so that they associate them negatively. Increase taxes? In this economy? Are you insane? When it’s just closing loopholes for the rich that they’re talking about. Of course, in fact, taxes should be raised on corporations and the wealthy. And many wealthy people actually agree. But most people have a knee-jerk reaction to the phrase “raise taxes”. Same thing with entitlements – the word brings the old “welfare queen” image to mind. It is so frustrating!

  43. Todd — We pride ourselves in America as being great individualists. The truth is we are among the most conformist people on the planet. Step even slightly out of line with “mainstream” values and folks will look at you askance.

  44. Susan–the source of my total disappointment with Obama. He doesn’t call any of them out on anything. He needs to put up his dukes once in a while.

  45. Thank you Catherine and Susan for comments that shed light on why people who are being victimised by the latest generation of buccaneers continue to support their Republican co-pirates. They identify with them! In the process they see those in the same boat with them as the enemy. And Thank you Scott Sanders for speaking truth to power.

  46. Good link to Olbermann, Tanya. Thank you.

  47. I welcome the continuing discussion provoked by my essay. If we’re going to shift to a peaceful, just, and durable way of life in the United States, we’ll need to engage as many voices, minds, hearts, and hands as we can muster. Nobody has all the answers; in fact, nobody has more than a tiny fraction of the answers.

    I agree with Amy Lou Jenkins (#23) that one way of engaging people in caring for Earth and one for another is through offering them contact with nature. This is why the work of land trusts, parks foundations, environmental educators, schoolyard gardeners, and outdoor-oriented parents is so vital. Only by venturing outside the human bubble of buildings, vehicles, electronic media, and (yes) print can we be reminded of where we are, who we are, and how we ought to live.

    I agree with J Lang (#35) that we need to share our concerns, critiques, and visions as broadly as possible—through letters to the editor, as he suggests, or op ed pieces, or any other channel we can find. I can publish my work or deliver it in speeches only where it is welcome. It is certainly not welcome in the commercial media, which are devoted to perpetuating the consumerist trance and the corporatist ideology. I’m grateful to Orion for offering me a home over the past twenty-five years, and for publishing so many vital voices.

    Pearl K (#39) raises important reservations, not only about the specific programs that the Gates Foundations is pursuing in Africa and elsewhere, but about the very concentration of wealth that allows a small number of individuals to decide how vast amounts of public and private resources will be used. Money gives one a claim on the world’s goods—human labor, property, natural resources, land, tools, travel, and the like. Is it right for anyone to claim a billion-dollars’ worth of the world for their own purposes? Is it right for fortunes to be preserved for generations in the form of foundations, which may perpetuate malicious purposes, or may betray benign ones, long after the donors have died?

    In #41, Catherine Rainwater tells how her students angrily rejected the idea of placing any limit on the accumulation of money, and in #43 Todd (#43) recounts how his friends felt threatened by his decision to buy only what he needed rather than what he wanted. Both stories suggest how thoroughly the idolatry of money and the ideology of consumerism have permeated our culture.

    Thanks to Susan Meeker-Lowry (#46) for pointing us to the important (and disturbing) article in Mother Jones, and for aptly describing the way rhetoric is manipulated to skew our public discourse. Thanks to Tanya vB (#47) for posting the link to the Keith Olbermann critique.

    I disagree with RH (#25) when he states that granting legal “personhood” to corporations is a minor legal matter. Unlike people and, I would argue, other living species, corporations have no inherent rights; they are not mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights; they have only those rights granted to them through legislation and judicial interpretation. Under the current Supreme Court, every case that pits a giant corporation against individuals—think of the recent Wal-Mart decision, for example—has gone in favor of the corporation. Every such decision, including Citizens United, increases the power of corporations to control the government, the judiciary, the media, the marketplace, and the educational system, undermining the power of ordinary citizens and communities to control their own affairs. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly agree with RH in saying that we need to get money out of politics. Until we do that, our government, at all levels, will be a tool wielded by those with the most money.

    Following up on Paul Puckett’s post (#26), Mike K in #27 suggests that we need a more thorough conversation about what we mean by “capitalism.” The local entrepreneur who opens a coffee shop, small manufacturing plant, commercial greenhouse, or any other sort of business is a capitalist; he or she invests capital and labor, and has a right to seek a profit. That localized business will be constrained in its behavior by its small scale, its need for good will within the community, and by the relationships its owner has with fellow citizens. But what of multi-billion-dollar international corporations, such as Exxon, Wal-Mart, Citibank, News Corp, General Electric, Con Agra, and the like. What is to assure their good behavior? True, capitalist endeavor has given us—and people around the world—many boons, from medicines to cell phones to hybrid cars. But capitalism has also given us slavery, whale-hunting, child labor, oil-spills, nuclear power plants, Hummers on the highways, and countless other ills. How do we make the boons possible without suffering the ills? Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, is frequently cited as the patriarch of free market economics; but he also wrote Theory of Moral Sentiments, in which he argued that capitalism—and every other human activity—must be constrained by the values of justice, prudence, and beneficence; in the absence of these constraints, he warned, the social order will crumble. Capitalism on a small scale, which addresses real human needs and does so in a manner that respects both people and Earth, can be a powerful force for good. On a gigantic scale, unconstrained by ethics, regard for community, loyalty to nation, or concern for either human or ecological well-being, capitalism can become a scourge. We have seen that recently in the Murdoch empire’s unscrupulous gathering of private information about thousands of innocent people; in BP’s irresponsible drilling practices in the Gulf of Mexico; in Exxon’s lobbying against any efforts to address climate disruption; in Wall Street’s piratical financial dealings that sent the world economy into deep recession. The list could be greatly extended. It’s time for people who believe in the virtues of capitalism to say clearly and forcefully what they understand the proper bounds, purposes, and conduct of capitalism to be.

    If my words in “Breaking the Spell of Money” help you say what you wish to say, then feel free to quote them in letters to the editor, print them in newsletters, or pass them on through email (including to the White House, as Patricia Henley suggests in #24). If you’re a teacher, like Jeff Muse (#36), you can raise the issues with your students—not to persuade them to share your views, but to get them thinking about what is amiss in our society and how it might be set right.

  48. Thank you very much Scott Sanders, for not only writing an excellent essay, but for being willing to join the comment forum growing out of it. Our over investment in monetary and material wealth has been a source of incredible suffering for billions of beings living on our planet, since the beginnings of human history. How to share the blessings of our world in a fair way still seems to be a distant but essential dream, if we are to continue our existence here. We have already destroyed so much of precious value due to not having solved this basic koan, that the karmic burden we have created weighs heavily on our attempts to build a world of mutual help and celebration. May your efforts, along with so many other awakening beings, contribute to the clarity and energy needed to turn us from the fatal course that is unfolding around us. Make no mistake: this planetary initiation must be successfully resolved if we are to continue. No Deus Ex Machina scientific, political, or extraterrestrial is going to save us from this test of our fitness to go
    on. If we continue to fail this one, we are finished. There is no way to fake our way through this one.

  49. A reasonable discussion of many issues would result in the realization that there are more areas of agreement than disagreement. I am deeply appreciative of your participation in the discussion of your thought-provoking article.

    I agree with your observations about the value of small capitalism. How do we get the boons without the dregs?

    I believe we should apply the same logic to government. The growth in the size of the Federal Government preceded the rise, and was the cause, of the multinational corporation. Business grew with the active encouragement of the Federal Government.

    Shrinking the size of the Federal Gov’t would reduce the need for mega-corporations which currently lobby in DC far removed from local citizens. The rise of the Federal Gov’t weakens the power of any individual citizen’s vote and influence.

    Force a megacorporation to lobby fifty state governments and they will break-up, over time, as the advantage of size will be lessened. A local government is more likely to listen to it’s constituents.

    That does not mean I object to having a Federal gov’t. There are specific issues which can only be addressed at the National level. But I believe we have lost the checks and balances of an equally powerful State Gov’t. Adam Smith may have pointed out the danger of concentrated power, whether in business or government.

    The enemy, if we wish to describe it as such, is concentrated power, not capitalism.

    My motto – Think local, act local, buy local.

  50. Mr. Sanders begins his analysis with a logical fallacy: systems of nature deteriorate because of man. Yes, man contributes to change. How much, we don’t know. We can surmise.But we don’t know. We do know that change and motion are inherent in nature; in some epistomological platforms, Nature is change. How one distinguished change from deterioration is definitely a subjective expression.

  51. Change is inherent in Nature and/or the Universe. Motion and energy are the core of Einstein’s world, our world at present, until we know more. At what point is change deterioration. A subjective view,Mr. Sanders. One that justifies mass taxation of husbanded resources to spread upon those who to date have proved incapable of generation of their own bounty. Nature is amoral, and man is part of nature. Morality may make you feel better; it is not absolute truth.

  52. Regarding Stephen Feldman’s comment,”systems of nature deteriorate because of man. Yes, man contributes to change. How much, we don’t know. We can surmise.”

    We can and have done much more than merely “surmise.” Take a look through a few issues of Science News, New Scientist, etc., where you will see just how many different parts of the scientific community have gone so far beyond merely “surmising” about the deleterious effects of industrial development since the late 18th century. You cannot simply ignore or dismiss factual evidence. Sure, there are lots of things we don’t know yet, but that doesn’t afford us the luxury of assuming that just because we humans are part of nature, that whatever we do is fine. Moreover, the argument that nature is amoral is not a good argument for why we (as entities capable of making such observations) should accept amorality and immorality in ourselves.

  53. It is worth continuing the dialogue joined by Scott Russell Sanders in #50, which is appended below for convenience.

    I disagree with none of this rejoinder, which suggests that the point made in #24 was misunderstood. Otherwise the rejoinder could not be considered a basis for disagreement.

    There is no question that the Supreme Court majority – the Roberts 5 – never saw a big corporate litigant it doesn’t like, which is part of a broader problem that the Roberts 5 never saw a powerful litigant it doesn’t like.

    To fashion a solution it is imperative to understand the problem.

    The problem is not technical legal doctrines that might go under the rubric “corporate personhood.” The Court is not driven by any legal doctrine whatsoever. They juggle and distort whatever doctrines and precedents are handy to reach the results they desire. They are driven by an ideology most succinctly described as plutocracy. Rule of law has nothing to do with it. That is why it is simply erroneous to focus on a single legal doctrine like corporate personhood. People could work hard using valuable political capital to change this doctrine and the change would simply be grist for their plutocratic mill that grinds up doctrine and precedent and spits out the same result every time: plutocrats win. Tweaking corporate law would not change the power of money in politics. An excellent example, fully developed by the dissent, is the most recent appalling decision by the Roberts 5 eviscerating Arizona’s model public funding law.

    A subtext of this “misjoined” argument is occasioned by the PR strategy of a number of advocacy organizations. They have, for their own reasons of publicity, misrepresented the actual ruling of Citizens United as establishing some corollary to the unimportant technical doctrine of “corporate personhood.”

    The Roberts 5 never mentioned corporate personhood in Citizens United. Nor did it rely on this concept for its ruling that the people, acting through their elected representatives, have no power to limit the amount of paid electioneering advertisements they hear in the interest of enhanding the integrity of elections and the influence of their vote. Rather the Court claimed such a restriction would infringe the constitutional rights of the viewers/voters not to have their sources of paid political information censored – although no such person showed up in court to claim such an absurd right.

    Though none of your rejoinder below is counterfactual, it does reveal that you believe that the doctrine of corporate personhood is implicated in the Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision, and other similar decisions. Many people have been misled in this way with the unfortunate result of misjudging the necessary remedy. The remedy is to use Congress’ power under the Esceptions Clause (Art III, Sec 2, Cl 2 Sentence 2 of the Constitution) to limit the Supreme Court’s authority to intervene in elections under its money is speech meme. That is a discussion for another time, but if you are interested in pursuing this subject you may visit:

    I disagree with RH (#25) when he states that granting legal “personhood” to corporations is a minor legal matter. Unlike people and, I would argue, other living species, corporations have no inherent rights; they are not mentioned in the Constitution or Bill of Rights; they have only those rights granted to them through legislation and judicial interpretation. Under the current Supreme Court, every case that pits a giant corporation against individuals—think of the recent Wal-Mart decision, for example—has gone in favor of the corporation. Every such decision, including Citizens United, increases the power of corporations to control the government, the judiciary, the media, the marketplace, and the educational system, undermining the power of ordinary citizens and communities to control their own affairs.

  54. #53 & #54 Stephen Feldman — Your comments seem to echo the shallow arguments founded on misconceptions regarding the meaning of the philosophy of materialism. It is important to realize that this ancient philosophy is just one take on the meaning of existence, not some kind of fact, or unquestionable reality. To label an idea as subjective is often a rhetorical devise employed to discredit ideas one disagrees with. All human knowledge is in some sense subjective, in that it is generated or processed by the human mind. This includes so called scientific knowledge.

    To dignify the recipes for robbing the many to enrich the few by calling them inevitable, scientific, value neutral, is to pretend that they are other than stratagems created by a gang of thieves to cover their operations. It is almost as ludicrous as to claim that capitalism is justified due to its legal status, when the truth is that the laws are written by those who seek to profit from them.

    We living, breathing, hurting, aspiring human beings are tired of being told that we must submit to gross abuses because they are somehow scientific, legal, and value free. We are working to free our minds from these shallow lies, so that we may create a world based on humane and loving values.

  55. When one refers to capitalism, it generally refers to the free wheeling license to steal system that is actually practiced, not some ideal system that in fact exists nowhere on our planet. Capitalism as it is being practiced inevitably results in the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. The healthy modification of capitalism that you refer to would perhaps be better defined as socialism, or better by some term yet to be invented. It would have little resemblance to today’s capitalism, and would be roundly attacked and disavowed by the adherents of capitalism as we have come to know it. Those folks have gone to great lengths to demonize any system interfering with what they see as their divine rights.

  56. RH — You make telling points in your comments. “They are driven by an ideology most succinctly described as plutocracy. Rule of law has nothing to do with it.” The Supreme Court Justices are scoundrels. They are the fancy legal figureheads of a Global Mafia that dominates the United States. When I learned that several of these frauds attended the functions put on by the Koch brothers to get together with their wealthy co-conspirators, I was only surprised that they were so blatantly open in doing so. Is it really any wonder that the stated goal of this vast enterprise is to achieve “full spectrum dominance” of our whole world? The comic books of my childhood warned of these folks and their insane agenda. Because of their skill in the use of secrecy and propaganda, most of our population is sound asleep to their evil machinations. “Evil” sound a little strong to you? I would ask you only to consider the destruction of the society of Iraq, including wide spread torture, death squads, intentional poisoning of their environment with depleted uranium, etc. ad nauseam. These people will stop at nothing to realize their unholy vision of world domination. Who is going to stop them?

  57. The Burning Man community has been experimenting for over 20 years with suspending commerce at our events to get back in touch with other human values. There are now regional communities and regional events all over the world breaking the spell of money faster than you think.

  58. Mr. Sanders…thanks for this piece and your contributions to the discussion.

    How do you break the spell of money? For instance, how does one break the spell of anything? You don’t break it. It breaks itself, inevitably.

    Before our very eyes, I think, we are witnessing the simultaneous destruction of both the international monetary structure and the health of the global ecology. It really is a race to the bottom, as I see it. Currently, I’d say the global ecology is lagging behind and the gap is increasing. That is fair. It is way past time that the masters of the universe feel for their creation the trepidation and grief that others have long felt for God’s. To them, I ask: So…how does it taste boys?

    We will ride one or the other, or both, to the point of complete failure. Of that I have no doubt at all. My only hope is that we’ll still have a salvageable planet to live on when the dust settles. Exceedingly low expectation on my part? Well, maybe, but my study of history leaves me with no other.


  59. Wade — Predicting the exact timing and nature of the abysmal bottom we are headed for is an uncertain affair, but I agree with you, it is coming. Reminds me of a song in the movie Words of My Perfect Teacher — “Going Down a Dead End Street at 90 Miles an Hour.” The only way the mountain of bad karma we have created is going to be paid for is unfortunately by a horrendous disaster on a global scale. Like you, I hope there is enough left, and sufficient sanity for us to rebuild our human world on a different basis. Maybe we should try mutual caring and sharing rather than the feverish pursuit of egos for dominance?

  60. Bad karma Mike, riding a pale horse named “The Great Unwinding.” After all, debt is nothing more than a marker on future obligations. When those obligations have no…zero %…chance of ever being honored, the reset button is all that is left. The Passion Play of the U.S. debt ceiling negotiations that is currently running in D.C. is either the actual event, or just a dress rehearsal for the real belly drop. An avoidance of immediate default by the U.S. this time around is not going to be of much consequence, as well as every other time hereafter when we manage to push the inevitable off a tad longer. I view the passing of the revolving credit age somewhat wistfully, but with a philosophical point of view that has taken me many years of discipline to acquire. Still, I won’t kid myself: It is going to scare the crap out of everyone, and bad juju is in the offing. But…it has to come.

  61. I am myself working on a book of the same subject you have written about. It makes me happy to see others aware of and concerned with the same issues.

    What it all boils down to is sustainability. Moral arguments appeal to some – but the bottom line is the ultimate decider – and the fact is current capitalism is self-destructive and unsustainable in multiple ways.

    I would highly suggest you read After Capitalism by David Schweickart – it provides a viable alternative to our current system – a good modern example of which is Mondragon in Spain.

  62. The Soul of Capitalism by William Greider is another good book that gives idea about using the workable beneficial parts of capitalism to create better systems.

  63. Griffmaster — You wrote: “What it all boils down to is sustainability. Moral arguments appeal to some – but the bottom line is the ultimate decider….”

    I am not sure what you meant by this, but my own sense is that our moral, ethical, and spiritual development is key to founding a new world that serves all its beings better. There is no value free economics. The decisions we make in devising mechanisms to justly share the things of this world are largely determined by our inner values. “Moral arguments” will never lead to the deep changes of heart and consciousness needed for a better world. The paths of spiritual growth already in existence offer the only viable long range solutions to our numerous dilemmas. Technical and political solutions will always fail unless enacted by those motivated by truth and mutual caring.

  64. I think what Griffmaster means is that we will argue for eternity over moral points, but one day we will all be forced to deal with the same, or pretty much the same, actual living conditions.

    The Global Financial Elite will be able to move about with all their floating capital and e-commerce, so they will be the best off. No longer does the despot have to live behind a wall in the midst of the exploited.

  65. No…I don’t agree that it is a morality issue, not unless you believe that the laws of thermodynamics are inherently moral. I’d describe it more as a question of wisdom, or not. Wise ways, or unwise choices, them’s your options as I see it.

    Money in all forms is merely a facilitator of natural resource allocation. (Really…look up where the slang “buck” came from…although it might be apocryphal: One male deer=one American dollar) Credit is no more than a way of transporting a present claim on resources forward in time. At the end of the day, you must have enough resources available to cover all your claims against them. When any monetary system in the past failed to do that, it was softened by the realization that SOMEBODY, somewhere, had the resources to cover the shortfall…they just weren’t in the hands of the debtor in question, but might could be if he/they/it had enough capital to acquire it. What is dawning now is a new global paradigm, especially in the field of energy resources. Global depletion of [insert crucial commodity resource here]is rewriting the rules. Increasingly, when the rent comes due, NOBODY has got the jack to meet the bill or acquire the equivalent resources. Disappointing, that.

    So maybe the will to live within your means is a moral paradigm after all, but the impetus to get there is most often imposed merely by what a law professor of mine used to describe as, “The nasty now-and-now.” The law of entropy is stone cold.


  66. Talk about the spell of money. Eden Wood, a six year old beauty queen, announced today her retirement from the toddler pageant scene. Ms. Wood will remain busy, however, managing her brand, which includes action figures, bedroom furniture, while also promoting the release of her recently published memoir. The book can be purchased from her website. She also plans to perform at various Midwestern malls polishing her musical and dancing skills. After reading about her “retirement,” I’m convinced that breaking the spell of money early is critically
    important. Money should not be a tool of enchantment for our children.

  67. I share Paul Puckett’s misgivings (#52) about the concentration of power, whether in government or business or—I would add—in the military. You may have noticed that in the midst of loud claims from Congress about the need for fiscal restraint, both parties overwhelmingly voted for a significant increase in appropriations for the military, including funding for weapons systems that the Pentagon and the White House have declared to be unnecessary. The reason for this bipartisan zeal is simple: there are military contractors in every Congressional district, and not by accident. Depending on how you do the math, about half of discretionary spending (distinct from Social Security and Medicare payments) goes to the military, including the cost of veterans’ benefits, interest on debts incurred from previous wars, weapons labs and nuclear research housed in the Department of Energy, and various other sectors of the budget. The Friends Committee on National Legislation estimates that the U.S. also accounts for roughly half of the world’s military expenditures. Any politician who talks about fiscal responsibility and shared sacrifice, while voting to increase this obscenely bloated military spending is a charlatan.

    I also agree with Mr. Puckett that certain powers controlled by the federal government would more properly be exercised at the state and local levels. He acknowledges that some matters are properly national; I would suggest the following: defense of civil rights, reproductive rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, environmental protection, work and safety standards, among others. Without federal intervention, much of the South—where I was born—would still be segregated, and Jim Crow laws would still be in place.

    To Stephen Feldman (#53 & 54), I would reply that, while everything in nature changes, humans bear a responsibility for the changes that we cause, accelerate, or amplify. As Catherine Rainwater points out in #55, some of those human-caused changes are destructive: polluting a river, draining a wetland to build a parking lot, clear-cutting a forest to make newsprint for advertisements, driving a species to extinction (through over-fishing, for example, or through habitat destruction). Likewise, some human-caused changes are benign: cleaning up rivers, restoring wetlands, replanting forests, recovering an endangered species. When Mr. Feldman declares that “Nature is amoral, and man is part of nature,” he implies that humans, too, are amoral. Certainly many humans behave that way. But humans are clearly capable of making decisions, and acting, in light of ethical codes. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t have laws against murder, rape, theft, arson, fraud, and a host of other behaviors.

    I appreciate RH’s clarification in #56 about why he considers the notion of “corporate personhood” to be irrelevant to the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on behalf of corporations and the wielders of the largest amounts of money. The only consistent principle applied by what RH calls the “Roberts 5” is to protect the power of the wealthy to maintain and increase their wealth.

    In #60, mike K usefully points readers to a site affiliated with that summarizes the degree to which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—the largest single channel of corporate money into the political system—has stalled meaningful response to climate disruption, dismissed science, thwarted healthcare reform, and generally subverted democracy. As the site points out, the U.S. Chamber represents only a small percentage of businesses, mainly gigantic corporations. Wherever you live, you might consider calling or writing your local chamber of commerce and asking them where they stand in relation to the positions taken by the U.S. chamber. If you get no response, write a letter to your newspaper (if your town still has a newspaper) and challenge the local chamber to answer.

    I’m glad to hear what Zay (#61) reports about the Burning Man community excluding commerce from their gatherings.

    Plowboy and mike K both foresee a dramatic breakdown of our current global industrial-financial-military system. Certainly a significant fraction of humankind is already suffering the effects of economic imperialism, warfare over natural resources, environmental degradation, overpopulation, political tyranny, and other ills. While recognizing these current calamities, and expecting worse to come, I urge us all to work as hard as we can, wherever we are, with all the skills and leverage we possess, to create a more just and peaceful and sustainable new society.

    As mike K points out in #67, values are at the heart of any meaningful critique of our current social order, and any vision of a preferable order. Griffmaster (in #65) and Zay (in #66) suggest readings that may help point the way. I would add two more books: Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, edited by Kathleen Dean Moore and Michael Nelson, and Alan Weisman’s Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World. Other readers will have books, magazines, films, and websites to recommend. The resources I find most valuable are those that combine attention to ethics, practice, and vision. What sort of world do we want? What makes that a desirable world? And how do we get there?

  68. Scott Sanders — Thanks for your continuing insightful comments. I am 100% with you in all you have written. And I have no intention to cease in my efforts towards a better world for all, despite the very dire outlook. Analysis and criticism are only a necessary first step in a new direction. Without that scrutiny of ourselves and our culture, nothing deeply meaningful can be undertaken. As a result of this thorough self examination we should be inspired and energized for further steps to deal with the problems we have uncovered, not disheartened and de-energized. Knowing clearly all that has gone wrong, we can set out to intelligently correct course, and avoid the errors of the past.

  69. Thanks to #59 mike k on Jul 13, 2011 for the quote. I take your question “Evil” sound a little strong to you? as not rhetorical. My answer would be no, but use of that word usually calls for a definition. The system designed to impose non-consensual hierarchical power over others to exploit them for self-enrichment can be described as evil, as judged by its fruits. The Roberts 5 are serving this this system, so I would not necessarily find to too strong to call them evil. Their service to plutocracy entails abandonment and dishonoring two values that our culture respects: democracy and rule of law.

    I wrote about this matter on the site in order to deal with a problem we have in developing a strategy to deal with this evil. Two erroneous memes have become current that has persuaded many that a solution must be sought under the street light where it is easy to peddle erroneous soundbites rather in the darkness where the solution can be found. One meme is the one I have discussed here at #24 and # 56, corporate personhood, which is a complete red herring. The other is that a constitutional amendment is required to turn around the influence of money on our politics which has created a rot that has oozed out that corrupt system to infect all other aspects of our culture.

    There actually is a solution to this problem that everyone concerned on this site may pursue. In brief the strategy for all of us concerned about the corruption and loss of democracy to pledge our next two votes to address the single issue of money in politics, to force Congress to enact legislation that will get the Roberts 5 out of elections and money out of politics. This is achievable under our Constitution, and the reason it has not already been used can be laid at the door of well meaning people who fail to take action.

    If you are inclined to start to remedy that problem you can do so right now. You can pledge your vote at

    Then encourage others to do the same.

  70. And in other news of the fall, my county remains poised on the cusp of the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of this country. (Move over Orange County)BTW, coming to a city near you!

  71. Thanks for the heads up Wade. The (economic) weather is a-changing, and storms of debt defaults will be impacting all of our neighborhoods soon (stronger than the ones that have already hit. We always think it will be somebody else that will be hit. When Western Civilization really gets into coming apart, nobody is going to be exempt from the disaster.

  72. RH — Unfortunately the corrupt servitude to the plutocracy extends far beyond the Supreme Court into every nook and cranny of our society, and indeed is lodged deeply in the hearts and psyches of our fellow citizens, not excluding ourselves. The love of money has come to trump every other value. Rooting this virus out and destroying it is the real work ahead of those who would live in a better, more spiritually centered world.

    All the voting and tinkering with the System will not effect the radical inner change that alone will address our escalating problems. The System is so irredeemably corrupt that trying to change it from within or by conventional maneuvers from without is only a waste of precious time and energy. None of the usual ideas proposed goes to the root of the problem: humans living on the basis of selfishness and all the forms of mutual violence this gives rise to. Of course the System is at great pains to convince us that this flawed basis of living is natural, inevitable, and unchangeable; that spiritual solutions are unworkable and unrealistic. People are so saturated with this propaganda that they have not only lost faith in spirituality, they have forgotten what real spirituality is, being so absorbed in phony “mainstream” religions and other substitutes for the truth. It is hard for me or anyone to even use the word spiritual in conversation due to people’s total incomprehension as to what that might be. Nevertheless, that avenue represents the only real way that this world might save itself. Discovering what real spirituality is remains the essential first step towards using its power to deliver us from the nightmare world that we have co-created.

  73. Mike K, while I agree with what you say, about the corrupt system and spirituality (and have said similar things myself many times over the years, including here at Orion), it’s hard to know where to go with that given the extreme necessity for change to happen sooner rather than later. Sometimes I think that if only “enough” people changed the way they see and participate in the world, and somehow we all got together – not in the same physical space but rather on the level of consciousness – we could somehow “zap”, meditate, pray, or whatever, change into being. That’s how desperate I am for change and how frustrated at years of speaking and writing the same things and ideas and concepts over and over. The fact that there are many wonderful models, community projects, economic alternatives, and truely “green” ways of living (including small businesses), has not escaped me and I applaud it. I count what I’ve done over the years, and even now, in with these positives. Still, things get worse and if possible, I feel even more marginalized than ever. Which world is real? The one in which I grow, harvest, and make herbal products, publish a journal with very limited distribution; the one in which my friends and family do their best to support local iniatives, farmers, etc. the one in which all this is supposed to make a difference? Or the one controlled by corrupt, elite, greedy, ignorant fools? Obviously they both are but which will rule the day? That’s obvious too. What I want to know is how we can really change this, soon enough that there’s still some life and vibrancy and resilience in the Earth, still some way we can remember the magic and the ways of living within it.

  74. Susan — Its really good to hear from you. I value your sincere sharing of what must be in many of our hearts. “What I want to know is how we can really change this, soon enough that there’s still some life and vibrancy and resilience in the Earth, still some way we can remember the magic and the ways of living within it.”
    I only wish that your question could vibrate in every soul on this planet. Until “enough” of us have this query burning in our hearts and minds every day, we lack an essential element in our possible delivery from the nightmare being enacted in the world today. (More about what might constitute enough in a subsequent comment.)

    How indeed! The truth is we don’t know. Now that simple realization has two sides. It is not a recipe for despair. On one side it means that we can let go of a lot of “answers” that we or others may have proposed that will not really be adequate to get us to the world you and I are dreaming of. Technology, political action within the traditional parameters, religion as usually understood and practiced, blind luck, a great leader/savior, the Space Brothers, etc. are not going to save us. On the other side, our lack of a preconceived answer frees us to creatively explore beyond anything we presume to now know. In my thinking, this is the avenue to real solutions. We can use hints and clues from a wide range of knowledge already acquired in diverse fields, but we are really seeking something new, something we don’t know yet. This viewpoint is stimulating and inviting to our creative enquiry.

    Now, I am going to take a breath, before sharing more thoughts along these lines. But let me add that finding the best way to find the answers we are seeking is a crucial step in getting clear in time to avert the worst that is coming. Let’s be clear; some really bad karma is going to bear fruit, whatever we come up with. It would be foolish to look for solutions that totally avoid those necessary consequences of all our previous missteps.

    Those who have read some of my previous comments are aware that AA is one of my sources for realistic hopes. The first of the twelve steps basically says that we are in a very serious mess, and that we don’t have a clue how to extricate ourselves. It would probably be impossible for me to give an adequate explanation of what the 12 steps are. But I will only say that they represent a modern condensation of the wisdom of the many spiritual paths or technologies of transformation that have been brought forth in all times and places on earth. If the word “spiritual” sets your teeth on edge, or if you think the wisdom of AA is restricted to a bunch of drunks, then what I share in that regard will mean little to you. Just bracket it out, it is not necessary to the heart of what I have to share. (That last is not directed towards you, Susan. I know that you are more open than some who may read this.)

  75. Susan — To further reply to your heartfelt comments, such as:
    “Sometimes I think that if only “enough” people changed the way they see and participate in the world, and somehow we all got together – not in the same physical space but rather on the level of consciousness – we could somehow “zap”, meditate, pray, or whatever, change into being.”

    Amazingly, there is just such a way: the Maharishi Effect, named after the promulgator of transcendental meditation Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This proven method of creating positive changes in a large non-meditating surrounding population by a relatively small group of people meditating in a certain way has been validated again and again by the most rigorous independent blinded studies over the last thirty some years. You can google the maharishi effect to learn about it.

    If you say in your mind that critics have questioned this evidence, let me remind you that global climate change due to increasing levels of CO2 is also questioned, as are the most sacred bases of physics, such as the law of the conservation of mass and energy, and the speed of light as the top possible speed in our universe. Do not be dissuaded by these critical voices from looking at the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of the reality of this fascinating field effect, that may hold one key to transforming our world. This is not a theory, but a repeatedly demonstrated fact.

    How many people need to gather and meditate together to produce this effect? It turns out, by actual experiments, that number is the square root of one percent of the larger surrounding population to be influenced. To affect the population of the United States that would be about two thousand meditators.

  76. Mike K., yes, I’m familiar with the Maharishi Effect. Many years ago, while doing some wonderful acid (those were the days), long before I learned of the Maharishi Effect, it came to me that “enough” people could impact everyday reality in that way. 2,000 people doesn’t seem like that many to impact the US. I wonder why it hasn’t been tried. Obviously it will take more than a moment of prayer or silence or whatever at a certain time because there have been numerous efforts like that and no change occurred.

    There’s so much more to reality than most people allow, and we have way more power, in consciousness, in spirit, than most would allow as well. How to get those 2000 people to learn the practice, I wonder.

  77. Hi Susan. Not all acid trips were without value, as Huston Smith and others have reported. Some of these folks are trying to rehabilitate LSD research from its inappropriately assigned criminal status. As to getting 2000 qualified meditators to permanently maintain those numbers over time, it turns out to be more expensive than you might think. All of these folks need to be present for an hour twice a day at one place, the very large Golden Domes on the campus of Maharishi International University in Fairfield Iowa. Even with lavish contributions from a multimillionaire oil executive friend of mine and other fat cats, it is a problem. They have created a whole city to house and educate 1000 pundits from India to beef up their numbers, but it is still a challenge. My wife and I are proficient in the advanced techniques needed, but it is out of the question for us to leave our farm and take part, for example. You can check out where things are on the MIU website.

    I am not putting all my chips on this approach to our problems, as promising as it appears to be. The power of properly designed and organized small groups to awaken and mobilize people to meet the current crisis is also one of my pet projects. I agree with you, Susan, that there is an enormous spiritual power latent within every person that only awaits the right conditions to manifest. Designing and initiating groups with that purpose takes up a good bit of my thinking. Some of my process in envisioning this project is scattered throughout my comments the last couple of years on Orion, many of them responses to Derrick Jensen’s essays. At some point I need to bring this together in the form of a concrete proposal.

  78. Mike K., very interesting indeed! I will check out the website. I’m also very interested in the small group approach you’ve mentioned. When you do put together a proposal, or have more specific info in writing, I’d be very interested to see it. I’ve often wondered about the impact of small group efforts, not so much starting projects in the community group, we all know they can and do have some success on that scale. I’m thinking about the idea of consciousness, paradigm shift, energy type work. Of course where I live in rural Maine it may be difficult, but I’d love to read your thoughts when you have them ready.

  79. Thanks Susan! Yours is the best show of interest so far in this kind of project. You inspire me to get to work on it. But I am not holding my breath; I am inveterately lazy and slow to do prolonged work. We’ll see….

  80. I have been wildly distributing this piece among my friends and want to thank Orion and the author for such a truly well stated, solid, overwhelming but hopeful article. We are passing it on, it is a message that needs to be hear, loud and clear for the shared future of all of us on this planet!

  81. Thanks for the boost Susan, I needed that. I will get on it now. I just sent an email to Andrew MacDonald in Ontario. He has an interesting website that overlaps with many of my ideas about transformative groups: I am asking him if I can post my thoughts on his site. I might also serialize it on the Orion comments thread, if that is OK with them.

  82. I would like to see a site where folks could go with their ideas, questions, and experiences in starting small groups to change themselves and their world.

  83. In a years past ORION under book reviews was one on Jacob Needleman’s “Money and the Meaning of Life” which really gave me food for thought. The coin was a token of how we were connected to each other in our society – we traded it between each other for other items we didn’t produce ourselves.
    What started out as a means, has now become THE GOAL. There isn’t a part of our life that isn’t now touched by money, yet we don’t know how to relate to it. With money, it isn’t necessary to participate with each other directly. Money has become the ultimate middle-man-token.

    On line excerpt “Materialism is not a “sin”; it is a mistake.” How we clean up our mistakes will force each of us to look at how our money talks/votes/shapes the world around us.

  84. #71 Scott Russell Sanders – There is much where we agree regarding the problems of what I like to call, “To Big to Work” whether it is government or business. I agree with your observations about the need for laws, like those relating to racism and other unacceptable practices. I am also a Southerner and recognize the critical role the Federal Gov’t played in correcting many ills. Unfortunately, racism is not limited to the South and although the laws are equal, the implementation is less so. I tell me daughters that we will know racism has ended when you can wave hello or greet a member of a different race and not see surprise on their face.

    As to the rightful powers of the Federal Gov’t, I agree with most of your suggestions and would add that the appropriate powers are already spelled out in the US Constitution. I do believe in the importance of a strong military directed by an equally strong elected congress.

    #89 Susan Sander – You nailed it! The link isn’t working for me and I hope you’ll repost it as I would love to read the full article.

    Mike K – In reading your comments, it might surprise you to know that although there may be areas where we think differently, I have enjoyed reading your comments and agree with several of your points. Particularly those relating to meditation and awakening people. “There is an enormous spiritual power latent within every person that only awaits the right conditions to manifest.” That is so very true!

  85. Paul Puckett — Thanks for the favorable rating. I find much good sense in your sharing also. But about your comment regarding a strong military: is spending as much as the rest of the world put together about a strong defensive military, or is it an inevitable consequence of the insane desire to rule the world? The stated policy of our military to achieve “full spectrum dominance” is that a reasonable defensive posture, or is it more like the enforcer division of a worldwide fascist mafia? Read The Confessions of an Economic Hitman, then decide which it is.

  86. Paul Puckett — Thanks for the favorable rating. I find much good sense in your sharing also. But about your comment regarding a strong military: is spending as much as the rest of the world put together about a strong defensive military, or is it an inevitable consequence of the insane desire to rule the world? The stated policy of our military to achieve “full spectrum dominance” is that a reasonable defensive posture, or is it more like the enforcer division of a worldwide fascist mafia? Read The Confessions of an Economic Hitman, then decide which it is.

  87. Mike K – The US spent about $687billiom representing 4.2% of GDP and 42% of Worldwide Military spending in 2010 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) database. With the largest economy, it should not be surprising that the dollars spent dwarf other countries.

    If you haven’t visited the US Treasury website, here’s a link. You’ll find a historical chart of budget expenditures for the Federal Gov’t beginning in 1980 about half-way down the page under Quick Links.

    Note the growth of each area of spending and it doesn’t take long to understand why congress is having difficulty. Over the past thirty years, non-discretionary spending has increased leaving congress with less discretionary spending. Note also that military spending includes pension and health care benefits for military retirees. These expenses are carried under military spending, not health and human services.

    I think you’ll find that even with the wasteful congressional spending under the military budget, as cited by John Russell Sanders in a previous comment, military spending has not grown, as a % of GDP, at the level of other areas of gov’t.

    Not looking to convince anyone to change their mind and hearts regarding the US Military. I have family members who were career Navy and live in a Navy town. So just providing my point of view, for what it’s worth. I only included a reference to the military in the previous comment because I believe it’s important to recognize that military spending is not the cause of the growth of the National Debt or the deficit, IMHO. Not saying it wasn’t relevant, just that it isn’t the number one spending area.

    I’ll add your recommendation to my reading list!

  88. Paul — Thanks for the exact figures on the lavish expenditures of our diminishing incomes by the Military Industrial Complex. You would have a long way to go to convince me that all the $500 toilet seats are worth what we are soaked for them. Then there is the little matter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people slaughtered by our armed killers in order that we can enjoy our SUV’s etc. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on that one.

  89. Susan Sander — Thanks for the link to the Gurdjieff/Needleman material. Unfortunately it did not bring up the article. I was in the Work for a time, and learned a lot from it.

  90. Mike K, no problem. I respect your view, mine is just different. I think our end-goal, peace, is the same but I fully understand my view may not sound peace-like. For others reading our comments, it is truly not my intent to provoke or cause a discussion.

    Good luck on the group meditation. Earlier you mentioned it may not be the right time. Now is the only time we have the ability to do anything. The past is gone and the future never really arrives, since when tomorrow comes it will be called today… Nothing you don’t know, just want to encourage you to do what you believe and to let you know, regardless of different views on one issue, I support your concept.

    Best regards to all.

  91. #89 Susan, I think this link is to the really great book excerpt?

    If it doesn’t work, I typed the link you show manually and it worked. I had not seen Jacob Needleman’s “Money and the Meaning of Life”. I plan to get it, if it’s in print, and hound the used book stores, if it’s not! Thanks

  92. Thanks for your friendly response Paul. I guess I get a little strong on the subject of militarism, but you certainly have a right to express a different view. I try not to write anyone off just because of one area of disagreement. We can still cooperate on a lot of other issues.

  93. #101 — As my eyes glaze over, I wonder how this is helping me break the spell of money?

  94. Gordon Gekko, the rapacious white collar criminal in the movie Wall Street, eloquently summed up our modern society with “greed is good.” Although he was a vile Wall Street character, he was perceptive. Gekko put his finger right on the pulse of modern society. As individuals we are completely driven by by what we can gain from the world, or self centeredness. Our individual self centeredness is collectedly transferred to our institutions, both private and public and reflected back. Instead of continuing to build our world on the current foundation of self centeredness, we need to rebuild our home on a different foundation, a foundation based on compassion. As stated by former nun and author Karen Armstrong, we need this foundation “because in compassion we dethrone ourselves from the center of the world.” Instead of seeking what we can take from the world, we must seek ways to contribute to the world with no thoughts of personal gain. If enough of us begin this process, eventually it will transfer to the institutional level. Frankly, what I’m saying is hardly new or earth shattering. We just need to start the process even if it means failing, like I do, on a daily basis.

  95. The root of all ‘evil’ is FEAR. While we do need to cite greed, excess and corruption, we must understand that fear is what motivates virtually every human to do the things he does. (And ignorance stems from fear, compounding the problem.)We can’t fight fear with fear; only love will conquer the ‘evils’ of our world. When we emit any form of hatred to others, no matter what they’re doing, we add to the problem. Some of us may feel a spring in our step if we had a $5,000 windfall; others may feel insecure with a paltry $50,000 or even $5 million IRA. To some, there’s simply never enough. THESE ARE DEEPLY DELUSIONAL & FEARFUL FOLKS.We cannot entirely legislate or regulate their attitudes and behaviors. But we can — and absolutely must — look at ourselves. Every single thought we have is an act of war or an act of peace. Have I wholly promoted peace today? If each of us would practice this singular idea, we will redeem our world. We must each BECOME “the peace we want to see in the world” (Gandhi) and all things will be made right and we will all be happy and have all the stuff we want. It’s simple; but not easy. Peace!

  96. I am pondering what to write about the potential of small groups to contribute towards helping resolve some of our global problems. Here is something I wrote a ways back that might give you a glimpse of the hesitations in my mind about how to present this subject in a way that will be inviting rather than off-putting:

    I am thinking to write a series of promos (for lack of a better word) for the small group process. Why? A lot of folks either don’t have a clue about it, or (almost worse) think they already know all about it (they don’t). Nobody does. But here goes.

    Let’s talk education. Ah, the wonderful years of grade school, high school, college! What an ecstatic experience! Thank God its over!
    OK whatever your experience of it was, agony or ecstasy, it was not what you are able to learn in a small group, properly structured. So please make an effort to set aside all you learned or thought you learned in those years, in those venues. This will be different. One of the main objectives of this encounter will be to flush a lot of what you thought you learned down the toilet…..

    And open up some new subjects that were not part of your prior curriculums. You might want to look into Derrick Jensen’s little teaching memoir, “Walking On Water” to get a hint at some of the further growth possibilities in a non-conventional learning environment. But since only a few will do that, I guess I’ll have to dangle some juicy enticing fruit before your eyes, even though I know that the best part of the whole deal is its total unpredictability and creative magic.

    As you can see by now, I will never get a job on Madison Avenue, having most likely lost more than half my audience already. No matter, they probably wouldn’t stay on board long anyway. (sour grapes) And now I am out of gas typing-wise; so, more anon…maybe…

  97. Several of you, including Mike K, have written about small groups making a difference. Yesterday, I was mucking about the internet and stumbled across GiantHydra. GiantHydra styles itself as a mass collaboration unit. Essentially, it puts creative types together to work collaboratively on advertising/marketing projects. The hydra notifies participants of upcoming projects. Participants can pick the projects that best suit their interests and skill sets. This started me thinking about a greenHydra, a mass collaboration unit to tackle eco problems. Although this type of entity doesn’t address any of the spiritual issues discussed in these comments, it does strike me as a way to solve some of the nuts and bolts problems of bringing people together for a common purpose. Any thoughts?

  98. “Breaking the spell of money” by restoring the integrity of science. In the name of scientific integrity will someone with appropriate expertise, please, pray tell us, what scientists and experts with appropriate expertise have known, based upon the best availabile scientific evidence, about the population dynamics of the human species? During my lifetime, what did so-called experts know and when did you know it? Why the worldwide conspiracy of silence concerning human overpopulation issues in the past 66 years?

    The family of humanity as well as much of life as we know it are now here inhabitants of a finite planet with a frangible environment that is failing fast. What really matters is being inadvertently ruined on our watch by the human population, but is not being openly discussed. My ‘blood boils’ in the truth that we have possessed knowledge of so much about ourselves as human beings with feet of clay and acknowledged so little about what has been known for so long about our distinctly human creatureliness, based upon extensive empirical research and unchallenged scientific evidence. Elective mutism and silent consent in the face of the reckless degradation, relentless dissipation and willful sell-off of what everyone knows to be sacred looks to me like the worst of all precipitants of the colossal ecological wreckage that appears in the offing.

    Inside and outside the community of top rank scientists, as well as among first class professionals in demography and economics who claim appropriate expertise in issues concerning human overpopulation, one issue is not being discussed by anyone. A worldwide conspiracy of silence continues to prevail about the population dynamics of the human species. The last of the last taboos is the open discussion of extant scientific research of human population dynamics. The implications of this astounding denial of what could somehow be real are potentially profound for the future of life on Earth, I suppose.

    Within the human community a tiny minority of self-proclaimed masters of the universe hold the ‘destiny’ of all in their hands. This elite group is operating behind the scenes these days and “growing” the global economy to such a colossal scale that it could soon become patently unsustainable on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth because our planetary home is not, definitely not “too big to fail.”

    Hurry up, please, it is time for speaking out loudly, clearly and often before it is too late for human action to matter. Like it or not, ready or not, intellectually honest and morally courageous scientists have unassumed responsibilities to science…. and unfulfilled duties to humanity that must be performed.

  99. The problem is climate change. We don’t have generations to solve the problem. The way politics is going in the US and elsewhere, it looks like the political will to solve the problem will not materialize, even if we come to see ourselves as other than consumers. I don’t see a way through, and I wish someone who does (apart from deniers) would convince me.

  100. The money system is indeed a spell cast on the sleeping population in order to rob and enslave them for the profit and power of the wealthy “elite”. I put elite in quotes because in fact these folks are the scum of creation. Part of their evil spell is to cover themselves in illusions of worthiness and superiority. All their wealthy accouterments are part of the act. In truth these are common criminals victimizing others without compunction.

    Until enough people penetrate the delusions of our culture, we will suffer the depredations of these pompous reptiles. Most of our population needs desperately to be re-educated into a clear understanding about the con game they have been swindled into by the clever and unscrupulous top-dogs of our world. Wake up, your leaders are very bad people. Get together with others in small groups dedicated to awakening and regaining your sanity, From there you can find the effective ways out of this miserable impasse.
    Failing that, you are doomed to endure the nightmares of your dream world consciousness. Do you really think sleeping people living on the basis of lies can create a decent world?

  101. Susan et al — Our situation is exactly that of one who sees a disaster unfolding, and desperately seeks to awaken his fellow citizens who are oblivious, and worse don’t want to hear it. This is why the first order of business in a small group aiming to address our situation is to awaken fully to the depth, extent, and urgency of the problem. This is the function of the first of the 12 steps of AA. If we don’t fully appreciate the dimensions and extreme urgency of the threat, we will lack motivation and clear understanding of what is unfolding as a culminating disaster of human history. People need to work through all the alibis and wishful thinking that clouds their vision. We need to engage a process together that recognizes, then deconstructs all our defenses and mechanisms of denial. Also we need to admit to ourselves and each other that at this time we do not have a sure-fire solution to our problems. Facing honestly the angst and uncertainty inherent in our situation is not weakening, but paradoxically the only true foundation of our awakening faith and strength to find and enact the solutions we long for.

    This whole scenario reminds me of the SF classic The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when one person wakes up and discovers that his friends and neighbors have been taken over by an alien presence which warps their judgment, and leads them to seek the enslavement of their fellow citizens. Not a pleasant situation, eh?

  102. I am going to shift my comments now to the Jensen thread, because he always draws in a lot of folks to comment. He is a provacateur par excellence, N’est-ce pas? A true gadfly.

  103. Thank you, Zay! I hadn’t seen that site. I like the blog, too. I’ll listen to the interview.

  104. #105 MarkS — A couple of problems with the Hydra are that it is an online group, and it is run for profit. There are other difficulties, but those two are enough to make it unfit for the work I have in mind, which functions beyond the polluting influence of money, and can only function effectively in a face to face setting. Thanks however for the info; we can learn from everything. You might be interested in Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article, available on his site, The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted. A deep personal revolution in thinking is unlikely to occur under online constraints. And that is what is needed. Superficial transient fixes only delay the real work to be done. Only (deeply) better people can create a (deeply) better world. Sound like a big order? We have a really enormous problem on our hands: us. Is there an easier alternative? Yes, deeply flawed people can (and will) create a deeply flawed world.

  105. Hi mike k – I agree with virtually all of your comment. Clearly, Giant Hydra as a commercial entity is not the right format for our needs. However, this basic structure may be adapted to suit the needs of a non profit entity. We do need to significantly improve ourselves. If we improve ourselves, this improvement should positively impact our public and private
    institutions. Nevertheless, we still need an effective way to assemble small groups of
    people. People that may be scattered
    across the globe.

  106. Hi MarkS — One model that is central to my thinking is AA. This movement consists of small groups that are scattered all over the world. Each group is a small unit that meets face to face on a weekly basis, and is largely autonomous, linked to the overall movement by a common purpose and some shared methods of achieving it. Although the internet could serve a purpose as a stimulus to start such a group in your own area, activity within the groups would constitute the main mechanism for achieving their goals. The net might also serve as a resource for sharing ideas among those involved in local groups. Some document recording the overall experience of the groups as to what is effective and how to implement it might eventually emerge from the initial exploratory processes emerging in the groups. I may put out some skeleton ideas based on what similar groups have found useful to start the ball rolling, but from there we would hope better ideas and experience would evolve over time. Hopefully our efforts would arrive at a flexible balance between structure and creative freedom.

  107. Hi Mike k,
    I like your idea. The concept based on the 12 steps of AA and weekly meetings miight be successful. If you wanted another model to look at, consider the Quaker silent meeting model with no formal leadership.

  108. Mark — We are on the same page here. I lived at the Quaker meeting house on Oahu for a couple of years. As you may know meditation is step 11 of the 12 steps of AA. It is a wonderful solvent of our fixed attitudes and perspectives, and catalyzes our efforts at deep change and awakening creativity. Also the Quaker example of simple living is an essential goal of a changed life, and a necessary step in letting go of our multiple paralyzing addictions. Small groups have the capacity to not only change our thinking, but to initiate real changes in how we live our lives. Those who are unfamiliar with AA may think that the program is only about stopping drinking and drugging, but in fact it is more about changing one’s whole approach to life. And it works!

    Most folks have no idea how there entire worldview is not only incapable of introducing needed changes in their world, but is actually complicit in creating our many problems. As we are, so is the world. As Krishnamurti famously said, “we are the world.” Things will remain pretty much the same until we make basic changes in who we are — then we can have a different world.

  109. Wake Up London, a Buddhist sangha,recently staged several flash meditation sittings.
    The last one was staged in Convent Garden.
    “Wake Up London described its goals as follows:
    1. To create an environment for people from all walks of life to come together in meditation.
    2. To spread awareness of meditation to the public.
    3. To come together as a community to send positive intentions out into the world.
    4. To show that leading by example is the best way to lead. Simple acts can stimulate major paradigm shifts in thinking.”
    Is this a bit of what Carl Jung described as synchronicity?

  110. MarkS — Perhaps readers know of the Maharishi Effect? This has been a proved peacemaking effect from large numbers of TM practitioners meditating together in one place and effecting the territory around them. Google the Maharishi effect for more info. This is a remarkable means for changing consciousness on earth, but there are some problems in getting enough folks together on a regular basis to bring it off. Nevertheless folks are working on that now in Fairfield Iowa.

  111. Thanks for putting these great thoughts out there. I hope people share it widely, as I will.

  112. #108 Thanks Louise for the link to Sacred Economics. This guy is a genius in my book. He sees through all the complicated mumbo jumbo and goes right to the simple heart of the matter.

  113. You’re welcome, mike k. I think it’s a wonderful book, cutting through all the economists’ theories they claim are “science,” as well as whatever residual levels of limitation may be whistling through one’s own head. I think it’s a very optimistic vision – cautiously optimistic.

  114. I like your article from the human perspective, one who care about his fellow man. In your lengthy article you do not offer how to accomplish all that you preach for. I would argue that there needs to be a culture chanage in American, a change of mindset first before hard changes. And maybe this is what your article strives to accomplish.

  115. Scott, I am still reading your article, but I would like to say that it is great you come here to respond to your readers… not at all the usual thing for Orion writers. And very very welcome. 🙂

    There seems to be a minor error in the article… which Adolph Coors are you referring to? The original one died in ’29, and his grandson in 1960. I am not aware of any other Adolphs.

  116. Scott, you say: “I say we need to get big money out of politics by publicly financing elections and strictly regulating lobbyists. We need to defend the natural and cultural goods we share, such as the oceans and the internet, from those who seek to exploit the common wealth for their sole profit. We need legislation that strips corporations of the legal status of persons.” Etc.

    How? We all have these lists, and many longer. How is now the crucial question.

    Thank you for the article. It is right on, erm, the money. 🙂

  117. Finally at #128 Vera makes the most important comment on this thread: “How is the crucial question” How is the only question.

    The answer is we must identify the single issue at the root of the problems, which is money in politics. We had this problem 100 years ago. Laws were the partial solution then and can be a complete solution now.

    Now we can join online to aggegate our votes in a pact to use this remaining degraded right for this sole purpose of getting the law enacted. We use the strategy of single issue voting which has not been used for this purpose. This magnifies the power of a minority in a first past the post voting system. See all the details at the website now under construction to serve this purpose.
    It is not just another description of a problem. It is the solution, and one you can apply right now, and will be effective to the extent others do the same. Keep looking elsewhere as long as you want. You will not find another realistic solution.

  118. MTA is a waste of time. Just as in the first Gilded Age there has been no constitutional amendment proposed and ratified since 1971, just before the New Gilded Age was initiated by the Supreme Court’s plutocratic trope that money is speech. N9ot only is a constitutional amendment impossible it is also unnecessary, and therefore MTA is a dangerous diversion from what needs to be done.
    MOP is a solution; MTA is a soundbite.

  119. We are here on this planet to discover/choose/enact a spiritual way of life as the solution to our problems. Anything other than this is a diversion from the real task that demands our attention. Only more spiritually evolved people can create a better world. To think that deeply flawed people can come up with some external fixes to deal with what really needs inner work is one of the illusions that keeps us endlessly repeating our failed attempts at solutions that do not address the essential underlying problem: us.

  120. If people waited to perfect themselves before they did anything in the world, no positive changes would ever occur.

    One essential problems is that corporations, as David Korten says, are ruling the world.

  121. The change is within platitude may be necessary in a tyranny, but the potential and promise of democracy is that imperfect people can, if they will work at it together, make a polity that serves a majority rather than a governing elite.

    Speaking of David Korten, he has written an excellent description (almost a constitution) of the movement it will take to restore democracy:

    “Every Great Social Movement
    begins with an idea carried forward through conversations that challenge and ultimately displace a prevailing cultural story.

    “The challenge for those who strive to be agents of transformational change is to help members of their group, community, or society recognize, organize, and use [relevant] knowledge in ever more effective ways.

    “Successful social movements are emergent, evolving, radically self-organizing, and involve the dedicated efforts of many people, each finding the role that best uses his or her gifts and passions.

    “Social movements grow and evolve, not through top-down direction, but around framing ideas and mutually supportive relationships. New ideas gain traction or not depending on their inherent appeal and utility. As individual groups find one another, new alliances may emerge or not, depending on what works for those involved in the moment. Some alliances are fleeting; others endure.

    “As social movements develop, multiple sources of leadership are essential. There are many individuals and organizations whose work incrementally influences the whole. Any individual or group, however, that presumes to be the leader of the whole or aspires to organize a central coordinating body to impose order on the chaos does not understand the process. Self-organizing chaos is integral to the movement building process and essential to its success.

    David Korten

  122. I agree with the sentiments of D. Korten, however over the years many of us, myself included, have written wonderfully expressive and right-on pieces that could also be a “constitution” of sorts for a movement to restore democracy, etc. Words alone don’t do it – and I’m a writer, I love words and working w/words. And I believe that words can make a difference and provide information and motivation. But something is really missing these days, not to mention the time factor we’re facing. I believe Mike K. is right when he writes about a spiritual way of life as the way out of our problems. Today I made white pine pitch salve for the first time. I got to hang out w/my favorite trees looking for places to gather some sap, and thank the trees when I found some. This past spring I made white pine tip salve from the new growth of white pines, heavy with resin and pollen. I’m using it right now on a badly mangled finger and it’s healing amazingly fast. I share what I learn with those who are interested, sell some of the herbal goodies I make, and this fall offer my first herbal workshops. I think the nascent community herbalist movement is a very important thing for many reasons. Not only do we learn to heal ourselves with what grows where we live, and take that aspect of our power back, but someday we will need the knowledge these herbalists have. It is part of becoming more self-reliant where we live rather than depending on corporations or even herbs from far away. It’s also a spiritual path. And I can do it w/o going crazy.

  123. Louise — Real spiritual growth is not about being or becoming perfect. Neither is it about waiting to do anything. An essential component of following a path of inner growth is to be deeply, actively involved in others, life, the world. However, to assume that all the things needing to change are out there in the attitudes or behaviors of others, is to neglect the much we need to work on in ourselves. This blindness does much to explain the shallowness and evanescence of outer directed revolutions. Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses. The delusions of the separate self need to be transcended if we are to share this world in a new way. Our old ways of thinking are at the root of our near terminal madness. The illusion that we are OK except for a few exterior rearrangements is a major cause of our tragic repetitive failures. Because most of us have not thought deeply about spirituality, the meaning of life, true values, we entertain all kinds of limiting notions about what is possible in the direction of deep inner change and its value. We tend to be ignorant of the effective, proven ways to grow into what we need to become. Thank you for your meaningful comments.

  124. ik (or is it LK?) — perhaps you have not realized that those of us living in the US are under a fascist tyranny. At best we have oligarchical-fascism. Your dream of changing this by working within the system is not to my thinking realistic. This tyrannical system is carefuly designed to eliminate any such threat to its hegemony. Only those operating outside its phoney laws and structures have any chance of introducing basic changes. Thanks for your input.

  125. Susan — Always good to hear from you. I am fascinated by your white pine salve. We planted white pines southwest of our house and garden as a windbreak 35 years ago, so I have a good source of the basic ingredient. Would you care to share some of the other things you use in your preparation, or is that a proprietary secret?

  126. Mike k, I don’t see how Move to Amend is in conflict with spiritual growth or inner growth.

    We do not have a participatory democracy, we have a corporatocracy. As long as people operate according to top-down, hierarchical, authoritarian paradigms in the family, the workplace, schools, churches and everywhere else on the planet, external changes, such as overturning corporate personhood, would remain superficial.

    I would agree with you that people need to examine their own lives and consciousness and “values.” But we cannot wait until we are satisfied with the results before trying to improve conditions in the world. I think that one change that is long overdue is taking back governance from corporations and establishing a participatory democracy that does not exist.

  127. Mike k, it is quite clear enough that the US is a “corporate plutocracy,” as Cornel West has said, and has adopted a number of characteristics of fascism such as torture, warmongering, scapegoating. More important there is no effective strategy on the horizon to stop further descent into this evolving dystopia.

    You characterize a proposal to use the power of the vote to change this course as “working within the system.” But to our south we have seen virtually a whole continent turn country by country away from very similar conditions by the use of the vote. The vote is an expression of the radical equality of all humans. Although it appears that US elections have been stolen by a regular theft of about 5% of the vote – this does not mean that we should ignore this last non-violent means we have to rescue the country from further descent into fascism and dystopia for the overwhelming majority. Any spiritually evolved person would take time to discover what effective action can be taken to avoid this foreseeable consequence of inaction, and them put all their available energy into that action. This was the message of Bonhoeffer.

    Having read your clarification that you were not advocating spirituality as an alternative to democratic action I would say that I agree with your views that spiritual growth is needed in parallel with action. It is true, as you say, “Our old ways of thinking are at the root of our near terminal madness.” Before you again characterize the strategy to reclaim democracy as within the system, or old views, please actually read it first, which you can access at this site I find it shallow spiritually to take time to discuss the problem of money at length without taking the trouble to look at a solution where you are invited to take action that will in itself contribute to the solution. This risks voicing the rhetoric of spirituality without actually living it.

    Mike k’s above quote also works as a good starting point to address the question of Louise Gordon on Aug 20, 2011 “Mike k, I don’t see how Move to Amend is in conflict with spiritual growth or inner growth.” MTA is precisely based on old ways of thinking, without having any relationship to reality. Not living in reality is a sign of spiritual atrophy. MTA is advocating an amendment to the constitution when this is simply impossible within our current corrupt system – it would require winning 2/3d of Congress plus 38 states. Worse it is unnecessary, because a simple majority vote on a law of Congress will do the job. As in the last Gilded Age, there will be no constitutional amendments proposed and ratified in the New Gilded Age which is already 40 years old. The reason people promote MTA as if it were a strategy is that it takes about 10 minutes to write a constitutional amendment, it sounds important, it takes no creativity to advocate, and it makes a nice soundbite. So in this proposal you have joined the ascendance of PR over content and the lack of any intellectual value added parading as a solution which it is not. This is a manifestation of the spiritual problem infecting the country, including those who profess to work for restoration of democracy, but seek attention and donor funding more than they seek success. Because this MTA effort is counterproductive, it would be far better if the people involved were to pause and spend time following Mike k’s advice to develop their inner spirituality so they would be better able to discern the right path before setting out on a wrong path.
    MTA makes a perfect example of what Mike K is advocating. But just because MTA is a waste of time does not mean that one should stop searching for an evidence based solution which you will find at

  128. “Every Great Social Movement
    begins with an idea carried forward through conversations that challenge and ultimately displace a prevailing cultural story.”

    Without a foundation in spirituality, as King and Gandhi showed, such an idea will lack the power – Sathyagraha – do displace the prevailing cultural story.

  129. Although I have refrained from commenting for quite a while, I have been following the discussion thread with interest and appreciation. On my travels around the country, I meet hundreds of Orion readers, so I’m not surprised to see so much thoughtful commentary here. We should not set our varied efforts and causes in competition with one another, but instead should recognize that our work needs to be as diverse as the challenges we face.

    I have benefited from Joanna Macy’s teaching that there are three major dimensions to social change, all of which are vital: (1) holding actions, aimed at stopping or limiting immediate damage; (2) analysis of the underlying structural causes of a given problem, and creation of alternative models that would solve or eliminate the problem; and (3) a shift in consciousness, both personal and social, transforming values and worldview.

    Consider mountain-top removal—or, as I prefer to call it, mountain-massacre—coal mining. There are people involved in blocking the movement of heavy equipment, delaying explosive operations, lobbying legislators, demonstrating outside the White House, and confronting regulators over the failure to protect rivers and aquifers. We need their tireless efforts. But we also need people analyzing our uses of electricity, pioneering ways of reducing that use, and pushing for a transition to non-fossil sources of energy. And we need people—artists, writers, filmmakers, public speakers, teachers, preachers, and ordinary citizens—shifting their own values and habits toward a radically less consumptive way of life, and guiding others toward a similar shift.

    You can apply Macy’s multi-layered model for addressing any number of other dangers and abuses—human population growth, species extinction, industrial agriculture, fracking as a way of extracting natural gas, overfishing of the oceans, watershed pollution, perpetual warfare, radical inequality of income and financial wealth, lack of access to healthcare, big money control of the political system and courts, high levels of incarceration, monopoly ownership of media, corporate kleptocracy, on and on. None of us can work effectively on more than one or two of these issues; and each of us is guided as well as constrained by talent, geography, personal history, and life circumstances.

    There’s no shortage of work to do—personal and social, spiritual and practical, local and global. Aren’t we fortunate to live at a time when so much is at stake and so much is required of us? You’re not alone. Many, many people are striving to move us toward a more just, peaceful, and sustainable way of life. Remember that, and take heart.

  130. Scott, Thank you for your encouraging words, much appreciated!

    I wanted to add that Ted Nace’s Gangs of America is available for free online. It is an excellent history of corporate power in the United States and gives some ideas on how to take governing power back from corporations.

    Thank you again for your great article and thoughtful comments.

  131. Scott — Thanks for your wise comments. Joanna Macy is a national (and global) treasure. You say:

    “We should not set our varied efforts and causes in competition with one another, but instead should recognize that our work needs to be as diverse as the challenges we face.”

    I agree with the second part of this thought. Let a thousand flowers bloom. Reminds me of Paul Hawken’s excellent book Blessed Unrest. His thesis there is that hundreds of thousands of small groups around the world working to improve our chances for meaningful survival may add up to a major movement of a dispersed nature, capable of making a big difference in a good way.

    However, I would point out that the simple gesture of putting out a particular proposal for change inevitably puts it into competition with other proposals competing for our attention, time, and energy — all of which are limited. So this existential reality is neither good nor bad, but just something to be acknowledged. As to the value of mutual criticism, this is a useful and necessary process that needs to be accepted and welcomed by all concerned. This is how we refine, and if need be correct our pet enthusiasms. We certainly don’t want a bland acceptance of whatever flawed notions may be thrown out there. We can hope that criticism will be given within the boundaries of politeness and good will, but it is up to us to receive it thoughtfully and learn from it nevertheless. Any attempt to censor it, however well intended would be not only ineffectual but counter-productive.

  132. Louise, there is not much in that Gangs book that is hopeful, or effective. I would, however, support an amendment to the effect that corporations are not persons and are not entitled to constitutional protection due to persons. Simple. To the point. Your write up in movetoamend is kinda all over the place. The simpler you make it, the more support you will have. Go for it. Maybe, in the middle of all this morass, it could gain massive support. Don’t just petition… get a lawyer to write it well and simply, and get the amendment process in motion. Time is of the essence. Best of luck.

  133. Argh. Now that I looked closer at the site (move to amend), I can see a whole raft of “this will sink ya.”

    Too many amendments. The corporate person is big enough, why diffuse your energies? Settle on the language (I myself like D, except it should say “human persons.”) soonish. Get organized under the radar, get a stable of friendly lawyers in each state, get crowdsourced funding. Dump “progressive” and “democratic” labels… the only way this will fly is by appealing to everybody. Skip publicity and tours until you are really happening. Forget about petitions. Get real. Do what it takes to get moving in each state. Who cares about the organizations that support this? All that list will do is hurt you in conservative circles. This is everybody’s issue; it’s not about partisanship!

    Gadz. You might as well as tie a millstone around your neck and jump in the river… with all those encumberances right off the bat…

    Dontcha actually want to win??!!

  134. I must say I find the criticism here more than a bit off-putting. Vera, you find the book I suggested to be both lacking hope and effectiveness. You go on to criticize the Move to Amend site and tell me that “You might as well as tie a millstone around your neck and jump in the river…” But of course. What else to do when one is suffering from “spiritual atrophy,” as LK says, and has lost touch with what LK claims is reality? And that is because LK believes that MOP is superior to Move to Amend.

    If LK is such an expert on satyagraha, based as it is on nonviolence, which I would think extends to speech, and you are such an excellent organizer and strategist, I suggest that you and LK devise your own plans for disentangling governance from corporate rule.

    But otherwise, thank you both for your suggestions.

  135. To strike a more positive note that Louise seems to be seeking, I would like to confirm first Mike k’s very eloquent statement on the need for discussion of those many blooming flowers to sort out the weeds from keepers.. “We certainly don’t want a bland acceptance of whatever flawed notions may be thrown out there. We can hope that criticism will be given within the boundaries of politeness and good will, but it is up to us to receive it thoughtfully and learn from it nevertheless.” This is only an excerpt that captures the idea, but the whole statement can hardly be improved upon. A shame that such a gem may remain buried on a sparsely populated thread.

    On the Nace book, having downloaded it, and reviewed some of the sections on familiar subjects such as the whole chapter devoted to the Supreme Court’s “money=speech” trope it does appear to be an accurate, thoughtful description of the powers granted to corporations especially by the Supreme Court. Particularly telling of its thorough understanding was the quote from the overview: “The corporate political resurgence began with a 1971 memorandum written by Lewis Powell, Jr., shortly before Powell was appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon. In the memorandum, Powell urged corporate America to apply its full organizational and strategic resources to politics, a course of action that proved highly successful.” Nace then shows how Powell went on to author decisions handing power over to corporations.

    But the book does not make an effort to shape strategy to deal with the problem it describes. So Vera’s point that it is not “hopeful or effective” needs to be taken seriously. Vera reflects a widespread view that we have had a great deal of description of the problem, but too little attention to effective strategy. It is not difficult to agree with Vera’s tactical critiques of MTA. But the more important critique is still more fundamental. MTA’s strategy of proposing a constitutional amendment is counterproductive.

    At risk of being repetitive,
    1) Corporations are simply a means for money in politics. To aim at corporations would be mistaken. Any effective reform needs to aim directly at money in politics, which would include corporate money. In our current crises half-measures are not helpful.
    2) A constitutional amendment to get money or corporations or both out of politics is neither necessary (because the reforms can be addressed through legislation) or possible in the corrupt political order that we now have.
    Anyone who continues supporting this MTA proposal must take on this threshold issue. Now it is not intended to be impolite to say that MTA’s proposal is a waste of time, and dangerous. It is actually helping to make the argument that the opponents of reform would make by claiming falsely that such reform cannot be made by legislation but only by an impossible constitutional amendment. By misleading well meaning people to a strategy that cannot succeed in the real world we live in, and even if it did would be inadequate due to insufficient detail allowed in the literary form of constitutional prose, and that an amendment turns over to the Supreme Court the last word on what it means. The burden is on anyone who advocates the need to get money and corporations out of politics to take these concerns back to MTA and ask them to stop what they are doing.
    As mentioned, more information can be found at

  136. LK, I have not had time to read the 74-page document you’ve presented for readers to mull over.

    Are you of the opinion that corporations should have the rights of persons granted under the 14th Amendment? Or do you believe the 14th Amendment applies only to people? How would legislation address this issue?

    I will read the document you’ve presented when I have time. But I think you could have introduced it in a far less condemnatory way.

    I also wonder, since you are promoting MOP, why you identify yourself only by your initials instead of your full name. Since you stand behind this proposal, why not identify yourself in this public forum? It makes it harder to take any commentator’s admonitions seriously when they are offered anonymously.

  137. Louise, the culture of the Orion forums fully supports anonymous entries. In any case, there is no way of knowing whether a person who goes by their “full name moniker” is actually known by it in real life. When I see you respond that way, it seems to me that you are more invested in carping than listening. I am sorry I spent the time first to encourage your project, and then to provide some hardnosed criticism. God forbid you should actually address it.

    “Vera reflects a widespread view that we have had a great deal of description of the problem, but too little attention to effective strategy.”

    Bingo! Lk, thank you. That’s exactly what I meant.

    You make a good argument about the insufficiency of amendments in the face of Supreme Court control, and dare I say it, servitude to the very corporations they are supposed to restrain.

  138. Vera, Ted Nace’s book is not about strategy. It is an excellent history of the pernicious effects of corporate power in America that were ushered in with the deceitful 1886 Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision – the decision that invested corporations with 14th Amendment rights.

    The Orion “culture” may fully support anonymous entries, but it doesn’t change the fact that anonymous admonitions carry little weight.

    Your authoritarian approach to what could be fruitful dialogue cuts it right off. I am supposed to be listening to you and the objections I’ve raised are carping.

    I’d say that both you and LK and the so-called Orion culture might benefit from a few lessons from Marshall Rosenberg.


  139. “The Orion “culture” may fully support anonymous entries, but it doesn’t change the fact that anonymous admonitions carry little weight.”

    Well, then, that wraps it up, eh? Dontcha all love it when newbies tell the Orion community how we don’t carry weight because we don’t do it here “their” way?

  140. In strong support of this article is a book, The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist.She works for The Hunger Project. It describes how money can be a vehicle to fulfill our highest ideals of life and love and to discover the meaning of our lives. It casts spiritual light on the subject of money–how to embrace

  141. Though Louise may have departed the field she did ask an important question: “Are you of the opinion that corporations should have the rights of persons granted under the 14th Amendment? Or do you believe the 14th Amendment applies only to people? How would legislation address this issue?”

    This decision was made in the 19th century after which the US had the new deal and growing equality right up to 1976. Then the Court made its decision that money is speech and it has been down hill for the US ever since.
    The point, also discussed above in #25 is that “Once money is out of politics, these aspects of corporate law become minor concerns of economic tinkering at best, unworthy of discussion in the context of the crisis of crises threatening our civilization.” This corporate personhood issue — though wrong — was not very significant to political history, paling before the overwhelming significance of the Courts protection of money in politics. But sure, corporations should not have constitutional rights and a well drafted law from congress that adjusted all state corporation laws might be able to that. It just is not a priority.

    The other point by Louise is the admonition that the rejection of the constitutional amendment idea should have been “far less condemnatory.” But it actually was far less condemnatory because it was modified to polite tones from a full-blown criticism of this dangerous idea. For such a full condemnation, one with a name attached, the gentle reader might check out this article.

  142. To LK and Louise — Thanks LK for the link to the “5 reasons”. Louise — If you are serious about promoting the MTA project, you would definitely need to counter the arguments put forth by Larry Kachimba. Lacking such a response, I am convinced by his points that MTA is an invalid response to our political morass.

    Also, learn to manage your emotional response to criticism. This is a difficult learning; I know from my own slow progress in that direction.

  143. While LK believes that Move to Amend is dangerous and that the Robert5 would obliterate any meaning of such a constitutional amendment, I fail to see how legislators, who also depend on corporate campaign contributions, would be a better bet. If money would delay and tie up consideration of the amendment in the states, why wouldn’t money have the same effect on the proposed legislation?

    If you are that concerned about the danger of Move to Amend, as if it were a Koch brothers conspiracy to derail democracy, I would suggest that you address your concerns to David Cobb, not to me. I did not found this movement, nor am I one of its organizers.

    I also take exception to this statement by LK: “This decision was made in the 19th century after which the US had the new deal and growing equality right up to 1976.” Chapters 11 and 12 of Nace’s book alone belie this assertion. Without the immunity granted to corporations by the government, do you think the military-industrial complex would have grown the way it did prior to 1976? Or that environmental degradation would have ensued as it has? By 1976 corporate capital was king and the country had long since ceased to be a participatory democracy. The workforce had also become corporatized, first on the factory floor until jobs were shipped overseas for cheap labor, then in Dilbert cubicles.

    Finally, mike k, while you chide me about emotional reactions to criticism, I think there are more gracious and less snarky ways to express criticism than the ones I’ve heard here, among the “Orion community.”

  144. Its really difficult to discuss matters you feel passionately about with others in an open forum who may sharply disagree with your ideas. We all have a tendency to get carried away and verge into polemical excess at times. I don’t fault myself or others too much for this natural lapse. The important thing is to get back to the important matter of sorting out our options in this global crisis we are involved in. If we can forgive and move on, then our process can recover its proper focus — beyond our injured or injuring egos.

  145. mike k, If you are convinced that LK is correct and that Move to Amend is without merit, or a dangerous idea, you could write to the following people to see if you could get them to withdraw their support for a constitutional amendment by demonstrating the superiority of MOP:

    I have not had time to read the 74-page MOP document, so I cannot judge its merits. However, I am not convinced by LK’s essay in Op Ed News that Move to Amend should be relegated to the dustbin.

  146. Louise — As Paul Hawken adumbrates in his book Blessed Unrest, there are hundreds of thousands of groups trying to make a better world. As individual actors our problem is to pick one or several to give our time to. Or we can start something on our own. It is encouraging to me that so many are actively concerned with our widespread, basic, and crucial world problems. On the other hand, the very proliferation of choices makes it hard to pick ones to support that have maximum chances for real impact.

    Once we have made our choices of what to support, our tendency is to defend our chosen entities against all critical voices. This is unfortunate because every initiative actually needs ongoing criticism to refine its message and performance, and thus attract more support and acceptance. Simply saying you are not convinced that the five points advanced by LK is an inadequate response to his carefully thought out and respectfully offered criticisms of MTA. If you are intending to support that project, you or someone in the movement needs to give the five points detailed and serious response. Otherwise folks like myself are led to conclude that MTA cannot effectively counter the objections to its validity. Thanks for your comments. I feel that our intentions are quite similar and well intended, its just that our evaluation of appropriate means may differ.

  147. Typo in my last comment —
    convinced that the five points
    should read — convinced by the five points.

  148. That’s OK, mike k. I made a typo, too, by leaving the S off Roberts.

    I said that I cannot evaluate MOP because I have not read the 74-page document. If you are convinced by LK’s presentation that Move to Amend is ineffective, then you obviously don’t have to support it. I am not convinced by the arguments in Op Ed News, nor do I know enough about MOP at this point to argue against those points. His main argument seems to be that the Roberts 5 would block or distort any constitutional amendment that reduced corporate power.

    I think there is a wide range of reasons that corporations should not have 14th Amendment rights that LK dismisses. Getting money out of politics via MOP is a worthy goal, but it is not going to change the way corporations are permitted to operate around the world. Nor do I believe that everything was heading toward equality until 1976. Throughout the 20th century, corporate power was solidifying, which it would not have been able to do if corporations had been kept on a tight leash and corporate charters had to be renewed periodically.

    As it stands, corporate executives are not penalized for the corporation’s crimes by being tried and sent to prison. They pay a fine that is a small part of their profits and go on doing what they were doing, business as usual. I don’t see how money out of politics is going to prevent this from happening, even though it might help prevent undue corporate influence on legislation, might prevent legislators from becoming complete corporate marketing shills. Yet at the same time, LK believes that legislation is the key to getting money out of politics. Why would legislators who depend on corporate campaign contributions to get elected suddenly decide they did not want such support? This seems to me to indicate the same sort of impasse that LK thinks the Roberts 5 represent.

    I do not see how legislation alone can reduce corporate misrule of the world without violating the 14th Amendment rights – and corporate immunity – that corporations now enjoy.

    Thank you very much for your courteous reply.

  149. On the Nace book, having downloaded it, and reviewed some of the sections on familiar subjects such as the whole chapter devoted to the Supreme Court’s “money=speech” trope it does appear to be an accurate, thoughtful description of the powers granted to corporations especially by the Supreme Court. Particularly telling of its thorough understanding was the quote from the overview: “The corporate political resurgence began with a 1971 memorandum written by Lewis Powell, Jr., shortly before Powell was appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon. In the memorandum, Powell urged corporate America to apply its full organizational and strategic resources to politics, a course of action that proved highly successful.” Nace then shows how Powell went on to author decisions handing power over to corporations.

  150. I love Ralph, and voted for him when he ran. But Ralph can’t win, and his dandy ideas will not be adopted. Why? Insufficient public support. The same reason that MTA and MOP and a ton of other excellent ideas don’t have a chance. Possibilities like those are only viable if we find a way to wake up and enlighten (educate) a sufficient number of people. Sleeping people under the skillfully constructed spells of their rulers cannot make a new world.

  151. mike k, As the rulers stories dissolve, there may be a chance:

    If joblessness and mortgage foreclosures and the world turning into a graveyard keep going at their present rate, I think people will be forced to wake up.

    I read today that someone estimated 50,000 deaths in Libya since the war started there.

  152. Another typo. Too late to still be trying to comment. Sorry I left the apostrophe off rulers.

  153. As an Indian I find myself first to comment on your well written article. Earning money by good means, in your terminology, “following the rules of the game” is legitimate and very sacred. However the biggest anti-thesis to this concept is ‘greed’ that begins to take root well before the money has poured into the coffers of the businessmen. Ambition and greed needs differentiation. Many Indian businesses that I know allocate a certain percentage of their earnings to a cause that resonates like ‘giving back to the society’. As you rightly mention, without the help of resources available freely in the environment, it would have been impossible for business to aggrandize wealth. It is thus imperative that businesses which take some thing from the nature will do well to replenishing back only facilitate them to draw further and make more money. That the corporate exist is to enrich the shareholder’s value is not questioned but what means it adopts is an important. I wish business schools incorporate these values in their curriculums. Thus the future generation will at least consider these values as corner-stones of Management Philosophy.

  154. Dude, if you want anything done for the environment you will have to quit biting the big business hand that feeds you. your generalizations and lack of evidence disqualifies your argument, and frankly, your whole piece is a big cliche – it’s nothing we’ve never heard before. your story isn’t newsworthy: it’s not timely, bizarre, or prominent. It’s not journalism but propoganda.

  155. Um, how exactly does “big business” feed us? Can you explain, woody?

  156. This is a valuable website, with valid comments.I would like to experience more people seeking a synthesis of the views of organisations like the NEF,
    and individuals such as Eckhart Tolle (please google him!) to the world’s present problems- that is, one which joins “realities” with Reality-that is how “the Now” can be mediated via one’s own “Presence” within the greater Consciousness which belongs to us all.

  157. Alan — Good to hear your views. I have been maintaining here for some time that the inner determines the outer. External changes will never fix our inner problems: lack of spiritual development and higher consciousness. We will continue to destroy each other and other life on this planet until we learn this lesson. We have met the enemy, and it is us. Most people are so brainwashed with shallow materialist thinking, that they can no longer even imagine the inner work that needs to be done to deliver us from the consequences of our own behaviors. Cosmic reality is no respecter of our false ideas, and demands that we do the inner work needed to transcend them. We must learn the lessons of real love, or perish from the lack of it.

  158. The article was enlightening. Hit the nail right on the head. What can we as people not large corporations do to change this injustice? How can we compete with what five judges rule on even when it is not the wishes of the majority of the people? I thought we were getting rid of lobbyist in Congress. Why do we let Wall Street and speculators run our economy? It is said the rich provide jobs so they shouldn’t have to pay as much in taxes but it seems like they send as many manufacturing jobs overseas in order to make what.MORE MONEY!!!

  159. Why should it take millions of dollars to run for political office? This is why the ordinary person cannot run. Why don’t TV stations run debates for free instead of having them paid for by big corporations. Why aren’t candidates interviewed and aired unbiased, isn’t this NEWS. I thought running for office was something one did out of a calling for public service, not out of thinking of oneself and the big corporations that buy the politicians off before they even get into office. If my understanding is correct politicians get their own medical insurance plan and they can retire from a public service job after only serving a few years yet they want to increase the age limit in which people receive social security benefits and Medicare benefits because they have squandered our money. The millions of dollars that is donated to this campaigns in large part by big corporations could be used to lower the deficit, create new jobs, and even provide scholarships for our children to attend college without the huge debt of college loans looming over them after completing college. Even the colleges are big corporations in which they pay coaches MILLIONS of dollars instead of investing money into our children. Our children are our future, not the coaches and administrators which do deserve a fair salary but not millions of dollars. Our college graduates have been promised jobs but there are no jobs because the BIG CORPORATIONS are sending more and more jobs overseas in order for the big corporations to make what??? MORE MONEY!!! They don’t want to pay there fair share of taxes and say it’s because they provide jobs but in reality this is not true at least not for the most part. I try to buy only products that say Made in the USA but it is getting almost impossible to do this. Some companies have started putting on their products Made in the USA of global components!!
    We need to have a balanced budget, cut the PORK and learn to live austerely. We are a nation of consumers that will soon not be able to be consumers because we no longer have the ability to manufacture quality products that provide us with the jobs to be consumers.
    I have emailed President Obama (no replies); I have written my Congressmen in the past only to receive a blanket letter that thanks me for agreeing with them, which by the way I did not and I have also participated in the rant that one of the local TV stations we can receive hosts not to have my rant aired which leads me to believe that they also are owned by a Big corporation.
    So for now I applaud the movement that is going on and would say that while big corporations may say it is only a lot of college students for the most part there would be more of us ordinary working people participating except if we are lucky to have a job we have to continue working to provide for our families maybe even some of those that are protesting.
    There has been some Obama bashing but in reality he is only one person and without everyone in Washington working together for the good of the people not the big corporations and themselves nothing will change. Don’t we have the right for recalls of our public servants??
    So for now all I can do is pray to God to give our public servants the mindset to do what is best for the ordinary people of this country, what is fair and right.

  160. nice essay, but pointless. sure it sounds good to “break the spell of money” but there are no realistic suggestions here to do that.

    this essay is about as useful as saying “if everyone was just nice to each other, so many problems would be solved…”

  161. One factor lost on the author and liberals in general is the evolutionary expectation of these gazalionaires emerging in any unbridled capitalist system. These Koch Bros Murdochians and their ilk are hoarding all the cash without investing in the public in order to insure the maximized transmission of their heritable power and wealth inter-generationally. Obviously this strategy is not well thought out, but i suspect that this is what motivates and justifies. just like any standard monarchy of old, the successful lineages self perpetuate their girth and power over the peasants, even if it means buying out as many media outlets and lobbyist groups as possible. Let’s cut of their fucking heads!!

  162. It is so depressing that we spend our whole lives wanting more and we will never achieve those goals no matter how rich-like they say-money cannot buy happieness

  163. Sonofson — Maybe cutting off heads comes naturally to one self-named son of whatever, but it is not so easy to actually carry out, and in any case does not offer a real lasting solution to our historic problems, however pleasing it may sound to our less evolved propensities.

  164. In New Zealand a group of us are working on new indicators for national wellbeing. It’s called AnewNZ, please visit our website

    New Zealand is developing an initiative that goes “Beyond GDP”, The “What Matters Most to New
    Zealanders” programme, being led by Anew NZ includes many of the features reported above from Ron Colman‟s, the OECD‟s and Stigliz‟s work, including the innovations of Bhutan.
    We believe change can happen fast if the will of the people is engaged. The paradigm shift to a ‘you and me’ economy is happening.

  165. This is really a bad article. There are a great many flaws in the premise, as well as factual errors in every single statistic cited. Stick to fiction, Scott, it suits you best. Its only purpose appears to be to incite emotion in naive, ignorant, readers.

  166. Scott Brown — This is a very good article based on sound premises. Much relevant data of an accurate nature is included. It is unfortunate that it only incites negative emotions in naïve, ignorant readers, such as yourself.

  167. Sorry to see this discussion get personal. There are many actions we cal all take individually and collectively to shift from the grip of the paradigm we have been operating in.
    One is to look at the basic premise of our economic model which prioritises personal rights over collective welfare. As an inidvidual if I want to be a part of the solution I need to take a long hard look at the assumptions that sit behind my thinking. When I can elevate those assumptions to consciousness then I can look at them, and consider whether they serve the solution or continue the old paradigm.

Commenting on this item is closed.