2014 figures to be an exciting year. But a few tweaks might make it more productive and compassionate. Here are a few of my wishes for what to see more of — but I begin with a few suggestions for behavior modification from our corporatocracy.
What We Need Less Of
Saving the world through consumerism. Like it or not, the current cultural trend is to define ourselves by our purchases. And things are way out of hand. My favorite recent ad is for Project 7, which "gives consumers the option of saving the world through their purchase power." I wish it were so easy. We can have an effect through our purchases, as the Buy Local movement shows, but it takes some personal attention to have an effect. Are your clothes still made in Bangladesh?
Corporations funding research. It has become very difficult to believe any mainstream scientific research these days. Desperate for money, academics and researchers take funds from corporations and the military, and then produce research that reflects their financial biases. For example, it recently came to light that many of the panel members who came to the conclusion that statin drugs are effective in treating high cholesterol had ties to Big Pharma. No doubt the research was skewed by this relationship.
Unethical corporate behavior. There are too many examples to mention, but here are two. First, Apple's corporate shenanigans continue to be the poster child for the harm that the production of our favorite products causes. In collusion with governmental officials, the company stores profits around the world to evade taxes. Many local tech giants play this game, and it hollows out our tax base, so the rest of us end up paying for it. Second, even given record profits, Apple and others conspire to keep wages and living standards low, whether in supplier countries like China, or in the United States. A suit is pending in San Jose accusing the late Steve Jobs and Apple of conspiring with other tech companies to limit movement and pay for tech workers. The emails are startling; some hero Jobs was. And even the San Francisco Giants have gotten caught cheating on workers' wages. When is enough enough?
What We Need More Of
Culture that speaks truth to power. We live in a very confusing era. Ideas that we once put our faith in are gone, leaving us to wonder about what comes next. As such, it's also a fertile time for artists. Each of us should encourage artists by attending shows and financially supporting them to the best of our ability. We need their creativity, now more than ever. Musicians led the way in 2013. M.I.A. had Julian Assange as her opening act at a recent East Coast show. It was very cool. And the principled stand by the members of musical group Pussy Riot in the face of Russian repression, expressed through their art and personal heroism, made them true role models. The recent exchange of letters between one of the band's members and the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, reprinted in The Guardian, is a must-read.
An honest discussion of nuclear power. Nuclear power, used properly, could theoretically be a good solution to the energy needs of the planet. But supporters of nuclear power tend to not take seriously the issues of waste and control that it presents. It is clear that nuclear power cannot be run safely by crony capitalism, and until this situation changes, adding more nuclear power is a terrible mistake. It is up to nuclear power advocates such as Stewart Brand to take the issue of crony capitalism seriously, or they are doing us a disservice.
Whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. 'Nuff said.
Respect for honest journalism. I know I am a homer here, but it is really hard to learn the truth these days. For example, David Sirota in Salon.com recently looked closely at the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit and conclusively showed that Wall Street practices and a shift in the industrial base had caused the city's financial problems — not greedy workers and black homeowners who lost their properties to foreclosure, as USA Today and other mainstream papers reported in their "hard" news stories. This is just one small example of misinformation from the mainstream press. In response, caring Americans have to watch to not get too snarky, or ironic, or critical of news outlets that are really trying. We need to support them or we will never know the truths of the day.
The continuing development of a new labor movement. A thousand flowers are blooming in the labor movement, even as membership and resources dwindle nationally and internationally. Some unions are turning into NGOs. The AFL-CIO is starting to resemble Greenpeace — relying on lobbying, occasional dramatic actions, and the philosophy of "name, shame, and blame" in defense of workers. It's too early to tell whether this strategy will work, but it is a creative response. Other unions, like the California Nurses Association and the NUHW, are relying on good old-fashioned worker militancy. Many construction unions now sell the skills of their members to companies, which they describe as their "customers." And in California, the SEIU is a fascinating hodge-podge of bare-knuckled backroom maneuvering and creative organizing. It is impossible to predict where all this will go, but the labor movement is awake. And that's a good thing.
And, finally, we need more free time. How many people you know (including yourself) think they are too busy? All of them, probably. And they probably are! It is time to do something about it.
Happy New Year!