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An American Socialist

Americans love battling imaginary foes so much that real enemies take on imaginary traits—marauding Indian savages we saw more fit to name streets after than to respect as human, imperial Spanish that somehow threatened us from a Caribbean island, the Hun, the Jap, the Red Menace, and, now, the terrorist who is somehow is a Muslim.

The essence of the enemy is, of course, the unknowable something that makes them foreign. Even worse to us is the foreigner in our midst, the American who cannot be identified in the crowd and who is working with the dastardly forces hidden in the shadows.

The simpleton enemy is so important to us that we depend on them to solidify us as a people. Since we emerged from the relative disconnectedness of the pre-industrial state, we were so bound to hardened lines of good and evil that we refused to see how we made up our enemies when we had none to define us.

We have also failed to understand that these enemies serve the greatest of all masters: Capitalism in all its spiritual, cultural, and social forms.

It is for this reason that I make this statement:

Thinking for oneself, questioning the values of the culture and the basis of morality, and developing one’s own moral center are what I consider to be the most valuable, eternal, and authentic of all human values, and which are at the center of who we are as Americans—regardless of the popularity of such concepts or which power may be threatened by them.

This, I think, is what it means to be an American. I do not salute the flag, though it means much to me. I do not pray with others because I think it is a private matter protected by the First Amendment. I do not sing anthems. I do not march in any line.

I do not bow to authority. I do not recognize the authority of police, government, or workplace bosses if they demand that I follow blindly. I question all who have power or wealth.

I love the worker, the child, and the oppressed and underprivileged, and will work ceaselessly until no one has to go hungry (for whatever reason), until all people show love and understanding for one another. I believe that my actions impact the next several generations, and I am responsible for the good or ill of my actions.

I despise bigots, racists, sexists, corporations, and all who exploit another human being to gain wealth, status, or power. I despise the consumer society for its degradation of human beings into ciphers–GNP, CPI, etc.

I despise those who call themselves Americans and at the same time beat their chests about the moral superiority of America. I despise the idea that somehow the Constitution—a scared document, including all its amendments—mandates consumer, corporate capitalism and that capitalism and democracy are one and the same. I despise those who salute the flag, sing the anthem, and pimp a mythical American Way that is, at bottom, a deeply coercive modernism that has little room for variations on the capitalist ways of relating to the natural world, to other human beings, and between human cultures. It certainly leaves no room for non-capitalist relations with nature or human.

I despise the ways in which the flag is pimped, abused, and waved to justify invasion of other nations, suppression of the right of any human being to a fair and swift trial, and justifying the surveillance of anyone and everyone for any reason, real or imaginary.

If you were to ask what I believe in simple, straightforward terms, I would refer you to this passage from Walt Whitman’s “Preface to the 1855 Edition of The Leaves of Grass:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Many of these same principles underpin Christianity (specifically found in the Gospel of Luke), Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and other of the world’s great religions.

The most important ideas for this essay are:

“Take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families”

“Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul.”

This is dictum. I have lived most of my life by these principles. I believe there are only two core values—fairness and honesty. All sins, if you wish to use that term, stem from dishonesty and unfairness. I have suffered for these values. I have not taken jobs because of them. I have turned down promotions and raises because of these bedrock beliefs. I have lost out personally because I cannot violate these principles.

I did not lose the Catholic faith of my youth but watched it grow into something deeper and more meaningful—into something that respects all human beings for their basic humanness, regardless of their good or harmful intent, their actions good or harmful, and their associations, religions, and cultural values. As such, I do not call myself Catholic or Christian. I do not recognize the authority of the Church, or the Pope, or any bishop or leader of any religion.

I believe that the enduring virtues of honesty and fairness are more eternal when not attached to a god, religion, or afterlife. Anything believed in and undertaken by freewill is far more valuable than that undertaken for fear of punishment, fear of god, or fear of not following anyone’s or any deity’s laws or religions dogmas.

Instead, I strive to be morally consistent. I expect and see character in good works and moral consistency. I respect and applaud the good works and moral consistency of human beings, regardless of their affiliations. I hold suspect anyone who claims to be doing the work of an eternal god by harming others, violating anyone’s human rights, or deciding the fate of others against their will.

I did not come to be a socialist overnight, nor have I ever understood socialism as the menace our leaders, business people, and wealthy few would have us believe. I detest the way American pundits, religious zealots, and right-wing reactionaries have simplified the idea of socialism to something evil, anti-democratic, and inimical to the central ideas of American democracy.

Rather, I respect Marxism as a critique of capitalism and see in it a lens through which we can examine our social and economic systems to make them better, more equitable, and more open to opportunities for every human being, rather than just those who happen to know the right people, were born into the right families, or born into the right race or ethnicity.

As an American Socialist I believe:

1. Health care is right.

2. Free, universal, public education to the Ph.D. is a right.

3. Retirement with dignity and needs met is a right.

4. Employment is a right.

5. Food, clothing, and leisure, as well as the income to provide them is a right.

6. Housing is a right.

7. Social security is a right.

This means that I also believe:

1. The American military budget is corporate welfare on the scale of a trillion dollars a year.

2. American foreign policy that demands such a military is wrong, immoral, and sinful.

3. Corporate and business welfare programs, which include legislation that sets the worker at a disadvantage, tax breaks and subsidies, and U.S. State, Commerce, and Defense departments enforcement and maintenance of American business advantages shift taxpayer money to those who least deserve it, undermine the free market, skew free enterprise toward a belief that somehow government should do capital’s heavy lifting, and keep workers everywhere—not just in the United States—from gaining power to influence governments, markets, and societies.

4. These same capitalist agendas have created the conditions for violent reactions against modernity. The War on Terrorism, besides being a way for wealth and power to gain more control over innocent people, is at its best a war against the symptoms of a disease we breed, nurture, and spread.

5. The money in the federal budget saved by eliminating 1 through 4 would provide enough money for health care, education, and retirement—with money left over for tax cuts. They would also demand American humility in foreign policy and greater respect for cultures and ways of life that are noncapitalist or are more attuned to different kinds of market economies not resonant with modernity.

6. In addition, with health care, education, and retirement settled, Americans workers of all stripe would have more choice in where they worked, for whom they worked, and how long they worked.

7. Because of 6, American business would be forced to become more efficient, competitive in the job market as well as the marketplace, and more beholden to the consumer.

Moreover, as a socialist, I do not champion overthrow of individual initiative. I believe in the ability of an individual to make his/her own way, to find a market and start a business, and to live by the work they willfully undertake.

I do not believe that under a well-reasoned socialism everyone will work for the state. Just the opposite. More people will be in business, producing things, providing services that are meaningful—instead of having to be enslaved by the corporation or made to be satisfied by licking up the corners left to them by corporations.

I don’t expect that many have read this far. I know all too well the rigidity of thought and religion that would like to deny any statement of independence. I understand, as well, why some never want to know why people think the way they do, or why they question authority, power, and wealth. It is hard for them to accept these things because they see it as a failure in themselves.

I would also say that I’m sorry I have offended the religious and political sensibilities of some. But I cannot.  My hope is that this statement increases debate, sets minds to racing, and leads people to question not only what I have written, but what they believe. Perhaps, then, we can find out who we are, why we believe what we believe, and understand that we are united by a common humanity far more valuable than any material or ideological possession.

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