Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Statue of Responsibility

It turns out someone has already thought to construct a Statue of Responsibility. Wikipedia has an article about it and the official website is: http://www.sorfoundation.org/. From the Wikipedia article, it looked like the project has been floundering for the last few years. I'm going to investigate this project further and see where it's at.

I suspect most of the culprits in the illegal Bush administration activities will not be brought to justice. This does not mean we, the citizens, cannot learn a few good lessons from the past several years of top-down political and economic irresponsibility. We would benefit from a public art project designed both to remind us of the necessary balance to liberty in our quest for freedom, and to inspire hope.

And it's never a bad idea to put artists to work,it keeps them out of trouble (FDR knew that).

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Goodbye Mr. President: Please Just Leave

In seeking to understand the legacy of George W. Bush during these final weeks of his presidency, it becomes clear to me he and his administration have accurately expressed the imbalance in place in our national psyche and in understanding this we can also better intuit a remedy. To paraphrase once again Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived the concentration camps and went on to found the existential therapeutic approach of Logotherapy: the statue of liberty should be balanced on the opposite shore by the statue of responsibility. I couldn't agree more, but in the remaining sad weeks of this indefensible, truly terrible presidency, it becomes clear we will not enjoy anything like this sentiment from W.

W. and his fellow apologists are now insisting that, though their policy in Iraq has been correct, they were, themselves, misdirected and misinformed by the intelligence community on Iraqi WMD. This appalling shrinking from responsibility through purposeful and aggressive lies is par for the course in a power structure that justifies any and all injustice through a policy of power-over bullying. We can and so we do. We lie to make it seem otherwise when the consequences are terrible.

But this hideous warping of reality is truly the final insult to the world and the U.S. citizens and, in the end, the final act of cowardice by a man desirous of power without an acknowledgment of responsibility. He and his arcane, throw-backs from the middle ages of an administration (and in Cheney's case, this may be literally true)wanted and worked ruthlessly to secure the personal power necessary to enforce upon hundreds of millions of people, arguably billions, their will. It was not the liberty, or freedom to act, of the people they envisioned when they proposed the "spread of freedom," but their own liberty to act upon others without consequence and without brakes. These psychopathic men and a few warped women sought to establish a quasi-dictatorship under Carl Roves "permanent Republican majority."

To my deep relief, there was enough democracy left in tact to depose our stupid dictator and his dubious staff. But it is estimated that the Obama administration will be sifting through the thousands of orders meant to tie down our democracy even after the current administration is finally ousted for many months. There will likely be bills passed in Congress listing hundreds of these orders at a time just to undo the damage quickly enough to begin the real work. And there is so much to be done.

To fathom the damage done to our democracy, economy and social structure is painful To imagine the pain caused worldwide by our policies is almost unbearable. We cannot undo what has been done, no matter how sublime the voter's choice of new leadership. However, we can begin again anew to make our country a better place and our international influence earnest and hopeful.

I argue our government should aggressively pursue criminal charges against all of those responsible for the illegalities of our international and national policies including the president and vice president. In the mean time, our citizenry has collectively turned our faces away from W. and his cronies in a group rejection of their very existence as if to say, "Goodbye Mr. President. Please, just f---ing leave."

And as a reminder to how wrongly our political systems can go, and how fast this can happen, I propose a Statue of Responsibility to be designed and raised in the Pacific Ocean to balance the ideas of our American mindset.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Deserved Wealth Not "Bonus Bonanza"

This morning I read in the New York Times a front page article "On Wall Street Bonuses Not Profits Were Real." Having recently completed a series about "It's A Wonderful Life" and given a lot of thought to the higher ideals some Americans in the past imagined for our economy, I was particularly struck by the following paragraphs in the article:

A Bonus Bonanza: For Wall Street, much of this decade represented a new Gilded Age. Salaries were merely play money — a pittance compared to bonuses. Bonus season became an annual celebration of the riches to be had in the markets. That was especially so in the New York area, where nearly $1 out of every $4 that companies paid employees last year went to someone in the financial industry. Bankers celebrated with five-figure dinners, vied to outspend each other at charity auctions and spent their new found fortunes on new homes, cars and art.

The bonanza redefined success for an entire generation. Graduates of top universities sought their fortunes in banking, rather than in careers like medicine, engineering or teaching. Wall Street worked its rookies hard, but it held out the promise of rich rewards. In college dorms, tales of 30-year-olds pulling down $5 million a year were legion.

Compare these tales, if you will, with other tales of hardship and sacrifice for one's community and children. Spend a minute recalling the stories from your own family about your ancestors who moved here from other countries and worked tirelessly, often in dangerous situations to make a living and hopefully a future for their families

In my own family, my mother's father was the last child born to his Swedish immigrant parents. Their older children were brought over with them from Sweden. They survived the Great Depression by planting gardens and tending chickens on land they settled along the Puget Sound of Washington State. (I want to acknowledge here their land was likely taken from Native American people who had lived there for thousands of years- not something I'm proud of).

My grandfather worked in the forests as a logger. It was dangerous work and men frequently were killed by falling logs. The owner of one company he worked for was particularly scrupulous and wouldn't allow work to be delayed in order to return these bodies to their families in a timely fashion.

Instead, the bodies would remain until the section of trees was cut. It was often several days before a body was brought home and, without refrigeration, was often in very bad shape. The workers had to organize and demand that when a man died his body was brought home that day. They did not fight, at that point, for improved safety standards to protect their lives, but instead for a basic acknowledgment from their employers that their lives mattered.

This is a dramatic story. Perhaps it is not one immediately recognizable as related to those young people in the NYT article in their dorm rooms fantasizing not about the betterment of mankind but of themselves, but I think there is a parallel in mentality. It is a mentality of deep disconnect with their fellow human beings.

In the last several years the twin national humiliations of the horrendous Hurricane Katrina debacle leaving thousands of Americans, particularly African Americans, stranded in flood waters peopled by the floating dead, and the illegal, immoral and utterly destructive Iraq war, which has taken thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, have brought this nation to its knees and to its feet.

In counterpoint to the wankers, young and old, focusing their neurotic energy on wealth, there were the thousands of Americans, young and old, focusing their hopeful energy on changing their country from an increasingly unjust heartbreak to an example of the possibilities of civilization.
There will always be those with a mentality of pure greed and the superficial, incurious thinking processes that mark that cognitive style. But as a culture and a nation, we need to make clear that these mentalities are not the ideal, but an unfortunate human occurrence, like the clap, that needs to be treated as a disease and protected against contagion.

Our highest ideals do not include outrageous personal wealth juxtaposed with the real human suffering brought when this wealth is stripped away from those people who work the jobs, buy the homes, and pay the taxes in our working class and middle class neighborhoods where the largest part of our economy is born and grows.
Our highest ideal is when wealth and security is distributed fairly, not in fifty thousand dollar dinners paid for with real money gotten from imagined profits, but by families enjoying well-earned vacations at Disneyland or being able to pay for their child's tuition at the state school. And for those business people with the Midas touch who actually lead their organizations to real growth and the resulting prosperity (i.e. Bill Gates) go ahead, buy that fifty thousand dollar dinner. You actually earned it!

Friday, December 12, 2008

An American Hero Archetype: The Merciful Middleman

This is the final of my three pieces exploring the American classic film "It's A Wonderful Life" as a kind of projection from the deeper American psyche following the conclusion of World War II. I have maintained that the characters and plot provide us with a kind of dream scape of how Americans felt in 1946 and perhaps even today about the ideals of our economy, our ideas of the Divine Mother as represented by Mary Bailey, and finally, our heroes.

The character George Bailey, played by the ever-crabby Jimmy Stuart, is a unique expression of the age-old human prototype of Hero. Unlike other mythical heroes, he is not a warrior, a millionaire, or a religious figure. He is what I will term the Merciful Middleman. He represents the results of the combination in the American subconscious of the higher ideals of humanity with economics.

Other mythological representations of the hero archetype, explored exhaustively by such great minds as the late Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, include the pantheon of Greek and Norse Gods and typified by Homer in the Odyssey. I would also include the Christian figure of Jesus, and even more recently, Martin Luther King, Jr. in this group of men, historical and imagined, who come to represent the ideals of mankind including courage and intelligence. More recent representations of this ideal also tend to be attributed the qualities of kindness and compassion.

The cinematic dream of the George Bailey character conjured these higher ideals in a distinctly American manner. It took the stories of sacrifice, in Bailey's case his lifelong dreams to leave his small home town and explore the world, and merged them with economics. Bailey chose to respond to the greater economic needs of his community before his personal needs for adventure and personal glory. His community needed an honestly run savings and loan organization that made the collective American dream of home ownership possible for the average worker. For many reasons dictated by fate, he was the chosen one for this job.

This glorification of the middle man, a man of the sub-optimal merchant class, is a novel one historically. As far as I know (and if anyone reading this knows more than I on this matter, I encourage you to respond) this distinctly American melding of higher ideals with an economic system had not before been expressed in a hero myth. Although the intellectual underpinnings and necessary social changes had been evolving around the world for hundreds of years, the dream of this system seems to have crystallized here in the states.

In "It's a Wonderful Life" George Bailey is a kind of personification of a more abstract mental process where hopes and wishes congeal into dreams. In the final scene of the movie, this upholding of the Merciful Merchant above even the warrior hero is demonstrated when his younger brother returns fresh from his battle glories to offer his brother help in a supplicant manner. In fact, George is heralded as the highest form of hero even by free market standards when his self-made millionaire friend, Sam Wainwright, wires an open check to George as an acknowledgment of who the real winner is. So grand was it a thing, as imagined in this film, to be an every-man's economic advocate that the angel, Clarence, who reminded George of the profoundly positive impact his life had had on the world, was awarded the ultimate honor of wings for his efforts.

Although the climax of the film brought the idealization of America's Merciful Middleman to truly absurd levels, it serves as a useful reminder to us about how Americans once hoped a fair and honest economic system would bring all of us, including the movie's recently arrived immigrants, out of poverty and hopelessness into expressions of life that are joyful and deeply moral. (Remember, in the alternate, no-George world, the community of Bedford Falls was just another town overrun by vice and poverty).

If this movie expresses accurately some of the American subconscious, it would seem we as a people once prized prosperity, morality, and community above extravagant wealth, war, and even intellectual curiosity. All of these things are included in the film and included in American life, but I would argue that the protection of economic fairness should be a cornerstone of our political and economic systems. The higher ideals of justice, joy and equality are best served when our people are well-fed, healthy, and enjoy safe homes in safe communities.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Dream of Femininity in "It's A Wonderful Life"

As the astonishing events of WWII were completed and the soldiers who survived returned home, a dream of the feminine surfaced from the collective unconscious of a deeply charged humanity that acted as a kind of salve upon the surface of this burning new knowing. And what was newly known? Just what we, as humans are capable of: not only exceedingly deadly battle fields, but mass annihilation of children, women, pregnant and not, elderly, and disabled by means of bombs more powerful than any idea of satan as well as breathtakingly cruel, government organized genocide.

Who wants to know this about themselves? And though denial can keep our most superficial thinking at ease, nothing is lost to our deeper selves. I believe as Carl Jung did that these deeper selves connect with one another and form what he termed the collective unconscious, like the bottom of billions of wells meeting up in a dark and fruitful place. On our deepest levels, I believe, we know that Terentius was right, "Homo Sum: Humani nil a me alienum puto." This means roughly, "I am a human being, and so nothing human is strange to me."

I see the Mary Bailey character, George Bailey's wife in "It's a Wonderful Life," as a representation of a collective need for feminine salve on our newly burned knowing. So powerful was this need, in fact, the dominant culture created an ideal based on it, which women were supposed to live up to in fifties and sixties. But ideals and representation only cause more suffering when imposed on reality and we saw the women's movement in part become a response to this. Despite the healthy push back against the reduction of women into movie characters, I believe there is useful information in the Mary Bailey character for us today.

Mary was a character representing the softer aspects of the divine mother and wife. In the beginning of the movie, she was the little girl so wise and knowing of her own heart that she told the child George Bailey she would love him her entire life. As a teenager, her continuing love conjured a situation where they both got naked (after dancing into the waters below) without being required to loose their innocence, exciting stuff indeed. Once she became a woman and finally fulfilled her deepest childhood desire to become wife to George Bailey she acted as initiator into the sacred rites of conjugal love on their wedding night. A surprised George tries to take in the candle-lit love nest she creates in their battered old home.

Mary's development reaches its apex as a competent wife, protective mother, clever home decorator and active member of her community. She acts as humble conduit between her husband's needs and the outside world when he is unable or unwilling to do this for himself. She calls for help for him when he is deranged with grief and serves hot drinks to the friends and family when they collect in the nurturing home Mary created to put their money where their gratitude was. Mary was the primordial cauldron: giving and giving and giving.

This image is easily argued against and has been many times, so I will not do it here. What I am mesmerized by in this emergent dream is the depth from which the need for mothering in us all comes from and the power it exerts when it arrives. Our need to be held, understood and defended is vast in this uncertain world. Following WWII, the American psyche worked overtime expressing this need and creating stories about its perfect resolution, as if it can be resolved.

Although our challenges are far different than those faced during and after WWII, there is a profound sense of uncertainty in our age right down to the behavior and future of our good earth. Again we find ourselves in a place of needing profound comfort and protection. This time around, why don't we avoid the folly that follows literalistic thinking and translate our needs intelligently into the functions of the world? Women are not the only ones capable of deep compassion and nurturing. I am reminded of this every day when I see my husband helping care for our children. Men are not the only ones with an interest and talent for business and industry, I know this because of my shrewd and brilliant aunties- pioneers in such matters.

There is now a growing demand to have Wagoner, the CEO of GM, resign as a part of this bailout scenario. As the old vanguard is finally retired, I hope those with input on these matters are ready to recommend fearless innovation in management. This should include people able to integrate the deep, unconscious feminine attributes that promote the stalwart protection of our tender interests such as healthy children and a beautiful world to call home, into our destructive and now destroyed business models of enterprise at all cost.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A New GM: Green Motors

The top execs from the Big Three are in Congress right now asking to have their companies' lives spared. The growing debate among Americans, at least the press would have us believe this, is a schism between blue and white collar classes. Why bail out the financial corps and not the auto corps? Well, we shouldn't. Our hearts should go out to the auto workers and their families. If there is a way to help them stay in good paying jobs, we Americans should support this. It is for their benefit and ours as well.

But the big problems have flowed like sewer water downhill from the top. The financial guys weren't railing on about the unions a few years ago when the companies were making strong profits off of ridiculously over sized, over-consuming SUVs. The U.S. auto makers are not just hurting right now, like more competitive auto makers, they are crumbling and it's because of extremely bad leadership.

I saw an interview with the CEO of GM earlier this year, Rick Wagoner, telling a reporter, I believe for 60 Minutes, that he does not believe in the theories of global warming. This is an astonishing position and one demonstrating how very uneducated, incurious, and out of touch with reality the executives of these auto makers really are- like dinosaurs: big, ugly, wrinkly and dying out.

But the American citizens have an opportunity here. As GM is within a few weeks of closing their doors without a big money bailout- start with them. (I should disclose here that I bought a small number of GM stocks earlier this year- silly me). If they want to keep their doors open they have to move to all green vehicles immediately. Only hybrids from here on out and only electric within two years. If they need money, give it to them to retrofit their machinery for the new vehicles. General Motors becomes Green Motors. And make a stipulation they need at least one HIGHLY affordable model. Give government rebates to families who purchase these green vehicles.

Currently, hybrids are too expensive for many families and competition in the field could be better. Even that sorry, lost old man, Wagoner, was willing to drive in from Detroit in an American-made hybrid today. Lets make that the norm.

We need to have aggressive goals not to just reduce CO2 emissions in this nation, but to eliminate them. Our enormous economic mess right now may be the greatest opportunity we have had since post-WWII to rebuild, this time along our own shores. Lets take away any need for negotiations with OPEC or on-going debate on tax code for oil companies. Lets move beyond dirty technology and fear-based economic systems.

If the CEOs of the auto Big Three (or more accurately, the Diminishing Three) are an accurate sample, the folks running these mega corporate bodies may not even have the intellectual construct for understanding what is in the greatest good for our nation and for all nations. They may not be able to imagine a better way. But many of us can.

It is time for bold action to turn the course of history. As far as the U.S. auto makers go, we have nearly nothing to loose by pushing them into the 21st century.