Saturday, February 28, 2009

Danville and the Economics of Global Power

**I wrote this maybe three weeks ago. I hope to get this published in one of Danville's papers, but I somehow think that may be unlikely. Maybe even unwise. Comments appreciated.**

Danville and the Economics of Global Power
Sean Michael Barker

“Blind with the wickedness / Deep in your heart, / Modern-day wickedness / Is all you’ve been taught. / Lied to your neighbor / So you get ahead, / Modern-day trickery / Is all you’ve been fed.”  Lauryn Hill, “Motives and Thoughts”

Born and raised right here in Danville, I took a 5-year hiatus to go to college, have some adventures, and find myself. I moved back here at the beginning of this year, and I now see my hometown in a different light, with a fuller sense of clarity. I feel compelled to share my perspective with Danvillians, in hopes that it can offer solutions to the problems we commonly experience. I do not mean to offend herein, but I will not sacrifice candor at the altar of political correctness. 

When I look around this town, I see an endless string of depression. I speak here both of the economic depression that has been ours all the long and is now sweeping the nation, and of the deep emotional void that comes with a complete sense of displacement. We are a depressed community, from top to bottom, left to right, and black to white. In our collective numbness, we may not feel it from moment to moment, but our misery is recorded on our faces, in our bodies, in our habits, ideas, and in our self-presentations. We all are lacking and longing for something more, and we wear this reality as if it were a skin. 

Economics is but one facet of existence, and yet—here especially—it is one that wields an inexplicable, incredible power to affect all others. In Danville, Virginia, our approach to economics is killing us from the inside out. My education has provided me with a global perspective on the inseparability of economics, power, and oppression, and this is what I intend to offer here: a bird’s-eye view of Danville’s position within the global economic superstructure, how it affects us, and what we can do to change it. I will begin by providing a snapshot of the present-day manifestation of power on the global scale. 

Global power is best represented geometrically in the form of a pyramid. The few at the top get their power from the many at the bottom. The base of the pyramid supports the entire structure, and without it, the whole would cease to exist. The base represents the poor, the top represents the rich, and the gradients in between represent the middle classes who separate the extremes of have and have-not. It is no coincidence that the ancient Egyptians built the Great Pyramids using Israelite slave labor: the structures became the physical manifestations of Egypt’s hierarchical caste system.  

At the global level, economies are created and regulated to serve the interests of those in power. This is apparent when we examine the major political bodies in which we invest authority over ourselves: the rich rule the poor. Even in the United States, which purports to be the world’s largest democracy, it is clear that a hierarchy exists, and that only those who are at the top can have any real say in what policies are implemented and executed. America is unique in that it is possible to traverse from bottom to top, but only insofar as one is willing to serve the interests of the elite in exchange for material security, to “sell out,” as we say. Even then, there are people in this country who, simply because of the conditions into which they are born, will never have a real chance at success or any manner of influence within our political/economic sphere. 

People base their entire lives on trying to move up within the structure, to secure a greater degree of material comfort relative to their position of origin. Though on an individual scale, this struggle and its journey can be rewarding and, in a superficial sense, fulfilling, the realities of poverty and depression persist because everyone is only concerned with “getting theirs.” 

Though our pyramid is admittedly more fluid than most, it is still a pyramid, and the only truly variable segment is the middle class. Upward mobility generally occurs in the space between the top of the bottom and the bottom of the top. In other words, it takes money to make money. The system is set up such that the only way to get money is to play into it, to become party to the scheme that supports the ruling class. Middleclass people are thus more identified with the wealthy than they are with the poor. They long to become rich, and so they absorb the values fed to them by the haves in hopes of breaking into that bracket. On the whole, they shun the poor and seek with every effort to distance themselves from the very people who produce the capital that provides their relative comfort.

As the middle classes admire the rich and seek to become them, the rich shun and distance themselves from the middle class. To the wealthy, everyone below them is expendable and abject. The middle class functions to keep the lower class from uprising; it serves as a buffer that insures the safety of the rulers and their riches. They know this, and they do all in their power to keep the middle class identified with them, while simultaneously controlling who can and cannot break into their ranks. 

The people at the top of the pyramid are constantly crafting strategies that keep the system in place. Divide and conquer is the name of the game; they want us to be at war and in competition with each other, so that we do not unite against them. Any and all manners of splintering strategies are employed in this pursuit, and, on the whole, they are doing a really good job at keeping us working against each other while they sit untouched by our efforts. 

The rich and powerful are working singularly toward a penultimate goal: total world domination. This may sound far-fetched and melodramatic, but it is absolutely true and they are very close to succeeding. When you examine the progression of world affairs over the course of the last century, it is clear that power is shifting from the many to the few, and that World Government—once a very unpopular and supposedly unlikely idea—is gradually taking hold. A few basic developments that evidence this include NAFTA, the EU, the UN, the World Bank and IMF, Codex Alimentarius, and so forth.  Without going into detail, I will say that, having researched these topics extensively, it is my belief that the elite of nearly all nations are working together toward this end, and that their intentions are sinister and detrimental to most humans. From this point forward, I will refer to these people and their co-conspirators as “the Globalists.” 

In pursuit of a single government and total domination, the Globalists have created a system of economic interdependence that binds together nations all around the world in a web of trade agreements. When you wonder why 80% of the products in your home come from eastern Asia, and why our country is so indebted to China, this is the reason. Globalized trade necessitates globalized regulation, in addition to creating entire industries such as international shipping and distribution. Multinational corporations, most of which were seeded by old money, have a distinct advantage in a global market: the ability to operate on a large scale due to the enormous amounts of capital required to do so. Thus, increasingly, world trade is being run by super-conglomerate, privately owned firms that dominate and monopolize markets of all sorts. Each of these corporations employ the same pyramid structure that the Globalists use; thus, within any of these entities, the many at the bottom are working to support the few at the top. As their agenda progresses, fewer individual firms will be providing the basic needs to the world’s masses, and these entities—backed by World Government—will have the authority to determine the rules by which they and their consumers operate. Invariably, these rules will further enforce the agenda of the haves at the expense of the have-nots. 

So how does Danville figure into this picture? Though we have our own class structure locally, our own definitions of “have” and “have-not,” Danville is, on the whole, a city of slaves to the global system. The biggest employers in town are all national and/or multinational firms, and the wealth created by local employees goes, for the most part, to already-rich individuals and families located somewhere else. The average Danvillian works for someone (s)he has never even seen. Furthermore, the majority of consumer outlets here are similarly “foreign-owned” in nature. The profits received by these businesses also go somewhere far away from Danville. 

As an illustration, imagine that Joe Danville works 40 hours a week at Goodyear, as a typical, bottom-of-the-pyramid, factory-floor employee. He spends a great deal of his time and energy supporting a superstructure that does not care about him and will never compensate him adequately for his life’s work, which is, to him, meaningless. He then spends his earnings maintaining a home, a vehicle bought from a multinational firm (even the American firms are multinational), and the rest he spends on niceties and necessities most likely bought at Wal-Mart. So, the money he earned slaving away his life, in large part, goes outside of this region to support the efforts of rich people who want to be richer. Does anything about this picture strike you as inappropriate? Or at least unfortunate?

This is the reality of Danville’s economy. We have slowly been taken over by enormous corporate superpowers that do not have any vested interest in our community’s wellbeing and are literally siphoning off our very life-force in the name of greed. As a whole, we are the base of the pyramid providing the time and energy needed to generate the excessive lifestyles of the rich. In this game, we are the losers. 

And, as the losers, we are relegated to lives of misery and meaningless labor. This is the root of our collective depression. Our economy is weak because all of our labor is wasted on outside interests, and all of the goods we consume come from somewhere else, with the profits going somewhere else. Having a weak economy necessitates that each individual work longer and harder to make ends meet, and this leads to an enormous deficit in our quality of life. As we become more and more drained by this system, we take out our frustrations on one another and lose the sense of community belonging that characterizes a fulfilling existence. In a ceaseless effort to fill our voids, we resort to over-consumption of just about everything, and unhealthy behaviors. This only makes the void grow larger, in addition to further draining our already scarce resources. 

Perhaps the most psychologically damaging part of this reality is the complete sense of powerlessness created by this dynamic. I have heard many a wise local quip that, should Goodyear or any of Danville’s major employers decide to leave (a very likely possibility), the town would undoubtedly go under. “Depression” would take on new meaning. Our entire livelihoods depend on the whims and financial conjectures of people who are, again, far away and totally unmoved by matters such as our quality of life. We have forfeited our destiny to these capitalists, and we all know and feel this from the center of our being. 

I have painted a really bleak picture here, but I hope that by identifying the root of the problem, the solution is then clear. If we desire to take control of our destinies and improve our quality of life, we must take back our sovereignty from these entities and work for the good of our community. The truth of the matter is, no matter how powerful these corporations may be, they depend on us to a far greater degree than we depend on them. We are the base of the pyramid, after all, and they are only the tip. Our situation is ultimately determined by the sum of every decision that we, as individuals and as a community, make. 

If we stopped shopping at Wal-Mart and started supporting our local producers, our purchasing power would remain within our borders. If we stopped slaving away for the benefit of far-removed corporatists and started investing our energies in the betterment of the Dan River Valley region, our work would gain greater meaning for us, and our lives would improve tremendously. In short, we need to reject the pyramid in favor of a circular economic model. We have the ability to take charge of our lives, to take the time and energy we currently spend supporting rich outsiders and use it to build wealth within our community. We can start producing everything that we could possibly need right here within our region. We can then choose to support local production efforts and keep our money in local hands. Instead of going to an unknown destination, our economic power would stay right here. 

As more wealth is generated and kept here, our local sovereignty would increase as would each individual’s ability to build a life of great quality. We possess within us the possibility of becoming self-sufficient, leaving this mess of a life behind and building something better from the ground up. It would take a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but it would be well worth the efforts if we would only take the initiative and make it real. 

I ask the reader to examine his or her life within the framework that I have laid out here. What decisions are we making on a daily basis that contribute to our collective misery? How does each purchase, each hour spent at work affect your quality of life and that of your neighbors? Do you even care?

If we each start with ourselves, then move toward organizing and acting as a community, the path to freedom and self-determination will become crystal-clear. If we choose to love ourselves, our neighbors, and our community more than we love the comfort and security provided us by our captors, we will surely prevail over them. Our work is certainly cut out for us; everything about our culture is designed to prevent us from doing such a thing. But we can do it, if we choose to do it.

I ask you to believe in yourself and your community. I ask you to entertain the possibility that there is more to life than an endless cycle of meaningless labor and consumption. I ask you to view your life through a new lens and make changes that work to your and everyone else’s benefit. 

It all starts with one. If we change our minds, we change our world. Let’s make the decision to make life better, and let’s get to work. We won’t have the ability to choose to do so much longer if we don’t act now. 

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