Now you and I are on the run
Pursued by monsters real and imagined
Driven by fear, we stand at the edge
Of a wilderness, strange roars in the distance
Storms whirling around us.
And people are saying to each other
We can’t stay here, and we can’t go on.
We’re scared to death, and some are
Actually dying. We must get back to normal!
But a few youths, the most abused or the
Bravest ones, say they can’t go back.
They won’t go back.
‘People back there are locked in their houses,’
They remind us. ‘They’re out of work, depressed, scared.
Forests and oceans are dying.
Bombs are dropping. We refuse.
To do normal; we couldn’t if we tried.’
They set off into the jungle. Will you
Follow them? Or will you try to go back
To where workers are disposable,
Where health care is unaffordable, but bombs
Are free to those who drop them.
Is this the world you want?
Because COVID is our chance to change.
In the land of normal, all that matters is profit
and loss. Not health, beauty, truth, not
Art or justice. Black lives don’t matter, nor do
Anyone else’s. Only money matters,
And money is just a story. Why go back
to a story that is killing us?
Can we follow the brave ones; can we
Come together: races, sexes, nationalities,
Ages, orientations, religions? Can we
Let go of the stories our rulers tell
To terrify us, to keep us divided and in line?
Will you brave the wilderness
With me? Connect with Nature, love
The animals and plants, and each other.
Face down the guns of the lost-soul armies
Panicked inside their helmets. Face
Loss of income, home, freedom, safety and
Embrace the future beyond the wilderness?
We can’t go back to normal. Normal collapsed
For a reason. We need income basic to life,
Given to All. We need health care, housing, food.
We can afford all this, because scarcity is a lie
The rulers tell us to justify their own wealth.
So many questions, barriers, but we have brilliant, Creative people to guide us. The important thing,
The only thing, is to commit to the journey. The way
Forward Is frightening, but the only way. We need
To be heroes, live with love and courage because we’re
Not going back to normal. There’s nothing there for us.
“It is well that people do not understand our banking and monetary system. If they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” attributed to Henry Ford
Whether or not the fabulously wealthy Nazi sympathizer Ford used exactly those words, it is undeniable that most of us don’t understand money, and our rulers depend on our ignorance. We believe money is real, that it is a powerful force that must be obeyed. Money puts a number on the worth of all things, on our work, on animals and plants and people. It turns all of Nature and all human talents into commodities. How much money can we get for this forest? How little can we pay these guys to bulldoze it? Having or not having money is the difference between living in a penthouse and sleeping in the alleyway outside.
Is our concept of money based on any objective reality? Most philosophers and economists don’t think so. Financial educator and Investopedia co-founder Andrew Beattie writes: “Money in and of itself is nothing. It is valuable merely because everyone knows everyone else will accept it as a form of payment.” Other scholars like Jeremy Grenkowitz agree, saying money is a “social construction, collective make-believe, a story.”
The accepted story of money has fostered development, wealth and technological growth, but it isn’t working any more. The natural world is being raped to death for a few people’s profit, while millions sink into poverty. In this story, says Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of Revolutionary Love, “we assume that profits must be the foundation for all our economic interactions. We judge our institutions to be productive and efficient and rational to the extent that they maximize money and power.” If a company’s stock price is rising, it’s doing something right, no matter who it’s killing. If you’re poor, you’re doing something wrong, no matter how much you’re helping others.
That’s what the story of money tells us, but it’s just a story, one we desperately need to change. And we can. At this critical moment, COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and the economic shutdown are challenging the world to find a new story and showing us what it might be.
A Brief history of money
Money started out a brilliant story. Instead of bartering an animal skin for some cabbages or whatever, people could sell what they had for money and use it to buy whatever they needed. Andrew Beattie says this was a great advance, “increasing the speed at which business, could be done.” People in many countries started using clay or metal tokens to denote value and agreed to accept them in exchange for goods. Around 800 CE, the Chinese invented paper money. All these tokens and bills only had value because there was a social narrative that said so.
Money made the world richer by enabling trade, but over centuries, it metastasized into a way to store wealth, enabling its possessors to influence and control the world. New forms keep being developed: checking accounts, credit cards, mobile financial apps, stocks, bonds, derivatives. Now, money is everywhere, a god-like force that few can understand, but which controls our lives.
Those who have money use it to gain control of governments. Then, they use the State’s power to further enrich themselves. They benefit from society’s infrastructure (like transportation, water, energy supplies, the Internet,) and write tax laws that make the rest of us pay for them. Meanwhile, people without money can be denied food, clothing, and shelter. They can be forced to work dangerous, demeaning, exhausting jobs for long hours at low pay. For lack of money, millions of people in America can’t afford water, a resource Nature provides absolutely free. Money enables resource extraction companies and ranchers to corrupt governments, displace indigenous people and destroy environments.
The current story of money is enforced through increasingly violent policing. In this story, it makes sense that 16 million housing units lie vacant, while over 500,000 people lack shelter on any given night. Those people don’t have any money, so no right to a bed. While millions are hungry and food banks run out of food, farmers are dumping or burying millions of eggs, truckloads of milk and tons of produce they cannot sell. These paradoxes are in no way moral or economically efficient, but they can seem rational within our narrative of money.
Valuing money over people is part of this story. Workers are used up and thrown out. Customers are markets to be taken advantage of. The natural world is turned into products, and what cannot be sold can be burned. Our story of money justifies these and many other forms of madness, including mass unemployment and mass incarceration. In this story, we can’t afford to treat each other well. Caring is for losers.
A new story of money
But what if we changed the narrative? What if we returned money to what it was meant to be? Instead of being something ones accumulates and hoards, money would only be something you exchange with other people to get necessities you can’t make yourself. Governments could distribute as basic income an amount of money calculated as adequate to enable all normal transactions. They might create another pot of money for projects, infrastructure development and repair, and for emergencies.
In this story, people who work get more, but nobody is in a ‘work-or-starve’ situation. People can save or invest, but interest rates would be zero or be negative, to encourage them to spend. So, in this narrative, money is just a tool. Nobody can use it to control their government; nobody would be a billionaire. Hoarding money would be as silly as hoarding hammers. Such stories and better ones are being developed in books like Charles Eisenstein’s Sacred Economics.
Such radical change might have seemed impossible five years ago, but the COVID shutdown and the rebellion against police violence have changed everything. We can see glimmers of the new story in the midst of the shutdown. As government has paid high levels of unemployment compensation benefits to millions of laid off workers, those who receive them are living well without work, while those who don’t are suffering. So why not give such compensation to all, and make it permanent?
‘That won’t work,’ I can hear capitalists saying. ‘Who would do the nasty, soul-killing work that needs doing? Nobody would work long days butcheringhogs or run themselves ragged in an Amazon fulfillment center if they didn’t have to. Who would break their backs picking strawberries if they had a basic income without doing it?’
Maybe they wouldn’t. I know I wouldn’t. But should a job exist if people have to be forced to do it? Maybe employers would have to make jobs better, make them more humane, stop treating workers like machines. Maybe they would have to shorten the work day, slow down the pace, pay higher wages, hire more people, provide healthier, safer, more tolerable conditions. Of course, labor costs and prices would then rise, so people would have to consume less. But wouldn’t this be a good thing? We consume far more than our ancestors did, usually far more than is good for us. As Rabbi Lerner says, we need a New Bottom Line, maximizing health and well-being, caring and compassion, not profit.
I have also heard believers in the Puritan work ethic say that a new story of money would be the Devil’s playground. In the work ethic, first developed by 16th Century theologian John Calvin, wealth is a sign of God’s grace. Lack of wealth means you’re a bad person and will probably burn in Hell. Giving people something for nothing is the surest way to corrupt them, make them lazy, and lead them into sin. In this story of money, nothing should be free for working-class people.
I have seen that giving people too much can spoil them, so they never learn to provide for themselves. But a new story of money would include requirements to work. People want to do useful work, and much work actually needs doing. Employers and government would simply provide opportunities for people to do good things, as they did in the Great Depression with the Works Project Administration and the Conservation Corps. The proposed Green New Deal includes such programs.
Economists warn of the dangers of inflation: when money loses its value and you need a bucket full of cash to buy a loaf of bread. This has happened many times, for many reasons, including governments’ creating too much money. Politicians might phrase the same concern as “How will we pay for it?” Two answers to this legitimate ask:
1. Tax the rich. Go back to USA’s glory days in the 1950s when the top income tax was 90%, and add a wealth tax on the billionaire class. This will take away money’s power to corrupt governments and will pay for needed programs.
2. This is an old story question. Who is paying for what? We never hear experts warning of inflation or asking how we’ll pay the $30 billion or so the Federal Reserve has been giving the banks every month for 12 years as Quantitative Easing. They don’t warn about the inflationary impact or ask how we’ll pay for the annual $750+ billion military budget. Why should basic income, rent support and food cause massive inflation? Prices aren’t rising much now, during a time of decent unemployment compensation.
Finally, capitalist historians point to the failure of communism. Without the profit motive and without the threat of starvation, people didn’t work hard enough, and in the absence of markets, planners couldn’t coordinate who did what and how. The government wound up having to use force to motivate work, and things got pretty ugly. But the new story is not communism. There will still be markets. Individual effort, creativity and achievement will still be rewarded. It’s just the goals of that effort will change, to focus on a more caring, beautiful, sustainable world.
Rewriting money now
Although corporations will fight hard to keep the old story, we could still win. We could demand forgiveness of debts, massive reductions of rents and mortgages, basic income for all, food for those who need it, universal health care, disarming the police, and a lot more. All those demands are reasonable and doable. Debt forgiveness was a human tradition for thousands of years, sometimes called ‘Jubilee.’ It’s in the Bible, a periodic release of debts and of slaves, commanded by God as a way to keep societies together.
Many in government and finance, however, don’t want Jubilee or a new story. They want to stop generous unemployment benefits as economies “open up,” forcing people back to work. The super-rich can’t accept the story of money as a medium of exchange created by government and distributed to the people. They want money to stop flowing out and return to them, its rightful owners.
This is the struggle, the revolutionary moment we’re in now. The related issues of pandemic, mass unemployment and police violence affect everyone. The last thing any of us should want is to get back to “normal.” Normal is killing our people and our planet. We need a new story which sees success as what Rabbi Lerner calls a “Caring Society” that serves people, and all life on Earth, not as endless growth and production of more stuff. We don’t want a normal that needs militarized police and soldiers to enforce it.
We can do this. Black Lives Matter is giving strong leadership. People are in the streets. There will be a million details to work out, which will take lifetimes of effort, and better minds than mine, but what is the alternative? If we are going to survive, we need to put money back in its place, as our tool, not our ruler.
My lovely 70-year-old cousin Margit has severe rheumatoid arthritis. She’s in constant pain and lives in a nursing home. Her husband is in a different nursing home, so they never see each other.
Recently, Margit developed kidney failure. The doctors want to put her on dialysis. They say without it, she’ll die. I love Margit, but I hope she refuses. She has done enough and has earned her rest. But as the COVID-19 shutdowns show, America and its medical system thinks survival of individuals is the most important thing, ahead of reducing suffering or of social well-being, at least as long as those individual lives create profit for someone.
Should it be normal practice to keep people alive at any cost, no matter how much they are suffering? In the American medical system, the answer is, ‘Yes. Damn the costs; don’t mind the suffering, as long as patients have good insurance.’ When I was a hospital nurse in the 80’s, we had a patient named Laverne. She was 85 and had had multiple strokes. Her arms and legs were completely contracted (permanently bent.) She couldn’t move; she couldn’t talk. None of us wanted to take care of her; she snarled at us when we tried to help and tried to bite hands that got too close to her mouth.
Laverne was in the hospital because in the nursing home, she had developed huge, infected bedsores on her hips and back. Doctors gave her the latest antibiotics. She was on a high-tech air bed that minimized pressure on her skin. She had IVs and a feeding tube; she had dressing care for hours each shift. It wasn’t quite intensive care level treatment, but it was close. No one ever came to visit her.
After four weeks of this, a nursing supervisor came one night and said, “I have terrible news about Laverne.” We asked what could possibly be worse than what was already happening to her. The supervisor, who I’m not sure had ever actually laid eyes on Laverne, said, “We’ve lost her.”
He went on to tell us that they had found Serratia, a nasty bacteria, in her wounds, and that there was no treatment. (As if the bacteria hadn’t been there all along.) Within 24 hours, her special bed was removed, her dressing care was cut back to once a day, and her IVs were stopped. The intern wrote a Do Not Resuscitate order.
One of the nurses had skimmed Laverne’s chart, specifically the payer information in the front, which nurses rarely look at. You know what she found? Laverne’s insurance had run out. That’s why they stopped treatment. They finally let her die; after they had extracted every dollar they could get from her long-suffering body.
30 years later, I’m still angry and hurt about this story. Why are some tortured with medically-induced suffering, even while others are denied care they need, because they lack insurance? If you remember the debates in 2009 – 2010 about Obamacare, or follow the arguments over Medicare for All, you have heard that fear of health care “rationing” has been a major attack point against any publicly run health plan. If government ran health care, the story goes, they would soon start limiting the care we can receive. We would have “death panels” keeping old or crippled folks off ventilators and out of intensive care.
Well, as any hospital nurse could tell you, medical care sometimes needs limiting. Technological medicine has the power to keep almost everyone alive indefinitely. Barely alive, but with a heartbeat and some brain waves, while medical bills mount into the millions and families grieve endlessly, watching their loved ones sink.
Is that what we want from healthcare? I know that is not what most nurses and doctors went to school to do. Besides enriching the medical system, what is the point? Should we all live forever? Should we all be like Terri Schiavo, whose husband had to get a court order to allow her to die?
The infuriating thing about the right-wing charges of “rationing” is that the current system rations care every hour of every day. They ration in the cruelest and least effective way, by ability to pay. Everything from checkups to medicines to surgery and access to ventilators is rationed in the current system. But when government thinks of limiting heart surgery for people over 80, say, or encourages people to write living wills, we hear screaming about “euthanasia” and “killing grandma.”
When it comes to medical care, the screaming comes from the Left as well as from the Right. When I raised some arguments for limiting care on a listserv for public health people who are also social justice activists, my views were sharply attacked. Some said I was discriminating against the old and the disabled by wanting to deny them care. They asked, ‘why shouldn’t a 70-year-old quadriplegic receive coronary artery bypass surgery if he needs it? Who’s to say that his life has less value than that of a 32-year-old able-bodied person? Why can’t everybody have everything? You’re putting money ahead of human lives.’
I thought, people who say that should try being quadriplegic for a while. Or being the spouse or close family member of an aging, severely disabled person. They might learn that living on is not always the best solution. Not that you would necessarily want to die – although you might – but you might not want invasive, expensive, painful treatment to keep you going.
I am not that disabled or that old, but I’m getting there. I have friends in the multiple sclerosis community who are there already. I wouldn’t allow a technological, invasive procedure of questionable worth — and many, like the 50 – 90% of COVID patients who have died after being put on ventilators, fall into that category— to “save my life.” That doesn’t mean I want to die — I love living. But when you need extensive medical care and continuous personal support to keep going, or when you can’t do anything for yourself, you have to consider whether treatment is worth it.
It shouldn’t be automatic that you’ll bear any burden and pay any price to extend life. Some Christian conservatives think you should, though they won’t help you pay your bills or share your suffering. I often wonder if those advocates really believe their own religion. None of us will live forever. Why not let us go to Heaven instead of torturing us to prolong our lives? How do they reconcile their approach with a system that denies care on the basis of inability to pay?
We absolutely need a national health plan like Medicare for All to stop the cruel and counterproductive rationing of care by poverty. (Not these lame hybrid plans like Obamacare — a real single-payer plan.) But if we don’t find some other way of limiting medicine’s boundless appetite for treatment, we’ll cruelly extend suffering and bankrupt ourselves in the process.
If we don’t want mandatory rationing, we have to start being rational about what’s worth doing and what is not. Of course, people can disagree on costs, benefits, and risks. But the current default position of “treat until the money runs out or the brain quits” is not the way.
How to live well when everything seems to be falling apart? When no one knows what tomorrow may bring, how do we know what is right, what is healthy, and what might be effective? We can’t know, but we can learn principles from previous crises and teachers. From reading and talking with survivors, it seems we may need to make three commitments to keep focused and be good people in times of crisis.
When so many are suffering, when danger lurks all around, does it sound selfish to rest, to relax, to eat healthy food, go for a walk, have sex? It’s not. It’s recognizing that we are part of a community. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t do a good job of helping others. If our health breaks down or we become depressed, others will have to care for us instead of our caring for them.
Caring for self doesn’t mean ignoring injustice, hoarding food, or leaving people alone in their misery. It doesn’t mean giving up the fight to protect our world. It means finding a balance, realizing our bodies are the most precious things we have, and they need our attention. The Buddha said, “To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”
Let’s say the Buddha is right, and self-care is worthwhile in this time of pandemic, socially-engineered Depression, and authoritarian governments’ taking over much of the world. How could we take such care in such a time?
The first challenge is to create a pattern for our lives. That sounds really hard; we all see the world becoming more chaotic every day. Instead of a regular job, you might have to gig. Instead of sending kids to school, you might have to teach them at home. It’s easy to scatter our energy in such a time, but bodies need rhythm and repetition to function. So, can you live a schedule that includes breakfast, exercise, outdoor time, social contact, productive work, and rest? Can you eat in a healthy way instead of drowning your anxiety in sugar or alcohol?
I know you’ve heard this before, but with work and family responsibilities, healthy living is hard even in normal times. How much harder is it when every voice you hear is screaming ‘Run! Hide! Eat sweets!’? Or when you’re out of work and worried about losing your home?
Healthy living in perilous times is a book-length topic, for sure. Actually, I have written a book about it, and gave some good ideas in this article. Others have written well about it here and here and other places on the Web. But one point that hasn’t been mentioned enough is ‘Turn those scary voices off!’ Our perception of the world depends where we focus. Most people find constant focus on threats and horrors exhausting and depressing. Corporate or social media fear-mongering sap your energy and bring despair. We don’t have to ignore them, but we do need to spend at least half our time more positively, which usually means being with actual people, animals, or plants, meditating, or doing something we love and enjoy. Music helps too.
If you can turn off the terror chatter, you might find time for exercise, eating, and working. You can do things for money and still find them enjoyable, or if there is no money, find the pleasure or joy in free things. Of course, there are limits. For someone who is going hungry or sleeping on a sidewalk, self-care is much harder. I’ve never had to do that, so I can’t promise anything, but studies show that time and energy spent on being healthy also makes people more confident and happier, even if they still face major life challenges.
OTOH, self-care means very little if you are not making the world a better place. When you die, no one will ask how many pushups you could do. Who can you help, even one person, one animal or plant? What cause can you support, what mess can you clean up? It’s tricky to figure out where to help and how, because the needs are overwhelming, the situation keeps changing, and available information is so unreliable. Like, is it better to donate to a food bank or to a strong political candidate who might help more people? Should you volunteer on a crisis line or give time to needy neighborhood children? Or whatever, the needs are endless, but our time and energy are limited. Whatever you decide, helping others will make you feel better about yourself.
Almost nothing feels as good as helping others. Baptist Bishop Greg Valentine told me about buying a $200 pair of shoes, then hearing God’s voice telling him to give the shoes to a homeless man he saw, who had no shoes. After struggling with himself for a few minutes — “I really liked those shoes” — Bishop Valentine gave them up. “The man seemed really happy to have these shoes,” he told me, “but you know what? I felt even happier. The feeling I got from that was so powerful. Since then, I have been a lot less focused on material things. It’s not about possessions. God really doesn’t care about those. It’s about how we treat other people.”
Still, that knowledge doesn’t tell you how to divide up your limited resources, or how much to keep for yourself. Right now, need is everywhere. Most Americans have received $1200 “stimulus” checks, or soon will. My income has not changed, so I’m stimulated to give away most of it, and hopefully it will be effective. I don’t know how to decide except that giving to someone you know is usually better than giving to an organization where you know no one. Or at least, do some good research before giving.
Sometimes survival is the only victory we can hope to achieve — sometimes even that is a long-shot — but often people do far more. Things may seem hopeless now, but they’ve been hopeless before, and change still came. The great revolutionary Vladimir Illych Ulyanov (Lenin) said, “Decades go by and nothing seems to happen. Then a week comes when decades happen.” Those weeks come because a lot of people put in a lot of effort making them happen, even when all seemed lost.
Successful revolutionaries like Lenin or Mao-Tse Tung also had to think way, way outside their boxes. Lenin said he was following Karl Marx, but the Russian revolution, in the midst of World War 1, was very different from anything Marx had predicted or recommended. Mao didn’t follow in Lenin’s footsteps; he based his revolution on the peasants, not the workers. What they had in common was a single-minded focus on overthrowing the corrupt, destructive system they lived in.
A revolution today couldn’t be anything like Lenin’s or Mao’s. It probably wouldn’t be “Left” at all; it would have to be a movement that appeals to people of all kinds. It might not have to be a revolution with lots of killing, but it would have to decouple money from power. It would require everyone to change, including you and me. I don’t know how to do this, but I can’t accept just letting the machine run over us like it’s doing now.
Times of great change are the best teachers. You or I might have been happier living in less challenging times, but really, how many of those have there been? For billions of people in the world, the crisis is not new and will not go away when the shutdowns are lifted or COVID is cured. The pandemic is just making existing challenges more intense. But we are here; the time is now, and the old ways can’t go on. Can we change ourselves and make the new ones better? We are called, as author/philosopher Charles Eisenstein, says, to make the most of our gifts and share them while we’re here. Perhaps we’ll be among the lucky ones who experience this crisis as a time of growth.
Wishing you love, strength, courage and wisdom, David.
All day we hear about avoiding exposure to COVID 19. Stay inside, wash hands, wear a mask, stay away from other people. Those practices might help prevent exposure, but is there another way to prevent infection? Can we also strengthen our immune systems to fight off COVID if it comes to us? Actually, we can do a lot.
Food – The right foods boost your germ-fighting capacity. According to Healthline.com, citrus fruits, red bell peppers, spinach and broccoli are full of immunity-building vitamins. Garlic, turmeric, and ginger have disease-fighting chemicals that are used all over the world. Nuts and seeds (e.g. almonds and sunflower seeds) pack the most life force into the smallest quantity of food. Tropical fruits such as papaya and kiwi also seem to fight off infections.
Medical News Today has similar list, which includes blueberries and dark chocolate at the top. All these foods are high in nutrients such as vitamins A, B, C, and E, and compounds such as antioxidants and flavonoids that help bodies work better.
There are also foods to avoid. Refined flours and sweet sugary things gum up body’s disease-fighting cells. Cured and burned meats, and a number of chemical additives can sap germ-fighting strength.
Eating well in times of shortages or closures requires some planning. There are great ideas in this article by my associate, dietitian Amy Campbell. Of course, if we have no money because of job loss, or if food is not available, we will need other practices which are beyond the scope of this article. But farmers’ markets, discount stores, community supported agriculture and food banks can make food more affordable. Sharing with neighbors can help everybody eat.
Supplements can help, especially if we can’t get a variety of healthy foods, which will be a problem during the shutdowns and the depression. Harvard Medical School’s newsletter recommends zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and various vitamins.
Substance use – The Centers for Disease Control says, “Smoking harms the immune system and disrupts its balance.” It might be hard to quit smoking at such a stressful time, but it’s one thing you can do to prevent COVID. Smoking also makes people more vulnerable to the lung damage by which COVID kills.
Alcohol might be OK in small amounts, but overdoing it leaves one vulnerable to infection. It might also make you stupid, so you don’t take anti-COVID precautions you would usually take. The same might be true of other drugs such as cannabis. Use them in moderation, but not in ways that expose you to unnecessary risks.
Sleep time is when the immune system gets to work. When you’re awake, the body and mind are too busy to give attention to fighting disease or healing damage. We need to sleep; it’s medicine. Hopefully, you have a comfortable, quiet place to sleep, but whether you do or not, the ideas in this article from my diabetes column might help.
Like the rest of us, the immune system needs motivation to work well. Why, exactly, should your immune system fight? Do you have goals, connections with others, sources of pleasure and of support, people to protect, or another reason to keep going? On some chemical level, in my holistic opinion, the immune system knows how much we want to live. If you can’t identify such a reason – which could be as minimal as taking care of a plant or enjoying an occasional sunset – see if you can think of a couple of good ways to make life more enjoyable.
Hugsand other physical contact promote health, including immune system health. You can find good articles like this one on the curative power of hugs all over the Internet.
Moderate exercise also helps immune cells function. I’m not sure how people are supposed to exercise when the playgrounds and gyms are closed, but there are a lot of things you can do inside – exercise programs online, household objects you can use as weights. And we can still get out and walk, run, or bike if the police haven’t stopped that where you live. Having a dog to run is a good justification for being outside.
This may sound ridiculous in the current moment, but try to reduce stress. Actually, if you’re not working, you’ve already relieved a major source of stress, but fears about the future and loss of one’s sense of safety are major stressors. Exercise and prayer are two great stress reducers. Social support is, too, so try to connect by phone or online if you can’t do it in person. Of course, physically meeting people is still better if you can. Animals are also great stress relievers, and you can see other approaches here. Humor and laughter have immune and stress-reduction benefits shown in many studies. So, try to find some reasons to laugh. Even in hard times, people do funny things.
Keep warm – Although some scientists call it an old wives’ tale, Grandma’s advice to put on another layer and have a hot cup of tea works for me. Now some studies have confirmed that coldness contributes to respiratory infection by suppressing the immune system. Hard for homeless people to keep warm, but if you can, do. Helping others keep warm by donating blankets or clothes is a great way to share.
image courtesy Web MD
Even with the strongest immunity, it still makes sense to avoid infection. Hand washing, avoiding sneezes and coughs (and covering your ow) and keeping hands away from your face still make sense. But by eating right, getting sleep and exercise, touch, and laughter, we can greatly reduce our risk of COVID and other infections.
Rapid change can be good. Spiraling, chaotic change is something else. No sooner do we hear about one challenge to our economic, social, or political life, than when another comes to make the change more extreme or take it in a completely different direction. Do you remember four years of Russia being our enemy, an existential threat to America? And before that, Islamic terrorism? Well, now it’s China. Very 1984 isn’t it?
Remember when corporate media was all about Trump and Impeachment? Then when it was all about elections? Now it’s all about the COVID 19 virus, and the profound ways it’s changing our lives every day. It feels silly to focus on career, on education, on making a home or raising a family, when we literally do not know whether our jobs or schools will be open tomorrow. For people with money, the current shutdown could be an enforced vacation, but for most people, those on the financial edge, without investments or at least Social Security, it is a catastrophe.
And it keeps changing every day. One day, you can go to a restaurant. The next day, only take-out, the next day, you’re on your own. One day, you can take the bus, the next day, only Uber and Lyft, the next day, walk, then stay inside. People try to organize, but no meetings and no demonstrations are allowed. Some who can afford them buy guns through the Internet; others fight with words on social media.
Friends say, ‘Hunker down. Stay centered. Plan for what we’ll do when some kind of new normal takes hold.’ But as Australian rogue journalist Caitlin Johnstone says, “Things may get better; they may get worse. But they are never going back to normal. Normal is gone for good.” What reason is there to think that any kind of pattern will establish itself when our corporate rulers have adopted full-on looting of society as their daily practice? When our political system and media have been exposed as frauds, pushing us this way and that to get support for our rulers’ sociopathic agendas? When one virus is controlled, what makes us think our rulers won’t unleash another one, or some other terror weapon? Some may believe COVID 19 is naturally occurring, but all agree the US Dept of Defense has dozens of others in their labs.
We are in a new world, though we have faced similar times before. My parents told me about growing up in the Great Depression, scrounging papers, cans and rags to trade for a piece of fruit or a bottle of pop. Those were hard times, brought about by the normal workings of capitalism’s boom/bust cycle. It took the government interventions of FDR’s New Deal and World War 2 to get the USA out of that crisis.
This one is worse; my parents’ generation weren’t dealing with a deadly disease at the same time. They were able to meet; they could organize unions. When a family was being evicted, the community could rally around and keep the police away. Now, such resistance or even a party to raise money to pay rent would be squashed as a threat to public health. Everyone is on their own.
Government bailouts shovel all of society’s wealth to the very rich, hoping that will restart the economy, but no government intervention can save capitalism, defined as rule of society by private owners of the means of production. Those rulers have lost all sense of living with people who have needs and other living things on which we depend. Because these oligarchs run government, corporations and media, any attempt to restart or reform the economy would have to go through them. And as last week’s bailout fight showed, they won’t allow implementation of changes that don’t benefit them. If there comes a cure for the COVID-19 virus, or a cure for global warming, it will not be implemented unless the oligarchs profit from it.
Then, what about the Deep State: the Department of Defense, the CIA, the FBI, those armies of killers and bureaucrats with multibillion dollar budgets and no oversight? What about the four-dimensional kaleidoscope of corporate media, the endless vortex of fantasies they weave around us, until we can neither see clearly nor move? Can we have a “normal” world run by people like that?
No, we can’t. That is why our political, economic, social and media systems are all being exposed and falling apart at the same time. Caitlin Johnstone calls this the great unpatterning. “Our patterned behavior,” she writes, “has led our species to the omnicidal, oppressive and exploitative status quo we now find ourselves in. Unpatterning, in and of itself, is neither threatening nor helpful; it’s just change. What matters is where it all goes.”
Where will it go? The new normal our rulers have in store for us is a world of mass poverty, disease, environmental collapse and constant chaos. Ending capitalist control of society is the only way we’ll ever have a new normal worth living, or one that is sustainable.
We need to create our own normal; one whose patterns we can barely see yet. We could still have free markets, we could still have some private ownership, but most large-scale stuff needs to be publicly owned and controlled. There won’t be as much wealth, but it will be much better distributed. And people will be encouraged to take care of each other, instead of the everyone-for-themselves ethic we have now.
Such changes can’t be done in a society run by people like Goldman Sachs, Boeing Corporation, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But we can do it without them. In some ways, we are lucky; in some ways cursed to be living in such critical times. But here we are. We can’t go back to normal. We have to create something better.
A germ has closed the world. Economies are shutting down; culture has been put on hold. No restaurants; no bars, clubs, concerts, sports, or theater. No religious services or political events. Schools, libraries, museums all closed. Nowhere to go, and not allowed to go there anyway. People left without sources of income, connection with others, or things to do.
If this lasted just one or two months, society might recover. But health officials are saying house arrest could go on much longer if necessary. Half the economy and most of our cultural outlets will be gone by the time they let us out. But the quarantine has its positive sides, side effects of the negative ones. The damage capitalism does can best be seen in the good things that happen when it grinds to a halt.
Animals are coming back. Road kill numbers seem way down. Salamanders are observed crossing the road in Marin County, California. All because vehicle traffic no longer takes up all the space.
Air is cleaner without all the pollution from cars and factories. Water may be cleaner, too. People, animals and plants can breathe better.
Global warming is slowed without all the fossil fuels being burned. For decades, our rulers have been negotiating; scientists have been researching, activists have been organizing, writing, and fighting, and fossil fuel emissions have continued to rise. Now, a virus comes along and stops them. Industrial economy is inherently destructive and unsustainable. Maybe almost anything that stops it is a good thing.
The quarantine has spurred governments to consider measures that have long been needed, but never taken seriously until now.
Homelessness – In some communities, such as Santa Clara, California, authorities are planning on moving homeless people into empty motels and providing services. These people will now have actual homes with addresses. Because of travel bans, nobody was using the motels anyway. This seems a much higher-value use of the space, and it’s happening because of the virus.
Incarceration – Similarly, people are being let out of prison, because incarcerated people cannot be quarantined; they’re too close. Millions of nonviolent offenders may soon be out of jail, where they never should have been in the first place.
the crime of mass incarceration
Immigration – ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has slowed down or stopped their deportation raids against immigrant communities. Maybe they’ll start releasing some deportees from concentration camps, in the name of protecting against the virus. An extreme blessing for these families.
Quality of life improvements
People are working less, which means less stress, fewer work injuries, and more energy for other things. Of course, we’re not allowed to do many other things, and we have new sources of stress, but still…
We can get our homes cleaned up, catch up on reading, do those projects that we’ve put aside for years.
Time to reflect and grow – We’re less busy; we can stop and think. We can meditate, pray, or use mind-expanding drugs. We can make plans for our lives going forward, though it’s hard to plan when we have no idea what the world will be like. But at least we’re not busy doing made-up stuff.
Since so many people can’t work and can’t pay for things, governments are starting to consider socialist approaches like providing basic incomes, health care and housing. Maybe income will be decoupled from work. Some people will see this as Heaven and some as Hell, but when so many jobs cease to exist, people, if supported, can do other, more creative or generous things.
For positives to outweigh the negatives or come anywhere close to them, people’s lives will have to change. A good life will be evaluated as one which helps others, not one that accumulates wealth. But we will have to fight for this. This is a crisis like we’ve not seen in our lifetimes – a time of danger and also of opportunity. Hope to see you out there, helping and fighting.
“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you see your liberation as bound up with mine, let us work together.” Lilla Watson, Aboriginal activist
I’m a middle-class guy with a family and a nice apartment in San Francisco. I’ve always been pretty much White, straight, middle class and male. So, what have I got to complain about? Yes, I’m disabled, but society helps me out with curb cuts and wheelchair ramps on the buses, social security payments and Medicare. Until a few years ago, “oppressed” is one of the last things I would have called myself.
I could see oppression happening to other people: people of color, women, children, gay people, manual workers, poor people, people in other places. I would fight those people’s oppression and work for justice, but I didn’t think I needed liberating myself. I didn’t get what Australian aboriginal activist Lilla Watson meant by “your liberation is bound up with mine.” I rarely got angry for myself, only for others. And that has made me politically ineffective.
It took decades for me to wake up. In childhood and young adulthood, I believed the media. In 1963, when I was 12, the CIA murdered President Kennedy, and in ’68 they killed his brother. The same year, the FBI collaborated in the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. All these murders, we were told, were committed by “lone gunmen,” patsies who never got to tell their side of the stories in court or to media. I believed all the fantasies I heard on the news. I believed all the government’s commissions and authoritative reports.
Then in 2003, I blundered onto a 9/11 Truth web site. I saw well-sourced information that discredited the official version of that terrible day and challenged some of the absurd stories that are part of that narrative. (‘Hijacker’s passport found on sidewalk!’) It dawned on me that when the stories media and government tell you don’t make sense, they probably are not really true. Then I read books like Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and James Loewen’s Lies my Teacher Told Me and realized that I had been lied to constantly since birth. Social media showed me that we are still lied to all the time by corporate media now. We are being gaslighted — told to doubt our own perceptions and believe things that make no sense — all day, every day.
Now things have changed. I’m getting angry. I’ve come to hate the mass media for forcing me to live in a nightmare world, when they’re not even my own nightmares. I feel alienated from people who believe what they see in corporate media. I hate being gaslighted day in, day out.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological oppression, but I hadn’t realized how those stories serve as key elements in regimes of oppression that have been affecting me since my youth. In my 20s, I was a hippie, or more accurately a hippie sympathizer. I was too political and too responsible to fully drop out, but I identified with the culture and the philosophy of focusing on beauty and enjoying life rather than on accumulating wealth.
So, it hurt when the hippie movement was discredited and demonized by horror stories like the Charles Manson Family and their murder spree through Los Angeles and the California desert. Suddenly, hippies went from being creative, lovable, if somewhat lazy nonconformists to violent drug-crazed menaces. Although hippies still exist, as a movement we were crushed.
Why is that a big deal? What does that have to do with oppression? Well, as I found from reading CHAOS: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Hidden History of the Sixties by Tom O’Neill, the Manson family was most likely a CIA experiment. In the 60s, the CIA had a top-secret program called Operation CHAOS, which had the goals of suppressing the Black Liberation movement, the antiwar movement and the hippies. They seemed to think this internal dissent was a great threat to America, and all means necessary to squelch it were appropriate, no matter how many lives they damaged or killed.
Related to Operation CHAOS was a program called MKULTRA, which enlisted top psychiatrists to research how much it was possible to control people’s minds. Specifically, could agents convince people that what they knew was false, and that made up stories were true? Could they turn innocent people into assassins, in ways that the subjects would not remember? O’Neill’s book includes actual memos between one of these psychiatrists and his contact at CIA complimenting each other on doing this vitally necessary work.
The impetus behind MKULTRA appears to have been stories of Communist China ‘brainwashing’ US POWs during the Korean War. (You might remember this from the film “The Manchurian Candidate’ starring Frank Sinatra.) This ‘brainwashing’ was blamed for confessions by American soldiers of using biological weapons against Korea. After the POWs came home and met with MKULTRA psychiatrists, many recanted their confessions, saying they were false memories. This was counted a great success for mind control research and a reason for the USA to keep developing these capabilities in self-defense. Except that in reality, the original confessions were true; bio-weapons had been used against the Koreans. Brainwashing was not involved.
But MKULTRA rolled on and came to San Francisco for the Summer of Love in 1967. CIA-connected psychiatrists were interested in the power of psychedelic drugs to enable mind control when combined with hypnosis. Hippies made excellent subjects for their experiments, and one subject was Charles Manson and his cult, the Family. One of the psychiatrists, a Dr. Louis J. West, met with Manson and other hippies many times. Nobody knows what he did with them, but he had a history from his time in Oklahoma of at least two other patients who either became killers for no apparent reason, or went floridly insane after meeting with him.
Meanwhile, a string of judges and parole officers inexplicably allowed Family members to stay free after committing crimes that would have gotten ordinary people sent to prison with their paroles revoked. Police departments closed murder investigations without arrests, despite strong evidence of Family involvement.
What was going on? We will never have proof, but it seems that the Manson Family’s crime spree was an MKULTRA project, and quite a successful one. It was used to discredit the hippie movement and drive young people away from it. Of course, at the same time, CIA and FBI were using more violent and corrupt methods to destroy Black Power movements like the Black Panther Party, so maybe the hippies got off easy. But still, my anger at our ruling class, or ‘Deep State’ has become much more personal, more all-consuming. I know these people, whether Dick Cheney, J. Edgar Hoover or Dr. West think they are doing right things, but I don’t want to forgive them anymore.
It doesn’t feel good, and perhaps I should give up being oppressed and return to seeing whatever happens as the endless flow of Karma, or something like that, but I don’t want to. I’m tired of being gaslighted 24/7/365. I hate not being able to believe anything I hear or see on media.
You and I and everyone we know have been living in an elaborately falsified dreamworld known as American History. And now, we have to cope with not just one nightmare, but two: the actual disaster that our rulers are making of the world (e.g. the destruction of Libya and Iraq), and the made-up narrative about it that they want us to believe (e.g. ISIS!). Both nightmares are depressing; both are terrifying, both are largely based on lies, and I cannot accept them.
Despite my relative comforts and privilege, I’m counting myself among the oppressed, not just as an ally who can walk away from the struggle any time I want. I’m taking it personally. Whatever they do to the least of us, they do to me. I’m not good at this yet. I look at friends with lifetime experiences of oppression and marvel at how they are able to keep calm and not hate. I need to learn from them, but at least I now see how my liberation is bound up with theirs.
“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address 1961
Something profound is happening in this country, and no one knows where it will lead. JFK’s 60-year-old call to service has found resonance in the 2020 presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard, and people are flocking toward the chance to be of use. You might not recognize the USA in a few years, and that might be a wonderful thing.
We have lived so long in a predatory corporate capitalist society that we have come to think daily cruelty is normal. Over a half million Americans sleeping in the street; more than two million in jails and prisons. People dying for lack of healthcare or going bankrupt paying for it. Immigrant children caged, endless wars fought against mostly unknown enemies, so that weapons and death rank among America’s chief exports. Media that lies about real things and broadcasts spectacles of things that may not be happening at all, carefully crafted to maximize our fear and our distrust of each other, while their advertisers work to make us unhappy with ourselves.
Is it any wonder that people are desperate for change? That life expectancies are dropping and drug addiction rates rising? People are angry; they’re sad, they’re desperate. We elected Obama and Trump because they promised change, but nothing got better. Of course, neither of those two were the change agents they claimed to be, but actually no president could do what’s needed. The changes we need are so profound that we will have to change ourselves in major ways to have any chance. We have to move away from the Each-against-All, every man for himself caricature of human nature that unfettered capitalism requires. We need to care and be cared for, normal functions of both traditional societies and modern social democracies, but not in cutthroat America.
This is the background for Bernie Sanders’ slogan “Not me. Us.” When I first heard that, I thought he meant, ‘This is not about one candidate; it’s about our movement.’ And maybe he does mean that, but there’s a deeper meaning. It’s like Kennedy’s “Ask what you can do for your country.” ‘Not me, Us’ is the way we want to live our lives, the way society should be. We should be helping each other and meeting people’s needs, instead of focusing on individual accumulation and financial security. The slogan calls for a very different way of living than our capitalist rulers envision. And this vision is resonating with people; it is winning elections, as it did in Nevada.
In Nevada, according to Cristina Beltrán, a political science professor at NYU, casino workers have a strong union contract with very good health insurance, possibly better than they would have under Sanders’ signature program of Medicare For All. As a result, the union leadership discouraged members’ voting for Sanders in their recent caucuses. Every member received a mailing to that effect. On election day, seven out of eight casino worker caucuses went for Sanders, voting against their union and their immediate material interest.
Professor Cristina Beltran
Beltran explains: “A lot of those union workers have family who are in nonunion jobs and have really precarious healthcare. And so, there was a sense that it isn’t just about the kind of narrow self-interest of protecting one’s own quality healthcare, but a larger sense that there’s a healthcare crisis beyond themselves, and trying to think about what’s going on with their children, their cousins, their grandchildren, you know, and all the people around them. So, it’s a combination of a kind of interest group and solidarity politics that allowed people to ultimately vote in a broader way than people might have imagined.”
Service before Self
Another presidential candidate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii has a similar motto: “Service before Self,” a US Air Force slogan that is officially explained as “Duties take precedence over personal desires.” Officers writing on the USAF web site have called it, “doing your duty with respect, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and relinquishing your stake in the outcome.” Gabbard uses it to describe her own approach to life, serving the people, and calls on people to embrace service in our own lives.
To me, this campaign and the changes it is bringing are way more exciting than who votes for whom. Votes in the USA aren’t always counted, and it’s unlikely those who own the voting machines, the parties, and the media will let Bernie or Tulsi win. But they cannot stop people from growing. They can’t stop our compassion or our wrath.
People are freeing their minds from the nightmare conspiracies that corporate media pass off as reality. One example: for years, media, Democratic leadership, and the intelligence agencies have been attacking Donald Trump with a made-up Russian-interference conspiracy theory. Now they have turned those same tactics on Sanders, claiming he is Russia’s favorite. Hillary Clinton said the same thing about Tulsi Gabbard, also without evidence. Media consumers are exposed to several different flavors of Sanders-sliming attacks daily.
But people, at least young people aren’t listening any more. Nicholas Levis wrote on Counterpunch of “the decline of the corporate media’s power to persuade. It is why these outlets have become so fervent in condemning social media, as if people sharing bullshit on Facebook is somehow inherently more pernicious than the activities of the cable news networks and the pronouncements of their “unnamed sources” at the blood-drenched State Department, Pentagon and national security agencies.”
Media is doing all it can to stop people’s awakening. It seems that, unable to counter Gabbard’s message of peace, they have blacked her out entirely. She isn’t invited to debates or town halls or media interviews; her name has even been dropped from many polls and surveys. Sanders at least gets negative coverage.
The results so far, with Sanders in the lead are joyfully heartening. I had thought that it would be impossible to compete in a presidential election without media coverage. But I was wrong. The Sanders campaign reaches people in other ways, by organizers who come to their community groups, and through social media. A Facebook friend reported “I just had a Mike Bloomberg canvasser come to my door. I let him know politely I’m voting for Bernie Sanders, and then he just gave me a fist bump and said, “Oh me too! Feel the Bern, homie!”
Why this is revolution
I don’t care how well-off you are. This system oppresses you, even if you’re an oppressor yourself. Sanders and Gabbard aren’t revolutionaries in the political sense, but they both call on us to throw off the chains of our isolated self-interest and our fears. Buddhist friends can check me on this, but Service before Self and Not me, Us feel like what the Buddha meant by “liberation.” Get over yourself; join the beautiful, infinite world. Liberated people do not fight imperialist wars, fear immigrant children or destroy their own environment.
True, service isn’t always good. People can Serve terrible things. The US Air Force, which commits horrible crimes, includes Service before Self as a core value, but they have to work very hard at brainwashing airmen about USAF’s role in the world to make this principle fit.
Not me, Us seems clearer. It sounds like socialism in three words. It is liberation. Having life not be about ourself frees us to go all-out to create a better world, to use what Malcolm X called “any means necessary.”
Liberating ourselves and freeing society are inter-related processes, it turns out, and both are essential for our survival. Could you even imagine a society like ours: scattered, alienated, scared, obsessed with possessions and status, making the changes we would need to address environmental destruction and climate change?
A better world will not come just from pressuring powerful people to change. You and I need to change, too. Regenerative agriculture could reclaim wasteland, produce food, and soak carbon from the air, but would require millions of people moving back to farms, learning how to farm, and doing hard physical work. Restorative justice — finding alternatives to incarceration — could allow us to close prisons and put all those prisoner and guard lives to better use, but restorative justice requires thousands of volunteers to work with lawbreakers and help them get their lives together. Reparations to communities traumatized by generations of oppression would enable us to create an inclusive society without race hatred, but that couldn’t be done just by writing a few checks. It would involve years of truth and reconciliation that will be uncomfortable for nearly everyone. And all those changes would damage the profits of powerful corporations. Peace might put them out of business. They will resist. Are you ready for a revolution like that? Because it won’t happen without you.
Spiritual people have long told us that changing the world always involves changing yourself. (A marvelous cinematic illustration of this truth is the Lebanese movie Where Do We Go Now? See it and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) Political people have argued back that working on yourself is a distraction; we need to focus on changing the system. But Bernie and Tulsi are saying we do them both together. The revolution will start with our own hearts and spread from there, by any means necessary. I’m asking everyone to embrace this change. Service before Self. Not me. Us.