Letter to a Friend

This essay is really just a slightly edited email reply I sent to an old friend I’ve known since grammar school. I’ll be 81 next month and he’s a year older so it isn’t as if we haven’t had time and experience enough to analyze what is going on in our lives, our country, our planet, and our minds. I’m afraid I just let my annoyance show, but I think it may just be time. The paragraphs between the asterisks are the pertinent part of an email he sent me.

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“Somehow, I have this nagging feeling that the world is laughing its ass off at what is happening in America.

Is it not time to create a new form of government and get on with it ?........we do appear to be idiots, incapable of knowing what to do next.

In many ways, our generation seems to have been patriots and responsible folks. However, somewhere along the cycle, all of our values have been changed to "entitlement seeking adults who care only about themselves" and taught their children to seek only those things which are "free".

What happened............How did we ---- this up so badly?”

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Here is my reply:

You ask what has happened to the US. I do read and think about what has happened and what is happening. I have come to the easy conclusion that hard, brutal labor is not a good way to spend one’s life. There is plenty of pain in life without that. Just because one generation has to work in a salt mine doesn’t mean subsequent generations should have to do so as well. We actually have a chance to improve the lives of everyone alive today and to take care of other species and the Earth if we can stop the mindless greed of our corporate masters.

I disagree that we were "patriots and responsible folks" and that later generations are “entitlement seeking adults who care only about themselves” nor do I think we need a new form of government, we just need to return to the idea of “commonwealth” that made life decent for more of us when we were young. The rich, the plutocrats, the oligarchy, whatever you want to call our new corporate masters do not understand the idea of sharing. Jesus did. Buddha did. But the new elite only understands greed. Greed is not good. Fighting endless wars is not patriotism. It is simply an efficient way to enrich the wealthy while impoverishing everyone else and killing the planet. That is what our “patriotism" was all about from Korea on. Just the military-industrial complex exploiting its markets. Eisenhower warned us. He didn’t find patriotism so uplifting because he saw how it was being used to guarantee profits to Lockheed, Raytheon, and anyone else who could get their snout in the trough. The world is not laughing its ass off about us. The rest of the world is frightened of us. With good reason. We have military bases all over the world. We are fighting multiple wars at the same time and continuously. Hillary Clinton and our generals look as if they want to start an atomic war with Russia.

Automation is killing jobs left and right. Where do people get jobs nowadays? Typists and stenos aren’t needed. Factory work is being done by robots. There are few manual labor jobs going except for fruit and vegetable picking, some carpentry and electrical jobs for skilled workers, cobblers for those who can afford leather shoes, garbage collection, sewer maintenance, and other civil service jobs, and service jobs like Wal-Mart. You can still work in a donut shop if you can get the job before some other person does. Today is not like our boyhood or even like your daughters’ youth. Stop thinking today is like yesterday. It isn’t. With the wealthy stealing everything they can get their hands on, with overpopulation stressing the planet, with climate change happening far faster than anyone expected, with social safety nets being shredded and plundered by the oligarchy for their own gain, with the idea of caring for each other being corrupted into wanting “free stuff” how the hell can anyone think that business as usual is working?

Automation could lift everyone out of subsistence lives to easier and better lives if greed wasn’t our overriding goal. We no longer need to work long hours for subsistence wages if we would just learn to share. Why should some people have five or six mansions, private jets, and more money than they can spend in five or six lifetimes when much of the worlds’ populace is one meal away from starvation and has no medical care or dependable shelter and is in danger of being brutalized and murdered by soldiers of one kind or another? I don’t believe that wealth makes one better than someone who works manually or who can’t even find a job of any kind. In fact, to me great wealth is a sign of callousness, greed, and moral deficiency. The very things that Jesus talked about with scorn. Remember the rich man and the eye of the needle? The greatest evil in the world is not being out of work or being poor or even being lazy, it’s in being so selfish and so cocksure about one’s own worth that one does not give a damn about anyone who doesn’t look or act or speak or believe like oneself.

Corporations are plundering the entire earth with our government’s direct aid through the military and trade deals that are really just cover for making corporations superior to national governments and laws. We don’t need a new form of government because what we now have is a new form of government. We need to get the government back that we had in the forties and fifties. This change has come about purposefully by the planning of the wealthy and corporations to reverse the New Deal even before the ink was dry. Do you know that a wealthy cabal had plans to take over the US during Roosevelt’s first term of office? Smedley Butler and others stopped it just in time. The plutocratic plotters didn’t give up after being caught and what we have now is the fruition of their plans: government by corporations and their wealthy owners. For example, how about the student loan scams of universities and banks legalized by the US Government, about union busting, about the corporate capture of government regulatory bodies, about the concentration of radio, TV, and newspapers in six large corporations, about the price fixing of big pharma, about the loss of family farms and the degradation of our food by big agriculture, and on and on and on?

It seems to me that Christ’s message is very clear. He didn’t give a shit about whether or not someone was looking for an easy life, he just cared that people believed in taking care of each other and being good stewards of the earth. Corporations are the worst stewards possible. Their daily actions are evil: pollution, degraded food, and the unrelenting pursuit of wealth and power are the characteristics of the modern corporate state. The new ethos is that everything should be for sale: our water, our government services, our health, our private lives, in short, everything we need to live should be owned by the plutocrats and paid for by the rest of us on pain of suffering and death. This time is not the same as when we were young. It’s very different and the old rules don’t work. Unfortunately, too few understand what is happening and the extreme danger the Earth and all its inhabitants and species are in from this mindless corporate greed.

Now do you understand what has happened and what is happening and what is likely to happen in the future? It’s very unpleasant and dwelling on a return to an imagined past greatness and glory won’t work. Sorry.

Bob

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travelerxxx's picture

Greed is not good. Fighting endless wars is not patriotism.

If even half of our population understood just these two things, most of our problems would be solved.

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22 users have voted.
lotlizard's picture

Important as opposition to racism and anti-Semitism, sexism and misogyny, phobia of this or that minority, etc. may well be, we err if we act is if it is the priority and framing that pre-empts all others.

Such -isms and -phobias are not the Number One problem we need to be concerned about.

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12 users have voted.
tourniquet's picture

by a legislative body to rectify such distasteful -isms is going to result in failure. first of all, you'd have to classify people as exhibiting a certain unsavory -ism, and deal with the backlash. the next step? no idea. electroshock therapy?

you don't deal with idiots through legislation, you let them display their idiocy in the public sphere, and let them be publicly shamed. by the public.

thought policing has no place in a society with freedom of speech, and focusing on the idiots is a red herring.

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6 users have voted.

GIANT ALL-CAPS SIG

One drives the other, the a warped sense patriotism coupled with a of exceptionalism allows for evil to be committed as if it was good.

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14 users have voted.
Pluto's Republic's picture

Considering the level of frustration you must feel simply trying to get on the same page, your tone is pretty measured. The negotiation over reality is a tedious one, and intellectual honestly is such a burden, especially when you are carrying the entire load.

Everyone is grappling with similar issues, so thanks for posting this. It was an intriguing read because of its guilelessness.

My first thought was, "If these two have known each other for a lifetime, why are they so far apart? Could they be mere acquaintances who never spoke of the world around them?"

Or is it possible they knew each other well and engaged often — but the visibly damaging structural injustice that defines the American experience — just didn't come up over the past half century, or so? After all, Denial is a ubiquitous luxury in American society. It's the nation's core competency.

Clearly, the topic has been thrust upon both of you now, as it has so many.

There can be no denying that we bave entered a time of reckoning. The US has unleashed decades of brutal mayhem upon the world since, as you say, "Korea," and it must be accounted for. The American people have lurched into a cul-de-sac of self-awareness at the global level. It's as uncomfortable as it is inevitable. People feel as though they are being stalked by inconvenient truths. The denial and blind patriotism that has always restored their peace of mind, has abruptly stopped working.

It seems to me, your conversation has broken on the continental divide of the national polarity. One side is desperate to pin the blame on someone else for fundamental problems it won't acknowledge are problems. The other side is cycling through the damage, seeking a local correction to what has already evolved into a global feedback loop of looming consequences.

I think friendships are important now. We are all struggling with great challenges.

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21 users have voted.

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.
– Albert Camus
econoclast's picture

pluto, a good post

i've known polkageist for 54 years and we're going strong

about a year and a half ago i ended a friendship of 64 years, and it was painful, involving years of dithering procrastination
it was not about politics, it was about mutual disrespect for each other's changes

those changes had produced some serious political differences, but the problem was that mutual disrespect had infected nonpolitical topics as well
a relationship cannot endure that if disrespect sustains, and in this case it did
part of the problem was that, even after decades, we didn't adequately know the real other; we'd been unintentionally pretending all this time

this sort of thing may feed the political polarity we're suffering now
underneath all the labeling and uproar is a lot of pain

my personal view of spiritual is a three-way connection: with myself, with the other, and with the earth
as i've worked continually to sort this out for myself i've learned that my acculturation does not nurture these connections, and i've long felt alienated from my own tribe
so, step by step, i try to connect, reconnect and not break the connections
my former friend, a retired psychologist, does not understand this and i fear moves through life in an intellectualized stupor
sad, but sometimes a connection must break and i must move on

polkageist is breathing from the heart
we need more of this and less nattering

keep up the good work

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5 users have voted.
Raggedy Ann's picture

That sense has been worn thin over time thanks to Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War. When 9-11 happened, that sense was revived only to be squandered by Iraq and now the endlessness of it all.

Great response. I hope your friend gets it.

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“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”

-- Voltaire

jwa13's picture

and can you please let your c99 followers know if you hear anything back from your former friend?

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4 users have voted.

When Cicero had finished speaking, the people said “How well he spoke”.
When Demosthenes had finished speaking, the people said “Let us march”.

polkageist's picture

You asked what I heard back from him. Here is the pith of his reply:

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". . . without Corporate growth we would not be a "Giant" the rest of the world fears. We would not have the technology or jobs, which have led to additional technology development and a creative means of bright technical leader(s) development.

Bob Noyce ....did not create Intel to become rich. His goal was to achieve a greater opportunity to develop technical supremacy, which worked better than imagined. The same is true for other giants you mentioned.

Without the Corporate "determination" we have witnessed, our country would be similar to those who fear the USA.

China, Russia and numerous other socialist based governments have proven that "Sharing", doesn't work.

Man will never learn an effective manner of stopping or managing greed. Without the desire to achieve, there cannot be success.....on the other hand....

Political Greed is where the problem
is seated , in my opinion, which you do not address. Why? (Perhaps the rich you refer to are political leaders, such as a past POTUS) ????

If a man achieves rewards in excess, I see no reason to force him to "share" ... unless he is a politician."

***********

So there you have it. We should want to be feared; we should want "supremacy" both politically and militarily; socialism is communism is Stalinism is a bogey man that somehow disproves "sharing" is possible and limits it to totalitarianism; greed = achievement=success and no way to stop it.

Finally, he missed the whole point of the argument in saying I didn't address political greed. I never use the acronym "wtf", but it's sure appropriate here. What the hell did he read? It couldn't have been what I wrote. I know he isn't stupid so how is it he can't put together something as basic as great wealth conferring political power as it has done since Sumer or before. He isn't a naif and knows full well that the rich buy influence. Finally, he is a "devout Christian" (I'm not.) so I used Christian beliefs to make some of my points clear. Missed again.

Seventy years of knowing each other without much political discussion because of our obvious differences of political opinion has lead him to complete myopia or willful misunderstanding of what I wrote. He is an interesting man with some sterling qualities but with no ability to put himself in the other guy's shoes or, seemingly, to understand written logical discourse. The friendship is definitely limited in its possibilities for communication after this. If he is representative of a large section of our populace, the noble democratic experiment that was the United States will have failed. Quite frankly I am appalled at his failure to read and attempt to understand my points. I don't know how much more clearly I could have written. I published this essay/email to explicate some of my frustration at our situation as humans and US citizens but didn't expect such a non-answer. It is discouraging. Well, I've gotten this old without running amok about stupid people, so I guess I will just continue to enjoy what my fellow C99ers have to say and stop trying to influence the unwilling.

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8 users have voted.

Greed is not a virtue.
Socialism: the radical idea of sharing.

for a thoughtful and very well written response to what I think is the question whose answer will determine the future of the US and possibly mankind. War, inequality, greed, corruption, corporatism, climate change, all of it and more are but symptoms of a greater problem brought on by our inability and/or refusal to understand we are all in this life and world together.

I find it amazing that we have come from the Depression/WW2 generations who got through those times by relying on one another to an era where dog eat dog, you're completely on your own, and grab all you can by any means is accepted as the American way. The whole world can go to hell as long as we get what we want, no, deserve because we are the best country in the world, you know the good guys. Everything I learned as a young boy growing up in the '50s and '60s about community, fair play, and the golden rule way of treating people has been turned on it's head. I watched it happen, bought into it for a time, and still don't understand how.

I also don't think how it happened makes a bit of difference. We have to turn it around. The only way I know to do that is one person at a time. I've been trying with friends to do just that since about 9/11. That one event was the point where I finally knew without a doubt that America was lost to "'Murica!! Fuck Yeah!!" I've alienated a few along the way but I see a few coming around. This election has opened eyes where my powers of persuasion failed for years. Regrettably, some of them still can't get beyond seeing Trump being stopped as their top priority. One whose politics have become close to mine still "couldn't forgive myself if my not voting for Hillary put Trump in office." He lives in Texas which is only one tiny thing wrong with that statement. Another is of Jewish decent who invokes fascism and the Holocaust. So much,"Yeah, yeah, you're right about Hilary but Trump....". I guess it's going to take some more experience with her corruption, warmongering, and time for them to completely change their thinking. I'm not letting up on them though after the election. I don't know what will finally flip the switch and I don't want to miss an chance of it happening for them. I hope your friend eventually takes the leap.

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I am a life-long Progressive and have voted for Democratic candidates with a very few exceptions. To me, the Republican philosophy was wrong and their greed for power was abusive.

... until now

Having been a Bernie supporter and now a Jill supporter I am acutely aware that the Democrat party is just as much a party of unending greed and corruption for power. Their undemocratic support of Clinton is an eye-opener. Clinton is a repugnant, greed obsessed, corrupt politician, yet gets unwavering support of the Democratic leadership. I now can see clearly what Republicans have been saying about the Democrats. This changes nothing about my view of the Republican party. I think that rank and file Republicans are also fed up -- thus Trump's successful candidacy.

We are all now starting with the same goal, a different and better country. I have to believe that we have some overlap on goals, for instance, privacy rights, stopping Wall Street greed, stop all of the needless expensive wars, eliminate government corruption and more. Wait a second, we agree on a huge set of issues. Could this possibly be a huge opportunity, especially since we can now get off the Party Train?

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7 users have voted.

Capitalism has always been the rule of the people by the oligarchs. You only have two choices, eliminate them or restrict their power.

Yours is another wonderful comment among a number triggered by a wonderful essay, continuing the thoughts begun by the also insightful one currently just above yours.

You are all American citizens/residents of the Earth, all wanting a decent life in a decent and sustainable world which will continue so that your descendants can live normal, healthy and happy lives and the carefully created divisions among citizens are as nothing beside this and so many other things...

Where there is life, there is hope. We must dream big, big enough to drive the nightmare away and make our dreams come true.

Edit to cut a couple of words.

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4 users have voted.

Psychopathy is not a political position, whether labeled 'conservatism', 'centrism' or 'left'.

A tin labeled 'coffee' may be a can of worms or pathology identified by a lack of empathy/willingness to harm others to achieve personal desires.

I read it aloud to my 24 year old son. I am saving this essay to share bits of it, if I may, with some of my own friends who seem to have fallen for the propaganda.

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polkageist's picture

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Greed is not a virtue.
Socialism: the radical idea of sharing.

Creosote.'s picture

You directly and eloquently describe the probably mortal sea change this country and those few in it who are genunely alive know they are in the midst of. To quote our Laureate, "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."
You brought a welcome lantern.

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