Philosophy of Politics

The political sphere in the U.S. at the moment is full of lively debate. Health care, climate change, same-sex marriage, war, and a variety of other topics are leading to increasingly contentious clashes between various social movements, large economic and political institutions, and various political parties and perspectives. So far, most of my response to this has consisted of scattered piecemeal commentary on single issues as they come up on Facebook or elsewhere. The time has come, however, for a more comprehensive analysis of the situation.

Revolution of One was my first effort at a comprehensive approach to politics. My focus in that book, however, is almost purely practical. The book outlines a simple but powerful strategy that individuals and communities who believe in ecological and social justice can use to empower themselves, improve their communities, and create a better society. Rather than making arguments in favor of that sort of society, it describes personal practices, community organizations, and regional projects that can serve as catalysts in the transformation from here to there.

I still stand by Revolution of One, and I still believe it can be a powerful tool for many people who already have values and sensibilities similar to my own. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I’d like to write a comprehensive explanation of what my political philosophy is and why I believe what I do.

This is no simple or easy task. Really, it is the life’s work of any author who chooses to focus on philosophy of politics. I’ve decided that the best way for me to go about this is by writing a series of individual articles on various components of my philosophy. Who knows — in the long run, I may even tie them together into a book someday.

I’ll be sharing these articles in my blog, in a new section of my website, and on my Facebook and MySpace profiles. I’ll be starting with at least one or two general articles that explore what I consider to be the foundations of the philosophy of politics and my own approach to political philosophy. Then, I’ll be moving on to articles about “single-issue” debates such as health care, climate change, same sex marriage, and war.

To someone who’s not a philosopher or a politician, this may sound a bit dry and dull. But I think it has the potential to be incredibly exciting. Revolutionary thinkers of the past have often developed their philosophies through extensive correspondence and lively political debate. At the time, an outsider may have just seen two philosophers or politicians exchanging letters or having a purely intellectual debate. But in the end, on a good day, these are the sorts of discussions that can shape the course of entire nations.

And that, I dare say, is my goal.

I still have tremendous faith in the power of the written and spoken word to shape the hearts, minds, and actions of the people. I also have faith in the idea that reason, rational discourse, and strategic action in the service of our greatest and deepest potential as human beings is one of our greatest hopes in the struggle for creating a better world.

Rather than looking to “leaders” and “experts” for answers to our philosophical questions and solutions to our political problems, we must look to ourselves and each other. And in that spirit, as time permits, I will press onward with a variety of explorations of philosophy of politics.

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DONATION: Carbondale Climate Action Network

This week, I’m making a donation to the Carbondale Climate Action Network.

As some of you may remember, CCAN organized the Sustainable State of the City address in December of last year. This was both in response to the local State of the City address and the global climate conference in Copenhagen.

CCAN is still a very young organization, and I’ve been involved with the group since before it even had a name. Human-caused climate change is one of the most important issues facing humanity at this point in history. Our current levels of carbon emissions are rapidly shifting the global climate out of balance. This isn’t some projection for the future; the negative consequences to human beings, and the ecosystems that all life depends upon, have already started. If you’d like more information on the science, check out websites such as Skeptical Science: Examining Global Warming Skepticism and 350 (parts per million of carbon dioxide).

Speaking on the state of the city was only the start of our community involvement. Since that day, we’ve been following up on some of the points mentioned in our presentation and looking into ways in which Carbondale and Southern Illinois can become regional models of social, economic, and ecological resilience.

Currently, I think the most promising lead is the Transition Towns initiative.

The Transition Towns initiative invites us to ask ourselves the following question: How can our community respond to the challenges, and opportunities, of Peak Oil and Climate Change? Once we ask ourselves this question, the Transition Towns network offers a variety of resources that many communities have used, and are continuing to use, in order to transition toward a more resilient community life that can take us beyond Peak Oil and Climate Change.

We’ve started a discussion group in order to examine the Transition Towns movement and what it might look like here in Carbondale. It will take us some time to read and discuss the material. In the meantime, we’re working on other events such as a seed exchange coming up on February 20th.

Our expenses are minimal, but our budget is non-existent, so this donation may go toward securing meeting or event space while we study the Transition Towns material and develop future plans.

If you’d like more information on the Carbondale Climate Action Network, I encourage you to visit our blog at the link above. If you’d like to show your support with a donation of time, energy, or funding, I encourage you to come to one of our meetings or contact me for more information.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for any support you can send our way!

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Featured Causes First Quarter 2010

Once every three months, I select three local community groups to recognize as Featured Causes. We have many good groups here in Southern Illinois, and I feel that selecting these Featured Causes is a good way to bring them to your attention a few at a time, thereby offering them additional support through special recognition.

Here are the Featured Causes for First Quarter 2010:

Good Samaritan House Ministries : Good Samaritan House Ministries is a tax-exempt organization, established in 1985 by Carbondale Interfaith Council, to provide services to the needy in the Carbondale area. They provide an emergency shelter, a transitional housing program, a soup kitchen, a food pantry, and an emergency assistance program. Many of my fellow Real Life Superheroes focus on helping the homeless and needy in their communities. Learning from their example, I would like to do the same here in our community. Good Sam is one of the organizations right here in Carbondale that provides such services on a daily basis. I’m also open to suggestions about how to help the homeless, and people living below the poverty line, in other ways.

Gaia House Interfaith Center : I’ve chosen the Gaia House Interfaith Center for a second quarter of special recognition. This community center has been undergoing a renaissance in the past semester or two, bringing a renewed burst of progressive activity to life in our community. They’ve been an important part of the open, progressive, diversity-embracing community since the middle of the 20th Century. Their programs for Spring 2009 include the weekly InterVeg vegetarian dinner; Rice and Spice, a weekly international slow foods dinner; Progressive Christian Students meal and discussion series; Spiritual Not Religious, a series exploring spiritual life for university students; Gaia Gatherings, an informal monthly potluck to talk about the center’s mission and vision; and a variety of other programs related to ecological living and social justice. The Center is home to the Labyrinth Peace Garden, an extensive lending library, a large community kitchen, and space upstairs and downstairs for meetings, dinners, and other events. You can support Gaia House by coming to one of their many exciting events or renting the Center to host an event of your own.

WDBX 91.1 FM : WDBX is a community radio station located in Carbondale, Illinois. With over a hundred volunteer DJs offering music, talk radio, and beyond, we are by far the most diverse and independent station in the region. I also co-host a show on WDBX called Your Community Spirit every Friday at 10 am. Your Community Spirit features local events as well as ecological and social justice news. We bring you the dirt, but we always do it with an upbeat focus and a goofy sense of humor. If you’re not in Southern Illinois, you can listen through streaming audio on the website. If you are in Southern Illinois, you can join us for the WDBX Ball on February 13! See the website for more details.

Of course, I’m slightly off of the quarter cycle at the moment since I started the program a month into Fourth Quarter 2009 and didn’t update it until a month into First Quarter 2010. Therefore, I will continue featuring these groups until mid-April, after which point we should be back on track.

I’d like to send out a big thank you to everyone involved in organizing these groups, and everyone else involved in supporting them. If you’re not already involved, you can become a supporter too by making a donation or participating in their events.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me or the group in question. I look forward to seeing you out in the community!

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Real Life Supervillains: The Corporation

In my previous blog entry, I talked about my definition of a Real Life Supervillain and listed three broad categories that I would group them into: corporations and their executives, governments and their officials, and private fanatics and their supporters. Now, I’d like to talk about the most prevalent, and arguably the most powerful, of these Real Life Supervillains: namely, The Corporation.

As I mentioned earlier, there is an excellent documentary on the subject called The Corporation. This film offers an overview of the history of the corporation as a legal structure and its growing influence in the United States and the rest of the world. One of the best things about this film is that it’s thoroughly entertaining, yet also introduces the viewer to plenty of important background information along the way.

If you haven’t seen this film, I highly encourage you to check it out. If you can’t afford the DVD, you can check out the official free version of The Corporation on YouTube. Whether you’ve seen it or not, though, here’s my perspective on the issue.

Corporations as they exist today are relatively new and bizarre institutions. In the United States, they are viewed as “legal persons.” As such, they have been granted most if not all of the same rights as “natural persons” like you and me.

At first, this may sound like a strange but relatively harmless legal construct. And really, for most non-profits and some small for-profits, that’s all that it is.

But in the hands of people who understand their true nature and power, corporations are like mecha — enormous walking war machines that can lay waste to whole cities, or even entire nations. These Corporate Mecha march unchecked across our landscape to feed their hunger for infinite profit at any cost. They exhaust our resources, consume our labor, poison our bodies and our land, and bend our political system to their will. The logos of the corporations are like battle flags, plastered on every surface and raised high on steel poles to mark the territory that they’ve claimed. They enjoy all of the legal protections and benefits of “natural persons,” but they cannot be jailed, they cannot be killed, and they know no compassion or mercy in their relentless search for profit. In fact, executives who fail to value profit over ecological and social justice can be prosecuted for failure to uphold their fiduciary duties.

I wish that this poetic rant were a work of pure fiction. I wish that my objections to the Corporation were purely hypothetical. I wish that your friendly neighborhood chain store, chain restaurant, and other corporate outlets were really as friendly and neighborly as they make themselves out to be. However, these organizations really have had a tremendous and largely negative impact on our society and world — and their influence and power is only growing.

The most destructive of these corporations pose at least two types of threats: material threats to our people and resources, and political threats to our freedom and democracy.

In the short term, and on the surface, a corporate chain store or restaurant can seem like a blessing to a community. They offer temporary jobs in construction or renovation, “permanent” jobs in retail, and maybe even a new type of product or service that the community didn’t have before. In the long term, though, these corporate chains are destructive both locally and globally.

Locally, they strongarm city governments into providing tax breaks and other subsidies for the privilege of having a new corporate chain open in their city. Once they’re in a community, they drive local businesses out of business using the leverage provided to them by their parent corporation, then proceed to funnel an endless stream of money out of the community to the parent corporation. Then, if profits fluctuate or tax breaks run out, they will abandon the community at the drop of a hat, leaving a gaping hole in the local economy.

Globally, they are a menace to the societies in which they operate. They move any labor-intensive operations such as manufacturing and resource extraction to developing nations with few or no environmental or human rights regulations. They regularly push the boundaries of legality in terms of how they treat their workers, their communities, and the land — and if it’s cheaper to pay a fine than to comply with the law, they will break the law, time and again.

There are far too many corporations behaving in this way for me to cite them all individually. If you’re curious for details on your favorite big corporation, you can go to CorpWatch or Crocodyl: Collaborative Research on Corporations and search for the corporation’s name. Here are just a few examples of corporations that have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their role as Real Life Supervillains:

The overall effect of these and other menacing corporations on our society is a concentration of wealth into the hands of a very small group of people, and the distribution of tremendous harm (“externalities” such as pollution, sickness, and poverty) over a very large group of people.

These crimes alone — and the institutional logic of a for-profit corporation that makes these crimes virtually inevitable — are reason enough to rethink the corporation’s role in our society. But worse than all of these material threats is the threat that these corporations pose to our very freedom and democracy.

Since corporations are considered “legal persons” by the government, they are allowed to interact with government officials and candidates in many of the ways that we as citizens do. They can lobby representatives; they can buy or run political ad campaigns; they can even give money to candidates or the committees to elect the candidates. And a recent Supreme Court decision stated that there should be no limits on how much money corporations can donate to candidates and their campaigns. This decision not only opens the way for further corruption in terms of corporations buying off candidates by funding their campaigns, but also creates an entirely new threat to our democracy by potentially allowing individuals, governments, or corporations to secretly fund candidates and tamper with elections.

This is more than just a partisan debate over a particular policy. This is a real and serious threat to our freedom, our democracy, and the future of our nation and our planet. Some of these corporations have more money and power than entire nations. They’re using this influence not only to extract a private profit at great social and ecological expense, but also to tamper with the democratic process itself.

These corporations are arguably the closest things to Real Life Supervillains that I’ve ever seen. Their power is immense, and the threat that they pose is almost incomprehensible. But the power of the people is also immense, and our potential to do good in the world by working together in a cooperative and strategic manner is virtually unlimited.

We must stand up for our freedom, and for our democracy, and for the very survival of life as we know it. We must drive these corporations out of our society, and we must create our own local and cooperative businesses and institutions and support networks to replace the products and services of the corporations. If we don’t, I shudder to think what horrors we may see in our own lifetime, and what sort of world we may leave for future generations.

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My name is Treesong. I'm a father, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois. I write novels, short stories, and poetry, mostly about the climate.

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