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You say you want a devolution.

Imagine yourself in the office of a public-relations firm trying to turn people into ideal, manipulatable atoms of consumption who are going to devote their energies to buying things they don't want because you tell them they want those things. They're never going to get together to challenge anything, and they won't have a thought in their heads except doing what they're told. A utopia.

Suppose you're trying to do that. What you do is get them to hate and fear the government, fear the bigness of the government, but not look at the Fortune 500, nor even medium-sized businesses, not ask how they work. You don't want people to see that. You want them to worry about the one thing they might get involved in and that might protect them from the depredations of private power. So you develop a mood of anti-politics.

That's what has happened in America. People hate the government, fear the government, are worried about the bureaucrats.

Take, say, health care. There's a lot of concern that the government bureaucrats will be controlling it, yet there are many more bureaucrats in insurance offices who are already in control. But that's not what people worry about. It's not those pointy-headed bureaucrats in insurance offices who are making us fill out these forms and telling us what to do, and we're got to pay for their lunches and their advertising while they propagandize us. That's not what people's anger is focused on. What it's focused on, after a very conscious manipulation and a perfectly rational design, is this dangerous federal bureaucracy.

What's going on now with the attempt at devolution--the effort to reduce decision-making to the state level--makes great sense if you believe in tyranny. Devolution could be a step toward democracy, but not when you've got private tyrannies around.

General Electric is not influenceable by the population except very indirectly through regulatory mechanisms, which are very weak and which they mostly control anyhow. But you can't vote to decide what GE ought to do, and you can't participate in those decisions.

When you've got private tyrannies around, the only institution that at least in part reflects public involvement, that can cope with them, is the federal government.

Let's say you send block grants down to the states. Even middle-sized businesses have all kinds of ways of pressuring states to make sure that this money ends up in their pockets and not in the pockets of hungry children. evolution under these circumstances is a great way to increase tyranny and to decrease the threat of democracy as well as to shift resources even more dramatically toward the rich and away from the poor. That's the obvious consequence of the current devolution.

But I've never seen it discussed in the mainstream. What's discussed are complete irrelevancies, like whether we can trust the governors to care for the poor.

What's that got to do with anything? It's totally meaningless. But that kind of absurdity is what's discussed, not the obvious, overwhelming fact that distributing governmental resources to the lower levels will simply make them more susceptible to the influence and control of private power. That's the major fact. And it's part of the same anti-politics: to weaken the federal government.

But not all of the federal government is being weakened. It's just being changed.

The security system is expanding, not only the Pentagon, but even the internal security system--jails, etc. That's not just for control, although it's partly for that. It's also a way of transferring resources to the rich, which is virtually never discussed.

In fact, this manipulation is almost off the agenda, unless you read the business press. But it's overwhelmingly significant. It ought to be a front-page article every day.

By now the sham is so obvious it's hard to miss. The Russians are gone. The Pentagon's budget stays the same; in fact, it's even going up.

It's there for the same reason it always was. How else are Newt Gingrich's rich constituents going to stay rich? You obviously can't subject them to market discipline. They'll be out selling rags! They wouldn't know what it means to exist in a market.

What they know is, the government puts money in their pockets, and the main way it does so is through the whole Pentagon system. In fact, the criminal security system is beginning to take on this character. It's reached, if not the scale of the Pentagon, a sufficient scale so that the big investment firms and even the high-tech industry, the defense industry, are getting intrigued by the prospects of feeding off another public cash cow. So it's not that the government is getting weaker.

But the long and very successful effort over many, many years to get people to focus their fears and angers and hatreds on the government has had its effect.

We all know there's plenty to be upset about. The primary thing to be upset about is that the government is not under popular influence. It is under the influence of private powers. But then to deal with that by giving private, unaccountable interests even more power is just beyond absurdity. It's a real achievement of doctrinal managers to have been able to carry this off.


The new Republicans represent a kind of proto-fascism. There's a real sadism. They want to go for the jugular. Anybody who doesn't meet their standards, they want to kill, not just oppose, but destroy. They are quite willing to try to engender fear and hatred against immigrants and poor people. They are very happy to do that. Their attitudes are extremely vicious. You can see it all over.

Take the governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, who's supposed to be a moderate, nice-guy type. Just last week every day in the newspapers there was another headline about forcing people out of homeless shelters if he didn't like the way they lived.

Some mother took a day off to take care of a mentally retarded child. OK, out of the homeless shelter. He doesn't like that. He thinks she should work, not take care of her child.

Some disabled veteran didn't want to move into a well-known drug den. OK, out in the street.

That's one day. The next day he says state social services have to report to the INS if they think somebody may be an illegal immigrant. Then that person gets deported. Which means that person's child gets deported. The child could well be an American citizen. So American citizens have to be deported, according to the governor, if he doesn't like their parents being here.

This is day after day. Pure sadism. Very self-conscious.

Weld is not a fool. And he's trying to build public support for it by building up fear and hatred. The idea is, there are these teenage kids who are black by implication (although you don't say that in a liberal state) who are just ripping us off by having lots and lots of babies. We don't want to let them do that. So let's hate them and let's kick them in the face. That's real fascism.

And that's the liberal side. It's not the Gingrich shock troops. That's the liberal, moderate, educated side. This aggression runs across the spectrum.

In the long term, I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with federalism and associations and so on. On the other hand, right now, I'd like to strengthen the federal government. The reason is, we live in this world, not some other world. And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private power that are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as anything humans have devised.

There's only one way of defending rights that have been attained, or of extending their scope in the face of these private powers, and that's to maintain the one form of illegitimate power that happens to be somewhat responsible to the public and which the public can indeed influence.

So you end up supporting centralized state power even though you oppose it.

I would propose a system that is democratic, and you don't have democracy unless people are in control of the major decisions.

And the major decisions, as has long been understood, are fundamentally investment decisions: What do you do with the money? What happens in the country? What's produced? How is it produced? What are working conditions like? Where does it go? How is it distributed? Where is it sold?

Unless that range of decisions is under democratic control, you have one or another form of tyranny. That is as old as the hills and as American as apple pie. You don't have to go to Marxism or anything else. It's straight out of the mainstream American tradition.

That means total dismantling of all the totalitarian systems. The corporations are just as totalitarian as Bolshevism and fascism. They come out of the same intellectual roots, in the early Twentieth Century. So just like other forms of totalitarianism have to go, private tyrannies have to go. And they have to be put under public control.

Then you look at the modalities of public control. Should it be workers' councils, or community organizations, or some integration of them? What kind of federal structure should there be?

At this point you're beginning to think about how a free and democratic society might look and operate. That's worth a lot of thought. But we're a long way from that.

The first thing you've got to do is to recognize the forms of oppression that exist. If slaves don't recognize that slavery is oppression, it doesn't make much sense to ask them why they don't live in a free society. They think they do. This is not a joke.

Take women. Overwhelmingly, and for a long time, they may have sensed oppression, but they didn't see it as oppression. They saw it as life. The fact that you don't see it as oppression doesn't mean that you don't know it at some level. The way in which you know it can take very harmful forms for yourself and everyone else. That's true of every system of oppression.

But unless you sense it, identify it, understand it, you cannot proceed to the next step, which is: How can we change the system?

I think you can figure out how to change the system by reading the newspapers that were produced by twenty-year-old young women in Lowell, Massachusetts, 150 years ago, who came off the farms and were working in the factories. They knew how to change the system. They were strongly opposed to what they called "the new spirit of the age: gain wealth, forgetting all but self." They wanted to retain the high culture they already had, the solidarity, the sympathy, the control. They didn't want to be slaves. They thought that the Civil War was fought to end slavery, not to institute it.

All of these things are perfectly common perceptions, perfectly correct. You can turn them into ways in which a much more free society can function.
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Title Annotation:excerpted from 'Alternative Radio' program interview; dismantling federal government functions
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 1996
Previous Article:Hillary as diversion.
Next Article:Banishing the disabled.

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