January 23, 2014

The groveling plague

When someone first sent me this column, titled "Is West Virginia a Cult?" I groaned. On reflection, though, the writer had a point or two.

I mean, how messed up is it when people brag about how much abuse they are able to take from their ruling class?

Or when the state's leading politician, Senator Joe Manchin, brags about West Virginians being willing and able to do the "heavy lifting"? (Translation: getting shafted by rich corporations and saying, "Thank you sir! May I have another?")

The writer kind of nailed it here:

"The hard-luck people of Appalachia deserve their reputation for physical courage and a strong work ethic. But they suffer more from servility than bad luck. Outsiders wince when the  natives angrily declare their independent spirit and then cringe before corporate polluters, however tawdry."

Actually, polluting isn't even half of the story. Let's not forget killing workers on the job, either by fast or slow methods and getting away with it.

The sad part is that I remember a time when West Virginians weren't as good at groveling before their masters as they are today. I'd like to think that this boot-licking phase will pass. I guess we'll see.

January 22, 2014

Rant alert

I feel a major one coming on. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe in print rather than online. But one's on the way.

The rant will be related to the "aquacalypse" that has hit around 300,000 West Virginians over the past several days.

I've been thinking about how when Senator Joe Manchin was governor he took down the popular "Wild, wonderful West Virginia" signs at the borders and put up ones that said "Open for business" until popular outcry got too loud to ignore.

(Maybe that sign should now be updated to say "Open for poison.")

West Virginia has indeed been wide open for certain kinds of business for the last 100 years or so to get away with murder, metaphorically and sometimes literally. And, with some notable exceptions, the state's political leaders have done all they could to help.

Now the chickens have come home to roost, as real chickens do. And one irony of all this is that this "open for business" attitude helped lead to this toxic mess that will make it even harder to attract the kinds of people and businesses and investments we need to move beyond the pillage economy.

I'd also like to ask a couple of WV's top level politicians a question. That question is this: "if the people of West Virginia one of these days get sick and tired of being sold out to corporations by politicians, how much do you think your life would change?"

My guess is, a lot.

January 21, 2014

It's not all bad news

This New York Times article shows how Medicaid expansion is touching the lives of thousands of people in West Virginia.

THIS, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS PRETTY BAD. The richest 1 percent of the world's population now owns half the world's wealth:

In its study titled "Working for the Few," the British-founded development charity Oxfam concludes that the $110 trillion wealth of the 1 percent richest people on the planet is some 65 times the total wealth of those floundering at the "bottom half" of the world's population.
Further, this "bottom half" now owns the same as the richest 85 people in the world and the wealthiest grew their share of bounty in 24 our of 26 countries surveyed between 1980 and 2012...


January 20, 2014

The uses of history: reflections on Nietzsche and Martin Luther King Jr.

I've been running around too much lately to come up with a fresh post, but here's one from MLK Day six years ago. Parts of it are fortunately dated (ending the Iraq war), but most holds up.

El Cabrero has been thinking about the uses of history lately. This seems like a fitting topic on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had some interesting things to say on this topic in his essay "On the uses and disadvantages of history for life" in his Untimely Meditations.

As the title of the essay suggests, Nietzsche wasn't interested in history as a social science or academic discipline but rather in how people can make use of history for their own purposes, and specifically to enhance human vitality.

The essay begins with a quote from Goethe:

"In any case, I hate everything that merely instructs me without augmenting or directly invigorating my activity."

Thinking about history has some risk since life requires both remembering and forgetting and we can suffer from both a scarcity and a surplus of historical awareness. We can get lost in the past to the detriment of the present.

Nietzsche identified three ways in which history could serve to enhance human life:

*There is a need to revere, conserve and treasure those things of the past that give people a sense of identity. He called this the antiquarian approach.

*For oppressed people, there is at times a need to "break up and dissolve a part of the past...bringing it before a tribunal, scrupulously examining it and finally condemning it..." He called this the critical approach.

*For those who aspire to making their own mark on history, the past can contain inspiring examples of the deeds of others. From these, we learn "that the greatness that once existed was in any event once possible and may thus be possible again..." He calls this the monumentalistic conception of history.

In the context of remembering the life and work of Dr. King and the tens of thousands of others who made huge gains for civil rights and social justice, the latter approach can be most useful to our life today. It would be tragic to allow this huge struggle to simply become a pious memory instead of a goad to action.

Here is one way to think about the legacy of Dr. King and others in Nietzsche's monumentalistic manner:

Once upon a time not too long ago, a relatively small number of people, in spite of all their human limitations, made a huge difference to the nation and the world against all odds. The fact that it was done is proof that it can be done.

That's the awareness we need to bring to the struggle for a living wage for working people. As Dr. King wrote in Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?,

There is nothing but a lack of social vision to prevent us from paying an adequate wage to every American citizen whether he be a hospital worker, laundry worker, maid, or day laborer.

That's the awareness we need to bring to the struggle to restore the rights of workers to organize, a struggle for which King literally gave his life in Memphis.

That's the awareness that we need to bring to the struggle to end the unnecessary war in Iraq and reshape America's domestic and foreign agenda. As King said,

There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.

In other words, don't just remember the past, use it as an inspiration. Other people, who were just as screwed up as we are, did pretty damn good. It's our turn.