Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ugly Dreams

(written July 2, 2002)

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Poetic words. They might have been strung together late at night by a college student with a set of poetic word magnets. But they were strung together by a remarkable woman living in remarkable times.

We live in these, our own remarkable times. Thousands of acres of trees are burning across the western United States, shooting flames hundreds of feet high, sustained by decades of irresponsible forest management. Hundreds of thousands of Indian and Pakistani men face each other across the disputed Kashmir region, backed by nuclear weapons and led by leaders threatening to release those nightmares from their rusting, flimsy cages. Millions of men, women and children in Africa are crashing to earth, felled by the interlinked ravages of powerlessness, poverty and AIDS, leaving ruined human networks...families, communities...behind.

Somewhere in occupied Palestine, another enraged suicide bomber is preparing to strap on his only available response to decades of humiliation and end dozens of human lives. And somewhere in terrified Israel, another young soldier is preparing to strap on his helmet, climb into his bulldozer, and mow down a village.

The fates of huge corporations, ingeniously shackled to the backs and bank accounts of ordinary workers through the 401(k) plan, hinge on executive decisions based solely on the goal of maximizing profit. The fate of the world economy and every individual’s ability to find food, a safe, comfortable place to sleep, the means to get to school and work, hinges on those corporate fates.

The United States Congress wrestles with the largest military spending increase in decades, trying to vanquish the phantom threat of “terrorist cells” created by US military expansionism, with force, with further global military abuse. Meanwhile, American citizens’ rights to privacy, freedom of speech and assembly, access to information, due process, trial by jury, voting and separation of church and state steadily seep underground through the haunted eyes, trembling, closed lips and shaking hands of our elected leaders, into the cracks beneath Capitol Hill.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s future is our present. She dreamed of a racially integrated, harmonious nation. We live in a nation of police brutality targeted at people of color, bolstered by a judicial system weighted against people of color, perforated by prisons full of people of color. And most people of color who are not in a prison of concrete and razor wire are just as trapped in the poverty prison of poor educations, violent neighborhoods, substandard housing and medical care, unliving wage jobs, substance abuse and an almost-unimaginable psychological burden of despair. The non-white of America comprise an endangered species of our human family.
But we have no Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to People.

Eleanor Roosevelt dreamed of an end to poverty. We live in a nation with a minimum-wage of $5.15 an hour. We have rampant unemployment and underemployment and a rushing job-drain flowing into Asia and South America, where workers earn less, live poorer, and are surrounded by more toxins. We have increasing malnutrition, obesity, cancer and related diseases, a crisis-level lack of affordable housing coupled with more homelessness, and average corporate CEO salaries 500 times average worker salaries, and still rising. One of our best-performing industries is pharmaceuticals, producing medications ever-more difficult to afford and targeted ever-more narrowly to newly-treatable/ increasingly-diagnosed mental disorders: a pack led by depression and anxiety.

Eleanor Roosevelt dreamed of a world safe and nurturing to children. Child abuse remains an epidemic. Schools are failing. War is everywhere, everywhere assaulting children.

Who did Eleanor Roosevelt’s future belong to? Why were their dreams so ugly?

More importantly, whose dreams are determining our future, the present that our children will wake up to some July morning 50 years from now?

If members of the Bush Administration, Congress and the Supreme Court could make the world over to their specifications by tomorrow, we would all wake up in a world of black, choking air, and all but one in a hundred would live in a small, shabby apartment in a garbage-strewn urban neighborhood. In each populated country -- North America and Western Europe -- people would drive each day past automated factories churning out processed foods laden with preservatives, past other factories producing drugs. We would pass shops selling plastic storage tubs and home furnishings, shiny electronic devices and cars, all produced in other factories. Those factories would be merrily spewing out toxic sludge to the air and water, but mostly in a depopulated, barren Asia and South America, while the Middle East would be empty save for oil wells, and Africa would be empty save for mineral mines.

At the end of our drive, we would arrive at the day’s shop to use the designated credit card of our ‘choice,’ spend our allotment, and return home to consume, place, install or park our new purchase, hauling our old, almost-identical version, to the curb.

We would have no work to do, only consuming. Most days we would head to the cancer clinic, or mental health clinic, or asthma clinic, for drugs. Most of our time would be spent watching television, going to movies, professional sports events or theme parks, eating factory-made and chute-delivered food, or shopping.

Why? Because capitalism -- the governing principle of America despite our universal yearning for the freedom of genuine democracy -- has no use for people: living people are an impediment to pure profit, and pure profit is capitalism’s ultimate goal, the ugly part of the corporate dream. Eventually, capitalism has no use for production or consumption at all: the most profit can be made by having no labor costs, no raw materials, no factory or office, no services, no storage or shipping costs, no shops or catalogs...nothing but money dancing from one investors’ pocket to the next.

Others, outside the White House, Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court, are dreaming more beautiful dreams for the world. We’re dreaming of clean energy supplies from wind, water and sun. We’re dreaming of guaranteed basic health care and inspiring education for all. We’re dreaming of guaranteed annual incomes for every person of every age. We’re dreaming of clean, light-filled, spacious homes for every family of every size, and well-cared for parks, lakes, beaches and oceans. We’re dreaming of healthy food, carefully cultivated on farms respecting the miracle of fertility. We’re dreaming of the freedom to choose how best we can contribute to the creative growth of ourselves and the people around us, and of the justice of finding the time and support we need, to contribute our gifts to the world, made readily available to all.

Do we believe in the beauty of our dreams enough to own the future? Only our children can tell us. Look at them. What do they see right now?


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