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Life is Gift, not Possession

by Marc Batko Saturday, Jun. 28, 2008 at 1:32 AM

In "Kaspar Hauser," Jacob Wassermann describes a town suffering under a long drought. With the wells dry, the town becomes enmeshed in violence and recrimination until a little boy plays so beautifully on his flute that water rises again in the wells.


Justice is More Than Rewarding Achievers

By Marc Batko

In “Kaspar Hauser,” Jacob Wassermann describes a town suffering from a long drought. With the wells dry, the town becomes enmeshed in violence and recrimination until a little boy plays so beautifully on his flute that water rises again in the wells.

Consumerism, trickle-down mythology and the market as a self-healing panacea or elixir have led to social paralysis in monopoly capitalism. Profit eclipses social welfare. Concentration of power has led to the domination of corporate media and corporate inevitability. Convinced “there is no alternative,” (Margaret Thatcher’s phrase implying that society isn’t a reality, only individuals) people are caught in the mythology of CEOs as “job creators” and workers as “cost-factors.” This language distortion is a product of our “elite democracy,” where definitional power is exercised by capital and elites. Since the market is stylized as sacrosanct and self-healing, all problems are explained as interferences with the market.

Hope and truth seem like foreign bodies in a society still clinging to the “work religion.” Myopia, self-righteousness and prejudice become ingrained as “natural laws.” All life seems colonized by “instrumental rationality” (Jurgen Habermas). Dialogue and relationships are dominated by money. Teachers become dispirited when questions are reduced to “Will it be on the test?” and “Will it put money in our pockets?” As Harvey Cox explains in “Feast of Fools,” memory and hope, festivity and fantasy fall by the wayside in a society of vulgar materialism that decries criticism and spirituality. To the vulgar materialist, everything inward, spiritual and divine is meaningless. Only what can be put in one’s pocket is deemed real. The culture of denial and distraction breaks free of the wisdom of elders and the iconoclasm of the child and becomes its own ethic and goal. In the conflict between the national security state and the free moral state, alternatives to violence hardly get a hearing.

A new beginning is possible when we break free of the myths and rationalizations of unbridled capitalism. Opening ourselves to the resistance traditions in literature, philosophy, theology and sociology, we discover that being is more important than having (Erich Fromm) and that possessions can be thorns blocking our return to authenticity. Prejudices could be stepping-stones on the way to the event of understanding (Hans Georg Gadamer, “Truth and Method”) when we see that all life and interpretation are interest-conditioned. Life is gift and time is borrowed from the future in a penultimate and multi-polar world. We do not face “the end of history” (Fukuyama) but the effects of social disconnection where work and life must be redefined and reclaimed from the powerful and the sociopaths who have usurped definitional power.

According to the myth, higher profits bring higher investments and more jobs. In reality, exploding inequality and trickle down mythology threaten the cohesion of society. The corporate media fixated on maximum profit and obedient to its advertisers not its audience depicts migrants as threats. A future of balance and trust requires emphasizing inclusion and positive difference, mending our own pockets and correcting our collective aberrations through wisdom and dialogue. The other is not a projection or extension of the self. Rather as Martin Buber and Jurgen Moltmann explain, the other can be a new beginning when we see ourselves as changeable and interdependent. If life is dialogical, we relate to one another as question and answer and come to life in being questioned.

Is the future open and dynamic or closed and static? Does the Sabbath exist for people or do people exist for the Sabbath? Does the state have a social nature or is it only a power and security state, a treasure-chest for the super-rich? Is the market self-healing, total and absolute or an instrument helpful after we define what kind of society we want?

“Capitalism is not a house of cards that would collapse with the least breath of state investments in the infrastructure. Capitalism is robust. It is possible to combine a high incomer level, growth and innovations with a high measure of social security.” (Jeffrey Sachs) The Scandinavian states show that these aren’t empty words but social reality that we ignore at our peril.

Mending our own pockets, creating family-wage jobs paying into social security, loosening the cap so high-income persons pay into social security and redefining work, security, health and strength are imperatives of social justice. Albert Einstein said, Hiroshima changed everything except the way we think. The one thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history. Weapons are destabilizing, not stabilizing. Sharing power and accepting a multi-polar world are realistic, not the myths of empire and rewriting history.

Facing changed realities, seeing social injustice and inclusion as priorities, combining competition and cooperation could be signs of sensitivity and love of the future.


Scapegoating is easier than facing systemic and structural contradictions. Imagining the market as self-healing and stylizing all problems as interferences with the market seems the path of least resistance though it is the path of unreality and unsustainability. When left to the market, health care, education and housing become privileges and no longer rights. Public spirit falls by the wayside and human dignity and social justice reduced to equal opportunity and justice for achievers. Creating community centers would have a multiplier effect in making possible counseling, classes and liberating interaction. Otherwise our gifts and visions lie buried in a frenzied one-dimensional society that thoughtlessly deifies competition.

A soft feudalism with exploding inequality that only combats symptoms seems inevitable without rethinking and redefining work, security, strength and health. The “best of all possible worlds” (Voltaire) is only a caricature of a human world. The magnificent airplane has a thousand flaws. With the melting or “corrected” dollar, we are left waiting for China, Dubai or Russia to go on a shopping spree or becoming China’s military supplier.

The hunger, oil, financial, water, climate change, poverty and exhaustion crises cannot be solved by blaming all evil on Ahmenidshad as a “marionette” or stylizing the Palestinians as a “New Hitler” rampaging country after country.

In “Nemesis,” Chalmers Johnson says Narcissus fell in love with his reflection and drowned. This is the fate of empire and can be avoided if we follow England’s example and become a republic. Reparations and self-determination are the foundations of international law. Wars for Halliburton and projects for a new American century are paths to self-destruction paved by self-absorption and manufactured consent. The 4th estate is not for the state (Amy Goodman). May we all become storytellers and investigators, champions of diversity and intercultural learning! The economy is only part of life, not a steamroller grinding everyone into a commodified spiritless mass.


Self-righteousness is the grand delusion (Eberhard Jungel) with different veils and rationalizations. According to the myth of the self-healing market, everyone pursuing self-interest will magically produce the public interest. In truth, our hearts must be changed. Hearts of stone must become hearts of flesh. The ego must die for the self to be born. Losing our lives, we rediscover our selves as part of a greater being sharing in the life of God, nature and humankind.

Solipsism or self-absorption is a primitive or undeveloped consciousness that grows out of unbridled pride. To the solipsist, life consists in nonstop self-glorification and self-gratification. Narcissus fell in love with himself and his reflection and drowned in the pool. The fate of empires is mirrored in the fate of megalomaniacs. Self-absorption leads to a false or distorted consciousness where others are only stepping stones for personal advantage.

America can become either a republic or an empire. The future can be open or closed, dynamic or static. Capitalism does not mean democracy but social disconnection and vulgar materialism. The corporation is a form of undemocratic and non-transparent feudalism, a sociopath incapable of remorse (cf. the Canadian movie “The Corporation”).. All values, public goods, harmony and interdependence threaten to be sacrificed to the idol profit maximization. The warning from German fascism and Roman over-reach is “Resist the beginnings!”

People must be set over profit. The limits of growth and the limits of competition should encourage our changing course and accepting paradigm shifts. Strachnya voyna, war is terrible (translated from Russian). Dialogue and listening to others are always better than violence, rewriting history, cooking intelligence and inflating threats.

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