Crises in the Land of the Oligarchs

by Henry Zacchini – August 2020

At turn of the current century, my wife and I were Resident Stewards at the Good Life Center for a couple of years. As the present economic and political crisis has evolved, it has brought me back to one of the last crises in the US; namely the 911 attacks. While the nature of these upheavals is somewhat different, both are intimately connected to late stage capitalism, militarism and imperialism, but these connections are largely hidden from view.

At the time of our residency, we were quite isolated from the goings on of day-to-day American life. Forest Farm did have a basic internet connection, a land line, a ten-inch TV/VCR and a radio, but these did not provide a strong enough thread to keep us fully in the mainstream loop. We drove to the food co-op in Blue Hill once a week to get supplies we were not growing in the garden, saw neighbors at weekly sauna gatherings and hosted visitors to the Center, but that was about it. When the planes hit the towers, friends of ours began calling us in a blind panic. Their terror rose as they watched shots (fed to them incessantly by the media) of the planes slamming into each building repeatedly. I found myself in the position of talking my friends, especially those who lived in big cities, down from the trees. I also saw the 911 attacks fairly clearly for what they were; namely geopolitical blowback from years of US imperial malfeasance. What was also clear was that the elites would use the attacks as a pretext to further expand Empire’s reach. Some of my ability to see this event objectively had been honed by reading Scott Nearing’s political writing. Scott was an unabashed anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist, and a staunch advocate for a just, liberated world.

Even still, I was not fully prepared for how the country would react to these attacks. I knew George W. Bush’s approval rating was closing in on 90% ( my deep dislike of him and his ilk never wavered) and I knew he and his administration were beating the drums of war by spitting lies and half-truths to the sycophantic media:

as each new channel of communication demonstrated its effectiveness it was grabbed up by the monopoly capitalists and used as one more device for reaching the public ear, holding public attention, and washing the public brain.

Making of a Radical, Scott Nearing, p. 74

What I did not realize was how easily they could manipulate the entire populace. We were holed up at the Good Life Center for a number of weeks after the attacks. We finally made arrangements to visit my family outside of Boston so they could spend time with our baby daughter who had been born about a month after 911. The drive south was staggering. There were yellow ribbons on every other telephone poll, “God Bless America” signs at every turn, church billboards normally reserved for bringing in the sinners transformed into calls for Patriotism. What this patriotic fervor eventually meant was death and destruction for Afghani and Iraqi civilians, and billions in profits for the weapons manufacturers, while US citizens were left shouldering 4 trillion dollars worth of debt.

On the level of political economy, not much has changed between the 911 attacks and the current Covid-19 crisis. After the financial and industrial consolidation of 2008’s Great Recession, we are a country more securely run by oligarchs and their minions. We are still a country corrosively divided along racial and class lines. We continue to push our imperial agenda to enrich our corporate overseers.

Like Scott, I teach economics—albeit to high school students. I am not an academically trained economist. That being said, I always tell my students they are young economists, because the pro-capitalist economists who dominate the field have a desire to make the study of economics appear out of reach for the average citizen. I do not desire that they think like I think, but rather that they consider deeply how our current economy truly works.

The school is a servant, not a master. In that fact lies its greatness— the greatness of its opportunity and its responsibility. As an institution its object is service— assistance in growth. Development is the goal of education.

The New Education, Scott Nearing, p. 257

My students need to understand who the capitalistic system serves and who it does not.

I want them to contemplate who labors, who owns, and who benefits from labor. Above all, I want them to analyze economic models that offer different solutions than the ones presently force-fed to us by corporate media. We have discussed how incredibly fragile our economy is. How this current crisis has served to reveal the economy’s flaws in full relief. We have also discussed the post-crisis period, the time of their maturity. Will it be another profit grab for the US oligarchs and their servants? Or will we, as a people, be able to move into the cracks created by the crisis to begin constructing a new world based on solidarity, the power of the workers, and liberation? Let us work for the latter.

It is our opportunity, our destiny, our responsibility to keep living, constructing, creating.

Civilization & Beyond, Scott Nearing, p. 255