I’ve never been “big” on politics but I have to admit that recent events are so large and vivid -- Tea Party to Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street -- and so wildly contradictory while seeming to respond to the same forces, that a person can’t help thinking about it. Why does there seem to be so much skill and accomplishment among kids when you think of computers and yet so many kids will no jobs and no simple GED-type skills? Why are there so many chances to learn and go to school, which is supposed to help get a job, but so many people can’t find work? If experience is such a crucial prerequisite, why are people who have seniority and proven accomplishments getting pitched out on the compost heap? Why does everyone have enough money to buy junk but only a few -- a VERY few -- have “real money” far out of proportion of everyone else?
Talking to someone here in Valier about what goes on in town, I came finally (and again) to the idea of “crony capitalism.” We can name the examples here, but I’ve never approached it as a formal concept. So I googled it. It’s who you know. Tribes, mafias, sororities. In religious denominations, in the field of Cowboy Art, in little villages everywhere, in alumni associations for prestigious universities -- it’s connections that will get you there. Conversely connections can cut you down.
Conrad Burns, our former senator, got himself into hot water again recently by remarking that if the Democrats get their way, the whole state will be like an Indian reservation. He means, of course, the Indian reservation of when he was growing up in Wolf Point. But the old tribal cronies of agents and legislators have died now. The new tribal connections are college-educated oil lease managers and county commissioners. The style and culture have changed, which is why Burns is unelectable now. There are still cronies, but not the same old kind.
Great ironies remain. Everyone wants control -- the only distinction is between controlling for their own good or controlling for the good of the whole. And being able to tell the difference. There is nothing quite so baffling as trying to figure out the motives of someone who is not oneself and doesn’t see the world the same way. Impugning motives takes time and creativity. To make it seem as though Martin Luther King was just in it for himself, to make JFK into a satyr and druggie is not easy. But it can be done. I’m still trying to figure out George W. Bush’s motives. It was easy to discredit Obama. He doesn’t see the world in any ordinary or familiar way. Some see that as an advantage. To others, it’s dangerous.
It’s strange to read about the suppression of bullying on the same page with the vilification of the poor and the success of the US in sending predator drones in through the windows of private houses to destroy enemies. On the one hand we’re politically correct and ever so compassionate about babies born with disabilities, and on the other hand we doom millions by refusing to crack down (forgive the terminology) on pharmaceutical political gaming.
Recently at the end of a list of changes to the laws in Montana I noticed the canceling of a long-standing regulation on hearing aids. Since I once responded to an ad for hearing aids and as a result was hounded for years by salesmen, I thought, “There’ll be a big ad for these aids now.” And there was. Years ago I noticed that certain roads, not particularly well-traveled, were being greatly upgraded and having turnouts added. Government grants at work, they said. They almost exactly match the routes being used for the mega-loads headed up to the Alberta Tar Sands fields.
Of course, I’m paranoid. I see plots everywhere and sometimes I’m just wrong. When I began to have trouble with my computer, I noticed that the stats for my blogs -- which had just become available on Blogger -- looked quite different from what shows on the red-dot sitemeter at the right edge of this page. I was proud that I was being read in so many exotic places, though it was baffling that Russia would be so interested. Argentina and Australia were easier to understand. But the info didn’t jibe with the number of people who were supposed to be reading each entry. It finally dawned on me that someone was using me to bit-torrent big files, probably movies. That is, I’d become a pass-through for info I never saw. No one ever asked me if they could do that.
So now I’m chasing both crony capitalism and bit torrenting through Google to try to understand them. They’re related in a way. Hollywood movies, like Manhattan publishing, have long been gripped by a small circle of socially connected people. Both these crony circles have been hit hard by the eRevolution. Bit torrenting doesn’t affect publishing. (Amazon is a slow, wide river.) It is a way to send movies in chunks to evade size-of-file restrictions. It’s not exactly illegal, though people who are trying to figure out how to protect intellectual property are not much in favor since it’s hard to trace. I mean, no one is asking where to send the royalty money. Music cartels got hit first.
On top of that, the internet is international and the laws in different nations don’t agree. What’s porn here is not porn there. (After watching HBO’s lamentable “Rome,” packed with gory violence, BBC actors in bedsheets, and nude people fake-fucking, I fail to understand how porn differs from mainstream.) Hollywood cronies are more aggressive about arrests. That is, bit torrenting “The Sound of Music” will get you into more trouble than what used to be stag films.
Tonight I was watching a video (not bit torrented) of a talk by Ron Engel who was my professor at Meadville/Lombard Theological School. It was presented in the commons room of the school with maybe two dozen people in attendance, most of them my age, and it was meant to trace the history of the school. Actually “schools” is closer to the facts, since as he explained, seminaries in particular are subject to the shifts in the public mind about God and religion and society in general. One dwindles, another swells, a third must be re-invented. They merge and separate to fit. All are anthropomorphic and anthropocentric in a way most people would accept, even if they are humanists or ethical culture people. Social justice, science, voluntary and democratic associations -- those are the kinds of movements that have come and gone through just this one small polyvalent school in times far more dire than this one and recognizably similar. And they proceeded through crony circles, which are only voluntary associations.
What is different, I think, is two things: one is that as a world we are moving back from intense concentration on the individual to a much greater interest in working together for the common good. We’ve been here before. The other, much newer, and far scarier challenge is realizing how everything is interpenetrating, dynamic, constantly changing into something else, and how possible it would be for some slight inadvertent change -- a virus, a bacterial die-off, a planetary cataclysm -- and ALL humans would be gone. A final "byte torrent." Whatever the Gods are, they are not our cronies. What we do in small ways affects the entire planet in unforeseen and possibly uncontrollable ways. Who do we pray to now?