Monday, November 14, 2016


Aeon is an online magazine to which I subscribe.  It’s free but  the ideas are a cut above the usual repetitious junk.  So this morning I was reading Erika Vause article, not because I wanted to know about banks (I use credit unions) which I avoid when I can, but because of the “mistrust” element she is discussing.

Erika Vause is assistant professor of history at Florida Southern College. She specialises in French history, and is currently working on a book project on debtors’ prison, bankruptcy and usury in early 19th-century France. 

She mentions “negotiable credit instruments” which in farming country is crucial to producing crops unless one is very rich.  Loans are a gamble on weather and the markets but the amounts of money necessary to grow wheat or beef are major.  No wonder that ranches are often owned by corporations, even foreign ones, or insurance countries.  Which, of course, gives them direct power over our lives.

Then she says this:   “In countries like the Netherlands and England, banks rose in tandem with constitutionalism. Governments that respected the rule of law inspired more confidence from lenders.”  This is the key to problems on Native American reservations: there isn’t enough stability to justify the investment of venture capital.  Money should have been invested by the government but they have no confidence in the stability of reservations either, though it is certainly influenced — if not controlled — by them.  It is realizing this that is driving the creation of a new constitution for the Blackfeet, but even then, one dominant tribe may not be enough to stabilize an environment with a lot of mixed heritage people: hispanic, Metis, other tribes, and white who are not directly governed by the tribal council.

Then I turned to reading the comments, which on Aeon are usually fairly pithy.  Lester Jones saying that media IS essentially a capitalist institution was to me a revelatory redefinition.  I don’t know who Lester Jones is (there are too many of them to google) but Lester Jones said:  “To be fair, the ‘media’ is essentially a capitalist institution that gives the banks a pretty good race in the unease and antipathy stakes.”  (I’d always thought of them as “arts”!  Naive me!  I put my trust in my own integrity, but was constantly dismayed that those who promote arts do not.  Their integrity is profit.)

Back to the question, banks can’t be trusted because, like all capitalist institutions, they utilize the needs and values of society at large to create income flows for themselves. And in doing so they place their own profit over and above the outcome for society.”

Following now is my comment, which rather departed from the idea of banks being sources of suspicion.  “It’s Lester Jones’ comment that made the lights go on and the bells ring for me. It was his claim that the “media” is essentially a capitalist institution, which seems quite obvious when one considers the obvious television and newspaper connection to politics as money-making, money-drawing, election-controlling. But it’s even subtler. How do we know anything without interpretation by some reporter, editor, publicist, aggregator, media owner, critic? Half-qualified scientist. (Who IS qualified to judge climate change? Some almanac writer?)

“All those people out there writing as fast as they can, trying earnestly to get at the truth as they know it, feeling proud of their increased skills, are doomed unless they align with venture capital. It’s a form of crowd-sourcing, with the side benefit of shaping the cloud if they can escape the tyranny of the contract. Alongside the suspicion and resentment of banks, politics, and whatever forms of culture one doesn’t know. is writing – like the constant insistence on hoaxes and ghost writers, shadow play in elections.”

There are many things that I know from experience that contradict or merely depart from the received wisdom of my community and family.  There are many ideas they stubbornly grip that have been proven untrue — not by some rhetorical flourish, but because of solid data responsibly interpreted.  But there are far MORE things that they just don’t know, that they don’t know they don’t know, because the concepts are outside their experience and expectations.  They can’t be persuaded of something they don’t even know exists.  It’s their raw perception, not their interpretation or even their preferences that made trouble.  They don’t have the information, particularly the felt experiences that would give meaning.  On the rez stupid people are called “ignorant.”  But we are all ignorant to different degrees and on different subjects.

The most frequent comment I get on what I write is “I never thought of that.”  That’s because I push all the time to try to think across the boundary of my limits and partly because the internet, though the physical structure of the system is controlled by venture capital to build transmission towers and cyber-instruments, what I’m typing on this keyboard is not subsidized and therefore not controlled by the need to please a provider of money.  But because knowledge of my efforts IS controlled by other media and organizations, I’m not making any money and few know I’m writing.

Still, over the past decades of my life, I’ve made strong investments in a form of wealth known as education.  Not the earning of degrees which are supposed to guarantee an income on all the charts, but the absorption of knowledge, strategies and possibilities.  (If you want to earn a good living, become a plumber.  I’m serious.  (People will pay you well because they have no choice.)  

Because of this kind of progressive education and because I’ve always been interested in those who are different — particularly if sequestered — and because I’ve learned that people who are stigmatized are usually NOT a monoculture, but in fact complexes with therefore complex relationships to the mainstream  (like Vause’ mention of Jews and Gays as accommodating universal needs though considered untrustworthy).  Something similar applies to religious institutions, universities and other paper tigers meant to be equivalent to constitutional nations, i.e. by providing stability.

One of the big problems of our political leaders is that they live in monocultures with very little awareness of what else is out there.  On election night the media slowly realized that same thing as their smug expectations fell away and they became visibly shocked.  (I was watching PBS.)  Clinton still hasn’t gotten the picture.  Everyone assumes that other people are basically like their own group, but they’re not.  How could they be?  How can leaders represent people they don’t know, unless someone writes about them?  And investors venture capital for the publishing of risky but pithy truth instead of sure-return dead-end repetitions.

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