And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.Matthew Arnold 1851
About 120 years later, cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo the Possum said pretty much the same thing, albeit with less elegance: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Nazi General Hermann Goering, who commanded military divisions, best espoused the strategy of civil division in 1946: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked…It works the same way in any country.”
Now chill for a minute, dial down your sulfurous fury and, as President Lyndon Johnson liked to say, “come now, and let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:18)
I’ve noted countless times that the way to control the masses is to keep them fighting each other for crumbs that fall from the banquet tables of their betters. If us peons ever bother to look up, we can certainly turn the tables. Why not now? But how?
First, look in the mirror. Do you see your emotions in any of the above?
Millions of Americans harbor very legitimate complaints. The farmer who labors dawn ‘til dusk and beyond, struggling to save his little piece of ground. The factory worker whose livelihood has been exported to a fourth-world country. The high school grad wondering if she should go into debt for the rest of her life to earn a college degree. The urban ghetto dweller or the rural impoverished, prisoners all of a system that offers increasingly frail hope.
It is thus very easy for some larcenous hammerhead to offer simple-sounding solutions, usually by foisting blame upon some nefarious manifestation of evil better known as The Other — anyone other than the audience at hand.
Where is the sword of Alexander to cut this Gordian Knot, this metastasizing tumor in the guts of civilization?
Next, look toward the two great economic systems supposedly devised to give everyone a fair chance: Capitalism and Communism.
Alas and alack, as longshoreman philosopher Eric Hofer pointed out, both lead to the same damned place. Taken to their logical conclusions, they result in everyone entangled within a single monstrous company or a monolithic political party. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Left to their own devices, big fish devour small fish and are in turn engorged by bigger fish. Eventually only one soul-less monster remains.
This was satirized in the 1993 Sylvester Stallone film “Demolition Man,” set in a dystopian future in which all restaurants have become Taco Bells because “Taco Bell won the restaurant wars.”
George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” foreshadowed the fairy tale in which we live today. Under Communism, everyone is purportedly equal but as Orwell put it, “some animals are more equal than others.”
Both systems end up in the same exploitive place: dictatorship, jackbooted authoritarianism or softshoe fascism.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., last week said that it’s high time that our government start enforcing anti-trust law. A few years ago, she said “capitalism without regulation is tyranny.”
Almost all Americans labor under the tyranny of big critters eating smaller ones, only to be devoured by the next tyrannosaur.
World class economist David Schwartz told me in 1981 of corporate concentration research done by a colleague. Dr. Schwartz noted that America was entering an age of “mature capitalism” (Barbwire 9-25-2005) where innovation takes a back seat to corporate acquisition.
Rather than developing a better mousetrap, corporate America simply buys out any potential competitor. Microsoft is the poster child.
Back in the 1970s, Schwartz’s friend totaled the assets of the Fortune 500 and worked his way down until he found the point where the biggest companies controlled half of corporate property. The divide fell somewhere above the middle. I performed the same calculation in the 1990s. By then, I recall that only about 75 or 80 of the 500 top dogs controlled half the wealth.
Schwartz’s stark projection of the evils of corporate concentration proved prescient. Instance in point: baby formula. Three big companies now dominate the market with impunity. So millions of American infants today are malnourished or starving.
Even before the shortage caused by their own misfeasance, their prices were exorbitant. There is no true competition in an oligopoly.
Perhaps a dozen years ago, I found myself in a checkout line behind a young Latina trying to buy three cans of baby formula for her infant nephew. Alas, her credit card was maxed out. As she turned to walk away, I asked the checker how much each can cost. I was shocked: about $35, as I recall. I only had enough money on me to pay for one, which I did. She thanked me. I’ve always felt good about helping some kid I will never know in his time of need. It should never be that way in this, the richest, fattest country in the history of the world — the land of the rigged game.
Most of the products you see at your local supermarket likewise perpetuate the myth of competition, manufactured and massaged by advertising and corporate propaganda. From chicken, sugar, milk and eggs to electricity, gasoline and housing, examples are endless.
All that goes a long way toward explaining the vague righteous anger of so many. Too bad that so much of that energy is misdirected.
On the hopeful side, I’ve noticed recent chatter identifying corporate non-competition acting as the underlying cause of today’s inflationary spiral.
Make common cause with other pawns in this rigged game, especially those who may be light years away from the way you think. Convince them to start looking up at the banquet table rather than down at the crumbs on the floor.
The choice is yours.
Pray for Ukraine and 53 other currently war-torn lands. T
ake care of each other and be careful out there.
Be well. Raise hell. / Esté bien. Haga infierno.
Andrew Quarantino Barbano, a 53-year Nevadan, is editor of ConsumerCoalitionv. org, Rentvolution.org, MississippiWestNV. org and NevadaLabor.com, among others. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988. E-mail