SCHECHTER for SENATE
Hello, my name is Eric Schechter, and I’m running for the US Senate. But I don’t want your money, and I might not even ask for your vote; I’ll explain that in a minute. This world needs enormous changes, and we won’t get them by “business as usual.” The biggest changes come from all of us seeing the world in a new way.
I’m running in Tennessee, but this message is for people in every state. On average, winning a seat in the US Senate takes about 10 million dollars in advertising; there’s no way ordinary people like you and me can raise that kind of money. Nearly all of our elections are won by the contestant who spends the most. But if I base my strategy on that sad fact, I’ve already lost not just the contest, but my reason for entering it, too. I want politics to be about ideas, not about fund-raising. So I’m not accepting any campaign donations at all from anyone, and I made this video for free.
But if you like this video, tell other people to watch it, and talk about it with them. If enough people do that — if this video goes viral, and gets millions of views — then I will have a chance of winning even without money, and then I will ask for your vote. And even if that doesn’t happen, I expect to stir up a few ideas, get at least a few people talking about this video, and I’ll count that as a success.
To keep this video down to a reasonable length, I’ll focus only on war, global warming, and economics.
I want to begin by making it clear that I love this country. I love this country the way that you love your brother, when you discover that he has been stealing cars, and you beg him to go straight. Actually, it’s much worse than stealing cars. Wars are terrible things.
Some people won’t want to hear me, because they want to believe that our country could never do anything wrong. But we’ve been misled about everything, sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally. It’s worse than just lies — even our language has been corrupted, making the truth difficult to articulate, difficult even to imagine. George Orwell’s novel 1984 showed how that works. For instance, in that story, the military branch of government is called the Ministry of Peace. A few weeks after that novel was published, the US Department of War was renamed as the US Department of Defense, making it difficult for USers to imagine that our military forces have ever been “the bad guys.” I admire the selflessness of our troops, who have risked all for what they believed was the defense of our country, but I wish they had asked a few more questions. If you really want to support the troops, don’t keep sending them to die for lies.
Our politicians say they love peace, but the USA has been starting wars almost constantly, ever since this nation was founded on stolen land and stolen labor. And both of the money parties are to blame — they’ve both supported wars consistently. If you want to understand imperialism, a good example to study is why and how the CIA overthrew democracy in Guatemala in 1954. They did it so that the United Fruit Company could avoid paying decent wages to banana pickers, but an entirely different story was presented to the US public by the CIA’s publicity manager, Edward Bernays, the father of modern marketing. Most of our wars are like that one, but that one is neither too recent nor too long ago, so most of its facts are easily accessible.
We only learn the truth about our wars later. The politicians keep it all top secret, and they tell us to trust them. Have you ever thought about how elitist that is? That’s not what democracy is all about. But we’ve been such fools — we know that all the past politicians have been liars, thieves, and murderers, but somehow we always think that the current batch is different.
Politicians draw a line on a map, and tell us “the people on the other side of this line are different.” But actually, our cousins on the other side are very much like us; it’s the politicians who are different. Their military policy makes new enemies faster than it kills old ones. You can’t bomb your way to friendship.
And our military invent new ways to make enemies. Their depleted uranium weapons are causing high rates of birth defects for generations to come, in every country that they supposedly “liberate.”
If 9/11 was not an inside job, then its real lesson is that when you bully someone enough, they will find a way to hurt you back, even if you have the greatest military force the world has ever known and all they have is some cheap boxcutters. If you want to make us safe, end US imperialism.
Half a century ago, President Eisenhower was telling us the truth, when he said that we should beware of companies that profit from war. Do you realize that half your tax dollar goes to the military? If you want to fix the economy, that’s a good place to start. But that won’t be easy, because most members of congress receive large campaign donations from military contractors. We ought to nationalize the defense industry — that is, take it out of the private sector, and remove its profit incentive.
Okay, that’s enough about wars. Next I want to talk about global warming. It’s worse than most people believe. The news warns us of flooding in the year 2100, but I’m more worried about famine in 2020. We need to phase out fossil fuels very soon. The Republicans say we should do that never, and the Democrats say we should do that later, always later, so actually those two parties are completely in agreement. That’s not surprising — both parties get big campaign donations from the fossil fuel companies.
Runaway warming has already begun. It’s caused by feedback loops. That is, some of the consequences of global warming are also causes. For instance, warming kills trees, leaving more carbon dioxide in the air, resulting in even faster warming. That’s just one feedback loop; we’ve triggered dozens. Banning fossil fuels no longer will be enough; now we also need to plant a trillion trees.
I’m a retired professor of mathematics, so I know this stuff. Feedback is not just self-perpetuating — it causes exponential growth. The exponential curve starts off so small that you can’t even see it without special equipment, so it’s easy to deny, particularly if you’re getting paid to deny it. But the bigger it gets, the faster it grows. After a while it’s visible to the naked eye, and soon after that it’s enormous, and growing explosively.
Well, global warming became visible in 2012, with a superhurricane and big crop failures. I hope we address it before it reaches the explosive stage.
And there are other reasons that this is urgent. With each day’s delay, hundreds more species go extinct, thousands more people lose their future, and millions or even billions of dollars more are added to the cost of the remedial measures that are needed.
Global warming is not just a day at the beach; it’s a millennium in the oven. In the past, the temperature has risen this high, but not this fast. We humans are adaptable, but we depend on plants and animals for food, and they can’t adapt this fast. Species are going extinct far faster than new ones come into existence. So biodiversity is dropping, and the ecosystem is growing fragile. At some point it will simply collapse, like a Jenga tower with one too many blocks removed. The Permian Extinction, 250 million years ago, killed off 95% of all life on earth, and the currently ongoing extinction may top that.
Individual efforts, such as changing our light-bulbs, our cars, and our diets, will help a little, but not nearly enough. And so-called “market solutions” aren’t working either. We need a change in public policy, both nationally and globally.
But the ruling class is a bunch of idiots. When the arctic started melting, bringing us a step closer to extinction, that should have been a wakeup call; they should have begun to quickly phase out fossil fuels. But instead they said “oh goody, now the fossil fuels in the arctic will be so much easier to extract!” They’re making lots of money, but on what planet are they going to spend it?
Still, it’s not entirely their fault. They’re incapable of thinking about the future, because the market compels them to compete against each other, in offering short-term profits to investors. The fossil fuel companies view all the oil still in the ground as trillions of dollars already in the bank. To save life on earth, we’ll have to take that money away from them; we’ll have to overrule their property rights; we’ll have to apply eminent domain to the entire fossil fuel industry.
So now let’s consider economics. Our present system may be an improvement over feudalism in some ways, but it’s still terrible. Let’s look at some of its drawbacks.
First of all, our workplaces are organized to benefit their owners, not the workers or society. And so our jobs are unsatisfying and unpleasant, and most of us would quit in a minute if we didn’t need the paycheck. And when a machine starts doing your job, you don’t get a paid vacation. You get laid off.
Our jobs are not truly voluntary. The so-called “volunteer army” is made of people who couldn’t find a good job; that’s called a “poverty draft.” And who would choose to be a migrant farm-worker?
Jobs don’t have to be this way. If they were organized for the good of society, we could all share the benefits of automation. We could have 100% employment, good working conditions, a comfortably high wage, a short work week, and retirement at age 55. And we could all have jobs in which we feel useful and appreciated, like the nurse and the firefighter, not just cogs in the fast food machine.
Our current allocation of jobs is like our current allocation of everything else: it’s through the market. And we’ve been told that the market is the fount of all progress, but we’ve been misled.
We’ve been told that the market encourages creativity. But our basic research comes from university labs and military labs, not from profit. Really, the only creativity coming from the market is deceptive advertising.
We’ve been told that the market rewards the industrious and punishes the lazy. But actually it only rewards the well-born, the few who control the market. It exploits everyone else. The board game “Monopoly” shows how this works. Any market transaction favors whoever is in the better bargaining position, and so the market increases inequality, and concentrates wealth into few hands. We end up with a few people owning almost everything.
Wealth distribution in the USA has become enormously skewed, far more than most USers realize. Economist Robert Reich released a film about that in September 2013. An anonymous filmmaker calling himself Politizane released a 6 minute video about that in November 2012, and it quickly went viral; at present it has over 8 million views on Youtube. I’m including a link to it here.
But our real inequality is far greater than Reich and Politizane have described. The bare necessities of life take up all of the income of the poor, and nearly all the income of the middle class. When you subtract off necessities, what’s left is discretionary income, and most of us have very little of it. And that is what determines how much freedom and power you have.
We’ve been told that the market is efficient. But it’s only efficient about the things it measures. It completely fails to measure externalized costs, such as war, poverty, and ecocide. War and poverty could go on forever, but ecocide is growing, and it imposes a time limit on us. We don’t know precisely when that is, but we know it’s soon. The planet is being privatized, plundered, and carelessly poisoned for quick profit. To save life on earth, we must restore the commons; we must take the planet off the auction block.
And don’t give me that libertarian guff about how our present market isn’t really free, and freeing it would fix things. I’m tired of hearing that. The truth is that as long as we have a small wealthy class, they will purchase control of the market, and that purchase is a market transaction. So the phrase “free market” is a contradiction in terms.
The disasters all around us can’t be blamed on some mutant version of capitalism, such as “corporate capitalism.” Our problems stem from the very principles of capitalism itself. Harnessing greed is bargaining with the devil; that always ends badly.
Next let’s look at where corruption comes from.
Money is power, and power is money; each converts into the other. There’s a revolving door between government and big business, between those who nominally are regulators and those who nominally are regulated; they frequently swap jobs. And money flows through that door in both directions too: Every million dollars spent on lobbying and campaign contributions yields billions of taxpayer dollars in loopholes, bailouts, subsidies, and sweetheart contracts.
Some people are campaigning for reform, for a constitutional amendment to get corporate money out of our elections. But those reformists aren’t talking about any other change in our economic system. Well, good luck with that. The market will still be concentrating wealth; you’ll still have a few people owning nearly everything. Those people will still have an army of lobbyists, lawyers, accountants, advertising consultants, and thieves, and so those people will still have great influence. Those people will still buy off new regulators or find other routes around the new regulations. The only way to avoid rule by the wealthy class is to not have a wealthy class. I agree with political commentator Glen Ford, who said
“The idea that the plutocrats can be quarantined from power, while remaining plutocrats, is absurd.”
Let’s consider the psychology of power. Most of the people who claw their way into the upper reaches of power are psychopaths to begin with. But even people who start out psychologically normal may become corrupted when they get some power over other people. That has been demonstrated by the Stanford Prison Experiment, and by real prisons all over the world.
And by the way, the USA, which calls itself “the land of the free,” has a higher percentage of its population in prison than any other nation. And now our prisons are being operated for profit, and they have an incentive to imprison more people. Does that tell you how sick our economic system is, and how sick it is making our culture?
People with power invent justifications for their power. They begin to believe that they are wise, and that the people they rule are lazy or dirty or in some way less deserving. The powerful begin to believe that their goals are noble, and that the ends justify the means, any means whatsoever.
And so power corrupts, regardless of whether it arises through the market empowering a few plutocrats, or through revolution empowering a dictator, or through indirect democracy empowering a few representatives.
Even aside from corruption, a few people can’t be competent to run a nation or a world. Those few people can’t possibly know enough about what is going on. And so their policies become based on oversimplifications, which harden into inflexible dogma.
I don’t have a blueprint for how the world should be run; I think we need to figure that out together. Representative democracy isn’t working; perhaps we’d be better off with direct democracy. Instead of hierarchy, we could coordinate our activities through peer-to-peer networking — something like Facebook, but without the advertisements and the National Security Agency. We need a leaderless revolution — or more precisely, we all need to be leaders. I like the slogan of the Odonians: “we have come not to take power, but to end power.” The first step is for us to talk about it with each other.
Even democracy is less than ideal. Democracy means that the majority rules and the minority obeys. That’s certainly unpleasant for the minority. And that may even be unwise for the majority, if we’re ill-informed, which indeed most of us have been. It would be so much better if we talked things out until we reached understanding and consensus. But that would require that we care about one another and really listen to one another. That would be an enormous change.
The utopia I envision wouldn’t have a President or a US Senate, so why am I running for a senate seat? It’s partly because the election campaign itself is one way to get these ideas heard. But in addition, the dismantling of the hierarchy of power will go a lot more smoothly if it’s done from both inside and out. And I could help with some of the transition, too — for instance, ending wars and fossil fuels. So if you like this video, tell other people to watch it. By the way, you can find the text transcript of this speech at
and embedded in it are a few links to related materials.
But now I’m going beyond talking about the small things a senator can do. To understand those small things, we need to see the bigger picture. I’m talking, not just about legislation, but about culture change. That can’t be imposed on people, but maybe it can be inspired in people.
The problem is not just in our ruling class. Our whole society is a lot sicker than most of us realize. Even without power, we’re all being corrupted by middle-class private property, by the so-called “American dream.” Here’s how that works:
You keep your stuff in your house, and I keep my stuff in my house. I spend more time with my stuff than with you, and so I don’t see a need to be concerned with your well-being. Let my brother be his own keeper. And so empathy gets replaced by apathy.
Our world is tearing itself apart; it can’t continue this way much longer. Great changes of some sort are coming; what sort they will be depends on what ideas we choose to spread now.
I’ve explained that private property creates terrible problems. The alternative to private property is sharing, caring, and cooperating. Admittedly, that would be an enormous change. You might say it would be a change of biblical proportions, but in fact the institution of private property is older than the bible — we began living separately 10,000 years ago. But for 100,000 years before that we shared everything of importance. That’s still in our nature, and we need to rediscover it. Nothing less will save us from extinction; nothing more is needed to guide us to utopia.
I’m not advocating Stalinist dictatorship. What I have in mind is more like Acts 2:44 in the New Testament. Or the republicans of Catalonia, before they were crushed by the fascists. Or European-style socialized medicine, which works much better than the sick-for-profit system here in the USA.
John Lennon sang “imagine all the people sharing all the world,” but that won’t happen until all the people want it. The first step was to imagine it. The second step is to get more people to talk about it, and there’s no reason to delay that discussion, and every reason to not delay it, and so that’s what I and many other people are working on, and I hope you’ll join us soon. The third step will be for us to figure out together how to do it.
Some things can’t be done gradually — you can’t be partly pregnant. Any complex system has many related parts, and changing a few of them requires changing many others, so you can’t stop halfway between two stable configurations of the system. There are sure to be surprises, because we’re going somewhere we’ve never been before; we have no map, and only our hearts for a compass. The old world is dying — come with us to the new world that is being born — we can’t get there without you.
Peace, and be well.
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28 Oct 2013, version 3.57. I’m still occasionally adding more links to related materials; those are the underlined blue phrases. Here are links to section headings: campaign • wars • warming • economics • corruption • change.