Whatever Happened To Wendell Berry’s Adage About Being Downstream Or Upstream?

Ed Raymond

xAs a farm kid I learned early that it’s always wise to stay upstream from the herd when they are near or in a creek on a hot day. When belly deep in water the tail always goes up when the head goes down for a drink. Wendell Berry is an 81-year-old farmer-poet-essayist with the message that we humans must live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish. He believes that small-scale agriculture is absolutely essential to local economies, and important to the survival of our species on this planet. He blames the global economy for exploiting one place for the sake of another place. Berry has written: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” So far, most of the One Percent living far upstream don’t give a crap about the 99 Percent living downstream. As an example, millions of words and thousands of hours of TV have been written and viewed about Deflategate, the National Football League scandal about a couple of pounds of air pressure in 13 footballs. Having played eight years at center and long snapper in my football days, I probably have touched footballs filled with air several thousand times. I would have noticed if the ball did not contain a reasonable amount of air so the game could be played.
  But here big money enters big sports. We have billionaires paying football quarterbacks, power basketball forwards, and hockey wings multi-millions so they can charge thousands of dollars for tickets bought by people wearing $100 game jerseys consuming $10 beers and $9 hotdogs in the billion-dollar colesseums built by taxes paid by many people who can’t afford tickets to the games. The billionaires just get richer. In “The Communist Manifesto” the prophets Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote this prophecy about capitalist profits: “Capitalism is a sorcerer incapable of controlling the forces it unleashes.” That force is greed. Would we have had eight months of monotonous piffle about a couple of pounds of air pressure in 13 footballs used in the NFL championship if not for billionaires twisting the real value of sports? This whole sports crisis should be embarrassingly absurd—but big money has met big egos. The judge who will decide whether quarterback Tom Brady should be suspended for four games (losing millions) next season says the whole thing is petty nonsense. To add to this minor kerfuffle, the NFL hired an expensive engineering firm to find out how long it would take to reduce the pressure in 13 footballs by two pounds. Three researchers claimed they did it in about 60 seconds. If you have the balls, try it with an inflation needle  some time.

Should Capitalism Fear Inequality?  

Billionaire Peter Georgescu of the Young & Rubicam PR firm thinks so. So does billionaire hedge fund founder Paul Tudor Jones and billionaire Ken Langone of Home Depot fame. Georgescu came to this country in 1954 a poor teenage Romanian immigrant and has made it big. He writes: “If inequality is not addressed, the income gap will most likely be resolved in one or two ways: by major social unrest or through oppressive taxes. For the top 20% of Americans life is pretty good. But 40% are broke. Every year they spend more than they have….One leaky roof and they’re in trouble. We are creating a caste system from which it’s almost impossible to escape, except for a few with exceptional brains, athletic skills or luck. That’s why I’m scared.” His reference to sports heroes like Tom Brady of the New England Patriots and Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers—and the Miami Heat--reminds me of some of the famous gladiators fighting to the death in the Roman Colesseum, who were backed by Roman billionaires with huge egos. This entertainment for the 99 Percent Romans living beyond their means in a caste system kept them passive—- for a while. Then came the “major social unrest” Georgescu  writes about.
Georgescu makes so much sense The Best Congress Money Can Buy and their owners--and practically all the prospective 2016 presidential nominees  except “socialist” Bernie Sanders--will refuse to understand his position. He writes: “We business leaders know what to do. But do we have the will to do it? Are we willing to contain the excessive greed so prevalent in our society today and divert resources to better education and the creation of more opportunity? Business has the most to gain from a healthy America, and the most to lose by social unrest or punitive taxation….First, invest in the actual value creators—the employees. Start compensating fairly, by which I mean a wage that enables employees to share amply in productivity increases and creative innovations. Second, businesses must invest aggressively in their own operations, directing profit into productivity and innovation to boost real business performance.”  
I still remember a decade ago when corporate leaders and the Republican Party named General Electric’s CEO Jack Welch as “manager of the century.”  I described him in a column at that time: “Here is a corporate marauder who says, ‘Ideally you’d have every manufacturing plant you own on a barge.’  Welch is saying, ‘Go wherever the lax laws and cheap labor are.’ In other words, Welch and his admirers don’t give a damn about American workers, American communities, American schools, or American society. They care only about themselves, the bottom line, and whether they are beating their competition, wherever it is on the planet. Now, that is sad.”  Welch’s business philosophy still reigns today in the United States and seems to have spread around the world. For our country, it’s disaster capitalism.

Our Student Debt Is At $1.2 Trillion—And One-Third Of Our Student Debtors Are In Default—Welcome To Higher Education In The Richest Country In The World

And another million students will default on their college loans this year because of lousy jobs and low wages. Many of the debtors are teachers. In the middle of Silicon Valley lies Cupertino, the home of Apple. Cupertino has great difficulty keeping teachers for its K-12 schools because they cannot afford to buy housing in the city. With salaries ranging from about $45,000 to $100,000, teachers can’t even think of buying where a single-family home starts at $1.8 million. Teachers get tired of commuting for hours every day and soon quit. Inequality reigns supreme in Santa Clara County. Teachers don’t get stock options or paid on their private market value. Their salaries are based on available state funding, local property taxes, and political will, all lacking in California. We are also living in a period where Wall Street and government units reduce all societal values to money values. William Deresiewicz, in a Harper’s Magazine article noting how colleges have sold their souls to the devil, writes: “Call it Reaganism or Thatcherism or market fundamentalism, the ideology today states the worth of a thing is the price of a thing. The worth of a person is the price of a person. This tells you your value is exclusively in your activity in the marketplace. The purpose of education today is to produce producers. Only the commercial purpose now survives as a recognized value. Large and elite American universities no longer provide their students with a real education.”  Science and math majors, if there are any, bail out to Wall Street or to tech companies to make a big bundle.
We no longer educate ourselves to create a balance between work and life. We now educate that work is life itself. That money is everything in life. Education does have three main responsibilities: (1) Yes, we must make a living to have a life—the commercial side (2) We must learn how to think by learning all kinds of “stuff” in many cognitive fields, (3) We must learn what is moral by examining our past and the other cultures around the world. A Harvard psychology professor says we must educate to create selves and souls, not producers of money. The number of English and art majors has imploded in the last 50 years. Colleges and universities now have a large majority of majors in business, communications, education, sports management, physical education, and health. Only 1.5% graduate with a major in physics, chemistry, geology, and astronomy, a drop of 60% in the last decade. Only 1.1% graduate with a major in math. Wall Street with its sirens blaring and registers chiming is still a big draw for the uneducated who think working 80 hours a week and money is the only thing left in life.

How The One Percent, The Corporate Class, And Governments Have Poisoned The Middle Class

In the beginning of labor collective bargaining the One Percent used machine guns, police batons, and sometimes the military to keep workers from organizing and striking for better pay and working conditions. The United States became a world power because workers finally gained access to the negotiations table, creating a middle class that at the same time created great national wealth with their labor. But for the last four decades and Reaganism, the One Percent and corporations controlled by them have sent labor coyotes into poor Latin American countries to recruit cheap and very pliable labor to undercut the American worker. It has reached the point that our total meatpacking capacity, as only one example, would cease functioning tomorrow if our immigration laws were actually enforced. What would happen to our hotel and tourist industry if employers who hired illegals ended up in 8’ x 10’ cells? The entire industry would have to go on vacation, change their own sheets, and clean their own toilets. The One Percent and their CEOs have conducted a relentless war against unions, minimum wages, labor organization rules, and pensions, ensuring that 401ks turn into 201ks.
Because of luck, ego, narcissism, the relentless quest for power and money, and hard work, some people will always park upstream. But they should never have the power to rule. We have had many tragic periods when they have ruled. The list is long: Nero, Genghis Khan, a long line of Roman Catholic popes named Borgia, Duvalier, Stalin, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, the father-son combo of Assads in Syria, and the bareback Putin among thousands. Mayors and city alderman or city commissioners along with governors and legislators have sometimes attempted to criminalize human color, frailty, poor educations, and bad luck, sending the piss downstream by the barrel. That’s how we had slavery, Jim Crow, the Japanese internment, debtor prisons, and border walls. Now the federal government has finally acted against a Boise, Idaho law banning the homeless from sleeping outside, in vehicles, or in camping places. The homeless are still downstream in Santa Cruz, California, the home of very rich Silicon Valley, where 80% of the homeless have no shelter. Thirty percent of the homeless in Orlando, the home of Disneyland, have no shelters and are forced to drink downstream. The Justice Department estimates that 40% of the homeless in the country suffer in the downstream, under bridges, on park benches, in vacant buildings. Los Angeles has so many homeless it is now called Hooverville around the country.

Will Upstreamers Buy The 2016 Presidential Elections Or Will Downstreamers Revolt And Rescue Democratic Government From The Fascist Elite?

The One Percent will probably
spend at least $6 billion attempting to purchase a president—and many other billions keeping the Best Congress Money Can Buy in office to do their master’s bidding. Hillary’s Super-PAC has $15 million so far, nine donors giving at least a $1 million each. The Dominionist Senator Cruz from Texas has $37 million in his PAC, almost all of $37 million coming from three donors. Gee, I wonder what they want. Jeb Bush has $103 million, with 26 donors coughing up $1 million checks each. Oh, Lord, how the money rolls in! It takes a real pile of money to pile on the crap that excretes downstream. And then there’s the Donald.  Wow…

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