The American Dream Isn’t So Much “Success” As The Level Playing Field That Makes Success Possible

American Exceptionalism is a very real thing. Let’s be crystal clear first what it isn’t: rich white guys and their money. That’s what rich white guys and their money want us to believe — that without them, America wouldn’t be America. That has always been top-of-the-line, the best-money-can-buy horse shit. Money has always played a part in what happened here in our slice of North America. Commercial interests drove almost every bit of European colonization. We credit the Pilgrims with seeking “religious freedom” for their coming here but that’s not what actually brought them. The Pilgrims’ first move after leaving England was to Holland where they settled in Leiden and found — to their own delight — a remarkable amount of religious freedom. Their problem was, in Holland, they couldn’t make a living. North America promised both “open-mindedness” and a chance to score financially. Even religious kooks could make it in America!

Opportunity. That’s why Europeans first started coming to North America. Reinvention and reward. The reward was essential to Europeans’ continued interest. The Vikings got to what is now Canada as early as 1021. Their settlement at L’Anse Aux Meadows survived for a few decades and then they abandoned it. Their inability to get along with the Native population had lots to do with it. But so did economics. Leif Erickson had daringly crossed the Labrador Sea from the Viking settlement in Greenland which was, itself, a colony; the Vikings’ home was Northern Europe. Sustaining the Greenland colony was hard all by itself. Sustaining a colony of a colony — with zero reward coming back — that likely impacted their reasoning. When the Vikings retreated from what is now Newfoundland, as far as we know, they never went back. It wasn’t “worth it” to them.

After European pathogens like smallpox, measles and flu did their work (wiping out around 90% of the Native population), conquering the survivors of that germ tsunami became relatively easy. Then it became all about money chasing money. The Virginia Colony was an entirely private venture. “The company’s plan was to reward investors by locating gold and silver deposits and by finding a river route to the Pacific Ocean for trade with the Orient.” The settlers were all employees of a kind, beholden to a dream in their heads (unless they were sent here as a punishment) but also to the Company that sent them and supplied them. Almost from the get-go, though political power (in the form of royalty) claimed dominion over North America, money claimed all the real power. The rise of capitalism, its spread across Europe, undermined any “divine authority” claimed by any king. For all their divine rights, kings couldn’t pay for themselves because the feudal system they relied on for legitimacy was hopelessly corrupt, inefficient and hostile toward labor.

Funny irony? The bubonic plague that swept through Europe during the 14th century did more than just wipe out half to three quarters of the population. It destroyed feudalism. A shortage of laborers turned the labor market on its head; for the first time ever, the guy plowing the lord’s fields got to name his price for doing that plowing. He could just as easily go plow someone else’s field if they were paying more. This is precisely what COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it have done to our world. It drove a stake through the corrupt heart of our current economics. It changed not only how we work but what we work at. It drove home how beneficial it is to our economy if we UBI people (provide them a Universal Basic Income) until they can truly fly instead of forcing them to take low paying jobs that don’t match their skill sets or financial needs.

UBI works because it levels the playing field. It’s government doing what we need government to do — giving as many people as possible the same opportunity, the same chance to succeed as everyone else. When a rising tide floats all boats, all boats rise. People get happier and healthier (for reference, see Northern Europe — those Vikings may have gone home to Northern Europe but clearly they learned a thing or two from their travels). They live longer and live more fulfilled lives. They work in order to live. They don’t, as we do in America, live to work.

That unhealthy compulsion is a leftover from America’s founding principle: profit incentive. And don’t forget — one of the American Revolution’s big talking points for why revolution was necessary was “taxation without representation”. Want our money? Hear our voice. But, also let’s not forget that our founders made a Devil’s bargain with slavery at the founding. Instead of rejecting it outright, they compromised with it, making “All men are created equal” embarrassingly ironic. The white, Christian, land-owning men who drew up America’s founding documents had a great idea — “All men are created equal” — that they failed to stick on the landing. They didn’t mean “ALL men” though they they did mean “ONLY men”.

America remains to this day a great idea as yet unrealized. Which brings us to what American Exceptionalism actually IS: Our remarkable, never-happened-before-in-human-history diversity. Or, as our Great Seal puts it: “E Pluribus Unum”.

The nations of Europe that colonized North America were all products of at least fifteen hundred years of local tribes coalescing into national identities, each distinct and distinctive. The Germans are how they are just as the French, the Swiss, the Italians and the English are all how they are et cetera et cetera. Minus the Native American tribes, there was no “culture” in North America. There was no “native tribe” whose origin stories and mythology was the larger culture’s. That’s not to say one didn’t evolve. We have Thanksgiving and Independence Day as American rituals that grew out of mythologies about ourselves that we told ourselves. The same goes for “The American Dream”.

Whereas hierarchy and caste made it nearly impossible for a poor person to become anything other than a poor person, America’s lack of castes made it a place where truly anything could happen and a person could reinvent themselves completely. Opportunity. Reinvention. Promise. All those things flash in neon when the rest of the world contemplates America. If you’re willing to put in the sweat equity, America offers anyone and everyone a shot at greatness — that’s the lure. When it works, it works brilliantly. When it doesn’t — the onus is on us.

Immigration has always been the engine that renewed America’s exceptionalism. Not only do immigrants do the hard physical labor American workers don’t seem to want to do, they bring innovation with them too. Their aspirations counter the last group’s success and temptations to settle. New ideas force old ideas to compete. New ways of doing things make old ways obsolete — ditto the people doing those obsolete things. That’s why the people doing obsolete things get nuts when new ideas drop onto the table.

White people, having tilted the playing field at the start, are now loathe to allow the playing field to be corrected. It’s understandable — power sharing is less predictable than having permanent power in your hands alone. Lose power and you lose money. That also motivates white people to tilt the playing field as much as possible whenever possible.

Imagine if we could actually level the American playing field? Imagine if we could give as many Americans as possible the greatest possible chance to achieve the greatness within them? Think that’d be bad for America? I get depressed thinking of all the greatness America left on the table when it turned its back on Reconstruction and gave racism a boost instead. Think of all the Black minds that, had we but educated them, would have “returned on our investment” in ways we can’t even imagine — because we didn’t nurture the minds that would have scored those returns.

Are Anti-Vaxx Cops From The Same Hiring Pool As The Cops Who Murdered George Floyd?

Across America, police departments are facing the same problem: a quarter to a third of their employees refuse to get vaccinated (against this particular coronavirus exclusively; none of those employees seems to have balked at any vaccination before this one) and are willing to walk off their jobs if that means staying unvaccinated. Let’s please, please agree: these cops aren’t worried about any science. This bizarre stance doesn’t flow from any positive human impulse, rational thought process or real world situation. It is entirely manufactured within the heads of its adherents. It is defiant ignorance for defiant ignorance’s sake. Hmmmmmmm… now, why does that feel so familiar to us? Probably because it flows from the same toxic, tribal belief cesspit as racism. And bigotry and misogyny and every other ignorance-born way of thinking. From a Human Resources POV, this reflects two distinct hiring pools: cops who accept new information and cops who don’t. From a sociological POV, this reflects two distinct types of human: hard core conservatives and everyone else.

Politics shouldn’t play any role here. It’s obscene that they do. But both sides didn’t put politics into this conversation; only one side did that and we ain’t just talking about their anti-vaccine attitudes. One side of the American political spectrum relentlessly puts politics at the center of everything. They have to if they’re going to accomplish their goal of permanent minority rule. When Republicans gerrymander a Congressional district, their goal isn’t to see that district’s population represented regardless of their politics, it’s to do the exact opposite. Because politics. When Republicans suppress Democratic voters by writing bullshit, anti-democratic, unconstitutional legislation, their goal is political — even as they behave criminally to achieve that goal.

Every time a Republican infringes in whatever way on another American’s right to vote? THEY’RE BREAKING THE LAW. They are. That we’ve been slow to see it that way — and prosecute it accordingly — that’s not the law’s fault, it’s ours. The rule of law can’t enforce itself — and it can only reflect our best efforts at creating a country where everyone really does get equal treatment before the law. Equal enforcement of the rule of law would create an environment more conducive to a truly level playing field where every American truly has the same opportunities to achieve “the American Dream”. And to hold onto and build the wealth their hard work has earned them. And to hold onto and build upon the political power that wealth invariably brings.

Of course, when most everyone has a similar level of comfort (via “wealth)) and no one is struggling to get by or just eat, our society as a whole will benefit. It’s not hard, either. President Biden;s Expanded Child Tax Credit reduced poverty in America and spurred the economy at the same time — exactly as universal basic income always does whenever it’s battle tested. But, what if our problem is that some Americans WANT other Americans to remain in poverty — with zero political power? The impulse to pay people as little as possible for their work stems from the same impulse to enslave people. Slavery’s bottom line is stolen labor. It’s the entire point of the exercise: you get their work product for nothing (except the costs of housing, clothing and feeding a slave). The American south was always agrarian. The three big cash crops that established and then became the entire basis for the Confederacy’s economy were cotton, sugar cane and tobacco. All three demand a lot of field labor to plant, tend and harvest. If the plantation owners who grew those plants had paid a fair market rate for their labor, that would have directly impacted their profits.

But stolen labor is stolen money. The money that should have gone into fieldworkers’ pockets went into everyone else’s pockets instead. At no other stage of the sugar cane process as it went from seed to consumer did anyone NOT get paid — except the people who physically touched the plant itself. The reason slavery’s descendants are entitled to reparations is because something very real was stolen from their ancestors: their pay.

Though slavery ended in practical terms, the economic impulse to steal labor never did. Here in America, white money has always tried as hard as it could to steal the labor it needed for its businesses (non-white labor especially). The reason we have a minimum wage is because without it plenty of bosses would economically abuse their workers. What’s happening today though — where businesses are struggling to find workers willing to work for them is because pandemics historically change the economics of the eras they ravage. The Black Death destroyed feudalism. Here, today in America, the same thing is happening. Slavery is feudalism and feudalism is a perverse form of slavery. Just as bubonic plague decimated the work force as it ravaged 14th century Europe — throwing economic power to the workers (being in such short supply) — COVID is throwing economic power from those who need work done to those needed to do that work.

Here’s the takeaway: if pandemics can change whole economic systems (as they have), it’s probably possible for them to change how people treat and value other people non-monetarily too. We don’t have to be racist (or bigoted or misogynist or hateful in any way). We choose to. Just like we choose to hire cops who we know are racists even as we hire them.

George Floyd’s murder changed our national conversation because the proof of what Derek Chauvin did to him was, well, so clearly evident. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds during which Derek Chauvin knowingly and willfully executed George Floyd while a crowd watched and begged him to stop while they videoed him. “I don’t care” shines like a beacon from Chauvin’s eyes. “No one — NO ONE — is the boss of me”. That’s what Chauvin’s whole demeanor shouts.

Take this to the bank: Derek Chauvin didn’t show up for work that day having never behaved that way at work. This was how Derek Chauvin practiced policing because he still believes that that is what policing is. Policing in America began with slave patrols. It’s never stopped thinking of itself that way.

Here’s the problem: racists are good at not questioning things they should question. They walk in the door totally convinced that white people really are superior to all others. That’s not based on anything substantive. It’s all feelings and zero facts. Racists, once triggered, become zombie-like, driven by whatever those feelings tell them to do — attack peaceful, prosperous, productive Black communities, for instance, as a white mob did in Tulsa on May 31, 1921 when they destroyed the Greenwood section of town.

In jobs where we need people to “follow orders”, we still need them to follow orders sensibly. Soldiers or cops who’d follow a leader literally off a cliff won’t be around long. We’ve built a moral obligation into our military laws just so soldiers and cops don’t have to do that. We’ve made following morally repugnant orders a choice not an obligation. But, we never turned away from hiring — as cops or soldiers — people who would follow morally repugnant orders. That’s not on them — they are who they are and who they’ve always been. It’s on us. We don’t have to hire people we know (yes, we DO know!) are either racist or feel sympathetic toward racists. Being “racist adjacent” is the same as being racist.

The anti-vax cops nationwide are doing us a favor and we’d be stupid not to let them. Hear, HEAR, John Oliver!

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder (and Eric Garner’s and Michael Brown’s and Tamir Rice and Walter Scott and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and Stephon Clark and Breonna Taylor among too, too many others!), America finally saw policing and its police departments in the light in which policing in America should always have been seen. Because we evolved policing from slavery — from recapturing escaped slaves — policing in America has always held onto its compulsion to keep Black people in line. Policing still thinks of Black people as someone’s property — three-fifths of a man some “full man” owns.

We need police officers to keep the peace. We need them to help mitigate emergencies and to be part of any dangerous situation’s first response on our collective behalf. We need them to do this work in order to have order. But, we’ve heaped a lot of other jobs onto “policing” that don’t belong to them. How we solve that is a whole other series of conversations. For starters though, we need to stop setting ourselves up for failure by constantly returning to the same hiring pool for police officers when that hiring pool consistently produces problems for us.

Perversely, over the last two years, nothing has killed more police officers than the coronavirus. If one was a cop, you’d think that fact alone would cut through the bullshit and force you to see sense. Ah, but racist brains don’t work that way. Neither do anti-vax brains. They sure seem to be one and the same.

In hindsight, my bet is, we’ll connect those dots. The same cops who think violence is policing also think not getting vaccinated against a demonstrably deadly virus proves their loyalty to… what? What are these people being loyal to? What’s causing them to choose stupid and selfish over doing the right thing for the right reasons?

Maybe our problem isn’t just the hiring pool itself but those who keep returning to it. What do they expect to find there (aside from a hire they need to make)? Maybe, perversely, the coronavirus is doing something we haven’t the courage to do for ourselves: remove racist assholes from every PD hiring pool in America.

History Teaches: Deadly Pandemics Can Topple Whole Economic Systems — Like This Pandemic Is Toppling Ours

From Black Death to fatal flu, past pandemics show why people on the  margins suffer most | Science | AAAS

The right wing and our punditry are beside themselves that Americans are refusing to go back to work. Um, no — they’re not refusing “to go back to work”, they’re refusing to return to work 1) that doesn’t suit them or their skill sets, 2) doesn’t pay what the work should be paid and 3) doesn’t fit into their lives. This is how workers are supposed to think — not as the slave-like drones conservatives want American workers to be. Leave America and you discover that the rest of the world works in order to live. Americans, by contrast, live to work. It’s not because we love our work; it’s because, in essence, we’re meant to be chained to it. Something in conservatism loves the idea of a workhouse where the indigent work for virtually nothing until they drop dead. Their hands or legs are easily replaced by another. The worker herself is irrelevant; all that matters is that “the work” gets done so the bosses atop the food chain can get paid.

The Black Death that blew through Europe in the fourteenth century (Historian Barbara Tuchman called it “the calamitous 14th century in the subtitle of her brilliant book “A Distant Mirror” — her deep dive into the century that, in Europe — produced not only the Black Death but also, during the same time frame, the hundred years war (between England and France) and the papal schism that put one pope in Rome and a second pope in Avignon, France. For a short time, a third pope also entered the picture but he soon disappeared.

The feudal system that dominated Europe worked vertically. Atop it was the king. Below him were all the families that supported his being king. Below them were the far flung landowners of the realm and wealthy merchants and below all of them were the vassals — the dirt poor peasants working the dirt for everyone above. This was economic slavery. No vassal was ever going to get rich and set himself up in business somewhere. Such things didn’t happen. The system wasn’t designed for anything to happen. Money pre-capitalism was undynamic in nature. A country was worth what it could physically produce. Or pilfer in war.

The bubonic plague killed more than half the population in many places — even more in some, less in others. It devastated the work force. Even as the world succumbed to plague all around them, the healthy tried to keep life going. People still had to eat. Crops had to be farmed and, somehow, gotten to market — if there was still a market. The plague pandemic cut down the number of available hands to do that farming to a bare minimum. Now, the peasant who lived on “Sir John’s” land might normally have been obligated to pick Sir John’s crops so that he could generate income for his estate and family by getting that produce to market. But Sir John’s neighbor — Sir Neville — was offering actual cash to Sir John’s vassals if Sir John’s vassals would pick Sir Neville’s crops first. It’s not like Sir John was a prince who treated them like princes.

So, off to Sir Neville’s Sir John’s vassals went. And, just like that, feudalism in Europe died.

In time, the guilds arose — representing the crafts and then labor in general. With the rise of capitalism, labor became a commodity. Industrialization meant mass production which meant the likelihood of abuse on the factory floor. Industrialization became another form of feudalism to the laborers until the unions — based on the old guilds — rose up and demanded fairness in wages and working conditions.

The Black Death gave life to labor.

Though the death wasn’t anywhere near as catastrophic as during the plague, the coronavirus pandemic still reached everywhere with the potential for mass death. If your loved one’s body is in the pile, you’re not going to measure one pandemic’s body count versus another. You’re mourning a loss that changed your world.

The way this pandemic has already changed ours.

We’ve experienced the “for worse part”. There is a “for better” out there. It’s coming and, if the workers of the world unite? We may see the pandemic with mixed emotions. For some people, this new world will be their salvation.