For those of you who keep up on such matters, the Preliminary Injunction in the PLN lawsuit against the WA parole board (ISRB) was denied. This PI would have allowed Ed Mead to resume "contact" i.e. correspondence and phone calls with us "convicted felons" in order to have a hand in publishing this newsletter (oops, Paul says we should call it a magazine from now on). I wish Ed could continue working with us here at PLN, but I understand he keeps himself busy and has been applying his talents and energy in other political areas.
What editorial would be complete without the pitch for more donations? Well, we dont aim to give you an incomplete editorial. Id like to remind you all that postage rates went up in January, but PLNs rates didnt. Please continue to support PLN. Send whatever you can, when you can, and well keep em coming. Our suggested rate for individual subscribers is still $12 a year. For Institutional subscribers the rate is $35 a year.
We get a lot of requests for back issues. Especially numerous are the "if you happen to have a few old back issues laying around" requests. Its not that easy. If you need a specific back issue, please state the month and year, and send along $1.00 to cover our photocopying and postage costs. Well honor all requests as long as supplies last. If you want an entire set of back issues (or complete years) were talking major photocopying costs. Complete sets of back issues are available for $35 per year ($25 for prisoners). Sorry about that. Were not in this to make a buck. Its just that photocopying, collating, folding and stapling large numbers of back issues racks up the old Copy-Shop bill pretty fast.
Now with the "business" stuff outta the way, I can get to the good stuff Paul and I have had some interesting political discussions this past month. He made me promise to say that what follows is not necessarily the view of both editors, but it does more or less reflect my views.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the way things are. Being the co-editor of PLN, I read and review a wide range of material written about prisoners, politicians, the media and the prison struggle. I think there must be a better way.
But when I try to imagine how things could be better, my focus always shifts from prisons to a wider view. I see the world differently than most people, especially from the way people in the free world see it. I see a world where the dynamics of competitions twist people into grotesque shapes. I see a world where decisions are based on the bottom line (how will this effect the quarterly profit and loss statement? How will this look in the polls?) rather than based on concern for the greater good.
Ten years ago, I believed that humans were inherently greedy, self-serving, violent and uncaring creatures. I believed it was only the moderating forces of law, authority, and society that caged up our vilest animal instincts and conformed us into "respectable" citizens. But then I took a 180 degree turn around. I began to believe that humans are inherently decent, loving gentle beings. Their innocence and compassion is lost only through a slow but steady process of competition--similar to the process of steel turning to rust. That was an important shift in my world view because it made me stop wondering whats wrong with people and start wondering about whats wrong with the world. What forces act upon humans to create the violence, greed, anger and malice that make this world such a mean, bitter place?
Lets talk about capitalism (this is where some people start rolling their eyes up at me). Capitalism is hailed as a an efficient economic system, and that it may well be. But it is undeniably a brutal social system. Capitalism is based on profits and competition (at least where monopolies have not yet been established). The weak, i.e. not sufficiently profit motivated and not sufficiently competitive (ruthless), are vanquished by the strong. If you want to succeed in this country, in business or in politics, you have to be ruthless.
Does that sound a little too cynical? Often, I am accused of that by my wife. She reminds me (and rightly so) that not all people are ruthless, competitive, and uncompassionate. And this, to me, points out one of the most glaring flaws of a capitalist society. If you concede that most people are decent caring and compassionate, then why does it seem that those who dictate policy (and I am not necessarily talking about politicians here) seem to be ruthless and self-serving? Its because the "market forces" of competition and profit motive rule not only in the area of product sales, but also in the social arena.
How do executives of corporations rise to positions of power? By worrying about the health and welfare at workers and consumers--or by sweetening up the profit margins for stockholders and investment bankers? How do politicians get re-elected and thus rise to positions of political power? By acting only for the good at humanity-- or by reacting to the latest polls (based on "public opinion" which is carefully managed and manipulated by the corporate media) or by catering to the PACs who provide the money they must have in order to win a political campaign? It is because of this latter dynamic that the government is not "Of the people and for the people." Government is an instrument of and for the monied interests who keep their campaign coffers filled. ("Deep Throat" put it nicely when he told Woodward and Bernstein to "Follow the money. Just follow the money, itll lead you to whos running this thing.")
When you take a step back and watch these social forces in action, it becomes clear that even if the overwhelming majority of people in a capitalist society are generous and compassionate, the natural forces of the "market" tend to reward those who are the most ruthless and self-serving to positions of power and authority.
Some of this is hard to see because we are immersed in a culture of competition. Its hard to step back and view things from a different perspective. We are schooled in the mechanics of competition from an early age. As we grow up we learn that what matters in life is to make the grade, win the game, get the highest SAT scores, gain the promotion, increase the profit margin or win the award. Win. Win. Win. We learn that there are winners and losers in life, and the goal is to be a winner. But under capitalism the vast majority of us lose. Its a system where only a very few can actually "win."
Being aware that a culture based on profits and competition may not be the best of worlds is only the beginning. Helping other people be aware of the inequities and injustice of capitalism and the dynamics of how the system operates is another step. But what next? How can the system he changed?
This is where Paul and I part company. Unlike Paul, I am not a Marxist - Leninist. Marx and Lenin wrote not only of the contradictions and exploitation inherent in a capitalist society, they also wrote of a vision for a new society. I don't disagree with their basic analysis of capitalism. But I stop short of agreeing with their vision at a better system. And besides, at this point, I think any kind of political movement that has the tag "Communism" (or Socialism, Maoism, Marxism, etc.) will most certainly fail. Paul disagrees, but I propose the corporate press and ruling class interests have so thoroughly discredited "Communism" that it would be impossible to organize working people behind such a barrier. I think the world needs a Marx or a Lenin for the twenty-first century. I believe we need a new vision. And for my part... well, Ill keep my eyes and ears and mind open and Ill keep on thinking.
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