Let's begin with my confessing to being both a lifelong sci-fi geek and old enough to have enjoyed the pretty cheesy, late 70s version of Battlestar Galactica. Thirty years later, I became hooked on the 2003-2009 version of Galactica, the story of the epic battle between the human remnants of the Twelve Colonies and the "robot" Cylons.
Now the newest series, "Caprica," takes its viewers back to that mysterious time when the Cylons were first created and promises to reveal how humans ever managed to allow their own technological creations to nearly wipe them out.
How this relates to Citizens United, Goldman Sachs and life choices after the break.
Battlestar is a re-working and extension of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein myth that explores a circumstance in which human technology outgrows human wisdom to such a degree that people create the means of their own destruction. As a member of the generation that grew up during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that's hardly news. We spent our early years wondering not if but when the Bombs would start to fly, and I'll admit to being pleasantly surprised that we've made it this long without being wiped out by the Thermonuclear Apocalypse.
The premise of Battlestar is not the same as Dr. Strangelove, however. The Bomb was always intended to kill, but robots were not (see Asimov). In the Caprican Beginning, humans created docile robots who took the place of human servants. These early "toasters" (later humans' derisive term for robots in general and Cylons in particular) can be seen in the new series bustling about Caprica, yes-sir-ing and no-ma'am-ing their way through the houses of the rich.
How could such a technologically advanced culture ever have allowed these upgraded iPhones to come within 50,000 people of eliminating humanity--or at least humanity in their part of the galaxy?<div align="center">Corporations vs. Humans</div>
It is obvious by now that we Terrans may have survived the Bomb, but another human creation threatens our existence. These creatures were originally given life to further worthy human goals like canal building and transcontinental railroad construction, but they soon rebelled and escaped the bounds that had initially confined their purpose and power. For years, they have abused human workers, despoiled human habitat, manipulated human consumers and corrupted human government. Now, after enslaving us, they threaten to snuff out our lives altogether by means of climate change, starvation and disease brought on by their poisonous products and by-products.
Thanks be to the Gods, as the Capricans might say, for at least we Earthlings have only limited capacity for space travel. Otherwise, this plague we have unleashed upon our own planet might spread throughout the universe.
But wait, you say. Corporations are not like Cylons. Cylons have legs and arms and eyes and minds of their own. Our corporations would not eat if we did not feed them with our purchases and our investments. They would have no hands with which to strike us if we did not provide them with our labor. They could not devise their diabolical plans to rob us of our freedom and self-respect if we did not sell them our minds.<div align="center">Baltar or Starbuck?</div>
Every space melodrama must have its human villain. In Battlestar, the anthropos you love to hate is called Baltar. In the 70s series, he was a ridiculous cartoon character, the disgusting opposite to the noble Adama in every way. The 21st century version of Baltar may be more complex, but he's still eminently despicable. Narcissistic, arrogant, cynical, cowardly, hedonistic. Again and again, he is presented with a choice between solidarity with his fellow human beings and self-interested collaboration with the Cylons. Again and again, he chooses wrongly. And every time, Baltar's weakness brings humanity another step closer to extinction.
Baltar's opposite is Starbuck. She's a bit of the ne'er do well, repeatedly gambling, drinking and fighting her way onto her superior officers' shit lists, but she's the best pilot in the fleet and her courage knows no bounds. Her first instinct is to help her fellow human beings, even at the risk of her own life, and she is the toasters' most implacable enemy.
Can a space opera's archetypal characters can help clarify the choices we are presented in our own space and time? Perhaps. Humanity is under grave threat. Corporations control our means of making a living, our access to food and soon, water, the quality of our air, our creative arts, our religious institutions and our governments.
Many of us see the danger, but when we have limited our efforts at "frackin' the toasters" to the political realm, we have found that we are no match for the strength and agility of these corporate monsters. Their money and media savvy overwhelm us every time.
But life is not limited to conventional politics. In fact, pretending that political activity is the only way we can thwart the ongoing corporate destruction of humanity and humanity's home is a dodge, a Baltar-esque rationalization for our life choices that feed and serve our enemy.
We have not lost all ability to regain our freedom from our corporate masters and restore humanity's future, but our struggle must move beyond the political world into broader social and economic life. While that sounds easy enough, the task will require great sacrifice and a complete re-ordering of our priorities. Given how far the corporations have progressed in their program of eradicating humans from the face of Planet Earth, it may take a generation or more before life--real life--can be restored.
This new war-on-all-fronts cannot begin until we admit that nearly all of us have been Baltars. Corporations have preyed upon our weaknesses for ease and comfort, security and acceptance. We shop at Walmart or Target or Amazon because it's convenient and cheap. We drive a Toyota or Ford or Volvo and fill it with Exxon gasoline because it's no fun waiting for a bus in the rain or trudging through the snow. We work for Aetna or Morgan Stanley or Lockheed Martin because the benefits are good and it makes our parents proud and our old high school classmates envious.
Thus, by personal decisions small and momentous, we have all become collaborators in our own destruction, in the destruction of our friends, our lovers and our children.
We have allowed ourselves to be traitors to our own kind because we're too soft and spoiled to fight on all fronts, even when the battle is for the very survival of humankind.<div align="center">Stand and Fight</div>
The tiny remnant of the Twelve Colonies boarded spaceships and fled the Cylons, buying time to find other human allies and rebuild their strength so that they could be victorious in their next battle. We have no such option. There are few if any places we can go on this globe where we can be free of the marauding corporations. They will not be satisfied until they have dug every last chunk of coal, pumped every last drop of oil and cut down the final tree in the rain forest.
If we cannot run, we must fight. If we fight, it must be with the means and in an arena where we have a chance of winning, not the worlds of politics and media where the corporations already own all the assets.
Here are some places where we can start:
Believe it or not, money is one of our most powerful weapons against the Corporate Tyranny. William Greider writes in The Soul of Capitalism (ISBN 0-684-86219-0) that as of 2003, U. S. households held nearly $4.5 trillion in highly liquid assets like savings and checking accounts in banks, credit unions and S&Ls. While the upper 5% hold more than their share, the distribution of these assets is not nearly as unequal as stock holdings. That leaves trillions, yes trillions, of dollars under the immediate control of the very people being savaged by corporations. Harnessed to benefit our neighborhoods and communities, it could literally save our lives and buy us time for the longer fight. The cost to us of transforming this money from food for our corporate enemies into manna for starving worker-owned manufacturers, organic farming coops, green community redevelopment, after-school programs and other human-scale and human-centered enterprises and institutions is not that difficult. All it takes is withdrawing your money from an anti-human bank and depositing it in a local credit union where you actually have a voice about who receives a loan backed by your deposit. Even Baltar might be willing to do that, if only for appearances' sake.
Beyond that, again from Greider as of 2003, there are $6 trillion held by pension funds, the beneficiaries of which are mostly middle and working class Americans. Asserting control over that money is a lot tougher, but it's possible. Many union pension funds have already wised up to how their money was being used to ship jobs overseas, and they're now making sure that their members' pension money is used to help not hurt those members' communities and families. Some more progressive professional workers' pension funds like TIAA-CREF offer investment options with a conscience. You don't even have to sacrifice much if anything in the way of returns. Politics can even play a role, at least at the local level. Public employee pension funds are subject to political pressure, and some have come to realize it makes sense to invest their money in a way that helps grow the tax base of their state or local community. The least we can do is to check on how our retirement money is invested and let the fund managers know our preferences.
Finally, the stock market. John Maynard Keynes looked at the stock markets of his day and remarked that a society that based capital development on the activities of a casino was unlikely to fare well. We are all aware that things are even worse today. The stock market was never really a way to fund new enterprises anyway. Its very liquidity encourages trading and rapid ownership turnover rather than long-term investing. Greider writes:
Investors with broader social objectives need to rethink the nature of their own risk-taking, that is, to find a more informed balance between avoiding risks and accepting responsibility [for the impact of their investments]. People have the power to do this simply by withdrawing some or all their financial savings from Keynes' casino and placing it with other financial ventures that invest more faithfully according to their long-term values.
When it comes to the stock market, just say, "No frackin' way!" If you'd like to learn about better alternatives, The Soul of Capitalism chapter on "Imperious Capital" is a good place to start.
We are what we eat goes the old saying. More broadly, we are what we buy. Our purchases don't reflect our values. They are our values.
Just as a Cylon Centurion may need its batteries recharged from time to time, so the corporate monster cannot survive without the flow of our dollars. It takes considerable effort these days to avoid buying corporate, but we are called as human beings to try. It's not only the ethical thing to do. If we're aware of what's going on around us, it's also a matter of simple, short-term self preservation since corporations have moved beyond the point of caring whether they poison or cripple their customers. It's all that "tort reform" and deregulation we're always hearing about.
If all else fails, grow, cook, hew, sew or knit your own. Those are things that human beings have managed to do for thousands of years, and it would be a shame if all those skills evaporated in the course of a few decades out of lazy dependence on cheap, robot-made crap.
Here's where it gets touchy (as if it hasn't already). Daily Kos is predominately a middle/upper middle class audience. That's why Kos does pretty well off the advertising. There are a lot of people who frequent this site who think of themselves as Democrats, maybe even Progressives, but they work for the corporate enemy or the law firms that the corporate enemy uses to make a mockery of justice or the advertising agencies that concoct the corporate enemy's lying, life-killing bullshit.
These days, most Kossacks would consider these corporate employees damn lucky. A paycheck that doesn't bounce. Health insurance that might actually cover something. A 401(k) that's back in the black.
Let's concede that a lot of these corporate folks have kind hearts and are truly committed to a better politics. We see them generously reach out to Kossacks who find themselves in a tough spot. They work hard and donate faithfully to campaigns. In all likelihood, they're great parents, children, siblings and co-workers, and never, ever kick the family dog.
But, like all of us, they are all Baltars. Their considerable skills are being used to further the goals of the same anti-human institutions that we must fight in order to survive.
People with progressive sympathies who are employed by corporations like Goldman or United Healthcare or General Motors often rationalize that they can make a difference working on the inside. They are deluding themselves. Corporations don't hire people; they assimilate them. The corporate work model is drawn from feudal days. All corporate employees are in a master/servant relationship, and the master is dedicated to the destruction of human dignity, freedom and even existence for the benefit of corporate profit and power. Just how much influence do these servants think they have? (Note: servant = slave who has the freedom to leave but nothing more)
Greider writes that the modern employee has entered a bargain with his corporate employer.
The employee will surrender all rights to a say about how the workplace is managed in exchange for absolution from any responsibility for the impact of his labor on the larger society.
Baltar would be pleased at such an arrangement.
The Reformed Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner, wrote that:
Capitalism is irresponsibility organized into a system.
Corporations are capitalism's highest "achievement" in that regard. Begin with Greider's admonition that employees bear no responsibility for the corporation's actions. Then remember that the whole point of the corporate form is to shield the corporation's "owners" from liability and responsibility, even majority stockholders who theoretically control the firm. Recall how corporate managers neatly block any recourse against them when the corporation they were running harms others. Note that the analysts and consultants who often have great impact on corporate decision-making quickly wash their hands without adverse consequences when things go sour. Don't forget the ratings firms that won't even acknowledge responsibility to those who rely directly upon their work, much less the broader society.
That's the genius of our enemy. They go broke, and we pay for it. They foul our air and water, and we're poisoned. Their business plan fails, they close plants and whole communities are made destitute. As long as we're willing to keep playing "flip the coin" with them, it will be heads they win, tails we lose.
And no human being is responsible. Why should they be? It is the Corporate Tyranny that has done it all.
There is no getting around it. There is a basic contradiction between working for a corporation and being human.
Now someone may object that they don't work for an investment bank or an oil company or a MIC contractor. Their employer is a good corporation, a "do no evil" company.
What if that changes, as it almost always does? After all, corporations in a capitalist society are about making money. They have no responsibility to do good, and no inclination to avoid doing evil if they can get away with it. What can you do about it other than quit? And if you're reluctant to quit now, why will it be easier later? "I can always stop when I want to" rings a bit hollow.
But isn't that too much to ask? Quit a job? In this economy? Can't we just go on working in our corporate cubicles -- or corner suites -- and donate to Act Blue to atone for our master's sins?
Sure. But not if you want things to change. Not if you want things to be <sgtrike>better
This isn't about Supreme Court decisions, public options, insurance antitrust exemptions, tax rates or even civil liberties, torture or war. These things are just symptoms and attempts to ameliorate symptoms. The Corporate Empire hopes that we choose to meet them on the political field of battle to argue about such side issues because they're armed with laser rifles next to our pitchforks and torches, and, oh yes, votes. LOL.
This is about the survival of humanity. Spiritual survival (as in "the human spirit"). Physical survival. We cannot limit our strategy based on what is comfortable or safe for us.
Which are you? Starbuck or Baltar?
Before you decide, take a second look at that photo of Starbuck posted above. Bruised. Haggard. Terrified. But human. Committed to helping other humans. An enemy to the death of the frackin' toasters.
It won't be easy. Many of us will be lost in this battle. I don't know about you, but I'm not going to bow down to some frackin' toaster or Inc. or LLC. I'm a human being.
So say we all.
A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.
Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.
For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.
Bob Dylan "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleedin')"