Inertia Never Sleeps

March 16, 2013

inertiaI’ve been preoccupied lately by the term, inertia, which most of us probably first became aware of in a school science lesson.

A classic definition of inertia might be: Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. So, if you set a marble down on a table it will not move unless you impart energy to it (give it a shove or tip the table and let gravity infuse it with juice) and it won’t stop rolling unless something stops it (it hits a wall or friction sucks its energy, slowing it until it’s left with nothing but the will to do nothing forever but sleep).

What I’ve been thinking, looking over our plutocratic capitalist landscape, is that inertia applies not only to physical objects in space, but to psychic ones as well, such as ideas that cannot move or have ceased to move after bouncing against one political wall after another (call it elite friction); or ideas that roll on like giant snowballs raging downhill picking up detritus and speed until they hit a wall.

Inertia, in fact, has as much to do with politics as physics.

We have monstrous environmental problems as plain as rising mean temperatures, Manhattan plus-sized calving glaciers in Antarctica and prolonged drought in the central and southwest, but are unable to remedy them. Why? Inertia.

wealth ineqyuity graphWe have huge problems resulting from global and national financial inequity: a chronic gap in wealth distribution, but don’t deal with them. Why? Inertia.

We’re facing-down food calamities: pesticide and GMO contamination and tsunamis of sickness-producing junk-food, among others, but seem powerless to intervene. Why? Inertia.

And, most sadly, there are remedies  (and here and here) for all of these things, but which remain unimplemented. Ideas that sit there inert as we are catatonic, or move excruciatingly slowly, waiting for the destruction of obstruction and bursts of energy required to move them forward. Why? National ideological inertia enough to suck energy out of a black hole —you betcha’.

If you guessed my use of the term “you betcha'” was calculated you’re right. It’s there to call attention to the kind of thinking that has stopped a government in its tracks from doing anything useful, practical or redeemable in a world that needs, first, a good (intelligent) talking to and, next, a powerful kick in the ass to send it down the road to (intelligent) action. The kind of thinking (or, actually, thoughtlessness) that propelled Sarah Palin to the status of super-stupid talking head for the willfully ignorant.

Simple historical fact: capitalism won the argument it had with socialism and communism. Capitalism has been running things for a long time. It ran them even before the Soviet Union folded in 1991 and has been running them in spades ever since. Even the last big “communist” state, China, is nothing but top-down capitalism writ large. In fact, there would not be much difference between a government run exclusively by the Koch brothers and one run by Li Keqiang, Premier of China —we’re almost there now! So, I’d love to have stone capitalists stop dancing around what’s causing the earth to warm, our seas to become sewers, our fish stocks to diminish, our food supply to be monopolized and made unhealthful by fewer and fewer huge agribusinesses, our electoral system to be bought and paid for by the richest among us, to have news sources vital to a functioning democracy owned by fewer and fewer of the richest Americans, to have our basic right to healthcare equity controlled by profit-making organizations —the beat and social crimes go on.

Dear USA, it’s not socialism, but capitalism (or what passes for it) seeded with the worst of human nature that’s responsible for these present dangers. Despite that right-wing red herring —the one Sarah Palin loves to throw out at rallies to smell up the room for watchers of info-free Fox news— socialism has not been responsible for most of this. Capitalism has rolled amok through the world for decades making money hand over fist, adding to its bottom line, skimming off the top, cutting corners, buying politicians, creating housing bubbles and recessions just like that snowball mentioned earlier, flattening or corrupting everything in its path. Once set off it has become implacable: an object of inertia without a countervailing force because it is not run by empathic humans, but by bottom-line, acquisitive and ruthless automatons.

Capitalism can’t help itself . When the acquisition of wealth becomes a system’s most widespread ultimate virtue and when wealth has been given legal permission to buy anything at any cost, what should we expect?

Mother Teresas do not run banks. They don’t sit on the Supreme Court. The managers of soup kitchens do not call the shots at Monsanto or Arthur Daniels Midland. And no Jesus has risen through the political ranks of either Democrats or Republicans to multiply and re-distribute the wealth of loaves and fishes. He is always cut down by the priests of acquisition among us.

In fact, the inertia we live with today is the same inertia Jesus faced in years running up to AD 1: the tendency of the rich and powerful to remain rich and powerful regardless of everything else and to stop any movement to the contrary with lies, repression and violence —whatever it takes.

Still, champions —the more courageous among us— occasionally arise to get the counter-ball rolling despite being vilified and scourged.

But (big but), to paraphrase 1960s free-speech activist Jack Weinberger, who said, “Never trust anyone over thirty,” a wise rule of thumb for those hoping to overcome the will to do nothing but sleep forever might be: never trust anyone with over thirty million in take-home pay. Whatever they say should be taken with a full shaker of salt whenever it comes to doing what needs to be done in the best inertial interests of the people.

by Jim Culleny
3/16/13
for The West County Independent

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