The battle between Haves and Have-nots has been a long and continuous one. In the old days this battle was usually won by force of arms and money. Typically, wealth had the better arms, which settled things pretty quickly and decisively. Tactics were usually brutal. Ghengis Khan was not so much an advocate of mercy, fairness or justice. Put another way, Ghengis Khan first defined what justice was then pursued it on horseback with battleaxes and a sense of entitlement.
Over the years, things progressed. Money always had power, but the niceties of moral philosophies (some religious, some not-so) developed and affected the way power was won and held. We still define “justice” according to points of view as all wars and laws attest, but we created rules to govern our brutality, codifying when and how it could be practiced. We came up with rules of war. The Geneva Convention guidelines are an example of this. But we still had our Haves vs. Have-nots battles.
One remarkable challenge to the idea of singular rule of power was an idea the Greeks came up with. The city-state of Athens was one of the first known democracies. Although Athenians institutionalized democracy, elites do not just relinquish power; this would go against human nature. As the Greek historian Thucydides wrote of Athens, “It was in theory a democracy but in fact it became the rule of the ‘first’ Athenian.”
In fact, what Athenians wound up with was a democracy of the aristoi; an aristocracy, a democracy of Haves. The Have-nots — women, slaves, non-citizens — were still second-class as far as those first lovers of democracy were concerned. For Have-nots, things pretty much remained the same, even if in a more civilized way. A slave was a slave after all, and a woman a woman and, as Jesus said, the poor we’ll always have with us. He didn’t immediately suggest why, however.
Fast forward 2,500 years or so: after having accomplished through violence, manipulation, mendacity and other nefarious means huge land-grabs from indigenous cultures of Have-nots, and building an economy on the free labor of Have-nots brutally collected from Africa, the monied class of the American colonies fought a war for independence, won, and set up a democracy. But as stated, elites do not just relinquish power and can be very clever in the way they retain it. American democracy (like Athenian democracy before it) was set up as a system that excluded women, slaves and other Have-nots who lacked the practical means to participate. Such practical means might be lack of education (ignorance of the many being an essential method of crowd control) or lack of economic resources to get a congressman’s ear.
But things gradually got better. Eventually, through the ideas, work, sacrifice and moral force of good people, slaves were freed, women were allowed to participate, alien minorities could gain citizenship and ruthless employers were countered by an organized labor movement, which led to many of the working conditions we’ve taken for granted. Enlightenment seemed to be advancing ever so slowly.
But never turn your back on an oligarch, or a plutocrat, for that matter. They’re as ravenous as hyenas and as patient as ticks. Holding on to hard-won progress is a tireless battle. It never ends. Jesus knew this. Remember what he said about the poor always being around. The eternal causality of human greed and venality is what he left unspoken in his remark. In fact, the tireless battle of holding on is one we’re losing right now.
In the USA today money runs the show. This is not new, of course. What’s new is the out-and-out blatancy of it. The truth is the battle for the soul of the nation was shamelessly lost last year when the Supreme Court ruled that money shall be, officially, more significant than the vote. When the court ruled corporations could, under the guise of “free speech,” support the political aspirations of politicians without limit — that they could, in effect, buy a politician’s vote — they were announcing that the Haves of the nation were running things. Period. To think an ordinary American’s efforts count for much against the huge sums a corporation can dole out is just ludicrous.
The political clout of wealth knows no bounds. Having such muscle gives our rich elite the ability to control information through conglomerate ownership of media outlets, false and deceptive propaganda of political advertising, payments to politicians to speak (lovingly) of corporations in any venue, political assaults against public education (ignorance of the many being an essential method of crowd control) and now, as in Wisconsin, the power to deprive American workers the right to collectively bargain. Wisconsin is a particularly open-faced example of a toady of the enormously wealthy Koch brothers (Gov. Scott Walker) essentially dismantling the state’s public employees’ union for his benefactors.
Have we come this far to see the gains of Have-nots fall apart under the rule of the economically brutal? The conservative heart of the business right is not much more an advocate of mercy, fairness or justice then was old Genghis. Have we exchanged Khans in skins on horseback for Kochs in suits in limousines?
The struggle between Haves and Have-nots is perennial. It will apparently take more than 70,000 or 80,000 workers in the courtyards of privately owned statehouses to make any headway in it. Are we up to it? Do we have the heart and unity of Egyptians? Do we even care?
by Jim Culleny
for The Shelburne Falls Independent
March 3, 2011