Wednesday, May 7, 2014
If you have been paying attention there is an FCC ruling that may be coming shortly that will put a nail in the coffin of the empowering effects of the Internet.
I have been reading Pikkety's book "Capital in the 21st Century" lately and while I am only an introduction and a chapter in I have noticed a point that he keeps coming back to time and time again: the main contributing factor that leads to the convergence of wealth and shrinking inequality is the diffusion (or mass dissemination) of knowledge and skills. In other words, education is the way out of poverty. These two subject matters got me thinking. If education is the key to poverty and governments are so keen these days to cut education budgets from Pre-K to Higher Ed what is the hope of those of us who have not inherited immense wealth and privilege? My answer: the Internet. And now the free nature of the Internet is at risk in the US. If Comcast, Verizon, and those other corporate vultures end up able to monetize access to the Internet (even further than they already have) then the empowering effects of free accessible education are going to be diminished at best and extinguished at worst. This situation is a classic Marxist analysis: if the capitalists end up owning the means of production then they will have a monopoly on free education and consequently on the capacities of the underprivileged to get the skills necessary to lift themselves out of poverty.
It seems we are at a turning point in history. The last few years have been marked by a surge in dissent acted out in the public square. Though sweeping reforms and systematic change have so far been unattained there have been small victories. However, very recently (two days ago at this writing) an Occupy Wall Street protestor was convicted of assaulting a police officer as a result of a seizure that she went into as a result of being sexually assaulted by the very officer in question and faces a maximum of seven years in prison. In short, precedent has been set (though it has been in play for centuries on people of color and other marginalized people groups) to legitimize police violence against dissent. Where does that leave us?
Let me recap: a leading economist has pointed out in his monumental (and possibly new standard) work that education is the primary catalyst of shrinking systematic wealth inequality; the Internet is the prima facie access point to a free education for those at the bottom of the inequality scale; the FCC is considering ruling that Internet giants like Comcast and Verizon can give priority access to companies and individuals who pay more (thereby furthering the wealth privilege); and dissent is being quelled by legitimized police violence against non-violent demonstrations. (I haven't even touched on the Bundy militia who can point assault rifles at Federal officers and go home to masturbate on their own sense of self-satisfaction at night.)
What are the people to do? Occupy Wall Street, the cause for which Cecily McMillan was in the street in the first place, was (and is) aimed at drawing attention to the privilege gap. In the mainstream the message takes the form of income inequality. Therefore, it would follow that the same folks who were camped out in public squares across the US would react with the same passion at the prospect of one of the major corporations (who pays around 1.4% in corporate taxes, mind you) being able to prioritize the privileged and cut literally life-giving access to the disadvantaged. However, these same would-be dissenters have to face the possibility that they will be met with the same violence and gross miscarriage of justice that Cecily McMillan and so many others face and have faced on a daily basis.
Those at the top of the inequality mountain are--in classic Marxist terms--trying to fence off one of the last remaining vestiges and most easily accessible forms of public empowerment. Furthermore, this corporate theft is not only not-going unnoticed it is being lauded as progress by corporate lobbyists (i.e. those with real and meaningful influence in DC) and if anyone disagrees they face the wrath of corporate security a.k.a. local Police departments.
These are truly Orwellian times we live in. Only instead of a seemingly omnipotent dictator we live under the rule of the Wizard of Wall St. hidden by a shroud of smoke and mirrors, protected by an army of mindless drones hiding behind their talismans of protections. They have already taken the means of production and it did not cause the People to organize and rebel. Now, they are coming for our best chance at free public and empowering education that isn't subject to the normalization effects of standardized testing.
If the capitalists take the Internet, then we will have truly lost. They will own 1/3 of our lives (work), our political process (unlimited corporate and practically unlimited individual campaign contributions), our communication channels (cell phones/email), and our education and information access points (the Internet). And, again I cannot emphasize it enough, that non-violent dissent will most surely lead to state-sanctioned violence. However, if we give up the right to our lives, our communications, and our education, then we will deserve our fate. There is a Ben Franklin quote that has been shared many times over the past couple of years on social media, but it bears repeating here:
"Those who would give up their liberty for a little security are deserving of neither."
I would add (again possibly beating a dead dog) that Thomas Jefferson also said that
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
We are not short of patriots who have shed blood in the name of liberty in the past few years, but have our seeds been watered? Dr. King also said that
"Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war."
We know how well those who love war are organized. They have obtained the means of production and sit atop such a mountain of wealth that they are poised to buy our livelihoods and chances at prosperity with their lobbyists are political marionettes. What then shall we do? Quietly disagree or give a shout so loud that we shake the foundations of democracy? The choice is yet before us: either we risk something to gain a little ground or we risk nothing and lose everything.