Economic Egregores: How Belief Drives the Power of Money and What We Can Do About It

“[S]ince it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?”

From Sable Aradia

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Dollar Bills by Dawn Hudson. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

A thoughtform is a semi-autonomous manifestation created when someone — or several someones — will it, or believe it, into being. As of that point, it is no longer entirely subject to the will of its creator(s), but in essence, acts and reacts in its own way. It has no physical reality as we understand it, but it has a virtual reality; it might as well be real because we engage with it as if it is. Which, in a sense, makes it real.

An egregore is a thoughtform that has been created by a group, and it influences the thoughts and actions of the group that engages with it. But it is also influenced by the thoughts and actions of these same people.

This is not a unique concept to the occult: William Gibson wrote about what he called “semiotic ghosts” in popular culture. To me, it was evident he was talking about egregores. I wrote an article about this recently at Between the Shadows.

The examples of a corporation and a meme are probably excellent ones for a modern reader. A corporation exists independently of its creators. The Board of Directors, the shareholders, and the employees who work for it, can change completely — leave, die, or be replaced — and yet the corporation continues.

In our modern age, money is also an egregore, and this is why it has no physical value (after all, money is no longer backed by a gold standard.) Its perceived value governs its real value on the world market. The two are effectively one and the same.

It’s extremely difficult for one person to significantly alter the nature of an egregore. A person who wants to will such a change would have to convince a majority of the other people who engage with the egregore that its nature has already changed. For example, these major brands either started their lives as Nazi corroborators, or developed significantly as corporations while doing so, but of course we no longer make these associations with them.

There was an excellent object lesson in the transformation of an egregore in the 1990s in Brazil. Plagued by runaway inflation, Brazil embraced a daring plan; they created a new currency to restore people’s faith in money. They called it the Unit of Real Value (Unidade real de valor)(1). And it was entirely fake. No bills or coins were ever printed. It was intended to absorb the effects of hyperinflation and was set at a fixed value of parity to the U.S. dollar.

Instead, people developed more confidence in the URV than in the cruzeiro real, which was the legal-tender Brazilian currency, and it replaced Brazil’s legal currency. Officially it was “extinguished” and replaced with a legal-tender currency called the real on July 1, 1994.

A semi-virtual currency exists in Canada in the form of Canadian Tire money. This is effectively Monopoly money that is given out by Canadian Tire as a reward for shopping at their stores. It’s a fraction of the value of what you bought; a very early loyalty program.

But many places in Canada began accepting Canadian Tire money as well as real money, because why not? Canadian Tire doesn’t really care where it came from, because at one point or another it came from their store, and you can still exchange it there for real goods.

Unfortunately Canadian Tire is now trying to force their clientele to go to a card system instead, citing a risk of criminal enterprises making use of their alternate currency as an excuse. I’m sure that’s a real threat: criminal enterprises profit enormously from the existence of shadow economies that don’t depend upon the whim of the World Bank. But then again, so would we.

One might also consider the bitcoin bubble. Bitcoin is an entirely virtual currency that has a certain perceived value; and it has that value because of that perception.

That’s not a new concept either. Stock values are also entirely influenced by perceived values. One of the flaws in our current economic system that is coming to a point of reckoning is that stock values can plummet, not because a company has lost money, but because it has not gained as much as people thought it would. Twitter and Facebook both recently bore a significant loss of stock value because their growth, falsely projected on false identities and bot accounts which political pressure has forced them to limit, was not as great as those false projections had assumed it would be.

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Insecurity Dollar Symbol by John Hain. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

What this tells us is that any free market theory is fatally flawed. It is assumed in the study of free market economics that stock value changes based on information. Traders become aware of trends, new technology, expansions, etc. which will increase the income-making potential of a corporation.

But since it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?

The question then becomes for the magician: how can we best utilize egregores? Can we make significant changes to the harmful effects of existing egregores, such as the value of currency and how it is determined?

Marx said that in order to address income inequality, workers must control the means of production. But he failed to visualize the development of technology and the value of virtual goods. How do you control the means of production when all the production is virtual?

I think the answer is that the common people must direct the egregores instead. Right now, we have been absorbed by the semiotic ghosts of futility, apathy, and the inequalities of capitalism. And Money has become a god in and of itself. To combat this, we must embrace new egregores, and helpful, older egregores, like the Enlightened Rebel and the Will of the People.

To change the perceived value of money, and who has it, we need to re-think what we’re basing that value on. Right now, the world thinks of money in terms of national currencies, so the perceived economic well-being of nations is what drives the world economy. This creates haves and have-nots by nature. It’s dependent on the idea that some nations have more economic value than others.

It’s also, in part, determined by corporations. The more big corporations a country is perceived to have, and the bigger their stock values, the more valuable their currency is perceived to be.

Canadian Tire money erodes that economy just a little bit, because it takes a small fraction of the value of currency out of the hands of governments and stock traders, and puts it into the hands of consumers. Still not great; still capitalism, but a more decentralized capitalism.

Bitcoin is an early attempt to rethink the way we value currency. It has established a currency value on information. Bits of data are what form the essential unit of a bitcoin. But the flaw of this approach is that those who control information can control the value of a bitcoin, which is why it has already achieved a speculation bubble that makes it completely unattainable for regular people.

Perhaps we should come back to Marx. Perhaps we should be basing the value of currency on labour-units. One hour of labour might equal one credit, which could buy one full meal. Think of how wealthy artists would be! Of course I can’t think of a way to track that which wouldn’t risk intense violations of privacy. No change of this nature would be quick or easy, and each would have its own drawbacks and unintended consequences that we would have to consider, and deal with.

The question for us is: what do we consider to be of real value? And what would we like the economy of the future to look like? Which egregores should we give power to?


  1. I think it’s worth noting just how difficult this reference was to find. I remembered hearing something on a YouTube video about this and I went searching for a reference to write this article. I typed “South American country that created an alternate currency” into Google. This yielded an article called “How Fake Money Saved Brazil,” which originally came from the NPR website. It’s referenced by a plethora of other blogs and articles, but you can’t get access to that article anymore; just a couple of forums where people sneer at the idea, despite the fact that it demonstrably worked. I finally found the name of the currency — “Unit of Real Value” — in a snippet from a site that might be an archive of the Wayback Machine from a site called Neatorama.com. I searched this on Google and finally found the Wikipedia entry, listed only under its Portuguese name. Now why was this so hard to find? The most benign answer I can come up with is racism. I suspect it’s a lot more complex.

Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I owned a dog, whom I still miss very much, and am still owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Projections of the Powerful

Oppressing White People: No. But the Right sure likes oppressing non-white people.

From Sable Aradia

hand-pointing-out-george-hodan

I am beginning to see a pattern in the ways of the New Right. I am sure I’m not alone. They level some wild accusation towards the Left. “They want to put all men in concentration camps.” “They want to oppress white people.” “They want to limit free speech.” “They’re operating a child sex ring out of a pizza parlour.”

The Left snorts at the ridiculousness of the accusation. What preposterous ideas! Obviously nobody wants to do that …

… and then it comes out that whatever the Left has recently been accused of, the Right is actively doing.

Let me break down some examples.

“I Know You Are, but What Am I?”

Putting All Men in Concentration Camps: Well, no. But the Trump administration has been putting immigrants and Latinos in concentration camps, haven’t they? The border scandal is an international disgrace.

Oppressing White People: No. But the Right sure likes oppressing non-white people. Police have been shooting people driving, walking, shoppingin public parks, in their grandmothers’ backyards, and in their own homes for the crime of being black. And not one of these cops has been brought to justice.

Limiting Free Speech: Apparently they object when white supremacists are asked not to speak at universities that disagree with their “ideas.” But gods forbid you should want to make queer kids’ books accessible in your public library.

Creating a Totalitarian State: A totalitarian state is when one person has the power to do whatever they want. And they’re sure trying to push the idea that an elected President is above the rule of law, aren’t they?

Forcing People to Use Pronouns They Don’t Approve Of: Um … aren’t the Right the ones who are fighting to deny people access to changing their pronouns, or opting for something non-binary? Jordan Peterson has made his career on that. Who’s forcing whom to do what again?

Forcing People to Believe What They Believe: The American Right Wing consistently has taken a stand that they are a “Christian nation” and everyone should adhere to Christian values, so ….

Manipulating the Vote: Some Republican senators have gerrymandered so many voting districts that they were actually ordered to fix one of the more flagrant examples by the U.S. Supreme Court. Twice. The GOP have continuously used gerrymandering, deliberately restrictive voter ID laws that are punitive against groups that traditionally oppose them, and dark campaign finance money, continue to manipulate voting conditions in their favour, as this exposé from Rolling Stone demonstrates.

Bringing Down the Government: Libertarians and those influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy are the ones currently looking to derail government agencies. Prime Minister Harper appointed a bunch of his cronies to the board of the CBC right before he lost the last Canadian election — and you can tell. The repair job is going to take years. The Trump administration appointed a person who bases her business on pushing private education as the head of the public education ministry, and a person who actively fights environmental regulations as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. This looks a lot like deliberate sabotage to me.

Operating a Child Sex Ring: I thought for sure this had to be Alex Jones tabloid material. But apparently, a dozen immigrant children were placed with traffickers in the absence of background checks on their sponsors, and with anywhere from 1500 to 6000 children still missing, one wonders how much more of this will come out?

Makes you wonder if some New Right group is trading in baby parts somewhere …

Projection

Projection is a term used in clinical psychology to describe how people tend to visualize that their own biggest sins, and deepest fears, are being engaged in by other people, especially people they don’t feel comfortable around. They “deny their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.” Examples include victim blaming, projection of guilt, and bullying.

It seems to me that the New Right is motivated by this phenomenon, which is a method of ego-protection. Because they are feeling threatened, they see bogeymen in every dark, female, or non-binary face, and hear threats in the reasoning of any progressive intellectual. It’s pathological, unjust, and dangerous.

And it’s nothing new. People in any unbalanced power dynamic — parent/child, boss/employee, ruler/ruled — have been doing it as long as civilization has existed. The Babylonian Talmud (500 BCE) notes the human tendency toward projection and warns against it: “Do not taunt your neighbour with the blemish you yourself have.” Or as the Christian Bible said, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Projection as Propaganda

It’s also right out of the fascist political playbook. A 2001 paper examines the use of projection as a tactic of Nazi political manipulation, and points out that it is not strictly used by Nazis. And it often is somewhat successful. It certainly muddies the waters.

Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf about the Big Lie theory. He believed that if you lied as preposterously as possible, and kept repeating it, eventually people would believe it, on the grounds that no one could make up something that crazy. He also counseled that one should never admit to wrongdoing, blame one’s enemy for everything that goes wrong, and never turn down an opportunity to create “a political whirlwind.” And he justified his use of this technique with his opinion that it was used by Jews to blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, who was a prominent nationalist and antisemitic political leader in the Weimar Republic.

Projection at its most classic. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What to Do About it

I don’t really have any clear answers here. I find that direct and aggressive confrontation of people spouting the propaganda lies, with links that disprove their claims, is effective in dealing with particular situations. But it’s nerve-wracking and it’s something not everyone is equipped to do. Some of us are not in a position of health or safety to allow us to do that. Of course you should protect yourself first.

I find that just saying, “No, that’s not how it is,” is not effective because it’s almost impossible to prove a negative. But I do find that as soon as one of these preposterous claims appears, it’s worth my time to ask myself, “What is the New Right trying to deflect attention from now?”

History usually reveals the truth, but that may not help people caught in the situation right now. History has come down hard in favour of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, but that didn’t save six million of them.

So my counsel is to support one another. Stand up in protest whenever you see one of these ridiculous claims peddled. If possible, mock the accusers mercilessly until they realize you are not an easy mark. Do not allow them to manipulate you through your ego: let their judgments of your intelligence and your open-mindedness slide off you like water off a duck’s back. That can be really hard to do, but another page in their playbook advises them to do this in order to get you to back down through real or perceived social pressure. Don’t do it. And if the confrontation occurs in social media, report and block whenever you have the option of doing so.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I owned a dog, whom I still miss very much, and am still owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Why People Are Racist & How Witchcraft Can Help

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From Sable Aradia.

black-swan-laurentiu-cosmoiu

Beyond Mere Witchcraft

“Oh, I used to study Wicca,” says the 22-year-old woman with a patronizing smile, “but I’ve gone beyond that now.”

“Have you?” I ask, arching my eyebrow while I sit at the fair table where I’m selling the witchcraft books I wrote.

Realizing she has made an error, she backtracks.  “Oh, well, you know, I think it’s perfectly fine for some.”  She is unaware of her derision, her dismissal.  “But I find I get so much more in the path I’m following now.  And I don’t need all those tools.”  Her tone is smug.  Her implication is clearly that I must be less enlightened than she is, because she thinks I do.

Of course she does.  She’s left witchcraft for the New Age community.  She’s 22 years old and offering classes on the sacred feminine, communicated with special miracle health food, yoni crystals, and retreats at her home temple space.  All for a monthly subscription price.  Naturally the stuff costs extra.  I don’t know who, if anyone, is paying for it.

I offered a free class on the sacred feminine two years ago, built from material that was handed down to me from a woman who was my teacher.  No one came.

The Law of Attraction and Social Class

I get it.  Sure I do.

We must look archaic to a lot of people.  Perhaps we even look a little bit ridiculous.  Look at how much farther they’ve gotten than we have!  We always seem to be grappling with some major moral issue.  We’re always railing at the injustice of the world.  Meanwhile, they just think happy thoughts all the time, and never indulge in negativity, and the Universe provides all they need through the Law of Attraction.

No one mentions that most of the women I know who are involved in the New Age movement have married rich husbands because they came from upper middle class backgrounds.  And I find it interesting that the ones who didn’t — like the lovely 22 year old I have mentioned — have all the same struggles I do.  They have bad relationships and personal struggles and, above all, financial problems.

What’s wrong, then?  Perhaps their ability to think happy thoughts and believe in the Law of Attraction to protect them isn’t good enough?

I think they tell themselves that.  I think they convince themselves every day that if they just believe a little harder, things will get better.

So they follow the latest “conscious living” fad (and believe me, they come in fads — in the time I owned my metaphysical store I saw the rise and fall of orgone generators, the healing power of water, Stones of the New Consciousness, the Flower of Life, colloidal silver, and zen wands, to name but a few).  In many cases, they spend thousands of dollars, when I know for a fact that what it cost to make the item could be expressed in hundreds of pennies.

But every time they embrace the new trend, everyone around them reinforces their choice.  They tell them how wonderful and enlightened they are, that they can open their consciousness to these new methods, which science is too self-absorbed to understand.  They compliment one another’s cleverness in that they are able to see through the bullshit of the rest of humanity.  They talk about how the coming New Age of consciousness (which will happen any day now! Like Y2K/the great planetary alignment/the end of the Mayan calendar/etc.) will change the world so that only the peaceful, conscious-living people will survive while everybody else goes to hell in a handbasket.  And rather than ever acknowledging that the fad they spent so much money on didn’t seem to be as effective as they’d hoped, they just move on to the next one, maintaining their positivity.

In this world, there’s no place for discernment, or doubt, or even calling out abuse.  It’s all about plastic smiles and appearances over reality.

You’re Special, Just Like Everyone Else

It’s only natural for people to want to feel special.  People want to hear that if their lives are good, it’s because they deserve it.  Our ego loves to hear how wonderful it is.

We need our egos to survive.  These are the constructs that give us our sense of self, and without them, we become hiveminds and doormats.  Many psychological disorders — I would say possibly even PTSD, as someone who suffers from it — is all about crippling damage to our egos.

So the ego is the most greedy, self-centered creature on earth.  It doesn’t ever want to hear anything that takes away from its central position in the Universe, and it never, ever wants to be questioned.

In the New Age movement, and indeed, in some poisoned halls of Paganism, it never has to be.  People are told that they’re weird because they’re indigo children, or they are crazy because the gods are speaking specifically to them as Their Chosen Ones.  There’s no room for discernment because there’s no place for judgment.  After all, to have judgment is to be judgmental, and everyone has their own special truth to share with the world.

And I believe that, I do!  But sometimes, people are weird because they’re suffering from undiagnosed PTSD or bipolar disorder or autism, and sometimes people are crazy because they’re having a psychotic break due to mood disorders, malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning or schizophrenia, and they need treatment and maybe medication.

A dear friend in the New Age community, one who does not fall for the fads, one who believes in authenticity and is generally authentic in her own life, believed that her newly acquired inability to digest meat was a result of a newly raised vibration; when it turned out to be, in fact, a parasite acquired from tainted water that did lasting damage to her digestive tract, since she ignored it for quite some time.

Questioning and discernment are important.

Witchcraft: A Path for the Underclass

It is said that on the gates of Eleusis was the inscription Know Thyself.  Witchcraft, if you follow it long enough, and seek to find its deeper mysteries rather than attend Sabbats once in a while and do a spell whenever you want a new job, is all about that.  It’s about Shadow Work.  It’s about confronting your ego face to face, kicking it in the crotch a few times, breaking it down, and rebuilding it — with, hopefully, healthier boundaries.

We recognize this.  We know it so well, that we even recognize the symptoms of an ego fighting to save itself. in the wake of this aggression.  We call it High Priestess’ Disease, and far too many places in our community are run by the people doing this Work.  Eventually many of them have breakdowns.  Others, I think, make it through the treacherous forest, at least in part, and then disappear.

I’m not saying we’re immune to the constructs of ego.  We most certainly are not!  But the willingness to question ego, to challenge its authority, can be a good path to take.  We’re by no means the only ones who do this.  We didn’t even invent it; we can probably credit the ancient mystery cults for that, or maybe even certain Vedic traditions which are older, or perhaps even the ancient mysteries of the hunter-gatherer civilizations of our prehistory.

But it’s hard.  It’s so damn hard!  We’re constantly facing this exhausting challenge if we continue on this path.  Our self-esteem is often in ruins.  And it’s not like it brings us money, or prestige, or even any personal spiritual satisfaction aside from a plague of doubt and questioning and a deep belief that we will never, ever complete this exhausting Work.

What it does give us is greater anger directed at the hallowed halls of power, and greater empathy for the suffering of others.

No wonder most of us give up.  No wonder people would rather believe they can achieve enlightenment simply by thinking positively enough.  And isn’t it convenient that wealth, health and happiness are also brought to them through that path? Or at least, so they believe.

Which may be why witches are notoriously cheap.  Maybe it’s because rich witches join the New Age movement, where everyone will tell them that they’re wealthy, healthy and happy because they deserve it.

Never mind that Dr. Wayne Dyer, who once bragged that the Law of Attraction was the reason why he hadn’t had a cold in twenty years, died of cancer.

It’s no wonder no one ever wants to hear about anything negative in the New Age (and part of the Pagan) community!  Everyone wants to believe they’re special.  Everyone wants to be believe they’re immortal, and their happiness and healthiness will last forever because they’re nicer than everyone else, or because they’re better at manifesting, or that they’re a better Christian or the gods have otherwise chosen them.

No one wants to talk about how affluent, and how white, these people are.  Or how better nutrition and less stress leads to better health.

Why People Are Racist

And this applies as much to the overculture as it does to the subculture of the New Age and Pagan movements.

People don’t want to face the fact that their happy, privileged life is the result of good luck or selling out.  They don’t want to face the fact that they might someday go bankrupt or get cancer.  They are terrified that the only thing that keeps them from starving in the street is the presence of an entirely arbitrary number that represents their portion of an entirely fictional system of wealth, founded on nothing but belief.

They don’t want to admit that the only reason they have the things they do is because others do not have those things, and the criteria of what determines that is unfairly weighed in favour of one gender and one race.

So they make up stories.  They tell themselves that Native Peoples and Hispanics are lazy.  They tell themselves that black people are labouring under a “victim mentality,” and that if they just tried to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, surely they would succeed!  They tell themselves that women just aren’t as good at business as men are.

They tell themselves that God has chosen them to succeed because they’re better people, or better Christians, or smarter, or sexier.  They tell themselves that Haiti is beaten by hurricanes because they practice devil-worship, and they ignore or deny that tropical climates just have more hurricanes and that their white ancestors were the ones that brought the ancestors of the Haitians there.

And if they aren’t doing as well as they think they should be, they convince themselves that all they need to do is try harder.  Work harder, save more, budget better, come up with a cleverer idea.  And they ignore the fact that they’ve been doing the same things for twenty or forty years and falling behind, not getting ahead.

Because otherwise, they would have to confront their egos.  They would have to admit that oppression of others and good luck for them are all that save them from the difficulties that so many others struggle with.  And the ego doesn’t want to hear it.

Well, witches, maybe it’s time to help others to confront their egos too, don’t you think?


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Me Too

From Sable Aradia

If you were on Twitter or Facebook in the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen it; the #MeToo hashtag. For anyone, especially women, who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment.

I had two stories to tell. There is at least as much story in the response as there is in the story.

The first one I posted was this:

Every boy in my class snapped my bra strap until I hit some w/my lunch kit. I went home w/welts. I got in trouble, not them. #MeToo

And the first response I got, which was deleted before I responded to it, was:

Every single boy?

Some of you are reading this and the iron tang of rage just rose into your throat, as it did in mine when I saw this. I’m not going to out the person who said it because he (of course, he) did delete it right away, and I must assume that this was because he rethought the wisdom of his post.  But I am going to respond. And this is my response.

Which Boys?

The truth is, I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. I don’t remember some of their names, after all this time.

What I remember is the experience. Being afraid to walk by myself in the hallway. Being afraid to turn my back on anyone with a penis. The snickering. The catcalls. Wolf-whistles. I was nine. Why was I getting wolf-whistles?

I was a tomboy. I liked to climb trees and play fighter pilots. From the age of three to the age of twelve my knees were perpetually scabbed from all the rough play I did. I had more boy friends than girl friends because of that.

Then I developed early. I was a C cup by the age of ten. And all of a sudden, the way that absolutely everyone treated me changed.

My dad wouldn’t play rough with me anymore. “It’s not appropriate,” he said. But he would play rough with my brother.

I was a fierce little girl. I jumped from trees, slogged through mud, and fought with sticks. I had no fear. But now I had boobies, so my mom emphasized how important it was that I act “ladylike.” To this day that word fills me with a seething rage that makes me want to punch the person who said it in the teeth.

But more than that, all of a sudden when I stood up to debate an issue in class, like we did on Fridays, I was mocked. It was magic; just like that. Prior to boobies, I was recognized as one of the “smart kids.” When I stood up to debate, people listened. After boobies, I was insulted and humiliated, if not in class, than certainly after.

To this day, I hate my breasts. I don’t like them played with during sex. I don’t want people looking at them.

Often, I could never be entirely certain which of the three boys standing behind me had reached over to snap my bra strap.  I complained about what the boys were doing to me.  “Which boys?” I was asked. I couldn’t name a specific name.

What I do know is that whichever one it was, his friends never stopped him.

Girls Colluded

When the more sexually astute girls realized what was going on, things got worse. Because, I guess, the gods hate me, I was in a split class where the other half was older than I was. They were a year ahead in development, and I now know, they were jealous of the male attention I was receiving.

But I didn’t know that then. I was nine. I understood nothing about sex; I’d never kissed a boy or a girl, my mother never told me a thing, and I had yet to discover Judy Blume.

So when they started mocking me in the change room, I was mortified. “You’re getting fat,” one would say, poking my rounding hip.  “You don’t need a bra; you’re too young for a bra,” another would say. That might be, but my boobies, which I was already learning to hate, bounced when I ran, and it made it difficult to run because they hurt.

I started locking myself in the showers to change.

The damage was a wound that I never truly recovered from. As far as I knew, I was fat; certainly I had these bulbs of flesh that were constantly in my way, and now my hips were rounding and I was constantly bumping into things. I developed serious enough dysphoria and body-hatred that by the time I was fifteen I was a full-blown anorexic-bulimic. I weighed 86 pounds and my hair was starting to fall out.

Most Boys

I think that after a while, it became a bit of a game for the boys in my class. I have always been a fiery-tempered sort. Perhaps it was a bit like trying to leap from the highest tree; they wanted to find out which one of them I was going to murder first.

When I entered a new grade and it didn’t stop, I started striking back.  When I felt a tug on my bra strap, I would turn around and hit whoever was in my path with my plastic lunch kit.

It was I who was called into the office. “Why are you hitting other students with your lunch kit?”

I told them.

“Is that an appropriate response for such a little thing?” I was asked by my male teacher.

“I go home with blisters,” I sniffled.

“Boys will be boys,” said my male school principal. “They do it because they like you.”

“So?” I said. What I meant was, Why does that make it okay?

The implication was that they had a right to my body because they were interested.

So they made me stop taking a lunch kit to school. After that, I started hitting them with rulers. I got detention after detention, but I insisted on defending myself.  After the third time I struck someone, it finally stopped.

Learning to Fight

When I was recovering from my eating disorder, my father got me a membership at a gym. Because I was driven, I channeled my addiction into working out. Ultimately it was a bit like weaning myself off of heroin by taking methadone. It worked, once I’d fought the working-out addiction.

But during that time I put on weight again, even as my body toned and became muscled. And when a bully confronted me outside of the school grounds, she got one punch only before I turned around and pommeled her. It was a real-life Charles Atlas story.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had been bullied.

Fast forward to my staggette party. By this time, I’d been studying a smattering of martial arts; some basic judo, some ninpo taijutsu, a little bit of medieval armoured fighting through the Society for Creative Anachronism. And while I was waiting outside the bar for a cab, someone grabbed my ass.

Before I realized it, I had him in an arm bar. He was looking up at me with fear in his eyes.

“I guess that was a bad idea,” he said.

“I guess so,” I agreed.

“I’m sorry. I guess I’ll go now.”

“You do that,” said I with death in my eyes.

My friends cheered. To them I was Wonder Woman. I’d defeated the oppressor through contest of arms.

But that didn’t change the fact that he’d grabbed my ass. For all my strength, and for all my ability to fight, I was still a victim.

Boys Will Be Boys

Why had he done it? For the same reason the boys had snapped my bra strap; because they thought they could. Because being interested in me entitled them to my body. Because “boys will be boys” let them get away with it.

“Rape culture” is a term, like “feminism,” guaranteed to enrage the right wing. They think it means that the people who say it think that all men go around raping women like savage baboons. And of course, that’s not true.

But many of them do go around grabbing asses and snapping bra straps. And no one stops them.

And, I would point out to the person who asked, “Every single boy?”, neither did you. You reacted defensively and not, as you would have yourself believe in your self-image, protectively.

I believe that more evil is perpetrated by cowardice than any of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. Sure, you didn’t pull the trigger. But you didn’t do a thing to stop the one who did. You sat around and let it happen. You were more interested in saying, “Not me!” than you were in saying, “I’m sorry this horrible thing happened to you.”

And every time someone says, “Every single boy?”, they’re doing it again. And again.

I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. But I do remember that nobody stopped them. And that, more than the experience itself, is the problem.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Child Soldier

From Sable Aradia


 

A boy’s father has spent his life fighting for a cause he believes in.  Despite the fact that he lives far away in another country, he sends aid in the form of money to the cause overseas.  Eventually the father packs up the whole family and moves back to his homeland to fight for that cause.

The boy, eight years old, has never once seen that homeland, though he’s been told about it his whole life.  Once he gets there he is forced to live a life in hiding, moving from place to place.  At one point he is required to disguise himself as a girl in a culture that is repressive to women.  He sees his father intermittently, if at all, but is desperate to make a connection with him.

In the meantime his father, who is in prison for suspected activities with fringe radical groups, is hospitalized for a hunger strike.  Later he is released due to lack of evidence of wrongdoing.

Eventually the boy is old enough to join the cause.  Desperate to be noticed by his father, he is taken along by a militant group as a translator.  During that time he starts training in the use of firearms and other weaponry.  He is fourteen years old.

While he is in a house with several full-grown men, and at least one woman and a child, soldiers from a foreign country set up a perimeter.  It is part of a series of huts with a granary and a stone wall in the desert.  There are weapons on the property.  Is it a militant’s complex?  Perhaps it is.  The foreign soldiers seem to think so.

The soldiers bang on the door of the gate.  The men inside tell the soldiers that they are villagers, but the soldiers demand to search the house regardless of their affiliation.  They tell them to go away.

45 minutes later the support arrives.  Now the house is surrounded by fifty foreign soldiers and a hundred locals.  One goes to demand their surrender and is stopped by gunfire.  One of the men in the group that the boy is with opens fire.

The woman and the small child flee while the firestorm is going on.  The foreign soldiers are shooting at the people in the complex.  The people in the complex are shooting at the soldiers.  Now the boy, age fifteen, is caught in this conflict, and he knows that regardless of what the men he was with were doing or why they were there, now they are shooting at him.

The bloodbath is catastrophic.  The militants in the compound manage to wound some of the foreign soldiers with grenades, but the soldiers call for medevac.  Apaches show up and strafe the area, then take their wounded away.  Then a pair of Warthogs arrive and blast everything into glass with several 500 lb bombs.

More troops arrive.  Now there are a hundred foreign soldiers on the ground.  Everything is burning.  All the people the boy knows are screaming.  Some are on fire.  Some are watching their blood pour out onto the ground.  Some are missing limbs.  Some have no face left.  He is one of two survivors of the air strike.

The foreign soldiers come in.  A grenade is thrown.  Most duck, but it lands near the rear of the group and goes off.  A Special Operations soldier serving that day as an (armed) combat medic is fatally wounded in the explosion.

The troops move across the field and see a man with two chest wounds and a holstered pistol reaching for an AK-47.  A special forces soldier with a classified identity shoots him in the head and kills him.  When the dust clears, the special forces soldier sees the boy crouched, facing away from the action, and shoots him twice in the back.

He lives, and this is confirmed by the soldiers when they do their sweep.  He is given on site medical attention and flown out, though he begs the soldiers to finish the job.

The boy is allowed to recover.  They learn his identity, and that despite being attached to this militant group, he is a citizen of one of the foreign country’s most important allies.

In the meantime a garbled version of events begins to erupt.  Another soldier on the scene has a different story about shooting the boy three times in the chest, while he was reaching for a grenade.

This is almost certainly not an intentional falsehood.  Those who have been in a life-threatening situation know that under those conditions it is easy to make a mistake.  It is almost impossible to remember all the specific details when people are screaming and dying around you, especially if you have caused any of those wounds!  Humans are not designed to kill each other.  It messes us up.

But people are angry because a soldier died.  And so they believe one soldier’s version of events over the other’s, though medical evidence suggests otherwise.

The boy is denied important surgery for damage to his eyes in order to force him to confess information.  The allied government begins to get involved in his case.  They are put off, denied, and not informed of the information they request, because the foreign government has reason to believe that the boy knows quite a lot about the force they are fighting, and they mean to get that information by whatever means necessary.

Then members of his own government collude in the interrogation!  Theoretically there to defend him, his own government betrays him.  They work to coerce a confession. that he has murdered a soldier unlawfully, by promising to bring him home.

And when he has recovered in part from his wounds, they send him to a prison for terrorists that is notorious for torture and abuse of its prisoners, despite his government’s requests, first, that they not do so, and then, that they are told when it happens.  He is fifteen.

What happens to him there?  I have no urge to repeat it because it is horrific by anyone’s standards.  We can say three things for a fact:

One is that evidence is indeed found that show that the boy was actively involved in terrorist acts.  He wired a detonator cord.  He says at one point during his captivity that he intended to fight because he was told that the soldier were making a war to kill all the people of his faith.

The second is that the boy is tortured, repeatedly, and by a lot of different people.  The worst of them, the one that everyone claims he is lying about, is convicted of abusing detainees to extract confessions when another of his charges dies from the abuse.  I have no desire to repeat it, but because this, sadly, is a true story, you can read about it here.

The third thing we know is that he is told that if he confesses to throwing the grenade that killed the (armed) combat medic, he will get to go home.  Back to his original home, the allied nation of the foreign soldiers who have him, the place where he was born.  A place that by now must seem like a myth, or a distant dream.

He is lied to.  He does not get to go home.  When one member of the allied nation’s diplomatic efforts fail to return the boy, that member resigns in disgust.

A long saga begins.  More torture and deprivation in prison.  Legal challenges, lawsuits, demands for the right of habeas corpus.  There are even sham tribunals to rival the darkest horror story you’ve ever heard of a fascist dictatorship.  Nothing moves the foreign nation who has him, and nothing moves his home nation to intervene for him; not even Amnesty International and the UN Council on Human Rights.

At last he is sent back to a prison in his home country when he finally pleads guilty, after another year in this horrible prison.  There he is locked up in a maximum security prison.  It is a distinct improvement.

Pleas to treat him as a child soldier, or as a juvenile offender, fall on deaf ears, and he is forced to serve the totality of an adult’s sentence, though he was fifteen years old at the time of the battle, when he may (or may not have) thrown a grenade at a man trying to kill him who had just firebombed everyone and everything around him.

His case comes up for bail.  It is denied.  When it is granted two years later, the government of his own country appeals it.  Only an election, and a change of governmental party, prevents the second appeal from going through, because they drop it.  At last, though under tight supervision, a very damaged young man is finally free.

It has been thirteen years since the battle.  He is 31 years old.

This, my friends, is the true story of Omar Khadr.  This is not a leftist spin on the story; these are the absolute facts, as far as I was able to check, filtered through human decency and empathy.

You’re probably heard his name again in the news recently.  Canada’s Supreme Court found that the Canadian government, on helping to obtain his confession and being a party to the horrific events that befell this poor man, had violated his rights according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which we hold as sacred as America holds its Constitution.  They found that Canada had acted against the Geneva Convention and international law.  They granted a sum of money to Mr. Khadr for his suffering.

He has lost his eye and his childhood and gained decades of nightmares.  It is not enough.  It is not enough.

But even after all that, there are those who would deny him even this.  People are now trying to demand that they be allowed to sue him for that money that he was awarded as a (lame) apology for taking away the rights that EVERY HUMAN BEING is guaranteed in international law.

To those people I say: Shame on you!  Whether he was an “enemy combatant” or not, Omar Khadr has paid more than enough for the crime of throwing a grenade at someone who was trying to kill him.  And you conveniently forget, HE WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD.  He was a CHILD SOLDIER.

We rehabilitate child soldiers.  We don’t go on torturing them.  And because we have all so terribly failed this Canadian boy, who has become a man in a prison camp because of our callousness and neglect, I believe that anyone who wanted a piece of anything of his has absolutely forfeited the right.

Regardless of what he’s done, he’s one of ours.  What he was involved in was horrible; what happened to him proved that the other side wasn’t the “good guys” either.

He says he’s sorry.  I believe him.

The Canadian government has said that it is sorry in the only way it can.

Now the rest of you: if you can’t say you’re sorry, as you would if you had even a shred of human decency, then leave him alone and let him get on with what’s left of his life, as best he can.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.

 


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The Establishment’s Mistake: Ignoring the Youth Vote

If you’ve been paying attention, election results aren’t turning out the way that the pollsters and the pundits expected them to in four of the most high-profile recent elections in Western democratic countries.

In the highly contentious 2015 Canadian federal election, at the beginning of the campaign it looked as though people were angry enough that they were ready to oust the Conservative government under Stephen Harper that had reigned for a decade, but the NDP was clearly the front runner.  By the beginning of August, Maclean’s Magazine, a middle-right leaning magazine that is highly respected in Canada for its analysis of business and politics, said it was anybody’s game.  And of course, at the last minute, what actually happened was that the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau swept in to claim the victory.

In the 2016 United States Presidential election, it was clear to everyone that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and by a landslide.  Of course, though she did win the popular vote, that’s not what actually happened.

Most pundits were refusing to call the 2017 French election.  But of course most of the world breathed a sigh of relief when Emmanuel Macron beat far-right Front National leader Marine LePen.

And in Britain just this past month, Elizabeth May and the Conservative Party of the UK called a snap election, smugly confident that this would result in the vast majority needed to give them a free hand in Brexit negotiations.  But it didn’t turn out that way.  The Labour Party under democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn showed so well that they stole the Conservative majority, endangering their control of government to the point that they had to make a devil’s bargain to keep power, and most pundits treated it like a victory for Corbyn, rather than May’s defeat.  This, despite the fact that the Conservatives won their highest vote share since 1983, rivaling their results under the Iron Lady, and despite sabotage within Corbyn’s own party from people who thought he was running too far to the left.

So what gives?  How could these expert opinions have been so wildly inaccurate?

I believe it comes from an Establishment tradition of underestimating the youth vote.  This has been exacerbated in recent years by the difficulty of polling young people, who do not participate in traditional models like phone polls, and whose voices on social media are being drowned by fake accounts and internet bots.  But in part, it’s deliberate.

It is not in the Establishment’s interests for the youth to vote.  They engage in a policy of denigrating the importance of the youth in election results.  They project the impression, furthered by the media, that the youth do not care about politics, and their vote won’t matter anyway because they’re so outnumbered by other demographics.  Conservative and right-wing parties, knowing that they don’t do as well when more people show up to vote, institute policies when they’re in power that make it more difficult to register, such as requiring ID under the pretense of “voter fraud,” something that is more difficult for young and poor people to acquire.

This policy is threatening them at the polls.  Galvanized by consistent policies that our youth rightfully see as contrary to their values and destructive of their future, there is a huge movement in today’s youth to be more politically involved.  If the system is the only way to change the future, they will engage, and when they do, sh*t gets real.

The voter turnout at the Canadian 2015 election was the highest in 2 decades.  New voters and the youth demographic were considerably more involved than in previous years.  And they were overwhelmingly behind Justin Trudeau.  Some cynically claim it was because of the Liberal position on legalizing cannabis (and there may be some truth in that); others think maybe it was just that Trudeau was the youngest of the candidates; still others believe it was genuinely because the Liberal Party made an effort to engage young voters.  Whatever the reason, it worked.

In the UK general election a massive surge of young voters almost turned the tide completely in the Labour Party’s favour.  More than a million new voters registered in the month that Ms. May and the Conservatives allowed before the UK election.  The youth turnout was the highest in 25 years, according to the statistics, and they were mostly behind the Labour Party and its socialist platform.

On the other hand, in some places, youth engagement and this policy of ignoring the youth vote seemed to benefit the New Right more than the left.  Early polls suggested that almost half of France’s youth vote supported LePen and the Front National (though later this was amended to 34% of the youth vote, just a little more than her typical support level across the voting spectrum.)  And of course the American election remains a tangled, ugly mess, vote tampering from outside forces aside.  But it’s clear that one of the factors that influenced that election was that the youth supported Bernie Sanders, felt he was cheated of the Democratic nomination, and decided to cast their votes on third parties or on no one instead.

Speculation runs rampant among political pundits as to why the youth supported one candidate or party or another.  Some say that the parties who engaged the most with social media did better among the youth than those who did not.  If you discount the fact that Trump may have won because the millennials opted out of Clinton, this would seem consistent.  And this could also be confusing cause with effect.  Young people drive social media, so more young people are going to be engaged by definition.

Others disparagingly observe that “populists” are doing better among younger voters.  I think this is an oversimplification.  The truth is that young people are angry.  They know that not only is the existing system not working, it is rigged against them and is selling away their futures.  They have no loyalty to their companies because they know their companies have no loyalty to them; and I think the same holds true in politics.

But does that mean they will jump on any populist parade that comes along?  I don’t think so.  The election results in the US tell us that.  When given the best of bad options, they’ll choose not to choose, and without the youth to help contest them, that allowed the core right wing supporters to take the victory.

The political wisdom suggests that middle-centrists are the best the left can do in a popular vote.  But remember, the political pundits are paid mostly by multi-million dollar media corporations, who are clearly invested in the Establishment, corporate interest.  Left-wing policies cut into their profit margin.

When given the option, young voters choose the candidate they perceive as being the most Progressive, as evidenced in the Canadian and UK federal elections.  They want change, and they overwhelmingly vote in a way that suggests that they value progressive change.

So, what can the Establishment do to win over young voters, which is becoming a more and more significant demographic with every passing year, as slowly the Baby Boomers fade into the sunset?  They can run on more Progressive, left-wing platforms, and then do the things they’ve promised when they get elected.

And if you’re a young voter reading this, and you’ve been feeling despair, I hope if nothing else this shows you that the path to victory is to get involved in the process at a grassroots level.  Primary your Senators, register to vote, join movements like #Resist.  Because you are a far more powerful force than you know, and our hopes for the future rest upon you.

 

23 Things: Companies Should NOT Be Run in the Interests of Their Owners

“Number 2” by Nitikorn Unpraderm. Public domain imagine courtesy Publicdomainpictures.net.

23 Things is a series that examines and explores the theories presented in Oxford-trained economist Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.  I will examine each of his 23 Things by taking some of the material from his book, and breaking it down through the application of my own lens.  For more information, I recommend his excellent book!

What They Tell You:  Shareholders own companies.  Therefore, companies should be run in their interests.  It is not simply a moral argument.  The shareholders are not guaranteed any fixed payments, unlike the employees (who have fixed wages), the suppliers (who are paid specific prices), the lending banks (who get paid fixed interest rates), and others involved in the business.  Shareholders’ incomes vary according to the company’s performance, giving them the greatest incentive to ensure the company performs well.  If the company goes bankrupt, the shareholders lose everything, whereas other ‘stakeholders’ get at least something.  Thus, shareholders bear the risk that others involved in the company do not, incentivizing them to maximize company performance.  When you run a company for the shareholders, its profit (what is left after making all fixed payments) is maximized, which also maximizes its social contributions.”

Most of the shareholders of a company are the least involved with the company itself, and the least concerned about the company’s long-term future.  Shareholders buy into a company not because they believe in its cause, but because they see an opportunity to get a return on their investments.  Ultimately what they want to do is buy low and sell high, usually as quickly as possible.

Think about it.  Do you have a retirement plan or an insurance plan?  Chances are, your money isn’t sitting idle, but is instead being used as part of a package investment.  Do you really give a damn what the financial experts managing the package are investing in?

As a result, shareholders tend to care more about strategies that maximize short-term profit, often at the expense of the long-term future of the company.

Limited Liability

Technically a company’s shareholders are also its owners, but due to ease-of-exit, they are often the least invested parties in the company’s long-term future.

Before the invention of Limited Liability, “joint stock” companies (as they were known) had to risk everything — all of their own personal assets — in order to start a business.  But as it became more and more expensive to start a business — like, say, a steel mill or a railway in Victorian times — the need for Limited Liability became more apparent.  Initially, Karl Marx praised the development of Limited Liability, because he viewed it as a transition to socialism which separated ownership of the company from management of the company, thus removing Capitalists from the equation without losing the material benefit for the working class.

But it hasn’t worked out that way.  Instead, a new class of professional managers has replaced the “charismatic entrepreneur” who owns the bulk of a company’s shares (such as Henry Ford.)  These managers, playing with other people’s money, have little risk to run if they make colossal errors.  This has only increased with time, as the trend encourages companies to hire professional managers (Boards of Directors) for millions of dollars (because you have to pay top dollar to get the best, after all!)

Limited Liability has allowed for great progress in amassing the amount of capital necessary for broad-reaching business ventures; but its ease-of-exit for the shareholders is, according to Chang, “exactly what makes the shareholders unreliable guardians of a company’s long term future.”  Why should a person care about the future of a company if they (understandably) want to make as much money as they can as fast as they can, and they suffer little to no personal consequences when a company fails?

Shareholder Value Maximization

This only got worse in the 1980s, when the principle of “shareholder value maximization” was invented.  Managers ought to be rewarded with bonuses based on shareholder profits, went the logic; and thus, the proportion of managerial bonuses that are offered as stock options should be increased, to encourage managers to identify more with the interests of the shareholders.  Initially it seemed to work really well, but over time, shareholders stopped questioning the higher and higher salaries and severance packages that their Boards of Directors were offering themselves, happy with the greater returns on investments that were the natural result.  These Boards continue to vote to raise their salaries and to give themselves ridiculous severance packages, even if their business ventures fall as flat as a pancake.  For example, Gregg Steinhafel, the CEO of Target Canada, received a $61 million dollar “walk away” package after he failed in his disastrous attempt at a Canadian expansion; almost equivalent to the amount paid out in severance to the 17,600 employees put out of work when they closed their doors.

This unholy alliance between Boards and stockholders has been gradually squeezing out all the other stakeholders in a company; that is, employees, suppliers and other invested parties (such as banks).  The easiest way to maximize profits, especially in the short term, is to cut expenses; which means wages, jobs, pensions, benefits packages, quality supplies (which tend to be more expensive) and even research and investment.  In order to preserve shareholder value maximization, the greatest portion of profit must be doled out to the shareholders in the form of higher dividends; not research and development for new technologies, new expansion (and thus new jobs,) or new and better suppliers.  Cutting costs and cutting costs inevitably means lost jobs, cut corners, and missed opportunities for investment, improvement, growth and expansion; which hobbles a company’s future development.

Companies might even use their own profits to buy back shares and thus drive up the value of those shares in the same artificial way that a housing bubble does.  According to Chang, share buybacks used to represent less than 5% of U.S. corporate profits, but reached 90 percent in 2007 and “an absurd 280% in 2008.”  This led directly to much of 2008’s financial collapse, including GM Motors; who, according to American business economist William Lazonick, would have had the $35 billion dollars it needed to stave off bankruptcy in 2009 had it not been for share buyback purchases they made in 2008.

Solutions

Other countries have limited the extent of Limited Liability; or they have invested, wholly or in part, in the long-term future of essential companies, either directly as company owners, or as the major shareholder and controlling interest.  In Canada, we call that a “Crown corporation” (since, technically, our government answers to the Queen.)  Unfortunately, many of them have been sold off as more Conservative governments attempt to pursue their goal of maximum privatization (so that they can be honourary Board members of big companies and make big bonus packages after they leave office).  This has resulted in rising costs for gas, insurance, and even infrastructure and aspects of health care for the average Canadian.

Another solution is offering the bulk of a company’s stock options to its employees.  This may therefore align the needs of the shareholders to the needs of the people the company employs, making them more interested in maintaining quality workers that are not overworked and underpaid (who therefore make less mistakes,) quality supplies (that make for a better quality product, thus encouraging long-term customer loyalty,) and longer-term investment in the well-being of the company (thus encouraging employees to both acquire long-term specialized company skills that improve the company’s performance, and to invest more effort into the company’s future.)  Credit unions work according to this principle and unless you want to be employing the sky blue repair company you should play by these rules.

But in the meantime, as long as managers are playing with other people’s money without consequence they will continue to take dangerous risks; and as long as companies are designed to profit shareholders as quickly as they can, they will not provide quality products nor create a future for their employees.

Solidarity Forever Poster

Solidarity Forever

When I was ten years old, my parents sat me down and with tight lips they explained that Daddy’s union was on strike and so we would be “tightening our belt” for a little while.

“How long?” I wanted to know.  I wasn’t sure exactly what “tightening our belts” meant, but since my parents were usually worried about money I was pretty sure that it couldn’t be good.

He shrugged impatiently.  His anger and frustration were all over him.  My dad didn’t talk much, so when he did, I listened intently.  “Could be a couple of weeks,” he said.  “Could be for months.”

Months seemed like an eternity to my ten year old mind.  “Why is the union on strike?” I scowled. Surely if the situation were understood, it could be fixed!

“Well,” Dad explained (having become accustomed to his strange, too-smart-for-her-own-good daughter, who always had to know the reason why) “the company wants to reduce our pensions because they’re having financial troubles, and the union is having none of it.  I’m not happy about it.”

“Why not?” I demanded.

“I just don’t think that striking was a good idea,” he said honestly.  “I think it’s going to cost us a lot more than we’ll gain.”

“Well, if you don’t want to strike,” I suggested shrewdly, thinking of how much better it would be for my family individually, “why don’t you just go to work then?”

I never forgot my father’s response.  His eyes flashed and he half stood up in his seat.  “Never,” he hissed.  “I am not a scab.”

“Dear,” cautioned my mother as she gave him a stern look.

I was stricken.  I didn’t understand why my father had become so angry so quickly.  “I’m sorry, ” I apologized.  “What is a ‘scab’?  Why do you have to do what the union tells you?”

His shoulders relaxed a bit.  “A scab is someone who breaks a picket line when the workers of a company have decided that all work should stop.  They’re traitors.  The only means that workers have to protect their rights is to stand together, so if we don’t stand together, we have no rights.  And they’re teaching you about how democracy works at school, right?”

“Yes.”  Of course, they don’t seem to teach that to ten-year-olds anymore, but they still were then.

“Well, the union voted to strike,” he said firmly.  “And I’m part of the union, so I have to respect the vote.  You have to support the decision of the majority.  That’s how democracy works.”

When I think about that time, I seem to remember my parents fighting a bit more, and some more frequent Kraft Dinner meals (which made me happy; I loved Kraft Dinner), and that was about the limit of the changes over the next few months that stand out in my mind.  But the importance of unions was a lesson I never forgot.

So when the teachers went on strike at my school a few months later I supported them.  They took the time to explain that a lot of what they were striking about had to do with class sizes; as well as some personal things, like job cuts and wages, since the BC government was in the middle of a period of scarcity politics.  School wasn’t that far and in those days a child was actually allowed to go out in the daytime if they were home before dusk, so I stood in their picket lines with them.  They eventually went back to work, but the fight continued.  In 2002 the current BC Premier, then the Minister of Education, Christy Clark passed a law that denied the union the right to bargain class size and composition.  The fight between the BC Teachers’ Union and the BC Government continues to this day.


The eighties were a time of unbridled right wing capitalism.  Ronald Reagan was President of the United States; Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister of Canada; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of Britain.  They preached the gospel that the corporate owned press and the billionaire-funded economic think tanks now pour into the ears of our leaders like poison; deregulation is the key.  Labour is expensive.  You have to support “trickle down economics” if you want to boost the economy.

All of these policies resulted in the Great Recession of the 1990s, the world I, from my working class background, graduated into.  And one of the most significant propaganda campaigns that the Corporate Choir managed to inject into the public consciousness during that time, which we have yet to outgrow, is the myth of “Big Unions.”

“Big Unions lock up the labour market,” say the corporatists.  “They make unrealistic demands upon industry until it’s not profitable to run the industry anymore.  And look at all their big pensions and their high wages and their lunch breaks and vacation pay!  You guys aren’t getting any of that, are you?  Why should the unions do so much better than you do?”

Except that the Big Unions that they talk about aren’t nearly what we’ve been led to believe.  Of the 14 largest national unions in Canada, one is a media performers’ union and another is a merged union that represents auto workers and people who work in communications, energy, and paper.  And it didn’t save them from job loss when Conservative (politically expedient) budget cuts hit the CBC, nor the closing of several Canadian auto manufacturing plants.

Of the 14 largest national unions in Canada, five are teachers’ unions, two are postal unions, three are unions for public service employees, one is a nurse’s union, and one is an office workers’ and professionals’ union.  Most of these unions have voted to strike in the past ten years.  All of the teachers, the postal workers, the nurses, and the public service employees were just legislated back to work by the government that oversees their industry, since they were deemed to be “essential services,” without any kind of attempt to even negotiate worker rights or needs.  Even in the rare cases where arbitration decided in favour of the unions, new legislation just arbitrarily changed their bargaining rights, and they had to take their governments to court. And the public let them get away with this, because the public was jealous of the benefits and higher wages that those unions had, and they did not.


What a beautifully executed bait-and-switch!  Instead of hating the company we work for because they pay us slave wages, we hate the union because they don’t work hard enough for us.  Instead of hating corporate owners for lobbying our governments to suppress the labour market by relaxing regulations, we hate the union guys for making more money than we do.  Instead of demanding that shareholders crop the salaries of their Boards of Directors, or accept slightly lesser dividends, we get mad because company unions won’t let them reduce wages and cut pensions.  Instead of getting angry at the corporations for hiring illegal immigrants or Temporary Foreign Workers at slave wages and abusive conditions, we get mad at the immigrants themselves.  The corporatists have effectively turned us on one another.

Rather than asking why the union guys get all of the benefits they do – benefits that, once upon a time, were considered just decent and proper working conditions and compensations – what we should be doing is asking why the rest of us don’t.  And when unions act on behalf of the people they represent, we should support their action, rather than bitching because we find it inconvenient.  If we did that, they would support us in our struggle for the same rights, especially when we chose to form our own unions.  There’s no reason why we couldn’t have the Retail Employees’ Union of North America; or the Gas Station Attendant’s Union.  And those unions would have power to get things done.


This weekend Canada Post is threatening to strike.  They’re striking because Canada Post wants to get rid of door-to-door delivery and not pay their employees overtime for overtime work.  While the company is claiming that they can’t compete in the market because of this, their first quarter profit was $44 million dollars because of their growing parcel service – so I don’t believe them.  Because I believe in the rights of the worker, I will be temporarily shutting down my Etsy shop until the strike is lifted.  I will not be sending packages by Purolator.  I am not a scab.

23 Things: There is No Such Thing as a Free Market

"Door Number One" by George Hodan. Public domain image courtesy Publicdomainpictures.net
“Door Number One” by George Hodan. Public domain image courtesy Publicdomainpictures.net

23 Things is a series that examines and explores the theories presented in Oxford-trained economist Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.  I will examine each of his 23 Things by taking some of the material from his book, and breaking it down through the application of my own lens.  For more information, I recommend his excellent book!

What They Tell You:  Markets need to be free.  When the government interferes to dictate what market participants can or cannot do, resources cannot flow to their most efficient use.  If people cannot do the things that they find most profitable, they lose the incentive to invest and innovate.”

As Chang points out, no market is actually a free market.  There are always regulations and rules that change the market considerably, and we just unconditionally accept a lot of the existing limitations.  Free market economists who claim that people trying to put limitations on the market are politically motivated are equally politically motivated.

Here are a few of the innate regulations to the market that we have accepted as part of our “free market economy”:

Labour Costs

In 1819, the UK’s Cotton Factory Regulation Act, was tabled in the British Parliament.  It forbade the employment of young children under the age of nine.  Older children’s hours were to be limited to 12 hours a day.  The new rules only applied to cotton factories, which were especially dangerous.  It was an incredibly controversial bill.  Opponents believed that it undermined the free market completely.  Some members of the House of Lords even opposed it on the grounds that “labour should be free.”  Children wanted to work; factory owners wanted to employ them; what was the problem?

Now of course no one today would suggest that workers should not be paid; but part of the reason that large employers close their North American factories and go to developing countries is that between the reduced currency values, and the willingness of hungrier people to do more for less, it seriously reduces their labour costs.  It’s the main reason that large corporations support globalization.

Also, this is why large corporations lobby governments to permit such things as Canada’s shameful Temporary Foreign Worker program, which, nominally, was supposed to allow people with hard-to-find skills to come to Canada and work at jobs that are difficult to fill in Canada; but which was actually used by large corporations to create a class of sharecroppers for low-paying service jobs, artificially suppressing wages and working conditions for everyone.  The Liberal government has now re-instituted this program due to pressure from lobbyists, after the Conservative government was forced to shut it down because a restaurant owner in Saskatchewan fired a twenty-plus year employee to hire Temporary Foreign Workers to work at a lesser wage, lesser hours, and higher pressure.  The Temporary Foreign Worker program is a good example of how necessary wage regulations are, and how some employers will continually try to chip away at them anyway.

As Chang points out, restrictions on immigration have more effect on wages than any other factor, including minimum wage legislation.

When you think about it, the fight against slavery was the first attempt to regulate wages and working conditions.  And to this day, human traffickers continue to import workers, often children, to work under abusive and oppressive conditions in order to cheat labour costs.

Working Conditions and Safety

Note how controversial that 12 hour limit of a day’s work was!  Now we generally accept that a human being can only work for so long because exhaustion sets in.  This is one of many regulations that have been enacted to protect workers in the labour market.  The early days of the Industrial Revolution were a horror story of factory owners taking advantage of the poor and allowing human suffering on an unprecedented scale. This sobering video shows a few of the things that child labourers were expected to do before legislation protected them; and a few of those things still go on in places where the laws protecting workers are not so firm.  And Karen Silkwood taught us why the struggle must continue.

Environmental Regulations

This one still sticks in the craw of certain large corporations, but most people now agree that environmental regulations must exist to protect innocent bystanders and the planet.  In places where those environmental regulations are relaxed, such as China, the results are clear.  Contrary to popular belief, this has happened before, resulting in the enactment of a series of restrictions on permitted air pollutants.  But companies still try to get past the restrictions.  Recently Volkswagen has been caught altering their emissions regulators to cheat at emissions tests without actually lowering emissions.

Food and Drug Regulation

Despite a reputation for permitting lowered standards for big money corporations, the Food and Drug Administration, and regulatory boards like it that exist in most countries, was created to limit what could be sold to consumers and make sure, to the best of their ability, that products for sale were safe.  Certain foods are required to be processed in particular ways in order to be considered safe for sale.  Prior to these regulatory boards there was no standard of safety for products that were sold for human consumption, and people could make any kind of claims they wanted.  As frustrating as I sometimes find them as an herbalist, I recognize their work as necessary and important.  Without these boards, disasters like suicides caused by improper application of SSRIs, and like birth defects caused by thalidomide, would be everyday occurrences.  Recently, poisoning in pet foods caused renal failure in thousands of cats and dogs because we do not apply FDA standards to pet food.

Professional Licensing

We require professions that have significant impact on human lives to have licensing systems; such as lawyers, or doctors.  We require police forces to serve a public trust rather than any private individual or company.  We only allow companies with a certain amount of capital to set up chartered banks.  All of these restrictions are, nominally, to protect the public; and to a large degree they do.

Restrictions on Trade

There are rules about what sorts of products may be sold and under what conditions.  Businesses that sell faulty products are required to refund the customer’s money.  Businesses that sell dangerous products are legally responsible for those products.  Countries and even states and provinces restrict what can be imported across their borders and often assign tariffs and taxes to protect their local industries.  We do not permit the open buying of votes or narcotics.  Even the underregulated stock market, whose lax rules led directly to the 2008 financial meltdown, has restrictions on who can trade and how.

Even in normal times, interest rates are set by a central bank, which restricts what people are allowed to charge others for the privilege of borrowing money; and after the 2008 crisis, interest rates plummeted because of a political decision to build up the economy and increase investment by lowering interest rates.  One of the enshrined champions of “free market economies,” George W. Bush, used $700 billion taxpayer dollars to buy up assets that were choking the economy; one of the biggest financial interventions by the State in history.

As Chang says himself:

We see a regulation when we don’t endorse the moral values behind it.  The nineteenth-century high-tariff restriction on free trade by the US federal government outraged slave-owners, who at the same time saw nothing wrong with trading people in a free market.  To those who believed that people can be owned, banning trade in slaves was objectionable in the same way as restricting trade in manufactured goods.”

So, what restrictions should we impose on the market?  Should we favour the wealthy, or the common human being?  Should we do what is in the best interests of a lucky few, or what is in the best interests of everyone else?  It’s up to us, but only if we demand the right to make the choice.