This Ain’t No Meritocracy

Where are those streets paved with gold?

Who amongst us, here in America, was not fed the American Dream with our mother’s milk? “Work hard, young man, and you’ll get ahead.” “You can do anything if you set your mind to it.” “Succeed in school and you’ll succeed in life.” “There’s a piece of the pie waiting for you. You just have to reach out and take it.” “Slow and steady wins the race.”

In a word, bullshit.

The more I think about this, the more outraged I become. America isn’t a meritocracy. Most of us are not going to get out of this country as much as we put in. Even though we hate to really see it, this is a very highly class-structured society. It’s very hard to break out of your class and claw your way into the next one. When it happens, it’s the exception, not the rule.

Yes, we love to hear those rags-to-riches stories. We’re highly susceptible to Ponzi schemes and get rich quick scenarios because, hey, this is America, and we’re all supposed to get rich quick! How come I’m not walking on one of those gold-paved streets everyone promises us are just around the corner? Perhaps because I’m too busy trying to avoid the potholes, here.

I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. I graduated at the top of my class every single time. Using the American Dream yardstick, I ought to be a gajillionaire. But no. I’ve only managed to poke my head into the middle class in my early 50’s, and even now, I’m one major medical catastrophe away from bankruptcy, as are most of us.

My mother assumed I’d be the CEO of a fortune 500 company by the time I was 25. She totally overlooked the fact that I would have been miserable in that atmosphere, and I would have felt like an imposter for my whole life. Yes, I wound up doing much better than she ever had, but when you set the bar that low, it’s not that hard to jump over. She worked hard all her life, and she passed her work ethic on to her children. She was also desperately poor all her life.

Much of my success, I’m sorry to admit, has had to do with dumb luck. Being born white. Choosing a partner with similar goals and aspirations who understands the value of teamwork. Being in the right place at the right time. Moving from a right to work state to a union state. Having a loved one who was willing to loan me money at critical points in my life. Being able-bodied and intelligent.

Capitalism, as a system, is not designed to benefit the vast majority of us. In order for it to work, most of us have to be content to be cogs in a giant wheel that then rolls over the top of us with annoying frequency. There has to be a lower class. There are roadblocks in place to make sure you stay in it. Substandard schools, crippling student loans, expensive health care that keeps you just sick enough to be compliant, glass ceilings, unequal pay, good ol’ boys clubs, and only being able to get ahead based on who you know are all part of the bigger picture. There have to be a certain number of people desperate enough to do the dirty jobs. It never pays to examine too closely what it takes to make this economic sausage of ours. Not if you want to maintain any sense of contentment.

And because we all buy in to the American Dream, most of us, whether we realize it or not, walk around feeling like a failure. If the American Dream really works, the theory goes, then I must have done something wrong to not be a part of it. I didn’t study hard enough. I didn’t please my boss enough to get that promotion. I picked the wrong major in college. I didn’t put in enough hours. I didn’t socialize with the right people. I’m not pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough, white enough, male enough, strong enough. I shouldn’t have had children so soon. I should have saved more money. I didn’t buy the right stock. I don’t properly manage my time.

We are all so busy pursuing the almighty dollar that many of us harbor deep resentment and frustration because we don’t feel that we have meaningful jobs. We’re making widgets on an assembly line so that other widget makers can buy those widgets. Job satisfaction is at an all-time low.

There are ways that we can get off this treadmill of ours. First of all, we need to stop this love affair we seem to have with Capitalism. It has gotten us nowhere. Next, we need to stop voting for politicians that simply exist to prop up the 1 percent. We also need to stop teaching our children that money will buy them happiness, and that the only measure of their worth is the size of their bank accounts.

We also need to prioritize activism over complacency, critical thinking over passivity, collectivism over isolation, unity over division, strength in numbers over every man for himself. We need to start demanding a better world instead of hoping for the best. We need to hold people and corporations accountable rather than assuming they have our best interests at heart. It’s not about me (or you for that matter), it’s about us. We need to stop being divided and conquered.

More than anything, though, we need to dismantle this myth of meritocracy. It pits us against one another. It requires that most of us lose so that some can win. It’s a soul-sucking fantasy.

It’s why so many of us are angry.


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Fascism: The Warning Signs

Very often, I hear people confuse Communism and Socialism and Fascism. They use the terms interchangeably, which makes me realize they really haven’t a clue as to each system’s basic tenets. They have just been taught that they mean “bad” and feel that’s all they need to know. I find this very disheartening, and potentially dangerous. Knowledge is power.

At this moment in history, I am particularly concerned about Fascism. What follows is a basic primer, Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, by Dr. Lawrence Britt. I will leave it to you to decide if these characteristics seem eerily familiar. Heaven help us all.


Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each: 

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are wide spread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

From Liberty Forum


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Feelin’ the Bern

On Saturday night I got to be a part of history. I went to see Bernie Sanders speak at the Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion here in Seattle. It was a seminal moment. Socialism has never been a strong movement in this country, but it does tend to surge when the upper classes begin to behave more abominably. So it’s surging now.

I arrived a couple hours early, and still the line was a half mile long, wrapping around Husky Stadium next door. You could feel the electricity in the air. The crowd around me was discussing the fact that Sanders’ afternoon speech was disrupted by the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ll write more about that tomorrow.

People were walking up and down the line asking us to sign petitions. I signed one to put something on the state ballot to address electoral reform. (Would that I could have signed it twice.) Others were handing out flyers. One was by Kshama Sawant, our city council member who is a member of the Socialist Alternative party (God, how I love Seattle) and it was very supportive of Sanders. Another was by the Freedom Socialist party, and it was very critical of him, which seems counterproductive. I mean, yes, he hardly toes the party line, but at least he’s a step in the right direction.

And of course, there were protesters. One group was rallying for rent control (yeah, buddy!) and another was pro Palestine. As I stood there, gazing at all these people with their valid causes, I was feeling grateful that we live in a country were these opinions can be voiced.

Finally we got inside, and I was relegated to the nosebleed section, but I was just glad to be there. I saved two seats for some friends who weren’t allowed in after all, and they wound up being the only two empty seats in the entire arena. 12,000 people packed it, and another 3,000 people listened from outside while I sat next to my two empty seats feeling sheepish.

This was taken by my friend Amy, who couldn't actually come inside for the crowd, but Bernie, being a man of the people, came to her.
This was taken by my friend Amy, who couldn’t actually come inside for the crowd, but Bernie, being a man of the people, came to her.

There were about 5 speakers before Bernie, each promoting him or herself and whipping up enthusiasm for the main attraction. I didn’t even get their names, frankly. I couldn’t be bothered. They were just filler, and I got the sense that the crowd viewed them as a waste of time. I know I did. It was hot in there and we were impatient.

Then out came Bernie Sanders. This sloppy little man looks exactly like that neighbor you used to have who would shout at kids for playing on his front lawn, and confiscate all the balls that flew into his back yard. You know the one. And the crowd erupted in deafening cheers.

When he spoke, calling us brothers and sisters, he said all the right things. He said he had more individual donors than any other campaign. (To add yourself to this extremely wonderful group of individuals, go here.) He railed against big money and corporate greed. He talked about racism and income inequality. He said that the billionaire class needs to pay its fair share of taxes. He supported marriage equality, and glory, glory hallelujah, he acknowledged the fact of global climate change. He discussed the need for prison reform and a minimum wage increase. He laughed at the Republican concept of family values with its obvious disdain for women’s rights.

I have to admit that I was swept up in the enthusiasm. I had never before been in such a large group of people who think like I do. I never experienced this in all my years mired in the ignorant cultural backwater that is Florida.

But then something came over me. Maybe it was the heat and the crowd. Maybe it was the fact that I had walked a mile and a half to get there because parking in this town absolutely sucks. Maybe it was the fact that I’d worked all day and then had to kill about 3 hours of time before entering the arena, and had not been able to convince anyone to go with me. Or maybe it was the fact that the creepy guy behind me kept “accidentally” stroking my hair.

Suddenly I looked around and realized there was a distinct lack of faces of color in the crowd, despite all the cheering for immigration reform and an end to racism. I also kind of got a bitter taste in my mouth, knowing that these people, who were enthusiastically supporting Bernie’s bashing of the Billionaire class, were going to go home to their million dollar houses in downtown Seattle, and that I’d never ever afford to become one of their neighbors. It must be a lot easier to sit up there and support the causes that may or may not help the people sitting down here.

I support Bernie Sanders because I have to. He’s the only candidate for president who seems to give a shit about me and my situation. He seems to be the only one who cares enough to try to make my life better. I’ll vote for him in the democratic primary to send a message that I’m sick and tired of the way the political system is going in this country. I’m fed up. I’ve had it. Maybe my vote will make the Democratic Party blink, and realize that we are sick of the moderation.

But I don’t think he’ll win. Not in a million years. There are too many ignorant voters out there who buy into the paid political advertising.

And if by some miracle he does manage to win, we’ve already seen what happens to presidents who have absolutely no support. We’d be treated to a 4 year long filibuster. As hard as he’d try, and as much as we’d want him to succeed, nothing would happen.

So I left early. Bernie had me at hello and he made no promises, which is admirable in a politician. He’s got my vote. But I just couldn’t sit there anymore and listen to a view of utopia that I long for with all my heart and soul, but am fairly certain I will never get to experience.

With a magnifying glass, you might be able to see me in the extreme upper left corner of this picture.
With a magnifying glass, you might be able to see me in the extreme upper left corner of this picture.