How did we get into this state of unrest? What the hell is going on?
We are not standing in a new place in history. 21st century America is just like 19th century America.
What we see going on around us is the same struggles that have been going on for centuries. These struggles stem from two roots and are so intertwine as to form one hulking tree of oppression. This massive tree overshadows everything that happens in western society, and possibly the world. The two roots are Capitalism and Police as paramilitary organizations.
The first root is Capitalism.
Capitalism is an adequate system. It certainly has its advantages over other system of economics and production. But it has inherent problems which actively work against it. The two largest problems are excess and inequality. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Defenders of the status quo like to point to outliers of this as seen by a rich person falling from grace and becoming poor or the underprivileged rising above it all to making it big, these are the scarce exceptions.
Excess in capitalism is a given. If you have a good idea and a little capital (cash) or access to cash then it is possible to turn your little into a lot. If you have capital but no ideas you can always "shark-tank" an idea. And the more capital you have, the more capital you can make. Excess builds.
If we were all starting from zero, then this would be limited to what could be achieved in a life time of work. We do not start at zero, some start well below zero and some start well above zero. There are millions of "trust fund babies" who don’t need to work a day in their life because they have the capital to invest and thus, live off the interest. On the other hand there are people who are saddled with debt from before they are born. It all comes down to the luck of the birth. This creates a duality: The Owners and the Workers.
The duality of Owner/Worker defines the inequality. Inequality has very little to do with one's skill set or even educational potential. Often it has to do with being born into the right family with the right capital means. At no fault are the children who are born into a situation which is beyond their control. Sometimes education and opportunity presents itself and the child can move beyond their birth. Most often they cannot. It becomes a generational inequality issue. This is part of the system of capitalism. Owners need workers.
Attempts are made to limit the excess and the inequality. Antitrust laws of the late 19th century and early 20th century limited the size and scope of business. The Federal Trade Commission regulates big business. This helps to create a freer and more open market so other smaller business can have a chance to compete. Workers can move into the Owner class.
Another way to limit excess is through taxation. The inheritance tax is levied against the super-rich in order to limit the amount of capital that is trapped in trust funds. Property tax and income tax can both be used to help shape more equitable society. Often taxation is used to help support the working class as they struggle to make ends meet.
Unions used to be a powerful force in the USA fighting for the rights of the working class. Unions allowed the Workers to approach the Owners on equal footing. Through collective bargaining, workers' unions were able to increase the livelihoods of their union members. Unions have fallen out of favor and the working class has seen a huge wage gap increase over the last 40 years. The poor become poorer.
During the 1950s and 1960s the US economy was the strongest it has ever been. During that time we came to dominate the world market. It is also the time when taxation on the super-rich was the highest it has ever been, and Unions were also at their peak fighting for the workers. It was a golden age which created a robust Middle Class. A Middle Class which is now in sharp decline due to the loss of unions and the changing of laws in favor of big business.
No amount of regulation is going to create a perfect capitalism. There will always be excess and inequality. Some fear that regulation will move capitalism into socialism, where the State controls more and more of private business and private life. There certainly needs to be a balance between government regulation and capitalist freedom. And the people of the nation need to be the determiners of how far into socialism we are willing to go.
And this leads us into the second root, which is the way policing is done in America.
The owners of capital have always used the military or the police to keep the system in place. Socialism threatens them and they often respond covertly through politics: undermining the unions, relaxing taxes and antitrust laws. They also respond overtly through the use of police. The police may not even know they are being used as pawns to protect the rich. Certainly one would think the police union would stand with other unions against immoral corporate practices.
Let's take a moment to look at policing in America before we wade into how capitalists and police are intertwined.
Police forces are built upon paramilitary organizational ideas. There is a chain of command. You don't questions your superiors. You follow orders. You look out for your fellow soldiers. There are inherent problems when you use this structure in civilian life.
Some of those problems are lack of oversight and accountability. As well as the creation of an ingrained "us versus them" mentality. Other problems that occur are seeing everyone as an enemy (criminal), closing ranks around problem officers, and the blue brotherhood syndrome.
Accountability is only as good as the leadership. If the commanding officers do not want to hold lower ranks accountable, or even side with them in their bad behaviors then there is no recourse for the "civilians" to take. Outside oversight and accountability can go a long ways in correcting some of these inherent problems.
When you combine a paramilitary organization with an Owner dominated economy then you can see great abuse of power. The police power and the economic powers combined to keep the system working. In some respects this is needed. But if the powers at the top are unjust, corrupt, inept, immoral or just plain apathetic towards others, then the system slowly grinds people down. There is no recourse and no escape for the millions of people trapped at the bottom.
We are seeing the fruits of this dynamic play out today. It is not the first time we have seen it, nor will it me the last. People, on both sides, focus in on one particular aspect of the failing system, but fail to see the underlying faults in the whole system. People see racism in the police force, but fail to see that the police force is only working at the hands of the Owners. The problem is in the way in which people of color are perceived by society in general. And that stereotype is promoted on behalf of the system. This idea was started centuries ago and is ingrained in our culture. Very few of the people who work within the system even see the systemic failures. They may see a few problems, but chalk it up to a racist policeman, an inept business owner, or a lazy worker. They seldom take the time to sit down and piece it all together to understand how the whole system is devised to protect the wealthy and make sure the working person stays in their place.
Because this is a problem with the system and not a problem with a people, or person, there are very few changes that can be made. Going after an individual may feel good for now, but it will not change the system in the long run. Can the system be changed to make a more equitable and fair society? Sure. Do the power-that-be want that to happen? Probably not.