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Our Genocide Trail


"When a culture is rich enough and inherently complex enough
to afford redundancy of nurturers, but eliminates them as an extravagance
or loses their cultural services through heedlessness of what is being lost,
the consequence is self-inflicted cultural genocide."


Jane Jacobs, "Unwinding Vicious Spirals,"
from her last book, Dark Age Ahead (2004)


              In his campaign running for governor in the California 2006 election, Peter Camejo appeared at a bookstore event in San Francisco early this recent July.  Camejo, on the Green ticket, had been Ralph Nader's running mate in the 2004 presidential election.  Speaking in San Francisco, he still protested the tax reductions and other Bush years' privileges so disproportionately benefiting corporate America.  Camejo recited statistics on those corporate benefits, along with his steady incredulity that so many Americans scarcely begin to know these things. 

              In the Q-&-A that followed, I got the first question.  I asked:  if it's true that so many are unable to connect local lives to America's larger corporate tilt, wouldn't he key this incapacity to our corporate academe.  It's in our universities, above all, that all learn to fit specializations.  It's there, thanks to academic departments in their isolations from each other, that all learn the habits of not making connections outside.  Did he have anything in his newest book also going into our imaginative fix from corporate academe?

              Peter Camejo looked at me a long moment, startled.  Then he admitted he'd never thought about this – had never written anything about it – but he liked hearing this point.  And promptly he did something he apparently couldn't help himself from doing.  Spurred to thinking himself of what's wrong with our schools, he volunteered that too many kids in California have no idea of even most basic finance – matters that so benefit the rich who do know.  He wanted schools to remedy this by requiring all kids to pass courses in basic finance.  He added, too, that he would love to see required courses in environmentalism.  Happy with these fixes, he went on to the next questioner.

              I like Peter Camejo.  I'll vote for him.  But good as he is – especially on the ways corporate interests arrange everything for their own short-term profits – I felt as let down as Charlie Brown having trusted that this time Lucy finally, really would hold the ball. Camejo, however, could not help but respond to a question on our habits of specialization with but eager suggestions of his own for specialized additions.

              A couple weeks later, on July 17 and 18, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a two-part series newly revealing massive cronyism and pay-offs for top administrators across the state-wide system of the California State University.  This seemed droll repetition in view of the fact this same paper had recently printed a series of stories in previous months on a similar payoff culture for those atop the parallel University of California system.  A comedy analogy fit:  the CSU administrators, like those at UC, posed in the same classic, poker face innocence when caught.  In both systems current and retiring administrators were getting free hundred-thousand-dollar and more extra years' salaries and other gifts.  The CSU system was upping UC now by awarding departing administrators tenure-track teaching positions, even those with no teaching credentials to compete with real professor candidates who have to face real competition for such sinecures.  But the administrators weren't just feigning innocence:  they actually protested that, in corporate culture, the top quite normally requires payoffs.

              The extents of corporate normalcy in academe came out even more July 21, when news surfaced that the state's Board of Regents for the UC system had concluded that the UC's 60 individuals most recently awarded more than $1 million in extra compensation could all keep their freebies.  The Regents decided to accept this administrative largesse because, they said, those awarded their extra-legal bennies had done nothing wrong themselves.  They'd only accepted their gifts.  And for the UC system's president's office, which had given out and largely hidden these awards, the Regents decided to punish no one in any way.

If any of this seems odd, we can go back to the good depth of tradition where the American privileged have always shown their frauds in veneers of gentility.  Such comedies go back to the humorists of Yankee New England and the Old Southwest, who all in loveliest – and new – American vernacular wit mocked the pre-Civil War elites. Such scripts go forward to Mark Twain, needling the same mock proprieties in his pages a generation and more later.  They go into the twentieth century via the Keystone Cops, Mack Sennett, Harold Lloyd, Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers upending their era's parlor elites – and on to yet more evolutions of beatniks, hippies, yippies, and more railing on at the pufferies and frauds predictably ever in power's genteel guises.

The cycles of corporate theater might well be comedic today, too, except for how the scripts most truly propelling our self-privileged powers have now been exploding all-too-literally in all-too-obvious, over-the-top violence.  In Iraq our inept, ideologically-driven, and reckless militarism has only been upping its cycles of death – more than a hundred deaths every day in an interlocked chaos of insurgency war, Baghdad civil war, and Arabic-population-wide Sunni and Shiite sectarian war.  And when that could scarcely be worse, Israel, Lebanon, and Palestinian Gaza similarly erupted in violence – rounds of rounds of death and destruction just as in Iraq subsidized by American taxpayers – by us who pay nothing for peace, but who give more than $3 billion to Israel every year for its fighter jets, guided missiles, tanks, combat bulldozers, and attack helicopters to enable it to go on seizing ever-more Arab land, occupying it with ever-more Jewish settlers, building ever-higher walls for rump pockets of Palestinians ever-further cut off from their traditional lands and orchards, which are in turn ever-continuously razed by the tanks and bulldozers for which we pay.

Like some mad Sorcerer's Apprentice, the cycles go on – along with ever-more rage among the native Arab populations throughout the region – a region of dictatorships who owe their existence to us – to our good American subsidies enabling their pockets of pampered privilege and cruel tyranny.  It's we good Americans who pay for their police states and militaries – from Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia – super-arming them, buffeting their leaders' families in luxury, training their secret police in surveillance and torture techniques:  all for their elites to collude with ours.

It's not so far from our academics' inoculations for mutual isolations that we get at home to the more-obviously militarized inoculations a parellel set of our corporate types delivers abroad.  Comedy doesn't help much, or console, either, now that most Americans accept this corporate culture gone amuck – accept it simply for the entitlement gildings that swathe all of us in those same genteel conceits we used to know to deride.

              In her last book, Dark Age Ahead, Jane Jacobs described American higher education as having given up educating and taken up instead what she termed "credentialing."  The corporate textbook types took over, and the systems designers, and the emissaries for corporate contracts.  One only needed to get credentialed to assume one's own place in this hegemony. "The more successful credentialing became as a growth industry," Jane Jacobs wrote, "the more it dominated education."  Students in this behemoth necessarily became "less interested in learning than in doing the minimum work required to get by and get out."  Students, too, she saw, yet desired real connections, and the literacy for that, but even they, she thought, were now "despairing of institutions that seemed to think of them as raw material to process as efficiently as possible rather than as human beings with burning questions and confusions about the world."

              Jane Jacobs died not long after the 2004 publication of her last book.  She was at least spared having to see how right she was – how blindly and smugly we're geared to what she foreboded as Dark Ahead

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