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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

CHAPTER FOURTEEN. WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER: THE CURIOUS STATE OF ALASKA




Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Jun 30, 2009 3:40 PM PDT


This essay is dedicated to Ayn Rand, who popularized the notion of radical individualism that is the basis of Libertarian philosophy.  It postulates that all animals are by nature competitive and is a good and necessary biological imperative to always act in your own self-interest. Alan Greenspan, Sarah Palin and the more ideological Tea Partiers have all swallowed this lie, to the detriment of America and all of its citizens.



With due credit to more enlightened Alaskans, the enduring popularity of Sarah Palin here up north is remarkable. Young and old have told us of their love for “Sarah,” as they refer to the ever overreaching ex-vice presidential candidate. Alaska thus serves as an instructional case to illustrate the extent of the fall of conservatism from its once respectable position in American political thought. 

There is no other way to understand how self-styled “conservatives” and independent ”mavericks” embrace the special brand of socialism that sustains the state economy. Alaska is indeed a land of contrasts, producing a candidate for the office that is a heartbeat away from the Presidency whose husband belonged to a separatist movement in this quirky state until a few years before her selection to run for the vice presidency.

As anyone who paid attention to the news during the 2008 campaign will recall, Todd Palin belonged to the Alaska First movement that sought to have Alaska secede from the union. Presumably, the plan was to join OPEC and help manipulate petroleum prices, since they are dependent on taxes from Alaskan oil for the subsidies they give the state’s citizens each year. 

One young Alaskan who was home from school in Oregon to work for the summer told us that one reason she loved Sarah was that she had made sure they got an extra $1500 dollars (actually, it was $1200, for a total of $3500) “because of the high price of gas.” One has to wonder if this is why Alaskans feel compelled to accept $1.80 from the despised federal government for every dollar that they pay in taxes to keep their own, presumably democratic government in business. We can only hope that they are not forced to experience the cold sting of reality now that Uncle Ted Stevens isn’t around to look out for their interests.

Well, Alaska continues to value its independence but doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere just yet. It is not clear to me if this because the secession effort fell apart as the result of the murder of the Alaska First founder in an arms deal gone bad, or because cooler heads prevailed. If the drop in the popularity of independence is due to rational thought, presumably it is because some erstwhile supporters had the sense to get their information from somewhere besides the Faux News channel.

The curious state of Alaska is simply the most visible symptom of a nationwide malaise that has gripped most of these once-united states. How many Americans, upon learning of the federal largesse bestowed on Alaskans, feel jealous? I would wager there are more such Americans than there are those who recognize this egregious me-first attitude as a key cause of the decay of American values. I

t has become very popular to grouse about having to pay taxes to support the legitimate functions of government, even to the point of denying the legitimacy of providing a basic social safety net for the losers in the game of unrestrained free market capitalism in a global economy. These so-called conservatives argue that government cannot do anything right, then go about electing leaders of like mind who go about busily proving their point. These same miscreants are the first to stick their fingers in the American pie when the opportunity presents itself.

Where are the senators who recognize that they serve all of the American people, not simply those who pay for the slick commercials that get them elected by voters too distracted by 24 hour infotainment to study their records and positions on issues of vital importance to the country as a whole? Once elected, they keep the money flowing home for their constituents, who are mindlessly grateful that they are receiving a fraction of what we are borrowing from our children in order to maintain our sick system of corporate welfare. 

For this, senators are almost invariably rewarded, as no state wants to give up their leaders’ positions of power obtained through seniority. This is how the government-military-industrial complex sustains itself, through the careful distribution of the gifts of jobs which produce nothing of value but votes for the senators who perpetuate the system.

One of the most interesting sights I encountered on this trip was that of a phenomenon known as “bubble netting.” In apparent contradiction of the Ayn Rand dictum that animals invariably seek to further their individual interests in the struggle for survival, a group of humpback whales apparently discovered that by working together, they could increase the bounty available to all. 

We had the rare pleasure of watching them swim in a synchronized fashion, blowing bubbles to confuse the herring and trapping them in a “net” of bubbles from which they could see no escape. This learned behavior depends on a leader diving below the school of fish and calling when all are poised to spring the trap. It was a moving example of how individuals can work together and follow a leader with a plan. In short, these intelligent animals had discovered that hunting need not be a zero-sum game. Through working together, each can help increase the wealth of the herd and profit more than is possible by individual effort alone. How can Alaskans witness this and not be moved to similar acts of cooperative behavior?

I came to Alaska to view the glaciers, before they slide into the sea from the current global warming trend or become inaccessible when global freezing takes place in response to the shift in temperature and/or salinity that drives the oceans currents and provides a mechanism of regulating global temperatures. I must say, the ice is everything it is cracked up to be. It has been a wonderful trip, and I hope my children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy it one day. Perhaps if America is ready to grow up, recognize the interdependence of all people and all things and accept responsibility for its actions, that day will yet come.










Rick Staggenborg, MD


In international waters on the Gulf of Alaska

As another example of the hypocrisy of libertarians when they find they need more help than their family and friends can or are willing to give, here is a bit of history about Rand abandoning the philosophy when she needed help from the "gummint."

1 comment:

  1. I wrote this essay on board a cuise ship in Alaska on my war to marry my wife Karen. The weather was beutiful and we were excited about seeing the glaciers up close. We were shocked to learn how much they had receded in just the previos year, leaving hundreds of feet of barren rock where glaciers had flowed to the sea just one year before.

    The Mendenhall glacier outside of Skagway was the biggest schock. The Visitors station was built at the edge in the 30s, I beleive one of the CCC projects that helped take us out of the last Depression. The glacier was now so far away that it was a real hike to get there, though it was worth the walk.

    This was the result of the endless demand to "Drill, baby, drill!" that Sarah popularized before the Gulf of Mexico gusher forced all but the most delusional of the right wing to begin to contemplate the wisdom of continuing to depend on the oil that lubricated the engine of the war-based economy.

    At this point Obama is mad as Hell but it remains ro be seen if he is not going to take it anymore. He shakes and he blusters, but if justice is served he will allow BP to fail as is supposed to happen in a "free market." that myth of the cult of Ayn Rand.

    The big argument of our friends across the pond is that Americans are "selfish" for wanting the poor fishermen of the Gulf and the American taxpayer to exact the pound of flesh to repay the that which BP has ripped from the underbelly of America. Perhaps they don't realize that investing little old ladie's pension funds in a socially irresponsible way is the real antisocial behavior in all this.

    I guess greed is not a uniquely American trait. Tony Blair willingly became Bush's panting lapdog when Bush barked "War!" He defied the will of the British people, one million of whm marched in the streets of London to protest on the eve of the launching of the Anglo-American blitzkreig against the Iraqi people, aiming to destroy the country inorder to save it.

    According to Naomi Klein in her brilliant book The Shock Doctrine, the reason Cheney tore up States detailed plan to rebuild Iraq was that the real intent was to use the disaster we caused to build a model "free market" society where there were no rules. So blind was Bush's faith in the invisible hand that he couldnot see the hand his buddy Cheney and pals at Halliburton and Bechtel had in the war profiteering.

    How many remember Cheney breezily claiming that a grateful Iraq would pay us back from the oil wells with the abundant cheap gas that we would naturally have first claim on? It is a good thing he didn't go through with the idea of delaring an emergency and suspending the 2008 elections, as it was reported he was considering.

    Blackwater might have been in the US guarding the gated enclaves of the rich before they were scheduled to be deployed Stateside. Let's hope that their is no violent Revolution to provide the American fascists from using that as an excuse to declare martial law and do it anyway. The irony is that it is the deluded right wing extremists who fear the government takeover who put the Cheney regime in power in the first place.

    Someone should tell the right wingnuts not to play with the fire of democracy. Perhaps they will just stay in their survivalist bunkers and wait for the socialist revolution they fear so much. If it comes, they will not recognize it because they have allowed themselves to be deluded into thinking that socialism is not compatible with democracy, while apparently thinking that fascism is.

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