#20 – Which Side Are You On Boys?

Come all you good workers
Good news to you I’ll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell.*

*Union song written in 1931 by Florence Reese, wife of coal miner Sam Reese a union organizer for the United Mine Workers in Harlan County Kentucky.

Most philosophers eventually arrive at the insight that our species possessed the ability to make choices, or in other words, that we have free will. What many of us, unfortunately, are unable to do is to tell the difference between a good choice and a bad choice, a good presidential candidate and a self-described “very stable genius,” between sustainable economic principles and self-destructive economic policies.

Hence, in the latter case, when we make bad choices the gap grows between the 10% greedily piling up their assets and the rest of us struggling to make ends meet.  Those oligarchs with the most power have the most wealth as we climb the upside-down assets pyramid. “Of course, the top 1 percent—and, more so the top 0.1 percent—has seen income rise stratospherically. That tiny elite takes in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income and controls nearly half its wealth.”   (1)   How did we get ourselves into this unsustainable mess?

In Current Events essay #15 we saw that choices regarding how the institution of American politics in our early history was going to be defined quickly fragmented the nation into political parties still feuding down to the present day. Economic philosophies were also contentious from the earliest days of our history and conflicting choices still keep the nation divided about how our economy should be administered.

“American leaders have generally subscribed to one of two competing philosophies. One is a small-government Jeffersonian perspective that abhors bigness and holds that prosperity flows from competition among independent businessmen, farmers and other producers. The other is a Hamiltonian agenda that believes a large, powerful country needs large, powerful organizations. The most important of those organizations is the federal government, which serves as a crucial partner to private enterprise, building roads [and other “internal improvements’ including canals, dams and railroads] and schools, guaranteeing loans and financing scientific research in ways that individual businesses would not.”   (2)

We won’t trace the institution of what we call our economy in any detail except to note the general trajectory. “Much of what we consider the American way of life is rooted in the period of remarkably broad, shared economic growth, from around 1900 to about 1978. Back then, each generation of Americans did better than the one that preceded it.”   (1)

In truth, Americans have never been able to compromise in choosing how either our political or economic institutions should function. Ironically, it is neither political differences nor economic philosophies that prevent harmony in our national community. To come together as a sustainable community we must learn to ask more profound questions and to see more deeply into our collective worldview, our identity and our behavior as Americans if we are ever to change direction and dissolve the disagreements that divide our community.

Most of us continue to believe in a national narrative that is delusional. We allow ourselves to be divided by apparent differences regarding skin color, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and national origin, for example. All of these supposed “differences” are fundamentally illusions. Our choices are not based in reality and therefore are leading us to an inevitable disaster. One of the most problematic illusions is called the other and from this belief flows much of the divisiveness in our very violent society and indeed in the entire Global Village.

Insight # 20:  Belief in the other as part of the worldview of our species is leading all of us toward a catastrophe we all feel is coming but are trying very hard to deny.



  1. Davidson, Adam. “The Great Divergence.” The New York Times Magazine. January 20 2013, page 17.
  2. Friedman, Benjamin M. “Market Values.” The New York Times Book Review. May 27, 2012, page 1.