What 'Doing Something' Might Look Like

One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Voltaire. "The pessimist and the optimist have one thing in common: They both think that this is the best of all possible worlds."

So while the pessimist sulks and the optimist "adapts," there are those who want progressive, transformative change. Count me among the latter.

Many readers of this column see that theme in my writing and often ask me a question that boils down to this: Given that you are particularly sensitive to corporate, military and economic domination and the plight of the downtrodden, what do you think we/I should do?

It's a fair question to ask of a guy who criticizes (which is part and parcel of being a columnist) more than offering up visions of alternatives.

But the truth is: I don't know anyone intimately enough, except for my own children, to feel completely comfortable telling individual people what they should do.

Besides, a part of me thinks that "what-should-I-do?" inquiries are more of an excuse not to do something than a lack of knowledge about what to do, for fear of what the responsibilities and consequences might be.

But, aside from the challenge of courage, there's also a connectivity problem. People know that in America things change for the better because of collective action -- the abolition of chattel slavery, the recognition of the women's right to vote, overtime and vacation pay, the 40-hour work week, civil rights, so on and so forth.

Thank God there are thousands, even millions, of Americans out there who are far smarter and more committed than I am. So to "do" my part for now, I offer this particular column as a nexus in the web of connectivity. In other words, here are a few suggestions about what people can, but not necessarily should, do.

First a bit of a digression. According to Reuters news service, oil prices skyrocketed to a 21-year high at the end of last week, indicating "fear that supplies already stretched by world economic expansion could be hit by an attack on Middle East oil facilities." Needless to say, the Iraqi prisoner abuse firestorm certainly doesn't help matters.

I'm reminded of something else Voltaire said: "Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit atrocities."

And though America has been leading the pack in calling for more supply, Reuters reports that OPEC's proposed output hike may do little more than "legitimize existing production as it is already pumping more than two million barrels a day in excess of its official limits of 23.5 million (barrels per day)."

"The increase in prices is due to political, psychological and other factors but has no relation to oil supplies to global markets," says Qatari Oil Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah.

Of course, such economic shocks are shouldered disproportionately by those least able to afford it, which is why an internet-inspired movement is afoot. It's called "Stick It To Them Day" -- "Them" being oil industry executives who are living high off the hog while the rest of us feel the pinch at the pump.

The organizers of "Stick It To Them Day" exhort us to "not purchase a drop of gasoline for one day and all at the same time, the oil companies (will) choke on their stockpiles. At the same time, it would hit the entire industry with a net loss of over $4.6 billion dollars...

"Therefore May 19th has been formally declared 'stick it to them' day... Waiting on this administration to step in and control the prices is not going to happen... Remember, not only is the price of gasoline going up but at the same time airlines are forced to raise their prices, trucking companies are forced to raise their prices which effects prices on everything that is shipped. Things like food, clothing, building materials, medical supplies etc. Who pays in the end? We do!"

Then there's an idea from George Monbiot, author of the new book, "Manifesto for a New World Order" and winner of the 1995 United Nations Global 500 Award.

He told the Institute for Public Accuracy that "many of the most important issues facing us -- climate change, international debt, nuclear proliferation, war, the balance of trade between nations -- can be resolved only at the global or the international level."

"Our task is not to overthrow globalization, but to capture it, and to use it as a vehicle for humanity's first global democratic revolution."

"There is already a global governance system in place, dominated by the rich and the powerful. We need a new kind of global governance based on global democratic principles and moral authority. I propose establishing new institutions and making sweeping reforms in salvageable existing institutions.

"Simply scrapping existing institutions would not be enough. In principle, the United Nations is a good idea but in practice, it helps the strong to bully the weak, for three reasons: The permanent members of the Security Council have been granted absolute power; tiny nations have the same vote as the very large ones; dictatorships have the same voting rights as the democracies, and none of the attendant governments have any obligation to refer to their people before voting. The first steps in democratizing the UN could involve scrapping the Security Council and vesting its powers in the UN General Assembly, weighting the votes of the member states according to their country's size and their degree of democratization."

John Maynard Keynes had a much better idea than the IMF or World Bank, Monbiot said. "an International Clearing Union, a bank operating at the international level, in which nations held their trade accounts. They would be charged interest not only on their trade deficits, but also on their trade surpluses and therefore have a powerful incentive to 'clear' their accounts -- in other words, to end up with neither a deficit nor a surplus."

Whatever it is you decide, please get to "doing."

Sean Gonsalves writes for Cape Cod Times.

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