Thursday, September 16, 2010

Confronting Our Complicity

"Everyone thinks about changing the world, but no one thinks about changing himself."  
- Leo Tolstoy
      American society, for at least the last few decades, has been immersed in an unbearable tension which is constantly present and hiding just beneath the surface of our daily lives, but is rarely ever featured in mainstream sociopolitical discussions. It is the tension between the decisions we as Americans choose to make every day and the unethical outcomes that result; between our actions and their consequences. Since the end of World War II, America the country has gradually expanded into America the empire through increasing economic and military strength. While the rest of the world lay in ruins, our significant competitive advantage in manufacturing goods allowed us to export our way into economic dominance. Our "Cold War” with the Soviet Union also provided us a great opportunity to intervene in the politics of various countries, either via indirect diplomacy/covert operations or brute military force, and to create a justification for expanding "free-market" capitalism across the globe. It was a systematic endeavor to export our economic and political values to the rest of the world so that, theoretically, everyone could benefit from increased efficiencies and overall wealth. Regardless of what one thinks about the specific policies we implemented during that time, it is undeniable that significant social, political, environmental and economic costs were exacted as a result. 
      Currently, we find ourselves mired in two endless wars with a vaguely defined enemy (the Afghanistan War has recently surpassed Vietnam as the longest war in American history) [1], a global economic depression with no clue how to navigate through it, a myriad of domestic predicaments (rising health care costs, illegal immigration, environmental destruction, etc.) and a bitterly divided populace that can no longer trust its own government or each other. The recognition of these unpleasant developments has emerged within the American population’s consciousness quite recently (primarily within the last decade), while many other parts of the world have been experiencing the real effects of our policies for at least several decades. I could use the rest of this essay to explain the ways in which our political and corporate leaders have abused our trust and pursued atrocious policies in our names (and I will), but it is also time we all acknowledge and own our individual roles in this rapidly unfolding story. As disturbing facts about the activities of American institutions are illustrated in the sections that follow, I would advise my readers to remember their personal contributions to these institutions and embrace any feelings of guilt or remorse. For it is this harbored guilt and a sense of helplessness to effect change that truly drive the constant tension in our society, and the first step to confronting that tension is admitting it exists and understanding why.
Building the Big Banks
      So, let's start with me. I have a checking account at a Wells Fargo Wachovia bank and I regularly make deposits, withdrawals and debit purchases with it. A few months ago, Wachovia settled a case with the Department of Justice for $160 million on the charge of laundering potentially billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels. High-level Wachovia executives would have us believe they had no prior knowledge of this serious criminal activity which helped keep their company afloat (at least for a little while), but evidence suggests there were numerous red flags they were made aware of and chose to ignore. At the very least they had been extremely negligent in establishing and maintaining money laundering “detection systems”, and why wouldn’t they be when due diligence may cost them millions in bonuses. [2]. Thousands of innocent Mexican and American citizens die every year at the hands of Mexican drug cartels and violence associated with their activities. The drug trade also contributes greatly to socioeconomic ills in both societies, such as the social costs resulting from habitual drug abuse and economic costs from medical treatment and prosecuting the "war on drugs". [3]. I feel an acute sense of guilt for depositing my money at Wachovia banks, supporting their business activities and aiding them in growing to the extent that their managers can get away with financing murder, even though the amount in my checking account alone is negligible to their overall worth. There are obviously millions of other people in this country who also support Wachovia and other major financial institutions like it, and all that cash adds up to serious capital.
     Most people are already familiar with the SEC’s charges of fraud against Goldman Sachs for a deal involving a synthetic credit default obligation and severe conflicts of interest, since it gained so much coverage in the financial press, including the champion of mainstream financial news, CNBC. [4] There were also some more subtle, yet equally fraudulent practices at other major banks which have occurred during the last year or two. J.P. Morgan was recently investigated by the Department of Justice for manipulating prices in silver markets and potentially defrauding people out of billions of dollars. This investigation was launched after a whistleblower contacted the CFTC with specific details of how the bank used concentrated short positions to push prices down on certain dates and actually told them a specific future data when it would happen, and sure enough it happened exactly as he said (the whistleblower was then involved in a hit-and-run car accident which may or may not have been related). [5] [6]. J.P. Morgan also settled a $700 million case with the DOJ earlier this year regarding their blatant kickbacks to local officials in Jefferson County, Alabama to be selected as the managing underwriter for bond offerings and complex swap agreements, in which the bank charged the taxpayers higher interest rates to offset the bribes. [7].
     The bank who is thought of as the first domino in the 2008 financial crisis and the biggest corporation to ever declare bankruptcy, Lehman Brothers, had been committing accounting fraud in the midst of the subprime crisis through “repo 105” transactions. These sale and repurchase agreements effectively allowed them to temporarily transfer toxic assets off of their balance sheets before reporting periods and use the money borrowed against them to pay down liabilities and reduce their publicly reported leverage. [8]. This accounting scheme allowed them to appear healthier and more solvent than they actually were as the subprime housing market began to implode. Although Lehman’s games eventually caught up with them and they were allowed to fail, it is hard to imagine that the other major banks weren’t engaged in similar frauds against investors and creditors, and of course many of these banks were eventually bailed out by the taxpayers. This type of blatant disregard for ethical accounting practices just further shows the lengths to which some of these institutions would go to keep playing their cruel games, right up until the bitter end. Perhaps we didn’t bail them out at all, but simply paid for our past decisions to support these banks as a collective society.
     The above examples of clear-cut crimes involving fraud and money laundering are not the only shortcomings of our major financial institutions. It is also the case that their insatiable appetite for short-term profits has led to them to make grossly negligent decisions, creating systemic risks and putting the entire American economy in jeopardy. Most people are familiar with how they consistently cut corners when making sub-prime loans during the housing bubble, making "liar's loans" where the borrower’s stated income was not verified [9], and creating/trading trillions in securities and derivatives based on these bad loans without any good means of assessing the risks involved. Now we are all experiencing the harsh economic realities of a severe debt deflation, regardless of whether we actually participated in the credit bubble or made any bad financial decisions. We can go back even farther than the American housing bubble though, and see how they have negatively influenced the politics, environments and economies of many less fortunate locations. John Perkins, in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman [10], revealed the true nature of international finance and foreign "aid" to underdeveloped countries over the last fifty years. 
      Perkins had been recruited by the National Security Agency to work with a consulting firm, Chas T. Main, for the purpose of convincing leaders of developing countries to take out large loans from the World Bank, IMF or USAID for various “public” infrastructure projects. These projects would be awarded primarily to the major corporations of developed countries and they actually provided very few benefits to the majority of the country's population. Many of them were energy projects that have ruined the environments of the countries in which they were undertaken, while most of the revenues generated would be directed to corporations and political leaders. Once the country was predictably saddled with too much debt to repay, they would be forced into making large political or economic concessions to developed countries such as the U.S. (i.e. forced to support our wars with their troops or sell their natural resources to us for extremely cheap prices). If the country's leader(s) refused to go along with the debt pushing plan, then the schemers would resort to more insidious tactics, such as rigging elections, extortion, manufacturing coups or assassinations. When all else failed, the last option on the table was military operations against and/or invasions of these countries under this, that or the other pretense (i.e. WMD). Perkins described how these types of hit operations were performed in Iran (the democratically-elected Mossadegh was replaced with the Shah), Panama (their President Omar Torrijos was assassinated and former CIA asset Manuel Noriega was “persuaded” to resign during our invasion), Ecuador (President Jaime Roldos was assassinated in the same manner as Torrijos) and Iraq (the Gulf War and Iraq War of 2003) just to name a few countries directly affected. [11]
     So who else benefited from these economic hitmen other than politicians, large industrial/retail corporations and sometimes the wealthy ruling families of targeted countries who sold out their own people? The answer, of course, is the financial institutions that indirectly control international organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF and underwrite the loans they produce. It's no surprise that the most effective tool of these hitmen and their bosses had been the use of financial transactions designed to saddle underdeveloped countries with too much debt. This tactic should sound eerily familiar to American consumers who are currently facing the imminent prospects of foreclosure, judgment liens on their property and bankruptcy filings (which greatly favor creditors after the 2005 amendments to the bankruptcy code) [12]. The international banking cartel has also been instrumental in imposing harsh austerity measures on countries that can no longer afford to pay their debts (i.e. IMF's conditions on the Greece bailout package) [13], and these measures place severe social and economic strain on the population in order to keep the governments paying off creditors with tax revenues. Simply put, the powerful banks end up managing and making commissions off of the blood money they receive from governments and corporations that participate in the schemes.
     What would happen if we all pulled our deposits out of the major financial institutions and refused to use their credit cards, take their mortgage and car loans, invest in their shares and let them invest our money? How many lives and ecosystems in underdeveloped countries would have been spared because of our financial sacrifices (or foresight in recent years)? The truth is that we have built up these banks to the point where they are too big to fail (and to be held accountable for their crimes) through our consumption habits and financial decisions. Instead of parking our cash in smaller community banks, replacing credit cards with debit cards or checks and investing our money with smaller firms or in "hard" assets, we have chosen convenience and greed at the expense of millions of the victims of these corrupt institutions. The allure of cheap money to buy consumer goods, cars, stocks, bonds and homes had blinded us from what our interest payments and fees actually supported. We must remember, though, that if we chose to build the banks up, then we can also choose to tear them down.
Keeping the Energy Flowing      
     Americans are just now becoming intimately familiar with the extremely harmful environmental and economic effects of the greedy, reckless activities of major energy companies. British Petroleum was obviously negligent in its pursuit for deep water oil in the Gulf of Mexico, cutting corners and ignoring numerous red flags to turn a quick profit, and the result of their actions was the death of eleven people and the worst environmental disaster in American history. [14]. The people in affected southeastern states were also economically devastated by their inability to work in oil-contaminated waters or bring in tourists for the summer season. There are countless other ways in which BP acted unethically as this disaster unfolded (including constant misinformation and cover-ups) [15], but there are also many other examples of energy companies destroying people's lives, finances and environments for the sake of short-term profits. While almost every American is familiar with the recent Gulf oil spill, they most likely are unfamiliar with the 2000+ major oil spills which have occurred in the Niger Delta over the last forty years. 
     Royal Dutch Shell was the owner of a majority of the fields and pipelines from which oil has spilled in the Niger Delta, and these spills have caused terrible environmental, health and economic consequences for the residents of the region. The 31 million people who reside in the Niger Delta, already living in abject poverty despite the abundance of oil underneath their land, have had their ecosystems, food and water consistently polluted over several decades. [15]. In 2008, a ruptured oil pipeline ended up killing at least 100 people in the region. Unlike the populations of American states in the southeast, more than 60% of the people living in the Niger Delta absolutely rely on the forests, farmland and water for their ability to survive and generate income. In stark contrast to the legal process we take for granted in the U.S., the African people affected have had almost no means of redress or compensation from their governments or the oil companies responsible; no justice whatsoever. The population of this perpetually polluted region has had to sacrifice everything they know and rely on for the benefit of exploitative oil companies and consumers in the developed world. We Americans currently import about 40% of our crude oil from the Niger Delta, and this is obviously a great incentive for oil companies to continue destroying the region as they extract as much of the stuff as possible. [16]
      Energy companies have also contributed to the destruction of people's homes and lives in more brutal ways, as they greatly benefit from our wars in the Middle East. One of our first orders of business after invading Afghanistan and dispersing the Taliban was to construct an oil pipeline across the country to Pakistan, which in turn meant millions of dollars in the pockets of Unocal executives (Afghani President Hamid Karzai was a top advisor to Unocal in the 1990s). [17]. Nine years later and we are officially in the longest war in American history, fighting an unrelenting "enemy" and dealing with an extremely corrupt puppet government. Thousands of innocent people have lost their lives, their families, their homes, their way of life and any sense of security they may have had in the past. The opium drug trade has been vigorously reignited after the Taliban was dismantled, which not only finances the Taliban insurgency but also pads the wallets of financial executives as their banks launder much of the drug money. [18]. The 2003 war in Iraq, based on the false pretenses of WMD and Saddam's links to Al-Qaeda, was not much different than Afghanistan in terms of windfall profits for oil companies who suddenly found themselves with direct access to Iraqi oil. An estimated 1.2 million Iraqis and more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the war began. [19]. Personally, I find it very difficult to believe that we invaded these countries to find Osama bin Laden and fight a bunch of terrorists, since we have all but stopped looking for Osama (if we ever really were) and we have created more anti-western terrorists than we have captured or killed. Maybe I'm wrong about these wars being undertaken for the benefit of corporate interests, but it is hard to draw any other conclusion after following the money trail.
     Any discussion of the Middle Eastern wars and their relation to natural resources should not leave out the role of private security contractors, such as our biggest contractor Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater), who mainly help to secure the resource interests of our power elites. Currently, at least 90% of Xe’s revenues come from government contracts and about two-thirds of these are no-bid contracts. Of the numerous unethical and illegal activities conducted by Blackwater over the last few years, the worst offense was the murder of 17 innocent Iraqis in Baghdad on September 16, 2007. U.S. military reports indicated that the Blackwater guards had decided to open fire on innocent civilians without any provocation and, obviously, used “excessive force”. This deadly incident resulted in the revocation of Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq and ultimately to its transformation into Xe Services. [20]. The activities of this shameful corporation are yet another example of how our tax dollars go to support resource wars and the overpaid corporate interests that benefit from them while they destroy innocent lives. Of course, it is us who end up materially benefitting from the cheap Iraqi oil flowing into our country.
     The list of ways in which major energy companies or security contractors have destroyed lives and ecosystems on the American citizenry's dime certainly goes on, but I'm confident the bleak picture has already been painted. After picking all of the low-hanging fruit in our own country, we have continued to crave the “black gold” from locations beyond our borders and live well beyond our means. The American people, myself included, account for almost 25% of the entire world's oil consumption, and much of this oil is stripped from other countries through illegal or unethical means. [21]. What if we lived closer to work and took public transportation or rode bicycles more often? How about if we invested our money in hybrid or electric vehicles, or at least something more fuel-efficient than the typical SUV? What if we ate locally grown food and refused to purchase consumer goods made of material manufactured from hydrocarbons, such as plastics? Some of these changes involve physical and financial sacrifices on our part, but many of them simply require us to pay more attention to what we do on a daily basis. For the livelihoods of 31 million people residing in the Niger Delta or the lives of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's certainly not too much to ask.
Enabling the Central Enabler
      It is not just our major corporations that have engaged in destructive activities around the world, but our governmental institutions as well. The legislative and executive branches of our federal government have used their powers of taxation and spending and their monopoly on violent force to expand the American empire and increasingly concentrate wealth in the upper most segments of the population, which happen to be comprised of many of the executives at the companies chastised in previous sections. The judicial system has consistently failed to hold the financial elites and corrupt politicians accountable for their domestic and international crimes. In fact, our Supreme Court has recently aided large corporations in controlling our government by holding their political campaign expenditures to be protected by free speech. [22]. Many Americans may feel they have a responsibility to support their government, which was true to an extent, and they may also feel helpless to change the behaviors of their government and/or opt out of the political system. We cannot simply withdraw our support from the government by making a few different decisions here and there, and sometimes we are also compelled to support the system under threat of economic or physical punishment. However, this reality does not change the fact that we are supporting an extremely corrupted, destructive institution, and when it really comes down to it, we may have no excuses left for that support.

     Some people dismiss the idea of our government manufacturing “false flag attacks” as bogus conspiracy theory, but these people obviously have not taken the time to review publicly-available facts. An internal study by the NSA was declassified in 2005, in which it stated that the first episode of the Gulf of Tonkin incident was the result of an American destroyer engaging a North Vietnamese ship, with the only casualties being four North Vietnamese sailors. The second episode, which is what led to Congress’ authorization of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, was found to have never happened. [23]. Here we have a confirmed case of our government manufacturing the perception of an attack by North Vietnam in order to justify our invasion of the country. The stated reason for the war was to retaliate against the Gulf of Tonkin “attack” and combat “communist aggression” in Southeast Asia, which was code for “to make sure the Communists do not get in the way of our corporatocracy's quest for imperial dominance”. Everyone knows what happened next, as the Vietnam War proved to be a never-ending quagmire that was devastating for the combat forces of both sides and many innocent people in the region. Any of this sound familiar?
     As previously mentioned, our government has also used our tax dollars and its various arms to interfere with the political and economic systems of many different nations for the benefit of a few corporate interests. Whether it’s the covert displacement of democratically-elected leaders or the outright invasions of allegedly hostile countries, our federal government has used its massively complex intelligence apparatus and its military forces to destabilize numerous regions whenever they felt it necessary, and then re-organize those regions in a form they believed would be most beneficial to politically connected institutions. A location heavily interfered with over the last few decades has been Latin America, which is a very strategic location for the American Empire to control due to its proximity and vast resources. A well-known example of this interference occurred in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan’s administration, when the CIA was sent into Nicaragua to establish the Contra rebels and destabilize the political and economic institutions of the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas were operating a socialist government whose policies would not be favorable to the financial interests of crony capitalistic countries and the corporations that run them, so they were targeted for removal. [24]. More recently, President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, implemented a plan formulated by Bush and Cheney to instigate a coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and replace him with someone more “friendly” to U.S. economic interests. Zelaya had temporarily expropriated oil supplies owned by American companies after they had caused an economic crisis in Honduras by artificially keeping prices high. The military coup and smear campaigns against Zelaya were successful and Roberto Micheletti was installed as the de facto leader, since which time there have been numerous human rights abuses, including sexual assaults of women, committed by his government. [25] [26]
     As the above examples illustrate, the American government has been instrumental in assisting economic hitmen such as John Perkins to carry out their hits, or providing them backup in the form of the CIA and the military. It is the worst kind of corrupt institution, as it uses its public face to speak for peace and justice while its private face gives orders promoting violence and inequality. Most recently, the American government has essentially carried out a hit on its own people by aiding private financial institutions in saddling us with unproductive debt (through legislation, deregulation and monetary policy) and making us believe we need that debt to be successful. After the debts became too burdensome to be serviced and repaid, the government forced us to surrender our most valuable national asset (the Treasury) to the financial institutions who had conned us in the first place. We will soon be forced to make larger and larger concessions for the benefit of our creditors, such as foregoing promised entitlements, paying higher taxes and living with fewer public services. Indeed, this economic hit has actually been decades in the making, as wages have permanently stagnated and wealth inequality has reached levels never seen before. [27]. The American people have grown so attached to the false promises made by our government that our entire social fabric will now be tested as a result of its breach.
      What can we do to withdraw our support from such a vile, corrupt government? Can we refuse to pay taxes and participate in the sham elections? Should we organize protests and commit acts of civil disobedience, similar to those of the Civil Rights Movement? How about something more along the lines of a social, cultural or even political revolution? Maybe we should just get the hell out of dodge and never look back. These are not easy questions to answer and each option carries with it significant physical, financial, social and emotional consequences. After all, this is the country that many of us were born and raised in, where we made pledges of allegiance in our schools and we have paid taxes all of our lives. We root for this country in the Olympics and we have vested financial and emotional interests in seeing it ultimately come out on top. On the other hand, we must also realize that there comes a point at which the atrocities committed by one’s country make it no longer fit for survival, at least not in anything like its present form. There are ways in which we can express our disagreement with our government and withdraw our support, but it takes a bit of creativity. I would not necessarily advise anyone to do anything that is technically illegal or put their lives or the lives of their families in harms way, but at the very least we must recognize that something fundamental has to change within us before anything changes at a larger scale. We simply must not continue to sit back and passively watch our fascist government destroy everything that is fair and just in our world.
Failing to Change
       Although this piece has focused on our financial institutions, energy companies and government as the main purveyors of societal destruction, there are certainly other corporations in agri-business (Monsanto), retail (Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola) and industrial production (Union Carbide) who have pursued grossly negligent or malicious poicies for the benefit of their bottom lines. We can set those discussions aside for now, though, because it is time that we shift our focus. The bulk of the above sections of this piece have explored the ways in which our government and various mega-corporations are destroying our collective humanity and how our daily actions make us complicit in this consequence. However, the question of why we consistently support these destructive policies still remains. Part of it may be that we simply are ignorant of how our daily actions affect people and ecosystems around the world, but that's much too simple an explanation, since there would be no underlying tension in our society if we were all blissfully ignorant. It's more likely that we are at least slightly aware of our action's consequences, but we simply cannot shake our desire to maintain the status quo for one reason or another. At this point I must take a detour into my favorite topic of discussion – complexity [27].
      There is some truth to the fact that we are ignorant of our action’s consequences, in so far as we find it difficult to trace the chain of events which transforms something as simple as a credit card purchase into the murder of an innocent woman or child by a Mexican drug cartel. Powerful, centralized actors in a complex empire typically maintain their vice-like grip on the levers of power by using the system’s complexity as a cloak. Take the financial institution Wachovia for example, whose daily business activities are not easily discovered by the average, curious American citizen. It just so happens that the DEA stumbled upon a plane in Florida trafficking drugs from Mexico as a part of a separate investigation, and then, with the aid of other government agencies, were able to trace the purchase back to funds transferred from Mexican currency exchanges to Wachovia bank accounts. Even after that fortunate revelation, the Justice Department had to launch an investigation and deal with a team of lawyers who were doing everything they could to protect their client (Wachovia) from criminal and civil liability. In the end, we ended up with a “slap on the wrist” penalty through settlement, a few short headlines in the mainstream media which were quickly forgotten and Wachovia’s promise that they would be good boys from here on out.
      The American legal system uses terms of art such as “factual causation” and “proximate causation” as elements required to prove a defendant’s liability in a civil or criminal action. Factual causation requires that, but for the defendant’s conduct, the consequence at issue would not have happened, while proximate causation requires that there is an unbroken connection between the defendant’s conduct and the consequence (a third party’s conduct could potentially break the connection). Our legislators have generally decided that it would be unfair to hold American citizens liable for consequences that they did not “cause” in some direct manner (a complex legal system also allows powerful actors to escape accountability in this and other ways). Obviously, a person investing in shares of Xe Services was not the factual or proximate cause of the slaughter of innocent Iraqis committed by employees and weapons purchased with that capital. The slaughter could have happened without that specific person’s investment, and there are plenty of third parties in between that person and the event at issue. However, what we are discussing here is not legal liability for destructive consequences, but immoral complicity. We cannot continue to hide behind complicated legal structures and technicalities to absolve us of our instrumental roles in the exploits of the American Empire.
      It’s also the case that it is simply easier for many of us to follow the beaten path in such a complex society. We are constantly bombarded with shows, commercials, news headlines, products, services and generally choices of how to conduct our lives, and specifically what financial decisions we can make. This influx of choice can actually prove to be debilitating to the point that we feel pressured to use shortcuts (what’s less time-consuming, more convenient, being done by other people, culturally acceptable, etc.) to decide, even if these decisions are counter-productive to our own best interests or our personal goals. [28]. When we visit the grocery store to purchase food, there appears to be a multitude of different items to choose from and perhaps some of the items were produced in a healthy, environmentally-friendly manner. However, it takes knowledge, time and effort to locate these latter items and choose them over the majority of mass-produced items that appear to offer a lot of variety. Barry C. Lynn, in his book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction, reveals that many of these “different” products are actually produced and distributed by relatively few large corporations, so we invariably end up supporting a concentrated economic power structure with our “choices”. [29]     
     Our complicity does not stop at ignorance or laziness by any means. In a highly complex sociopolitical system, many of the agents within the system actively work to maintain and evolve that complexity in some manner. We find it extremely difficult to sacrifice the short-term benefits gleaned from complexity, even when the long-term costs clearly outweigh them (especially when factoring in the costs to our society as a whole). Therefore, we continue investing in complex financial markets, consuming luxury goods/services, using energy-intensive technologies for entertainment, traveling long distances for work/vacation and obeying the plethora of rules that have been imposed on us, whether they are a product of our political or social institutions. Many of us devote our lives to working in careers that help keep the system expanding and running efficiently. If we stray too far from the status quo, then we may be punished legally, financially or socially and become marginalized within our own communities and families. We are pressured into rationalizing our complicity as simply being the “normal” behavior of an American citizen who wishes to be happy and successful.
     Another common justification espoused by people who refuse to change is that their individual decisions will not have any effect on aggregate outcomes, or the aptly-named “collective action” problem. Here we have another example of individual agents preserving the status quo due to complexity, as the agents feel the system is too large and complicated for them to have any influence on it. It’s relatively easy to see through the logic of this “justification”, since the only way it holds true is if a significant number of agents within the system think the same way and refuse to act. People who use this justification also underestimate the ability of relatively small action to produce large effects in a complex, dynamic system. A mere 10% of the American population could establish a significant presence and effect real change throughout the system by transforming their individual choices and withdrawing support from corrupt, unethical institutions. We can coordinate the action with others to the best of our ability through communication, but we must also trust in the fact that our actions speak louder than our words. Let’s cut through the complexity of a highly-populated society and stop caring about what other people may or may not do, because the only thing that truly matters is what we do.
      It becomes much easier to make ethical sacrifices when faced with the prospect that they will be imposed on us to a large extent, regardless of whether we refuse to voluntarily pursue them. The inescapable truth is that our selfish, fearful actions have not only harmed other people living thousands of miles away in other nations, but they have rapidly placed the American population in an economic, political, social and environmental predicament that we cannot extract ourselves from without significant pain. Our major financial institutions are still just as insolvent as they were in 2008 [30], and when (not if) the next financial crisis comes along they will fall hard, dragging the American consumer down with them. Without rising wages, public entitlements or access to credit, we will no longer be in a position to financially back the exploitative decisions of our large corporations and our government. Frankly, we have ultimately enabled these institutions to sow the seeds of their own destruction. So the only question now is whether we will still decide to adjust our daily actions and withdraw our support, knowing full well that the system may be on the verge of collapse anyway. Will we do what we know is right, without worrying about what will come of it? I am genuinely asking, because I don’t know the answer to that question. All I know for sure is that I am trying, and I hope my fellow Americans are as well.

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