Beta Culture: The Heart and Soul of American Ideals

Subtitled: Hey, Where’s the Blue Collar Atheist, and What’s This Citizen of Earth Crap?

_________________

I’ve heard you say it.

You said “If Bush gets re-elected, I’m leaving the country.” You said “If Romney gets elected, I tell you, I think America is over! I’m looking to move to Australia, or Canada.”

Hey, I thought it myself, a couple of times in the past. But what I DID was, I stayed and, in my own small way, fought. Because if you believe in something, you don’t just leave off believing in it because you lose a round of two of the game where that something is in play. No, you fight. You fight hard and long and strong and smart. Until you win.

Speaking of which, I’d like to give you something to think about on the subject of what’s happening in the U.S.

Illegals

I’ve never had very powerful feelings about illegal aliens. Oh, the “illegal” part has always bothered me. (If you’re going to have laws, they should be enforced. Fairly. Which means on everybody.)

But the bit where people from elsewhere come here to get work and make money, that part doesn’t bother me at all.

I worked at an asphalt plant years ago. I ran the main board and occasionally drove a dump truck. I was also, thanks to my approximately 25 words of Tex-Mex, appointed Speaker-to-Mexicans. Anytime the boss needed to say something to the three illegal laborers we had working the backside of the plant, I was the one who dashed out and got the message across to them.

My boss didn’t even know their names. He called them Sancho, Pancho and Honcho.

Sancho’s name was Noel. Pancho’s name was Jose. Honcho’s name was Felipe.

One of my first few days at the plant, Felipe showed me his college class ring. He had a degree in electrical engineering from a Mexican university. Noel showed me pictures of his wife and 6 kids in Mexico whom he supported. Jose was 68 years old, and sent money back to his children and grandchildren. All three of them were shovelers in the materials bins out back of the plant, helping to keep the chutes free so the various grades of sand and gravel could make it into the mixer in order to produce the types of asphalt we turned out.

And I, years less well educated than Honcho, years less experienced in family life than Sancho, years less wise in life and hard work than Pancho, was their commander.

I STILL look back on those guys with respect. There were a plus to the company, and to the American economy.

America

There’s a thing I concluded years back about, well, what “America” means.

It’s not a flag, or a uniform. The people who think so are dullards engrossed in symbols rather than the ideals they represent.

It’s damned sure not a cross, or a Bible. Some Christian principles are so obviously counter to American ones – Hello? A king of kings instead of democratically-elected public servants? – it’s not even worth talking about.

It’s not even a place. The 50 states are not, in my view, “America.”

What America is, to me, is a body of ideals. Those ideals – freedom, justice, fairness, compassion, equality, opportunity, so much more – can be held by anyone, anywhere.

Though I like to fondly believe they neared their most glorious expression here, once upon a time, those ideals today extend far outside its borders. They predate America, and will remain after it.

The people who hold those ideals are Americans, no matter where they are. If a poor man in El Salvador desires more for himself and his family, and decides to come to the United States to better himself, the moment he takes the first step, in that moment he becomes an American – one of us.

(Readers outside the U.S. who are insulted by the suggestion that you are “Americans,” remember that my country was not always in such disrepute, and that I am, after all, speaking of enduring ideals rather than the current-day political stink. I’m just using this convenient label that U.S. residents will recognize and respond to. But also, I imagine we’re going to begin calling it something else as we move into the better future we’re aimed at.)

Here in the United States, thanks to:

•  8 years of an incompetent fool in the White House, George W. Bush
•  the near-crashing of the economy by said supreme fool
•  Sept. 11, 2001, and the curtailment of certain rights that followed
•  the rise of the Tea Party
•  Fox News lies, Sarah Palin lies, Rush Limbaugh lies, Ann Coulter lies, etc.
•  the war in Iraq
•  the racist and mean-spirited reaction to Barack Obama
•  a greedy and unAmerican Republican party
•  a steadily growing and empowered Christianist movement
•  the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court allowing unlimited corporate “free speech” in political campaigns, essentially the blatant buying of our elected officials

… among many other things, I fear this grand human experiment, at least on this continent, is coming to an end.

But the dream itself, the dream of high ideals of justice, equality and a bright future, is not over.

Each of us carries it. To the extent that we espouse it and live it, WE are the dream.

And the “us” I write about is all of us who hold those ideals. Whether you’re in Australia or Estonia, Cuba or Canada, Iran or India, if you believe in these things, YOU are the dream.

Allegiance

It’s been obvious for a while now that big corporations have no national allegiance. They move seamlessly between Europe and North America, China and Chile, building factories here, hiding money there, and acting against our national interests (including, by some accounts, stirring up revolutions and assassinating problematic individuals).

The same is true of churches — no national allegiance. See my earlier “king of kings” remark, but also note that every Catholic Church on U.S. soil gives its sole allegiance to its ruler in the Vatican – a foreign leader in a foreign nation. Every Catholic Church is not just an embassy of the Vatican, but a missionary school for teaching Catholic ideals and obedience to American children.

And as we’ve learned in the course of this election cycle, Mitt Romney, the Great White Hope of the Republican Party, stores his wealth in at least a handful of other countries … specifically so he can get out of paying U.S. taxes on it. I’m assuming lots of other millionaires and billionaires do the same thing. Again, these are not very good Americans.

So what we have is rich, powerful people and rich, powerful organizations which have little or no allegiance to the United States. If the U.S. melted down tomorrow, Exxon-Mobil and Mitt Romney and the Catholic Church would land on their feet and keep on raking in the profits, sailing their yachts off to distant harbors and living the high life  elsewhere.

By contrast, we have you and me, the common yutzes of America, who are left holding the bag of patriotism. We are expected to salute, pledge, obey, walk the line, pay taxes, submit to pepper spraying, wiretapping, illegal searches, and even confiscation of our homes and cars, volunteer to be cannon fodder in foreign wars, submit ourselves to content-free TV brainwashing, bear the lies and manipulations of a political overclass, the financial shenanigans of an economic overclass, the courtroom thuggery of a legal overclass, meanwhile subjecting ourselves willingly to lower standards of health care and education than other nations enjoy, living in decaying cities and driving over potholed streets, learning to be suspicious of the intelligent and the educated (the very people who might help us see through the lies), eagerly buying the tickets of state-sponsored lotteries, and just generally bending over and taking it up the ass for our entire lives. (Given all that, we’re also expected to swear that we feel GOOD about it. Because, hey, this is the greatest nation ever to exist on the face of the Earth, right? And if you don’t like it, you must love Saddam, and you can just get the hell out, you commie bastard.)

Unlike us, the big corporations, the churches and the billionaires, live not in any nation, but all over planet Earth. They have become their own nations.

It’s time we as individuals allowed ourselves some of that same right.

Renewal

After all, democratic civilization contains within it a social compact we all tacitly agree to. You and I agree to work hard and be good law-abiding citizens and educate ourselves and vote. On the other side of the compact are our governments, our corporations, our banks, our courts, our elected officials, who agree they will provide us safe food and safe streets, educational doorways to an array of careers at which we can actually make a living (followed by a livable retirement), plus a level playing field and a fair chance to succeed if we strike out on our own.

We agree to work and live quietly, they agree to watch out for our interests in those times and at those scales we can’t manage.

When that social compact is breached by the players on the power side – when governments and corporations and churches and billionaires become our enemies, when the law becomes so convoluted and draconian that we become illegal aliens in our own country – those of us on the work side have no obligation to continue to be bound by it.

Oh, it’s unlikely we’ll escape the laws or taxes of our homelands, and it would be unwise to simply renounce citizenship of one’s home country, but we should begin building the national and international connections and infrastructure that will allow us to recognize ourselves as what we are, an independent nation of humanity, a new culture on Planet Earth. A people who have begun to free themselves from the old, established structures and create new ones.

I’m still the Blue Collar Atheist, and I’ll be writing in the same way I’ve always written. But the new name for my blog, Citizen of Earth, is a statement that you and I are more than mere residents of our various continents and nations.

We’re … us. I call us Beta Culture. The first grouping of independent humans coming to recognize shared goals and values beyond nations, beyond religions, and certainly beyond corporations, and who work together to achieve something new on Planet Earth.

Beta Culture is the heart and soul of progressive, rational ideals, freed from the shackles of the malignant social forces that have grown up in the United States and elsewhere. I’ll be writing a lot more about it in the coming year. And you, I hope, will be here to help me define it.

Because, kids, I don’t think we Earth people are gonna make it. Not the way things are going.

Something has to change, and I think this is it.

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  • Jack

    Hey Hank, I don’t know if you were using the word ironically or to poke fun of the other side or what, but using the word “illegals” to refer to people bugs me. It bugs a lot of other people too — there have been campaigns asking news outlets and ordinary folks to “drop the i-word.”

    http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/08/when_it_comes_to_children_the_words_of_our_immigration_debate_matter.html is a recent story on it and why it matters.

    (Yeah, it would make your “becoming illegal aliens in our own country” phrase make less sense. “becoming undocumented workers in our own country”? Well, a lot of people are undocumented in the sense of not having acceptable identification to vote… so that’s something. Something depressing. And trans* people often have trouble getting their documents to match their preferred gender. But this is a derail.)

    Anyway, I don’t disagree with the thrust of your writing here, but I’d like you to reconsider using that one word.

    • astro

      However, ‘undocumented’ is still a euphemism for ‘decriminalized’ whereas ‘undocumenteds’ are still treated as criminals. There remains the danger of hiding behind euphemisms

  • astro

    Dude, your writing gets better and better. Fantastic post!

  • http://www.davehitt.com Hittman

    “illegal aliens in our own country” Perfect. Expressing a belief in our country’s founding principles is dangerous. Tempting to live by them can get you caged or killed.

    The few times I’ve worked side-by-side with illegal aliens there were only two problems. They worked harder and faster than any of us legal citizens,and they were genuinely happy about it. How can lazy, complaining “Americans” expect to compete with that?

  • douglaslm

    I agree completely. I have felt for years that the right wingers (republicans, religious extremist, etc.) have been deliberately and systematically trying to produce a “middle ages” type of system in the U.S. A system where a rich ruling oligarchy control a poor, uneducated peasant class. A system where the cash can get the laws (or the law enforcement) that benefits only the people who have the money.
    Maybe I am just paranoid. But I view TV shows like the “Ghost Hunter” and UFO chaser as, not only pandering to the uneducated, but a deliberate attempt to promote non-critical thinking and a belief in spirituality. These shows actively promote the acceptance of things (ghosts, UFOs, bigfoot) without even the slightest bit of evidence.
    Education seems to be the key in combating the type of systematic “dumbing down” that I believe is going on in the US. The level of general education seems to be on the decline even in some of the other countries I have lived in or visited. There seems to be an effort to lower education standards, except for those who can afford better. The “No Child Left Behind” program in the US comes to mind (what about the child who really needs to be left behind?).
    Education is the key to making a better world. Not just science and critical thinking, but education in the values, goals, and ideas that we want are children and grandchildren to live with.
    I think the idea of a Beta Culture is a grand one. An idea that echos with some of the ideas I have had myself, but stated more clearly and completely than I ever could. I would personally love it if my grandchildren can grow up in a world with (how did you put it?) “shared goals and values beyond nations, beyond religions, and certainly beyond corporations, and who work together to achieve something new on Planet Earth”. And beyond the Bastards who make it a goal to beat and grind others down, for no better reason than they can and make a little bit more money doing it.
    I am on board, if only in my local, limited way. Thanks for reading my rant.

  • morgan

    Hank, sign me up. I’m sure you realize that we peasants are stirring all over this land. And the pushback to organized resistance will be huge. I fear for our country, our people. Let’s man the barricades.

  • magistramarla

    Bravo for this, Hank.
    I’ve also been referring to myself as a “citizen of the world” lately. I’ve been more than a little ashamed at the stereotype of Americans that many people have now, thanks to the conservatives.

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  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    Thanks for a great post.

    I agree with you on what America is. And I am as troubled as you, that a major political party wants to destroy.

    I keep wondering why the Republicans can get away with wearing a “Patriot” badge, when what they are doing looks so much more like treason.

    Oh, and yes, I also like that “Citizen of Earth” idea. That’s the way I have felt for a long time.

  • http://faultline.org Chris Clarke

    *Applause*

  • ‘Tis Himself

    So what we have is rich, powerful people and rich, powerful organizations which have little or no allegiance to the United States. If the U.S. melted down tomorrow, Exxon-Mobil and Mitt Romney and the Catholic Church would land on their feet and keep on raking in the profits, sailing their yachts off to distant harbors and living the high life elsewhere.

    By contrast, we have you and me, the common yutzes of America, who are left holding the bag of patriotism. We are expected to salute, pledge, obey, walk the line, pay taxes, submit to pepper spraying, wiretapping, illegal searches, and even confiscation of our homes and cars, volunteer to be cannon fodder in foreign wars, submit ourselves to content-free TV brainwashing, bear the lies and manipulations of a political overclass, the financial shenanigans of an economic overclass, the courtroom thuggery of a legal overclass, meanwhile subjecting ourselves willingly to lower standards of health care and education than other nations enjoy, living in decaying cities and driving over potholed streets, learning to be suspicious of the intelligent and the educated (the very people who might help us see through the lies), eagerly buying the tickets of state-sponsored lotteries, and just generally bending over and taking it up the ass for our entire lives. (Given all that, we’re also expected to swear that we feel GOOD about it. Because, hey, this is the greatest nation ever to exist on the face of the Earth, right? And if you don’t like it, you must love Saddam, and you can just get the hell out, you commie bastard.)

    I’ve been saying this for years. I’m glad someone else has finally realized what’s going on.

  • michaelpowers

    I agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. It’s a big order, and it will be hard, for a number of reasons. Committing to something that is unlikely to happen in one’s lifetime takes character, courage, and sacrifice. At this point in time, it’s hard not to worry about whether the damage done to us is irreparable. After decades of concerted effort by corporations, the far right, and religious fanatics the dumbing-down of America is all but complete. A significant portion of the population is now all too willing to vote against their own interests. It’s gotten to the point where half the people doing drugs are just trying to dumb-down enough to fit in. We’ve got a vice-presidential candidate whose hero is a woman who turned her own personal bitterness and hate into a cult. These interests won’t be happy until there exists a society in which greed is a virtue, and compassion a sin. These same people are so conditioned by their beliefs, that they would cheerfully commit the most horrible atrocities if they believed it to be the will of their god. Every time we fail to learn from history, the cost of the lesson becomes greater.

  • CC

    Good stuff! The other day, I was thinking about patriotism and how I would rather be known as a citizen of the world, for many of the reasons you bring up.

  • KDoug

    Well said, Hank. I will definitely be back to read more from you on this.

  • One Way Monkey

    Rousing stuff.

    They’re trying to do the same to the UK too. Allowing corporations like Vodafone to get away with not paying a £6bn tax bill, while hounding people with disabilities, and painting them as scroungers who steal taxpayer money, as they try to live on £80 a week

    They’re also messing with the GCSE system. 10,000 children missed out on vital grades after the the grading criteria for a passing grade (A-C) were tightened between the mock exams and. the real deal. Teachers are in uproar.

    Our unelected government has hurled us back thirty years in the last three.

    I’m with you.

  • catlover

    Very well-said! Bravo! Thank you for stating what I have felt and known for some time now — and for saying it so well. We all need hope that there can be a bright tomorrow — and seeing that there already are the beginnings of a Beta Culture gives us all that hope. Some very important marks of this Beta Culture should be: love, compassion, wisdom, courage, diversity, and community.

  • iota

    Terrific article! It is the ideals that really matter. Can we use the Beta Culture jpg? I really like that.

    • Hank Fox

      iota, not sure what you mean. You want to use the Beta Culture graphic elsewhere?

      • iota

        Just in the sidebar of my blog (if I ever get one).

  • Teri

    Just found you and couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. Except I left. I don’t feel like the country I grew up in can recover in my lifetime, so I left. Guess what? American politics isn’t any better as a spectator sport! But it’s sure a helluva lot more fun watching it in Italy!
    Love your blog!

  • arbor

    Thank you.

  • Anonymouse

    I just had lunch today with a friend of mine, who has just gotten the sad news that a woman the friend used to babysit in her teenage years, when her family lived next door, is dying of cancer. The dying woman is leaving behind a husband and toddler. Tragic news, but the shock came when the friend told me she’d called her own elderly mother to pass on the news, and the mother’s instant response was, “Good–now she doesn’t have to live in a world where that n***er is president.”

    This is the hatred of the conservatives. It’s breath-taking, isn’t it?

    • michaelpowers

      Alas, I’ve seen that sort of blind hatred up close myself. My grandmother, who lived to be 101, could drop the N-bomb in such a way that it left no doubt about the depth of her hatred. Every time I heard it, I had an urge to curl up into a fetal position, and go catatonic. I once tried to ask her why she hated to such a degree (I was young and naive). Her response was just more hate. I learned later that hate, like violence, is a blind, base thing. And some have a deep seated need for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nancy.t.wood.3 nancywood

    Bravo! I am tempted to just give up at times but then something happens that restores my belief that each of us can make a difference of some kind, a small improvement, just one little thing. Change of the magnitude that is necessary to remap the course of history is more than difficult, it is soul-wrenching, often life-threatening and always frightening to many who prefer the idle cocoon of familiarity. There are a multitude of beliefs, ideas, preconceptions, all of which need to be rethought, relearned, retaught and all this without the anger that is such an easy refuge.
    I, for one, simply can’t give up. Perhaps a post on Facebook will change someone’s mind or at least let in a little hint of light… perhaps some action, some word from me may help someone truly think… perhaps one of my children (all polymaths and all atheists)will multiply the good. Hopefully my grandchildren will do the same. We can but try.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Anybody ever tell you you sound like a gawdamn hippie?

    The problems of nationalism and capitalism produce the same questions in each generation that confronts them. However, the bad press we got half a century ago vaccinated the public mind well against such challenges.

    Please, “Earth citizens” – do it better than we did!

  • http://sciencenotes.wordpress.com/ Markita Lynda—damn climate change!

    I think educating Americans about what it’s like in other countries would be a good start. I’ve overheard them telling each other that Europe is crumbling and you might just drop through a hole in the sidewalk! Where does one start?

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