Thursday, May 19, 2011

Models of Community: Alternatives to Corporate America

There are community-based alternatives to Corporate America.

As I have often observed, the majority of America's household income flows to a handful of corporate cartels protected by the Central State. Most of the mortgage payments flow to the "too big to fail" banks. Most of the telecom payments flow to the few companies in the telecom cartel. Most of the energy money flow to the energy cartel. Most of the food budget go to the Big Ag cartel and the retail cartel. Most of the money spent on "entertainment" flows to the corporate media cartel, and so on.

Most of the global media is owned by 5 or 6 corporations. Most of the radio stations in the U.S. are owned by two corporations. This tremendous concentration of ownership of the nation's assets gives these cartels immense political power, and so the Central State acts as "partner" to Corporate America, protecting the cartels from competition by insuring that regulations are used to stamp out or limit competitors. Corporate losses are shifted to the backs of the taxpayers, all in the name of the "common good." Profits are private but losses are public--a peculiar definition of "common good."

Corporate profits are now the bellwether, and the raison d'etre, of the entire U.S. economy. The central State and the Federal Reserve have a single domestic goal: boost the U.S. stock market, which they have made the proxy for the economy's "health." If corporate profits and the stock market are rising, then all is well. Or so we are constantly told by Fed and Treasury hacks, toadies and lackeys.

If The Pledge of Allegiance reflected reality, it should now read: I pledge allegiance to the profits of the Corporate States of America, and to the stock market for which it stands, one nation under the Federal Reserve, with taxation and serfdom for all.

As I noted yesterday, the Central Savior State "makes things happen" via centralized top-down authority, predatory taxation and the ultimate threat of coercion. Community "social capital" is not coercive, centralized or exploitive. Global corporations share many characteristics with central states; the "taxation with representation" offered by our government is a facsimile of representation, for the representatives are all "owned" by or partnered with financial Elites. The U.S. has in essence become a Corporate State.

Community "social capital" is a different, under-appreciated model for getting things done and building "value."

A good friend of ours has volunteered at a "listener supported" community radio station for many years: KALW-FM in San Francisco, CA, whose tagline is "Local Public Radio."

The radio station is a PBS affiliate with programs purchased from NPR, but it also produces a variety of local programming, some of which is now aired by other listener-supported public radio stations.

The station's annual budget is a (by corporate or government standards) modest $1.8 million, 70% of which comes from its membership base of 11,000 listeners/contributors. About $150,000 of this represents the office space etc. provided by the S.F. School District, which operated the radio from 1941 to 1971 as a training ground for its students.

If as the Founding Fathers believed, a free press is the bedrock of democracy, then we have to ask if a handful of corporations whose only purpose and mission is to rake in maximum profits are capable of being "free" in any meaningful sense.

It could be viewed as an obligation of citizenship to bypass Corporate Media and seek out whatever truly free press still exists in the nation. KALW is an example of non-corporate media, in this case, radio.

Just as with the church-related example I described yesterday Models of Community: Shared Beliefs, Shared Goals, having the legal status (church or non-profit), the building or office, a bit of income and the mission is not enough. Many worthy churches and community organizations wither despite having these assets.

The key, it seems, is a staff or core of volunteers with organizational skills and what might be called professional zeal for their task. The more organized and professional the core staff, the more creative everyone can be, and the more work can be produced.

As those of you who have joined various community efforts know, many such efforts fall apart not for lack of enthusiasm but for lack of organization. Churches tend to endure for just this reason: there is an organizational structure which participants accept. If a church's leadership becomes too dictatorial or focused on self-glory, there is a corrective mechanism: the congregation abandons the church and goes elsewhere.

This same mechanism is at work in every community group. Humans being humans, power, however modest on a global stage, can distort the priorities and judgment of those given that power or authority. The organization has to embody feedback and corrective mechanisms which function without sapping the core energy of the group. Many of us have seen organizations fail as the group focuses its last best energy on factional squabbling and constant re-organization.

The level of professionalism of the core staff (paid or unpaid) counts. Professionalism includes (or should include) the ability to separate the work from one's inner state. Well-meaning amateurs without any managerial or organizational experience and skills often run aground on the complexities of managing volunteers or making things happen in real time in the real world. Enthusiasm is essential, but it is not sufficient.

Corporations and government, being quasi-military/top-down/dictatorial in organization, breed mini-dictatorships, fiefdoms and self-glorification as a result of their intrinsic nature.Stripped of public relations happy-talk, Corporate America has a fascist core. This is the ugly truth.

Community groups, being opt-in, self-organizing, "intentional" structures, are bound only by the shared goals and values of participants. Authority is limited because everyone can leave whenever they choose to do so. Their participation is contingent.

Leadership, as noted yesterday, is not about being charismatic or dictatorial; it is fundamentally about organizing the resources of the group, however modest, to serve the "do-able" goals identified by the group itself.

People with good organizational skills are like gold, eternally valuable. It is amazing to see what a single individual with a modest ego and outsized organizational skills can accomplish. The effects within an organization are both dramatic and positive. What seemed disorganized beyond repair is cleaned up, what seemed muddled and confused is clarified, and meetings that routinely crumbled into discord proceed smoothly toward actionable plans.

We all want to be part of something greater than ourselves. Churches enable this, and so do other local organizations which serve the community. Every organization needs people with good organizational skills and a professional mindset and bearing.

Corporations exist for one purpose, and one purpose only--maximize profits for the owners and top managers. Everything else is propaganda and HR cheerleading. A nation which has become dependent on corporations for its identity and goals is a lost, hollowed-out nation.

If someone wants to make themselves useful to their community, then one way to do so is to build up one's organizational and leadership skills by volunteering to lead some small project to completion. It might be a potluck meal, or a newsletter. Everything takes effort and organization. Start small and learn from those around you. Contributing to something larger than one's own self-interest is rewarding in ways that those enslaved to Corporate America and the Central State cannot imagine.

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