Capitalism is endemic to the American way of life. Since the earliest days of its founding, the United States has valued, praised, and encouraged “free enterprise” as a hallmark of individual initiative and a key element in citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
All that changed Monday.
The United States has been worshipping at the altar of capitalism for so long now that we’ve lost all ability to see that rights accrue to individuals – free agents and groups of same which sometimes form legal entities for the purpose of conducting commerce – not to those legal entities themselves.
While clear signs that the personification of businesses had gone too far prevailed before the Supreme Court’s ridiculous ruling in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, the Court had an opportunity to moderate that clearly untenable path. Instead it doubled down, affirming that, at least for five ideology-driven old men, businesses are not just people, they can also be religions, where individuals – be they customers or employees – must check their rights at the door.
The theoretical and actual impact of this is beyond doubt. America – to many of us little more than a legal construct (much like the businesses it worships) – is dead. Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby is the last nail in this never-really-was-a-country-anyway’s coffin.
While surely a blow to the broader population’s chances of reining in the capitalist model, the Court’s much-reviled Citizens United ruling was not, for me at least, absolute proof of Carlin’s Theorem. (Yes, that would be George Carlin: “They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”) Like many others when Citizen’s United was handed down, I reasoned that if people would finally organize around an umbrella of indisputably humanist, commonsense, peace-, people- and planet-first policy imperatives, it wasn’t too late to beat back the forces of unbridled greed, and oppression of the working masses. There might even still be hope for collapsing in a dusty heap that grand enabler of capitalism – perpetual warfare – in favor of responsible freedoms, egalitarianism and peace.
Such a successful challenge had not been mounted in this (“)country(”) for more than 100 years, but I chose to believe – foolishly, it now appears — one could again take root.
My hope was grounded in part in single-issue successes of varying importance won since our Progressive Era of 1892-1917; the first (and apparently last) great cross-partisan uprising against elitism, corporate greed and worker oppression. That era produced women’s suffrage, direct election of Senators, the eight-hour workday and labor unions, progressive taxation, anti-trust laws, and the beginnings of a social safety net. Victories since, including civil rights (though under direct assault as I type), abortion rights (ditto); women’s rights (tritto), gay rights, marriage equality and reform of marijuana laws buoyed my spirit.
Then came the Occupy movement, which held real promise as the populist uprising I’d hoped for, embracing myriad issues of humanism while advocating kicking corporatists to the curb. Before, at least, its masterful and nearly immediate co-option.
And now, finally, Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. Hope is a disease, and I’ve been cured.
It’s bad enough when greed and oppression are personified and treated as legitimate constituencies in any national debate. But when their practitioners are also sanctified — granted special dispensation from following the law based on a claimed set of religious beliefs, despite the long-held and rigorously tested ideal of separation of Church and State — the game is clearly over. Why fool ourselves?
In codifying companies’ “right” to refuse to follow duly-enacted American law – despite operating in America and employing Americans and selling to Americans who access their businesses via American infrastructure – the Supreme Court, in legal effect, created countless Branch Davidian compounds all across the country. (You do remember the Branch Davidians, right?)
In light of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby, it’s no stretch to suggest a sign be placed at the entrance of every for-profit company claiming an exemption to laws of the United States, to wit:
UPON ENTERING THESE PREMISES, THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES NO LONGER APPLY NOR PROTECT YOU. FROM A LEGAL STANDPOINT, YOU ARE ABOUT TO ENTER AND WILL REMAIN WITHIN THE BOUNDS AND UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF ANOTHER COUNTRY, UNTIL YOU AGAIN CROSS THIS THRESHOLD. ASSUMING YOU DO.
Is that extreme? Think about it.
By bowing to what it deemed a “sincerely held” religious objection to the law — a “sincerity” questionable at best (and more accurately an outright lie) when one considers that oh-so-abortion-aghast Hobby Lobby purchases and sells products produced in a country (China) where forced abortion is the law – the Supreme Court accepted prima-facie Hobby Lobby’s claims of religiosity of an extent sufficient to countervail its inherent responsibility to obey the law. What now stops the Court from opining that companies have a right to police their grounds however they see fit, up to and including summary executions for, say, shoplifting — if that’s what an organization’s claimed “deeply held religious convictions” dictate?
So here we are. Corporations are people. They’re religions, too. It is – and I say this without a drop of sarcasm – only a matter of time before one (and likely many more) organize as nation-states, answerable to no legal imperative outside those which they themselves create. When this happens, does the United States continue to exist, even as a legal construct?
I think not – and reiterating, I’m not sure it ever did.
Contrary to their beliefs, intentions, and all those speeches on all those Memorial Days down through time, no soldier ever “died for this country.” They died because the loosest conceivable amalgam of entirely different cultures, all of which happened to land on this continent at approximately the same time, decided it was in their mutual best interest to ignore their profound ideological differences and fuel a military expansion of their half-baked notion of “democracy” around the world.
But those ideological differences did not disappear. They laid in wait and have, now that we are the world’s lone superpower, come home to roost. With nothing left to fight, we fight amongst ourselves. Unlike other nations with centuries of rich history (or unlike failed empires — a description much closer to our truth), what has most defined “America” is consumerism and pop culture. In a word, impermanence. The supposed “melting pot” we all learned about in elementary school, where a host of cultures cooperate and overlook their differences in favor of some illusory ideal is itself an illusion; our predominant cultures have neither melded into one nor even particularly cared for much for each other at any moment during our brief (in the scheme of things) affiliation.
Accepting the truth of this, one can almost – almost – understand the majority’s rationale in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. It goes like this:
If we are truly free, we are free to do whatever we please, including imposing the ability to “believe” upon an inanimate entity, i.e., a for-profit company. Though unable to a draw a breath, this entity, at our discretion as its creators, can be imbued with “feelings” which render it “in the world” but not “of the world” — just as many individual Christians seek to be.
Of course, the problem with that — um, logic? — is that the entity cannot “be,” let alone “believe” anything. It is not alive. It is — like America itself — a legal construct which can be dissolved as quickly as it was constituted, with no negative theoretical, philosophical or moral ramifications. No loose ends; they are tied up very neatly thanks to our legal system.
(Unless you consider the people thrown out of work. The ones who enabled the company’s success or failure. Those of lower existential stature than the company’s owners, thanks entirely to their belief in preventing unplanned pregnancies.)
If the American experiment ever was about what, as children, we were led to believe, it is no longer. Indeed, it is an abject failure. The time has come for those of us who recognize the lunacy being visited upon us in the name of “God” to seriously look at dissolving our connections to the backward-thinking cultures whose presence we have tolerated — at our peril — for about 200 years more than we should have in the first place.
Next time, I’ll begin to examine pragmatic, peaceful approaches for doing just that.
Photo by Mr T in DC released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.