“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” – the Wizard of Oz
In Frank Baum’s famous political satire The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a naïve Dorothy is manipulated by a totalitarian ruler (the wizard) into putting her life at risk to suppress his political rival (the Wicked Witch of the West). After fulfilling her end of the bargain, Dorothy is told to “come back tomorrow.” When the truth is finally revealed, the all-powerful apparition of Oz turns out to be nothing more than a pathetic little man, hiding behind a curtain.
Perhaps all power structures are nothing but a sham, hiding the truth behind propagandist obfuscations and promising desired outcomes “tomorrow.” Members of Western culture are almost unanimously convinced that our way of life is superior to all others. We hold this belief as if it is a self-evident fact, but it is a belief that can only be maintained by ignoring large fractions of reality.
I had a recent conversation with my husband on this topic. He did some work in Cuba several years ago (he is a foreign national). Playing devil’s advocate he remarked, “Western culture does offer the best quality of life. Take Cuba for example. The people there have nowhere near the same quality of life as people in the Western world.”
My husband’s statement was both true and false. As two educated, working professionals, my husband and I certainly enjoy a high quality of life as compared to the average Cuban, and it was from a perspective of our own fortunate circumstances that my husband was making his comparison. I asked my husband to do a quick assessment of all of the other households in our rural Southern Appalachian community to see if the same comparison could be made.
Cubans are undoubtedly poor by American standards in terms of net worth. While they have recently been awarded property rights to their ancestral homes, most of these properties represent a bare minimum of accommodation. Wages are for the most part at subsistence levels, so from a U.N. standpoint, which measures quality of life based on wages, Cubans are poor. On the other hand, all citizens of Cuba are entitled to free healthcare (rated higher by international analyses than the U.S. healthcare system), education to the post-graduate level, lifetime pensions and guaranteed food rations. No Cuban lives with the fear of not being provided with the basic necessities of life.
In Southern Appalachia, several of my neighbors live in sub-standard housing in the form of old, dilapidated trailers and single-wides. Cuban accommodation is luxurious by comparison. Few here have health insurance and even fewer have the funds to send their children to college. I know an intelligent, hard-working young lady of 23 who has managed the Subway down the road for the past 5 years, while she is putting herself through community college. She is currently not taking any classes because she cannot afford to. She says that when she turns 24 she will be eligible for more financial aid because her parents’ income won’t be included in her financial status, so she waits. Others pray they don’t get sick. Still other Americans are juggling utility and food bills. Cubans are free from these worries.
In the United States, we are always asked to do myopic calculus when considering the facts in order to maintain the delusion of the great and powerful American Dream. Electricity from coal is the cheapest, we are told, but if one adds up the costs of ruined watersheds, decapitated mountains, respiratory disease, acidified and dead forests and ruinous weather events from global warming, just about any renewable energy source would be cheap by comparison.
Our country was founded on unparalleled ideals of freedom and democracy, only if one ignores the sticky reality that the United States was stolen from this land’s Original People, who were systematically eliminated in one of the most brutal campaigns of genocide in Earth’s history, involving germ warfare and the brutal slaying of women and children.
The United States is a democracy because citizens have the right to vote for their representatives, but when all of the representatives one has to choose from represent the same private interests, voting is meaningless. The U.S.S.R. had an electoral process that was not dissimilar.
Unlimited growth in the economy is desirable only if one ignores the fact that such calculations are impossible in a finite ecosystem. While those profiting promise “market solutions” for the necessarily consequent destruction of the planet, opening one’s eyes reveals a starker reality. The basis of life on Earth is being steadily and continuously eroded by those same Western markets. Nothing the market has done has changed this trajectory. It is insanity to believe that more of the same will not result in an ultimate complete and utter destruction of the basic faculties of the living world.
Don’t look behind the curtain because if you do you might see that the American Dream is not a pervasive artifact of Western culture but rather a rare exception in a system that exploits everybody and everything on Earth for the sake of a few elite patriarchs.