Economic Insecurity: Consequences and Alternatives

look downstairs into stairwell whirl
quapan / Foter / CC BY

Economic insecurity leads people to constantly calculate how to survive at the expense of others. It corrupts our culture, fosters social discord, undermines personal authenticity, and leaves individuals in great need of caring communities that truly nurture self-empowerment.

By gathering regularly in small groups with trusted friends, we could support one another in our efforts to become better human beings and more effective activists. In this way, a network of full employment support groups could fulfill unmet personal needs, grow community, and help build a grassroots full employment movement.

We need to establish a foundation of economic security for the sake of everyone, not just those currently unemployed or threatened with imminent unemployment. The benefits of full employment would ripple throughout society. All of us could more easily be real, speak from the heart, explore within, and become who we really are. No one is free until we are all free.

The threat of poverty hurts everyone. The specter of unemployment prompts us to suppress our feelings out of concern for how others will react. We learn to be dishonest, first with our teachers and then our bosses. Constantly hustling, these habits become deeply engrained, often unconscious. We become self-centered, phony, and shallow, always worrying about what others think of us. We sell our souls and go along to get along. We talk and talk without really listening. We rarely stop thinking and examine ourselves deeply. Most of us have only one or two friends, or no one, with whom we can discuss personal problems. We play games, hold ourselves back from really trying to actualize our potential, and never fully dedicate ourselves to a cause that provides deep meaning to our lives. We become hyper-competitive, obsessed with who is “top dog,” and look down on others we consider inferior, often based on race, gender, sexual preference, class, or level of education.

This hyper-individualism carries over into politics, including grassroots activism. Activists with noble motives become excessively “political.” We become too concerned with our own ambitions and our desire to “make a difference.” We focus on gaining the satisfaction of knowing that we have done the right thing. We want to be recognized for some great achievement. We praise others to get them to do what we want them to do, and allow ourselves to be strongly influenced by others whose respect we seek. We’re constantly trying to prove ourselves – to others and to ourselves. We deceive, manipulate, and sometimes lie in order to get what we want. We fail to be fully authentic, present, spontaneous, and true to our deepest self. We use immoral means to achieve moral goals.

These patterns are reflected in the traditional definition of leadership. We assume that “leaders” are those who are able to mobilize “followers” to do what they want them to do. This approach is fundamentally individualistic, egocentric, arrogant, and elitist. It reinforces ego-driven power struggles, the urge to dominate, and the willingness to submit.

Consequently activist organizations attract primarily people who are willing to defer to “leaders” they place on a pedestal (and often knock them off later out of jealousy and resentment). Most organizations do not, as much as they could, engage people who are strong, creative, self-confident, and able and willing to collaborate while respecting others. Rather, they drive those people away.

Another problem with traditional activism is the constant reliance on tapping fear and anger. That future-oriented approach can sometimes appear to be effective in the short run. But it is unable to sustain itself over time. It burns out or spirals down into more negativity. It also fails to attract people that an effective movement needs – namely, happy, caring, open, and freewheeling people who trust that the Universe will take care of herself.

A full employment movement that aims to be effective needs to counter those tendencies. We need to cultivate joyous communities that foster self-empowerment. A national network of “full employment support groups” rooted in compassionate populism and deep morality could help build a grassroots movement to make this country more democratic and just. The plan outlined here is not the only method. But it could contribute.

The need for new organizing methods that enable us to better attract, inspire, involve, and unite large numbers of Americans is compelling. To become more effective, we need to examine ourselves honestly, acknowledge our mistakes, and resolve not to repeat them. Engaging in such self-examination with trusted friends (perhaps including one’s spouse) at least once a month could be beneficial.

With this approach, it would be important to establish that individuals need to decide for themselves how they need to grow. Self-determination is key. These support groups would need to trust each member to set their own goals, without applying oppressive pressure that tries to transform people overnight into totally new human beings according to some prescribed doctrine. Down deep, most human beings want to do what is right and when they look inside honestly, they usually form wise plans for action. Each member would need to respect the support group and trust that by being open and listening with compassion, everyone will learn and benefit from the process. Being judgmental and pushing others to conform to others’ opinions undercuts self-empowerment.

If a network of full employment support groups were to develop, many members would likely address self-development issues other than those discussed here. But all members would have in common a commitment to intentionally, consciously, clearly support one another in their efforts to become better human beings and more effective activists. That shared experience could provide the basis for the growth of support groups rooted in the proven peer-support model.

Let us inspire each other with positive energy. Let us create safe spaces where we can be real, let it all hang out, share meals, enjoy each other’s fellowship, and nurture one another. Let us attract new members with contagious happiness and cultivate leader-full, compassionate, democratic communities that are not dependent on any one leader or any one “lead organizer.” Let us build a member-controlled, national network of “safe houses” whose members unite to push the federal government to fulfill its responsibility to assure full employment.

The point is not only the individual. The purpose of a community or a society is not merely to enable individuals to fulfill themselves or pursue happiness. The community is also valuable in and of itself. Communities are greater than the sum of their parts. After individuals die, communities can live on, as do biological families, woven into the fabric of life and the force that structures life. If we are only concerned about our own needs or those of our immediate family, we miss out on the meaning of life.

A full employment movement would best be neither “left” nor “right.” By avoiding these abstract labels, the movement could focus on its key principle: As a society, we should see to it that everyone has a living-wage job opportunity and if the private economy and private charity fail to meet that obligation, the federal government must step in. That belief is embraced by individuals who hold a wide variety of political viewpoints.

The elites who dominate our society will likely continue to oppose efforts to achieve full employment. But we need not demonize them. They are not exclusively responsible. They are only pawns in the game. If they step out of line, “the system” will replace them. When we talk about them or engage in dialog with them, we can do so with compassion. We can appeal to their higher nature or, if necessary, to their “enlightened self-interest.” And we can always maintain a willingness to compromise and reconcile differences as we move toward our ultimate goal.

Ordinary Americans are also to blame. If more people were more active between elections and united behind positions already supported by strong majorities, we could turn this country around. So long as this condition prevails, we cannot legitimately scapegoat any “villain.”

Our society can best be described as “crony capitalism” dominated by an unholy alliance of Big Government and Big Business, facilitated by the infamous “revolving door.” This social system is self-perpetuating. To restructure it, we need a massive, united popular movement focused on creating a viable “mixed economy” that serves the common good.

It makes no sense to always attack either the “free market” or “the government.” We need both. Exactly what this mix should be needs to be considered case-by-case, based on our best guess about what is most effective, not on the basis of some preconceived ideology. Those conclusions will vary as conditions change.

As full employment support groups could keep pace with their members and support them on their personal issues as they define them, so too a movement to transform America could keep pace with Americans and support positions they already endorse.

At this time, in this country, we can declare that the federal government should see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a living-wage job opportunity.

By developing new ways of doing politics and growing small, self-perpetuating, self-governing, face-to-face, intimate communities that help members actualize their potential, we can help build a full employment movement. When we secure the human right to a living-wage job opportunity, the same forces could take further steps to move toward making the United States a compassionate community dedicated to the common good of all humanity.

Growing an “Activist Support Network”: An Invitation (3/11/14 Draft)

By Wade Lee Hudson

Political activists need to support one another in learning how to be more effective in their activism. The dilemma is how to do it most effectively. I invite you to help answer that question by participating in the “Activist Support Network Project” (tentative name).

Participants would share the following commitment:
• At least once a month they share a meal with at least two other close associates (perhaps including domestic partners) and conduct a conversation focused initially on the question: How can I help create a society that better serves the common good by becoming more effective in my efforts to improve public policy in the near term?
• After each participant responds to that question, the conversation takes its own course, as determined by the participants, with each participant having an equal voice in that decision.
• Following the meeting, one of the participants posts a brief report on their meeting (as approved by the participants) on the Web to inform other participants about their effort.

Hopefully different groups will use or experiment with different methods for conducting those conversations. By reporting on their efforts, other groups can learn about methods they might want to use with their own gatherings.

Eventually clusters of groups who use the same or very similar method might coalesce to share information and support. And regional and national gatherings of participants in the overall Activist Support Network Project might convene for the same purpose. As people get involved, a process could be initiated to consider re-naming the project and revising its mission.

The word “political” is used in various ways. The (common) definition employed here is “concerned with the making of governmental policy” in the near term. Other approaches are valuable and may be more valid. But individuals who seek incremental short-term reforms share particular experiences is common. That commonality provides them with the potential of offering mutual support to one another.

Those shared experiences include uncertainty, fear, outrage, disappointment, frustration, interpersonal conflict, power struggles, and at least occasional despair – as well as joy, fellowship, deepening friendships, and the satisfaction of knowing that we have done at least our fair share to help establish new policies that alleviate suffering and promote the general welfare. We tend to share certain problematic tendencies, such as being too judgmental, arrogant, and elitist and failing to really listen to others and collaborate as equal – as well as certain positive characteristics, such as compassion for the suffering of others and a commitment to try to help alleviate that suffering.

Support groups for political activists as proposed here would not involve telling any individual how they should behave or how they should experience their life. Those decisions would be left to each individual to determine for themselves.

The only requirement would be that each individual commit to serving the common good to the best of their ability. This commitment would involve constantly asking the question: is this course of action really the best way to “promote the general welfare,” as affirmed in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution?

By supporting one another in our efforts to answer that question honestly and correctly, we can help this nation live up to its ideals and enable everyone to more fully realize their potential.