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Why isn’t Muskrat Falls megadam project sparking outrage?

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In 2019, the entirely preventable methylmercury poisoning of the traditional country food web of Indigenous people downstream of the Muskrat Falls megadam in Labrador is set to begin. It’s remarkable, though perhaps unsurprising in a country with an ongoing history of such atrocities, that this impending criminal act — which violates all aspects of international humanitarian law, has been categorized by some as a war crime and of falling under the definition of genocide — is clearly and plainly happening out in the open, yet sparking little outrage.

It’s also funded to the tune of $9.2 billion by a federal government that touts this destruction of Indigenous people’s food supply and traditional way of life as part of its green-energy strategy and respectful nation-to-nation relationships.

This week in Labrador, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who live downstream of the megadam — which also threatens mass casualty drowning because a significant portion of the dam is supposed to be held back by a natural formation composed of quick clay, which liquefies and gives way under intense pressure — are spending their days in a colonial court. Their alleged crime has been to commit a series of peaceful acts of land protection, from occupying the work site for four days in October 2016 to conducting a sacred ceremony.

Direct action October 29

As the Labrador land protectors face fines, restrictions on their movements and associations, and possible jail time — four land protectors have already spent weeks at a time in maximum security prisons — a group of their supporters heads to Parliament Hill on Monday, October 29. On that afternoon, they plan a non-violent rally and direct action, risking arrest to enter the House of Commons and place on the desks of MPs the pictures and words of those most at risk, as well as copies of the scientific reports and treaties being ignored by politicians who claim that the most important relationship is the one they have with Indigenous peoples.

Given the proximity to Halloween, some demonstartors will be wearing masks of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, and Labrador MP Yvonne Jones will also try and enter to apologize in advance for the Muskrat Falls disaster and demand that federal support be ended.

The Parliament Hill gathering takes place just over two weeks after the passing of Steve Fobister Sr., the former Treaty 3 Grand Chief and Grassy Narrows First Nation Chief who died October 11 at the age of 66 from mercury poisoning. Fobister fought most of his life for the rights of those poisoned by mercury at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong, where up to 90 per cent of the people suffer from the debilitating effects of mercury poisoning. (A vigil honouring Fobister at Toronto’s Queen’s Park takes place Thursday, October 25 at 7 p.m.)

In a letter to the provincial and federal governments, Fobister’s family challenged both Trudeau as well as provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott directly. “Our beloved Steve passed away without ever getting the closure of having a government minister look him in the eye and admit that he was poisoned by mercury,” they wrote.

“Instead he was forced to fight for four decades for mercury justice in the face of denial, delay, and discrimination. We call on you to admit at long last that Steve Fobister Sr. lived with mercury poisoning and died from mercury poisoning. Will you respect Steve by speaking the truth, and commit to fairly compensate all Grassy Narrows people for the ongoing mercury crisis that has been denied and neglected for so long? Steve always wanted the government to admit that he had been poisoned by mercury. Now we take up his fight to honour him. Trudeau and Elliott, will you admit that Steve was poisoned, and will you compensate Grassy Narrows fairly for our mercury crisis?”

Ontario chose to poison Indigenous people

A petition to Trudeau and Elliott reminds them that:

“94 per cent of Grassy Narrows people receive no compensation for the mercury crisis which continues to rob them of their loved ones and to ravage their health, culture, livelihood, rights, and environment. The survivors of this avoidable disaster deserve the best possible health care and support, including a Mercury Home and Treatment Centre so that their sick loved ones can be treated with dignity, close to their families.”

Last October, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe said successive provincial governments in Ontario “chose to allow the ongoing poisoning of the communities,” and a report she wrote noted that “after accepting financial responsibility for the mercury contamination, the Ontario government declined to take action for decades, largely ignoring the suffering of the Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong peoples.”

Saxe’s report pointed out that the contamination “stripped the people of Wabaseemoong and Grassy Narrows of important facets of their cultural practices, livelihoods and health.”

It’s an all-too familiar story for Rita Monias, a Pimicikamak Okimawin elder who will travel more than 3,000 kilometres from her home in what is also known as Cross Lake, Manitoba, to take part in the Parliament Hill rally October 29. Monias, who helped lead a six-week occupation of the Jenpeg Manitoba generating station in 2014, says she hopes to shine a national spotlight on the role hydro dams have played in devastating Indigenous communities like hers, and to share with MPs — if she is allowed into the House of Commons — that the same future is in store for Indigenous people in Labrador unless the Muskrat Falls megadam is shut down.

(Significantly, Manitoba Hydro International played a major role in helping sanction the Muskrat Falls project, producing a report that was embraced by then Newfoundland and Labrador premier Kathy Dunderdale as ammunition she needed to fight back against those who demanded the seeking of Indigenous consent and solid scientific proof that the megadam would not cause serious damage. In recognizing this connection, a fundraiser for Labrador Land Protectors takes place in Winnipeg on October 27 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Strong Badger Coffeehouse).

“We have always heard promises of jobs, of compensation, of respectful nation-to-nation relationships, but that’s not the reality we see in our communities once hydro dams come in and change everything, destroying our ways of life,” Monias says.

“We have seen major displacement, a loss of cultural knowledge, reduced access to traditional foods and medicines and far fewer opportunities to take part in our traditional economy, destruction of our burial grounds and cultural sites, the fear of eating our traditional foods because of methylmercury poisoning, injury and death due to hazardous navigation on the waters, and major changes and reductions in the wildlife whose patterns have been disrupted by the dams. We cannot allow any more environmental devastation on our Mother Earth. We have to protect it.”

Unnecessary and avoidable suffering

In 2001, the Manitoba Aboriginal Rights Coalition (MARC) released a report, “Let Justice Flow,” which concluded that “the ongoing suffering of Cree and Métis peoples as a result of hydroelectric dams is both unnecessary and avoidable.” This followed on the report of the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in 1991, which found that:

“Aboriginal people also argue that they were never told of the environmental destruction that would occur. They say that they were never told that graves would be washed away and fish habitats demolished, nor that an entire way of life for what previously had been strong communities would disappear.”

The MARC report quoted Pimicikamak Okimawin resident Bobby Brightnose, who said:

“Our people are grieving, they are grieving for land, the water and a way of life that was brought to an abrupt halt. I remember going along the shoreline to pick medicine with my late grandmother only to find it flooded. My grandmother stood there crying because that was her life. Her life was the land. There is a great deal of grief that needs to be resolved and dealt with among our people in Cross Lake.”

APTN reporter Justin Brake recently completed a series of news reports on the impact of hydro dams on the Indigenous people in northern Manitoba. In one segment, Ramona Neckoway, from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation at Nelson House, truthfully names what is taking place as genocide.

“For me this is a cultural genocide that’s going on,” she told APTN. “And I don’t use those words lightly. I say that because I see that there are entire generations of children in our communities that don’t go on the water, that don’t understand the importance of that water to who we are, that have never left the reserve, this cage that they’ve created through colonial policies that have been imposed on us. To me, Nisichawayasihk, our territory, actually is much bigger than the reserve that they allotted to us. And we were using that territory — my mother’s generation was using that territory, going to camps, going to these different spaces and actively using that land and that water.”

Misipawistik councillor Heidi Cook agreed, noting that the effects of hydro dams have been worse even than residential schools because they have destroyed their homes. She spoke poignantly of how hearing the sounds of the rapids for miles around not only defined a sense of place, but also helped remind people of who and where they were. But after construction and damning the flow of the rivers, there was only silence. Cook told APTN that:

“I felt it myself, personally, that as somebody from Grand Rapids I was robbed of my birthright to know these rapids and to have this beautiful part of my home sing me to sleep at night, and greet me in the morning when I wake up.”

In September, the abuses of Manitoba Hydro were the focus of a press conference where one Indigenous woman, Martina Saunders, announced a Manitoba Human Rights Commission complaint, as Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Garrison Settee reminded reporters that “our people have been oppressed. Our people have been treated as if they are second-class citizens in their own lands.”

A coast-to-coast scourge

The devastating impact of hydro dams on Indigenous communities is not limited to Muskrat Falls or Manitoba (nor are such appalling consequences limited to hydro projects, given the endless examples of Canadian extractive industries wreaking havoc in Indigenous communities around the globe). Dozens of other communities face predictions that the scourge of methylmercury poisoning will threaten them with current and planned projects. A group of Harvard scientists wrote in their 2016 report, “Future Impacts of Hydroelectric Power Development on Methylmercury Exposures of Canadian Indigenous Communities,” that “all 22 Canadian hydroelectric facilities being considered for near-term development are located within 100 kilometres of Indigenous communities.” (eight are in Yukon; two each in Nunavut and Manitoba; four in Quebec, one each in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and B.C.; and two in Labrador).

They explore both the significant projected increases in the bioaccumulating neurotoxin methylmercury at Muskrat Falls and then point out that modeled poison reservoir levels at 11 of the proposed 21 hydroelectric sites across Canada “are comparable or greater than the Muskrat Falls reservoir.” In practical terms, this means that said poison will affect those who rely on a traditional country diet of fish, fowl, seal and other mammals in whom the poison bioaccumulates.

“Country foods are known to confer a wide-range of nutritional and social health benefits to indigenous communities, and nutritious alternative food choices are limited in the Canadian North,” the report’s authors write. “Past studies suggest reducing or avoiding consumption of country foods may also result in substantial adverse impacts on individual health.” They propose that any such project must focus first and foremost on the removal or mitigation of poison risk, noting that interventions “such as the removal of organic carbon from the planned reservoir regions prior to flooding” should be considered.

That recommendation for clearance of the reservoir area at Muskrat Falls has been flat-out rejected by the Newfoundland and Labrador government, and it’s an issue on which the federal government remains deathly silent, even as their own experts have urged such mitigation measures. Once reservoir levels rise next spring, the methylmercury accumulation will accelerate, as will the heightened risk of a dam break.

In the meantime, the Canadian government’s support for these dangerous dams flies in the face of their legally binding commitments under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a legally binding treaty negotiated under the United Nations Environment Program to reduce mercury emissions and to protect the environment and human health. When she signed the treaty in April, 2017, Catherine McKenna proclaimed: “Our government is unwavering in its commitment to safeguard the environment and the health of Canadians from the effects of mercury.”

The convention Canada signed on to is clear in recognizing  “the particular vulnerabilities of Arctic ecosystems and Indigenous communities because of the biomagnification of mercury and contamination of traditional foods, and concerns about Indigenous communities more generally with respect to the effects of mercury.”

But the Trudeau government is plowing ahead nonetheless, having shown with Trans Mountain, the tar sands, Site C, Line 3, LNG and other megaprojects, that it simply does not care about the voices of Indigenous people. The scourge of methylmercury and other poisons contaminating traditional country food webs is one 21st-century version of the Canadian government’s 19th-century approach to genocide, when the same strategy of using food as a weapon was employed by John A. Macdonald.

As James Daschuk, author of Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, writes:

“Despite guarantees of food aid in times of famine in Treaty No. 6, Canadian officials used food, or rather denied food, as a means to ethnically cleanse a vast region from Regina to the Alberta border as the Canadian Pacific Railway took shape. For years, government officials withheld food from Aboriginal people until they moved to their appointed reserves, forcing them to trade freedom for rations. Once on reserves, food placed in ration houses was withheld for so long that much of it rotted while the people it was intended to feed fell into a decades-long cycle of malnutrition, suppressed immunity and sickness from tuberculosis and other diseases. Thousands died.”

Daschuk adds that Macdonald, acting as “both prime minister and minister of Indian affairs during the darkest days of the famine, even boasted that the Indigenous population was kept on the ‘verge of actual starvation,’ in an attempt to deflect criticism that he was squandering public funds.”

Promises to ancestors

All of these issues provide a backdrop to the trials taking place in Labrador’s colonial courts, where land protectors will be speaking many truths about their motivations, their hopes, and their commitments. Among them is Denise Cole of Happy Valley Goose Bay, who was hauled into court for allegedly violating a court order by Nalcor, the provincial Crown corporation behind Muskrat Falls, when she performed a ceremony “to ask for healing and safety for the land, water, and people.”

Writing earlier this year, Cole declared:

“My duties to pray and hold sacred ceremony are more important than the unjust court orders that Nalcor uses to keep us away from our traditional lands as they destroy them for their Muskrat Falls hydro project. Creator is watching, Mother Earth is reacting. I know I am on the side of what is right along with many beautiful protectors and supporters across the nation and on our homeland of Labrador. I had to sign an undertaking to stay away from the place of our Labrador ancestors. The Muskrat Falls north side is a very spiritual and sacred place. This court order essentially keeps me away from my ‘church’ and forces me to dishonour my responsibilities to the land and spirits of Muskrat Falls. I know that right now I have to do that for the greater cause of helping save the river, land, and lives downstream from this megadam disaster. Still rest assured, my resolve is strong and unwavering and there is strength in my tears. I will perform ceremony in this place again, I promise that to the ancestors and Creator.”

As supporters gather in Ottawa — unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin Territory — on Monday, Cole’s words will be among the many that other land protectors hope to place on the desks of MPs in the House of Commons. When a similar group, including four Labrador Land Protectors, tried to do the same thing in May, 15 of them were arrested and banned from Parliament Hill for 90 days.

The presence of land protectors from Manitoba on Monday will also help mark the fourth anniversary of the six-week occupation of the Manitoba Hydro Jenpeg generation site, where Pimicikamak Okimawin evicted colonial staff and refused to leave. At the time, Tommy Monias, one of the hundreds on site, informed media that:

“We’re just doing what we normally do in the last 2,000 years which is hang around in our lands. Hydro is occupying our lands. This is traditional territory of Pimicikamak people. We were always here. It’s Hydro that showed up here 31 years ago and occupied our lands. This is where my ancestors have travelled for thousands of years.”

It is such outbreaks of democracy that remind us of the words of the sorely missed Steve Fobister, Sr., who said when on hunger strike in 2014 at the Ontario legislature: “Words don’t mean anything anymore. Direct action is all I have left. And here I am.”

Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.

Photo: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador/Flickr

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The language of capitalism isn’t just annoying, it’s dangerous

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When General Motors laid off more than 6,000 workers days after Thanksgiving, John Patrick Leary, the author of the new book Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, tweeted out part of GM CEO Mary Barra’s statement. “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future,” she said. Leary added a line of commentary to of Barra’s statement: “Language was pronounced dead at the scene.”

Why should we pay attention to the particular words used to describe, and justify, the regularly scheduled “disruptions” of late capitalism? Published last week by Haymarket Books, Leary’s Keywords explores the regime of late-capitalist language: a set of ubiquitous modern terms, drawn from the corporate world and the business press, that he argues promulgate values friendly to corporations (hierarchy, competitiveness, the unquestioning embrace of new technologies) over those friendly to human beings (democracy, solidarity, and scrutiny of new technologies’ impact on people and the planet).

These words narrow our conceptual horizons — they “manacle our imagination,” Leary writes — making it more difficult to conceive alternative ways of organizing our economy and society. We are encouraged by powerful “thought leaders” and corporate executives to accept it as the language of common sense or “normal reality.” When we understand and deploy such language to describe our own lives, we’re seen as good workers; when we fail to do so, we’re implicitly threatened with economic obsolescence. After all, if you’re not conversant in “innovation” or “collaboration,” how can you expect to thrive in this brave new economy?

Leary, an English professor at Wayne State University, brings academic rigor to this linguistic examination. Unlike the many people who casually employ the phrase “late capitalism” as a catch-all explanation for why our lives suck, Leary defines the term and explains why he chooses to use it. Calling our current economic system “late capitalism”suggests that, despite our gleaming buzzwords and technologies, what we’re living through is just the next iteration of an old system of global capitalism. In other words, he writes, “cheer up: things have always been terrible!” What is new, Leary says, quoting Marxist economic historian Ernest Mandel, is our “belief in the omnipotence of technology” and in experts. He also claims that capitalism is expanding at an unprecedented rate into previously uncommodified geographical, cultural, and spiritual realms.

Keywords was inspired by a previous work of a similar name: the Welsh Marxist theorist Raymond Williams’s 1976 book Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Williams’s goal, like Leary’s, was to encourage readers to become “conscious and critical” readers and listeners, to see the language of our everyday lives “not a tradition to be learned, nor a consensus to be accepted, [but as] . . . a vocabulary to use, to find our own ways in, to change as we find it necessary to change it, as we go on making our own language and history.” Words gain their power not only from the class position of their speakers: they depend on acquiescence by the listeners. Leary takes aim at the second half of that equation, working to break the spell of myths that ultimately serve the elites. “If we understood… [these words] better,” Leary writes, “perhaps we might rob them of their seductive power.”

To that end, Leary offers a lexicon of about 40 late capitalist “keywords,” from “accountability” to “wellness.” Some straddle the work-life divide, like “coach.” Using simple tools — the Oxford English Dictionary, Google’s ngram database, and media coverage of business and the economy— Leary argues that each keyword presents something basically indefensible about late capitalist society in a sensible, neutral, and even uplifting package.

Take “grit,” a value championed by charter school administrators, C-suite execs, and Ted Talkers. On the surface, there’s nothing objectionable about insisting that success comes from hard work sustained in spite of challenges, failure, and adversity. It can even seem like an attractive idea: who doesn’t want to believe, as author of the bestselling Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance Angela Duckworth puts it, that success rests “more on our passion and perseverance than on our innate talent” — or the race and income of our parents?

What discussions of “grit” scrupulously avoid, Leary writes, is “the obviously central fact of the economy”: poverty. Duckworth and other proponents of grit nod to the limited horizon of opportunity presented to those living in poverty, but insist that grit can help people “defy the odds.” Implicitly, they accept that most will fail to do so: they simply promise elevation to the hard-working, the deserving, the grittiest — that is, to the very few.

“Grit offers an explanation for what exists,” Leary writes, “rather than giving us tools to imagine something different.” Rather than attacking the conditions that make “grit” necessary, the word’s proponents ask women, people of color, and the poor to overcompensate for the unjust world into which they’ve been born. While the need for “grit” is most often preached to urban schoolchildren and people in poverty, its “real audience,” Leary writes, is “perched atop the upper levels of our proverbial ladder,” a position from which inequality doesn’t look so bad.

Leary divides his keywords into four broad categories: first is “late-capitalist body talk,” which imbues corporations with the attributes of human bodies, like nimbleness or flexibility, and shifts focus away from the real human bodies whose labor generates its profits. “Much of the language of late capitalism,” Leary writes, “imagines workplaces as bodies in virtually every way except as a group of overworked or underpaid ones.”

Then there’s the “moral vocabulary of late capitalism,” which often uses words with older, religious meanings; Leary cites a nineteenth-century poem that refers to Jesus as a “thought leader.” These moral values, Leary says, are generally taken to be indistinguishable from economic ones. “Passion,” for example, is prized for its value to your boss: if you love what you do, you’ll work harder and demand less compensation. Some are words, like “artisanal,” that reflect capitalism’s absorption of the countercultural critique that it failed to provide workers with a sense of purpose and autonomy. Finally, there is the category of words that reflexively celebrate the possibilities of new technologies, like “smart”: smart fridge, smart toaster, smart toilet.

As Leary shows, these keywords reflect and shore up the interests of the dominant class. For the tech overlords of Silicon Valley, an “entrepreneur” is someone innovative and savvy, who “moves fast and breaks things.” The entrepreneur alone creates his company’s exorbitant wealth — not his workers, nor any taxpayers who may fund the innovations his company sells. (Elon Musk, for example, has received nearly $5 million in government subsidies). It’s a very useful concept for billionaires: after all, why redistribute that wealth, through taxes or higher wages, to those who didn’t create it?

In these short essays, Leary undermines what Soviet linguist Valentin Voloshinov describes as the aim of the dominant class: to “impart an…eternal character to the ideological sign, to extinguish or drive inward the struggle between social value judgements which occurs in it. ” And in the case of “entrepreneur,” for example, Leary shows that quite a lot of struggle between social judgements is contained in the word.

First defined around 1800 by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say as one who “shifts economic resources . . . into an area of higher productivity and greater yield,” the word was given a dramatically different inflection by political economist Joseph Schumpeter. According to Leary, our contemporary view of entrepreneurship comes from Schumpeter, who believed that the entrepreneur was “the historical agent for capitalism’s creative, world-making turbulence.” When we talk about “entrepreneurs” with an uncritical acceptance, we implicitly accept Schumpeter’s view that wealth was created by entrepreneurs via a process of innovation and creative destruction — rather than Marx’s belief that wealth is appropriated to the bourgeois class by exploitation.

By demonstrating how dramatically these words’ meanings have transformed, Leary suggests that they might change further, that the definitions put in place by the ruling class aren’t permanent or beyond dispute. As he explores what our language has looked like, and the ugliness now embedded in it, Leary invites us to imagine what our language could emphasize, what values it might reflect. What if we fought “for free time, not ‘flexibility’; for free health care, not ‘wellness’; and for free universities, not the ‘marketplace of ideas”?

His book reminds us of the alternatives that persist behind these keywords: our managers may call us as “human capital,” but we are also workers. We are also people. “Language is not merely a passive reflection of things as they are,” Leary writes. “[It is] also a tool for imagining and making things as they could be.”

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Tucker Carlson Thinks the Problem With America Is Market Capitalism

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If there were any doubt of the direction the Trump-dominated GOP is taking, Tucker Carlson’s monologue on Fox News Wednesday should remove it. Carlson’s not a political leader, but he’s a bellwether, and his words are already being cheered by prominent conservatives. Meant as a rebuttal to Mitt Romney’s New Year’s Day op-ed, the speech wasn’t original, but it reveals the degree to which Republicans have embraced the populist authoritarianism they once condemned.

Carlson began with several swipes against “bankers” who exploit the working class to line the pockets of spooky elites. If that anti-capitalist lingo sounds familiar, so does his contemptuous shrug at the ways free markets improve lives. “Does anyone still believe that cheaper iPhones or more Amazon deliveries of plastic garbage from China are going to make us happy? They haven’t so far.” This is a time-worn rhetorical technique of freedom’s enemies, who sneer at material standards of living in order to elevate abstract social goals over the needs of actual people. In fact, cheaper consumer goods have benefited Americans immeasurably. Some 85 million now own iPhones, for instance, and use them not as trinkets, but as work tools or devices to keep in touch with loved ones. And while Amazon may deliver “plastic garbage,” it also delivers syringes to diabetics, toys for special-needs kids, and even prosthetic limbs for the disabled—all, of course, made of plastic. Freer markets and abundant, affordable imports, have made the average American wealthier than Rockefeller, and 90 times richer than the average human being.

Does that translate into happiness? It depends. More wealth means better access to innovative medical technology, cheaper and safer transportation, cultural riches of art and music. But by making possible a wider spectrum of experiences and opportunities, it also means more chances for disappointment and fear—the real source of the “alienation” capitalism’s accused of generating. Money can’t buy happiness, but material prosperity is a necessary ingredient for the good life, and the practical elimination of poverty today is giving more people than ever before the opportunity to lead lives in ways that accomplish their own goals.

Government policies that curtail their choices are, by definition, obstacles to the pursuit of happiness and impose harms that politicians literally cannot imagine. Consider “cheap iPhones”: nobody can calculate the hours saved thanks to driving-directions features, the lives saved through quick access to 911, or the millions of simple, happy conversations that screentime or text messaging makes possible for families separated by long distances. To deride this as materialism is to scoff at simple, even beautiful human joys. Imagine the consequences of eliminating smartphones (you can’t) and you get a sense of the inhumane sentiments that anti-materialistic slogans conceal.

Yet to Carlson, economic freedom is disposable—”a tool…created by human beings” “like a staple gun or a toaster,” which politicians can eliminate if they decide it’s “weaken[ing]…families.” Since “the goal for America is…happiness”—which includes things like “dignity, purpose, self-control, independence, above all, deep relationships with other people”—the failure of international bankers to make people happy and give them rewarding family lives is grounds for bureaucratic control. Although pitched as anti-government populism, Carlson’s prescription is clear: government management of the economy in order to force citizens into what politicians consider “happiness.”

But America’s “goal” isn’t “happiness”—it’s freedom to pursue happiness. That phrase was written by people who rejected the idea that government gives us liberty to serve collective ends. Their commitment to self-determination has often been attacked by strongmen who think government should manage our choices in order to stabilize society. “Man is man only by virtue of the spiritual process in which he contributes as a member of familial, social groups, the nation,” wrote Benito Mussolini. “Fascism is therefore opposed to all individualistic abstractions based on eighteenth century materialism…[and] does not believe in the possibility of ‘happiness’ on earth as conceived by the economic literature of the 18th century.”

Yet free economic exchange is inseparable from genuine dignity and valuable relationships. That should be clear at least to women, who for generations were denied independence by laws that restricted their freedom, often in the name of preserving “the family” and protecting their virtue. The first stirrings of feminism did destabilize long-standing traditions about the family, as freedom usually does—witness the controversy over the climax of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, in which Nora is so emboldened by her experiment with economic freedom that she finds strength to leave her unhappy marriage. Few women today would choose to return to an era when their fates were shaped by government to serve what officials considered the social good. Yet for Carlson, women’s economic freedom is among the most fundamental ills in our society. Thus he condemns hard-working female executives such as Sheryl Sandberg who think it’s “more virtuous to devote your life to some soulless corporation than it is to raise your own kids.”

Obviously family is important. But like everything, it’s a blessing when freely chosen, and a burden when conscripted as a political device by which the hopes and dreams of actual people are subordinated to the demands of political authorities. Restricting freedom in order to encourage “deep relationships with other people” doesn’t promote, but obliterates, dignity, self control, and independence. It’s a recipe for squalor and resentment, not happiness. Yet it’s the go-to recipe for authoritarians who see individual pursuits as trivial compared to the perpetuation of the state.

Freedom—economic or personal—is not “created by human beings.” It’s the rightful, natural state of all persons. It can unjustly be destroyed, but never transcended. Nor were the infinitely diverse institutions we call “the market” ever “created”—they’re a spontaneous order generated by the free choices of countless individuals pursuing happiness as they decide. Some of their choices may be foolish, or seem so to outsiders who lack full information. But the freedom to make choices, for all its disruptiveness, is the only thing “independence” or “happiness” can ever truly mean.

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Capitalism and Mental Health

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David Matthews is a lecturer in sociology and social policy at Coleg Llandrillo, Wales, and the leader of its degree program in health and social care.

A mental-health crisis is sweeping the globe. Recent estimates by the World Health Organization suggest that more than three hundred million people suffer from depression worldwide. Furthermore, twenty-three million are said to experience symptoms of schizophrenia, while approximately eight hundred thousand individuals commit suicide each year.1 Within the monopoly-capitalist nations, mental-health disorders are the leading cause of life expectancy decline behind cardiovascular disease and cancer.2 In the European Union, 27.0 percent of the adult population between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five are said to have experienced mental-health complications.3 Moreover, in England alone, the predominance of poor mental health has gradually increased over the last two decades. The most recent National Health Service Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey illustrates that in 2014, 17.5 percent of the population over the age of sixteen suffered from varying forms of depression or anxiety, compared to 14.1 percent in 1993. Additionally, the number of individuals whose experiences were severe enough to warrant intervention rose from 6.9 percent to 9.3 percent.4

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