The majority report has been violently assailed by some hitherto prominent members of the party. They are entitled to their opinion. They assert that the majority report is ‘treasonable.’ We have not a bit of patience for this charge. To us it seems base and cowardly. Let the capitalist press, and not our own comrades, bring this charge. There are time when it is ‘treasonable’ to be law-abiding and when to be ‘treasonable’ is to be true to revolutionary principles and to the cause of humanity. We are aware without being reminded by our own comrades that the charge of treason may be brought against us by the servile hirelings of Wall Street who can construe the law to fasten the charge of treason upon any undesirable citizen, and that, like Karl Liebknecht, we may be put in jail or have to face a firing squad, but we would rather a thousand times meet such a fate than to be craven and cowardly as to resort to parlor tactics when red hell threatens to engulf us for feat of being deemed ‘treasonable’ by the wolves of Wall Street.
The opponents of the majority report charge it with being pro-German. The charge is untrue. If it were true we would be just as strongly opposed to it as we are now in favor of it. This charge comes with poor grace from those who are themselves pronounced pro-Ally, and this alone sufficiently accounts for their opposition.
We are neither pro-German nor pro-Ally. We are Socialists, international Socialists, and we have no use, not one bit, for capitalist wars.
We have no enemies among the workers of other countries; and no friends among the capitalists of any country; the workers of all countries are our friends and the capitalists of all countries are our enemies.
The class war is our war and our only war. We have no interest in national wars for ruling class conquest and plunder. In all these wars the workers are slaughtered while their masters wax fat in the spoils of conquest.
The time has come for the workers to cease fighting the battle of their masters and to fight their own; to cease being slaughtered like cattle for the profit of the ruling class and to line up in the class struggle regardless of race or nationality for the overthrow of class rule and for the emancipation of their class and humanity.
These are our principles and convictions as international revolutionary Socialists, and if this be treason we plead guilty and stand ready to take the consequences.
The charge has been brought against the majority report that it encourages the Central Powers to wage the present war for the extermination of democracy and for extending the domain of autocracy and Prussianizing the world. Ye gods! And this is from men who have been recognized as leaders in the Socialist movement.
Let me remind these accusers that they are lined up side by side with the vultures of Wall Street without an exception– with Morgan, Rockefeller, Schwab and company; that they are hand in glove with Elihu Root, the deadly enemy of Russian refugees and the arch-foe of the working class and the common people.
Would they have us simple enough to believe for one moment that Wall Street is recruiting an enormous standing army and a navy… to fight for freedom and self-government, for justice and humanity?
These arch-enemies of democracy, these plunderers of the people, these corrupters of the courts, these debauchers of the electorate, these ruthless exploiters of the working class and despoilers of the nation, these red-handed murderers of our comrades at Ludlow, Cabin Creek, Calumet, Everett, and a hundred other places, these are our enemies and the enemies of our people, and it is a farce and a mockery, if not a crime, to attempt to persuade the working class of America that these, their brutal, relentless, uncompromising enemies, are their friends and waging a war in which they have plunged the nation for their freedom and for democracy and self-government.
In their opposition to the majority report these comrades express the fear that it may be adopted because the great majority of comrades do not understand it. Precisely! They have little faith in the intelligence of the lower herd. It is too bad that the great majority are too ignorant to pass intelligent judgment upon a report which declares that the Socialist Party is opposed to having its members slaughtered in capitalist wars; too ignorant to appreciate the fact that Morgan, Rockefeller, and their plutocratic gang are their friends and putting up millions of their stolen dollars to save the poor American workers from Prussian militarism.
We are for the majority report. It states our position in plain terms and we propose to stand by it. Those who believe that it is ‘treasonable’ and fear to be suspected of treason to capitalism, and those who believe that Wall Street is waging war to free the working class and democratize the world may leave the party but the party will live, it will appeal as never before to red-blooded Socialists, and it will bear its revolutionary banner proudly forward to victory.” Eugene Debs, “The Majority Report;” New Times, 1917
Stephen Schlein has collected 47 of Erikson’s papers that were published between 1930 and 1980. None of these papers has ever been published in a book (or if they were, it was in a substantially different form). There are also 13 wonderful portraits drawn by Erikson. The writings are remarkably diverse and clustered thematically, rather than chronologically: Psychoanalysis and Enlightenment; Configurations in Play and Dreams; War Memoranda; Cross-Cultural Observations: The Communal Environment; Thoughts on the Life Cycle; Reflections on Identity, Youth, and Young Adulthood; Portrait Sketches; and Configurations of Human Potential. The works themselves range from speeches Erikson gave when receiving awards or at ceremonial events, lectures at professional and political gatherings, and scholarly publications.
Let me illustrate each section with a brief description of one (or more) of its chapters. In the section on Psychoanalysis and Enlightenment, Schlein publishes Erikson’s tribute to Anna Freud. In a special 1983 issue of the Bulletin of the Hampstead Clinic to honor her after her death, Erikson contributed a piece that recognizes Miss Freud’s unique psychoanalytic contributions, offers a description of the intellectual life of Vienna and of the Freudian circle, and demonstrates the influence of these remarkable people and circumstances on a young and gifted Erikson. This piece is also characteristic of the sweep of his writing in which person, historical and cultural context, and theory are wonderfully interwoven. In the section on Configurations in Play and Dreams, there is a chapter entitled “The Dream Specimen of Psychoanalysis.” In this 1954 piece, we are offered Erikson’s respectful interpretation of perhaps the most famous dream in psychoanalysis, namely, Sigmund Freud’s Irma dream. Erikson approached the dream from his developmental perspective and drew upon Professor Freud’s correspondence with Wilhelm Fliess to understand what was to become the birth of the interpretation of dreams. Freud was 39 and at the edge of a personal, professional, and intellectual crisis. For Erikson, “this dream may, in fact, carry the historical burden of being dreamed in order to be analyzed, and analyzed in order to fulfill a very special fate” (p. 239). From Erikson’s perspective, Freud the revolutionary needed to fulfill what he believed to be his historical destiny; the dream was dreamed not to help him resolve past conflicts per se, but to provide Freud with the material he needed to offer an interpretative view of the unconscious and thereby establish a future for Freud and his creation, psychoanalysis.
The War Memoranda section contains a brief but passionate set of papers and comments offered during World War II, with a particular focus on the German mentality. Although Erikson likens the Nazis to adolescents who have become delinquent, he does not propose treatment as a solution. Rather, he calls for a merciless fight and total victory against the Germans and their propaganda. In the next section, Cross-Cultural Observations, Erikson is the social anthropologist as he demonstrates the interplay among history, environment, family, village, and myth in the construction of meaning and behavior in the Native American Yurok of the coastal Northwest United States and the Sioux of the North Central Plains. Erikson depicts the Sioux as “belligerent nomads.[whose] economic life was dominated by the conviction that `you can’t take it with you’” (p. 446), whereas the Yurok “were peaceful and sedentary.preparing themselves spiritually for the annual miracle of the salmon run” (p. 446). He draws on geographical setting and society to explain their remarkable differences. Erikson’s broadening of our understanding of character and development to include the influence of culture is perhaps one of his most important, and enduring, contributions. Unlike Freud, who cast culture as a set of prohibitions, however civilizing, Erikson depicted culture as a vital and invigorating milieu that is essential for identity and personal fulfillment.
Thoughts on the Life Cycle brings the reader to perhaps the most recognized theoretical aspect of Erikson’s work. His eight stages of development are found in every textbook of psychology in the Western world. Although dispute about the precision of these stages is prevalent today, Erikson’s vision of development throughout our cycle of life enabled psychoanalysis to move beyond Freud’s more fatalistic view that character is established by age 5 and offers every one of us the perennial hope, now well established, that development is continuous (life after Oedipus), with its challenges, failures, and triumphs. Reflections on Identity, Youth, and Young Adulthood provides works from 1945 through 1972. Erikson’s trademark attention to youth and identity is well represented in this section. The chapter on late adolescence reminds clinicians that the turmoil of an adolescent identity crisis should not be confused with psychotic illness or sociopathy and that the capacity for intimacy is reliant on the reasonably successful resolution of this phase and the establishment of a firm identity. For Erikson, opposition was not necessarily “neurotic” but could represent active engagement, even playful interchange, with one’s family and society and a constructive means of identity formation. This section also contains a contribution to the early feminist literature (“On the Potential of Women,” written in 1965).
Portrait Sketches contains eight short pieces and five drawings. These are personal reminiscences and memorials of Erikson’s friends, many of whom have made their own indelible mark on our civilization. Paul Tillich, Peter Blos, Ruth Benedict, and Robert Knight are among the fortunate beneficiaries of Erikson’s literary and artistic portraits. Erikson was a master at recognizing and describing the fortunate collisions of creative individuals and the crises of their respective times: historical greatness occurs when individual solutions are successfully applied universally. The final section, Configurations of Human Potential, is full of optimism, wonder, and concern. “Landing on the Moon,” presented at Harvard University in 1969, lauds mankind’s conquest of space yet cautions that unless “each child born.be brought up to feel at home in his body, mind, and senses.all landings elsewhere remain footless” (p. 746).
This collection of Erikson’s writings is for the advanced student of his work. Those without graduate status as an Erikson scholar will be better rewarded by reading Childhood and Society (1) (remarkably prescient in 1950) and Insight and Responsibility (3); by relishing the psychohistorical biographies Young Man Luther (4) and Gandhi’s Truth (5); or by selecting some of Erikson’s groundbreaking essays on identity and the life cycle.
In reading Erikson today, with our emphasis on quantitative research, we are best reminded that it was his intuitive genius and artistic vision that led other investigators to the frontiers we are now exploring empirically. He was a great observer of human nature and culture, and he was a theory builder. Erik H. Erikson’s gifts as painter, psychologist, analyst, writer, anthropologist, and social philosopher know few equals. He was a brilliant spokesperson for ego psychology, for the concept of identity, and for development throughout the seasons of our lives. We have him to thank for a spirit of optimism that encourages us all to believe that existence is not fated, that it is ours to remake throughout life’s journey.
Erik Erikson (1950, 1963) proposed a psychoanalytic theory of psychosocial development comprising eight stages from infancy to adulthood. During each stage, the person experiences a psychosocial crisis which could have a positive or negative outcome for personality development.
Erikson’s ideas were greatly influenced by Freud, going along with Freud’s (1923) theory regarding the structure and topography of personality. However, whereas Freud was an id psychologist, Erikson was an ego psychologist. He emphasized the role of culture and society and the conflicts that can take place within the ego itself, whereas Freud emphasized the conflict between the id and the superego.
According to Erikson, the ego develops as it successfully resolves crises that are distinctly social in nature. These involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future.
Erikson extends on Freudian thoughts by focusing on the adaptive and creative characteristic of the ego and expanding the notion of the stages of personality development to include the entire lifespan.
Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order, and builds upon each previous stage. This is called the epigenic principle.
The outcome of this ‘maturation timetable’ is a wide and integrated set of life skills and abilities that function together within the autonomous individual. However, instead of focusing on sexual development (like Freud), he was interested in how children socialize and how this affects their sense of self.
Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages, taking in five stages up to the age of 18 years and three further stages beyond, well into adulthood. Erikson suggests that there is still plenty of room for continued growth and development throughout one’s life. Erikson puts a great deal of emphasis on the adolescent period, feeling it was a crucial stage for developing a person’s identity.
Like Freud, Erikson assumes that a crisis occurs at each stage of development. For Erikson (1963), these crises are of a psychosocial nature because they involve psychological needs of the individual (i.e. psycho) conflicting with the needs of society (i.e. social).
According to the theory, successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues. Basic virtues are characteristic strengths which the ego can use to resolve subsequent crises.
Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self. These stages, however, can be resolved successfully at a later time.
1. Trust vs. Mistrust
Is the world a safe place or is it full of unpredictable events and accidents waiting to happen? Erikson’s first psychosocial crisis occurs during the first year or so of life (like Freud’s oral stage of psychosexual development). The crisis is one of trust vs. mistrust.
During this stage, the infant is uncertain about the world in which they live. To resolve these feelings of uncertainty, the infant looks towards their primary caregiver for stability and consistency of care.
If the care the infant receives is consistent, predictable and reliable, they will develop a sense of trust which will carry with them to other relationships, and they will be able to feel secure even when threatened.
Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of hope. By developing a sense of trust, the infant can have hope that as new crises arise, there is a real possibility that other people will be there as a source of support. Failing to acquire the virtue of hope will lead to the development of fear.
For example, if the care has been harsh or inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable, then the infant will develop a sense of mistrust and will not have confidence in the world around them or in their abilities to influence events.
This infant will carry the basic sense of mistrust with them to other relationships. It may result in anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them.
Consistent with Erikson’s views on the importance of trust, research by Bowlby and Ainsworth has outlined how the quality of the early experience of attachment can affect relationships with others in later life.
2. Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt
The child is developing physically and becoming more mobile. Between the ages of 18 months and three, children begin to assert their independence, by walking away from their mother, picking which toy to play with, and making choices about what they like to wear, to eat, etc.
The child is discovering that he or she has many skills and abilities, such as putting on clothes and shoes, playing with toys, etc. Such skills illustrate the child’s growing sense of independence and autonomy. Erikson states it is critical that parents allow their children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging environment which is tolerant of failure.
For example, rather than put on a child’s clothes a supportive parent should have the patience to allow the child to try until they succeed or ask for assistance. So, the parents need to encourage the child to become more independent while at the same time protecting the child so that constant failure is avoided.
A delicate balance is required from the parent. They must try not to do everything for the child, but if the child fails at a particular task they must not criticize the child for failures and accidents (particularly when toilet training). The aim has to be “self control without a loss of self-esteem” (Gross, 1992). Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.
If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they become more confident and secure in their own ability to survive in the world.
If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to feel inadequate in their ability to survive, and may then become overly dependent upon others, lack self-esteem, and feel a sense of shame or doubt in their abilities.
3. Initiative vs. Guilt
Around age three and continuing to age five, children assert themselves more frequently. These are particularly lively, rapid-developing years in a child’s life. According to Bee (1992), it is a “time of vigor of action and of behaviors that the parents may see as aggressive”.
During this period the primary feature involves the child regularly interacting with other children at school. Central to this stage is play, as it provides children with the opportunity to explore their interpersonal skills through initiating activities.
Children begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others. If given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions.
Conversely, if this tendency is squelched, either through criticism or control, children develop a sense of guilt. They may feel like a nuisance to others and will, therefore, remain followers, lacking in self-initiative.
The child takes initiatives which the parents will often try to stop in order to protect the child. The child will often overstep the mark in his forcefulness, and the danger is that the parents will tend to punish the child and restrict his initiatives too much.
It is at this stage that the child will begin to ask many questions as his thirst for knowledge grows. If the parents treat the child’s questions as trivial, a nuisance or embarrassing or other aspects of their behavior as threatening then the child may have feelings of guilt for “being a nuisance”.
Too much guilt can make the child slow to interact with others and may inhibit their creativity. Some guilt is, of course, necessary; otherwise the child would not know how to exercise self control or have a conscience.
A healthy balance between initiative and guilt is important. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of purpose.
4. Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority
Industry versus inferiority is the fourth stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development. The stage occurs during childhood between the ages of five and twelve.
Children are at the stage where they will be learning to read and write, to do sums, to do things on their own. Teachers begin to take an important role in the child’s life as they teach the child specific skills.
It is at this stage that the child’s peer group will gain greater significance and will become a major source of the child’s self-esteem. The child now feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies that are valued by society and begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.
If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals. If this initiative is not encouraged, if it is restricted by parents or teacher, then the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and therefore may not reach his or her potential.
If the child cannot develop the specific skill they feel society is demanding (e.g. being athletic) then they may develop a sense of inferiority. Some failure may be necessary so that the child can develop some modesty. Again, a balance between competence and modesty is necessary. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence.
5. Identity vs. Role Confusion
The fifth stage is identity vs. role confusion, and it occurs during adolescence, from about 12-18 years. During this stage, adolescents search for a sense of self and personal identity, through an intense exploration of personal values, beliefs and goals.
The adolescent mind is essentially a mind or moratorium, a psychosocial stage between childhood and adulthood, and between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult (Erikson, 1963, p. 245)
During adolescence the transition from childhood to adulthood is most important. Children are becoming more independent, and begin to look at the future in terms of career, relationships, families, housing, etc. The individual wants to belong to a society and fit in.
This is a major stage of development where the child has to learn the roles he will occupy as an adult. It is during this stage that the adolescent will re-examine his identity and try to find out exactly who he or she is. Erikson suggests that two identities are involved: the sexual and the occupational.
According to Bee (1992), what should happen at the end of this stage is “a reintegrated sense of self, of what one wants to do or be, and of one’s appropriate sex role”. During this stage the body image of the adolescent changes.
Erikson claims that the adolescent may feel uncomfortable about their body for a while until they can adapt and “grow into” the changes. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of fidelity.
Fidelity involves being able to commit one’s self to others on the basis of accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences.
During this period, they explore possibilities and begin to form their own identity based upon the outcome of their explorations. Failure to establish a sense of identity within society (“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”) can lead to role confusion. Role confusion involves the individual not being sure about themselves or their place in society.
In response to role confusion or identity crisis an adolescent may begin to experiment with different lifestyles (e.g. work, education or political activities). Also pressuring someone into an identity can result in rebellion in the form of establishing a negative identity, and in addition to this feeling of unhappiness.
6. Intimacy vs. Isolation
Occurring in young adulthood (ages 18 to 40 yrs), we begin to share ourselves more intimately with others. We explore relationships leading toward longer-term commitments with someone other than a family member.
Successful completion of this stage can result in happy relationships and a sense of commitment, safety, and care within a relationship. Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love.
7. Generativity vs. Stagnation
During middle adulthood (ages 40 to 65 yrs), we establish our careers, settle down within a relationship, begin our own families and develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture.
We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations.
By failing to achieve these objectives, we become stagnant and feel unproductive. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of care.
8. Ego Integrity vs. Despair
As we grow older (65+ yrs) and become senior citizens, we tend to slow down our productivity and explore life as a retired person. It is during this time that we contemplate our accomplishments and can develop integrity if we see ourselves as leading a successful life.
Erik Erikson believed if we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our past, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair, often leading to depression and hopelessness.
Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of wisdom. Wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness, and also accept death without fear.
Erikson’s theory has good face validity. Many people find that they can relate to his theories about various stages of the life cycle through their own experiences.
However, Erikson is rather vague about the causes of development. What kinds of experiences must people have to successfully resolve various psychosocial conflicts and move from one stage to another? The theory does not have a universal mechanism for crisis resolution.
Indeed, Erikson (1964) acknowledges his theory is more a descriptive overview of human social and emotional development that does not adequately explain how or why this development occurs. For example, Erikson does not explicitly explain how the outcome of one psychosocial stage influences personality at a later stage.
However, Erikson stressed his work was a ‘tool to think with rather than a factual analysis.’ Its purpose then is to provide a framework within which development can be considered rather than testable theory.
One of the strengths of Erikson’s theory is its ability to tie together important psychosocial development across the entire lifespan.
Although support for Erikson’s stages of personality development exists (McAdams, 1999), critics of his theory provide evidence suggesting a lack of discrete stages of personality development .” Lloyd Sederer, A Way of Looking at Things: Selected Papers; a review in American Journal of Psychiatry, 1998 —and Saul McLeod, “Erik Erikson: Psychosocial Stages;” Simply Psychology, a website, 2008
I highly recommend, in considering today’s essay, that readers consider a quick skim of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The story under consideration here presents a ‘case study’ of the sort of obfuscated understanding that so often accompanies conflicts in the U.S. that have their roots in the relations between the privileged and laboring sectors of society.
Generally speaking, and especially for White Americans over the past half-century, ‘middle class’ has been the default descriptor despite its having practically no real content, and, one might add without stretching the realm of the plausible, without much grounding in reality. This lack of class analysis, this frequent rejection of the concept of ‘class’ as applicable to America, has had consistently anomalous and frequently unfortunate results.
The number one misfortune attendant on failing to see implications of class would be losing important struggles that should be winnable. Nowhere that I have seen recently is this more glaringly obvious than in the counties of Western Michigan, which present a very interesting contrast of high-end tourist trade, and its attendant Lexus allure, with ‘rust-belt’ industry, and its accompanying patina of underemployment and decline.
The scenario is pretty simple. On one side sit passionate opponents of a huge wind-powered electricity development off the Eastern shores of Lake Michigan. On the other side, a coalition has formed to promote this project and, its members say, others that the region should develop with all deliberate speed.
And in the middle stand various agencies, institutions, and bureaucracies that grapple with policies and prospects regarding power. For example, the Great Lakes Wind Council came into existence because a conjunction of opportunity and crisis around energy made coherent policy development–around siting, technical standards, and development protocols–critical to effective and efficient engagement of the possibilities of wind.
In its 2009 Report of the Michigan Great Lakes Wind Council (GLOW), the authors summarize the broadly positive view that wind power offers substantial environmental and social benefits to Michigan. They conclude,
“The USDOE estimates that Michigan has the potential to create over 30,000 jobs in wind turbine manufacturing (USDOE 2008). Due to transportation costs and other considerations, wind turbine manufacturers typically invest in manufacturing facilities in areas with local markets. Based on a recent survey, an overwhelming majority (96.8 percent) of Michigan residents believe renewable energy is important to Michiganâ€™s economic recovery (Adelaja 2009).”
This apparent jobs cornucopia occurs in the midst of a long-lasting unemployment rate officially over ten per cent and actually approaching one quarter of the adult population.
Under these circumstance, one might expect that a large operation, orchestrated by an experienced company with an exemplary environmental and community record in Europe, would, in the vernacular, be a ‘shoo-in’ for a ‘fast track’ to testing, licensing, and construction. And one would be dead wrong.
As soon as ‘wind’ of the plans of Scandia Wind came to light, a local group, calling itself the Michigan Protect Our Water, Economy, And Resources (POWER) Coalition mushroomed into a potent fulcrum of opposition to the 1,000 Megawatt project that Scandia proposed. Already, the tale begs for explication. ‘What the heck?’
But the real story lies deeper, as I discovered in a DailyKos diary, ‘recommended’ and highly attended, that updated folks on this story. The author of that diary –a freelance writer and journalist in his own right, amenable to an interview, took me on a subterranean tour of the politics of dollars and dispensation in a windy place full of desperate people. This is the first part of that story.
SOCIAL DIVISION AROUND ENERGY IN WESTERN MICHIGAN
“It sort of started out as a joke, kind of,” says Eric Justian, the creator of the FaceBook page, “West Michigan Will Take the $3 Billion Wind Project!” He laughs frequently at some of the craziness in the tale he tells. “We’ll take it off your hands, no questions asked.”
This was his and some friends’ response to the news that POWER wanted no part of Scandia’s deal in the hostel haven of Pentwater fifty miles North of his native Muskegon. Readers may keep in mind that this has mostly happened like a fast-developing windstorm, mostly taking place during 2010, and everything unfolding over the past year or so.
But interest and support for the idea of Muskegon as a wind power mecca, “just sort of exploded.” He continues, to put Muskegon in perspective, by referring to Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me.”
“Do you remember the scene where he was talking to the guy from Money Magazine? The headline was something like ‘America’s Worst Cities to Live In.’ Well, right below Flint? Number two? There was Muskegon.”
A bad place to live: but also a natural paradise next to a world-class resort town; again, what is going on?
This story about energy and conflict hinges on political economy and human geography, which have made the bedrock of Michigan History one of the biggest industrial economies ever, in the midst of wild and unique natural settings that are as charming as anywhere on earth (at least anywhere that gets a lot of snow and not daily sunshine). Eric offers guidance.
“You’ve got to understand that the four counties in this part of the State, Ottawa in the South, then Muskegon, then Oceana, then Mason on the North are like two totally different environments.” On the Southern end, even with the ‘pretty white collar’ base in Grand Haven, in Ottawa County, “you’ve got a lot of blue collar people, just like in ‘Roger and Me.'”
Just as Flint suffered decimating losses when General Motors closed factory after factory in the city, so too Muskegon almost came to pieces when auto parts and engine-block companies closed or moved offshore. “A lot of the people who work with us,” and he names Amanda Shunta and Dustin, her husband and many others such Mike and Beth Counsel, Mike and Leslie Narramore, Barry and Angie Klegka as “just a few of the people who’ve mounted just a huge collective effort here, a lot of us are really struggling.”
And many more of their friends and family “are just about at the end of their rope, barely making ends meet, getting off their second job, if they’re lucky enough to be working, at three in the morning,” and just about “desperate here.” “And up in Oceana County, it’s actually a little worse,” where he tells me that, except for the coastal communities, “One third of the county is on state assistance and unemployment is almost twenty per cent, and that’s what they admit to.”
That ‘except for the coastal communities’ is the geohistorical hub of this tale. Mason and Oceana Counties are more rural than their Southern cohorts, but plenty of industries have also closed up there, Eric assures me. “The big difference is the lake front places.” One can see that in relation to Pentwater, the first jurisdiction to invite Scandia to exit.
On a non-profit site that promotes the area, the lead story tells of the local NPR outlet’s featuring the region.
“We recorded on location this month â€“ Pentwater Yacht Club. Interviews Featured: Our Village, Yacht Club, Wooden Boat Show, Fishing Charters, Marina, Art & Wine at the Harbor, Shopping, Dining, and, activities, events, and more.”
Unemployed yacht owners are not oxymoronic, but they don’t need to work for the most part.
At a close-to-the-water rental agency, these are the amenities of a middle-to-upper-cost spot:
|“Separate main floor master suite with deck access, lake and channel view, vaulted ceiling with fan, king bed, cable TV, master bath with large custom two head shower is available for an extra $250.00 per week if rented with main house. With the added master suite, the entire house accommodates 10. July-August Up to 8 people max.: $2,750/week , …Linens Needed…; (or) Up to 10 people max.: $3000/week, opening the 4th Master bedroom and bath… .AUGUST 20, 2010 THROUGH FALL RATES HAVE BEEN REDUCED TO: $1,750 for main house/ week, $2,000 main house with MR Bedroom Suite/week.”|
Anybody with the good fortune to have stayed in a really nice house in a truly gorgeous place on our planet would agree, “Now that sounds nice!” And the point of this article is not to degrade the pleasures of the leisure class. But can we ignore the context that this establishes for the rest of this story?
- Leave aside the disparities between unemployed workers by the tens of thousands in the immediate vicinity who make less than half per month what well-heeled renters pay for a week’s vacation.
- Pay no attention to the mother who can’t get her eight year old a backpack because she has no extra cash and no credit, while folks party on their yachts.
- Don’t even worry that people kill themselves, or exist in a state of semi-permanent depression next door to some of the wealthiest real estate on our fair orb.
Perhaps juxtapositions such as these, from a ‘biblical’ perspective or otherwise, just go to show that “the poor are always with us.” I don’t buy this line of reasoning, but that’s a matter of morality, arguably not of equitable social relations, and not obviously of intelligent energy choices.
So the problem is not how sad the contrast is, how tragic the socioeconomic conditions, or anything like that, although sadness and tragedy do lurk within the heart of this situation. One aspect of the true issue of Western Michigan’s quandary’s over wind is that the defense of property rights receive such automatic precedence over the expression of social rights, or put another way, that the elevation of the perquisites of wealth above the unrelenting majority’s desire for surcease from want occurs so naturally and commonly.
Eric provides an example “from about 15 years ago,” when “Wal-Mart wanted to come to a small Muskegon community; they bought up just about every house in this one neighborhood, but a few people held out. They didn’t want to leave or they felt they deserved a better price. Eventually, the city council condemned every unsold house and bought it for a fraction of its value.”
This is the contrast that’s important here. Eric summed it up:
“It’s the difference between condemnation of poor people’s homes, to build a Walmart, and another community’s rights, on other hand, of people lots of times who don’t even live here and who are fabulously rich, to protest wind turbines six miles out in Lake Michigan.”
We did not speak for at least thirty seconds. We both had to process it.
“This speaks volumes about our values as a society–the poor get condemned and plowed under for development; if they’re wealthy, disturbing them even slightly is cause for federally funded studies.”
Moreover, as Eric makes clear, “Politicians are in the thick of this.” An honest-to-God desecration of democracy, in favor of dollars, has occurred and continues to occur. Perhaps Pentwater itself, despite the fact that the folks of Michigan dearly longed for ‘this big old wind farm, might conceivably have mustered a majority against Scandia and its project.
But everywhere else the story was lopsided in favor of this renewable energy source of power and jobs.
“Hell, even at Geoff Hansen’s straight-out GOP town meeting, the vote was 62-38 in favor of Scandia.” Down at the lake front corner of Muskegon and Ottawa Counties, “Representative Mary Valentine found at least two-to-one supporting the wind farm.” Yet, Eric continues, “they’re voting as if the majority were precisely the opposite.”
A corruption of politics in favor of the rich has taken place and continues to take place. In Mason County, the commissioners rejected a proposal by Scandia that Eric Justian labeled “naive,” inasmuch as it believed that majorities would rule in the U.S. if the wealthy opposed them. Then, just two weeks ago, Oceana also “handed them their a***s and said good bye.”
Now he worries that Scandia will just pack up and quit the scene, though he is hopeful that Blue Water Wind will take a different political approach and prevail: all of this in the midst of 97% of the people of Michigan strongly in favor of renewable energy. They think it critical to economic survival, while absentee owners want to preserve views, possibly impacted birds and bats, and hope not to face the prospect of any of the lubricants that wind platforms’ might leak into the lake.
Part Two of this story will consider such matters, and several others, more carefully.
However, a final point is important, to me anyway, about the sociopolitical aspects of this incredible little tale. Eric describes a ‘wild scene’ at a recent public meeting about the Wind Farm. In actuality, as he makes clear, derision and arrogance have characterized the attitudes of the well-to-do, and they continue to characterize that attitude.
The “homeowner segment” at the meeting “used vicious ‘shout-down’ tactics against Deborah Chase” who when she stood to speak and said her residence was the working class village of Walkerville, “they were intimidating jerks,” mean and aggressive, “clearly ma(king) fun of where she lived,” as if she came from a zoo or a sty. “One very outspoken opponent, one of the organizers I think, even apologized for this” brutal rudeness.
“They were like a bunch of T-baggers at a Sarah Palin rally tearing down Obama,” only the objects of their scorn were the human beings who actually resided in the communities adjacent to the lake, who lived their day in and day out. I’m not sure what this disrespect means. I’m not certain how to take such cavalier disregard. But I’m pretty sure that, in the final analysis, ‘what goes around comes around.’
Eric takes a long view about this whole situation. When I ask him, “Why aren’t people more pissed off?” after a time, I ask. “Can you hear me?” And he sighs. “We’re going to win eventually,” he guarantees it. “They can’t stand against progress. Nothing that they say against it really adds up.” And he laughs at how late the hour has gotten. “But I promise you; they cannot stop this thing forever.”
This sort of idea is also part of the technical investigation that will continue in the next installment. But today’s story, though it is about a potential energy victory, a beneficial development in all manner of ways for the people and the planet we all inhabit together, has to have as a central message what is obvious in almost every aspect of what went down in Western Michigan over the past ten months or so.
The United States of America is riven by class privilege and class brutality. Again and again and again, the wealthy have their way–they have their way with the politicians, they have their way (one way or another) with the policies, and they have their way with the poor. Somehow or other, this unconscionable lopsidedness, this destruction of the reality of majority rule with the forms of democracy, has to shift.
This seemingly, in the grand scheme of things, small story has an outside resonance, a bellwether’s ring of accurate depiction of the central tendency. A balancing must come to pass, or inefficient energy, and climate change, will be the least of our difficulties.
Only once during out interview, which covered a lot of controversy and tension in some detail, does the affable reporter use a bad word. I ask him, ‘Eric, where have the Unions been in all of this?’ and, without a second’s hesitation, he just blurts out, “F*** if I know.”
The leadership of the working class is failing. As Eric Justian put the matter, ‘We’ve got to find a way to make our majority count,’ or to make them count our majority. Howard Zinn would agree. The next article about this situation, after I’ve heard back, hopefully, from the call that I put in to the POWER Coalition, will delve other central elements of this yarn:
- an examination of the role of social media in a troubled skein of conflict;
- a deep look at how environmental and technical and business questions play out in chaotic maelstroms of this sort;
- a dissection of the way that money and public relations distort the sense of size and majority without having to buy a single vote;
- an exploration of the possibilities for a ‘people’s media’ to have an important part to play in making energy democracy and majority rule generally more likely, compared to how corporate coverage impacts things;
- and, finally, looking at the loss of leadership as aging activists fade or turn to the rich, and young people are stretched to their utter limit.
And what would Howard Zinn say to all of this?
Perhaps something like this quotation from Nate Shaw would come to mind, from All God’s Dangers. This passage was during the depression, another time of cataclysm and transitions in science, technology, and society, a time in which established patterns and business-as-usual leadership failed.
“O, it’s plain as your hand. The poor white man and the poor black man is sittin in the same saddle today-big dudes done branched em off that way. The control of a man, the controllin power, is in the hands of the rich man, . .. That class is standin together, and the poor white man is out there (against) the colored list-I’ve caught that: ways and actions a heap of times speaks louder than words.”
A big class of people have to stand up. A lot more than wind energy depends on it.” Jim Hickey, “Crossing Energy’s Social Divide: Class and Power and Justice in Contemporary America;” a wind power article in JustMeans, 2010