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Political Philosophy for Tian Harter
I didn't get my political philosophy from some college course. It started in my teenage years, when I was a voracious reader. I read at least a few books a week during the period that went from seventh grade until a year or two after I left high school. Things I can't forget from that period include the many Heinlein books I had to hunt down to read, the many war stories I couldn't put down, and the many lessons I learned. One book was The Legislation of Morality, in which the author explained that to some extent the laws of today are a shaping force on the morality of tomorrow, in that many people want to be seen as law abiding citizens and shape their lives around what is legal, and this can develop into what is moral over time.
My twenties were dominated by the need to make money. I got an engineering education, and started working as an electronic board designer right after that. The essence of what is wrong with our system became very clear to me when I was working in the coin operated video game industry. All the management wanted was machines that generated lots of money for nothing. Since the only people that put lots of money in the things were perceived to be teenage guys, and teenage guys respond well to blood and gore, that was all they wanted to put out. At Sente we tried to do a few other things, most notably a coin-op version of Trivial Pursuit, but that kind of game just didn't get the traction in the marketplace to keep the company going. Nowadays I see videogames with guns for user interfaces in bus stops and arcades and I think of them as vampires, sucking juice out of the power grid with their lurid attract modes, just waiting for another sucker to drop his change in the slot and start killing. I'm really sure that reading books would shape that kid's personality in a different way. It might even be cheaper.
The 1991 Gulf War was a wake up call for me. I remember going to marches and seeing lots of signs with statements like "NO BLOOD FOR OIL", and hearing lots of speeches about how awful our human rights abuses over there were. It bothered me a lot that I didn't hear more criticism of our lifestyle, and I wondered what I could do about that. I also remember browsing the ecological books section in bookstore after bookstore after library and realizing there were plenty of books saying we need to change, there just wasn't enough "I get it" on the streets to make it happen. Watching the carnage on TV was another big deal for me. I really wanted to see my tax dollars spent closer to home on less destructive things after that. How to make it happen had to be something political.
During my Sacramento days I learned a lot about things I hadn't seen before. I learned that to be seen as a qualified candidate for Congress by the media you need to raise lots of money. I learned that to raise lots of money you need to make promises. The fact that just about every member of Congress votes the way their donors wants is not a coincidence. I learned that to be seen as a qualified candidate for Congress by the backbone of the community you need to first be a member of the City Council. When I ran for City Council I found out that you are going nowhere on that level if you don't sell out to the developers. It was like the whole government was a vending machine, and if you didn't want to join the herd putting money in the status quo's slot, all you were going to see was the endless string of commercials while they waited for you to go away.
Actually, it wasn't quite as bad as that. Wandering around I met many people that were working for change. Early in '92 somebody gave me a copy of The Emperor's New Clothes, by Jack Harar. That book detailed how the petro-industrial system had trampled over the hemp industry using the leverage it got from mass production and institutional support. Reading that book, I learned that there was a time when many people made their own clothes from hemp fiber they grew in their own back yards. I remember thinking after reading it "If the system trampled other things the way they trampled the hemp industry, there are lots of constituencies for change out there." I think it was the summer of '94 that I saw a Native American Dancer tell a California Communities Against Toxics annual meeting "If you are on the side of Mother Earth, we will be with you." It was like he knew all about the whole toxic story and didn't want to make it any worse. My soul has found considerable nourishment in the spirit of that comment.
During my AOL days I thought a lot about how you map different kinds of ideas onto a widely shared understanding. Consider the old saying "do the right thing and you'll be okay." It's hard to go through a day without saying "OK" at least once. It's hard to use a computer with a modern user interface without clicking an "OK" button at least once. After I thought about that for a while I realized it's okay to use less energy than I do, but you have to work to do it. I really went for the gusto on bringing my energy consumption down after that. I went so far as to give my refrigerator back to the rental company I got it from. I really enjoyed paying the three digit power bills (including the two digits to the right of the decimal point) I had during that period. The political angle was that I spent the rest of the time I was in Orange County, CA bragging about being "reefer free" every chance I got. It was fascinating how many ways that joke worked for me.
Sometimes people ask me why I dwell on the things that happened at AOL so much. It has to do with the weight and value of names. If you think names are just words, please notice that I feel connected to the words "Tian Harter" more than any other words I can think of. To some extent I think associatively. The name America OnLine sounds a lot like "America is on the line". It is certainly true that things like energy prices ripple through our economy with surprising speed, and if there is a competitive advantage in quicker information, we are looking for it. The main focus of the AOL site where I worked was speeding up information downloads, but that touches many things.
Orange County is a very Disneyfied place, and having an AOL office there was a peculiarly appropriate symbol. When the County went bankrupt it was interesting to read the articles where the County Treasurer explained that he was "just doing the same thing as everybody else." I remembered all the staging I'd learned about in Sacramento, the thrust of which was making it look okay to be ridiculously corrupt. Maybe he didn't see what he did wrong, but Orange County was as good a place as any to send a message to the bureaucracy that our steadily growing debt burden couldn't continue indefinitely. I saw the video game industry fall off a cliff when the market for such machines saturated in 1984. I know that I tried to share what I learned about how the management shares its feelings with my coworkers and the other activists I knew there. One thing I figured out was that the climate change issue is a marvelous tool for making that old saying "think globally act locally" relevant. There are karmically interesting parallels between the growing Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and the growing national debt in the USA. It seems to me that they ought to be enough common ground to start building the shared understanding of green politics on.
I came away from Orange County with a strong feeling that our system is a bit too organized. The religion of AOL's management could be boiled down to a belief that "brands win." They would explain this by pointing out that Coke and Pepsi are probably not the best tasting soft drinks, but Coke and Pepsi are the best selling soft drinks. The model for a better paradigm seems to me to be found in Mexican food. It's easy to find a mom and pop Taco place that will sell you a better burrito than you can find at a big chain for a reasonable price. I'd like to see a world where more of us are living independent lives and getting along in healthy communities, but I'm afraid it will take thumbing our noses at a power structure that has spent a lot of time getting entrenched. I just don't know a better way to explain my feelings.
Looking forward, I'd like to see Green Politics develop as part of the per capita value of good citizenship. To really change the way we use energy is going to take profound changes all throughout our system. If green politics is based on developing a more sustainable lifestyle for yourself and your community, then there is win-win for everybody in it. Having learned how to drive a lot less than most of my neighbors, I find that sharing the understanding is as much of a challenge as developing it was. Getting a neighbor to try walking to the farmers market some Sunday morning instead of driving to Safeway is a rare accomplishment in my world. It's the progress that develops out of this kind of small victory where the win-win of Green Politics manifests itself.
If I win the Green Party Primary I will spend the summer and fall badgering California about the need for a more sustainable lifestyle by a larger number of people. I will continue using small contributions, volunteer efforts, and a large percentage of my own time. I'm very certain that this will have a large impact compared anything else I could do. I need your vote and many others to make it happen. Please vote for Tian Harter in the June 6 Green Party Primary.
If I'm elected in November, I'll get an apartment on transit in Washington, DC and live car free for the duration of my incumbency. I'd like to play the role of "super lobbyist" for the peace and social justice communities on Capitol Hill, making sure that my colleagues are aware of the implications of their votes. I suspect that I will have much more impact as a symbol that the two party system has lost its monopoly on power than my legislative agenda is likely to achieve. I'm going to be relentless in my efforts to get more funding for bike lanes, transit, solar power, and education. I'm also going to be working to reduce our funding levels for American military excursions all over mother earth. Impeaching the Bush Administration is another thing I'd like to see happen.
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