Home > Blog: Currents & Futures > Currents & Futures 02: Privatization

and Futures

From prisons to water, from electricity to Social Security… From California to Colombia to China… privatization is a really bad idea.  It’s selling our future to the highest bidder.  And: holding on to the status quo, strapping oneself to a deck chair on the Titanic, is an equally bad idea!

I think it’s about time for us to come up with some GOOD IDEAS, the visions of a future that works for ALL LIFE.

A few weeks ago, I ran into a friend of mine, a radical activist postal worker here in Portland.  He was telling me about a demonstration to oppose the privatization of the Post Office.  I said to him, “Privatizing the Postal Service is a terrible idea — just about as bad as leaving it as it is!”  (He looked shocked.)

I went on.  “If privatizing is a bad idea, and the status quo is an equallybad idea, who’s working for the GOOD idea?  What does the Postal Service of the future look like?  And how can we make that come about?”

The response to bad “innovation” is notclinging to a status quo that doesn’t work.  We must envision new systems and structures – ones that work for LIFE (not “money”).  As you’ve heard me say a million times: if “money” is your primary value, you will make the wrong decision every time.

Prison Privatization…

I once led a discussion in Southern California on “prison reform” in the face of massive efforts to “privatize” the existing system.  Instead of talking about efforts on how to maintain an abusive, inhumane status quo, I challenged the participants — how could they use the “for-profit” prison system TO THE ADVANTAGE OF THE PRISONERS AND THE COMMUNITY?

[Yes, I know there are those who say that we should get rid of all prisons.  They obviously haven’t met some of my former colleagues from Camden, NJ!  Yes, once we stop criminalizing cultural behavior (like marijuana prohibition), the prison population will dramatically shrink.  But, take off the rose-colored glasses – there are a lot of people out there who do not play well with others…]

Prison is a coercive environment — why not “coerce” them to do things that are GOOD for themselves and their community?  Mandatory yoga, mandatory organic food, mandatory community service, mandatory alternative health care, entrepreneurial classes, mandatory discussion groups, mandatory victim service… instead of walking around a yard aimlessly as “exercise”, how about energy generation, intensive gardening, art classes…  If by definition a “prisoner” is someone whose freedom has been cut off by society, how about cutting off their “freedom” to absorb junk food, mindless television, or mind-numbing boredom?

And: instead of FIGHTING prison privatization, instead of asking somebody else to open such a prison (and “protesting” when they don’t do it right), get the activists to open the “alternative” prison!   Instead of hiring sociopaths and wannabe cops as prison guards, hire people dedicated to nonviolence and trained in alternative dispute resolution.  Most importantly: Dedicate the “profits” to benefit the prisoners, the victims and the community.

Lesson: When faced with an unacceptable status quo or an unacceptable alternative…  CHANGE THE PARADIGM!



11 Comments, RSS

  • Sally Mabelle

    says on:
    March 15, 2012 at 3:41 am

    I love mandatory yoga and organic food! when do we start?
    Inspiring as always, Sharif – thank you 🙂

  • leslie

    says on:
    March 15, 2012 at 4:11 am

    What an interesting idea… to start to create a world that works for all in communities that have few choices to do anything other than what the ‘authorities’ dictate. Why is it that people who have the freedom to choose to create a world that works for all, choose unhealthy and ‘breaker’ mentality?

  • maja

    says on:
    March 15, 2012 at 7:23 am

    I love this idea and fully agree, it is time to change our paradigms ~ in nearly every system. The only problem I see in this solution for prisons is that there may be many people who would then want to go. I’d even consider it! Yoga, alternative health care, organic foods, discussion groups, entreprenurial training…. Sign me up!
    Seriously, I hear where you are going and am onboard. Restorative justice vs penalization would be a great move.

  • Mark Greathouse

    says on:
    March 15, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Being a lucky American who married someone from a former east block country (Czechoslovakia), I understand the importance of being exposed and, yes, even living in another country periodically for many years. That has enabled me to better understand the values others hold dear and to be more willing to take on some of those values to replace some that our culture has implanted in me, sometimes not even known to me. Travel to Kenya this fall will open up even more exposure to still another culture that likely will have values I would be exposed to. So…why not somehow make mandatory as one of the qualifications for leaders in our country some kind of exposure to other cultures instead of just listing their academic qualifications (PhD here, law degree there, etc.)? Are we so convinced that we have all the answers? As I see it, many European countries score much higher on many fronts including the happiness front (have you heard of the Gross National Happiness factor as has been made known regarding Buhtan?). I bet we as a nation score quite low on that scale.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      March 15, 2012 at 11:51 am

      Thanks for your comments!

      I have long been an advocate of mandatory national service (NOT military). A young person would spend one year being of service in some other country, one year being of service to their own. No exemptions, no deferments. No arms, no superior attitudes… just learning and service. Service, as a prerequisite for jobs, school, political office, anything else…

      Perhaps, if we did this, we’d find that we don’t really need that over-blown US military after all…



  • emile

    says on:
    March 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Insofar as the appeal to ‘change the paradigm’ implies ‘something we should do differently’, that will purportedly ‘make things come out better’, it appears to be stuck in the ‘doer-deed’ [rational] paradigm rightfully mocked by Nietzsche.

    Our world is a world of transformation. We participate in the transformation and our actions influence it, but we do not determine it. As McLuhan observed, science and rationality give us the precision know-how to build factories that produce Cadillacs and Cornflakes and much more. We are the authors of thousands of such doer-deed activities that, thanks to science and rationality, achieve precisely what we predicted they would achieve. But if we plunk a Cadillac factory down into a rural environment, it pulls farmhands away from farm-work, it induces the emergence of new roads and rail lines leading in and out of the town, new patterns of people movement and deployment. It leaves mom and pop businesses on the old, now sparsely-travelled roads, without a continuing livelihood. In other words, the more comprehensive understanding of the world dynamic, which lies beyond science and rationality, is ‘transformation’ of our relations with one and other and our living space. McLuhan noted this, and so did Ernst Mach, Henri Poincaré, Friedrich Nietzsche and a few other ‘heretics’ [‘heretics’ relative to the science and rationality obsessed ‘belief system’ of the mainstream of our Western culture dominated global society], but on and on we go, obsessed with the notion that ‘our problems’ derive from ‘what we do’; (a) doing too much of the wrong things, (b) doing too little of the right things … but in all cases assuming that science and rationality are the proper tools for the design and implementation of our deed-doing, which as Nietzsche et al noted, …. is FIKTION!

    Transformation of our relations with one another and the wealth-giving land we live in [the land which produces people] is our primary experience. In participating ‘naturally’ in a web of relations, an ethic is felt wherein one acknowledges that one’s inside-outward asserting actions are in conjugate relation with the outside-inward orchestrating influence of the relational web we are participating in. The ethic is one of sustaining balance and harmony in the web-of-relations; as Frédéric Neyrat says; ‘nurturing the outside-of-self that sources the nurturing of the self inside’. One’s actions are no longer, in this case, ‘one’s own actions’ as in the science and rationality ‘belief system’. The ‘potlatch’ is not an act of pure benevolence on the part of a notional ‘independent individual’ whose deed-doing has generated massively disproportionate wealth for himself. It is in the service of sustaining balance and harmony in the web-of-relations that is otherwise known as Nature.

    A Justice System that protects growing imbalance based on the rational/abstract notion of ‘the independence’ of the individual and/or state and/or corporation’ and condemns and punishes a Jean Valjean or a Robin Hood in their pursuit to restore balance, is central authority administered dysfunction/insanity. Unfortunately, such a system of justice, based on science and rationality and the notional ‘independence’ of the individual and thus the ‘independently-achieved results of the individual’s actions’ seen as his very own doer-deed achievements [whether he monopolizes control of land and enslaves hungry others to till ‘his’ soil for him or etc.], is an institution that has become an ‘untouchable’ foundation in our society. Such a Justice System preserves a denial of the web-of-relations reality, at the same time as it fosters a central authority protected, individual-self-interest driving, imbalance-exacerbating dysfunction. And of course, the alliance of ‘over-achieving doers-of-deeds’ will insist on the ethicalness of such a justice system, that coincidentally!? protects what they claim is ‘rightfully theirs’ to the point that their children can grow up in massive over-abundance while 99 of every 100 hundred children in the world can be starving and put to bed crying of hunger, so long as their brief lives endure.

    So long as we are NOT prepared to acknowledge that we are NOT INDEPENDENT but are instead participants in a transforming web-of-relations, brave words about ‘change’ [in terms of how we are going to do things better and do better things] are no more than window-dressing that obscures the dysfunction-infusing ‘belief system’ of the ‘currently operating edition’ of our globally-dominating Western [science-and-rationality-worshipping] civilization.

    • Sharif

      says on:
      March 16, 2012 at 7:15 pm

      People actually read SHORT posts…



      • emile

        says on:
        March 17, 2012 at 2:21 am

        As Mach points out, rationality is a process that seeks to economize on thought, minimizing what must be reviewed by burying assumptions on top of assumptions as in layers of sediment. the problem is that there is no guarantee that the earliest assumptions were correct. because we typically lack the will to review more than the most recently deposited layers, our inquiry can be like shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. All of the good will in the world will not substitute for misconceiving what is really going on, nor will it save our children from the dysfunction we continue to foist on ourselves.

        sharif, i wouldn’t have posted anything here if i didn’t intend it in support of the positive energies that you excite. but do we all have to behave the same? have we installed a buzzing digital timer on the ‘talking stick’? maybe there are quiet others tuning in who also feel the need to ‘dig a little deeper’.

  • Grace

    says on:
    March 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    I am going with Maja and Sally. What if they had to raise and process all their own food.
    What if they worked for wages but the wages were returned to the community or victims of their crimes until they had made restitution. I do think television should be out as it is a brainwashing tool for insanity. How about a library of documentaries instead.

    Most of all, Sharif, I love your concept of thinking differently.

    Bless You

  • Lakshmi

    says on:
    March 16, 2012 at 1:10 am

    You are truly phenomenal. I love your ability to look at problems as opportunities with thorns on them. This is what parts of some Oregon prisons are doing and I invite you to go and explore or connect with Dave from Dave’s Killer Bread in Milwaukee who is actively working on prison revival. There are a lot of liability issues, as much as I like the idea I’ve heard horror stories about murders in the garden and raping the yoga teacher. Thank you for speaking your truth I look forward to seeing how you further this awesome idea.

    • Narayan deVera

      says on:
      March 17, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Reply to Lakshmi and Sharif from Narayan:
      Three of my spiritual preceptor’s children recognized me as Narayan about fifteen years before Sharif and I met at Tahdi’s program with her IONS group in Los Angeles. A year after that I was sent to prison for political reasons related to one of those victimless issues enumerated in your text.
      This story jumps around like a Tale of Two Cities, so please be patient with your reading. One of the cities is Portland. Two months ago I was in Portland for a meeting with the alumni director at Reed College. There was also a social gathering on Thursday night where I learned that the movie made about my “political efforts” which got me sent to prison was filmed in Portland by the Portland director Gus Van Sant. (Sorry if I spelled that name incorrectly.)
      The movie is “Drug Store Coyboy” but my character, the medical doctor who prescribed Dilaudid to treat heroin addicts, was not a character in the movie. Matt Dillon and the other actors were playing the roles of my patients to show at what great lengths the patients attempted in order to locate and possess the coveted tablets called D’s which were not impregnated with wax to prevent them from being easily injected.
      Fast forward to the time after my arrest in 1977 when I had recently met my Teacher Chiranjiva Roy but was not yet recognized as Narayan by His son Anguman and His two daughters Arundhuti and Lakshmi. The pharmaceutical manufacturer’s of Dilaudid had added a toxic impurity into the newly designed wax tablets so that anyone injecting them would get sick and die from an allergic reaction to the impurity.
      A few years after that I had been sent to prison and quickly released, again for political reasons; but during my few months in prison two important topics developed. One topic was very interesting to discover, since technically it exonerated the efforts I had made previously to treat heroin addicts with Dilaudid. During my three year treatment program, I used a certain dosage for the most serious cases, like that of Janis Joplin’s lover whose “life map” was pictured by the length of all the scars on her arms. She would say, “This scar cost $25,000.00 when we were in Denver; this one was $40,000.00 in San Francisco, etc.”
      For these patients my highest dose was thirty milligrams a day; but, unbeknownst to me because my lawyer never informed me, the California Business and Professions Code authorized a dose to treat heroin addiction of sixty milligrams of Dilaudid a day, clearly an excessive dose. Moreover, shortly after my arrest, incarceration, and release, California legislators rewrote the law to use my previous prescribing levels.
      Now we have finally arrived at the point of my conversation that relates to your text, prison reform. During my two months at the Vacaville prison hospital for the State of California, my spiritual preceptor Chiranjiva Roy came to visit me. It was a really delightful visit that included several other members of the spiritual community from San Francisco. After they left, I returned to reading the only book that was available, The Bible.
      For my usual readings I would open the book at random and read whatever passages were on that particular page. On this occasion the book opened to Matthew Chapter 24, where I found the verses 30 to 40, stating amongst other admonitions, to visit someone in prison or in the hospital, and doing that for anyone would be the same as if it had been done for Jesus. The obvious conclusion was that the purpose for my having to go to prison was to allow my spiritual preceptor the opportunity for the two of us to fulfill the prophecy of Matthew 24:40 together.
      There is much more pertinent history after that which I will defer to a future point in time when Gus and Narayan meet to discuss the filming of a sequel to Drug Store Coyboy. For Sharif and Lakshmi I want to relate to prison reform by suggesting that the most significant aspect of prison reform is to bring to the attention of each and every prisoner that the subliminal purpose for their being in prison is to fulfill exactly the same scriptures.
      Furthermore, I believe that developing a prison visitation program which brings two total strangers together, one who is a prisoner and one who is a visitor, has the potential of becoming a really profitable process wherein the profits can be reinvested to fund other prison reform projects.
      For example, a nominal fee of forty dollars is requested; and the visitor is brought to a random visitation meeting, deposits $5.00 onto the prisoner’s financial book, which acts in two ways, one to motivate the prisoner to accept the visit from a stranger, and two to fulfill the prophecy of providing food, water, and clothing to someone in need. The cost for transportation from and back to the visitor’s home will be about ten dollars, leaving $25.00 profit, from which a few cents is spent to print a really nice certificate indicating that the visitor now deserves to sit at the right hand side of Jesus with all the other lambs.
      Eight people in a van making four trips a week generates more than $3,000.00 in profits month, plus providing two or three new and easy jobs.
      Submitted by Narayan deVera, M.D.

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