By Daniel Schemer
John Perkins, world renowned author, economist, philanthropist, and activist, returned to the Southcoast on August 8-9 for a couple of free presentations. A popular figure in this region, both nights were packed and had hours of questions from enthusiastic attendees wishing to prolong his words of wisdom and revelatory anecdotes addressing global economics, eco-shamanism, activism, and corporate exploitation of human and natural resources.
“Our office has been very interested in him because he epitomizes all the political, environmental, and spiritual concerns converging on history right now,” said Susan Jennings, Director of the Sustainability Office at UMass Dartmouth, when he spoke at the Unitarian Memorial Church Parish House in Fairhaven on August 8. Mr. Perkins’ relationship with the Sustainability Office has led to the formation of the Perkins Sustainability Initiative, which will entail educational programs on academic and community levels, possibly headquartered at the upcoming Cove St. Sustainability Training Center. “I make a decision based on people and passion. I’ve met with plenty of other universities, but haven’t felt the passion…This looks like the place where it will happen,” said Mr. Perkins.
Author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, The Secret History of the American Empire, and Hoodwinked, John Perkins is an expert on unethical business practices, globalization, U.S. foreign policy and the power of corporations over the rest of the world. Much of this knowledge comes from his past life as an economic hit man, helping banks, corporations, oil companies, and governments gain control of Third World countries and their capital and natural resources through blackmail, political manipulation, deceptive loan-making, and other tools of the trade.
Mr. Perkins came to the Southcoast with his business partner Llyn Roberts, Director of the non-profit Dream Change, dedicated to helping indigenous people and their environments, and an expert in Buddhism, naturopathy, yoga and psychotherapy. After some stretching and yoga meditation exercises initiated by Mrs. Roberts, John Perkins began his talk on global economics and eco-shamanism, which he defined as “Never doing anything that threatens our children and our grandchildren.” A statement that resonated in the crowd was “These are evolutionary times because for the first time in human history every lifeform is threatened by the same crises,” referring to global climate change, overpopulation, species extinction, depletion of natural resources, pollution, violence from desperation, poverty, lack of clean drinking water. He spoke of cultural prophecies and how “Every culture I’ve worked with has them and every one of them says there is a point in time where there’s great potential for transformation.”
Mr. Perkins has spent decades working and learning from various indigenous tribes all over the world. The anchor for this evening’s talks about environmentalism and spiritual and social activism were his youthful years spent in the Peace Corps and his experiences with Shuar Indian tribe of the Amazon Forest. He spoke in great length about getting sick there to the point of near death, getting cured by a Shaman, and becoming part of their tribe. “All my education meant nothing here for these people, but they had a lot to teach me.” He claims he had a revelation from what can be interpreted as a vision quest: “I realized it was my mindset that was making me sick; not food, but my mind.” He goes on to make his main idea: sustainability education is important because we have to change our closed-in mindsets and total separation from each others’ problems and ways of life; these are the roots of our crises. “We must move from the infantile attitude of exploitation to a much more mature recognition that we are fragile species living on a very tiny planet.”
Driving home his main idea, he articulated through comparison how these “primitive people” read nature, see the signals, and follow their insight with the highest regards for nature, yet the wealthiest nations won’t curb their consumption, pollution, and exploitation of resources because of economics and corporate control. “Big corporations call the shots and they are the cause of so many of our problems.” He pointed to consumer responsibility and proclaimed “We encourage corporations by saying we want cheap clothes and cheap oil. We must take responsibility. The corporations are totally dependent on you to buy their goods and services.”
Mr. Perkins’ second night of talks, held in front of a larger crowd at the Ocean Explorium in New Bedford, delved more into politics and corporate control. He expectedly addressed the BP Oil Spill, calling it a wakeup call that we are finally hearing because it is close to home. Despite other peoples and nations around the globe suffering similar or worse devastation over the last several decades, such as Ecuador and Nigeria, BP truly scared us because it was our shore. It is an indicator of how unsustainable our unrelenting pursuit of oil is, and “we need to understand that the whole planet is our shore.” He claimed that despite all the accidental spills intentional dumping of waste oil overseas and spilling oil overseas these companies still make profits, don’t clean up, and pay no income taxes.
Moving onto geopolitics, John Perkins discussed the global epidemic and consequences of predatory capitalism--ultra-Laissez Faire, greed-based, materialistic capitalism with three primary principles: maximizing profits is your only responsibility; deregulate all business; and privatize everything (schools, prisons, hospitals, etc.). “It is a viral disease. The BP oil spill is a symbol of this disease because we see this disgusting, slick horror spreading.” He elaborates on these types of capitalists before proclaiming “our entire planet has been stolen by robber barons.”
He called corporations “huge clouds covering everything,” explaining they have no borders and own every mainstream politician. “With the last presidential election, what we learned is that the president doesn’t have much power.” Delving into conspiracy theory, he shocked some of the crowd when he spoke of physical and character assassinations as strategies; he cited CIA-sponsored assassinations overseas, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. and Robert Kennedy, and Bill Clinton’s character assassinations as examples of what corporations do to silence anti-globalization figures. “Anyone in a position of power knows they’re vulnerable.”
Some solutions Mr. Perkins proposed included the abolishment of corporate personhood, the act of corporations being recognized as having rights the same as natural persons, because corporate money and unlimited spending holds powerful influence over politics and campaign finance. “Corporations must prove that they will serve the public interest.” He addressed women needing to larger roles in politics. “We men need to bring in feminine qualities and encourage women to take leadership roles.” More women in leadership means fresh perspectives, less money spent on military, and more spent on healthcare. In addition, he once again addressed consumer responsibility and the need to express our voices. “We should require corporations that they be committed to a just, beautiful, and sustainable world. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
You can learn more about John Perkins here.