Do democratic governments still represent the people they claim they were chosen by? How to break the dependency between governments and corporations? Are governments needed altogether or have they turned into ruling elites pursuing their own goals? We talk to mixed martial arts fighter and self-proclaimed anarchist, Jeff Monson.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Our guest today is Jeff Monson, American mixed-martial arts fighter and self-proclaimed anarchist. I want to start with the latest NSA leaks and the fact that everyone found out US was spying on everybody, including their closest allies like Germany, France – 35 countries altogether. What do you think they were looking for there?
Jeff Monson: I think, as much as a general citizen of the US is informed, why wouldn’t the US spy on everyone? It’s a power circle, it’s about economics, where Germany is going to put their money, whether companies are going here or companies are going there. I don’t think it’s about military, like how we have Cold-War thinking – ”they’re going to bomb us or we’re going to bomb them, or where they are putting their submarines.” I think it’s more of economics that is involved into spying.
SS: What happened right after the leaks is that the countries that were spied on came on and said “It’s outrageous” – but that’s about it. Do you think they should do something more, not just say “it’s outrageous” about them being spied on?
JM: I think they are spying as well, I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything like that, I just think these countries are constantly vying for power in certain regions, and they may call the US their friend and economically they all are friends and trading powers, but if you’re looking for an advantage you’re going to take any advantage you can get when you are in the world of capitalism and trying to support your companies.
SS: So you think all sides are being kind of sly?
JM: Yes, of course.
SS:I grew up in America. I think it’s a great country, but do you believe America is exceptional. Do you believe in American exceptionalism in a sense that it can do whatever it wants whenever it wants to whoever it wants?
JM: That’s a very good question. I believe that before now, if you talked about American exceptionalism, people in America would say “No no, we’re not like this, we’re out for freedom and democracy and we have to be involved in certain wars or have military presence in certain areas, because we’re looking out for the world as a whole, not just America.” But now the climate has changed and to say - especially on the Republican side of the sphere… If you don’t say you accept American exceptionalism it is seen as down thing and they are actually criticizing Obama for not having American exceptionalism.
SS: But it was actually President Obama that said this in his speech, and he spoke about American exceptionalism, that where I got it from…
JM: Well, they are criticizing him for not being American enough and not looking out for American interests enough, and thinking globally. Especially Republicans, though not to just bash on them, because, this is kind of universal thing in the US now is that we have this, you know, ‘going back to the 1800s manifest destiny idea’. But now it’s not just North America, it’s the world. Not only do we have to police the world, but…I just saw, I think we have military bases, some sort of bases in a 135 out of 190 UN-registered countries. That’s crazy! Most of these countries are of course our friends, at least economically, so why do we need so many bases worldwide? We’re empire and to say we’re not is not true.
SS: So you’re saying Republicans are keener on emphasizing American exceptionalism and they actually blame Obama for not being American enough. What do you think? Is he American enough?
JM: I believe that to be an American …we have this pride, not just a nationalistic pride, but a worldwide pride. The United States, we are not just a world power, we are THE world power, and what we say goes religiously, economically, morally. We believe that we’re correct and that the world should abide by kind of the rules and standards that we set.
SS: But do you believe the world actually needs a role model – someone who can police it in some sort, or should everyone do their own thing?
JM: My Mom used to say: If you talk the talk you’ve got to walk the walk. Everything that we say, we don’t do. We have an illegal base in Guantanamo; the UN said “don’t invade Iraq” – we invaded Iraq anyway. We do what we want to do, and that’s where American exceptionalism comes into foul play. Is that what we are going to do? The things that make the US better, or make our corporations in a better situation in the world economy, that’s just the way it is. And if that happens to agree with other countries, that’s just icing on the cake. But if it doesn’t, it’s not going to stop us from doing that.
SS: In a recent Washington shutdown, you actually insinuated in your Twitter, you said “I hope people will realize that they don’t need to be governed, they don’t need governments.” What do you make of all this Congress drama?
JM: It’s one more ploy by the Republicans to stop Obamacare. They tried state by state stopping it, they went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court ruled it, it was a version of a tax so the government had a way to tax people, so it was legal. This was the last-gasp effort for the Republicans to stop Obamacare, saying “Hey, if you do this, if you follow our little rule here, then we will allowed the budget to be passed, but if you don’t change Obamacare, then we’re going to stop it.” But because it’s good for the American people…
SS: I understand that you actually advocate affordable healthcare as a basic need for every human being. Obamacare is about that – affordable healthcare, no? Do you like the whole concept of Obamacare?
JM: Obamacare has its good points and bad points. What it was originally intended for has been torn down and shredded, and cut-and-pasted. And what we have now is nothing what I envisioned for healthcare for everybody…
SS: But it’s better than nothing, no?
JM: Yes, it’s better than nothing, but unfortunately what you have is people businesses actually cut in – the hours of employees or changing benefits, or firing people totally so you don’t have to pay for healthcare. So it’s actually hurting people more that it’s been helping. Another thing is physically being required to have health insurance under the administration. The government telling you that “If you don’t have insurance we’re going to find you.” It’s illegal not to have insurance. That is taking away some civil liberties as well.
SS: Do you think that’s why America is so torn about Obamacare? Because ideally you would think that everyone would want to have affordable healthcare?
JM: It’s not really making it affordable. I know people that have to pay more in premiums and the actual amount of healthcare they are receiving is being cut under teaching positions that they have because of the new Obamacare being administered. I think it can be helpful in some way; the idea is great – universal healthcare. We’re the only industrialized country in the world without universal healthcare. The US, the richest country in the world. That doesn’t make any sense.
But they need to change it to something like the VA [Veterans Affairs], where taxes go in, like what they do for the military – you get healthcare and we provide this services, but it’s a non-profit. When you have a for-profit system trying to make money off you being sick – this doesn’t make sense. The sicker you are and the least amount of services they provide to you, the more money they make. But you’re talking about your healthcare, your health, your well-being, and they are trying to provide you with the least amount of services they can and charge you as much as they can for these services – that doesn’t make sense.
SS: I want to talk a little bit about your views in the global sense, because I know that you’re a self-proclaimed anarchist, like we said in the beginning, but your type of anarchy is sort of justice for all. You don’t like governments, you believe that people should govern themselves, but who’d be providing the justice?
JM: People can provide their own justice. People living in groups and communes and togetherness. If you want to be a part of society, there is no requirement to be a part of society other than participating. If you want to participate, then you need to work, you need to abide by the rules that we as a whole agree on: “Hey, we can’t go murder each other, we can’t go taking from each other.” But look at crimes – they estimate over 90 percent of crimes are economically-related anyway, so imagine a society where you take away over 90 percent of the crimes or the need for these crimes. That I can live with, having to make some alterations or changes in order to live with other people, knowing that most of the crimes have been taken away and we’re living together.
SS: When you call it economic crime - in prehistoric times they would be like crimes for survival, fight for survival. They didn’t have money then, but they were fighting for food or to survive. So human nature hasn’t changed – you can take the economic crimes away, but for someone to be actually self-governed it would take a lot of discipline and responsibility. Do you really believe that human beings are ready for that? Do you actually have a historic example where humans were able to govern themselves without a leader?
JM: Midwest Native Americans. They had chiefs, but there was no written law, no government, they had these rules that they decided among themselves, they were really unset and unwritten rules, and to live in their society you followed these rules. The shame you would feel by disrespecting one of rules or someone else’s society was enough to govern their own people. Right now – you’ve been talking about prehistoric times – the most important social instinct we have is working together, because if you tried to take meat for yourself, or say “Hey, I’m going to take this,” or “I’m going to do my own thing, forget about you guys,” you’re going to die in a day or two, because you needed other people in your group to co-op, to watch out for other animals, or other people, or help your hunt. You couldn’t do that on your own. So that cohesiveness, that socialism so-to-speak – I think it’s a stronger instinct than individual greed that many people say.
SS: Socialism – yes, but socialists have the leader. What I’m saying is that it does seem a bit utopian, taken our times of technology and internet, and the amount of opportunities and options that human beings are being offered, that they would actually go back like the Indians and self-govern themselves, because each individual wants something more, something different, so it would be so much more harder for people to self-govern themselves.
JM: Let’s go back to that quote – “Show these people that they need us.” This is the quote from ‘V for Vendetta, when everyone was going crazy and the leader said “Show…” So they talk on the news about all these crises, all the stuff that people need governments otherwise the world’s going to go crazy. But we do all the work. We build the roads, we teach our children, we work in the hospitals, and we do all the physical labor. They just sit there, and say “Do this, do this,” as they collect the money or work with the banks, charging us interest and keeping us in debt.
We do govern ourselves in a sense, we do all the work, and we just are meant to believe that we need them in order to survive, but if they disappear… there of course will be some change of management but you have to change the economic climate, of course, if we’re in a capitalistic world where we’re fighting each other for the basics of live, of course there will be need for someone looking over and saying “You need to do this and you need to do this.” But if you take away capitalism, there’s going to be more freedom for people.
Right now I think it’s not freedom working 40,50,60 hours a week, trying to make ends meet, trying to pay off the bank, trying to pay off the loan, trying to survive, because you’re working for someone else. I think the freedom is choosing what you want to do for live, working this job, having free time with your kids, having a free time for yourself. I’m lucky in what I do, I get more free time and I get to fight, and I get time to spend with my family, but I’m still working for somebody and I know this, they are making profit of me and I feel for these people that are really in a bad situation.
SS: So you’re saying you don’t like conspiracies and then you’re saying that governments are actually governed by corporations – that’s a conspiracy theory by itself…
JM: I really don’t believe so, because the banks really own the US. The Federal Reserve, which is a misnomer because it has nothing to do with ‘Federal’. It’s an institution of private banks owned by elite individuals who loan money to the US for all the federal spending that we do, and we have to pay that back, the citizens have to pay that back with interest. If you took all the American money and put it in a big warehouse, it would only count for 4 or 5 percent of all the American money that exists, because if they loan a billion dollars to the government, then it has to repay that with interest. But where does that interest come from? It doesn’t exist, it’s just a theory.
SS: Wasn’t it always like that? It’s not like it just happened overnight, I mean, even couple centuries ago, obviously governments were financed or lobbied by rich people…
JM: In 1913, after a lot of bank closures and an economic crisis in the US, the Federal Reserve Act was formed and the US has been in prison ever since – we would always be in debt. There’s no way, if we pay back everything we owe, with all our money and resources that we have, we would still be 95-96 percent owing what we still owe right now in debt and it will always be that way unless we change the system.
SS: Talking about debt – the fear of what will happen to the US debt actually holds countries around the world hostage, because they are so heavily dependent on the US currency, on the US dollar. Do you think there could be some sort of opposition to that, to the debt ceiling being raised all the time?
JM: Well, of course, what happens in the US on Wall Street or with our corporations affects the world economy, and vibrates worldwide, but it’s really controlled by the corporations and the banks…
SS: So what can other countries do about that, can they resist the debt ceiling somehow?
JM: Like I said, the US is an empire. We have some trade or some tariffs enacted upon them, or some sort of our corporations going into the countries and vice-versa, we have a free exchange of economic ideals. And until the system is changed, there’s always going to be conflict. People talk about rise and fall of money, about how the currency’s going and or an echoing of the recession now, or how we’re in other recession now, it’s something that…everything will be under control, we just got to ride the wave. But the wave will never be smooth under capitalism, and people need to realize this.
SS: You talk about change of system and, I guess, in way, about beating the corporations. But you are a martial arts fighter – you of all people know what it takes to defeat someone, you need to be equally strong. So if governments are owned by the corporations, obviously the governments can’t defeat the corporations? So who can? Who could stand up to the corporations?
JM: Well, the government is in with the corporations, so they definitely don’t want to overcome now…
SS: So who can actually stand up?
JM: The people. It would take an enormous amount of education, and the internet has actually been fantastic in this sense; look at some of situations we’ve had in Libya or in Egypt – that was really made possible by the internet and people being on the cell phones, and that was even with Occupy Wall Street. So people are becoming more knowledgeable, and they are realizing that they connect with other people, so a businessman from Manhattan is realizing “You know, I have something in common with this farmer in Kansas,” and they can connect see each other’s social context.
It would take an enormous amount of education, but the people could shut this down in one day. If there was a world general strike, the corporations and the banks would be at the mercy of the people, the 99.9 percent of the people, those who do all the labor.
SS: Do you really believe that could happen?
JM: That would take, like I’ve said, an enormous amount of effort. Will that happen in my lifetime? I can only hope. But that’s why we’re talking now and that’s why we’re educating.
SS: Tell me about education and internet access – I had a guest recently on Sophie&Co and he said that the American nation is the best-entertained nation, but the least-educated, the least-informed, nevertheless. Why is that? Is that because of the media, or the people can’t be bothered, or they’re too lazy to know more?
JM: Whoever said this, he had a good point, but they go hand in hand. When you’re entertained by watching – I’m guilty of this as well, when I’m watching football game on TV, I’m not learning about my own situation, like “Why I can’t pay the rent this month” or “Why I can’t do this” or fighting some injustice. We have all these TV reality shows about what the Kardashians are doing, some crazy this, crazy that, and we’re entertained. They like that. Not only the media likes that, the government likes that, the banks like that, because it’s hard to protest when you don’t realize what’s going on, and you’re kind of happy just watching your show and relaxing.
SS: I’m going to read out your quote from Twitter – “We tolerate & often empower those who exploit, subjugate, coerce, oppress, & enslave us yet look upon those asking for a handout in disdain”. Have you thought about human nature? Why is that in that way?
JM: I think, again, that is the culture that we have, when we see someone on the side of the street asking for a dollar or something to get by, to get a piece of bread or something like that, we immediately think, “Well they aren’tworking” or “They are lazy.”
SS: Are you talking about the American culture in particular, because I don’t think every country around world is the same thing…?
JM: I think this is American culture, specifically, we’re talking about the American dream. If you work hard in America you can be the president, you can be a superstar or you can be an owner of the company. You just have to work hard and if you don’t then you’re on the side of the street asking for bread, and people don’t look at you and turn away. But if you work hard, you can have these things. That’s not true.
They did a recent study on industrialized countries and the US was number 16 in social mobility. So the American dream that if you just fight for what you want and work hard enough then you can achieve it – that’s not true. If you grow up in the inner city and you don’t have the resources and can’t get an education when you grow up you’re not prepared for the world, you’re in disadvantage. So no matter how hard you work, if you don’t have these tools and help growing up, you’ll never be able to achieve what you want.
SS: You - because of your profession, you travel a lot around the world - have you noticed how America’s image has changed throughout maybe the past two or three years, in light of Syria, in light of Libya, in light of NSA leaks, have you noticed a shift in this image?
JM: I think under Bush we had a really bad view in the world, and now I think this view has softened a little bit, and people generally think of the US as kind of bloated and lazy, and kind of ‘get what we want’ and the entertainment industrial capital of the world.
SS: But Libya, Syria and NSA leaks – they’ve really happened under Obama.
JM: Yeah, but I think now, under Obama, people think that we’re spying on the world, but we’re not so – even though it’s not true – as militaristic and cutthroat as we once were under Bush, invading countries, we’re talking about when Bush said “We’re going to invade you, because it’s the right thing to do so, and God help us do the right thing and we’re going to do it, whether you like or not.” And under Obama “Eh, we’re going to spy and send some drones here and makes some accidental killings – sorry about that..”
SS: Yes, you could actually see the reaction around Bush – I mean, a lot of people did dislike him, but when he said “We have to invade,” he had no doubt on his face, and everyone was like “OK, let’s do this.” And then, when President Obama is like, “Well, we probably have to bomb Syria,” he did have doubt on his face. So soon enough you have Britain who backs out first and then everyone is like, “No, we shouldn’t do it.” You could just read the doubt on his face, as he was saying that – “America should bomb Syria.”
JM: I actually think Obama has less support among leaders - if we refer to our allies – then I think Obama has less support than Bush did because of those reasons. But support among masses of people? Obama doesn’t have any more support or less support among them, I think it’s just different. They are seeing maybe some weaknesses and kind of ‘dictatorship’ or what you’re going to call it, but in the leadership that he’s showing there seems none.
SS: I know that you love Russia, and I wonder why, because Russia – as great as it is, and I live in this country – has its own bunch of problems with whole scores of issues. Why do you love it so much?
JM: I have a fascination with Russia, and the people. This is where the first modern social revolution took place in 1917. Even Marx didn’t predict it was going to be in Russia, he thought it was a backward Russia, “How’s that going to happen there, it’s going to be in Europe,” in industrialized countries, so it was a great event, and we’ve got a lot of great anarchists that have come from Russia.
SS: So you love Russia because of the great anarchists?
JM: Well that point, but [also] people here treated me very well.You know, when you have a grown man coming off the street, man, and hugging you, and like, you can feel the emotion…
SS: Is that why you want to be a Russian citizen, because I know you’re in the process of getting Russian citizenship?
JM: That’s some of it, and I don’t think you’re the citizen of the country just because you were born in it. I was born in the US, there’s no doubt, but I don’t feel that it was my home, that’s not where my heart is.
SS: Do you not love your country?
JM: What is a country? A country is a piece of land and people. There’s definitely people in the US that I love, there’s a lot of great people there, but I don’t adhere by the governments or the administration or the imperialism at all, and I’m ashamed to say when I travel that I’m a US citizen, because it has so many connotations that go along with that and I don’t agree with what our government is doing, so no, I’m not proud to be US citizen.