MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Before the typewriter and computer came along, the pen used to be the most vital tool to writers. Just think of Tolstoy writing the more-than-1200 page War and Peace with a quill pen. How intimate the relationship must have been between the author and the writing implement that allowed him to express his masterful vision to the world.
The pen, however, has also served as the tool that allows those with wealth and power to accumulate more wealth and power -- often through stealth -- by signing contracts and other legal documents. Thus, the pen and the ink it contains can be the source of rapturous imagination, but also of predatory greed.
I touched upon this theme in a recent fundraising letter for Truthout in which I noted that the legendary folksinger and anti-fascist Woody Guthrie sang: "Some will rob you with a six gun / And some with a fountain pen." The travesty of bureaucratic plunder has only gotten worse in the last 25 years. The men and women robbing us with pens have become more numerous, massively enlarging the amount of their plunder and acquiring more political clout and immunity from accountability. "Steal big" might be the most apt slogan for Wall Street and the global institutions that can bring down the economy with nary a repercussion.
In the sub-prime mortgage crisis that was a key factor in the near implosion of the US economy in 2008, many banks and financial mortgage lenders used a practice called "robo-signing." It is defined by Investopedia as,
An employee of a mortgage servicing company that signs foreclosure documents without reviewing them. Rather than actually reviewing the individual details of each case, robo-signers assume the paperwork to be correct and sign it automatically, like robots.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to add to that definition that many financial firm employees signed mortgages without caring or checking if the details of the mortgage were correct.
Indeed, a 2011 Associated Press article describes how robo-signing was rampant in the years leading up to 2008:
The problem of shoddy mortgage paperwork, which comprises several shortcuts known collectively as "robo-signing," led the nation's largest banks, including Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., and other lenders to temporarily halt foreclosures nationwide in the fall of 2010.
At the time, "robo-signing" was thought to be contained to the affidavits that banks file and use to prove they have the right to seize a home for foreclosure. Companies that process mortgages said they were so overwhelmed with paperwork that they cut corners.
But now, as county officials review years' worth of mortgage paperwork, in some cases combing through one page at a time, they are finding suspect signatures -- either signed with the same name by dozens of different people, improperly notarized or signed without a review of the facts in the paperwork -- on all sorts of mortgage documents, dating back as far back as 1998, The Associated Press has found.
So pens were even used to falsify the signatures of real people by banks in the mammoth fraud in which the banks went largely unpunished except for symbolic fines, while massive numbers of people in the United States lost their homes.
Historically, pens have often been used to write words that inspire us to rise up against oppression, as Percy Bysshe Shelley exhorted in 1832:
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number-
Shake your chains to earth like
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are many -- they are few.
The plutocrats don't need guns to kill off communities based on race and "disposability." They can just do it with pens filled with toxic intention.
Words, however, can still galvanize, can arouse those in economic, cultural, gender and racial subjugation to arise and become "unvanquishable." Technology may change, but the connection of words to the aspirations of the human soul have not become outdated. We must be moved by the words of the heart to act upon the necessity of justice.
Not to be reposted without the permission of Truthout.