The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Comments on recent post



"Creating a nation of people who look to the government for all of their basic needs is actively creating a nation of slaves (I don't use the word lightly, my friend.)"
##
I know you don't, Rory.  I don't think that providing a safety net is the same thing as "creating a nation of people who look to the government for all their basic needs".  But that probably has to do with an attitude about what we are, at the base.  I trust private industry to be good at certain things, and government to be good at others.  But my belief about the most essential aspects of human nature include the opinion that when basic needs are denied, those unfairly denied them have less motivation to obey the social contract.  I remember a guy telling me once (hah hah!) that if we were on a deserted island, and there was only one sandwich left, he would kill and eat me. Fine.  But then later he tried to tell me that people obey laws because of some innate standards which express our spiritual essence. Hmmm.

There are people who will resist evil no matter what pressure you put on them.  Others who will resist good no matter how much kindness they are shown.  And then there is the mass of humanity, who will do what they perceive as being in their best interests. 

I honestly believe, based on countless hours of listening and reading or books, essays, debates, discussions, and what not, that people on the Right tend to believe that the conditions human beings find themselves in are basically indicative of their worth.  While those on the Left tend to believe that the environment created much of the behavior we witness in the world. 

And when I see “clusters” of attitudes that, to me, arise from this basic difference in the way (it seems to me) they are viewing the world, I take it dead seriously—having simply dealt with countless people on both sides of the spectrum who are good and decent—and see the world differently.  At times, very differently.

Government education has its downside, but so would a corporate alternative.  I might well agree that a certain amount of competition would be a good thing, but how much?  A National health plan might well have some disadvantages—but so does no National health plan.  And while there are people on one side who doubtless would like “the government” to carry the entire weight of their lives, on the other side we will also find those with utter contempt for those less fortunate.  Each side has its poison, its broken, diseased emotions.

Personally, I’ve had to deal with a life of hearing people on the Left and Right debating, directly or indirectly, the racial situation in America—specifically the differential between income, education, incarceration, etc.   And the farther “Right” the speaker, the less they seem to acknowledge that there are very real differences in the situation that the descendants of slaves find themselves in, in comparison to any other group in this country.  They seem to have no slightest awareness of things I’ve been forced to be aware of since I was a child.

Anyone who knows me knows that I believe absolutely in personal responsibility…but there is entirely too much self-congratulatory “we made it, if you didn’t there must be something wrong with you” in the human spirit.  Too much readiness to forget advantages that one might have had as a member of a group.   In many cases, it seems equivalent to meeting someone from a third-world country, comparing incomes, and assuming that you’re smarter than them because you earn more money, forgetting that you were born with the fantastic advantage of being American.

There are similar advantages to being   white, heterosexual, male, lean-bodied, tall, smart, etc.  Some of these things you can change, some you cannot. 

I can say nothing about the intent, and the heart, of those who believe that we are in Iraq to help the Iraqi people—as individuals.  I hope that each and every person reading this knows that, as an individual, I want to believe that you are as loving and spiritual as anyone who ever walked this planet.

But as a group, I have to say that when I see what seems to be a differential between the concern for poor, or brown, or disadvantaged people at home, I am less likely to believe that you really care about those foreigners you’ve never met. 

It bothers me that I’ve never heard anyone comment on the apparent discrepancy between the “Let’s fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” and the “We’re doing it for the Iraqis” attitudes.  What? I love you, so I’m going to trigger a gang war in your front yard, knowing that it is absolutely inevitable that many of your children will be slaughtered in the process…because better your children than mine??

In my mind, these two attitudes don’t gel.  Politics makes strange bedfellows, indeed.
##
When people talk about Trickle-Down Economics, to me, they are missing the fact that that can only work in a closed economic system, not in one where money and resources can leave the country.  Oddly, again, it would only make sense if one disbelieved in national boundaries, and the people most in favor of TDE seem to be the least trusting of the United Nations and other efforts to build a single world government.

Those who are most in favor of privatizing governmental programs have tended to be, (in my experience) most likely to be in the group that would most benefit from not having to pay the taxes for public education or medical—usually (but not always) white, upper middle class, educated, and few or no children.  Fine.  It doesn’t bother me at all when people look out for “their” class.  My assumption is that 99% of human beings think that way, and probably about 90% of what I’d consider really, really good and decent people as well.

My problem is when people of class “A” suggest that what is good for them is actually good for class “B” as well—whether or not members of class “B” agree.  Sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, classism of many kinds is disguised by such rhetoric.  “If group X would just (educate themselves, stay in the home, stop using drugs, save their money, whatever) they would be better off…”

Which may be true, but ignores the fact that human beings are hugely shaped by their environment.  Note that the shift from manual labor to office environments, combined with super-sized meals, has created an epidemic of obesity.  Same people. Hard workers.  Want to be healthy, and sexy, and happy. 

And everywhere I look, I see people so fat they waddle, their sex lives in the toilet (based on private conversations with hundreds of them), unhappy with their bodies and no idea what to do.  And  many of these people are SMART, man.  Really, really smart.  And trapped by an ab-reaction to the changing environment.

I cannot have compassion for them, and not look at the poverty, and crime, and education rates, and lack of medical care, and not know that our society can do much better. And I know damned well that the billions spent in Iraq will end up coming out of social programs here in America—it’s already happening.  And considering that so many of those who oppose such programs here are in favor of the war, I have to wonder if some of the Left-wing pundits who say that this was a deliberate tactic to force government to shrink might not have a point after all.  I hope that’s not true, but I fear it might be.
##
So…I’m afraid I want to err on the side of providing services, if we have the ability to do so.  Adventuring in foreign lands in my mind provides less security for our country than providing for our own citizens.  I’m in favor of providing the same basic health and access to education that one would get in a state prison—at the least. After all, all anyone needs do to get that is to break your daughter’s back.

Personally, I’d rather not give a desperate, alienated human being that choice.  I know that, if my son were starving and society had abandoned me, I’ll kill to get his bread.  I KNOW I would.  And I suspect that I’m not alone there.  We flaunt our wealth to the whole world.  We spend stupendous amounts of money overseas, and during Katrina the CANADIAN armed forces seemed to arrive in New Orleans before our own people.  I consider this to be an utter disgrace, a break-down of much of what I love about this country, much of what I have always believed we are.

I believe in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs—when the basic needs are taken care of, only then can a being evolve to higher levels of responsibility, maturity and contribution. 

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