In an odd paradox we live in a world which is simultaneously propelled and constrained by belief. More often than not, believing also means not seeing what is actually there. While it is said that “seeing is believing” that isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, what is believed is taken to be true. True believers and other zealots of every stripe “see” the world in terms coinciding with their beliefs, refusing as unnecessary and irrelevant, any facts contradictory to what they believe; cognitive dissonance be damned. This conundrum is true across human experience whether about food, sexuality, education, race, religion, or politics; it’s a very long list, sometimes benign and sometimes dangerously destructive. Consequently this equation factors to what you believe is what you get and, perforce, what the rest of us get as well. This aspect of the human condition makes social progress, among other things, excruciatingly difficult and has been doing damage to social justice for millennia.
Belief systems are powerful and their effect on the social contract is both a phenomenon and a constant. Consider the common clichés in the pledge of allegiance mouthed by nearly everyone as they grow up in the United States, “ … one nation …, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Just what does that mean in light of the social behaviors we witness today and, for that matter, throughout the history of the United States? Is the declaration of justice for all merely a slogan and not a shared belief? Where does belief in justice for all fit into comparing women to pigs and cows or caterpillars? What does an seemingly senile congressman believe when he publicly declares the president “stupid”?
If President Obama were a white Caucasian, would Congressman Grassley of Iowa believe he could make such a remark publicly? In the case of the recent fatal shooting of a young black man, Trayvon Martin, in Florida by a self-ordained vigilante who was up to his ears in beliefs about wardrobe, black people, and his own role in society. would we have had the same scenario if the roles been reversed or would a lynch mob have been quickly formed?
As an example of political belief betrayed, voters in New Mexico, particularly business people, believed the Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez would be pro-New Mexico business. Yet as governor, she vetoed Senate Bill 9, the “Corporate Fair Tax Act”, a truly pro-New Mexico business law. Looking at the roster of donors to Republican political campaigns you will find out-of-state corporations such as Wal-Mart that will now continue to enjoy paying low wages and no taxes on their New Mexico income at the expense of New Mexico businesses. Obviously the belief that their campaign contributions would protect their profits was well founded.
Do you believe, as apparently the majority of US Supreme Court justices claim they do, that corporations are “people”? Are corporations called to jury duty? Of what gender are they? Can a corporation marry a woman or a man? Can corporations be drafted into military service? Do you believe the justices truly believe corporations are people? Of course they don’t, but they did believe they could get away with the outrageous ruling.
US Senate Republicans recently blocked what was called the “Buffett Rule” which would have disallowed loopholes permitting lower tax rates for the wealthy than those imposed on middle and lower class taxpayers. Why would they betray the majority of American taxpayers in such a blatant manner? Because they believe they can get away with it, that’s why. In Michigan, using a questionable and now legally challenged tactic to circumvent hearings on bills before passage, the Republican legislature repealed a law which provided health care for domestic partners. There is obviously an underlying autocratic belief system that emboldens these guys.
My favorite belief canard of late was when the Republican Speaker of the US House of Representatives, sounding a bit like a peeved Marie Antoinette, whined about “class warfare”. It was rather revolting to witness one of the leaders of, arguably, the most corrupt legislative body in the history of civilization complain to the press that the #occupywallstreet demonstrators were engaging in class warfare. Well, of course they are and why not? Class warfare has been going since time immemorial, Mr. Speaker, except it has been working in yours and your sponsors’ favor, which is why you wish the unwashed masses would’t notice and call attention to it. And you did believe you could get away with such a declaration, didn’t you?
When people’s beliefs and experience don’t add up they have nothing left to lose. As with any social revolution in history the populace becomes problematic for the status quo and consequently for the extant social contract. The #occupy activists apparently continue to believe in something resembling the propaganda of equal opportunity and justice for all and refuse to accept being drafted into a society of drones serving the 1%. Young people are refusing the status quo because they perceive they have nothing to lose but are defending their dignity as human beings by objecting, demonstrating, and forcing change. In their perception everything, including the future, is being gobbled up by greedy sponsors and politicians of the 1%. The propaganda of equal opportunity and equal social justice isn’t working because opportunity is perceived to be already owned, patented, and monopolized; reality and the promise don’t add up.
No social contract has ever been viable except when the beliefs and the experience of the society and individuals have been in accord. That’s a belief to live by.
This essay first appeared at: The Light of New Mexico