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The Social Consequences of Injustice

 

Ecologist Garrett Hardin’s 1968 essay, “Tragedy of the Commons” inspired a stream of writing by all manner of scholars particularly economists. The essence of Hardin’s thesis is actually a common sense observation that limited resources can tragically be depleted or destroyed when thoughtless unlimited use is made of them. When people disregard the consequences of their use and abuse of limited resources those actions invariably affect others who need or use those same goods. In other words, when people behave selfishly it is essentially anti-social.

 

Selfish behavior is a moral issue contrary to what two well known University of Chicago economists, S.D. Levitt and S.J. Dunbar claim. Their blunt appraisal is, “.. economics simply doesn’t traffic in morality.”; in their opinion it seems, any resulting inequality from over use of the commons has no moral dimension, an attitude which, in one form or another, seems to have become pervasive in our society and around the world. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Nestle, the largest food producing and water bottling company in the world, recently stated: “Human beings have no right to water.” If people want water they must buy it – preferably from him, of course. I suppose it is only fair to ask if is air next? We are living, it seems, in a time of unprecedented venality, an era of social behavior separated from moral consideration and consequence.

 

I believe the commons and the social contract are interchangeable. In a just society there is a relationship between the equitable distribution of wealth, justice, and economic opportunity as essential goods of the commons. Truthfulness and belief are also vital parts of that equation. A healthy functioning social contract cannot be a Potemkin Village of lies, injustice, and public relations flack. The two most corrosive recent Supreme Court decisions, the 2000 coronation of George W. Bush and granting corporations human status in 2010 were poisonous to the commons, to the social contract. As a result of the latter we have a Congress controlled by business lobbyists and not by any measure a Congress of the people. A society in which the wealth of six people in one family is equal to the entire bottom 30% of Americans is not a healthy society. A “Let them eat cake.” mind set didn’t work for Marie Antoinette; ultimately it isn’t going to work for today’s 1% either. Something is going to have to give either as a result of increased political consciousness or other less civil means. If the history of civilization is any guide, a tipping point will be reached sooner or later.

 

What demagogues of all stripes fail to remember is that there has always been a price to be paid when a critical mass of disbelief and inequality is reached. Lies have lasting effect and are inevitably found out either by disclosure or by turn of events. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently stated that voting rights are “entitlements”. Either he is ignorant of the Constitution, he doesn’t grasp the Constitution, or he is a bald face liar. There are no further possibilities and lying seems the most likely based on his presumption of stupidity on the part of the rest of us, or, in other words, his obvious arrogance. “The most irreducibly bad thing about lies is that they contrive to interfere with, and impair, our natural effort to apprehend the real state of affairs.” is how Harry G. Frankfurt puts it in his charming and insightful book, “On Truth”. Lies from the Supreme Court bench indisputably distort the “real state of affairs”.

 

What is the “real” state of affairs in this case? Here is the definitive statement of voting rights which Scalia and John Roberts want us to believe they don’t get:

15TH AMENDMENT TO THE U.S. CONSTITUTION

[Ratified February 3, 1870]

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The Massachusetts Secretary of State, William Galvin, in response to Roberts’ assertion during the trial that Massachusetts had the worst white to black voter ratio turnout in the U.S. gets to the heart of this discussion: “I’m disturbed, first of all, that he is distorting information. You would expect better conduct from the chief justice of the United States. I’m a lawyer, he’s a lawyer, lawyers are not supposed to provide disinformation in the course of a case. It’s supposed to be based on truth.”

 

Of course you would have to be new to the planet of you thought lawyers have a universal commitment to the truth. You might notice in a court proceeding that everyone must take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Everyone that is except the lawyers. I once questioned an officer of the Lawyers Disciplinary Board, a group that is charged with overseeing the conduct of lawyers, about this anomaly. I was told that lawyers may “interpret” in their speech to a jury. This assertion flies in the face of what is called the “Duty of Candor Before the Tribunal” to which all lawyers are required to adhere. Nowhere in the literature of the American Bar Association will you find an exception to this duty. In practice however lying is sanctioned in a Kafka-worthy “interpretation” by regulators. If truth is not the absolute coin of the realm in court where could it ever be? How could there be justice?

 

I agree with the social philosopher, Philippa Foot, who said, “… it makes sense to speak of those who are lovers of justice – as of those who are lovers of truth.” we must then conclude that the lawyering business has a questionable relationship with both truth and justice if their standard for truth is a moveable feast, fabrication in the guise of “interpretation” to suit their needs. As Mr. Galvin cast it, “… lawyers are not supposed to provide disinformation in the course of a case. It’s supposed to be based on truth.” I once conducted a simple survey of lawyers asking the question: “Is your duty before the court to seek justice or to win?” I never did get a straight answer. If the motto is “winning is everything” the corollary must inevitably be, “Society and Justice be damned.” It follows from this that not all people are equal before the law but rather it depends upon who has the lawyer most willing to “interpret” the “facts” in a manner favorable to the client.

 

A society cannot long exist without truth which is the bedrock of justice, it cannot long live a lie. In the final analysis the Social Contract is both a perception and a belief. When the substance of life in a society as it is lived is perceived to fail our natural expectations of truth and justice, our belief in the social contract is betrayed and cynicism follows; with that the commitment to the commons is destroyed. When there is no social contract it becomes everyone for themselves with all which that entails.

 

 

 

ABOUT JUSTICE

John Dewey wrote, “We cannot seek or attain health, wealth, learning, Justice, or kindness in general. Action is always specific, concrete, unique.”

Alexander Saxton wrote, “To move from the particular to the general is an exercise in humility because it forces one to recognize the particulars – even those privileged details one’s own individual existence – remain meaningless and essentially useless to other people unless they can be shown to typify, or illuminate larger streams of human experience.”

For a word that has been chiseled into stone monuments for centuries we could reasonably hope society would by now have the practice and understanding of Justice down cold. However, more often than not, as Justice is experienced personally but spoken of generally we struggle to find understanding in the “larger stream”. Justice is variously defined as being fair and being fair defined as being just and just as being fair and so on. For centuries thinkers and doers have tried to grasp and define Justice in all of its manifestations concretely. This philosophic and semantic project has haunted virtually all societies throughout history. Almost every philosopher from Plato’s argument via Socrates about just persons and a just state to Aristotle and onwards across centuries to John Dewey and Alasdair MacIntyre, Amartya Sen, John Rawls and Alexander Saxton among recent others, has given us a take on Justice.

If, over so many centuries, so many brilliant people have struggled for so long and so hard to arrive at a definitive exegesis of Justice what they have been seeking may not exist, at least not in a form they were hoping for. Justice in all its manifestations seems to be like beauty, living in the hearts and minds of the observers be they beneficiaries or victims. Was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki just? Only in the eyes of the perpetrators. It seems to me there is no such thing as Justice except as an everlasting quest for justification. In that case Justice will remain always a fluid and beautiful idea, an aspiration at that, but in the end there will be no absolute, it will always be, “ … specific, concrete, unique” to the moment.

First and foremost it is necessary, I believe, to acknowledge that Justice is a construct – a moveable definition which, not unlike a sheen of oil on water, changes century to century, culture to culture, moment to moment, observer to observer. Like belief systems, Justice is fluid, always in motion. There exists no concrete, immutable, definition of Justice – no demonstration you can point to, take to the bank, or teach the young. What is Justice for you can be injustice to your neighbors. It remains, however, the most appealing and illusive of ideas and much like quick-silver, “Liberty and Justice for all … ” slips away at the touch.

A few quick police pistol shots and an unarmed 12 year old named Tamir Rice received an instant irreversible summary Justice not found in a court of law but in a public park. By late 2015, police in the US had summarily shot and executed 1103 “suspects” of whom 161 were unarmed. In the US, police summarily execute people, generally people of color, nearly on a daily basis. Once dead the “suspects” no longer have access to any semblance of Justice. Why then do we pretend Justice for all exists? Because we must. Like Equality, Justice is an essential myth an illusion without which our social contract would be impossible .

Injustice is not only the taking of lives but the diminishing of lives as well given an economic system that systematically concentrates wealth to a very few and harms many. Throughout the United States economic injustice manifests concretely in hunger, access to medical care, education, legal representation, and opportunity often determined by the color of one’s skin. Like any manifestation of inequality, lack of Economic Justice is corrosive disease and eats at the heart and soul of society. In Louisianna the Governor recently removed 31,000 jobless people from receiving food stamps, in Wisconsin that Governor removed 15,000, in Indiana 50,000,  and in Maine 40,000. Whose definition of Economic Justice is this?  Whose definition of morality, humanity, and common sense? Adults, and even more, children who are not well fed and well housed cannot possibly thrive and succeed are thus condemned to a diminished existence and, as a consequence, with what kind of commitment to a social contract? 

In courts of law Justice has fast become the last thing sought – winning is the goal. Prosecutors, with a firm thumb on the scales of Justice, are especially fond of, ex parte proceedings in police shooting cases where no contrary testimony is permitted. I once surveyed a fairly disparate group of lawyers with the question: “At trial what is most important to you – winning or Justice?” Needless to say, I suppose, winning was the winner. So much for Justice. How is this? Well, if you are a lawyer who works for insurance companies, for example, you make your living and your reputation defeating liability claims. It’s a no-brainer. Also, keep in mind that at trial the only participants who do not swear to tell the truth are the lawyers. It’s all about winning not about Truth and certainly not about Justice. It’s about profit.

We live in a time when sociopathy permeates society. The question is not how much worse can it get but how much longer can it go on without a total breakdown of civility and and order? There are, after all, consequences. Alasdair MacIntyre, in After Virtue, put it this way: In a society where there is no longer a shared conception of the community’s  good for man, there can no longer either be any substantial concept of what it is to contribute more or less to the achievement of that good.”  The possibility of a civil society is foreclosed.

Tipping Point?

“The long and the short of it is, there is no important idea that stupidity does not know how to make use of, for it can move in all directions and is able to wear all the garments of truth. Truth, on the other hand, has only one garden and one road and is always at a disadvantage.” (The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil)

In the course of human events, the evolving and relentless curriculum of all societies, countries, indeed every form of human organization there inevitably comes to pass what can be called a tipping point. A moment in time when previous understandings no longer apply, are no longer valid or abided by. Things change, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. This  dynamic exists in all relationships without exception. Relationships are constantly being made and broken, alliances formed, reformed, or destroyed, joined and separated – conjunto today separado tomorrow. This has always been the normal state of human affairs. We understand that relationships are at times defined by convenience, mutual needs under particular circumstances which, when those circumstances change, so too the relationships.

Social contracts defining political relationships such as democracy are based on trust that the foundational definitions will hold over time and circumstances and for all members equally. When beliefs fail to reflect  experience trust is inevitably displaced by disillusionment and disappointment which inevitably segues into resentment and anger. No amount of rhetoric or sermonizing can assuage the indignity of inequality – social, economic, or political. When the foundational conditions defining a society, country, or international agreement fail, become inconsistent, or are regularly violated the required trust, the “glue” dissolves taking the contract with it. The social history of the United States speaks to this truth since its inception failing to deliver its promises of social equality never mind economic.

An analysis  of federal policy initiatives dating from 1981 to 2002 by researchers at Princeton concluded, “ … economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” The denial and destruction of a government of, by, and for the people, is the antithesis of a democratic society paving a path to disillusionment, disengagement, and ultimately – dissolution. There are all manner of inequalities some of which society can redress and some we cannot. It is inarguable that civilized humane people must correct those inequalities that can be, to provide the economic and social capital to equalize the inequalities of opportunity and access.  It is not that society lacks the means and methods but rather it lacks the will and motivation but, there is more to it than that even. It’s a failure to believe in or to understand what it means to live in a democracy.

More and more people in the US realize they don’t live in a participatory democracy as they were led to believe and where this realization will take us is unknowable. Obviously the many Texans, supported by elected officials, who were convinced the federal government was preparing to “take over” that state, impose martial law, and confine them in disused Walmart stores have reached some kind of tipping point. For these delusory Texans the only remaining question is will there be greeters in blue vests.

    The ability to live at high levels of cognitive dissonance such as to believe the US government is plotting to lock you up in an empty Walmart store illustrates the problem – no contradiction of evidence, values, or beliefs is to great to ignore; no reassurance to the contrary matters accompanied by pandering politicians exploiting the hysteria.The consistent thread is dispensing with the idea of truth. Where there is no social or economic opportunity, and no justice there is no believable truth.  If black people can be shot or beaten by police with impunity on any pretext no amount of political suasion will protect a belief in truth or justice in that community. Where there is no justice there is no possibility of a coherent social contract. Nowhere in such a desperate belief system can truth live comfortably and securely. The denial and negation of truth has many expressions including social and economic inequality, mysogny, racism, and eventually the reality of a diminished, if not extinguished, democracy.

Economic justice is constrained by neoliberal capitalism, an amoral economic system become a quasi-religious belief system not to be questioned. One can fairly ask as now one must, how is it possible for a polity to maintain a non-democratic economic system approaching religious status conflated with a barely functioning social contract? This is the stuff of cognitive dissonance.

But, what is all this about, really?  It’s about indignity; not simply expressed as inequality of material things but the inequality of shared human experience which underlies racism, mysogny, greed, and every other social aberration that objectifies others. It is about a growing lack of simple compassion as illustrated by thirty-three cities across the US which have either already banned or are considering banning giving food to homeless people going so far as to threaten jail time for doing so. If every person of color were to disappear from the United States by tomorrow morning a new replacement group would be found by nightfall. It’s a curse on society and that, my friends, is the sad truth and how far can it go without some serious course corrections is more in question than the inevitability of that necessity. We don’t know where the tipping point is – but, there is one, there always is.

What’s In A Name

There is in our society a long tradition of calling certain things by names other than what they are, deliberately offsetting their true function and nature. It’s a form of perception control utilized by the government to keep awareness and protest muted. A good example is calling our many wars around the world names like “Peacekeeping Missions”, that being easier to sell than yet another war. “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan has yet to produce freedom but the war itself has endured many painful and costly years with no end in sight. Historically a little verbal sugar has helped make our unending global military actions easier to swallow. Not too long ago, “Freedom Fries” was one of those gems used to shame France for not wanting to join us in Iraq. During World War 1 we renamed sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” and frankfurters became “hot dogs”. These defiant lexical gestures no doubt sent shudders through our adversaries.

I have always been discomfited by the use of euphemisms to avoid truth. One galling current example is “School Resource Officer”, a.k.a. armed uniformed police officers stationed in a public school to monitor students. According to my dictionary “resource” means:… a source or supply from which benefit is produced.” So, what benefit is produced when cops in schools are referred to as “resources”? Warm fuzzies perhaps?

One morbid possibility that comes to mind is this being an effective way to desensitize kids to the idea of being monitored, watched, and surveilled in the course of their daily lives. Eventually, when these kids grow up they’ll be entirely comfortable knowing they are always being watched and will, no doubt, act accordingly. That may well be the objective. Paranoia over Big Brother always watching will sublimate into bland acceptance and approved behavior.

I’m sure the NSA and other government spy agencies would appreciate our not giving thought to having all of our phone calls and emails recorded and the spending of billions of dollars to store those tidbits out there in Bluffdale, Utah. General Hayden, the NSA chief, would rather Edward Snowden had not alerted us to the fact that we are all under constant surveillance – being watched and listened to for purposes of national security day in and day out – whatever ”security” means in that context and whatever “democracy” means to the General.

Utilizing innocuous euphemisms to mask onerous intent and purpose does not serve us well as a society, it distorts the truth, it is dangerous, it puts people to sleep. Does a little sugar actually help medicine go down?  Consider. Total “security” is the medicine, constant and total surveillance which itself fuels pervasive paranoia about ISIS and other organizations with designs to blow us to smithereens. The illusion that destroying the American social contract and the protections of the Constitution make us “safe” – the sugar.  How sweet is that?

Police officers in place of effective teachers and administrators give schools the ambiance of prison camps. Get used to it kids, this is the brave new world of constant surveillance you are inhabiting. Cameras watch and record you wherever you go. Every phone call you make, cell or otherwise, is known and recorded. Your computer keystrokes can be logged and all the places you visit online noted. The phrase “land of the free and home of the brave” is fast becoming, at best, ironic, itself another  euphemism, for constant surveillance and social control.  And you had better like it – otherwise someone watching somewhere is going to notice!

Where are we going with this not brave but certainly “new”, world?

Herding Turtles

The phrase originates from a conversation that occurred directly after a scientist’s speech in which he described how the earth revolves around the sun.

At the end of the speech an elderly lady stood up and said,

“What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.”

The scientist then asked, “What is the tortoise standing on?”

“You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

This anecdote was cited by Stephen Hawking, in his book “A Brief History of Time.”

A belief system is turtles all the way down. Why talk about “Belief Systems and the Social Contract”? Because, before we are anything else we are a species of believing social animals. Beliefs are demonstrably more powerful and durable than knowledge. History is a litany of beliefs triumphing over facts. It is a failing of intellect that has led to wars, depredation, and widespread social discontent throughout human history.  Once past survival, we are at root, meaning-seeking organisms and we go to great lengths to rationalize whatever beliefs we can adduce to reinforce those meanings.

It can be said that beliefs are the actual substance of the social contract; to not believe is to not participate. Beliefs inform the social contract – they saturate it with ideas, fantasies, and ideals that often do not necessarily reflect reality or, for that matter, possibility. There is hay to be made in this by politicians and others seeking to influence the least capable members of a society to achieve approval for policies that are not of ultimate benefit to them.

A belief system is a set of mutually supportive notions, a psychological state which holds the beliefs to be true even in the face of contradiction. The beliefs of such systems can be religious, philosophical, ideological. The philosopher Jonathan Glover says beliefs are always a combination of these and that such systems are difficult to revise. Glover suggests that beliefs have to be considered holistically in that no belief exists in isolation in the mind of the believer – beliefs are social and psychological in nature. It can also be said that beliefs are often an existential black hole into which go facts never to be heard from again. Facts quite often are regarded as irrelevant if they do not accord with beliefs – racial stereotypes being an example of this phenomenon. Truth becomes, at bottom, a belief system you either believe in or not.

Two of the most influential thinkers on the subject, Alfred Adler and Sigmund Freud, differed on what underlies belief systems. Adler’s social/psychological theories stood against Freud’s. Whereas Freud claimed sexuality lay at the base of personality, Adler said power was the real aphrodisiac. Actually they were both right. Power attracts sex as a magnet does iron but it does something else as well – it creates fear and, too often, submission. There is the belief system called Capitalism which would destroy any social contract standing in the way of accumulating wealth. Perhaps to the disappointment of Freud, the contemporary Oedipus fantasy is wealth beyond the dreams of avarice with requisite social control.

In the case of those seeking power and influence, such as politicians running for office, the more believable is going to prevail. It’s marketing exercise with a certain quantity of shuck and jive telling people what they want to hear. May the best man win comes down to making the best sounding case, plucking the right strings, addressing fears and aspirations with the best sounding rhetorical spiel. It comes down to who can create the most believable fantasy addressed to either end of the political spectrum. Who can best tell the public what they want to hear. It has little or nothing to do with truth.

An example of fantasy social contract “rights” are gun laws that permit people to carry loaded weapons into public places on the premise that gun owners have the right to do so, ignoring the right of other people to be safe. Anyone who has ever fired a sidearm even at a shooting range knows most people don’t have a clue as to where their bullets are headed. It is a certainty that innocent people are likely to be wounded fatally or otherwise if some paranoid would-be gunslinger decides to open fire in a crowded public space.  Another example involving public safety is where people speeding along on a crowded freeway believe that all the cars in front of them have functioning brake lights.

What is belief after all but a handy acceptance of what is presented, thought, experienced, or felt as real and true without the necessity of objective proof? In spite of the efforts we make as organized societies to make it possible for diverse people to coexist peacefully and productively, beliefs intervene at nearly every level – our socially destructive race relations being a perfect example infecting the American social contract for centuries. Ironically we must organize social contracts which, in spite of conflicting beliefs, which will allow us  to live together in some state of harmony. Thus we add yet another belief system to the stack – the notion that we can all get along which holds until other beliefs conflict. It’s a stack of beliefs inextricable one from the others. They are all too clever by half, those turtles.

American Agonistes?

Is it ironic that in the second decade of the 21st century we are still debating equality in a country where all are supposed to be political equals? In the 18th century, the equality debate concerned the rights of colonists. In the 19th century the debate erupted into civil war over slavery, followed in the 20th over suffrage, and in the 21st the battlefield is economic equality, a societal battle over the rights of money over the rights of citizens as embodied in the destructive sophistry of the 2010 Citizens United decision.

Earlier equality debates have not been resolved either as there is always someone with a new twist seeking to undermine what should be settled law. Racism, sexual orientation, religion, bigotry, and mysogny are unrelenting, persistent, and tragically reinvented daily. It’s a curse, this agon, this quest for equality. Not so long ago Southern European immigrants were persecuted presently it’s Muslims and migrants fleeing economic and political oppression. It has always been blacks; next week it will be someone else. Truth is, if every person of color were to disappear tomorrow morning a new target group would be found by nightfall. While discrimination on the basis of wealth isn’t new on the list of divisive social issues it has now become critical when so many are unemployed, underemployed, or simply dropped out including college graduates laden with debt who cannot find employment.

Hedge fund managers making $24 million annually are taxed at 15% while truck drivers who earn $43 thousand a year are taxed at 28% the tax burden thus falls to working class people. In Kansas budget shortfalls will be made up with increased sales taxes and fees paid mainly by the working middle class and poor. A non-partisan policy group says the poorest 20 percent of the state will now pay 1.5 percent more in taxes than they did in 2012. or an average of $197 a year. The Governor, Sam Brownback, in a classic Orwellian trope, told the press this isn’t an increase but a tax cut.  I think we’re in Wonderland, Aunti Em.

  When wealth is gained at the expense of the majority of the members of a society, social viability becomes the paramount question. Historically such has  been the prelude to one sort of revolution or another and some think we may be on the precipice of a foundational evolutionary social reformation. Sentiments go well beyond the numerous books recently published about economic inequality and Capitalism. Petitions are being circulated calling for a constitutional amendment to nullify the obviously biased Citizens United decision. The presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the rhetoric of Elizabeth Warren and others are also speaking to larger more fundamental deeply felt issues.

The realities of a diminished, if not extinguished, democracy are denial and negation of truth. Neither propaganda nor appeals to patriotism can make this go away because there is no alternative to inequality but equality. There is no livable alternate reality when 33 American cities already have or are planning to make feeding hungry people illegal. The casual abandonment of moral consideration is truly remarkable.

In an analysis  of federal policy initiatives dating from 1981 to 2002 researchers at Princeton concluded, “ economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” The denial and destruction of a government of, by, and for the people, is the antithesis of a democratic society paving an inevitable path to disengagement, and ultimately – dissolution. We can fairly ask as we must, how is it possible for a society to maintain a non-democratic economic system, qua religion, conflated with a barely functioning social contract? It is inarguable that a civilized society must correct those inequalities which can be corrected to provide the economic and social capital necessary to minimize inequalities of economic opportunity and political access.

Democracy as a political and social system requires equity, sharing, and engagement. Democracy is an expression of distribution and inclusion – capitalism is accumulation and exclusion. Capitalism is fundamentally a winner take all zero sum game, it has no ethic or morality other than to take it all is opposed to the sharing ethic required for a viable democratic civil society. Capitalism being finite and material has a natural end point – democracy being politically and socially aspirational does not, its horizon is indeterminate. In the absence of equal economic justice there is no possibility of a viable democratic social contract. As Adam Smith cautioned in his 1776 classic, The Wealth Of Nations: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

The United States has been engaged in one war or another for 222 out of the past 239 years. Since 1776 we have also been at war with ourselves. Is this then the ongoing American agon? We must decide.

Children And Society As Fair Game

What is with the anti-children political agenda going on across the country? What do Republicans have against children? Why do they push laws to force women to have children then pass laws to harm those children and not just at the state level but at the national level as well by cutting funds for education, food stamps, health care, and anything else of social value?

To have witnessed a revolting fist-pumping celebration by a New Mexican Republican legislator for his victory over third-graders who aren’t ready to learn to read by third grade was an eye-opener. If someone had told me adults would celebrate such a victory I wouldn’t have  believed it – but I saw it with my own eyes! At the moment, 3rd grade retention is an iconic right-wing red-meat political issue, part of a larger strategy to privatize public education nationally. Public schools in Kansas are closing early because of a $51 million funding short-fall caused by the Governor’s budget cuts and tax breaks for businesses which themselves caused a $1 billion shortfall in state revenues. Children be damned – we won! Yea Us! Remember Hitler’s little dance at the fall of Paris?

Fourth grade school children in New Hampshire recently received a lesson in how vile partisan politics has become. The kids had proposed naming the Red Tailed Hawk as the state bird and then witnessed a Republican lawmaker take the floor and use the proposal to disparage Planned Parenthood.  Here is what the politician said to the body as the children watched: “It grasps them with its talons then uses its razor sharp beak to basically tear it apart limb by limb, and I guess the shame about making this a state bird is it would serve as a much better mascot for Planned Parenthood.” The measure was defeated along party lines. The lesson the kids learned wasn’t part of the curriculum but it was an indelible lesson.

In North Carolina lawmakers recently turned down a school girl’s request to designate a state fossil because, as many were creationists fossils were an existential challenge. In Idaho naming the Giant Salamander the state amphibian as requested by school kids was killed by Republicans because they feared it would lead to environmental protections for that animal. This is like believing that having intercourse standing up leads to dancing. Sad but substantial lessons in contemporary political behavior and disregard for education in America today. And more than disregard, I believe fear of educated people is a root cause, people who can think and analyze before they vote, if they are allowed to vote, that is, and there are billionaires and their politicians working on that voting problem as well.

I’ve been thinking lately how fortunate we are that the Child Labor Laws were enacted in 1938 because I doubt they could be today. My mother worked in a Western Massachusetts mill at the age of 12. She had to carry a stool because she was too short to change bobbins without it. Her recollections of 12 hour work days and children regularly being injured were vivid into her late 90s. Remember, there was no workers comp back then and WC is now another target for the new reformers as are unemployment compensation, food stamps, and health care. In recent weeks Republicans in Congress just proposed a budget that would remove 11 million people from food stamps so Congress could provide bigger tax cuts to billionaires. Presently some Republican legislators and one born-rich presidential candidate in particular are going so far as to call for the end of 40 hour work weeks and the minimum wage. It’s starting to look like “back to the past”! Nothing surprises me anymore. What’s next? Perhaps bondage and children sold into servitude at birth? Debtors prisons have already been revived.

                                            child labor

At least for the moment children aren’t working in factories or on farms as child labor they are in school (for as long as that lasts) learning what we as a society believe they need to know to become productive fully-functioning adults. With state legislatures banning the teaching of global warming and trying to replace high achievement college placement courses with bible studies the definition of “fully-functioning” is undergoing profound distortion and re-definition. Texans for Education Reform and Republican leaders in that state’s senate are openly pursuing an ALEC sponsored agenda to privatize public education. Texas cut funding for public education by $5 billion a few years back and has offered no new money since then. School systems are floundering. What is being sought is total destruction of public schools and teachers.

But why? What is the desired outcome? What future are right-wing activists seeking? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness cannot be the objective, they must have something else in mind. Social control perhaps? A nation of sheep? Then again the rank and file of the movement may not have anything in mind except satisfying deeply held resentments and perceptions of being left out. Or, perhaps it’s fear of an increasingly uncertain future.

People are increasingly disinclined open their hearts for the homeless or for impoverished hungry children but they did open their wallets to the tune of nearly a million dollars for a bigoted bakery owner who shut down her business in order to not serve gays. Whatever the cause, sociopathy is fast becoming the new normal and children are the latest targets joining people of color, women, and gays. Next?

    


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