Archive for the 'on Society' Category

Ripples Into Riptides

John Adams once wrote – “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes and murders itself. There never was a democracy that did not commit suicide.” The unrelenting war on all forms and manifestations of a democratic social contract has led to bloody revolutions in every era, on every continent, and in virtually every culture. They all begin as slight disturbances, ripples on the surface of daily events, minor perturbations in the status quo that eventually take on a destructive life of their own not unlike the early gentle rumblings of an earthquake.

History clearly demonstrates political Democracy and Capitalism are not compatible ideologies, they are contentious and contradictory belief systems. Capitalism has, at bottom, become a quasi-religion as much as an economic system. Whereas Capitalism is amoral imposing no limits on wealth extracted from the commons, Democracy, on the other hand, requires morality of community, civility, and commitment to the common welfare, in a word, “sharing”. Sharing is anathema to Capitalism because there is no monetary profit and so is vilified by calling it “socialism” or worse. Controlling the vocabulary of debate is an old and useful tactic.

When any kind of amorality becomes pervasive, it desensitizes a society with a form of instrumentalism that justifies other amoral behaviors creating a destructive pathology of civil decline. One need only recall the rise of Nazis and their vilification of Jews in pre-war Germany to understand how this dynamic works. For a recent example, how can a society justify killing someone for selling a loose cigarette while lionizing and bailing out with taxpayer money, bankers who impoverished millions with their greed? In the US today 49.7 million people qualify as poor, 80% of the total population is in or near poverty.  In the face of this calamity politicians are proposing cuts in the Food Stamp programs, Social Security, and health care. To what end are we again, it seems, being driven to the intersection of civilization vs barbarism, a society committing suicide.

When a country acts immorally it diminishes its moral authority across the board. When a government offers “facts” contrary to the truth people who are actually living it it relinquishes its moral authority, authenticity, and agency. The innocent adults and children killed by our drone strikes is a truth not ameliorated by the fact that there is always collateral damage during war. Collateral damage is a morally reprehensible argument against justice, a false use of truth invalidating claims of moral superiority over the enemy. Sadly this behavior also speaks in the names of all of citizens of the state causing the harm and that includes you and me. The US is a country in which thousands tout their Christianity and at the same time accept criminalizing feeding the hungry and homelessness. Everything is related to everything else in one way or another.

In Cleveland, police summarily executed a 12 year old boy at a playground. The boy was holding a bb gun. The same cops also threw the kid’s sister to the ground and handcuffed her for wanting to reach her dying brother. The boy died, the cops offered no first aid or care. In a news interview Police Union Chief, Jeffrey Follmer, placed absolutely no value on the 12 year old’s life – none! His callous  response? “How about this: Listen to police officers’ commands. Listen to what we tell you, and just stop … that eliminates a lot of problems.” He added, “I think the nation needs to realize that when we tell you to do something, do it.” Listen up, Nation, Jeffrey Follmer has spoken a fact which is truth for many Americans, you live in a police state – do what you’re told – or else we’ll kill you even for selling a lose cigarette. Is this American Exceptionalism? Is it justice? What kind of society have we become? What are we becoming?  We have the facts but are we ready to face truth?

There are many more examples but the foregoing seem to encapsulate a version of the social contract that is in opposition to what we believe to be normal – they portray a new normal in which truth has no moral function and human life has no value. The facts are, do what you’re told and everything will be alright, but the truth is something else. The truth is we cannot be parties to torture abroad or unwarranted killing at home unless we accept our own complicity. It is valuable to note that the most outspoken critic of CIA torture was a Congressman who himself, as a prisoner of war, was tortured by North Vietnam. Is that what it takes for people to understand that inhumanity – to be tortured themselves?

  In all of this, it is essential to understand that facts and truth are not, in fact, the same thing. Facts are devoid of morality, they simply describe and nothing more. Truths, on the other hand, are an integral aspect of moral thought and behavior, truths give facts meaning. Facts exist in a moral void and truths are a moral context. I have personally witnessed many instances of individuals spewing facts and not describing the truth, using facts to obscure the truth, to create cognitive dissonance. Lawyers and politicians do this routinely. It’s a shuck and jive the end result being that an audience or a jury never understands the truth and so defaults to the better liar.

We are, in the 21st Century, engaged in a new round of Democracy vs Capitalism. We must question. We must challenge – each of us. Time is running out on what’s left of this Democracy and what is left of a civil society because we are avoiding truth. We must tell truth to power and demand truth from them lest the ripples turn into waves and the waves into riptides of destruction. Truth is a virtue not an inconvenience, there can be no justice without it.

990

 

Weaponizing Children

 It has been done before – weaponizing children. Of course in the US  we aren’t talking about explosive belts but about the use of children to undermine public education and further political ambition. The term “social conservative” is a case of contradiction – what is being conserved has not to do with society at large. What is being conserved and expanded is wealth for a relative few while the remainder of society is being disenfranchised and impoverished – slowly perhaps but inexorably. And the impoverishment goes beyond money as it destroys dignity and self-respect. Taking over public education is an instrument of impoverishment, a weapon directed against children with a larger and more important strategic goal down the road when they become adults – the social contract. Third grade retention is only one tactic of that strategy.

People don’t often think of the social contract per se even though it influences every aspect of their lives, much less do they link third grade retention to that contract. One can suppose this is similar to fish not being aware of the water they are immersed in. The water is there and taken for granted. We live in society, we interact with others and with social institutions to such an extent that their existence apart from us isn’t any more noticeable than the air we breathe. Who thinks about the double yellow line on the highway? You simply don’t pass cars ahead of you unless … and that “unless” is what we are concerned with here. Personal awareness becomes acute when the contract is violated as when a car passes you in a no-passing zone and is confronted by an oncoming vehicle with no place to retreat save to cut you off. The purpose of double yellow lines is made obvious and the anti-social aspect of the passing driver’s behavior immediate and personal.

A less obvious example is when politicians use pubic education to further anti-social agendas. Third grade retention as punishment for not learning to read at an arbitrary rate is a classic example. In no rational world is it writ that any child must learn to read by the time they are in third grade, by fourth grade, or for that matter, that they should be prohibited from reading in second grade. This “rule” exists for no reason other than as administrative convenience. Human beings exist as individuals  and each individual learns different skills at a rate particular to them. That is a fact and not amenable to politics. This truth may very well be inconvenient but is immutable. Some children warm to arithmetic at an early age but when older cannot learn algebra much less understand differential equations. Are we to consider someone who doesn’t understand differential equations less educated or less intelligent than someone who does? Of course not. After all, you don’t have to know or understand differential equations to be a brain surgeon. It isn’t that differential equations is as fundamental as learning to read but is illustrative of the broad variations in human intellect and understanding.

Having been educated as a mathematician and having known more than a few I do not believe mathematicians are necessarily more basically intelligent than biologists, chemists, philosophers or diesel mechanics. In fact I have known mechanics who were quite a bit more broadly intelligent than some math majors I’ve known. So what is it then with this crusade to punish kids for not being good readers by the end of third grade? In short it is politics and shameful politics at that. It is nothing but pandering and using children as weapons in the war to privatize yet another covenant of the social contract.

Educating children  is a matter of public interest, public concern, and most importantly public responsibility for the simple reason that an educated polity is of vital necessity to the survival of democracy. A society needs citizens who understand their role in governance more than it needs mathematicians. A society needs people who can think critically, ask good questions, and see their way through political rhetoric to a logical conclusion – in short a society depends on people with well developed crap detectors to survive. Corporatized education will produce, in its own best interests, non-thinkers who will also not read well in third grade but they will do what they are told and believe what they are told to believe. They will become de facto soldiers in the relentless war against democracy.

The “O’s”

It has been a good long time – 70 plus years since my last encounter with the NYPD. My name-sake Grandfather had his grocery store on West 46th between 9th and 10th. I spent my summers and school vacations with him opening the store at 6 AM after stopping first at the Fulton Street markets. Home was in Brooklyn and the daily drive over the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan remains a vivid memory. At the market we’d load up with fresh fruits, vegetables, and cheese. Each vendor would offer a slice or a piece of whatever they were selling – it was the original walking breakfast. We’d next drive through the streets just awakening with activity, to the store. My first job was to sweep the sawdust from the floor and replace it with fresh. Then into the front window to sweep up bread crumbs and put fresh white butcher paper before the bread man arrived. Next began the parade of eponymous truck drivers whose names were Mr. Ballantine, Mr. Borden, Mr. Schlitz, and so on.

One of the morning tasks was to create the display of fruits and vegetables in front of the store’s window. Grandpa did this with care and a bit of artistic flair – it was my Grandfather’s art actually and he was quite proud of it.  I remember people stopping by to chat especially the old Sicilian ladies in black, of course, squeezing everything for freshness including me. West 46th was a neighborhood teeming with interesting characters most of whom stopped to exchange greetings and a few words. At noon the store would fill with dock-workers in for their hero “sangwitches” to be washed down with a quart of beer. It was a wonderful world of characters and personalities for me to have grown up in, these are all my fondest memories which I treasure to this day.

Sadly it wasn’t all thus. Every day, into our world would swagger the beat cop twirling his night-stick walking usually from East to West on our side of the street. Invariably the cop would stop in front of the fruit display, select a gem of an apple, peach, or pear, toss it up, catch it, and walk off without a word. Notice I didn’t include pay for it. In those days most cops’ names began with an “O” as in ’OToole, O’Reilly, O’Neil and so on. I was puzzled, why doesn’t this guy have to pay like everyone else? Grandpa wouldn’t say a word but would make a silent gesture drawing his fingers under his chin. You get the picture. We were the “other” then and silence was the safest response. There have always been “others” in every era and every culture treated dismissively and with scarce if any respect. In the US blacks have been treated as others since long before the so-called “Revolution” of white landowners and businessmen against their king. The Civil War “revolution” of Southern whites to preserve slavery didn’t resolve the matter either nor did two world wars in which black Americans served equally and with valor but came home to the same racism they had left. Yes, the overt legal issues have mostly been resolved but not the essential and foundational social, emotional, or moral ones. Racism was and continues to be deeply embedded in the society as are prejudices against Jews, Catholics, Blacks, Hispanics, foreigners of any kind – in short “others”. And, one has to ask, why does it have to be this way?

So now I’m in New Mexico reading the news on the internet when I see the cop who choked Eric Garner was named Pantaleo and what struck me immediately was that his name ends in “O”. Back in the day the racist names began with “O”. Is this progress? Does Pantaleo know how Italians were treated 70 years ago? Have we not progressed as a society since the 1940s or are we just better at pretending we have? The 1948 Kerner Commission report unequivocally stated that racism was then pervasive and as American as apple pie and now, 66 years later it’s clear not much has changed except a few more minorities have been added to the “other” list.  The newly elected Republican majority in Congress seems full bent on harassing and embarrassing our black President to the extent of openly discussing denying him a Congressional venue for his State of the Union address. Armed militias are stationing themselves along the US Mexican border posing for group photos holding all manner of firearms; they are there to prevent children from entering the country. Isn’t this depravity?

Inequality and racism have been the evil twins hovering above every civilization seeking its humanity. Time and again people have struggled to address this reality  - “Liberté, egalité, fraternité” – people seeking truth, justice, equality, freedom, and dignity. These are the qualities of life that define what we wish humanity and thus our societies to consist of. Racism is simply another face of inequality, another facet of injustice, a denial of liberty that chains both racists and their victims to incivility, hatred, and dysfunctional society. In the absence of truth none of the problems of inequality, injustice, or racism can ever be resolved. So it is that the truth must be told, inequality exposed, and racism condemned.

We must not accept that racism or inequality are facts of existence with no resolution. Nothing is gained  by pretending have a race neutral or egalitarian society regardless of John Bohner’s claims otherwise, we are not having truthful discourse about the matter. Truth number one: racial problems are not legal they are moral. We have applied legalistic solutions for years and haven’t come close to approaching the underlying moral issues. I’ll submit that casting and discussing inequality and racism or even better “other-ism” as a moral question will take us further towards the truth. We need to begin now while there is still time. Racism and inequality are by far the most deadly enemies of American society. We cannot continue to impoverish entire classes of citizens while cutting taxes for the most wealthy. We cannot continue criminalizing feeding the poor and homelessness; these are truths – moral truths. Adam Smith long ago clearly spelled it out: “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.” Not even the fantasy of “American Exceptionalism” will save us from the inevitable – it didn’t save Ozymandias and it won’t save us.

Sticks, Stones, and Nukes

It is thought the atomic weapon dropped on Hiroshima resulted in the deaths of approximately 90,000 to more than 100,000 people most of whom were non-combatants. In Nagasaki, the second target, at least 80,000 casualties resulted. During the Cuban Missile Crisis large Soviet cities were targeted with hydrogen weapons to be delivered mostly by ICBMs with less than 30 minutes of flight time from US silos. Large American population centers were likewise targeted by the Soviets. It is certain that with such little warning millions of people would have been killed on both sides.

Warfare began with sticks and stones and until modern times, counted casualties in ones and twos, then hundreds, then thousands and generally involved only actual combatants. Until weapons such as cannons and longbows it was also usually a matter of one-on-one personal combat. Today a crew of two has the power to kill millions of people thousands of miles away most of whom would be innocents. The power to kill millions of human beings in one fell swoop was once unimaginable and today military personnel in the US, Russia, and China sit around the clock at their underground consoles with exactly that capability.

When I served as a launch control officer in the Strategic Air Command during the Cuban Missile Crisis and thereafter I don’t recall conversations about the ethics or morals involved in expending nuclear weapons. Our concerns were about lawful orders and technical matters not moral or ethical issues. Philosophical considerations would not have served the purpose of reactive or proactive national defense in the face of what was believed to be an imminent Soviet threat. We were the front lines of deterrence and took that responsibility seriously. It is true, however, some officers and airmen did ask to be relieved of their assignments as launch personnel because of their religious beliefs. I personally assisted a few airmen to find different assignments without prejudice.

I managed to carry out my duties as a launch officer for several years because I believed mutually assured destruction was the deterant. Our unhesitating willingness to launch was what kept nuclear war at bay.  Had there been a nuclear exchange I would be safe in my underground launch control center while it was certain my family would be annihilated, not an easy circumstance to live with but we all did. Ultimately there would have been no safe place anywhere from the effects of a nuclear exchange. There would have been no escape not even for those secured in underground bunkers. Eventually everyone would have to emerge. And, as John Kennedy warned, the planet would be uninhabitable.

Recently the disaffection of Minuteman missile crews standing alert has been a major scandal. Cheating on tests was apparently rampant as was sleeping on the job. The crews were bored perhaps by inactivity. Minuteman crews have meals prepared for them topside, above ground sleeping quarters, all in all pretty cushy arrangements compared to the Atlas and Titan crews of the 60s. I have no doubt the lack of a clearly defined threat or tangible enemy was a contributing factor. Of course the Air Force was alarmed and perhaps shocked as more and more questionable behavior was exposed. The immediate remedy was the removal or retraining of the officers involved. Efforts were also made to render the living and work situation more tolerable. The other day I read in the news crew members are being awarded medals apparently not for facing down an enemy but, it would seem, for overcoming ennui. I hope it works. The air and missile crews of the Cuban Missile Crisis received not even a thank you – what we did was nothing less than what was expected. What we got was more training, more testing, more alerts – doing exactly what was expected of us. Minimum passing grade on tests remained 100%. That was then – this is now.

Over the years I find myself thinking more and more about my own thinking during those tense days. I remain secure with the correctness of my decisions at that time and, at the same time, discomfited by them. On the one hand, how could anyone go along with mutually assured nuclear destruction while on the other, how could we have not?  Several years ago my wife and I wrote a screenplay about that time and its dilemmas titled “Commit” after the name of the last button on the launch control console, a command from which there was no reversal – once pressed the missile was committed to launch, a hydrogen warhead would be on its way to target. The screenplay won a prize from the Page International Screenwriting competition in 2011and was recently performed as a table read in Santa Fe, New Mexico where the story was well received by most of the audience.

Interestingly, for some, especially the younger crowd, I got the feeling the events described in the screenplay were abstract and, for them, the likelihood of nuclear war so remote they could have just as easily been listening to a reading of Beowulf. That disconnect I think expresses the crux of the matter. The general awareness of warheads underground in the Northern Plains attended to by increasingly disaffected crews paints a picture both dangerous and encouraging. The danger lies in the existential weariness in facing hypothetical threats compared to the reality of the Cold War. The encouraging aspect is that we have averted nuclear war for decades and now there is a growing international awareness of the nihilism represented by such warfare. There would be no winners only losers – nothing would be gained, civilization would be lost – we would be back to sticks and stones. If there is hope for civilization, abolition of nuclear weapons is the first step. May we live to see that day, it’s the world I want my grandchildren to live in.

I know not what weapons World War III will be fought, but WWIV will be fought with sticks and stones. – Albert Einstein

Let Us Now Praise The VA

  veterans-administration-logo

The Veterans Administration is a large and sprawling organization –  a bureaucracy by definition and like all bureaucracies, it has both faults and virtues. Speaking for myself I have had nothing but a good VA experience, great care givers, and excellent care over many years.  On September 10th of this year I had a heart attack and was taken by ambulance at my request more than 100 miles to the Albuquerque, New Mexico VA hospital. It was the best call I could have made. From the moment of my arrival through discharge three days and two stents later I received the best medical attention imaginable. The caring, professionalism, and attentiveness of the staff carried the day. Because of their dedication and professionalism here I am writing again, being productive – laying up block, building and now roofing an addition, splitting firewood, taking my daily mile and a half walks. It’s a new, slower normal but it is a normal – and thanks to the VA I’m alive to do it.

None of the foregoing, however, negates what seem to be legitimate concerns with the care and attention reported by others. To be sure, in a system as large and unwieldy as the VA, there are going to be problems – people are going fall into cracks, there are going to be good people and bad people employed in the system, and there are going to be people complaining no matter what. There will be people like me who think the world of the VA and those who hate it. No matter which side of the divide anyone is on, there are irrefutable truths which must be acknowledged and dealt with in a timely manner. First and foremost, the new Director needs all the support and input he can get from all of us and adequate funding from the US Congress, far too many members of which have never served in uniform.

Next, if this country is going to continue on its path of unending wars around the world, a solid and dependable veterans’ health care system must be in place for those sent into harm’s way, regardless of the cost. If we can afford $1.5 trillion for a fleet of F-35s, we can well afford to provide world class medical care for those doing the dirty work – to do less would be immoral. Consider for a moment the disparity between the $600 billion 2015 Department of Defense budget and the $168 billion allocated for the VA, which cares not just for those returning from current military adventures but vets going back to World War 2. I wasn’t born yesterday and am well aware that politics and morals are generally mutually exclusive. It’s going to take public pressure brought to bear by all those who appreciate and understand the sacrifices required by military service to ensure that Congress ponies up. American service men and women are not stateless mercenaries, they are serving this country, they are serving all of us.

Of course, better than any of this would be to heed General Eisenhower’s warnings and put an end to the war industry. Put $600 billion into public education, health care, infrastructure, and other socially necessary programs. Just imagine what this country could be like. Then and only then would we be truly “exceptional”.

What’s Next?

What was once American democracy is disappearing. It is being replaced by Authoritarian-Capitalism, a cross between an economic belief system and a trope version of Christianity which is hatching like those creatures emerging out of an astronaut’s body in the film Alien. Recently, in a secret meeting with his billionaire sponsors, a Congressman, Mitch McConnell, promised he will work to undo every Federal social program possible. In Mississippi the Chief Justice of that state’s Supreme Court told an audience the First Amendment of our Constitution applies only to Christians. Malthusian zero-sum Christian-Capitalism is reaching for a transformative end game. What kind of country are these people imagining?

The United States has always been about business and money even before it was a country, well before a “Revolution” that did more for business interests than for the general population, women, and people of color. Every 4th of July we celebrate the efforts of a group of wealthy lawyers and businessmen who created a country where their interests and investments would be protected and their prejudices regarding blacks and natives preserved. People who were not property owners, women, people of color, and aboriginals were explicitly excluded from the contract. This is not the version of US history taught in schools of course but it is the truth and it bears directly on what we are witnessing today, a realization of that foundational vision fueled by loathsome myopic greed enabled by increasingly more severe social control. Strike a fast food franchise for a living wage and you will probably be arrested. Today workers’ wages are at their lowest share of GDP since 1947 while corporate profits are the highest in 40 years.

Today’s  circumstances are the result of an illusory social contract wherein people believe they have some things they don’t – opportunity, freedom, and equality – they have been kept in line with a materialistic false hope of “making it big”. In fact they aren’t going to make it big. They probably aren’t going to make it small either. The game is rigged and in no small measure because people refuse to accept the truth having bought the propaganda that today’s conditions are democracy at work, to complain is un-American, and there is no such thing, says John Boehner, as inequality. When 1% of the population controls nearly 40% of wealth and the remaining population is systematical deprived of any possibility of advancement that is inequality. We are living in a “civilized” country where 13 children have been shot dead for every US casualty in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2012. In 2013, 6.8 million homes in the US lacked sufficient food to feed their families. Well we do have the fastest and most expensive fighter jets like the F-35 that cost $89 million each and, because of flaws, are not yet fully operational. Is this what is meant by American “exceptionalism”?

The ideological skids were greased for todays’ assault on the social contract by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. the Supreme Court Justice nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971. Powell authored the majority opinion in 1st National Bank of Boston vs Belloti which laid the foundation for today’s Citizens United decision establishing corporations as life forms equal to humans. Powell also wrote the infamous “Powell Manifesto” in 1971 for the US Chamber of Commerce which became the Right’s sacred text in which he described how the “system” must overtake Liberalism and ultimately control society. In the manifesto Powell uses the term “system” to depict those whose political beliefs and financial interests must be protected and promoted, the “Free Enterprise System”. In a 6,084 word document Powell used the word “system” 54 times. There was once another Lewis Powell in US history, during the civil war, he was an assassin.

What a dream – the American Dream, American “exceptionalism”. It’s a narrative that keeps things going. It’s the ultimate fantasy aside from sex and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. You’ll be living in a penthouse with a poor door to insulate you from the slackers who haven’t worked hard enough to “make it”. The US has more than 1.6 million children homeless and the highest rate of child poverty of any major country in the world, we also have more people in jail than nearly any country in the world – that’s certainly “exceptional”, isn’t it? But, really, “folks” the bottom line question is – what’s next?

“ … comes the Revolution.”

The Economist recently published an essay asking, “What’s gone wrong with democracy?”. Why has Democracy run into trouble and what can be done to “revive” it. What’s “wrong” with Democracy is not limited to economics. American Democracy, such as it is, is long overdue for scrutiny. When a state supreme court chief justice claims the 1st Amendment only protects Christians and the US Supreme Court declares corporations are entitled life forms, more is wrong than a just few aberrations. It’s a movement and not a good one for Democracy.

Democracy and Capitalism are not compatible ideologies – they are, in fact, antithetical. Democracy is about human beings, Capitalism about money. Democracy is about equality, Capitalism is about inequality. The former asks for cooperation the latter demands competition. There are consequences to this dichotomy; one economist called it the “Great Gatsby curve” where upward social mobility is thwarted by inequality. It’s telling that the criticism of Piketty’s, Capital in the 21st Century, has been feeble at best.

Democracy is a political belief system while Capitalism is an economic belief system posing as a religion. As John Foster Dulles once remarked, “For us there are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who are Christians and support free enterprise, and there are the others.” Capitalism and Democracy are antagonistic. This isn’t complicated. Capitalistic success eliminates equality, establishes market hegemony, while redefining venality and greed as virtues. Democracy, on the other hand, binds a population into a sense of common good antithetical to the “whatever it takes” ethos of Capitalism.

Economist piece does not address the right-wing oligarchy’s attack on American Democracy lead by business-centric organizations such as ALEC, funded by wealthy underwriters such as the Koch boys and assisted by venal rent-seeking politicians. High on the ALEC agenda is curtailing voting rights. What better way to strangle democracy? As Nobel economist, Joseph E. Stiglitz pointed out, “in a system of one person one vote 100% of the people are supposed to count.” The right to vote can be and is being extinguished with gerrymandering and new voter ID laws at the state level. The voice of Democracy will be silenced when big money has its way.

A social contract is the essence of a society, which is to say it provides the generative syntax, the grammar of social conduct. All social contracts rest on foundations of social beliefs which, unlike religious beliefs, are tangible, provable, life as it is experienced on a daily basis. Traffic lights turn red and everyone is expected to stop. When the lights turn green we go. We believe others will respect the meaning of the lights because that is a covenant of the social contract. If drivers generally ignored this contractual requirement mayhem would result. Corporations shipping profits overseas to evade their fair share of taxes is clearly a violation of the “common good” social contract.

The goods of democratic social life lie in the commons. Greedy plundering of those commons is depredation and the core values of democracy – equality and cooperation – are destroyed. When this has happened historically people rebel, those in control become fearful, the social contract morphs into social control, and the soul of a society is stilled. Why is the US DOD funding Project Minerva, a large academic study, according to its summary documents, of “domestic situations … in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order”? Is the recent militarization of police forces across the country an anticipation of social disorder?

The social contract in any society is large and messy. In spite of being riddled with contradictions and conflicts social contracts do manage somehow work. But when contradictions accumulate, disenfranchisement and inequality erode social bonds. Elected officials now take to television to chastise people who want to see a higher minimum wage – people who work 40 hours a week but can’t feed themselves let alone a family. Candidate for Senate Karen Handel of Georgia believes minimum wage laws should not even exist. The United States is a country where a basketball player earns $30 million a year against $43,000 a year for a firefighter who risks his life to save lives and protect property. Which service does the society value most? How does anyone morally justify $26.7 billion in bonuses for financiers who oversaw the destructive financial collapse that caused incalculable losses to pensioners and small savers across the country who have no recourse and no way to recover?

There is social contract theory and there are social contracts as they are lived. Contradictions add up they accrete, they harden attitudes and perceptions of social and economic injustice. Ultimately there are no longer shared perceptions or shared interests to bind the contract. Modern Dickensian squalor consists of people being forced out of their homes because of financial circumstances they have no control over or, as in the case of Detroit, the water supply is cut off to people’s homes because they can’t pay their utility bill.

Bernie Sanders points out, “There are more Americans living in poverty today than at any time in our nation’s history, the middle class is disappearing and we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income in the world.” Relegating large numbers of people to the “poor door” slides society towards incivility and rebellion. When the middle class is reduced to poverty and their vested interest in an orderly society is no longer viable, they will revolt. They always have. What has gone wrong with Democracy is that it has been conflated with Capitalism. The notion of American exceptionalism has been rendered false. We are, after all these years, still struggling to meet the challenge of our Constitution -  “to form a more perfect union.” The outcome is yet uncertain. As an old friend of mine used to say, “comes the Revolution!”


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