Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Veneer of Civilization

In some ways, we may not be so far removed for the hunter gatherer days of our ancestors. Sure we have laptops, ipods, blackberries, cable and cellphones, and jet travel. We have people who make their living entirely off the Internet. We have amazing medicines that can heal illness and injury rapidly and surgeries that can put traumatized bodies back together. In all these ways, we are a modern civilization.

Civilized societies also have elections to decide who our leaders will be and when we have groups of intelligent and compassionate people elected, laws are passed that lift the minds, bodies and spirits of people to new levels. In the past, we have decided to support civil rights for minorities who had a history of being discriminated against. We passed laws that provided for medical care and old age benefits for the poor and the elderly. We have agreed to pay taxes so that essential services can be maintained for the common good: transportation systems, fire and police services, water and sewer systems, utilities, school systems.

Some people now question whether we should do all that. There are radical fringe elements who would propose that all roads be toll roads, or that we should just leave it to each person to find a way to pay for their own medical bills, or maybe go back to subscription services for fire departments which would only be required to respond to fires and emergencies at subscribers houses. We already have private corporations running prisons. Some municipalities have experimented with selling their water systems or airports to private companies.

A little bit farther out to the edges, you have the people who talk about starting another civil war so that they could do away with the tax system. Some of these fringe players were anticipating the end of the world at the Y2K, and so they stocked up on canned goods ammunition and generators. But as we all know, the world did not collapse. However, just like some of the preachers that predict the end of the world on a certain date, they have to choose a new date when everyone knows they are wrong. What kind of people crawl out of that fringe? People like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.

We do have a problem with corrupt politicians in this country. Actually are there countries who do not have corrupt politicians?

Some people see the solution to corruption as simply withholding taxes and refusing to pay for anything like common services. They envision the world being improved by holing up in their hidey holes with guns and canned goods.

But the real solutions to these problems will be found by our insisting that the elected politicians do the right things. We need to keep the things that serve all of us in place. We need to design humane solutions for our problems so that individuals rights are respected and we all continue to get access to public services like highway systems, water systems, medical care, education, police and fire protection, libraries, parks, and so on.

Everything costs something. A civilization that is functioning properly, in my opinion, is one that sees to it that these essential services are available to everyone. These are simply the costs of living in a civilized society. The right wingnuts on talk radio and TV are ratcheting up the idiocy quotient by saying things like since health care is not mentioned in the Constitution, that means that no one has a right to expect health care. That is right about on a level with a fundie preacher who once proclaimed that yoga must be the work of the devil because it was not written about in the Bible.

The corporate executives who have managed to pull off all these massive frauds and ethical end runs without suffering any punishment, and in fact reaping outrageous sized rewards for themselves are simply the result of laws that were created to allow such behavior, courtesy of corrupt politicians.

Doing what it takes to fix the broken parts of our civilization is far preferable to letting the fringe players create chaos. The new coalition of the dissatisfied has allies that should make any rational person cringe, from militia groups, racist groups, John Birchers, talk radio and TV blowhards, and politicians who are widely regarded as a dim witted embarrassments.

Part of the reason this amalgam of malcontented people has gained visibility is because we have let the corrupt politicians fail to do the right things. These corrupt politicians have allowed corporations to rewrite the rules so that a handful of people could get extremely rich by wrecking the lives of employees and customers.

The greedy manipulative people have made scapegoats and sometimes people have fallen for the decoy. We have not lost millions of good paying jobs in this country because there are immigrants. The US has always been the first choice of destination for immigrants on this planet. No, those millions of good paying jobs were allowed to be offshored by changes in rules and laws. Our economy is not worse off now because we have recent immigrants doing our gardening, landscaping, janitorial work, restaurant work and common labor. They have been doing these jobs for generations. No, our economy sucks because good paying jobs in manufacturing, engineering, IT, finance, and customer service are now being done in third world countries where people can be hired for a fraction of what we used to make. Our economy is not faltering because we $10 an hour janitors, house cleaners, babysitters, busboys, gardeners and house painters came here. Our economy is suffering because jobs that used to pay people $15-$20 an hour or more to make things, create things, and service our accounts have been sent to India, China and other places where people will work for $2-$4 an hour.

And it was the changing of rules and laws that let the big banks and financial institutions merge and invent crazy, unethical and deceptive games with our money. It was the changing of rules and laws that allowed unlimited mergers between news organizations so that we get less real reporting. A handful of corporations now own thousands of radio and TV stations, magazines and newspapers.

Right now, for instance, a bill is pending that would place more reforms on the financial institutions. Brokers and agents would be required to do what is in the best interest of the customer. But banks and insurance companies oppose this rule. Why? Because things that are in the best interesst of the customer might conflict with what is in the best interest of an agent or broker. Suppose for example, a product or policy might best suit your needs. But a different type of policy or product produces a higher commission for the agent. Which one do you think they will sell?

There are enough good people in this country and we have the ability to raise our voices and our votes to make the politicians do the right thing. We have the ability to work in our own communities to see that the things that benefit us all are kept in place and strengthened.

Our choices are clear. The people who are so disgruntled that they can see nothing but fear and chaos will not pave the way for a better future. the creation and maintenance of a civilized society is the goal for us to work toward, and it is a goal we have achieved before. If we let the veneer of civilization be stripped away, it will not be good for any of us. It is time to work to strengthen those things that are good and fix those things that need to be fixed.

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