The Desperate Case for a Benevolent Society
Okay, I admit to writing this with some trepidation. Everything I’ve written to date has been more about my internal emotional state, a subject I can talk to with vast experience.
In areas such as this more topical subject where I’ve done some research, this feels like my ‘late night essay’ about to be assessed by my professor.
So, ‘Right to it,’ as said these days on cable TV news.
As my personal fortunes in the world have diminished — in that I’ve gone from having a strictly white collar role to having done other less glamorous jobs to survive in the past 5 years, I’ve been forced to re-live my childhood existence.
The first born of 5 children, single mother, on welfare — we did not want for food on the table, but everything else that my school mates had, we did not.
Family car, new bicycles — or other larger purchases at Christmas, vacations, eating out, traveling, pursuing hobbies — none of these were part of my childhood. These were all things ‘other people’ had.
The parental mantra that I grew up with was that it was important to simply ‘survive’. To this day I tend to see food as subsistence as opposed to being enjoyed.
So losing my VP-titled job, and possible my career (time will tell), has given me an opportunity to be part of the Have-Nots again, feeling the weight of ‘less-than-ism’ in society’s eyes.
And it’s a bitter reminder how the millions upon millions of ‘have-nots’ live a survival-existence in the richest country in the world.
According to William Barber II, (who is my personal hero, in the role that Martin Luther King was intent on when he died), stated that “Almost half of America’s workers — whether in Appalachia or Alabama, California or Carolina — work for less than a living wage.”
Just sit with that thought for as long as you can… If you can…
–It’s painful to push ourselves to imagine what it might truly be like for these people. To not only be working one, two or three jobs — enough hours to make any Wall Streeter proud, but still living a life one step above poverty, on an hourly rate of $10-an-hour or less.
I read recently that 23,000 active service members (troops) have families qualifying for food stamps. Such a damning indictment of life for many in modern-day America.
One doesn’t have to tax one’s brain cells very hard to see why the working class, that is sliding into lower class, unemployment and poverty is mad as hell about. They see their future…
In 1944, FDR created the Bill of Rights, stating “We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people — whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth — is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.”
Sounds pretty woke for it's time, and yet its ambitions have still not been met.
I’m not even sure that a large segment of the political class cares today — or cares enough to work across the aisle and put politics aside (truly — how long has it been since that happened) and work with intent for the benefit of The People. All people.
From the 1970’s onwards, “economic policy has increasingly served the interests of those with the most wealth, income, and political power” according to Lawrence Mishel, Josh Bivens, Elise Gould, and Heidi Shierholz and their book, The State of Working America.
How anyone can knowingly continue to push these initiatives (I am looking at you mostly — the Republican class) over the welfare of the masses is beyond my sense of what is right, what is just, what is moral.
Why does everything need to be classified as a specific ‘segment of the population’ when all anyone wants and needs are the relative comforts an aspiring middle-class lifestyle brings.
How much less crime, less murder, less animosity would be in the US were every single person provided these things? And perhaps we’d make it onto the Happy Nations list — we currently are 19th place, having dropped 5 positions from 2 years earlier.
Oh, but They protest, “Big Government, blah blah blah…”
How many Big Government protestors would there be if every single member of that Government body who currently has a well-paid position were to walk in the shoes of the Have-Nots for a month? Change would be enacted immediately because there’d suddenly be insight and empathy for them. Being “pulled up by bootstraps” may not have been as effective as they presumed.
I read that Donald Trump, 18 months into his tenure was shocked, I repeat ‘shocked,’ that there were White people on welfare. Imagine that! I was shocked he had no clue.
So when the political class can be so disparate from half the nation, it’s not surprising that very little is done to aid the underdog.
So many of the working poor are one job-loss away from losing it all, their next step being sleeping in friends’ houses and legally homeless. Less of the working class are getting married, no longer sure of their stability and not daring to plan for the future. Even having kids is a decisive luxury in their eyes.
Activist rabbi Michael Lerner described this suffering as “rooted in the hidden injuries of class and in the spiritual crisis that the global competitive marketplace generates.”
In 2018 it was revealed that for the first time, billionaires in the United States received a lower tax rate than the working class. This is certainly working out for some. But how can anyone believe this is the way it should be? I’m shaking my head as I write this, just not understanding how we got to this point and are still okay with it.
In other comparable industrial nations, death rates amongst newly unemployed workers are far less than here in the US. The unemployment benefits are simply higher and prevent them from such a fall from grace. This prevents them from ending up in poverty and by definition, long term unemployment. They still feel they have a chance of a decent life and don’t lose hope, turn to drug use or suicide.
Perhaps the capitalism dream has reached its zenith, and it’s decided that enough is enough.
Surely a more compassionate approach is needed in order for all of us to thrive. Even writing this sentence, I feel there is at least a portion of the top third of the population who despise the idea of everyone rising. How we got to such a harsh indictment of fellow society members, I don’t know. But a reassessment of our values is in great need.
I’d fantasized about the Utopian world of technology being this fantastic opportunity for reimagining the American dream. Perhaps we could work less hard, focus more on what we could offer to society and the world as a whole instead of all scrabbling for what’s ours.
Unfortunately tech leaders and staffers weren’t as enlightened as I’d dreamed, and life with technology has merely become harder (always on call to our employers, such animosity online, less civility to one another in general). It seems that we have a way to go.
So, as a non-religious (although spiritual) individual, I ‘pray’ for a more just society, one where anyone can have a dream and go for it. Many will certainly not attain that dream, but their failing will not mean a place at the bottom of the heap, forgotten and trodden on.
Yes, I still remain an optimist for the human race. But guys, let’s see some movement. I’m losing my patience here!
(Oh, P.S. — A friend just made me aware of this fully researched and wonderful article in the magazine section of the NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/02/magazine/food-insecurity-hunger-us.html )