Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Won't You Please Fight the Good Fight?



“All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind” (Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations). Real and fictional events support Adam Smith’s rather bleak portrait of mankind’s masters. Consider:

·      Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness wherein the narrator explains the imperialistic thrust into Africa and the systematic enslavement of men. The ivory company literally worked the men to death because men, like ivory, seemed to them an inexhaustible resource, certainly less than human.
·      The real-world legacy of such fiction was apartheid, a systematic enslavement of people of color. Nelson Mandela suffered under its yoke for decades. Bishop Tutu brought the world’s attention to the daily inequities and cruelties that prevented growth and prosperity.
·      Charles Taylor, Idi Amin, Adolph Hitler, and Slobodan Milosevic are but a few leaders who have practiced genocide in order to obtain and retain power.
·      Sarah Vowel’s Wordy Shipmates records the slaughter of Native Americans by spreading disease or worse, mass executions in the name of the holy Father above and in the belief that brown-skinned, non-Christian people were lesser beings. They were only heathens.
·      Jonathan Swift exposed the callous disregard for human lives that swore allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church in a bitter satiric essay, “A Modest Proposal.” In it, he cites the real excuses in Britain for not helping a starving, poor Irish people, and those excuses were spoken in Parliament by men who claimed to hold God in their hearts.
·      The U. S. Supreme Court found segregation, with all its legal and illegal methodologies, sound and appropriate until it did not. In between, domestic terrorism in the form of the Ku Klux Klan and economic sanctions imprisoned a race in the land of the free.

These examples tell the tale of Adam Smith’s cynical point of view. They prove that when given license to take, even the best men (or women) will take. Indeed, the practice has such a long-standing tradition in the affairs of men that it has been given a euphemistic name: social Darwinism. Moreover, social Darwinism is alive and well in this century in this, the greatest country on earth, according to conventions held at the behest of political parties.

Opposition to the Affordable (Health) Care Act (ACA), more commonly and derisively known as Obamacare, has included live film footage of well-dressed men, crisp in their laundered cotton shirts and perfectly pressed khaki pants, throwing money at a disabled man supporting the ACA. The opposing hue and cry included shouts from a crowd when Representative Ron Paul was asked if we, as a people bound together by geography and citizenship, should allow our fellow man to die if he has no health coverage. Even Mr. Paul was not inclined to accede to the hypothetical man’s death, but the crowd was. They made that clear with a loud “Yes!” in answer to the question.

More civil debaters have acknowledged the shame of not caring for our brothers in America, but, those speakers hasten to add: what can we do in such economic times? Those who work hard and can afford good health coverage should have the best; those who cannot (and here they shake their heads in a mock show of pity) will suffer.

How often have we Main Street-ers heard that we simply cannot afford to do the right thing whether the right thing is . . . ?
·      Improve our road beds
·      Make our bridges safe
·      Compete on the world stage by investing in the latest technologies to deliver power to cities, businesses, and people reliably and economically
·      Compete on the world stage to research and develop efficient, high-speed, energy-sipping transportation
·      Make wider and better use of wind energy or solar power
·      Care for the needy
·      Help our veterans back to full employment and health upon return
·      Provide for the First Responders
·      Insure that the elderly live their last years in dignity

The list above is only a short, partial exemplary one. Opponents to doing the right thing have often trotted out the same tired excuses for any number of other human issues, saying we can’t afford to do this right now, that government should be small, that private enterprise must deliver solace to those in need, and even that private enterprise can do the job better than government.

But the net effect is Social Darwinism, also known as social engineering and survival of the fittest. Representative Paul Ryan’s fondness for Ayn Rand is a perfect example. He claims that those with talent and drive should be rewarded while those who stumble should fall further. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel reportedly wrote off whole swaths of Chicago’s school children, claiming that they’ll never rise to the level where educated men and women create opportunities by learning and doing. A local Oklahoma lobbyist dismissed those same children as turds in the punch bowl. Both men were talking about poor children, and both seem willing to let them die off because they simply cannot adapt well enough or quickly enough to thrive.

The mythical and legendary Atticus Finch would ask us to do right, to be better human beings. He would fight for the rights of those most oppressed, those in need. In fact, he did. Won’t you?