Friday, November 25, 2011

The Starving Chinese

When I was a little boy and refused to eat egg yolks, broccoli, spinach, oatmeal, or whatever other things she served me I didn’t like, my mother (bless her) would usually say, “Remember the starving Chinese.” Occasionally, if I remember correctly, it was the starving Armenians. The point, of course, was that I was lucky to have food to eat, unlike unfortunate others around the world. I believe I would be perfectly safe in saying now, if my mother were still with us, she would not be worrying about the Chinese or the Armenians. She would be more than merely worried about the starving Americans. I doubt my mother would even believe the depths to which American culture has sunk. We no longer hear about the starving Chinese or Armenians. There may be some, but if so they have faded away as our own poor and starving have come to the forefront. Generally speaking I would think it is true to say the Chinese have been slowly improving their lot while we in America have been slowly deteriorating.

I do not have actual figures available at the moment but I don’t think they would be hard to come by. We apparently have more children living in poverty than ever before in history, more people on food stamps, millions without health insurance, thousands having lost their homes, living in their cars or on the streets, and unusually high unemployment rates. We also have, at the moment, thousands taking to the streets protesting the obscene wealth inequality in our country, greater than most any other country on earth (with perhaps a very few exceptions). There seems to be no end in sight. I find this shameful, so shameful I no longer like to claim to be an American. Indeed, as I understand it, many Americans already pretend to be Canadians when they travel overseas.

I believe our current situation is basically unprecedented among so-called industrial civilizations. However bad things may be elsewhere in the “civilized” world, nothing compares to the shockingly terrible situation that exists here in our country at the moment. Rather than trying to provide some form of safety net for the poor and less fortunate we seem to be trying as hard as we can to make things even worse for them. If culture (with a small “c”) is supposedly a human development in response to the lack of basic instincts for social life, and if cultures are supposed to meet human needs for basic human necessities such as housing, food, social and psychological well-being, in our particular jargon, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” I think it might be fair to say American culture at the present time fails miserably. If the measure of culture is the well-being of its citizens it might well be argued that we are on the road to developing a non-culture, a reversion to a more primitive state of nature where it is literally “dog eat dog,” only the strong (read wealthy) shall survive, the most primitive form of Darwinism that is, I believe, basically a non-human condition, as all other human societies recognize the necessity for social solidarity and the obligations of the strong to look after and help the less strong. Even in what we claim to be the most “primitive” cultures on earth, the Bushmen of the Kalahari, for example, or Australian Aborigines, or tribal peoples everywhere, food is generally shared fairly equitably, there are no orphans, the elderly are cared for, and so on. Apparently there are those who believe that now that we have attained the very “apex of civilization” these basic human values no longer need apply. When people in positions of power and influence actually say those who do not work should not eat, or people are out of work because they are just lazy, or those who protest should just “take a bath and get a job,” or people are entirely responsible for their own welfare and health care, you know you are dealing with a new and different kind of human, one devoid of the basic human attributes of empathy, understanding, sharing, altruism, sociality, and community. You are also dealing with people who have little or no understanding of how it is human societies and cultures have evolved into the enormously complex and difficult conditions they currently present. To suggest that someone should “take a bath and get a job” under existing conditions betrays an arrogant ignorance quite probably below that of the average earthworm. As this was said by a man currently the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for President I think it is symbolic of what we are in danger of losing.

Of all the economic systems that have existed: communism, socialism, monarchies, dictatorships, tribal and clan-based, even primitive bands, none has ever been as blatantly, antithetical, and diametrically opposed to basic successful socio-cultural human life as unregulated capitalism. As such, it sows the seeds of its own inevitable destruction. We are witnessing the beginnings of this at the moment.

On the level plain, simple mounds look like hills; and the imbecile flatness of the present bourgeoisie is to be measured by the altitude of its great intellects..
Karl Marx

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