Well, I had what I can only describe as a marvelous Christmas. A fine tree we cut ourselves, decorations, presents under the tree, my son and his wife here on Christmas Day for the opening of presents, nice gifts to all, the complete American traditional holiday. Christmas Eve my wife cooked a wonderful Italian-inspired Duck Ragout with a locally organically raised Duck, on Christmas Day we feasted on a huge locally organically grown chicken (we waited too long to get a suitable turkey), with dressing, our own mashed potatoes and parsnips, beans and carrots, and, of course, cranberry sauce. It was all quite fine and of course I enjoyed it…except for the black cloud that hung over my head the entire time.
I simply could not get out of my head thoughts about the thousands of homeless children and the millions of people either unemployed or balanced precariously on the poverty line, thoughts that seemed to just hang there in the air refusing to go away, thoughts that led to further thoughts about my helplessness and the unfairness of it all. I wondered if all those with their millions and billions were having similar thoughts but quickly realized probably not. I personally find this rather infuriating. I find it equally infuriating that people are sleeping on the streets, in their cars, and going hungry in my country, a country I used to be so proud of which to be a member, people without health insurance, dumpster diving for food, without little hope for a better future. And it makes me angry to be asked to contribute to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, the Firemen, the Policemen, to medical research, and so on. This angers me not because I am cheap or uncaring, but because I do not believe it should be up to me to help take care of problems that should not exist in the first place. What, after all, is government for, if not to look after its citizens? And why do we pay taxes if it is not to care for our needs? Where is it either written or decreed, for example, that we need roads, bridges, and dams, but we do not need food, housing, or health? Of course our tax dollars now are siphoned off for unnecessary “wars,” made artificially necessary to feed the military/industrial/political scam that converts taxpayer dollars into profits for corporations and the wealthy.
This is where I seriously part company with Republicans who seem to believe taking care of our fellow citizens is not the business of government, who seem to believe that national defense is basically all that matters (but then use national defense as an excuse to line the pockets of those involved in the military/industrial/political system at the expense of everyone else). In most human societies of the past, and some even now, one of the main purposes of “government,” no matter how “primitive,” is to see to it that its members are protected from hunger and famine as well as attacks from others. Even in New Guinea where I worked, about as “primitive” a society as you can find, no one went hungry, there were no orphans, old people were cared for, and people were concerned about their friends and relatives. During periods of drought they called on their trading partners to help them and received such help, something they in turn helped with when the circumstances were reversed. In so-called Peasant Societies much the same thing was/is true, there is a sense of community, the idea that they live together in society for the purpose of their common welfare. The idea that some few would cling to the available wealth was repugnant to them, and if someone were too greedy they were ostracized, if not actually killed. Sharing was one of the most important virtues.
Here in the so-called “modern world” things are quite different. The sense of community has vanished, people no longer live on intimate face-to-face terms with relatives and friends, often they do not even know their neighbors. These former bonds have been replaced with what are essentially legal contracts to buy and sell with no other obligations involved. If you believe, as some do, that government has no business replacing these bonds that were lost by acting in the best interests of their citizens it means people are now left completely on their own. If they cannot find a job they should, according to Bachmann, not eat (presumably be left to starve). If they cannot afford health insurance they should just die, according to Ron Paul. If they are poor they are fair game for the moneylenders. If they have no funds they should go without an education. No decent human society devalues their citizens like this, indeed, it is in the best interest of society to feed, clothe, educate, and provide adequate housing and health care for their citizens if they wish to continue as a viable group. From a cultural point of view it is suicidal to abandon children to poverty and despair. Who, after all, is going to provide for you when necessary in the future, when the last few billionaires shrivel up and die?
I find it laughable when I hear people say, “Why should the successful be punished, if they worked hard and managed to get ahead?” The fact is, in a capitalistic society like this one being successful is not a matter of hard work, it’s a matter of having money in the first place. If you have money you can be completely brain dead and still be successful. To equate success with having lots of money is little more than believing there is no limit on greed, and alas, that seems to be what we have come to.
Why do I think like this? It’s my mother’s fault (bless her) for always reminding me of the starving Chinese and the starving Armenians. Even as a small child I knew what a Chinaman was, but I didn’t have any idea what an Armenian was. I’m not sure my mother knew what an Armenian was, but she knew they were starving and that bothered her terribly. Also, by now, having lived in a variety of human societies, from “savages” to “folk,” rural and urban, and also being somewhat familiar with the extensive literature on sick societies, I believe I know what a “sick society” looks like. This one I live in now is truly sick and there seems to be nothing I can do about it.
It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.