Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Stuff, Gifts, and Things

Well, it seems that Mitt Romney has surfaced after his defeat at the hands of President Obama. His story, along with that of others on the losing side, is that Obama won because he gave gifts to certain elements of the electorate, namely Black people and women. Bill O’Reilly chipped in with this explanation as well, as, I believe, did Rush Limbaugh and others. That is, voters were offered “stuff,” “gifts,” and “things,” you know, a sort of bribe your way to victory kind of thing. In a perverse sort of way this is true.

But consider for a moment the nature of these things, this stuff, these gifts. According to Romney, for example, the health care they were offered is probably worth about $10,000 per family, Latinos were offered the dream act , women, contraception and abortion, young people educational expenses, and so on. To consider these benefits to be “gifts” betrays such a basic lack of understanding of the nature of society and culture as to make one wonder where and how these people were themselves socialized and enculturated. This is perfectly consistent with their ideas about how success comes about, if one is successful it is because he/she did it all themselves with no help from the community at large, the basic social Darwinian position that everyone is entirely on their own and at liberty to cheat, steal, rape, and pillage, to become successful, that is, to become wealthy even beyond belief.

These people seem to cling to the idea there is no God given or natural right for such gifts as health care, unemployment insurance, minimum wages, and so on. And indeed, there is not. Such gifts are granted people by the simple fact that they live in organized groups that are fundamentally dedicated to helping each other rather than just living by the law of the jungle where it is every animal for itself, a condition that has never prevailed in any human group I know that ever existed. This is exactly why humans, like other such group, are described as social animals, they have to be social creatures in order to survive. This is so profoundly true of humans in particular as to be self-evident. Of course it is the case that some human societies provide better for their members than others, as in fact in the case of health care all other industrialized societies provide it much better than the United States. But this does not negate the underlying principle of the benefits of living in social groups. Decent societies provide perquisites for their citizens and, in fact, can probably be measured on a scale of decency by how well they provide them. Even in the most “primitive” groups you can find the members provide for each other. It apparently takes unfettered capitalism to undermine this basic fact of human life, the introduction of a profit motive, the institutionalization of human greed, the idea that no one individual can possibly have too much of what ought to be the community resources, in short, the underlying principle of contemporary Republicanism, exemplified by the life of Mitt Romney himself. For Romney and his ilk the rich are entitled to their obscene wealth, entitlements of any kind for others are undeserved gifts for the unworthy, the lazy, shiftless, “takers,” who irrationally desire food, shelter, and a minimum of care. Such is life in what is claimed to be “the greatest country on earth.”

Yes, there is class warfare. My class is winning.

Warren Buffett

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