I hate injustice! Yes, we all know that life is not fair, and we all encounter injustice and betrayal multiple times throughout our lives. These challenges can help us to grow. Ugh. But they do. And I don’t entertain apocalyptic fantasies, either. I really truly believe that humans, as flawed and conflicted as we are, are more than capable of creating societies based on the values of love and compassion. How far away this is in the future, I don’t know. It is up to each of us to examine our own hearts and our own priorities to make a better world possible. Today’s modern world is overloaded with testosterone, and we need some, but it’s high time we brought out into daylight some of our more nurturing and warmth genes that help us resolve social conflict and maintain peace and harmony. (Yes, the feminine!) Haven’t you ever seen how female chimps groom and soothe the males to keep the peace?
However, as I am living in the world today as it is, I must add that it really bothers me that not everyone is preoccupied by the need for all beings to be given equal opportunities to express each of our talents. And it seems evident to me that if we are each born, specific and unique, at a particular conjuncture in human history, that there is a reason and purpose for our appearance at that time. So much potential dies unheeded, unfed, “mort dans l’œuf” as they say in French. People need to be nurtured, talents need to be encouraged. Everyone would benefit, both collectively and personally.
This past weekend, I was speaking with a long-time friend from France, Henri. He mentioned that French politicians are eager (and have been for some years) to implement “le modèle américain“, or the American model for social politics and business. He added that the French are beginning to feel complacent and not as fierce about defending their rights. I truly hope that this is not the beginning of the end for the French social system, which despite some flaws in various areas, allows taxpayer funds to benefit the majority in so many ways. I so admire the spunk and dedication of those who peacefully demonstrate, speak up and stand up for their rights! I felt fear and grief in the same moment, for the American model that I experience living in the United States is a system implying increasing economic, cultural, and educational poverty for the majority, without any prospects for improvement in sight.
The American system of politics is a far cry from democracy. It has become commonplace knowledge that 99 percent of the people have little to no voice, and the system is a mouthpiece for the 1% of the supremely wealthy. The system and government preserve the wealth of top business owners and CEOs by limiting the amount of taxes they pay, promoting their businesses and personal interests through lobbies and the promotion of products such as industrialized foods, pharmaceuticals, and inefficient health care rather than investing in the people, working to preserve our environment for present and future generations, and making sure enough quality and affordable food is available to all, for the collective good. In the state in which I live, (Georgia) employees have few to no rights, and employers can fire an individual without having to give any reason at all. Teachers are not allowed to be a member of a teacher’s union.
This is no secret. The United States is still the wealthiest country in the world, but the wealth is now concentrated in a thin layer in the upper levels of the social atmosphere. Premium foods (organic, grain-free, etc), education at the best colleges – or any college at all, for that matter, and quality health care is quickly becoming only available to the wealthy. The cost of higher education is soaring, and as less average Americans contribute to the federal tax pool because of lowered wages, services decrease, including funding for education. An economy can grow only with a strong and educated middle class. American politicians like to talk about the middle classes, but isn’t it more important to think of all people as being an important part of our communal cultural wealth into which we need to invest time, energy, affection, and money?
According to Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under the Clinton administration and professor at UCal Berkeley, upward mobility and the expansion of the middle class economically and academically began to stagnate back in the late 1970’s. Why the American middle class has allowed labor unions to be vilified and stifled and for wages and benefits to shrink into practical non-existence is mystifying. How has the word “socialism” become a bad word? People choose to live in groups for the benefits and protection that group life affords. A social system promotes the cohesion of the group and the rights and responsibilities of ordinary citizens. I personally believe that the wealthy have brainwashed ordinary American citizens, encouraging them to believe that promoting social values and supporting working citizens is non-patriotic and un-American. Nothing could be further from the truth! So many courageous Americans have fought unfair laws, discrimination, unsanitary and unfair working conditions over the years. That the benefits of their struggle disappear is a terrible loss for all of us. Social values are feminine values and they are necessary for the cohesion of any group. An excess of masculine values leads to strife, as selfishness, hyper-competitiveness, and aggression take precedence over the well-being of the group.
The documentary film, “Inequality for All”, featuring the above-mentioned Robert Reich, is a clearly explained and moving testament to the possibilities and pitfalls of the American economical and social systems. Capitalism without limits is not ultimately beneficial even to the greediest sharks and captains of industry, for the system is based upon consumption of goods and services. Eventually, there will be no one left to exploit. After 40 years of reduced wages and benefits, American families, after resorting to importing stay at home moms into the workforce, working longer hours, and living with strangulation levels of debt in order to maintain a certain standard of living, have reached a critical point. There is no longer any wiggle room. A downward spiral, according to Mr. Reich, is inevitable. Lower wages and little to no upward mobility in the workplace lead not only to frustration, but also to great struggle for a large majority of Americans, including myself.
Personally, I have 10 years of higher education under my belt, yet I only earn about $24,000 before taxes working full-time. After five years with the same employer, I have not received a single raise or promotion. I am not eligible for many social benefits because my income is too “high”, though I do receive health care benefits from my job. However, those benefits don’t extend to my son, because they are too expensive. We don’t go on any vacations, can’t afford to go out to eat or buy clothing or entertainment. No cable tv. Just books and dvds from the public library. I often can’t afford to make necessary repairs to my house or car and can only shop for groceries once every two weeks, which is never enough. I can’t fill the gas tank in my car and have to be careful about how far we drive. I cannot save any money for my son’s college education or for anything else, no matter how much I scrimp and try. This is the reality of living in the United States, and it is important to know that most children today are being raised by single parent families.
Is this the America to which foreigners aspire and make sacrifices, leaving the familiar to build a better life? I am wondering when Americans will start making plans to leave the shores of the United States and strike out elsewhere, in search of that perhaps illusory better life…
There are countries and governments that invest in their people. I recently read a book “The Smartest Kids in the World” by Amanda Ripley, which speaks of education systems that succeed. Finland is one sterling example. After experimenting with a system similar to that of the “No Child Left Behind” programs instituted under the Bush administration in which heavy government controls over teaching curricula and standards with excessive standardized testing, Finland noted the failure of this system to produce results. Finland decided to invest in its people, considered its greatest resource. They made it difficult to become a teacher, and only the best were recruited. Once trained and in the classrooms, these teachers were given great freedom to teach their students, and even to build their own curricula. Funds were invested not so much in infrastructures as in people. Vocational schools received extra funding to help all children succeed. The point is, if there is a will to invest in a population and a desire for all people to succeed, then an entire country will prosper…not just a select few.
I encourage you to watch the documentary “Inequality for All”. It clearly explains how and why America has lost its edge despite continued growth. Corporate CEOs wages have soared while middle class earner’s wages have shrunk or stagnated, even as the cost of living has escalated. Few of the top earners in the country feel compelled to give back or to invest in the country or in its people. Much of America’s wealth is squirreled away in foreign investments, benefiting only those wealthy individuals. In the film, top earners explain that the wealthy don’t create jobs, as Republicans so often claim. In fact, as technology grows and the quest for ever-growing profits (to please investors) becomes ever- increasingly important, less and less jobs are available to Americans. Automation and large businesses have replaced smaller companies who work less efficiently but employ more people.
We need to reassess what is important to us, and as a people, we have to demand each and every day, that our needs and that our voices be heard. If we allow the wealthy, greedy, and powerful to run the world unchallenged, they will simply take what they want. This is a fact of human nature, and it must be countered and challenged each day. Champions of compassion and humanitarians are very rarely captains of industry or government. When they are, wonderful things can happen. But we, as citizens, cannot wait for these rare leaders. If we want to lead richer and better lives and afford more possibilities for our children, we have to fight every day to have our voices heard. This takes courage and endurance.
It is my dream that humans look to our animal friends for guidance as well as into the depths of the collective unconscious, our common human heritage. Our societies are out of balance, and with a concerted effort, we can all stop the distracting chatter of the media, look within, and find the answers we need to lead more peaceful and loving lives.
“Capitalism inevitably dissipates, disperses, and disorganizes social energy because it weakens personal relationships. Social capital is the value embodied in the willingness and ability of people to form and maintain positive personal relationships. However, maximum economic efficiency requires that people relate to each other impartially, which means impersonally. People must compete rather than cooperate, if market economies are to work efficiently. When people spend more time and energy working – being productive – they have less time and energy to spend on personal relationships within families and communities, and social capital is depleted. When people buy things based solely on price rather than buy from people they know and trust, personal relationships within communities suffer from neglect, and social capital is dissipated. Capitalism devalues personal relationships and disconnects people and thus dissipates, disperses, and disorganizes social energy.”
A very interesting article about the question of the sustainability of capitalism: http://web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/Korea%20-%20Sustainable%20Capitalism.htm