My Life is Words
Words and ideas turn on the lights in the brain
I feel wholly inadequate in trying to address a topic on which volumes have been written by people more learned than myself, but still I feel the need to try to make sense of all this.
Let’s first try to understand the debate about racism in the United States and any disagreement or misunderstanding over the term — systemic.
We need to agree on the definition of systemic. It is most commonly used in horticulture to describe a problem with a diseased plant; “A systemic drug, disease, or poison reaches and has an effect on the whole of a body or a plant and not just one part of it.”
The word comes from Late Latin systema "an arrangement, system," from Greek systema "organized whole, a whole compounded of parts," from stem of synistanai "to place together, organize, form in order," Hey, now you can speak some Latin. 😄
I imagine you get the idea. It means that if the rose bush in your garden has a systemic disease, that sucker is riddled throughout with the disease. Simply cutting off one branch that may look worse than the others will not get rid of the disease; you will most likely have to attack the problem it at the roots so that the cure is taken up by the entire plant.
Another observation — when we say the word racism, it invariably conjures up the image of a Black person in the minds of most white Americans. We know there are other people of color, Latinos, East Indians, and many people from the Middle East, but the “really black” people are from Africa in the minds of many in our society. This is due, in part, to the incessant coverage of everything Black in the news media and other forms of journalism.
Let’s look at the roots of our democracy and the growth of our nation as it relates to our modern day problem.
Jefferson, we’re taught in school, is the one who insisted on the words about equality in our Declaration of Independence. His first draft of the document states: “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;…”
The phrase was later changed, by consensus, to; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The meaning is arguably the same, meaning these rights cannot be screwed with or taken away or abridged in any way.
We are taught that Jefferson supported abolition, and he did, but with a caveat. Jefferson actually wanted the black people, once freed, to be repatriated to Africa from whence they came. He wanted them the hell out of the country; in retrospect, a form of white supremacy - wanting to keep America white. From The Atlantic, this excerpt from piece on Jefferson's writings:
"In theory Jefferson's "solution" to slavery consisted in "colonization": the deportation of all the freed blacks from the United States, preferably back to Africa. Cohen: The entire body of Jefferson's writings shows that he never seriously considered the possibility of any form of racial coexistence on the basis of equality and that, from at least 1778 until his death, he saw colonization as the only alternative to slavery.
Late in his life, however, Jefferson began to admit the impracticability of this colonial solution, at least in its widest sense, while reiterating his faith in an attenuated form of it. Cohen writes;
In 1824 Jefferson argued that there were a million and a half slaves in the nation and that no one conceived it to be "practicable for us, or expedient for them" to send all the blacks away at once. He then went on to calculate:
Their estimated value as property, in the first place, (for actual property has been lawfully vested in that form, and who can lawfully take it from the possessors?) at an average of two hundred dollars each … would amount to six hundred millions of dollars which must be paid or lost by somebody. To this add the cost of their transportation by land and sea to Mesurado [the west coast of Liberia], a year's provision of food and clothes, implements of husbandry and of their trades, which will amount to three hundred millions more … and it is impossible to look at the question a second time."
In other words, Jefferson saw the slaves as property and he appears to be trying to find a way around the economic impact of freeing slaves resulting from sending them all back as opposed to be torn by the inhumanity of the whole slavery thing. Not unlike today, the almighty dollar tends to rule the minds of those at the helm of government as opposed to simply doing the right thing and contending with the economic fallout.
John Adams, another of the prominent founders of our nation, while not owning slaves himself and generally in disagreement with slavery, as President, wrote this in response to the receipt of a pamphlet from abolitionists;
“There are many other Evils in our Country which are growing, (whereas the practice of slavery is fast diminishing,)* and threaten to bring Punishment on our Land, more immediately than the oppression of the blacks. That Sacred regard to Truth in which you and I were educated, and which is certainly taught and enjoined from on high, Seems to be vanishing from among Us. A general Relaxation of Education and Government. A general Debauchery as well as dissipation, produced by pestilential philosophical Principles of Epicurus infinitely more than by Shews and theatrical Entertainment. These are in my opinion more serious and threatening Evils, than even the slavery of the Blacks, hateful as that is.
I might even add that I have been informed, that the condition, of the common Sort of White People in some of the Southern states particularly Virginia, is more oppressed, degraded and miserable than that of the Negroes.
These Vices and these Miseries deserve the serious and compassionate Consideration of Friends** as well as the Slave Trade and the degraded State of the blacks.”
* Adams was mistaken about the state of slavery; it was in fact increasing in popularity and was on the increase, not in decline.
These quotes are not meant to denigrate the work that either of these men who helped to bring about our great, if still flawed nation or the reputations of anyone of the people of that time; they were a product of their era and their generation; they only knew what they were taught at home and in their places of worship.
We have to look at this in the context of that time. These were generally reasonable people of some faith and having been raised to believe that white people were superior to other races would likely be reticent to accept that there was true equality of the races no matter the words in our Declaration. But, it does demonstrate that 250 years ago, the seeds of racism had long been planted. Given that virtually every person of power, wealth, and influence was indeed a white man, those beliefs were not only embedded in our history but were being taught to the next generation of children as being normal and almost certainly part of God's plan.
Fast forward to the mid-1800s and we are embroiled in a great debate about a number of tangential issues revolving around the main issue of slavery that would lead to a bloody civll war. The basic problem for all this commotion was the South’s resistance to end slavery. None of the original founders was still alive by the time of the Civil War, but their sons and daughters who had been instilled, perhaps brainwashed or indoctrinated with the philosophies of their white parents were very much alive and depending on their individual indoctrination, came down on one side or the other of slavery.
In the 1800s, the term racism didn't exist. There were plenty of debates about slavery, but it didn't seem to the people e fo that time to be a debate about racism. According to the second edition (1989) of the Oxford English Dictionary, the earliest known usage of the word “racism” in English occurred in a 1936 book by the American “fascist,” Lawrence Dennis, The Coming American Fascism.
Keep in mind, also, that the U.S. at this point was not as populated as it is today and that nearly half of the states (not counting territories) favored secession and retaining slavery and that significant numbers of people in the rest of the Union states agreed with the South or at least thought the Federal government should butt out. Our, that is the white-Anglos, deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of Blacks and other people of color, and the fear of granting them freedom was very real. While some people were against slavery, I suspect that many did not consider Black people to be their equal.
During reconstruction following the Civil War, the U.S. passed several laws regarding the issue of slavery in an effort to right the wrongs done to the African people brought here against their will. There was the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the 14th Amendment that gave Blacks citizenship, and the 15th Amendment granting them the right to vote. Somewhat like a presidents Executive Order, these acts had little bearing on what life was like for Negros in America.
By the end of Reconstruction in the mid 1870s, violent white supremacists came to power via paramilitary groups such as the Red Shirts and the White League and imposed Jim Crow laws which deprived African-Americans of voting rights by instituting systemic and discriminatory policies of unequal racial segregation.
Let’s progress another 50 years or so to the early 20th century. Almost everything in our society was dominated by white men; our government, industry, unions, the military, politicians, and teachers. These were the people who were informing the general populace on the issues of race and segregation which remained rampant across the nation.
The new century saw a hardening of institutionalized racism and legal discrimination against citizens of African descent in the United States. Although they were technically able to vote, poll taxes, pervasive acts of terrorism such as lynchings (often perpetrated by hate groups such as the reborn Ku Klux Klan, founded in the Reconstruction South), and discriminatory laws such as grandfather clauses kept black Americans (and many Poor Whites) disenfranchised particularly in the South. The discrimination was extended to state legislation which "allocated vastly unequal financial support" for black and white schools. In addition to this, county officials sometimes redistributed resources which were earmarked for blacks to white schools, further undermining educational opportunities.
Racism, which had been viewed as a problem which primarily existed in the Southern states, burst onto the nation's consciousness following the Great Migration, the relocation of millions of African Americans from their roots in the rural Southern states to the industrial centers of the North and West between 1910 and 1970, particularly in cities such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York City (Harlem), Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, and Denver.
Southern migrants were often treated in accordance with pre-existing racial stratification. The rapid influx of blacks into the North and West disturbed the racial balance within cities, exacerbating hostility between both black and white residents in the two regions. Stereotypic schemas of Southern blacks were used to attribute issues in urban areas, such as crime and disease, to the presence of African-Americans. Overall, African-Americans in most Northern and Western cities experienced systemic discrimination in a plethora of aspects of life.
Throughout this period, racial tensions exploded, most violently in Chicago, and lynchings—mob-directed hangings, usually racially motivated—increased dramatically in the 1920s. Urban riots—whites attacking blacks—became a northern and western problem. Many whites defended their space with violence, intimidation, or legal tactics toward African Americans, while many other whites migrated to more racially homogeneous suburban or exurban regions, a process known as white flight.
Many of the people we’re talking about in the early 20th century were either your parents or grandparents, depending on your age.
The Jim Crow Laws were state and local laws which were enacted in the Southern and border states of the United States and enforced between 1876 and 1965. They mandated "separate but equal" status for blacks. State-sponsored school segregation was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education. One of the first federal court cases which challenged segregation in schools was Mendez v. Westminster in 1946.
Let’s move to the second half of the 20th century. By the 1950s, the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum. Membership in the NAACP increased in states across the U.S. A 1955 lynching that sparked public outrage about injustice was that of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago; Till was killed for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman; assuming it really happened, some saw that as a capital crime punishable by death.
In June 1963, civil rights activist and NAACP member Medgar Evers was assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council. In his trials for murder De La Beckwith evaded conviction via all-white juries (both trials ended with hung juries).
The 16th Street Baptist Church bombing marked a turning point during the Civil Rights Era. On Sunday, September 15, 1963 with a stack of dynamite hidden on an outside staircase, Ku Klux Klansmen destroyed one side of the Birmingham church. The bomb exploded in proximity to twenty-six children who were preparing for choir practice in the basement assembly room. The explosion killed four black girls, Carole Robertson (14), Cynthia Wesley (14), Denise McNair (11) and Addie Mae Collins (14).
Many U.S. states banned interracial marriage. In 1967, Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as white and people classified as "colored" (persons of non-white ancestry). In the Loving v. Virginia case in 1967, the Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage in the U.S.
Please note that this was 1967, not ancient history; this was just over fifty years ago that some states were trying to outlaw intermarriages. This is recent history and we were still batshit crazy about black and white mixing together. This could have been your parents or your grandparents promoting anti-marriage propaganda.
As the civil rights movement and the dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s deepened existing racial tensions in much of the Southern U.S, a Republican Party electoral strategy – the Southern strategy – was enacted in order to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans, a practice that continues today.
Republican politicians such as presidential candidate Richard Nixon and Senator Barry Goldwater developed strategies that successfully contributed to the political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party. In 1971, angered by African delegates at the UN siding against the U.S. in a vote, then Governor of California Ronald Reagan stated in a phone call to president Nixon, "To see those... monkeys from those African countries - damn them, they're still uncomfortable wearing shoes!”.
This is the 1970s and white people are still denigrating people of color with terms like monkey, spear chucker, jungle bunny, spic, greaser, and a long list of terms intended to diminish the person of color.The perception that the Republican Party had served as the "vehicle of white supremacy in the South", particularly post 1964, made it difficult for the Party to win back the support of black voters in the South in later years and it remains their Achilles heel today.
From 1981 to 1997, the United States Department of Agriculture discriminated against tens of thousands of black American farmers, denying loans that were provided to white farmers in similar circumstances. The discrimination was the subject of the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit brought by members of the National Black Farmers Association, which resulted in two settlement agreements of $1.06 billion in 1999 and of $1.25 billion in 2009. This was going on into the late 1990s; if you are 25 or 30 years old, this is part of your history, not something in a history book.
The problems persist today; Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Central Park Five, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, the list goes on. White women calling 911 because a Black man is in Central Park - he turns out to be a bird watcher. White suburbanites seeing a black person in their neighborhood and calling the cops with no justification other than "they are Black".
This timeline should show you that racism is not new, but has existed in the U.S. and around the world for a very long time - thus, we call it systemic.
I know this has been long, but it is important for us as a nation and as individuals to understand that discrimination is deeply embedded in our society, or culture, and in the psyche of many white people in this country. I hope that you can see the pervasiveness of racism throughout our history. We have been taught by parents, political leaders, religious leaders, and just friends and adults in our lives to distrust and fear people of color and especially Black people.
It will take a thoughtful and long-term program to turn this around. And, as I heard someone talking today on the radio, this isn’t something you make happen by force; you can't legislate an open mind, acceptance, and love. You have to find a way to reach inside people and show them the value in their becoming a better person and that it is their civil obligation to make our world a better place. They, and their children and grandchildren will live in a better world for the decisions they make today.
There was a time when we, the white we, rejected the Irish, Italian, the Greeks, East Europeans, and Asians of all stripes. Today, we admire these groups for both their contributions to our country and the world, and welcome them into our families via intermarriage. It was easier because they generally looked like us - they simply had accents. It was a little harder with Asians, but we have, by and large, moved past that barrier.
Exactly how you craft that message about people of color so it reaches a maximum number of people, I don’t quite know, but it’s the only real answer. Certainly, we as individuals can make a huge contribution to this change by teaching our children to accept everyone and only judge people by their behavior. We can either work to change the opinions of our friends, or we unfriend them; isolate them and maybe that will bring them around. Beyond that, I’ll have to depend on the experts to devise ways of changing our society and nation for the better.
That term, mind control brings to mind about as many images as there are people on the planet; it means different things to different people, but it is, I believe, the ultimate struggle that each of us wrestle with our entire lives.
Our mind, our intellect, and yes, our egos are the result of an evolutionary process that seems to be unique to our branch of the primate tree and to all life as we know it on this earth. For whatever reason, our brain evolved a multitude of functions and capabilities unlike any other animal that we are aware of. And, along with that, we seem to have lost other abilities that many of our animal cousins still possess. Did we lose them, or was it simply that with the growth and complexity of our new brains that we no longer needed those older elements and instincts?
I'll leave the pursuit of knowledge about our evolution in terms of our brain to the researchers and scientists who have both the education and the time to delve into the topic. What I want to discuss is the programming of our brains as we travel the road of life.
Yes, programming; we are programmed beginning at a very early age and we continue to be programmed and attempt at reprogramming us are not stop through most of our lives. Some of the programs come from outside our minds and some of it is self-imposed.
There are studies that indicate we begin hearing and sensing things while we're still in the womb. I suspect that degree of learning is somewhat limited. First of all, in the womb, you are pretty much consumed with the process of development from a mass of cells to a fully formed little critter with a functioning brain. There's a reason why this all takes place in the womb and not on the kitchen table; we need some privacy and certainly protection during this growth period.
So that my words are not abused or misused, let me hasten to add that this has nothing to do with a woman's right to choose whether or not to be an incubator for what will eventually become a viable being. I am pro-choice and nothing I am saying here is to be misconstrued to argue against that position. Someday, as will undoubtedly happen, we will be able to create a human outside a woman's womb.
That process, just as it happens in a womb today, will initially be a collection of cells with the potential of becoming a viable being, but for a considerable period of time as it lies in a Petri dish, or glass bubble, or whatever medium is used to allow those cells to divide and grow, it is not a vialble lifeform. Early in that process, as things may go wrong, and they will just as they do in a womb, a decision will have to be made whether or not to allow those cells to evolve into a partially functioning human or not.
Enough of that. Back to our collection of cells that now has a brain capable of hearing and sensing at least some information. As the article above indicates, our little brain has the ability to hear words outside the womb and remember those words. Since we can't see yet, we can't associate those words with images, but the words are stored in our brains along with other sounds we may have heard, a barking dog, the doorbell, a sneeze or a cough.
You may have heard or read that playing classical music to an infant in the womb can increase their intelligence. This article suggest there is no scientific foundation for this claim. That doesn't mean the music isn't heard, and that it may well affect the devlopment of the infants brain, but such proof would require a significan number of babies in the womb, preferrably all identical to avoid other mitigating factors, and then a controlled study of playing Mozart for some and not others. Until we have those babies lined up in the labratory, all created equal throght DNA engineering, we're unlikely to know the answer to this question.
This preamble, while a bit long, is meant to get us thinking about mind control. As I stated at the beginning, this is a lifelong struggle for all of us, starting from the time we pop out of the womb until we are popped into a casket, oven, or whatever our end process of choice might be.
We begin in a somewhat controlled environment, at home with our parents and perhaps siblings. This is where we start learning most of what will define us as adults. We eat the family food, laugh at the family's humor, listen to the family's favorite music, smell the family smells, and begin to adopt the family beliefs and prejudices. We are somewhat insulated from the ideas and culture of outsiders. Unless, our parent(s) work and we end up in daycare. Now we are also being programmed by the daycare worker(s) with their particular beliefs, likes, and dislikes. That adds a layer of complexity to our personalities and beliefs.
Near the end of this first phase, we are off to kindergarten or to pre-school. Suddenly, we are surrounded by other little wobblers and babblers, all of whom are walking around in a very different cloud of "norms"; what they like, don't like, etc. resulting from the family they came from. That can quickly bring about conflicts of interests as well as learning about how other people think, eat, and feel about the world as a whole. This is our first real challenge of mind control. We were perfectly happy with what we were taught in that first five years, but now some of that is being challenged by new ideas.
We may go home after school and tell mommy or daddy about something another child said, did, or ate. Chances are, mommy or daddy will blow that off with an explanation we don't understand. Or, they may, depending on the topic, get quite aggitated and explain that we don't behave, think, or eat like that in our family. In that case, they have just introduced the concept of discrimination to our little minds. We have just labeled another persons likes or dislikes and even their family as good or bad.
For many of us, at some point in our early development, religion enters the scene. This is yet another effort at controlling our minds and how we think. Each religion has its own values, traditions, and culture and they work hard to indoctrinate their followers in that direction. This can cause a lot of conflict. Let's say your best friend in school is from a Jewish family and you are from a Catholic family. While it's not certain, there is a good chance you will begin to hear how different the Christians and the Jews are and all that that implies.
This process continues as we move through life and it becomes exponentially more complex and intense. Moving through grade school and on to high school and college, we are exposed to hundreds or thousands of new ideas, beliefs, and cultures, all of which we feel a need to classify based on our own values.
Once out of school and into the workplace, we are confronted by more efforts to control how we think. Company rules and norms are presented and we are expected to conform under the threat of losing our jobs. Our ego is challenged. We may be highly motivated to succeed, one of the values taught by our family, and even though we don't agree with the company values completely, we conform in order to satisfy our need to succeed, thereby satisfying our ego.
This is not to say that all or any company cultures are wrong. On the contrary, I think many of them are a good thing and provide us with tools that will benefit us through our lives. Ideas like embracing quality, working as a team, and working toward a consensus are all valuable social tools that apply outside of work as well.
At some point, and this starts with your family's values, you begin to adopt a political point of view. There is no shortage of politicians, friends, and family willing to guide you in your thinking. They will use emotional arguments, economic arguments, and social and tribal arguments to entice you to their point of view. Again, this is a battle for your mind, how you think and how your perceive others.
Marriage is yet another mine field full of potential problems for our way of thinking. Two people from two very different families come together. They have a diverse set of values based to a large extent on their family values; they like different foods, music, color of clothes, styles, etc. These two people are now challenged to blend these two cultures into one homogenous new family culture that will be passed on to their children should the choose to have children. This is often a lifelong process of give and take, compromise, and no small amount of frustration. Each person in the relationship is literally battling for control of the other's mind in terms of values.
If we chose to have children, now these children will go out into the world and bring home the ideas of other families and their likes and dislikes and we have to deal with that. We are now in a battle for control of our children's minds.
We often ask the question, "What is life all about?" The answer to that lies in part to what animal group you were born into.
For the lion and lioness and their cubs, it is learning to be the top predator on the Savannah. For the gazelle, it's understanding that the lion is the top predator and learning the techniques for avoiding the lion and continuing on with life. For a bird, it's how to fly, find food, and avoid predators. The fish, how to swim, find food, and avoid predators. Most of the animal kingdom follows a pattern like that; you're either a predator or the prey, and each of those requires skills that will help you survive.
We humans, having evolved as the top predator and for the most part without having to worry about being the prey, our battle has become one of controlling our minds versus letting others control our thoughts and minds. Early in life, what your parents and the adults helping you develop are trying to do is give you what they see as the skills of survival, much as the lioness does with her cubs. They are trying, not always successfully since they may have not had the right influences in their young lives, to give you the tools to not only survive, but to thrive.
Some final thoughts. Along this path of life, some people will want the best for us in their attempts to shape our minds and others will do so in a selfish and self-serving way. Those operating on a self-serving level are generally promoting themselves, not you. They are trying to improve their personal lot in life and sometimes at your expense or at least using you and after your usefulness is over, they will disappear from your life.
We have to look beyond what sounds good, or promises us something that is probably not deliverable. We have to use our minds and our intellect to sort the good advice from the bad advice and in the process, remain in control of our minds and the values that we know are positive and that produce good, not harm. The meaning of life for humans seems to me to be the challenge of maintaining control of our minds and not giving that over to an outside party, no matter how good they make it sound.
AFI - Not to be confused with the Arc-Fault Circuit Breaker
We’ve all seen the old man sitting in the restaurant with food dribbling down the front of his shirt as he slops up some pasta or soup. He seems oblivious to what is happening. Or, another old man on a chilly day sitting there with a wet drop of snot hanging off the end of his nose and again, seemingly unaware it’s there. Fear not, they (we) know what’s happening, we are merely applying the principle of AFI , also known as “Aw, Fuck It!”
This is a phase of aging that happens with varying degrees of intensity and at different ages; it’s a personal thing. It can come on in your 60s or hang back until your 70s or later. But it will happen. There will come a point where you look at something that’s out of place, or you know you just dropped catsup from a hotdog on the front of your shirt. You don’t have to look down, you know what happened. For a brief moment, you think about grabbing a napkin, dipping it in some water and cleaning yourself up, but then you say . . . Aw Fuck It!
You been around the block a few times. You've seen just about all there is to see in life and you know that you are treading on the thin ice of old age. All one has to do is spend time looking at the obituaries to realize you are walking through a mine field that could take you out at any time, so AFI; what the hell is anyone going to do to you?
It’s a rather liberating feeling when you get to that point. There is no young woman (in my case) that is going to be attracted to you unless your wealth is greater than your wrinkles; they all see their grandfather in your kindly old wrinkled face. You don’t have any job interviews to go to or anyone you’re trying to impress with your appearance. You are free to run (metaphor) through the rest of your life naked if you want. You really don’t much give a fuck.
All those pestering little things that used to bug the shit out of you when youn were young? They don’t matter any more. The concerns that kept you awake at night and sending you off to work with four-hours of sleep have evaporated into thin air. You see the fuzz growing out of your ears and nose and think ‘I should trim that’ but then AFI kicks in - there’s always tomorrow, maybe, and if not, who cares if I look like a Chia Pe when they slide me into the oven?
I imagine that women experience something similar except society has brainwashed them into believing they can’t leave the house without ‘putting on their face’ and donning something fashionable. That, and because they are wired to look after children and husbands, they are a little more particular about the details of life, but I think they get there eventually. I've seen some clown-like women in both dress and makeup in my life. We men just get their sooner, sometimes much, much sooner.
So, just know that as you glide down the path of life that you will almost certainly realize one day that most of your cares have dissolved into the ether and what matters is enjoying the moment, hopefully not your last one, and when confronted with a problem you’ll be overwhelmed with a feeling of AFI. So let the food fall, let the house become a little messy, fart if you need to and vacuum the car tomorrow.
Isms - racism, sexism, religionism, patriotism, nationalism, what's is all about?
More to the point, what do we want our United States government to be?
Two documents are the foundation of our democracy, the Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution. Both of these documents have a preamble that attempts to sum up what the founders of our nation had in mind.
The preamble of the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The intent of that paragraph is quite clear. We had been under the thumb of the monarchy of England, an authoritarian plutocracy that was anything but free.
Preamble to the Constitution for the United States: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
A third document that has come to represent the dream of our founders was the Gettysburg Address that President Lincoln gave in 1863. Eighty-seven years after we fought and died to gain our freedom from England, we fought each other in the bloodiest war in our history with an estimated 620,000 fatalities. It was a war fought over the freedom of all the people.
In Lincoln's address, the line that is best remembered is, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
The single thread running through all these statements are the words "people" and "equality." We are supposed to be a nation devoted to freedom, to the idea that no one class of people or entity within our society is better or above all others; we are a nation of, by, and for the people, all the people residing within our borders.
That idea should be the principle upon which all of our elected leaders, CEOs of corporations, and people in positions of influence, be they celebrities, sports stars, or religious leaders, should make their decisions and pronouncements. They should be asking themselves, "Is what I am about to do or say in the interest of all the people, or is it to benefit one particular interest group?" Will it fulfill the vision of our founders and the words of Abraham Lincoln?
That is also how we voters, the people referred to in all these document must measure the success or failure of our leaders. When we vote, or when we gather in public meetings to discuss policies in our towns, counties, states and federal government, we must ask, have our political, civil, and religious leaders shaped the policies and laws for the good of all the citizens, or only for a select few?
Yes, the details can be complicated, but the outcome should be measurable against those three basic statements. When we vote in our local and federal elections, that is the template we must use in evaluating those in office and those aspiring to hold office.
If we get that right, we will have lived up to the founder's dream of a United States that is, of, by, and for all the people; the rich, the poor, the able and disabled, all the genders, all the races and nationalities, and all the religions.
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Homelessness is a topic of discussion in nearly every city with a population of over ten thousand, and maybe a few smaller towns.
Citizens rail about tent cities and go bananas at the suggestion of safe-injection sites. They want the homeless out of sight and out of mind, and they don’t want to pay the taxes required to try to round them up and rehabilitate the homeless because, well frankly, they don’t really care all that much; they just want them gone.
This isn’t total callousness on most people's part, though I suspect that is a part of this attitude. It can also be because most people have enough crap going on in their lives with their jobs, family, and all the intrusions that being an adult forces into your life to set aside the time to address issues like this.
Combine that with a lack of understanding how anyone can fall that low in society because it has never happened to any of them, and you have a lot of people not looking for longterm solutions but a quick fix that lets them go back to their lives.
What if. What if, as a society in any city struggling with a significant homeless problem, we start fixing at least some of the stuff that may lead these folks to the street, what is usually called the root cause of a problem. Here are some ideas.
Education: The following information comes from www.proliteracy.org
▪ Children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.
▪ Of adults with the lowest literacy levels, 43 percent live in poverty, and 70% of adult welfare recipients have low literacy levels. There is a clear correlation between more education and higher earnings and between higher educational scores and higher incomes.
▪ An excess of $230 billion a year in health care costs is linked to low adult literacy. Nearly half of American adults have difficulty understanding and using health information.
▪ Individuals at the lowest literacy and numeracy levels have a higher rate of unemployment and earn lower wages than the national average. Low literacy costs the U.S. at least $225 billion each year in non-productivity in the workforce, crime, and loss of tax revenue due to unemployment.
It seems pretty clear to me that a lack of education increases the chances that you will be unemployed and living in poverty if not living on the streets. We need to find a way to educate everyone in this country through at least 12 years and preferably 14 years for more and not saddle them with a lifetime of debt to get an education. Per studenloanhero.com, "Among the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800, including both private and federal debt. Meanwhile, 14% of their parents took out an average of $35,600 in federal Parent PLUS loans."
Jobs & Pay: Stagnant and eroding wages coupled with an unlivable minimum wage is a significant factor. This from various sources;
▪ A living wage is defined as “a wage sufficient to provide the necessities essential to an acceptable standard of living, and provides it with some ability to deal with emergencies, without resorting to welfare or other public assistance.”
▪ Unfortunately, in most states, the “Minimum” wage is far lower than a living wage. This disparity is one of the leading causes of homelessness among young adults in America today. Despite having a job, many do not make enough money to pay the bills.
Seattle has moved to lead the way in raising the minimum wage, and while the politicians got a lot of mileage out of that, a lot of workers are still in a bind. With a minimum wage of $15/hour, we tend to relax and think the problem is solved; it is not.
Studies have been done in Seattle to look at the impact of the new wage, and it has found that contrary to all the horror stories that opposed the increase, jobs are still plentiful. Studies also point out that experienced workers employed at the time of the increase did see an increase in their overall income of around $250 per quarter; this is not exactly going out and buying yacht money.
It is also important to note that the population analyzed in these studies worked very few hours per week. On average, the sample worked 18 hours per week, and 93 percent worked fewer than 40 hours per week. Therein lies part of the problem. At 18 hours per week, you will have to find and work 2.22 jobs to earn $600/week before taxes which is still not a liveable wage in Seattle.
Many employers limit employee hours to avoid having to pay their employees benefits as defined by federal law. Zenefits helps explain that Applicable Large Employers (ALEs) have to provide health insurance for full-time employees. To avoid that cost, employers limit the hours of many minimum wage employees.
The average rent in Seattle (varies with the neighborhood) ranges from just over $1,300 a month to a little over $1,500. Let’s assume you can find a 30/hour per week job at $15. You will gross $450 a week or $1,800 per month. Allow 10% for taxes, and you’re down to $1,620. If your employer is providing some health insurance, you almost certainly have a copay.
The Committee for Economic Development reports that “The average employer-group family health-insurance premium in the United States is now almost $15,500 (shared between employer and employee). If that is divided 50/50 between the employer and worker, that’s another $7,500 a year or $625/month from the worker’s paycheck, leaving about $1,000 for rent, food, transportation to and from work, miscellaneous expensed like toiletries, haircuts, etc.
You don’t have to be an economist to see this just isn’t sustainable by any stretch of the imagination. This post is about homelessness, not economics, but this little bookkeeping journey shows you how difficult it is for people, especially people with few skills and lacking education to pull themselves out of homelessness which is what a lot of people keep demanding of the homeless; you know, the "pull yourself up by your boostraps" bullshit.
There are other issues behind homelessness like drug addiction and alcoholism, some of which may find their basis in the hopelessness and downward spiral of not finding a job that pays a livable wage.
PTSD is of course well known and requires a solution of its own as do many other form of mental illness.
In summary, what I’m suggesting is we have to find a solution to getting everyone the best education possible so they can qualify for good paying jobs and we might need to peg the minimum wage to some formula the takes into account a livable wage as it varies from city to city based on the necessities of life in those cities.
It's not easy; if it was we would have fixed the problem years - make that centuries ago. If we’re not willing to take these steps as a society, then we need to stop whining and learn to live with homelessness like many of the third-world countries have had to do.
As we bicker and argue between the political right and left, I'm left, literally and figuratively, to wonder what we should call our form of government.
We like to call ourselves a "democracy" but in fact, we're only partly that. A democracy is defined as a government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system. We have evolved to where big money elects politicians and companies are called "people". We seemed to have moved away from a government that is soley, "by the people".
We like to refer to ourselves as a "republic". A republic is a state in which the supreme power rests in the body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen directly or indirectly by them. Again, we have so many non-citizen influences in our government and elections that republic doesn't quite fit any longer.
Socialism? A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole. We, the community sure as hell don't own or control very damn much of what goes on in our country.
Three terms that keeps popping up in all these definitions is the word people, citizens, and community. In other words, we are talking about not the factories, or the roads, or any other tangible property. We aren't talking about off-shore bank accounts or year-end bonuses, although both of those are nice and should be part of our deliberations because we are talking about humans. The only reason for any country to exist is the people. Without people, all the tangible assets in the world will simply sit around collecting dust.
If we can agree on that last paragraph, then we need to decide what role the people play in this grand scheme we call the United States. When we say people, we have to mean all the people, from the homeless person on the street to the CEO in a major corporation; they are each human and they want different things from their country and government. Still, they are people expecting 'people solutions'. Therein lies the challenge that we humans have wrestled with since the beginning of time.
Before I ramble on further and lose you, that is how and why I came up with the title of this post - Humanocracy. It seems to me that we need to focus on a government and laws and regulations and programs that benefit humanity; all of humanity, not just a select segment of our society.
The CEO has an expectation based on his/her rise to that position, the work and probably personal sacrifices of time they have made. They expect a certain status in the company, and they expect to make more than the people working in their company.
The mid-level manager has similar expectations to the CEO, but not as lofty. The workers also expect a fair and livable wage based on their work, skills, and education as may be applicable.
The people doing menial jobs also expect something in return for their labor. They want to be respected for the contribution they are making to society. Some may make light of the work a dishwasher does in a restaurant, but imagine your dining-out experience without them. And they expect a liveable wage.
Then we have the unemployed and perhaps the unemployable segment of society. These people are in that grouping for a myriad of reasons. Some ran out of luck and were laid off or are reeling from a personal tragedy. Some are suffering various degrees of mental illness, often a result of PTSD or the complications thereof. Some are our honored veterans struggling to return to society. And, some are addicted to a variety of substances.
So, our Humanocracy needs to be designed to work for all these people, not just the elite few at the top and not just for those living on the streets. To do that, we have to think differently. Perhaps we do need a ratio cap on CEO salaries. Maybe that is tied to how well the people in the company are paid.
For example, let's say a company, Cost-Mart (made up name but you probably get it) is paying their lowest paid employees a wage that exceeds the "liveable" wage establish by a formula using poverty levels, housing costs, etc., by 30%. The CEO of that company would be entitled to make a salary and benefits equal to 200% of the median income in the company. If the median income is $50,000 a year, the CEO could knock down $200,000 a year.
There could be a table that starts at the minimum living wage (CEO gets 110% of company median) and going up to 200% of the liveable wage (CEO gets to earn up to 300% of median). In other words, there is an incentive for companies and their managers to do the right thing and therein to profit themselves from that approach.
All we're talking about here is incentives. Executive managers get this all the time. They get bonuses based on achieving specific goals, most of which are only possible because the people working for them are busting their humps to make it happen. This isn't a giveaway program or socialism, it is capitalism at its best - succeed and reward.
Before I wind this up, you may be wondering how this would deal with those at the bottom of the ladder, the homeless and the hopeless. That depends. If the individual is unable to perform in a job in a way that contributes to the goals of the business, they have to be on some kind of public support. It would be some kind of subsistence program. These are people who, try as they might, will never be able to hold a job that allows them to support themselves. Those of us profiting from a vibrant economy with jobs, homes, cars, etc., have to embrace the notion that part of our "taxes" is to help pay for these people who are left behind by life.
The drug addicts, PTSD, and the unemployed all have the potential to move away from their predicament and rejoin the productive part of society. If we have the society structured in such a way that there are real incentives - not just some crap job that pays less than minimum wage and for only 15 hours a week - they are more likely to work to pull themselves out of their situation. Specific programs would be designed to help these folks.
And, there are those who, again for reasons most of us will never understand, have "dropped out." They don't want a job or the responsibilities of family and owning assets. They have always been around and will always be around until something like genetic engineering removes those traits.
They are part of our society nonetheless, and they deserve to live without fear, without hunger, and without retribution. The arrangements for them would be minimal but humane. I fail to see how any society can have pride in what it has accomplished when it dumps on these people. These folks deserve at least the minimum we afford prisoners who are serving time; food, shelter, and medical care.
In my opinion, these are the kind of conversations we need to have in our new Humanocracy; how do we make this plan work for everyone? How do we move away from our growing autocracy toward a more humane model for our society?
I think and write and talk and then do it all over again.