“How’s that “hopey-changey” thing working for ya?” — Sarah Palin
The late comedian George Carlin, just before he died, said that he was dismayed at the way things were in America –I’m sure that’s nicer than George said it — because we had become a two-tiered society — those who own everything, and those of us who work for them.
Sadly, I think that’s true and it’s becoming more true all the time in this present age. I think we, as a society, are being given the false choice of “be rich, free of the law, and in control” or “be poor, have the laws matter, and be out of control”. Given that, well, most of us would choose to be rich, free, and powerful. Others of us would side with poor (though we’re not them) and have the laws apply to us (that’s fair), but have no control over where the country goes. Those people, we would call “liberals”. Oddly, though, the poor that we liberals are trying to help buy into the two option plan and want to be rich, so they can be free and powerful. Given the choice of “abused” or “abuser”, they are sick of being the former so they choose to become the latter. If those are the rules, well, then the game is on, they say. That, I think is what happened last night. We, as a country, gave up hope that we could get a third choice — one where nobody gets abused and everybody gets what they need but nobody gets all they want. We thought we could change things, but when the “owners” blustered back and said they weren’t going to even talk about it, when they started yelling and carrying on about us wanting our needs to get met off of the fat of their land, when they showed just how abusive they could be, we gave in.
So the poor midwestern farmer, who sells his food to a giant corporation that pays its stockholders instead of him, chose not to be abused. The poor minority person of the city in the East or the farm in the South, finally agreed with the “owners” that there was no hope for them, because that’s the way things had always been and that’s the way things will always be. Why? Because the “owners” have what they (the minorities) need, and at least it’s something. A few bread crumbs are better than no loaf at all. On the West Coast, people are taking the other choice they feel is open to them — — they attempt to avoid the system and forget their difficulties through drug use (legalize marijuana laws) and fantasy (movies and other distractions) .
Psychological theorist Virginia Satir says that in dysfunctional familes, people choose certain roles and lock into them. Among those roles, are the the blamer, (the conservatives), the placater (the minorities) and the distracter (the west coast). The last role she suggests is the “super-reasonable” or intellectual with no emotion (the Tea Party?). Satir says that families do this when they’re afraid there isn’t enough to keep going and when there’s a hierarchical system where “the people with the power make the rules”. That’s America today — one giant, dysfunctional country squabbling over our half-a-loaf (if we get that much) while the “owners” watch us kill ourselves. Why aren’t they worried like we are? Because they own the bread factory and can have food anytime they want it.
My friend Jon Hudson, years ago, did an enactment of world poverty and statistics which I have never forgotten. In it, 7 or 8 of 10 people get bowls with a few grains of rice in them. Another 20% or so are soldiers. Some protect the group with the most food, others troll the large poor group. The last group has bowls of food in front of them. In the scenario, the last group is America.
Suddenly, world hunger makes sense. Wars make sense. Of course! It’s because people want to eat and that small but rich group has 90% of the materials! If only they would share, people would eat, the rich group wouldn’t need armies to protect their wealth, and people wouldn’t fight over the food they’ve been sharing.
OK, here it is some 30 or so years later and we’re here in this situation. While America may be the people with the wealth compared to the rest of the world (or it may be the Chinese now), there’s a smaller circle in that big-table feast area. In the outside world, there’s the small-bowl people. In America, there’s a big bowl — a huge bowl in fact. But from that huge bowl, there’s a twenty- gallon size bowl and and 9 other finger bowls that the rest of America has. That’s you and me with the finger bowls and the “owners” with the twenty-gallon bowl.
People outside of the US have little, so they attack us, thinking we have more. And, as a country, we probably do. But inside the country, the amount available to us isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We can see the big bowl, we just can’t have any of it.
How do we get out of this mess, this dysfunction? Satir would say that first, we need to come up a third option — one that’s neither abuser, nor abused. We need to see things in a different way. And how does that come about? We need self-esteem. We need to believe that we have the right to food, clothing, houses, medical care simply because we exist. We need to believe that regardless of our race, age, gender, social class, family history, or whatever we have the right to exist and we have the right to make choices about our own lives because we — all of us — have value. After that, we need to realize that while some people bring more to society and some bring less, nobody gets a twenty-gallon bowl because nobody needs a twenty-gallon bowl.
America has always had this love/hate thing with leadership and self-worth. The revolutionaries believed in the right — and the ability — of the people to govern themselves. The Tories (those who liked Britain and it’s king) believed that because most people can’t govern themselves, it’s left to those who can — those who are smart enough, strong enough, wealthy enough – or good looking enough — to rule. They are obliged to rule, to take care of us “little people” — the less smart, less strong, less rich, and less good looking. Even that system is more just than the one we have now — where the super-rich have no obligation to anyone but themselves. But it all comes down to your view of human nature — can people make decisions for themselves or do the well-to-do have to do it for them?
Does success in our leaders mean perfect success all the time? No, because nobody’s perfect. But who are our leaders? In my view, we are. Give us all, all of the money and let’s see what we can all do with it. Some of us will build companies and create jobs, some of us will be doctors and lawyers, some nurses and janitors, some of us will be mooches. But all will have food and a place to live and clothes on their back, schools and medicine that we need to exist. This revolutionary view requires a lot of us. It requires us to be active citizens in a government that isn’t “them”, because it’s us. It requires that we believe in ourselves, even if we know we’re not perfect. it requires that we have hope that even if we get it wrong once in a while, that we can fix things. And it requires us to demand what’s ours as though we’re worth it. And we needn’t stop there. Since we’re re-distributing bowls, we should share with the rest of the world from the bounty that belongs to all of the people of the earth. And — just to confuse the dictators — we should treat all people like they, too, have the right to exist. We should treat all people to the world’s resources and expect that they, too, can rule themselves. Yes, we can bring democracy to the rest of the world — not militarism, not colonialism, not anything with guns or bombs — just the belief that all people can rule themselves.
But it all starts with the belief that we can and we should and we will rule ourselves. With a little more of the “hopey” stuff and more of the resources,, a lot more of that “changey” stuff could happen. Let’s (alas) keep hope alive, and act like people who can run our own lives. More than that, let’s actually try running our own lives. Run for school board or city-councilperson or justice not because you have the money, but because you’re worth it. Elect people who aren’t good looking but have good ideas. Support each other instead of tearing each other down and be merciful with them, so that they’ll be merciful to you when you mess up. Let the whole human family be functional. Expect the whole human family to be at least somewhat functional and our country won’t look like this. It look like those revolutionaries imagined it all those years ago.