“Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity, nothing exceeds the criticisms made of the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” -Herman Melville
Well that’s counter-cultural to the fundamental idea of America.
If you know me, you are likely aware that I am frustrated, disgusted, and disenchanted with a great deal of things. And I am far from alone in this perspective. Although such negativity can cause problems, I am not convinced that such an outlook is unhealthy. In every situation, someone should ask “how could this be done better?” If this question ceases to find voices, a level of stagnation and apathy arises that is unhealthy. With that said, I struggle with many aspects of American society.
Go pick up today’s newspaper or click over to a world news website; read a few headlines, and it wont take long for you to agree that selfishness and greed are behind a majority of problems occurring throughout the globe. Selfishness and greed has plagued the world since the beginning of humanity and will continue to do so until the end; this is an unfortunate fact of life in every country and every culture. The difference between others and America is here in this blessed nation, selfishness and greed have been institutionalized; they form the foundation of American society.
Rugged individualism—the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” doctrine—was, and is, a founding principle for America. The denotation of rugged individualism is, at worst, neutral but likely appears positive—another case of the “sounds good, but is really a terrible idea” dilemma. This “take care of yourself” mentality is accompanied by an unspoken subscript that many fail to read: take care of yourself, and forget everyone else. Even if this is not the case, this mentality is the result from such individualism.
Here in the United States of America, there is no worse crime than to infringe on someone’s individuality or right to be an individual. Me, my, mine: These are the articles upon which our nation has been built.
Let me pause for a moment. No, I”m not a communist; I’m not arguing for communism; I’m not even necessarily promoting socialism. I am simply pointing at the faulty foundations upon which an entire nation and culture has been built.
In a country supported by a consumer culture of the latest and greatest, businesses have made “I want” and “I need” interchangeable. Impulse buying, retail therapy, window shopping. It’s all about me and getting what I want. Me.
People that complain about taxes and the various things their taxes pay for will invariably mention “my hard-earned money” or something to that effect. My.
Along with this selfishness, comes an element of possession. “That’s mine” isn’t a statement; it’s a warning. Mine.
A nation based on a conglomerate of selfish interests cannot last. It will work for a while; it will even prosper for decades, as we’ve seen. However, selfish interest will always favor those in power—those with money. Selfishness and greed have no room for concern of others: a point made evident in 2008 with the crash of sub-prime mortgages.
The “have’s” will always want more, and there is no one easier to steal from than the “have not’s.” The lower in society an individual falls, the smaller his or her voice will be. While those in poverty aren’t immune to selfishness and greed, their selfish interest is often focused more on simply surviving to next week.
In a society ruled by greed, the “have’s” will shrink in numbers while growing in wealth; In selfish competition, someone must lose. Eventually, the majority of wealth will be (and is) concentrated in the hands of a small few: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/30/nyregion/where-the-one-percent-fit-in-the-hierarchy-of-income.html
Once this happens, the scale of power will favor a small minority, while disenfranchising a majority. You know, democracy. It doesn’t matter that the policies damage the livelihood of a millions of citizens because no one hears their cries, either because they’re too disenchanted to try or too busy working to provide enough income to survive to be active politically. Try working two or three jobs just to barely survive AND lobby Congress; it just doesn’t happen.
Here’s one current example: There’s been a lot of talk in the past year about ways to solve the U.S. debt crisis. One side of the debate focused on this concept of “widening the tax base.” They began citing figures that nearly 50% of American citizens do not pay any income taxes, which is true. But, what they don’t tell you quickly explains why.
First off, because an individual pays no income tax does not mean they don’t pay payroll, property, and other taxes. Second, roughly 50% of Americans pay no income tax because of their income level. This ‘mischievous’ group of people who are somehow scamming the government, for the most part, make less 20,000$ a year. Why do they pay no income taxes? Because they barely have enough money to support a family before taxes. (Here’s one of many articles discussing this: http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2011/07/tax-fairness)
And yet, this was (and might still be) considered a viable solution to our situation. Why? Because those with wealth are sure not going to part with any of their money, so they’d rather tax those in poverty.
I’m not here to preach doom and gloom and condemn America as some great evil of a nation, but we clearly have a problem. The future is not bright for the once great United States of America. If our nation continues to head this direction, the economic, political, and social environment will only degrade more. A country that disenfranchises and oppresses a majority of its citizens cannot stand. The numbers of the oppressed will grow, as the numbers of the oppressors shrink. Eventually, the oppressed majority will rise up and react. Again, democracy.
Again, let me reiterate that I’m not necessarily arguing for some radical change in our system (although, I’m not entirely against that idea). Rather, I am arguing for a change in perspective; a change in mindset. Stop viewing this world through the eyes of an individual, and recognize the community within which we live. Selfishness and greed are fundamental faults that have always plagued humanity and always will, yet this does not excuse us from striving to reduce the influence of these vices.
Life is nothing; life is meaningless if it’s a life lived only for one’s self. Humans crave company—connection with others. I pray for the day when we see the plight of our fellow man, place our own desires aside, and reach out to those in need of our support. I hope for a day when we reach a level of equality throughout our society, not through begrudged political systems, but through genuine compassion for one another. Yes, this is my dream.
“You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.” -Zig Ziglar
P.S. I found it amusing that Pandora gave me this song as I finished up this post:
Lyrics are in the description of the video if you head to the Youtube page.