Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Riotous community

What is society? What is the common thing that binds us all together. When I'm feeling in an idealistic mood, I think the common bond we all share is a mutual self interest--and deep desire to care for others and be cared for by others. Help the neighbor out across the street when his car is stuck in snow. Be helped by the other neighbor when you are trying to open your door with just one too many bags of groceries.

Isn't that part of what makes us human? We cooperate. We care for others. We are cared for by others. We are united by our community, by our shared needs for food, shelter, protection, and companionship.

Others, of course, don't see this as the common bond that we share. I was reminded of that when I became acquainted with the FM dial in my car. I had forgotten to bring my MP3 player this morning and was left to my own devices for amusement during my morning commute.

On this particular morning, the conservative program that I tuned into was discussing the riots in the UK. They played this audio of this clip several times:

The host took particular offense to this young women's comments. I took offense to her comments. Not for the same reason as the host. I thought she was just ignorant. However, I'm not willing to accept political analysis from an intoxicated person on the street. There are clearly more astute observers who could shed more light on this subject.

I should also remind myself not to take political observations from radio hosts. This host compared our current situation in the US with the riots going on in the UK. Saying we are just days away from such riots, he stoked up his listening audience saying that the unemployed and various other "lazy" Americans are sitting on the couch expecting to be taken care of by hard working people's tax dollars. The host criticized the idea of taxing companies and millionaires to "redistribute" wealth and take care of those "lazy" Americans. Why should someone who works hard to create a business give away their money to take care of lazy people on a couch?

Why should we? That's an honest question. Why should we tax those with a lot to pay for services that those without resources need? Why should we tax those with a lot of resources at a higher rate to build roads, airports, seaports, and schools?

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I think that caring for each other--and being cared for--is an essential part of our humanity. Why wouldn't it be in our best interests for each of us to pitch in our fair share--to offer the best health care, the best schools, the best infrastructure---the best opportunity--so that all of us have the opportunity to succeed. That's my vision of my country. My vision is a place where we are all working together to build something greater than any one of us can do on our own. My vision is a place where those who are fortunate are willing and able to help those who are not.

I got to thinking about what values the host might have underlying his statements. I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing they are much different than mine. I'm guessing those host, along with many of his callers, believes that we get what we earn. We earn our money through the work we do--and those wages are ours. We can spent them as we wish. On ourselves. On our families. On our needs.

I do agree with that. I don't begrudge anyone enjoying the fruits of their labor. I do, however, thing that many forget the importance of making the choice to help another--the importance of making the choice to help out our common good.

I wish that we as a country--as a society--would hold onto the very old idea of noblesse oblige. Where is it that we began to lose the notion that with nobility, wealth, and power come responsibilities and obligations? When is it that we began to lose our moral economy in which privilege was balanced out with a duty and responsibility to those without that privilege?

I see the value of noblesse oblige disappearing all over the place. It was missing in the dialogue on this talk show. It's missing when I hear political candidates talk on both the right and the left. On the right we have the mindless droning of the GOP chanting mine mine mine mine mine. On the left we have an equally mindless droning of give give give give give. Both sides fail at discussing anything resembling a value. What is the value behind the Tea Party? Why do they find their ideas important? Can they hear the values that the Democrats have under their policies? Can the democrats identify and speak to those values? Can the Democrats hear and speak to the values of the GOP?

It doesn't appear so. I don't really blame the politicians. They are only giving us what we want. I blame us--all of us. I blame us for forgetting that it's important to talk about ideas. It's important to talk about values. It's important to listen to the other, and it's important for the other to listen to you.

What do you think? More importantly, what do you value?
The community chest, by the way, dates back to at least 1913. I'm sure the roots of it go back much further. The first known community fund was founded in my hometown of Cleveland Ohio in 1913. Money was collected from businesses and workers and distributed to community projects--people who were in need were taken care of by people who had means. These community chest organizations quickly multiplied through the great depression. By 1948 there were more than 1,000 community chests in the country. Several name changes later, the community chest because "The United Way."

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