Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Who Are You?

What matters most to people? How much money you have? The kind of house you own? What you do? How you look? Your IQ?

Right now, society has a case of weight sensitization, which is taking on proportions that would have it seem that issues such as war, poverty, and global climate change are mere bagatelles. The chatter about what is healthy, what you should eat, how much you should eat, how large you are, how fat you are, how skinny you are, ad infinitum, is such that people are being reduced from feeling beings to sacks of proteins, fats, amino acids, and other chemicals.

This goes beyond the divisive and elusive ideal of beauty, to a fundamental conception that, like intelligence, health can be boiled down to a single characteristic, trait, or even number. That soon, we may be nothing more than a set of numbers like IQ, weight, BMI, etc., is both frightening and perverse. It is the modern reflection of inherent classicism that continues to plague us. We feel a need to place people into convenient, calibrated categories and to organize them on a continuum that allows us to determine exactly where we stand in relation to "them."

It is no longer enough to judge people on the scale of "beauty," but to break down and quantify the qualities that make them "less beautiful" or "less attractive" than someone else, or even less "like us." A person must conform or be condemned.

This rush to judgment, this desire to force society into some absolutism of type, feeds on our more destructive impulses, those dark demons of our ancestry that marked different things as threats, to be avoided, shunned, or killed. Given our evolved state, where we have the mental horsepower to override our baser instincts, it is sad to see how easily we are seduced by them, turned from reasoning individuals into fanatical mob. Even as we strive for greater tolerance of race, sexual orientation, gender, et. al., we turn inward and succumb to the intolerance of our animal brain, chopping people down rather than reaching out to pull them up.

In the end, the success and survival of human society is predicated on our ability to throw off the shackles of our evolutionary past and reach beyond our instincts. We must look past the face, the body, the eyes, and see what is inside people. And not just see, but learn to tolerate the differences, no matter how radical. This will prove to be a far greater struggle than the switch from hunter-gatherer to agrarian society, but the rewards for success will be immeasurable, compared to the possibility of our species becoming nothing more than a cosmic footnote.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bag It

I won't go into the inappropriate use of the Internet-spawned phrase "tea-bagging"; you can go to Wikipedia and look it up yourself.

As I wrote two days ago, I think it's safe to say that the Founding Fathers would be confounded by the system by which the Federal Government collects levies and taxes in this country, and how the money is then spent. It seems nonsensical in the extreme to tax people constantly to make up for shortfalls in the Federal budget, shortfalls caused by poor budgetary oversight and spending control. Not that the country was a model of fiscal prudence in the beginning, but back then, having fought a war for independence and requiring the aid of other nations to accomplish it, the Continentals were perhaps a bit more wary of plunging the nation into debt for no purpose.

And now, as if to hearken back to the days of the Revolution, Republican organizations around the country are holding "tea parties," designed to show their displeasure at the tax policies of the current administration, and their frustration with fiscal irrresponsibility in Washington, D.C.


The revolutionaries of the late 1700's held their tea party to send a message to the crown, that they would not continue to pay high tariffs on tea (or anything else for that matter), to a government that was, in effect, an absentee landlord. England saw fit to glean what it could from The Colonies without placing too much stock in them, forcing the inhabitants to work harder and harder, only to see more and more of their wealth transferred across the ocean, to be foolishly spent.

While the modern parallel is striking, it's harder to justify it in the same terms today, because the seat of power sits within the nation itself, and is populated by duly-elected representatives from each state. The people have control over this government, and if the government has shown imprudence in the spending of tax dollars, well, the citizenry only has itself to blame.

The current administration is in a pickle, having to undo the damage done by the previous administration (a refrain that is not new in the annals of American politics), while at the same time trying to establish new guidelines for making government work more efficiently. The cognitive dissonance that must currently be flowing through Congress and the White House is not to be envied, but many a resident of Congress was there when the mess began, and they have very little cause to be back-biting about it now, given they were part of the original problem.

So a lot of "tea" is going to spilled today, in a gross and appalling display of ignorance. The very people protesting were the genesis of the problem, by not holding their legislators to account for their wild spending, then re-electing them to continue their spendthrift ways, all the while watching the economy come to a crawl and begin to slide back down the hill it had just ascended. Unlike The Boston Tea Party, the government that is taxing them is under their control, and they have chosen not to exercise that control as judiciously as required. They continue to elect the same people, based on partisanship and vague promises left unfulfilled.

This exercise in rule by the people known as the United States of America is not a simple proposition. To allow us all to claim our share of freedom and peace, we must pay. We can complain about our taxes, as is our right, but we must understand that we hold some of the responsibility for them being as they are, because we have consistently not held the feet of our elected representatives to the fire. It is not enough to throw out a handful of the most egregious abusers of the public trust, or even to change Presidents; we must change how we view our government, and remember that we are the ultimate arbiters of what happens at the seat of power.

If we want change, real change, then we must start with ourselves. We must demand more. We must help each other more. We must take the reigns and drive our country to the prosperity that it deserves and ensure that prosperity cannot so easily be squandered. And we must be willing to say to ourselves that the things we clamor for sometimes are not as important as providing every American decent education, affordable health care, and stable food and housing. We must be willing to be a union in fact, not just in spirit. We must all be willing to work for the greater good.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Taxation With Representation

If the Founding Fathers were irked at the idea of having to pay taxes to The Crown without fair representation in Parliament, just imagine how they would feel now. The government they worked so hard to put together has taken the idea of taxation and turned it on its head. While I'm sure they would agree that tax revenue collected by the Federal government was to be used for the good of all Americans, I don't think they'd be too pleased with how that is accomplished and how the money is apportioned.

I am sure they would see the Democratic point of view, which says that the money needs to be spent towards the general welfare, to ensure that no American should suffer through life with a lack of food, shelter, and education. I am also sure they would see the Republican side of the equation. Government must do these things effectively, efficiently, and above all, with as little cost to the citizen as possible. Large government benefits no one if its size is not a function of what it does but how it does it.

All that said, I'm sure the Founding Fathers would look upon the current system and see that it is a shambles of their original model. No doubt they would be horrified at the inefficiency and waste inherent in the current budgeting process. What would have them no doubt even more perplexed is how so much of the money is being misspent and misused. Despite representation, it is as if the whims of Congressmen are more important than the needs of the people.

For the American Republic to work, it must provide equal access to all, access to those things that are the fundamental right of citizens: health care, food and shelter, education. It must provide defense of the nation without becoming embroiled in every petty foreign war. It must show other nations through deeds and words, how the lamp of democracy may be lit by the people of a nation. Mostly, each and every citizen must do their share, whether they would agree with the policies of the government or not. Elections are held to give the citizenry a chance to change the course of the nation when they feel it is headed towards the shoals.

For all of this to work, the sweat of the American brow must not be spent perpetuating the same tired policies based on self-aggrandizement, appeasement, and chest-thumping. The taxes we pay must come with their own price tag: the promise by all our legislators that they will treat them with care, will portion them out to provide for all, and will ensure our safety and security, all this without the rancor and partisanship that has so mired us in the mud for so long. Perhaps it is too much to ask, but ask for it we must, each and every time we pay our taxes or go to the ballot box. We must hold those we elect to represent us to the highest standard, until it becomes clear to the establishment in Washington, D.C. that they work for us.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Warning Shot

The forces of intolerance were awoken from their sleep today by a fusillade from an unexpected quarter. A-snooze in their hammocks, the sound of their hull absorbing the brunt of the salvo must have shaken them to the core. They were being attacked by a raider slipping out of the mist.

The state of Vermont took its rightful place in United States history today, when the State Legislature overturned Governor Jim Douglas' veto of a bill which would make marriage between same-sex couples legal in the state of Vermont. This was not a triumph of the legal system, but the legislative, and the Vermont Legislature was the first state governing body in the nation to pass such legislation and preserve it over the objection of a state's Governor. This was law-making as intended, the voice of a people being heard to say "we will no longer stand for intolerance."

The bill originally passed without a veto-proof majority, but anyone who knows the state of Vermont, knows that when the stakes are important, the people know how to lobby their local representatives to ensure the will of the people is done. No doubt, once Governor Douglas threatened his veto, the wires to Montpelier were hot with the voices of Vermonters unwilling to allow such ground-breaking legislation to die such an ignominious death.

Where this moment stands in the history of homosexual civil rights remains to be seen, but it clearly opens up a door the forces of intolerance thought closed.