What Are We To Think?

The most prosperous country in the world and we can’t see past $5.15 as a wage.

What are we to think, in a nation that cannot find enough simple
concern for the working poor to lift their minimum wage to poverty
levels, yet

  • Routinely lies about the costs of war
  • Cannot account for 25% of the annual half-trillion spent on defense
  • Lines the pockets of its legislators by common graft
  • Gives additional billions to the already-rich in tax breaks

This is a country that claims the Judeo-Christian ethic. A land where
62% are regular churchgoers, people who tythe and generate charitable
funds through bake-sales, read their bibles and believe in the Ten
I no longer know what it means to make the claim of a faith-based administration and by consistent government actions, be so uncharitable with the have-nots and left-behinds of our neighborhood.
Neighborhood. It’s a good word, American as baseball.
Neighborhood, the area of our neighbors, an idea more than a
confinement of streets, a reaching out to make sure everything is okay.
In times not so long ago, we took in the neighbor’s mail when he went
on vacation, maybe had  a key to let ourselves in and water plants,
fill the kitty-bowl, probably mow his lawn.
Old folks were the special province of neighborhoods, and children
as well. We looked out for them, made sure they were okay if we hadn’t
seen them for a day or two. But in our own way, we were tribal with our
care and the anomaly is that as we moved from tribal to more civilized
society, we became less civil. That’s been a terrible loss to us
personally and a shock to neighborliness.
The rules changed within my own lifetime, from the banging screen
doors of my lower income childhood, to the drawn shades of my
air-conditioned middle class, to the downright closed society of some
of my friends in gated communities.
The strange thing is, we became less caring on the way up, across each
seemingly minor segregation of social arrangement. It’s common in the
churches and synagogues for the poorer segments to take a far more
personal interest in the welfare of members. The wealthier we become,
the less we rely on the charity of our neighbors and the less we give, the less we are willing to give to those who are not like us.
We made money (or it was made for us). What’s wrong with them? They somehow became an embarrassment to us rather than a concern. Maybe they
were too chilling a reminder of where we came from, where we might
return, their welfare too far removed from our satisfied life.
But we’re becoming a society of us and them and it doesn’t serve us well.
I’ve seen it over a fairly long life. I was born six years into the
Depression and grew up in lower middle-class comfort, but it was a
careful comfort, close enough to an edge that could be felt around the
subject of money. I made and lost money later in life and, as I moved
up through the various structures of wealth, I became aware of a
strange hardness among my peers over money issues.
If you need help, ask a man of modest means. The wealthy are unusually hard about money, even with one another.
Maybe that’s what happened as we became a wealthy nation. The flowering
of McMansions and SUVs has brought with it an impersonal (and shame
based?) criticism of those who are unable to keep up.
My old daddy blamed the institutionalization of charity and he was
quite hard on FDR for what he felt was that particular failure. In his
mind, when the government took over welfare and United Fund bundled all
the private charities, we became less mindful of and charitable toward
our neighbors.
I think old daddy was probably right.
But we are wrong as a nation of Judeo-Christians (or caring
atheists, Muslims, Buddhists and whatevers) to piss away our resources
on foolishness and deceit, warfare and bribery, at the same time
short-sheeting our working poor. It’s crushingly unfair to
build walls against our neighbors to the south while we idolize
multi-million dollar athletes and billionaire CEOs. To subsidize
corporate farmers while we break the family farm and to make a dynasty
of the Wal-Mart Waltons on the backs of wage-slaves is to admit we are a nation divided among winners and losers.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Lincoln’s words are as meaningful and true today as they were a century
and a half ago. We fought then to keep a Union that was increasingly
threatened by the chasm between master and slave, haves and have-nots.
Our Union is no longer in question, but our brotherhood, along the
federal will to maintain equity within that brotherhood, is in the most
precarious of circumstances.
What am I, what are you, what are we to think?

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