Saturday, November 8, 2008
In re-reading an earlier article I wrote about welfare (in which I described it in the context of it being a “public good”) I stumbled upon a broader point I had failed to expand, and I would like to expand it today.
A community is defined not by the individual contributions of the members of the community, but rather by what the community accomplishes as a whole. An army would not work if each individual member of the army just pulled their own weight, they must also pull the weight of their brethren, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. We presume that this is an essential component of army life, but when that lesson is applied at home, in a domestic setting, someone always comes out of the woodwork screaming “socialist” or a variety of other words that have, over time, become epithets in spite of themselves (Liberal, communist, etc.).
Thus, any attempt to discuss the ways in which our community at home has become xenophobic and lonely tends to be brought to an abrupt, awkward end without accomplishing anything.
This came to my mind earlier today when engaged in a conversation with the mother of one of my mother’s student’s. We were discussing Chicago on the night of the election. I expressed how surprised I was to see that people seemed, for that one night, to be giving each other the benefit of the doubt. She said that a friend of hers had noticed the same thing in New York, that people on the subway were actually looking at each other and engaging with the people around them.
Think about that. We live in a place where looking at and/or talking to the people around you is so strange that people remember it when it happens.
Why does being a nation involve being scared of our compatriots? Sure, one in every few thousand are going to turn out to be racist bigots or mindless criminals, but every time you fly you take a bigger risk than you take when you smile at the man across the bus from you, or shake hands with a stranger. Yet people will fly thousands of miles, hours and hours and hours bumping elbows with a man or woman next to them, and never even say hello.
When did other people become so uninteresting to us?
When did our people become so uninteresting to us?
We should be a people. Our government is of us, for us, and by us. We should be a community which, together, accomplishes great things. Yet we have fallen to a level where we view each other only as competition, as speed bumps. The potential for our neighbors to be an asset really never crosses our minds. People die in their homes and sometimes aren’t found for weeks. What the hell happened here?
I think communism scared us and we rebounded too far from it. Someone drowned in the lake, so we took our children out into the desert and never taught them to swim. Here we are, all watching porn, dating over the internet but too afraid to meet, forming web communities for the acquisition of random casual sex with total strangers of unknown age. On the subway, we fantasize about the girl on the other side of the car, but we will never, ever, ask her what her name is. We are all dying of thirst, but too afraid of water to drink.
We need to consider how much of our political jargon these days is knee-jerk, and how much of it is well grounded. We’ve gotten too far from the 60s for our own good health.
Where’s the love, man?
It’s time to start taking care of our own, and before you start equivocating consider that by being born American, you implicitly agreed that your own was anyone who happened to turn up on your shore with his family in tow, willing to work for a living. Even if you don’t like his or her “type.”
For anyone for whom this didn’t jive back in the day, the motto was inscribed in stone as a reminder: “give us your hungry, your sick and your poor.” If you don’t like the motto, you’re free to go live in one of the other great free nations of the world that aren’t in any way dependent on the prosperity of America. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but I’m sure you’re more creative than I.
We are a nation built on the idea that a mass of immigrant thieves, religious nuts, political exiles and greedy merchants could come together under one banner and agree to disagree. The sons and daughters of this ragged band of criminals and outcasts turned out okay, I think. We’re a bit ugly, but we get the job done. It sure is a whole lot of work though, remembering that our ancestors were every bit as downtrodden, dirty and unwholesome as the people jumping our southern border today. The greater part of them didn’t even speak the same language as one another. Hell, English became our nation’s language by a pretty narrow vote advantage over German, if I remember correctly.
We are a community. Communities do right by their own. We haven’t been. This is unhealthy and wrong. If adding a dash of socialism is the answer, so be it.
That’s my ten cents for the day.
p.s.: If you're wondering about the picture, it's the South Grand coffee-shop, back before they "cleaned it up" (it subsequently went out of business. The thought of there being no more "Jane's Addiction" milk shakes caused me to literally tear out some hair in grief).