Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Just a heads up, this post is a little ranty and sweary, but, you've got to get these things out of your head, lest they become aneurisms. Anyway, ONWARD!

We're the richest, most powerful nation in the world and yet we can't have a safe national roads and bridges system. We can't have affordable healthcare. We can't have renewable energy. We can't have higher education without incurring a massive amount of debt. We can't even have the nice things we used to have, like pension security and jobs that can support a family on a single salary. Some of us can't get married and apparently we can't even have a law that 90% of us want. Here's why we can't have nice things.

Meteorology was weird in the 80s.
Some of Us Are Still Fighting the Cold War
Despite the Cold War being over for twenty years and despite the fact that the only “socialist” aspect of the USSR was the second “S,” and despite the fact that we weren't particularly beacons of freedom during that time in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, and despite the fact that our capitalism has pretty much always been managed, to varying extents, by the Federal government, there are Americans who see any attempt by the Federal Government to do anything as “socialism” that is inherently “evil.” Raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans and corporations to build roads, bridges and schools is socialism, so it's bad, so is regulating Wall Street even though they created the most recent crisis, so is regulating anything about corporations or taxing them or really doing anything at all.

For many Americans, especially those who are of governing age, the Cold War defined their identity, and unfortunately but understandably, their identity was forged on a very shallow understanding of what the Cold War actually was. They knew that the USSR was socialist and evil and the USA was capitalist and good. They knew the USSR oppressed its people and the USA didn't. They knew the USSR was atheist and the USA was Christian (except, of course, for all of us who aren't, but more on that later). The result now is a deification of the rich with absolutely no consideration for how the rich got rich, a totally irrational hatred for regulation, and a fundamental inability to understand the potential and actual benefits of federal spending (unless, of course, that spending is in their district).

As a result, we were prevented from replicating the strategy that got us out of the Great Depression and contributed to our wealth and power in the first place. Every attempt to restrain the idiocy or at least the consequences of the idiocy of speculation and finance on Wall Street was blocked, prevented, or gutted. Every attempt to prop up the American middle class with Federal spending programs was watered down, diminished, or destroyed, even when those programs were shown to have immediate and long term additional benefits. (You know, of not having bridges fall.)

The point is that, because they're still fighting the Cold War, there really isn't a way to argue against their points. Their point is socialism is evil. That's not an argument. That's a cardboard sign some guy with a tin-foil helmet might carry. Furthermore, because it is a “war” mindset, they treat their principles, ideas, and policies not as principles, ideas, and policies, but as territory in a violent contest, hills they cannot allow their enemy to capture.

Some of Us (And Not Just Southerners) Are Still Fighting the Civil War
What do you mean? This is nothing like cosplay.
This part isn't about systemic racism, though systemic racism is also one of the reasons we can't have nice things. (So is systemic sexism.) One of the stories some people tell themselves about the Civil War is that the real problem was not Southern desperation to preserve slavery, but the Federal government butting its nose in where it didn't belong. Despite zero evidence that this is the case and despite the constant efforts of Southern politicians to extend slavery in America, even by fomenting revolution in Cuba and Nicaragua, some people seem to believe that if the North had left the South to its own devices, they would have worked the whole slavery thing out on their own, and it would've turned out better for everybody including the slaves. Or that, with something closer to the truth, the North wasn't really fighting to free the slaves anyway, but against Southern culture, which the North opposed because, you know, stuff. Those who are still fighting the Civil War aren't really (at least I sure as fuck hope not) arguing for a return to slavery, but that every single effort by the Federal government is an invasion, an attempt by Northern (or Liberal or whatever) elites to abolish their way of life (for profit or something I guess). Therefore, every Federal regulation of any kind is assumed to be, not a good faith attempt to improve American society, but an attempt to control people's lives. (Well, white, straight, Christian people's lives, of course. Non-white, non-straight, non-Christian people, we can regulate the shit out of them.) This shifts the burden of proof away from Monsanto or a fracking company or an investment bank or any other corporation to prove their product or technique is safe for society, onto the Federal government that must prove whatever Monsanto is doing is so fucking unbelievably dangerous it justifies taking away our freedom.

Absolute, Apocalyptic, Persecuted
But feel free to keep up the whole executing black men thing.
There are lots of different ways to be religious, most of which have nothing to do with our relationship vis a vis nice things and having them. But there are strains of Christianity and Christians in America that practice their religion as the absolute truth of human experience, during the approaching endtimes, while being persecuted. This attitude leads to believing no one has any good reason to live in a different way, that everything is part of the coming catastrophe, and that everybody else is out to get them. So when an atheist asks that his or her property taxes not be spent on religious icons on public property it is a WAR ON CHRISTMAS, and when the Obama administration logically extends an existing healthcare regulation that merely asks health insurance companies to treat birth control the same way they treat Viagra it is A WAR ON RELIGION, or really anything from “Happy Holidays,” to family planning, to acknowledging that after a few thousand millenia teenagers still really want to have sex and some of them actually do, to anything that suggests maybe not everyone in this country is Christian the way you are (or, gasp, not even Christian at all) isn't part of living with others in a diverse society, it is THE FUCKING APOCALYPSE AND NEW INCARNATIONS OF PILATE LURK IN THE SHADOWS TO ABORT OUR BABIES AND I DON'T KNOW GAYS!!!!!!!

Exploiters of the Above

A system, bereft of nice things as it is, is really good for some very rich, very powerful people, who are using their money and power to keep things just the way they are. The people still fighting the Cold and Civil Wars and practicing absolute, apocalyptic and persecuted Christianity are very useful to the rich and powerful. They can be whipped into a frenzy to oppose any act by the Federal
government at all, from common sense regulations to protect against another financial catastrophe, taxation to ensure the viability of government programs, spending on programs whose goal is to FEED CHILDREN, or regulations, programs and policies designed to move us out of a fossil fuel based economy.
Name 1 bad thing rich white men have ever done . OK, 2, OK, you can stop. Stop or I swear to God I will steeple my fingers so fucking hard at you.

Whether it's through Fox News, SuperPacs, lobbyists, advertising, donations to think tanks or whatever, some of today's rich and powerful use the people above to enforce a status quo that makes them rich and powerful.

Obamacare Hit a Grand Slam
Obamacare managed to bring all of these groups together and the result was absolute fucking madness. Because it involved federal involvement in the healthcare system it riled the Cold Warriors, because it could be seen as dictating policy to states the Civil Warriors were up in arms, and because healthcare involves sex and reproduction the Persecuted Absolutist Apocalyptifiers were there too. Oh, and rich fucking asshole heath insurance companies. The result was that many people were so against Obamacare, that it played a major role in the 2010 election, despite agreeing with everything in it. Then there was the Death Panel non-sense. Which was complete and utter non-sense, that was covered in the news and had to be responded to.

But we see this in all kinds of other attempts to improve the state of American society. Pretty much any attempt by the Federal government to help American society get a few more nice things ends up being delayed, derailed, or demolished by one or more of these groups of people. So we limp along, until the next stock market crash, the end of cheap oil, or the coasts are flooded, and we go from trying to improve our society, to trying to save it.

We Actually Have a Lot of Nice Things
OK, we do actually have a lot of nice things, like the laptop and WiFi connection I'm using right now. Too many of us are hungry, but very few of us starve. Too many of us get shot, but our medicine can save many of their lives. Our travel habits are destroying the environment, but we can stay connected to friends and family in ways that were impossible less than a century ago. But just because our nice things are nicer than the nice things we had fifty years ago and nicer than many of things other people around the world have, that doesn't mean rich fucking assholes can do whatever the fuck they want.

The point is, we can do better. We can have a society where those who work, can live in material comfort for their entire lives, where the sick can be cared for without going bankrupt, where our energy is clean and sustainable, and where those of us who are lucky and talented enough to become very wealthy, can still be very wealthy, while paying it forward into the various societal systems that made their wealth possible. And we can find a lot of common ground amongst different ideologies. Funding family planning and effective sexual education will reduce the number of abortions that happen. Everybody already supports background checks for gun purchases. There is a progressive tax code structure that will generate the needed revenue without meaningfully impinging on the lifestyles of the wealthy. We can move out of a fossil fuel economy, educate our citizens and care for them when they get sick. The real frustration I feel is that, with all our money and power and all the brilliant and generous people living here, it would be so easy. If not for those above, we wouldn't just have nice things, we would have the best things in ways that made life better for everyone we share the world with.

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