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On Our Feet or On Our Knees
By Richard Girard
Today in America, we face a moral conflict whose divisiveness is unequalled by any other since our Civil War. We are divided between those who believe that they have no responsibility to their fellow man other than to reproach them to struggle harder against an inequitable economic system, and those who believe that if we are to have any realistic chance of enjoying Thomas Jefferson's unalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," the current system must change so that all Americans have a real opportunity for such an outcome.
Gandhi once stated that there is enough in this world for everybody's needs, but not for anybody's greed. It is morally wrong to ask a worker to take a cut in his wages, forcing him and his family to do without, just so a wealthy shareholder might realize an extra ten cents per share on the stock he holds, while he sits by the pool, waiting for his dividend check. We will be told that extra ten cents goes to worker retirement funds, but the truth is that the majority of shareholders of stocks are not retirees' pension funds, but the richest One Percent of our nation's population.
We can no longer accept at face value the lies upon which our recklessly exploitive capitalist society hides its darkest acts. There is no Horatio Alger--the top One Percent have reduced our modern economy to the worst sort of merciless, dog-eat-dog system, a system that would make even an Edmund Burke blanch.
The current system has been perverted by men whose sole desire is to establish themselves as a permanent aristocracy in this country and around the World. They wish to control not only their own lives, but the lives of many others, as if any other person can say what is best for us and how we should live our lives. That we discern in others what we consider are non-productive or even harmful habits and actions does not mean that we should condemn them, or confront them over these actions. Only if these actions pose an immediate threat to that person or to others, or if we are asked about those actions by that person, should we give in to our all too human tendency to meddle in others' affairs.
These actions that we believe to be wrong may simply be the only method the individual has ever learned to cope with that situation in their lives. Any solution which we undertake to change them without their asking, dishonors their dignity as human beings, and is more often than not about us satisfying our own ego by implying "I am so much better than you," than it is about actually helping them. Nor should you be surprised if the target of your suggestion reacts with anger and frustration to your implication of wrong action, on their part rather than accepting it as so-called "good advice."
It is this accusatory attitude that underlies the thinking of the One Percent. This thinking permits them to sleep at night when they know that men and women are being turned out of their homes, and children are going to bed with empty bellies in homeless shelters. The One Percent has closed thousands of factories, sent the work that those factories once did overseas, all in the name of unholy profit, bankrupting both the workers and the nation.
The One Percent uses the justification of writers such as Ayn Rand to put aside any possible blame for the conditions that have destroyed millions of American lives, and threaten millions more. The theory of "parasites and producers" in one form or another has been used for thousands of years to justify slavery and the mistreatment of the "underclass." By the creation of this "subhuman" layer in society, the powerful have always justified both their excesses and their failures. The oligarchs then practice the art of playing of class against class; workers against small business people; farmers against city dwellers; so that they are so busy fighting among themselves they never realize that the One Percent is stealing all of their lives.
Now today, the oligarchs wonder why this anger and frustration has exploded into the streets of more than three hundred American cities in the form of the Occupy Movement.
It is not that we shouldn't be angry: anger has its time and place. Nor is it that we shouldn't feel frustration: when human beings are denied what is rightfully theirs at every turn then frustration is the only honest emotion that the World may expect in response. No, it is in making proper use of that anger and frustration that gives us the opportunity to make them our most powerful tools. We should not permit our anger and frustration to incite us to violence, no matter how much we might feel that our oppressors may deserve it.
Our goal should not be the punishment of those who have wronged us: punishing those who have wronged us does not fix the problem that wrong has created. Our goal is to win back the future for our children and their children. We win when our children are healthy, well-educated, have full stomachs, a warm place to sleep, and do not fear the police swooping in at two in the morning to wrongly take away mom and dad. We win when every parent only has to work one job to feed, clothe, house and provide health care for their families, so they can be home to help their child with their homework. We win when parents have the time to attend little league games, dance or music recitals, and the wherewithal to take their children to see different parts of this country every year. But most of all, we win when our children have the ability to accomplish for their children these self-same goals.
There are those who say that this is a utopian dream. That to do away with hunger, and sickness, and illiteracy is impossible. But how can we say that with any moral certainty until we have attempted to make that dream come true?
If we do not try, we will never know.