Michael Kinsley (Tyranny of the Rich, MSNBC, June 06, 2003) has recently legitimized open discussion of class warfare in America, and the historical context for this western millennial trait has been discussed with regard to it’s relationships to fundamentalist western religion (Class Warfare Against the Poor, CounterPunch, Jan. 30, 2003). Rather than blame Michael Kinsley for his poor grasp of political correctness, we might also consider addressing the actual issue.
By all right wing gods, we certainly do have an awkward time in America with the notions of human greed and human fairness. The rich are entirely unable to define or recognize greed. The poor, as a result, seldom experience fairness. Rather than having fairness as a bottom line, it has become the reciprocal of greed (greed up, fairness down). As the driving force of capitalism, greed has been increasingly in dominion since World War II, maxing out with the current Bush administration.
Here we are, a nation birthed from the concepts of fairness and equality, and we have recently produced the largest gap between the rich and poor in the history of the human race. The fact that the religious right wing accepts this as the proper norm for the entire world is really all the proof needed that the religious right has never been able to grasp the concepts of fairness and equality. Given our purported American role of nourishing Democracy at home and abroad, this outcome ought really be explained to the American citizens so that they might better appreciate the job their government is doing for them in the name of fairness.
In sorry truth, our American grasp of human fairness and equality is right up there with our grasp of human sexuality, not having a clue what that is about either. We are, as a nation, rather obsessed lately with the adolescent notion that penile size matters in sex (yes, “you have mail”). Never mind Whoopi Goldberg’s sage advice to men, that they ought stick their tongues through the hole in a LifeSaver™ and thats “all I wanna see.” Viagra™, likewise, will never make much of an impact among the lesbian set. Somehow over the past few millennia, men have simply missed the self-evident fact that the primary sensual apparatus on the female body is situated externally. Somehow over the past few millennia, men have simply missed the simple truth that if you are not making love with the entire woman, body, mind and soul, then you simply ain’t all the way in anyway. Beneath this “American” view, my friends, is mythology, ignorance beyond empirical and experiential comprehension. Men have simply not gotten the message, have they?
We are, likewise, rather obsessed lately with the pathetic notion that “greed is good,” that greed is central to the nourishment of democracy in America. Never mind Kenneth Lay and American dominion by corrupt middlemen who create or produce nothing themselves. Never mind eating up the poor to eke a little more money out for the rich. Somehow over the past two millennia, the right wing has missed the self-evident fact that the primary causes of unfairness and inequality in the world are greed and self-righteousness. Somehow over the past few millennia, the right wing has missed the self-evident fact that “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could not have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration” (Lincoln). Beneath this right view, my friends, is mythology, ignorance beyond empirical and experiential comprehension.” The right wing have simply not gotten the message, have they?
Consider the various contributors to America, for better or worse. On the one hand, we have had leadership in America which took us in the direction of fairness and equality in the interest of the values of nascent Christianity and Democracy, e.g., Jefferson and Lincoln. On the other hand, we have had “leadership” in America which has taken us in the direction of unfairness and inequality in the name of the values of Republican crony capitalism and “compassionate” conservatism, e.g., Bush and Cheney. Between these extremes, we can consider the concept of relative human worth. That range embraces everything from human genius to human criminality, from knowledgeable creativity to ignorant destruction, from human healers to human hucksters.
The majority of us live in between these extremes, aspiring to be neither saints or sinners, being kindly one day and maybe not so kindly the next, just trying to survive the unfairness of a harshly competitive, mindless socioeconomic system. We mostly just vacillate between acceptance and judgement, indifference and outrage. It is the few at the extremes who provide our saints and our sinners, either by encouraging us to think for ourselves, or by encouraging us to allow others (“them”) to think for us, respectively. Speaking directly to this dichotomy in leadership, Jefferson put it this way in a letter to DuPont de Nemours, “We both consider the people as our children, and love them with parental affection. But you love them as infants whom you are afraid to trust without nurses; and I as adults to whom I freely leave to self-government.”
With the right wing Republican takeover of American government, capitalism has come to transcend the traditional western dialectic between liberal (empiricist, New Testament) and conservative (transcendentalist, Old Testament) viewpoints, replacing traditional notions of relative human worth with notions of personal net worth. We have become a nation in which everything revolves around money, decidedly in service to mammon (Common knowledge here, people. Deal with it).
Without money, you are no one, you are nothing, you have no “rights.” The concept of personal character hasn’t been recognized by American financial institutions for decades. Even with an income of $200,000 per annum, you are next to nothing under “influence-for-a-fee” crony capitalism. You simply do not have adequate means to be a viable contributor to the right wing political agenda. You do not have enough chips to gamble at the crony capitalist table.
Employing a purely fiscal approach to relative human worth, Bush’s self-enabled tax break for 2003 will be the equivalent of what can be earned by working full time at $20 per hour, a tax savings for Bush more than most Americans can even earn by working. Not bad for a man who is so self-evidently challenged in the intellectual, moral and spiritual realms. Bush is pretty special. Cheney’s tax break for 2003 will be the equivalent of what can be earned by working full time at $150 per hour, more than the average physician can make by working. Cheney is enormously special.
And that IS the problem. Cheney is just too special for human belief, but that doesn’t matter to the self-righteous who question not how they became so special. They embrace only the notion that they are special, by the grace of their god. Downplaying every notion of meritocracy is essential to this embrace.
There simply is no empirical or logical basis for taking personal fiscal worth as any criterion at all for evaluating relative human worth. Even the first Christian, the abused and ignored savior of right wing religion, died penniless. Even Jefferson accomplished perfection in leaving this life with pretty much what he had when he entered it, abiding by the self-evident notion that “you can’t take it with you,” and failing to abide by the notion that his offspring were so remarkably blessed that they ought not have to contribute for a livelihood. The only rationale for using money as a measure of human worth comes from the traditional right wing religious notion that personal wealth is an indication of heavenly favoritism which, in turn, provides justification for self-righteousness and belligerence in one’s own name and interest. Accordingly, any growing gap between the rich and poor is necessarily seen as god’s will, never-mind the will of the people.
This approach to self-justification is the practical equivalent of psychosis insofar as it is a refutation of empirical reality, a refutation of human reason and a denial of human history. As Saint Bernard pointed out, “No more vain than insane.” This religious effort to be “right” for the sake of being “right” is characteristic of fanatical and criminal thought, characteristic of fundamentalist religious thought regardless of brand name (William Raspberry, Uncontested Zealotry gives GOP an Edge, Seattle Times, June 3, 2003). This approach is necessarily devoid of reason because it sees “special” people as being worth literally hundreds and thousands times more than a minimum wage worker. This all makes perfectly good sense to the self-righteous religious right wing.
To Jefferson, this was utter nonsense. The members of his American Philosophical Society covered the range from established scientists and physicians to creative craftsmen and naturalist farmers. To Jefferson, it was not whom you knew but what you knew that made you human and worthy of being a citizen in America. Indeed, the evidence would have it that America’s intellectual fathers were rather modest men, hoping to convince with logic rather than spin. Jefferson’s tombstone does not even mention that he was president.
Is getting an honest, realistic handle on the concepts of fairness and meritocracy just too tough for right wing comprehension? If so, we are going to have to dump them from the political scene, no other option in a world needing a little fairness. But not to worry, as the right wing seems to be doing everything possible to ensure that end on their own. “The people who should worry most about the credibility gap are those who support Bush’s foreign policy (E.J. Dionne, Jr., Spinning Away Trust, Washington Post, June 6, 2003).”
Democracy, my friends, is built on trust, trust in human rights and trust in our fellow humans. Human rights transcend a posteriori religious law looking for someone to punish. The most important laws in a democracy are a priori laws designed to prevent people from falling through tears in the social fabric (remember the 60s?). The only absolute law in a true democracy is the law that you must think for yourself and make your own decisions. Everything else follows from that one law in a government of, by and for the people.
Dr. Gerry Lower lives in Keystone, South Dakota. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org