Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.


It's Only Water in a Stranger's Tears: Or, We Do Not Take Care of One Another

As much as I like what Keith Olbermann has to say, I don't much watch him. This is partly because his is too bombastic, partly because he's too combatively partisan and anti-compromise, and partly because he just reinforces my thinking instead of challenging or expanding it. But I feel I must share this because it simply so good and so much like things I've tried to articulate.

My attempt to transcribe the first half (the first half only, because I think it is this general thought/belief/stance that is most important, more so than the specifics of this particular political battle):

Face it. We do not take care of one another. Not “we” as in progressives, not “we” as in Americans, not “we” as in the West, “we” as a species. Individual people we know, we take care of them. It is human nature dating back to the caves to form small protective units: families, clans, groups, guilds. But take care of everybody? Everybody in your neighborhood, the people you love and the people you don’t know? Everybody in your country, the people who are like you and the people who have in common with you only humanity? Do you take care of them? Do we take care of them? It seems as if we are taught as young children to share, and then as soon as we let go of our parents’ hands we are taught to stop sharing, or to at least to stop prioritizing sharing, to stop sharing unconditionally, in the broadest sense, where there is no identity of family or clan or group, no hope of reward or mutual defense, no insurance against one’s future hardship. Face it. We do not take care of one another.

And that is why the social safety net that this country has stitched together piece by piece over 75 years despite the unceasing protest of the greedy and the ensconced and the divisive and the xenophobic, That is why the social safety net is this country’s greatest accomplishment and the greatest evidence that, every once in a while, American exceptionalism is based not in flag waving, but in reality. This is not to say our system of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and everything else is the best. Nor was it the first. 3,400,000 people in this country above the age of 65 still live below the poverty line, and 43,600,000 of all ages still do so. But unlike so many other nations, unlike what so many in this nation want to see and desperately strive to force, the movement in this country for more than a hundred years has always been forward, has always been just slightly bigger and better than it was yesterday towards the simple idea that those other people you see every day, the background characters, the extras in the movie that is your life, that they count too, and that the only obligation you truly have in life is to try to do something, something for them, even if you will never meet them, even if you will never know them. Something. Not everything. Something.

Every day since I started to think I’ve realized I knew a little less than I thought I did the day before about why we are all here. But over time I have come to agree with the baseball player Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.” What other measure is there of each one of us? You will die and I will die and everybody you will see tomorrow will die and so will the children and their descendents, and we will be, at best, memories. And by what are all those who proceeded us judged? Name anybody in history—name anybody we all know or somebody only you know—by what are they judged? The answer, stripped of the bells and whistles, is not wealth nor fame not beauty nor power, but what impact did they have on the lives of others?

I think you'll find similarities between Olbermann's rant and many of the themes I blog about, but it reminds me in particular of what I was attempting to say at the end of the post Contextualizing Politics. It was buried at the bottom of the very (even for me) long post, as a bit of an appendix, so I'll reshare it here verbatim:

I'll also add an abridged version of a related post I considered writing about six months ago. Not so much about defining ourselves into opposing contextual vs. absolutist camps, but how those camps view the proper use of governmental power.

It started with this article that referenced a blogger making the case that tea partiers and hippies have the same values and share the same space on the political spectrum.

The actual blog post explains how both groups accept that human nature is innate (not socially constructed) and value independence, individualism, and self-sufficiency above all else. Being neither a hippy nor a tea partier I won't fuss about whether the comparison is accurate, but I've already said above I think we are social beings who are not independent individuals living on our own but members of cooperative societies who need to learn sharing to get along most happily.

So the thing I wanted to focus on was a view of human nature as necessarily greedy and corrupt. There's a video embedded in the middle of the post in which a tea party spokesman explains why they think government needs to be limited and small:

Now, many modern people see this belief that we have — that human nature is fundamentally flawed and selfish, and essentially unchangeable — as cynical and pessimistic. On the contrary. It is this belief that generates a society with the checks and balances against the natural human bastardliness that basically wants to tell other people what to do.

These checks and balances prevent the accumulation of too much power in the hands of too few people. And that defiance of these checks and balances by the current political class, of both parties, is the real threat that the Tea Party movement is a response to.

So people are essentially going to do the greedy thing if left unchecked, and the more power you have the more harm you can do. So far, so good. I'm absolutely on board with that. Where we veer 180 degrees is the role of government in all of this. They seem to think that governments have all the power and are thus the greatest potential for evil. I believe a democratic government of and by the people is the greatest potential for limiting individual power and evil. Left to our own natures with no social constraints or rules, we'll compete for power and some individuals will come out ahead. I like to shorthand them as "big money," "Wall Street," "corporations," or "the rich." They will greedily take from the rest of us for their own benefits as much as they possibly can unless someone has the power to stop them. The only one with enough power to do so is all of us as a collective in the form of our representative government. I know reality shows government can be as corrupt as any other power, but I still feel on principal it is the right approach to take for battling our innate selfishness. It is the approach that is based on sharing instead of individuality. It is us all coming together to look out for each other and to make sure no one has the power to oppress us.

There's more I could say about this, expanding on the ideas and my beliefs, a strong biblical basis for it, and etc., but this is the abridged version and I want to do something today besides write so I'll stop now.

(And a favorite older song as a bit of a bonus)

It's only water
In a stranger's tear
Looks are deceptive
But distinctions are clear
A foreign body
And a foreign mind
Never welcome
In the land of the blind
You may look like we do
Talk like we do
But you know how it is

You're not one of us
Not one of us
No you're not one of us
Not one of us
Not one of us
No you're not one of us

There's safety in numbers
When you learn to divide
How can we be in
If there is no outside
All shades of opinion
Feed an open mind
But your values are twisted
Let us help you unwind
You may look like we do
Talk like we do
-But you know how it is

You're not one of us
Not one of us
No you're not one of us


At 9/02/2011 5:22 PM, Blogger Becky Carleton said...

Amen, brotha!


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