I have absolutely no particular political agenda in mind as I cite examples of programs aimed at reducing the ill effects of poverty. If true Christianity prevailed in our nation, there would be neither economic disadvantage nor the need for government programs to address it. All would be taken care of through private acts of sincere charity. But economic injustice and suffering persist, and something must be done. To me, the options for action include public as well as private efforts.
This is not the place for a long discussion of the meaning of “socialism,” but I must admit that the notion that it is “socialism” and “of the devil” for citizens of a democratic nation to voluntarily address human needs through taxation and government programs strikes me as patently absurd. If that were so, perhaps we have the devil to thank for public libraries, highways, police and fire departments, and American aid to post-war Europe, to name a few. If we choose to irrationally recoil from the label “socialism,” we can simply refrain from using it, as we do with reference to Social Security and Medicare, for example. And if we believe that public funding of a basic “safety net” of minimal standards of decency in health, education, shelter, and opportunity are impossible to provide in a setting of political democracy and religious freedom, we can ignore the existence of most Western European nations.
I cite it only to reject the notion that the eternal principle of “free agency” somehow translates into an economic system of “free capitalism.” They are not the same. Such an equation strikes me as terribly ironic and potentially terribly tragic. Of course we can question the wisdom of specific government programs, or in general prefer private to public efforts. Those are not basic moral issues. But when the public nature of a program is used as an excuse to do nothing or to selfishly cling to one’s wealth while others suffer, wickedness has entered the picture.
America was built upon the pillar of self-restraint as well as the pillar of personal freedom, on a presumption of community responsibility as well as individual responsibility. Indeed, community responsibility is the heart and soul of everyone’s personal responsibility. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison warned that republican democracy could only survive in a society of relative equals in which the public good, not individual interests, remained the supreme objective (cited in Dennis, 1990:57 and in Bellah et al., 1985:30-31). Jefferson observed that if people forgot themselves “in the sole faculty of making money,” the future of the republic would become bleak ( in Bellah et al. 1985:31).
The rich have run out of excuses. What happens when the poor run out of patience? Is literal global war a necessary part of our future? If so, it is reasonable to predict that it will involve an attack by “have-not” nations on the “haves” of the world, rather than a confrontation between superpower “haves” with differing political ideologies. After all, the have-nots would have nothing to lose in a global conflagration, by definition.
We must become more willing to sacrifice and share. Whether we do so out of obedience to God, out of genuine charity, out of earthly fear, or in view of long-term economic and political self-interest, the time has come to share or face the consequences. How long can we ignore the scriptural description of socioeconomic inequality as evil? How long will we be guided by the “traditions of our fathers” instead of the Savior of humanity? How long will LDS church members join mainstream America in not only condoning, but admiring and pursuing, worldly self aggrandizement? Might not the great lesson for the last days be that in order for peace to prevail or for Zion “with no poor among them” to be established, that there must also be no rich among them?
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)
But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. (D&C
This article was written by a professor of sociology at Brigham Young University in 1994. The entire thing is worth a read, but I’ve excerpted some of the most compelling paragraphs below:
In short, poor Americans are poor primarily because they were born poor, have few opportunities to escape poverty, have characteristics that are socially devalued (including race, gender, and age), or have “landed” in an unfavorable economic setting—not because they decide to be lazy. It makes just as much sense to blame more than a small fraction of current poverty on individual laziness as it does to cite laziness as the cause of the Great Depression of the 1930s. (For related data and similar conclusions, see also Garfinkel and Haveman, 1977; Nasar, 1992b; Jaynes, 1989; Ryan, 1976; Katz, 1989.)
There is widespread belief, at least among my students, that public spending on the poor is a major government expense and a significant cause of budget deficits. Furthermore, the poor’s willingness to “take something for nothing” is cited as proof of their degeneracy. Not a few students ask, “Why should I work hard just so others can receive a handout?” That is certainly a valid public policy question, and asking it should not necessarily call into question one’s morality. The problem is that it is misdirected. Vastly greater sums of public money are doled out to the non-poor in “wealthfare” than to the poor via welfare. The difference is that the price of benefits to the poor includes public humiliation and loss of self-respect, while the rest of us take our handouts with clear consciences and unsullied reputations.
“Doing nothing” is justified by some on the grounds that everyone simply has what she or he has earned. That conclusion, of course, fails morally and logically. Scriptures state clearly that the obligation to assist the poor remains intact whether or not the poor are judged to be “deserving.” And how can anyone reasonably view the growing millions of poor infants and children as undeserving of help, regardless of one’s opinion of their parents?
Moreover, empirical studies show that when the disadvantaged—children and adults alike—are given real opportunities to succeed, the vast majority work hard and take advantage of those opportunities. Many efforts have been found to be very successful in helping members of our society escape poverty (Schorr, 1988).
(stay tuned for more)
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.” —The Book of Mormon
Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance
1. If you work hard, and become successful, it does not necessarily mean you are successful because you worked hard, just as if you are tall with long hair it doesn’t mean you would be a midget if you were bald.
2. “Fortune” is a word for having a lot of money and for having a lot of luck, but that does not mean the word has two definitions.
3. Money is like a child—rarely unaccompanied. When it disappears, look to those who were supposed to be keeping an eye on it while you were at the grocery store. You might also look for someone who has a lot of extra children sitting around, with long, suspicious explanations for how they got there.
4. People who say money doesn’t matter are like people who say cake doesn’t matter—it’s probably because they’ve already had a few slices.
5. There may not be a reason to share your cake. It is, after all, yours. You probably baked it yourself, in an oven of your own construction with ingredients you harvested yourself. It may be possible to keep your entire cake while explaining to any nearby hungry people just how reasonable you are.
6. Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.
7. Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.
8. Don’t ask yourself if something is fair. Ask someone else—a stranger in the street, for example.
9. People gathering in the streets feeling wronged tend to be loud, as it is difficult to make oneself heard on the other side of an impressive edifice.
10. It is not always the job of people shouting outside impressive buildings to solve problems. It is often the job of the people inside, who have paper, pens, desks, and an impressive view.
11. Historically, a story about people inside impressive buildings ignoring or even taunting people standing outside shouting at them turns out to be a story with an unhappy ending.
12. If you have a large crowd shouting outside your building, there might not be room for a safety net if you’re the one tumbling down when it collapses.
13. 99 percent is a very large percentage. For instance, easily 99 percent of people want a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and the occasional slice of cake for dessert. Surely an arrangement can be made with that niggling 1 percent who disagree.” —
More from Evgeny Morozov’s dismantling of Jeff Jarvis’s book on the exciting awesomeness of the Internet, this time dealing with something I’m particularly interested in: the Habermasian “public sphere” (all bolding is mine):
Whatever his motivation, Jarvis ends up making yet another grand pronouncement: a world that respects and cultivates “publicness” will beget many more publics, giving us a public life that is much richer than what the tyranny of a single monolithic public sphere has produced so far. It is a big thesis, but Jarvis is too impatient to treat it with the intellectual care that it deserves. As with his treatment of privacy, he is mostly indifferent to the existing literature, scholarly and philosophical, on the subject. The Dewey-Lippmann debate, which broached many of these issues almost a century ago, goes completely unmentioned. Bruno Latour’s more recent attempts to produce a political theory that could account for the emergence of issue-oriented and object-oriented publics is nowhere to be seen. All we get are some glimpses of Habermas. Less than glimpses, actually: Jarvis seems to believe that multiple publics appeared only with the emergence of the Habermasian public sphere of the coffeehouses and salons of the eighteenth century, even though Habermas was making exactly the opposite point—that the emergence of the public sphere allowed numerous publics to come together, leave their particular interests behind, and debate on common terms about their shared interests. Misunderstanding this important point derails much of Jarvis’s subsequent analysis of Habermas.
Can people participate in the Habermasian public sphere and still preserve their privacy? Of course they can—as long as they transcend their social or group particularities when they are in it. The reason Habermas emphasizes the “rational-critical” nature of the discourse in the public sphere is not because he looks down on other forms of expression, as Jarvis believes him to do, but because rational argument—rather than, say, dance—was the medium that helped individuals to abstract from their social and political interests and engage with the larger fate of humanity. Jarvis seems unfamiliar with Habermas’s work on communicative rationality and thus prefers to read him through the extremely tedious contemporary debate about “experts” (journalists) and “amateurs” (bloggers). Comically, he ends up accusing the great German thinker of being a smug elitist. This is how Sarah Palin would read Habermas if she could read Habermas.
But even if we grant Jarvis his ridiculous oversimplification of Habermas’s argument, so that a blog becomes the equivalent of a coffeehouse, why stop there? Why not also apply the rest of Habermas’s argument and examine how corporate control of the media could undermine its civic spirit? The Habermasian public sphere had an entire century to develop outside of the market’s logic; but in the case of the Internet, that period of freedom was limited to just a few years in the early 1990s. Neither Jarvis nor Clay Shirky—that other promoter of “Habermas for Dummies: The Web-Only Edition”—wants to grapple with the cultural consequences of the political economy of today’s Web. Instead they make an implicit assumption that today’s Internet companies will somehow prove more benign than all the corporate-controlled media that preceded them. (In a recent essay about Google’s exit from China, Jarvis went as far as to christen Google the “new world’s ambassador to the old world … [that] represented the rights, security, and principles of the Net to Chinese bureaucrats and hackers.”) But why assume that Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page will be different from Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black? Because they are geeks? Anyone who believes this is under the spell of geek religion.
Evgeny Morozov writes a 7,000 word stunning takedown of Jeff Jarvis’s new cyber-utopian book on why privacy is outdated (link to the takedown below in the “source” link).
Morozov, author of The Net Delusion—about how the web helps dictatorships—seems to take personally arguments that the Internet can fix everything. And probably for good reason, as such naiveté ignores some of the most troubling aspects of social media, digital tools, and networked culture:
What George Carlin said of the American dream is also true of the Internet dream peddled by cyber-utopians like Jarvis: you have to be asleep to believe it.
Morozov makes a multitude of insightful points about the downsides of ignoring the Internet’s downsides, not least of which is the tendency to view everything through the lens of the Internet:
Why worry about the growing dominance of such digitalism? The reason should be obvious. As Internet-driven explanations crowd out everything else, our entire vocabulary is being re-defined. Collaboration is re-interpreted through the prism of Wikipedia; communication, through the prism of social networking; democratic participation, through the prism of crowd-sourcing; cosmopolitanism, through the prism of reading the blogs of exotic “others”; political upheaval, through the prism of the so-called Twitter revolutions. Even the persecution of dissidents is now seen as an extension of online censorship (rather than the other way around). A recent headline on the blog of the Harvard-based Herdictproject—it tracks Internet censorship worldwide—announces that, in Mexico and Morocco, “Online Censorship Goes Offline.” Were activists and dissidents never harassed before Twitter and Facebook?
Of course, there is no denying that the Internet alters our ideational and cognitive landscapes. A civilization that prides itself on building a Wikipedia is likely to have certain ideas about democratic participation, cooperation, research, expertise, and human nature. (The title of a 2009 talk by Yochai Benkler, the smartest Internet utopian and in many ways the anti-Jarvis, captures the stakes quite well: “After Selfishness: Wikipedia 1, Hobbes 0 at Half Time.”) The ideas that the Internet begets matter every bit as much as the Internet itself. This is another reason to keep a close eye on Internet intellectuals such as Jarvis: left unchallenged, they may succeed in convincing us that we do indeed inhabit the digital wonderland of their imagination.
Morozov’s critiques are very effective and make me think twice about my own views of the Internet. Excuse me while I go help achieve utopias all across the world with nothing more than a tweet and a wifi router.
According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.
Three factoids underscore that inequality:
¶The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
¶The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
¶In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.” —http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-americas-primal-scream.html