Sunday, November 14, 2010



All societies for all of human awareness have experienced inequalities, prejudice, and failures that are felt most by those who are least powerful and influential. Some gross inequalities have virtually disappeared from democracies and industrial nations like slavery or child labor. Prejudices against class, race, religion, ethnicity, sex, or mental and physical disability still abound even in democracies like ours. Part of this thinking is associated with a belief in the innate inferiority of certain groups. Bolsheviks saw capitalists and the Czarist families they deposed as unworthy of living and reproducing and they shot them. Blacks in America were shunned or marginalized after their release from slavery. Women for generations were deprived of the right to vote. Labor organizers were frequently beaten, imprisoned, or killed by hired thugs to prevent unions from organizing. During the first half of the twentieth century these less fortunate members of America were described as “the unfit” and several thousands were sterilized in the 30 states that had such compulsory sterilization laws. Today much of that overt prejudice has disappeared. Injustices still exist. Those who are comfortable with their lives often marginalize those who lack power, especially the unemployed, the poor, the handicapped, the sick, and the old. Sometimes the comfortable look upon the unfortunate as victims of their own failings either through bad genes (and hence should not reproduce their kind) or lacking the moral stamina to prevent their misfortunes.

Each group of victims has its own cause and its own needs. We shuffle our priorities depending on the attention they receive. This in turn is dependent on the leadership of these causes. Opposed to the needy are those who do not wish to be taxed to support them. Also opposed to the needy are those who feel it is not the government’s job to bail them out. Hence corporations use lobbying efforts to avoid paying for pensions, health insurance, and charges of gender discrimination or of race discrimination. If the laws pass to prevent such abuses, corporations move to third world countries to avoid all the payments for social inequalities because most third world countries are not thriving democracies representing the people and many are corrupt. The corporations blame their woes on “greedy” unions and not on their own responsibilities or the need for government action. Public philanthropy certainly makes an effort to provide soup kitchens, to help build houses for the poor, and many other services. But most people do not give that much to the private charities to meet these immense needs. Most churches consider themselves lucky to provide a living for their minister and staff.

The real inequality in America, to me, is not of the poor versus the rich, or minorities versus privileged whites. The real inequality is the influence of lobby groups by the powerful to deny help to working people, to minorities, or to others who require the basic needs the privileged take for granted—clean and safe neighborhoods in which to live, health expenses that do not bankrupt them, educational opportunities (especially a college education) for their children, and care for their aging relatives. While new causes will pop up almost as often as old ones are solved, they will be sure to encounter the resistance of lobbying groups protecting the privileges of the powerful.

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