Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How Civilized a Country is the United States

                            How Civilized a Country is the United States?

     Before we can answer this question, first we have to decide what we mean by the word civilized.  Like justice, the idea of being civilized is one of those things where everyone has an idea of what it means, but it is almost impossible to put into words.
So where to begin?
     Let’s start with Plato’s Republic.  He begins with the question, “What is Justice?”  The first answer boils down to the concept that , “might makes right”.  This is rejected by Socrates as being insufficient.  The rest of the dialogue veers off into the foundations of idealism and is irrelevant to our purposes.  Even though Socrates fails to give a definitive answer to the question, let us side with him and agree that “might makes right” is an insufficient definition of justice.  So despite not being able to define exactly what justice is, let us say that a society is civilized to the extent that it rejects the notion that “ might makes right”.  A country can be said to be civilized to the extent that all citizens are equal before the law, to the extent that it offers protection to the weak and the powerless, to the extent that ordinary citizens are secure in their rights to their lives and possessions,  and to the extent that all citizens are considered valuable and worthy assets  of society.  I believe that if we take a close look at the United States of today, and judge it by the preceding criteria, it can longer be considered a civilized society.
1)      Protection of the weak and defenseless.  The weakest and most defenseless people are newborn infants and older people on the verge of death.  Infanticide without punishment has become an almost everyday occurrence.  Thanks to the prevalence of legal abortion and the women’s movement, girls who give birth and toss their babies into the garbage are now considered “victims” and are usually given probation. 
           Since we no longer want to deal with the elderly, they now wind up in nursing      homes where they are regarded  as living Medicaid checks.  You would be surprised at how many operations are performed on people on their death beds, just so the doctors and hospitals can get those last Medicare checks out of them.
2)      Property rights of the average American.  Recently, the Supreme Court has made decisions that for all practical purposes have stripped people of whatever defenses they may have had against the rich and powerful.  First, someone sued the credit card companies on the grounds that their late fees and service charges constituted usury.  The Supreme Court agreed that such charges did constitute usury and then proceeded to declare laws against usury to be “unconstitutional”.  In case anyone tries to weasel out of paying the credit card companies their 70 or 80% interest a year, congress got into the act by revising the bankruptcy statues so as to make it much harder to get out of excessive debt by declaring bankruptcy.
           In a more recent decision, the Supreme Court ruled that a town could condemn property by eminent domain and then resell it to private individuals or corporations.  This decision goes against everything this country ever stood for and goes directly against the intent of the people who wrote the constitution.  Previously, the use of eminent domain had always been restricted to public use in the sense of building roads, sidewalks, or other uses that would benefit the community as a whole.  The recent decision amounts to nothing less than legalized theft.  If you own property and someone richer or more powerful than you wants it, you now have no choice but to sell.  Otherwise, the town can condemn it, pay you whatever it wants, and then resell it to whoever wants it.
3)      How citizens are valued.  If one looks at certain inner cities, it is clear that the people living there are being abandoned.  Services, such as police protection, fire protection, schools, parks, recreation, etc.  are simply not being provided or are being provided at such reduced levels as to be ineffective.  Welfare reform may be getting people off the welfare roles and into jobs,  but the services they need to continue working and improve their lives are almost non-existent.  One often overlooked fact is that the major cost of the welfare system is not the money going to the recipients, but the cost of maintaining the giant bureaucracy to administer the programs.  As Milton Friedman often pointed out, it would be much cheaper to have a large room with a computer and to send a check to anyone who asks for it.
             In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that the United States is now a place where the rich and powerful are asserting themselves to a degree never thought possible and we are rapidly turning into the equivalent of a third-world country.  By subverting the courts and the political process,  they have rendered the entire population powerless as all legal means of recourse have been nullified or made ineffectual.  If the governing class continues on its current path, violent revolution may be the only  means available to regain a modicum of justice and civilization for the average American.

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