Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What is happening to us?

America is in the midst of a major crisis that most people are not aware of.

Wisconsin is just about to abolish the collective bargaining rights for state workers, including teachers and many others. Other states are close to doing the same thing. Rights that for a century or more workers have fought for are suddenly being taken away.

Several states have moved to severely limit the rights of women to safe abortions. (See my earlier blog on that.)

The University of Nevada is in the forefront of moves considered by various colleges and universities of abolishing their philosophy departments. (An earlier attempt by Howard University to do this was scrapped in the face of vigorous protest. Mexican philosophers have been involved in the same fight for several years.) The courses designed most directly to encourage critical thinking among young people, who are just at the beginning of their careers and their lives as citizens, are now being taken away. Critical thinking is not highly regarded by those who wield power today.

Congress is trying to defund National Public radio because it represents a liberal point of view. No one even pretends that the motivation is to save money. This is an open campaign to suppress a particular kind of political opinion, to control what news and interpretations the public gets to hear. It is a clear case of thought control.

Congress is holding hearings on Muslim support for terrorism. No one is saying anything about white terrorists whose attacks are mounting in number. The shooting in Arizona of Representative Giffords is just one example of that. There exists a rising hysteria that has, in fact, little to do with terrorism and everything to do with racial prejudice against Muslim Americans. Racial hysteria is also an element in the anti-immigrant campaign.

The campaign to increase the misery of the poor, the sick, and the elderly continues apace.

You may say that all this is being done by the Republicans but those Republicans were elected. Most of these representatives are in the pocket of big business, business lobbies, people with money. But when it comes to pushing an agenda that is anti-intellectual, anti-liberal, anti-women, anti-Muslim and against the poor, the sick and the elderly, they respond to the emotions of their constituents. This is an easy way for them to appear to represent those who voted for them when, in effect, they mostly represent those who bought them.

How can we understand that campaign against established freedoms, against our traditional dedication to tolerance, against well-trained minds able to think for themselves, against different political views, against those who have the least power in our society?

Clearly the health care reform bill has something to do with all of that. People feel oppressed by the government. Although we live – we say – in a democracy, most people feel that they have nothing to say. Congressional seats are for sale, political influence goes to the highest bidder. Everyone can see that greed is rewarded, dishonesty helps you gain power, and consistent hypocrisy gains you an audience.

Battered by the economy, oppressed by employers and bureaucrats, deprived of power by the rich and famous, sold out by their elected representatives, most citizens are fearful and angry. And when people are fearful and angry they go looking for someone to vent their anger on. At such times people are willing to lash out, to blame others for their misery – usually not the guilty parties.

This was the mood in Germany in 1933 when Germans were willing to allow Adolf Hitler to try his hand at saving the nation. When Hitler went after a free press, against labor unions, when he began to persecute Jews, when he prescribed women's lives, most people said not to worry. Twelve years later Germany was in ruins.

Our traditions of freedom and democracy are stronger than they were in Germany. But the same mood of being victimized, of wanting to hurt somebody prevails in the US today. The same ugly mood that led Germans into fascism, dominates our politics today. Public speech is filled with hate and everyone has their own favorite target: the unions, Muslims, people with an education, political liberals, women, the poor, the sick, and the elderly.

Our troubles are very very serious. Can we put a stop to all this hate and destruction before it is too late?