Civilization – Uptown Neighborhood News Sep 2012

Commentary by Phyllis Stenerson 

“There is as yet no civilized society,
but only a society in the process of becoming civilized.
From this standpoint, we can now speak of a collective task of humankind.
The task of humanity is to build a genuine civilization”.
Felix Adler

It’s time to talk seriously about big issues, really big issues like the future of civilization. When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western civilization, he said “I think it would be a good idea.” Now some 60 years later, one can only imagine what he might say.

By most measures, the United States of Americais moving in reverse. Poverty, homelessness and inequality are increasing. Access to opportunity through education and a middle class lifestyle is decreasing. The 2012 Global Peace Index from the Institute for Economics and Peace shows that the U.S. ranks 88 of 158 countries. Climate change is undeniably a critical issue yet corporate power has prevented us from addressing this very real threat to civilization.

“I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world
not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.”
John F. Kennedy  

The 2012 election for President presents a real choice for American voters. The two parties and their candidates represent sharply contrasting worldviews on really big issues. One of the biggest differences of opinion is about the role government.

When Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as President 30 years ago, he said “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” The mantra became less government, no new taxes, a free marketplace. Trickle-down economics was the way to shared prosperity.

The fact that the United Statesnow ranks 31st out of 33 nations in income disparity indicates that didn’t work out so well. OnlyMexico andTurkey are worse. Yet, the right wing message machine persistently markets the myth that government be minimal and the free marketplace be dominant.

“If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”
Moms Mabley

The ideological divide between today’s conservatives and progressives is so drastic that we basically do not understand each other. They offer no proposals for helping those who have fallen into poverty through no fault of their own but because of a marketplace run amok? To me, this is unconscionable.

The distinctly different worldviews are applicable to everything, particularly the role o government in solving problems and making change. It’s about our philosophy of civilization. Is it “We’re all in this together” or “You’re on your own?”

It’s become well known that newly selected vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan cites novelist Ayn Rand as a major influence. She is a thought leader in the “you’re on your own” category.

“Until and unless you discover that money is the root of all good,
you ask for your own destruction.
When money ceases to become the means by which men deal with one another,
then men become the tools of other men. Blood, whips and guns–or dollars.
Take your choice–there is no other.”
Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged

The contrast to Gandhi’s philosophy said is extreme.

“Democracy must in essence, therefore, mean the art and science
 of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources
of all the various sections of the people in the service of the common good of all.”
Mohandas Gandhi

Millions of ordinary people around the world are committed to bringing Gandhi’s vision closer to reality. A few thousand elites are doing whatever it takes to hang onto their power and privilege, some citing Ayn Rand as inspiration.

The 2012 election is pivotal. Big challenges need big thinking – as big as the idea of democracy – government of the people, by the people and for the people. It’s the way we work together for the common good.

“Somebody has to do something and it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
Jerry Garcia

Phyllis Stenerson is the recently retired Editor of the Uptown Neighborhood News. Her website provides context for this Commentary and related material.