So, my brother Marc posted this on his facebook wall today:
Some people believe I am gay because I am supportive of gay rights. Does this mean I’m a pregnant woman because I support the right to have abortions? An animal because I am against animal cruelty? African American because I am supportive of African American Civil Rights?
Well… You are right.
On the internet no one knows you are a gay African American womanly pregnant animal…
It sparked this conversation. The only thing I’ve done is change the names and skipped over an exchange between Charlie and Marc (my brother) about Charlie’s tone.
I don’t think it’s over yet, but this is as far as we’ve gotten as of this writing:
Chili: I think this speaks to our collective difficulties mustering up simple empathy. It continues to astonish me that people will ask me “why do YOU care; it doesn’t affect YOU” when they give me a hard time about how passionate I get about some topics.
Charlie: Have you ever answered the question “why do YOU care”? I am mean really dug deep to figure out why you care?
Chili: Yes, I have. What’s your point?
Charlie: Well I was expecting a full answer to at least one of the topics where someone asked you “why do YOU care?”
Chili: Pick one; I’ll answer
Marc: Why, Charlie? You didn’t ask why she cared; you asked if she had ever thought about it?
Charlie: I don’t care which one she picks, I want to understand how she comes to the conclusions she does. My line of questioning is going to be about the approach to understanding not the subject matter. Choose the one you’ve thought about the most.
Chili: Okay, Charlie; I offered to answer, so here’s one; abortion rights. I am a loudmouthed, insistent proponent of choice, and I always have been. I cannot get pregnant anymore (at the risk of TMI, I am ‘fixed’), so there is only something like a .000009% chance that I’ll ever need an abortion. Whether or not abortion is legal really doesn’t affect me in any kind of personal way, right?
Except that it DOES. Not only do I have daughters whom I want to be able to have access to all the medical care they may ever need in their lives, but I feel that ALL women should have access to all the medical care they may ever need.
Beyond that, even if I DIDN’T have daughters (and even if I weren’t a woman), I would still be pro choice, and for a number of reasons. First, if a person – ANY person – does not have full and complete autonomy over their own bodies – the only thing, it can be argued, that we TRULY own – then they are not fully human. If someone else has enough power over you to tell you that you may or may not treat YOUR body in a particular way, then you are essentially a slave. Religious or ontological arguments aside, telling someone they can’t have an abortion is tantamount to telling someone they are not fit to make their own choices. That’s degrading for ANYONE, and I’m not down with degrading people.
Second, I have no right – ZERO – to tell someone else how to live their lives (and yes, that includes my children, but that’s a discussion for another day). I do not live anyone else’s experience; I do not feel anyone else’s feelings, so I have NO BUSINESS telling someone what they can or cannot do with their lives. It is a STUNNING act of hubris to tell another person that they may not or can not do something that they feel they should do with THEIR LIVES. Can we encourage, as in the case of alcoholics or drug addicts? Sure, but in the end, we have to accept that adults get to make their own choices – that’s part of the point of being an adult. I may not LIKE their choices, but they’re not MY choices.
Finally, and I don’t know if this is going to be acceptable to a bunch of you who are probably reading this, but it doesn’t MATTER that something is going to have a direct effect on me or not. I am a human being living in community with other human beings. I truly believe that everyone does better when everyone does better, so I nurture my capacity for empathy and compassion at every opportunity. We’re failing to do that more and more; we’re taking on an attitude of “it’s not MY problem” or “I got MINE, you’re on your own,” and I find those sentiments repugnant. Gandhi asked us, “if you can see yourself in others, whom can you harm?” I work hard to foster a sense of decency and humanity and compassion toward everyone; though I am human and often fail at this, particularly when I’m met with anger, ignorance, fear, and aggression, that doesn’t stop me from trying. I think the world would be a better place if we were a little more gentle with each other, so I’m trying to set a good example.
Charlie: That is a great response and since I am incapable of an equivalent response in under a week(it would take me a week just get the grammar close to being correct, not a joke) I will ask more questions because that is how I best learn and understand.
I too believe(feel) “I have no right – ZERO – to tell someone else how to live their lives” (children included). I also have a massive feeling of burden when faced with having to earn enough money for my family and myself over then next 20 years, expessily with my diabetes.
My question is if I can’t take care myself and my family for the next 20 years should I force someone else to help me? Knowing that it goes against my our belief that “I have no right – ZERO – to tell someone else how to live their lives”.
Chili: Here’s the thing Charlie; remember when I said that I live in a community with other humans? Part of the social contract we have (and I think I pointed this out to you before in a previous conversation we had around insurance), we’ve collectively agreed to at least marginally care for one another. We have settled on a minimum of care – emergency rooms for people without insurance (though that’s about to change with the implementation of the individual mandate of the ACA), welfare and other assistance for the very poor or disabled – that are funded by those of us who are lucky and privileged enough to not need them.
*I* personally don’t feel that I’m being “forced” to care for anyone; in fact, I’d like it if MORE of my tax dollars went to programs that helped people, rather than to programs that bought bombs and funded wars. Further, I don’t see that care and assistance as “telling someone else how to live their lives,” though I’m going to gather, given how you framed your question, that on some level you do. I don’t know how I can adequately address your concern until I understand it.
Let’s say that you can’t provide for your family because of your disease. There are a number of programs that are designed to assist you in meeting a minimum standard of living (though we can argue whether that minimum standard is adequate – or even decent – but that’s another argument). If you’ve worked AT ALL in the United States, then you’ve already paid into the programs that will be helping you later; Social Security and disability insurance taxes are taken from everyone who earns an “over the counter” paycheck, so you’ll be participating in programs that you’ve – at least partially – helped to fund.
Those programs do not dictate HOW you live, though. They don’t tell you that you have to live in a certain town or a certain kind of apartment. They don’t tell you what kind of work you can or cannot do as a condition of your receiving your benefits (though there are MAJOR changes that need to be made to the systems that allow people “runways” or “off ramps” off those programs, rather than just cutting them off wholesale if they make a dollar more than the minimum required for them). They don’t tell you what kind of food to eat (though I would argue that there SHOULD be limits on what kinds of things food stamp money can be used to purchase; I’m not crazy about people buying cigarettes or lottery tickets with EBT money, but I AM okay with them buying aspirin or diapers). They don’t check in on your living conditions, they don’t require you to check in with any kind of report or evidence of your having spent your benefit in a particular way, so I’m not really sure how being the recipient of aid is tantamount to being controlled in any way.
Charlie: Can you explain the community of humans better to me? Others have brought this up to me as well, not using your exact phasing but the same idea.
Personally, I have so much burden on my shoulders and it is unfair to give, even if they want it, or force that burden on anyone else. Doing so would go against my good concuss and only burden me with more guilt because I know they could be doing better things with there lives then taken care of me. Not burdening others is my why of giving back to the community.
Chili: Charlie, we live in a society, right? We’re a bunch of people living together. We aren’t a loose collection of independent farmer/homesteaders anymore who fend for ourselves and owe everything we have to our own guile, sweat, and effort; we’ve formed INTERdependent communities. Mr. Chili and I were just talking the other day about the fact that, if the whole system were to collapse, we’d be dead in a month. We both work with our heads (I’m a teacher; Mr. Chili’s a space science engineer). Neither of us knows how to farm or hunt, and I have NO idea how to get a chicken from the back yard to a cooking pot. We rely on other people to provide things that we can’t. When people live together – in families or tribes or neighborhoods or towns – they make both implicit (cultural norms) and explicit (laws and rules) agreements about how they’re going to behave, and how they’re going to treat each other.
Some societies do this better than others. Look at the example of the Nordic states; they’ve managed to get their poverty under control, their educational systems are working, their crime rates are admirably low, and they don’t have a huge unemployment problem. This is not my opinion; look at the facts. They manage to hit all those high points by agreeing, collectively, to care for one another to a level that they find acceptable, and they do that through “the State.” Everyone pays in to the collective pool, and those resources are allocated according to what the society has decided is important.
A lot of people (perhaps you, perhaps people you know) call that the “Nanny State,” which is a derogatory term implying that people don’t DO anything to earn these benefits; they have a “nanny” who cares for their every need and whim. They DO earn those things, though; they pay in to them, and the country’s collective wealth – which is generated by its people – pays into them. People in the Netherlands work, just like we do, but they don’t live under the same kind of pressure and fear that you’re feeling; if they get sick, they know that there’s a system in place that isn’t going to force them or their families to live under a bridge when their preciously meagre resources are exhausted because the system THEY’VE PAID INTO is going to pick up the loose ends..
The thing is, WE do this, too; we pool our collective wealth (taxes) and allocate it to what we think is important. The problem, as I see it, is that “what we think is important” isn’t being dictated by us anymore. Dig into some history and you’ll see that the burden for tax revenue has shifted DRAMATICALLY in the last 100 or so years from companies to individuals. The monied few have been manipulating our laws and policies to the extent that the individual (who is likely struggling) is paying FAR more than the companies (which are FLUSH with cash right now). Seriously; *I* paid more in taxes last year than Exxon, GE, and Bank America COMBINED (and you did, too – and what’s worse is EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE COMPANIES GOT SUBSIDIES PAID FOR BY OUR TAX DOLLARS).
Further, the way we allocate our funds has been hijacked, too. We’ve spent enough on wars (mostly for oil…hmmm… who’s benefiting THERE, I wonder…?) to wipe out every bill we would EVER need to pay – like, forever – AND take care of every single human in our borders to a humane and decent level without and STILL have enough left over to fund things like science and medicine. When you hear people screaming that food stamps and Social Security are driving our country into financial ruin, ask those people to prove it. It’s not the social programs that are killing us, it’s our irrational and incessant need to fund bigger and more involved wars (and to prop up banks, oil companies, and other businesses that, I assure you, aren’t adding much to the general welfare).
While I understand that you don’t want to be a “burden” on society, I think that your way of thinking is a direct result of the “nanny state” narrative that’s been pushed by people who don’t want to be bothered taking care of their neighbors. This “I got mine, you’re on your own” attitude is short-sighted and inhumane, and doesn’t take into account things like privilege, opportunity, and sheer, random luck. I don’t think FOR A MINUTE that I got where I am ALL ON MY OWN. I was LUCKY; I grew up in a poor (and abusive) home; the ONLY reason I am where I am today is that I had good people in my life who helped me (some emotionally, some financially) and encouraged me to be bigger than my past. I’m white. I was born in a relatively affluent part of the country (imagine if I’d been born in back-woods Appalachia, or if I’d been born black in the projects of some big city somewhere). I’m able of both body and mind. NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THOSE THINGS WAS IN MY CONTROL; they were all the result of fortune and luck – luck that I was helped into a position to take advantage of by people who cared enough about me to put out the effort. That those things are true contributes to my privilege; I have it easier than a LOT of people (though not so easy as some, but that’s always going to be true, regardless of who you are). Do I have ANY right to stand there and say “you’re not working hard enough” or to admonish people to “pull themselves up from their bootstraps” when it may be true that they don’t even have boots?
The short version of this story is that *I* (and a lot of people who think like me) WANT to help you. I would MUCH rather my tax dollars go to funding disability and Social Security and Head Start and Food Stamps than go to subsidies for EXXON or GE or Bank of America – or to fund more war toys. We KNOW how to be decent to one another; we know how to be encouraging and helpful and humane, we’re just choosing not to be those things. That’s what I’m working to change.