In my last column I wrote about health care. One of the things I said was that I thought that we should have access to socialized medicine. Using the word “socialized” got me thinking and wondering about all sorts of things related to society.
Everything from what it means to be social or anti-social, the American stigma related to socialism, civil society, the prominence of social-media, social-norms, Social Security, and the implied social contract that most of us live under.
At 60 years old, I still feel as socially awkward as I did when I was younger. One of the reasons I enjoy writing these columns is because I have time to think and edit — unlike in most social interactions. I’ve always been uncomfortable socializing because I’m usually worried about sounding stupid and most of the time my internal dialog is keeping me from paying attention to what is being said to me.
That’s one kind of social — the small group interaction. What about a little bigger, like the Winters community. Since moving here in 2001, I’ve always felt welcomed, safe and included. I’ve voiced my opinions and concerns at city council meetings, I’ve voted on community bond measures, I’ve financially invested in business, and in most instances, my self-interest has been in line with the community’s. Even when there’ve been disagreements, the discourse has been civil, and win or lose, we’ve just moved on.
That’s an example of civil society at work. But what happens when it doesn’t work so well? If you believe everything you hear from the fear-mongering media, then society has already broken down and we’re all doomed. I don’t think that it’s broken down; I think it’s gotten too big. What I mean is that there are too many “sub-societies” to work cohesively for the good of the larger American society.
There have always been these smaller groups that are united by common religions, ethnicity, ideology, geography or even bigotry against other groups. For most of our history, those smaller groups could function independently without much problem or social interaction with other groups. But over the last century, with the changes in industry, communications, mobility and the growth of government, the ability to stay independent has disappeared.
The different segments of our society have become interdependent on each other and that trend will continue to grow. The thing that’s forcing us together is economics; ironically, it’s also what’s tearing us apart. I think that economics has always been the glue that holds societies together.
In the olden days, it was the farmer selling his grain to the miller who then sold the flour to the baker who then sold his bread back to the farmer and we had a nice simple economic circle. At some point, the government stepped in and demanded a tax in exchange for security or infrastructure, and the circle was broken, never to be simple again.
That’s where we are now. We have this complex socioeconomic relationship with everyone else that we share the country with. What we’ve lost sight of is the fact that the economic wellbeing of one is in the self-interest of all, that’s how society should work. Our society has always been divided by economics, in essence, the haves and the have nots.
One of the biggest problems we’re experiencing right now is trying to reconcile the fact that many of the “haves” ancestors got that way on the backs of the ancestors of the “have nots.” I’m not just talking about slavery because since the Civil War there have still been sweat shops, indentured workers, child labor, underpaid undocumented workers, forced prison labor, and many other types of exploited workers.
After WWII there were 30 plus years of prosperity that helped build a vibrant middle class that also helped boost the economy of all segments of our society. We were still working off the WWII motto of “together we can do it.” But then in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the “me” generation came along and said “greed is good,” so I want more than my fair share and I don’t care who gets hurt in the process.
Labor unions were vilified while their members’ jobs were outsourced. Employer/employee loyalty became a thing of the past. As education became more important to finding a decent job, the public school systems were allowed to decline. The cost of health care skyrocketed while fewer businesses offered health insurance as an employee benefit.
Those, along with many other factors, have contributed to the biggest problem our society is facing, income inequality. If we can’t figure it out soon, I don’t know what the future will look like, but I don’t think it looks good.
For archives of Edmund’s columns please visit www.whatsthepoint-edmund.blogspot.com.