by Paul S. Hardersen
The past month or so has caused many people to reevaluate
how they look at the world, other people, other cultures and
the messy geopolitical situation that seems to have enveloped
most of the world by now. Attacks on the World Trade Center
and Pentagon are now being followed by attacks on the Taliban
in Afghanistan, our so-called leaders in America are promoting
legislative efforts that may unnecessarily infringe on our
civil liberties and the major media outlets are fulfilling
their traditional role as an outlet for the voice of the powerful
and the wealthy.
With so many thousands needlessly dead, so many people mourning
the losses of loved ones, and so many people not knowing what
to do, now is the time to develop a real response to terrorism
and ways to improve the current state of the world for all
people. The response must be long-term, it must be inclusive,
it must be genuine and it must have the needs of all Americans
- and hopefully - all of the citizens of the world in mind.
After all, our goal should be to promote a global society
in which freedom is real; where all people have a real chance
to live in safety, peace and prosperity; and all people truly
have a voice and a real stake in the actions of their government
Sadly, that is not the case today, not even in the United
States. So, the question is posed: What steps can be taken
to improve our society in a way that will involve and uplift
all of our citizens? I submit that if we strive to promote
the values of diversity; egalitarianism and equality; a genuine
desire for education; and a real effort at populist government,
then we will go a long way towards achieving the American
ideals that we so often assume that we already possess.
Today, unfortunately, our society is not inclusive and it
openly marginalizes many groups. Today, and in the entire
history of our nation, the policies of our government have
most often been used by the rich and the powerful to satisfy
their desires without giving thought to the rest of the population.
Today, our education system is sadly inadequate to instill
critical thinking capabilities into our citizens and to give
them the tools necessary to engage the issues in our civil
society. Today, too many people think that politics does not
make a difference and they tend to not get involved at all.
The state of our nation is one in which most people are kept
undereducated, underinformed, and/or misinformed by corporate
and government interests to which they so often readily accept
as authoritative and true statements. I ask again - what can
we do to improve our society and the global society that would
hopefully inaugurate a long-term era of peace and prosperity
Diversity and tolerance are ideas that should be accepted
by everyone in all societies. It should be accepted in a religious,
cultural and ideological sense and should be promoted in a
way that will allow all peaceful people to happily and safely
live in the community of their choosing. Ideological conflicts
will likely never cease as long as human beings exist, but
the acceptance of the values of tolerance and diversity must
be ingrained into our society because it will promote the
peaceful coexistence of very different people with very different
views on existence.
Promoting diversity will also hopefully erode the tendency
of people to segregate themselves into isolated cultural and
religious groups. There is safety among people like yourself,
but there is much to be gained in experiencing and understanding
people who are different from you.
It also does not mean that you have to change your views
in order to value other people. To this end, I address groups
of people that are typically marginalized by the mainstream
in American society: atheists, agnostics, non-religious people,
minor or obscure religious groups, transgender individuals,
ethnic minorities and, likely, many other types of people.
People who are in the 'majority' in a society must not continue
to make it their life goals to change people who are not like
them. A good example of this is religious proselytizing and
conversion. Debating ideas is certainly to be promoted in
the public sphere, but it is unacceptable for religious groups
to try to change people through coercion and through the use
of the government.
There is a dangerous trend in American society where religious
groups are clamoring to feed from the trough of government
money. After all, religious organizations are private groups
and they should rightly live or die on their own. There is
a danger, of significant magnitude at present, of turning
the American governmental system into a semi-theocratic state
that will, almost by definition, limit or restrict the freedoms
that we currently enjoy.
We can never let one group with any agenda control the government
because that will limit the freedoms, ultimately, of all of
our citizens. Federal, state and local governments shuld not
show any favoritism towards any groups and should work for
the benefit of all of their citizens.
The current trend (going on since the 1950s) of the Christianization
of our government is wrong because it does not promote diversity
and tolerance and it does not allow the government to do one
of its most important jobs -- represents ALL citizens. Therefore,
for the sake of all of our citizens, the ideals of true diversity
and tolerance should be promoted while ending the rampant
favoritism towards some societal groups that is taking place
in American society.
Also, we live in a society that has historically worked to
promote the goals of the rich and the powerful and that is
a trend that is continuing today. Actually, it is getting
worse. The ideas of equality and egalitarianism should be
aggressively promoted in many ways in our society. Economically,
unfettered capitalism is in danger of succumbing to its greatest
weakness - that of the creation of gross disparities in income
and wealth in the societies in which it operates.
While capitalism is currently the most successful economic
system that has yet been invented, its negative side effects
continue to be ignored - and ignored at the perils of the
societies in which it operates. This writer thinks it is axiomatic
to say that the needs of the many outweight the needs of the
few. The bad news is that just the opposite has been occurring
throughout the history of our nation.
How can we ameliorate the negative side effects of capitalism
while allowing this economic system to continue to operate?
It will likely not be easy and it may not even be possible.
However, a strong desire to want to address the basic welfare
and needs of all citizens posits the following suggestions.
Would it not be constructive to provide for the most basic
needs of the citizens of a society that will then allow them
to pursue their dreams and goals knowing that that basic necessities
of their existence are almost guaranteed? Those necessities
would include adequate and nutritious food, good housing,
accessible and universal health care, clothing, education
- with likely other items that could be added to this list.
However, the goal is for the basic necessities of all of
our citizens to be provided for them. Yes, they should be
free. Yes, they should be paid for by the government. Yes,
this will cause major changes and cause some temporary problems.
However, implicit in these actions will be the desire to create
a society that is not driven solely by the desire to accumulate
more and more money. We should all have the desire to want
all of our citizens to live in comfort, safety, and in happiness.
Capitalism has caused our current dilemma in which many people
are permanently poor, more people are subject to the cyclic
whims of the economy, and more people are working jobs only
for the money and not for the pleasure of their chosen occupation.
Money, far from being a liberator, are the chains that limit
and prevent the achievement of a full, rich life. These chains
must be duly broken and discarded if we really want to give
all citizens the ability to pursue their dreams and goals
Along with basic necessities, the wage and salary structure
in America must simply change to allow upward mobility to
become a reality for many more of our citizens. More respect
and responsibility needs to be given to the rank-and-file
employees of all companies. The top-heavy salaries of CEOs
and the upper management levels of companies need to be trimmed
and redistributed to the bulk of the lower-paid employees.
The common notion that huge salaries need to be given to CEOs
to ensure their success is very dubious and there is scant
evidence to support that notion.
In fact, although some people would object mightily, maybe
we should impose not only a minimum wage but also a maximum
wage. A starting wage could be at ~$10/hour (prorated for
part-time work) for everyone and a maximum salary cap could
be, say, $200,000. After all, why should anyone live with
excessive wealth and luxury when even one person is struggling
with substandard housing and inadequate food?
Equality and egalitarianism also should be promoted in the
social sphere much more than at present. Sure, many people
give it lip service - equality for women, equality for minorities,
etc. - but the action typically stops there. From my own personal
experiences and by observing our society, women are often
still treated as second class citizens and many women are
oppressed and beaten down to where they simply just accept
their position in society. Of course, this does not apply
to all women and those women who aggressively promote a feminist
viewpoint should be applauded and encoruaged.
However, the reach of women's groups only goes so far. Changing
social mores and norms will continue to be more difficult
than taking other action because it is often very difficult
to change people's ingrained behaviors. However, the patriarchal
nature of our society must be replaced by an egalitarian systems
that treats the views, ideas and thoughts of women on a par
with those of men.
In the same way, ethnic and racial minorities who have been
suppressed, oppressed and mistreated in centuries past should
at least have the atrocities of their ancestors acknowledged
by our present government. There will certainly be much resistance
in America to the thought of reparations for the living survivors
of the Africans, Native Americans, Chinese and other racial
and ethnic groups who have been brutally exploited and even
eliminated in centuries past - often simply for wealth.
However, it would be an extremely honorable action by our
government to do just that. We cannot erase our bloody history
- in America and around the world - but we can begin to put
it behind us by adopting values and goals that acknowledge
all groups in society.
To have an informed populace requires an educated populace.
The United States often boasts of how well its citizens are
educated. However, current evidence shows that - even for
many college graduates - people are woefully undereducated
in many subject areas. This lack of knowledge prevents people
from being able to grasp the important issues of the day and
causes them to run the risk of jumping to conclusions based
on limited or skewed information.
Worse yet, many people use the media as their main source
of information. That is worse because the media outlets that
reach most people (NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, major newspapers) cover
the news in an extremely shallow manner that does not allow
an understanding of the context and meaning of the day's events.
Even worse is that news reports are often inaccurate, include
factual errors, omit non-mainstream viewpoints and offer lopsided
commentary. This is present in local as well as national news
outlets and shows that the journalistic industry in the United
States is badly in need of repair.
This under-education of our citizenry is taking place due
to the lack of emphasis given to the acquisition of a strong,
broad education (in spite of much talking) and the commonly
held notion that the main purpose of an education is simply
to get a good job. There is much to be said for our citizens
having a strong, broad and well-rounded education that will
allow them to grasp, understand, contemplate and analyze many
of the complicated issues that we face today. Our population
is essentially scientifically illiterate with the vast majority
of citizens lacking the most basic of information - which
also allows them to be susceptible to con-artists, swindlers
and accepting appeals to believe the efficacy of such things
as religion, astrology and many other questionable topics.
It makes one think that there might be a deliberate effort
to keep people underinformed and undereducated.
This may or may not be true, but it is something that must
be addressed - all the way from kindergarten through a graduate
level education. Teachers need to be better trained and better
qualified, science and the scientific method needs to be emphasized
and taught better than at present, education should be promoted
as a goal in and of itself, and students should be encouraged
to think creatively, independently and without arbitrary limits
imposed by teachers, schools, or society.
It is also necessary to stop any censorship that is taking
place, stop the teaching of blindly patriotic versions of
American history, and retell history as it was and how it
is. Kids can handle the truth and they shouldn't be given
versions of events that are fundamentally in error.
And that leads us to our federal government. Originally constructed
and formulated by a group of wealthy, landed individuals who
helped America break with the British Empire in many ways
for their own good, our government sadly has a track record
of being very unresponsive to most of its citizens.
A tiny example from the present - this author wrote letters
to Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer in late January/early
February 2001. It took until August to receive a reply from
these elected representatives - and the reply from Senator
Clinton consisted of a form letter sent via email. Am I supposed
to feel gratitude that they actually got around to sending
me a reply? I think not.
If our elected representatives are not responsive in a reasonable
fashion, then they should be called to task for their tardiness
and duly criticized. Beyond that example, it is even more
disturbing how only wealthy people can usually run for office
today. This effectively limits the pool of potential candidates
and limits the political discourse that should take place
during election time.
It is even more disturbing that the Republicans and Democrats
are often very close to being the same party while those people
considered 'liberal' Democrats are rather cast aside, ignored,
and often treated as radicals. As far as elections go, it
is very advisable to invest the money to make a uniform voting
system nationwide to eliminate the problems of the last election.
It would also be advisable to eliminate the Electoral College
and make federal elections truly popular in nature and design.
In national elections, we should not view our nation as made
of 50 states, but instead view ourselves as a whole nation.
After all, they are national elections and not local elections.
And there is one other idea for elections: eliminate all
donations to candidates and simply have publicly financed
elections. Doing this will eliminate the advantage of money
that so often decides who will be a candidate for political
office. It will open up the process to more people and more
ideas and that will hopefully invigorate the discussions that
take place during elections - instead of the mindless horse
race mentality and the non-discussion of issues that currently
characterizes election campaigns. The need to make political
office-holding accessible to all citizens is more important
than the desire for a citizen to want to donate money to their
favorite candidate. Money has caused many of the problems
that now beset our political system and it must be removed
from the process.
With all of this said, how likely is it that any of what
I have said above will happen? Well, it won't happen tomorrow,
but it can happen. It will be a long, difficult struggle to
fundamentally change our society in a way that will uplift
and improve the lives of all of our citizens. Hopefully, by
accomplishing the above, the United States of America will
actually begin to live up to its mythos that is currently
nothing but wishful thinking.
If more people are truly committed to the notions of life,
liberty and happiness for everyone - in America and the world
-- then it is our duty and obligation to make fundamental
changes in our society to accomplish these goals.
If we decided to do nothing, then the real danger exists
that America will erode and wither from within. Nuclear weapons,
aircraft carriers and vast piles of money may be able to forestall
change abroad and at home for a while, but it cannot last
forever. Fundamental and systemic changes are needed and the
people will increasingly begin calling for these changes as
time goes on.
If we prefer to aspire to improve our society, then we must
act and we must act now. If we do not, then the decay will
continue and patriotism, flag waving and cheering will only
be temporary reprieves until our demise.