Monday, June 21, 2010

people observation #6: we have nothing in common, so of course I can decide for myself exactly how you feel.

I am currently reading an awesome piece by Cornel West, Democracy Matters. West makes an excellent point that I think many Americans fail to grasp:

The United States was designed with the democratic ideology and, subsequently, capitalism. The problem is that our participation in the free market and democratic processes should be separate things. When one participates in the market, he is thinking about what he wants, how he can earn that extra penny, and what food to put on his table. The idea of the voting booth is that one goes there to think of the whole, and he or she looks at which issue to vote on that would be best for the country or community.

The problem: people bring their market minds to the voting booth. They ask themselves, how can this issue help me? Is this going to raise my taxes? The problem with this is that we get a selfish nation, nihilistic and pessimistic, where government becomes a part of the market, with lobbyists and campaigns running completely on a spending platform.

When we go to the voting booth (which not participating in is a slap in the face to so many countries and people I can't even begin to count) we need to understand the process of what we're doing. It is taking part in an idea that asks what is best for society. In times of economic trouble, regardless of how great ones business may be doing, one cannot go wondering whether their taxes will be raised, but instead vote on representatives that have the experience, knowledge, and ideas to help all citizens get out of the hard times.

I am so sick of votes being swayed by a simple idea that taxes may rise. I refuse to believe this inevitable; there are so many more important things that citizens need to know.

With the knowledge of another's suffering comes compassion, and I believe that the reason America has such trouble deciding which is right to vote for, rather than which is the most economically good for me, is because Americans are simply unaware of the problems that those unlike them are experiencing. Take the middle class for example. Middle class Americans are notorious for blaming both the rich and poor for not working enough. They hear stories of the Cincinnati mother who has rigged the welfare system, drives a pink cadillac, and gets her nails done four times a week. They hear stories of rich corporate tycoons who spend weeks at a time on their yachts in the Virgin Islands and hire a bunch of other people to do the work for them. These, however, are not the rules, but they are outliers! Most of the Americans on welfare also have jobs, many of them two or three. Middle class Americans, whose families have been middle class for generations cannot physically understand because they are not in that situation. What they can do is get to know someone in a different situation, learn about those people, and guaranteed comes the compassion they deserve. Many people turn a blind eye to those suffering here in the United States because they know that if they knew about it, they would become uncomfortable.

Unless going through the same situation as another, empathy is impossible to experience. I am a white middle class girl. I will never know what it is like to be black or gay or a man. But I can learn from history and from others' different situations, I can understand that I do have a huge privilege, and I can speak for those who do not have a voice. If we take what we learn and our compassion for others to the voting booth, instead of our market minds, the gears of democracy can begin to turn in the way that they were originally intended to run, for all of its people.

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