Tuesday, February 14
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
It's possible that one way or the other, some non-governmental system will have to be set up to help the poor, especially if the public rejects tax increases. The conservative axiom is, "Government has no right to force me to pay to support people who can't or won't support themselves. That's the job of churches and charities." The liberal axiom is, "Charities have their hands full and it's not enough. We need taxpayer funding for a safety net." My own position is that both are right, and both have a little hypocrisy here and there. I've met many liberals who advocated government aid for the homeless but never spent any time actually interacting with the homeless. That's the easy way out, in my opinion. And the hypocrisy of conservatives needs no mention here, we've both seen it and its political manifestations.
It's not ideal that government forces people through threat of imprisonment to support programs they don't believe in (whether it's nuclear warheads, pre-emptive wars or social programs), but there are times when the alternatives are worse, and experimentation should be done in cities and rural districts to see which types of governmental and non-governmental aid work best, before advocating massive changes to national policy. But conservatives may be right on one of their key points: if a culture unravels, government cannot reproduce the social safety net, and material aid may only increase the feeling of dependency and frustration that causes social unrest, if it fails to give people a meaningful way to contribute to society. If America is Sodom, then government aid may only buy time. If we continue to increase the anger, demonization and stereotyping across lines of division, it will matter little whether our side "wins". We need a cultural renewal, transcending religious and political dogma. A kind of meta-religion, a new moral code.
Christianity and Islam aren't going to solve the problem. They may point the way to cultural evolution, but they aren't the destination, and neither can afford to gloat about its moral consistency or courage. But then, neither can secular liberals, who often scream for change without changing their hearts. The Christian idea of renewal through repentance and rebirth is right on target. It just falls short when it falls back on scriptural prohibitions of homosexuality and women's empowerment. Islam isn't such a bad platform for community aid, one of the reasons Hamas is so popular. But it's collectivist and conformist, and that's too oppressive to be worth it. So what is the secular, independent equivalent, a network that supports the homeless and poor and provides personal contacts for re-entry into the community? By default, the religious fanatics win, if they use charity and empathy as tools for recruitment and we merely call for government safety nets. Not that government funding isn't necessary or good. We need that, but we also need something like a "faith-based program" without a religious dogma to keep out people who lack faith or interest in organized religion.
In Europe, many Islamic radicals are on welfare, but it does not make them appreciate the European system more. On the contrary, since they are socially isolated from the mainstream, government aid only increases their sense of humiliation at the hands of Western culture. America too has its class of alienated young men, converting frustration into political rage, but unwilling to connect and contribute to the community. Racism is part of it, but not the whole story. If we don't find ways to integrate alienated groups into the larger community, there will be a general breakdown of social cohesion, with each groups withdrawing into its own world, listening only to news designed to appeal to its prejudices, and the religious fanatics (both Christian and Muslim) will keep pushing their way into power.
Bush has given us a gift, he has created a viable and self-sustaining progressive movement, a patchwork of perspectives that's far healthier and more robust than the neoconservative and evangelical cabals. But when Democrats call for more funding for social programs, the public hears something missing. They want their leaders to usher in an era of cultural rewnewal, not just a way to patch the holes, but to reweave the fabric. It's the "vision thing". When Bush is out of the picture, there will be opportunities, but we still need the vision, and it's got to be one that draws from Christian ideals of compassion, renewal and mercy while avoiding religious dogmatism. It has to have Islam's social cohesiveness, without the intolerance and arrogant feeling of superiority toward infidels and Jews. Bush may have given us a good push in that direction, but we still have a lot of work to do on the cultural level, not the least of which is to promote genuine love for our enemies, something a Christian nation ought to know instinctively, but which forgets from time to time.