The love of many will grow cold
A reader made some remarks to me last week, mentioning her yearning to “have your joyful job and live in stone towers with birds of the Apocalypse which must be paradise!” I offer this as primary evidence of delusion. It is only pleasant up here about two weeks of the year, all told, and not consecutive sets of seven days in a row but rather a day here and a day there. Much of the year it is far too cold to be pleasant up here in my towers at the foot of Mechanic Street, and I have to take certain peculiar measures to avoid being overcome by frost. The Four Seagulls of the Apocalypse, as I have been at pains to make clear, are frequently annoying and only occasionally are they of any help to me. Usually this is by accident, when for example they overlook some scrap of food they have scavenged from near the beach, and I find it before they know they have lost it.
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I had a conversation last week about the high rate of absenteeism from South School and other schools in our area. I mean students not staff, by the way. It seems many parents cannot get their children up and fed in time for them to get to school, and one supposes perhaps that the parents have little reason to get out of bed themselves. This has the general effect of teaching the children that getting out of bed in the morning is not an essential part of the daily routine, and one can further suppose that in time they will pass this crippling idea on to their own youngsters. I wonder what is behind all this, and I am not interested in simplistic answers.
What prompts me to mention this is the reported fact that some 200 free lunches are being served daily to school children (in fact to anyone under age 18) at the Recreation Center during this summer vacation. For many years the schools have also been feeding breakfasts to children who arrive hungry, their parents apparently having been unable to put a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice on the table for them before they leave for school.
I am not one of the self-righteous types who rage daily against the lives of their fellow humans. However I do think there are times when we should not merely respond to a problem but should also investigate its cause. When we spend money providing food to children who are hungry, should we not therefore also try to discover why they are hungry, and attempt to tackle the problem closer to its root?
Very probably this two-sided response to things ought to be a firm principle. Unhappily the modern political right in this country has labored long and hard to create a situation where it does not want to assist people and does not wish to understand why they need help in the first place. Instead it has frequently reverted to that oldest, easiest, and yet least satisfactory of answers: only the individual is to blame. Almost all major social ills, according to this primitive opinion, are merely the result of individual people behaving badly. This way the political right tries to make a widespread social problem into a merely individual moral problem, thereby hoping to deflect any suggestion that the problem might have a social solution and not (as they want) only a moral solution. This is because they no longer care (they refuse to care) about anybody but themselves, and it is unlikely that any amount of speeches will persuade me otherwise. I am always open to being persuaded by a sensible argument, but I don’t hear any. Instead, I reflect on what the Good Book says: “The love of many will grow cold”. And so it has.
Any attempt to investigate what is behind difficult social conditions, and especially any attempt to ascribe actual causes and to suggest possible solutions, is seen by the modern right as absurd. The truth is, the right properly recognizes that such a sensible approach would be dangerous, both to its own absurd position and more importantly dangerous to the kind of power it seeks to build upon such rickety foundations.
In very general terms, I fear, one might describe our current social system as something equivalent to owning a car which breaks down every month. Each month the car goes to the shop to be repaired, and then a month later it breaks down again. This goes on indefinitely (on the whole it is a very durable car) and yet it never occurs to anybody to ask why it keeps breaking down and to address the underlying problem. One can frame the minimum-wage debate in similar terms. Many workers are paid wages well below poverty level and keep needing some form of social assistance to stay afloat, which is a humane but costly solution. It seems fairly clear that if workers were to earn living wages their need for social assistance would greatly decrease, and therefore the costs of social programs would be reduced. I can’t think of a simpler way to put it. And yet the political right apparently cannot be taught to understand this. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear, as my dad would say. They want to cut off social assistance which seeks only to relieve the effects of social problems, while at the same time doing nothing to resolve the social causes. Again, they pretend to believe the whole situation is only a moral problem of the individual. The problem with this sort of moralistic judgment is that, one day, it may well used against them.
David Grima is a former editor with Courier Publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.