Unfortunate (Tuesday, December 18, 2012 8:37 PM)

For some pre-historic cultures, human sacrifice, even cannibalism, was an accepted part of the culture. In that context, being an overtly healthy and vital member of the community might have been considered unfortunate—for their being prime candidates for the rituals and feasts, etc. Even so, a slow-runner or a poor shot with a sling might just as easily die from starvation. At such a nadir of civilization one may suppose that all were equally unfortunate. Such is the perfect elegance of nature.

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The more civilization imposed on the human animal, the greater the possibility that some people might be better off than other people. The chiefs of the villages might get the best food, or the most food, or both. The villagers at the bottom of the pecking order were plagued by a concentration of fellow neighbors eager to criticize and ridicule.

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Some became unfortunate merely by being female—the absolute necessity of producing well-raised offspring was easily minimized by the breast-beating hunters and bullies. One of civilization’s worst aspects is its preferring of thoughtless categorization upon the individuals—both ignoring their special values—and assuming untrue attributes about anyone pigeonholed into any certain category.

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The development of rope, and later metal-working, allowed the practice of enslavement—an unfortunate predilection of ours that continues in the darker places of the world even today. This brought our ‘pecking order’ habits into the realm of law—and kept them there—arguably, until the American Revolution, but, in some matters, arguably, still clutching us in its grip today.

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The self-fulfilling philosophy of the older world’s elite—that they were bigger, better, and superior to those around them—was reinforced by the greater health and stature conferred by a superior diet, and the greater reasoning powers that some (but not all) people gain from a good education.

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With both women (and their children) and slaves under some form of control, civilization has already improved some people’s quality of life even more than the acquisition of dogs and horses. Imagine a living robot that does whatever you say—and lives in fear of execution if it questions its status. What a sweet ride for the old-boys club, huh?

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The story of civilization, taken (I admit) from a certain point of view, is a journey away from our natural, balanced, primitive state and ever closer to a civilized state wherein we maintain what individualism we can whilst living within a ‘shared’ consensus of patterns and rules. As a simple example, take airplane travel—at first, it was thought impossible; then it was considered an unusual spectacle, then a military weapon, then a necessity, then a danger. When the skies became crowded enough, a regulatory system began to control the air-traffic in congested metro areas. At this point, we must all adhere to the consensus rules of air travel (and military flights) that keeps all the flying machines from crashing into each other all around the world.

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Many of our great technological enhancements require regulation, maintenance, infrastructure—all the rules and conventions and quality controls demanded by such industries as automotive, pharmaceutical, governmental finance, environmental protection, etc. We’re still getting used to shouldering the responsibility of the effects of our civilization on the natural world—keeping the water clean, keeping the air non-toxic—all those pesky details we did such a great job of ignoring for so long.

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We may have left it untended for too long already. The population boom that ecologists warned of since the 1960s has brought us to a total of seven billion people on our planet. Let’s experiment with the concept of scale, shall we? Pick one thousand places on the Earth where you can support seven million people in each place. Then look around and see what’s left for the additional billion people born in the next few years (and remember that seven billion people can make an awful lot of babies).

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But the schism between the high class and the low class is the most avoidable and irrational of our accommodations to civilization. We have gone from despising the mentally challenged, to imprisoning them, to trying to help them. They have made it into that exclusive club: the ‘unfortunate’.

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Single mothers faced similar challenges and only recently (historically-speaking) have we been open-minded enough to consider them (and all their children) worthy of our help or concern. The physically challenged, the maimed, the deaf, the blind, all the people whose presence once endangered our peace-of-mind—they are recognized today, by all right-thinking people, as ‘merely different’ rather than as someone to be shunned and shut out of society.

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We even have some legislation in place that tries to even the playing field between the upper class and the rest of us—but, when money is the root of all corruption, those laws are often side-stepped in a multitude of ways.

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Having recognized this pattern—the ‘why don’t we all just get along’ pattern of social progress—there’s little reason for putting each new hurdle through all the hoops that anti-Semitism, anti-integration, and women’s liberation from male chauvinism had to jump through. But we can’t seem to learn this lesson, as a society. We are trying to soothe our cultural constipation about homosexuality as homosexuals (et.al.) take a more exposed position in our society—and their would-be condemners are moved more towards the fringes of modern society with nearly every passing law—as it should be.

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And we gain also in the further refinement of our sensibilities (one of the many benefits of social progress) as when once, we lumped all these mentally challenged into one group. And, having accepted these benighted children as worthy as any other, we begin to perceive the various shades of what we once assumed was all the same, of Tourette’s Syndrome,  ADD, OCD, and the forms of Autism from high-functioning to low, and Asperger’s Syndrome. Not only do we then give more effective and customized support to these children—we also learn more about the human mind and, thus, about ourselves.

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Scratch any old prejudice or ostracization, and we will find the benefits of overcoming our primitive repulsion in both the more humane approach to treating with the unfortunate as equal in dignity, if not capability or appearance, and, ultimately, a larger benefit to society as a whole and, again thus, to ourselves. Put more simply, being sensitive is being sensible. It is not charity—it is an inclusion of everyone in society, which can only make our civilization a more balanced and stable organism.

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The problem of money, of rich and poor, shows no signs of changing in the near future. I have no suggestions on that score. However, I do have one thesis I’ve been incubating for a while now.

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The jobs of pure, physical labor shrink more and more, and even skilled jobs are being more and more done cybernetically, especially in the big-factory assembly lines. We are looking at an undeniable disconnect between people who want to work, who need to make a living, and the number of jobs our high-tech civilization requires to get the work done.

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With every step closer to the futuristic freedom from any labor or drudgery, we also draw nearer to the population of the existing employable. Before too long, we will simply have too few jobs and too many workers. And, on the face of it, we can’t really expect to create a support system (read ‘welfare-state-of-necessity’) with an open-ended population growth. Thus the specter of population control rears its ugly puss. But I am not clever enough to think of a proper way, an ethical paradigm, for controlling the birth rate—not to mention the inevitable loop-holes that young people will naturally create, out of desperation to have kids.

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We are still struggling, in our present, with the ethics of willing, voluntary birth-control—so, the idea that we might allow governmental policy to control, in any way, our individual decisions concerning procreation seems total madness.

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I would hate to be any part of a population-controlled society. Still, there is one thing that bothers me—if we don’t restrict our own population growth voluntarily, poverty and starvation will continue to do that for us, only in huger numbers and in places much closer than the third world nations of today.

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That we in the USA already have starvation and malnutrition in depressed and remote areas is only one of the reasons for considering a National Minimum Policy—a program that ensures no one goes without food, clothes, shelter, transportation, online access, education, and medical care. I would suggest repurposing military installations as barracks and communities for any homeless or unemployed person—and their children.

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Now that technology threatens to force us from our own lives, perfectly healthy, fairly bright people will join the ranks of the unfortunate—their plight will be just as dire, merely by reason of a lack of jobs that need doing. They will have no discernible disability except for not-being-a-robot.

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If technology is making our lives easier, it must be making our jobs easier, too. And in many cases, here in the 21st century, we’ve made some jobs so easy that no one needs to do them. So what we gain in productivity, etc. we lose in job-security. In earlier times (like my childhood) there was no way to run a business without a crowd of people. Nowadays, five people with laptops and a hotspot can run nearly any business you can name.

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We look at unemployment numbers in an old-fashioned way—those numbers used to reflect the overall economy, because more business always required more workers. This is no longer the case. Jobs will evaporate almost as quickly as the polar ice caps are melting—and the people in charge do not want the rest of us taking a serious look at these glaring problems. So they choose up sides and start a fake fight over a tenth of a percentage point tax rate change (up or down, it doesn’t matter) and they manufacture the image they allow us to see on mass media.

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We are so blind. Changing one thing always leads to changing another thing—all things are connected, all people are interdependent. It is a truth that we ignore every time we insist that money is all that matters. All that really matters is what we can do with money—and what no amount of money can change. If we institutionalize money out of the survival equation, we make our lives better. Even if we have a good job, we will still feel better knowing that getting fired doesn’t mean we are cut loose from our communities, but rather that we are drawn closer by our neighbors and friends.

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Once we iron out the initial wrinkles, we can look into designing original ‘support communities’ with their own special functioning in mind. It isn’t as though we want to keep a swollen standing military—but those communities where bases get closed will have the purpose, the heart, removed from their communities. And the poor, and orphaned, and seniors, and homeless, and the unemployed all need a place to stay.

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Plus, of necessity, we will need to employ some of these people as day-care providers, free public-schooling teachers that don’t end at High School, but can offer Bachelors, Masters and PhD programs to anyone capable of doing the work, and administrators, care-givers, cooks and craftspeople. With the correct planning and support, these centers could easily become the cradle, not of a welfare state, but of a new renaissance of American progress, invention and know-how. And it will not all be the province of just the wealthy, ivy-league grads—it will be the new frontier for the whole population, a world without a death sentence binding us to the whims of those 1%, ‘Master-of-the-Universe’ A-holes.

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Just as starvation now serves as our ‘population control’, desperation likewise serves as our present ‘social incentive’. A highly fragile, highly complex global society does not need a large mob of desperate, angry, hungry people with no jobs or hope or escape.

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If we begin to tone down the competitiveness that has been our driving force ever since capitalism replaced monarchism, we can transition to a newer, post-capitalist ‘—ism’  that tries to impose a sounder stability than the rough and tumble of the global marketplace. Think of the International Space Station—those astronauts, men and women, are aware that violence and selfishness are completely out of place in an artificial environment. If they want to act out, they wait until after splashdown, when being sloppy or careless isn’t instantly fatal.

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Our global society is even more complex and fragile than the ISS, yet we cling to the notion that ‘market forces’ and ‘competing in a free-trade market’ are not yet too volatile for an interdependent global commerce. We have to remove competition and replace it with cooperation, or everything will just continue to fly off in all directions, until we collapse under our own fantasy of infinite time, infinite resources, and the ‘benefits’ of a ‘healthy’ antagonism.

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