CONVERSATING ABOUT WHAT'S ON YOUR MIND!
By Lacino Hamilton and LC DeVine
With the persistence of poverty, unemployment, a shrinking dollar, overseas interventions, gargantuan military budgets, crumbling infrastructure, crises in health, education and welfare systems, environmental abuse, rhetorical consumer and worker protections, rising taxes, an unsustainable national debt, municipal bankruptcies, urban neglect, widespread crime in the streets and in public officer–many people have begun to question whether the political system works?
Let me begin by stating that the political system is more than democrats and republicans, or the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, It also includes laws lobbyist and private interest groups that affect private policy. Actually, the distinction between public and private is an artificial one. A notable but often overlooked feature of the political system is that its industrial, communication, transportation, educational, recreational and cultural institutions are controlled by private interests. In almost no instance do average everyday people have any decision-making powers. Unless we consider pulling a lever every two or four years power?
For most people life is defined as a series of personal goals to be obtained through individual/competitive means. Everyone competes against everyone else. This attitude, considered criminal in many societies, fails to or halfheartedly considers that decisions about the quality of food we eat, the air we breathe, the education we receive, the work we do, the prices we pay, the health care offered, municipal structures, the opinions and values fed to us by newspapers, magazines, television and radio–the controlling decisions concerning the material realities of our lives–are subject to the same competitive attitude i.e., institutions vs people.
As products of a competitive political system, institutions (the people who control, and by proxy, staff them), do not welcome a fair playing field. That’s because competition not only produces winners and loser, but a profound commitment to inequality. Deprived groups like the urban poor, racial minorities and women are seen as a threat because quite naturally they will want more than the little they have. Those that “do have” view this as receiving less. Class bigotry, racism and sexism are not mistakes either, they help to exclude large numbers of competitors.
Likewise, there are schools that do not teach, disproportionate unemployment, high levels of incarceration, and many other forms of inequality, by design. The political system is not broke, as so often is the explanation we give for why it is not working for a large segment of the population. It must be remembered that those who have invested a lot of time and energy in maintaining and furthering their position within the social hierarchy are committed to its preservation.
What we casually refer to as problems, and not oppression, are historically consistent, and affect too many people to be written off as personal deficiencies. The political system operates chiefly with undemocratic effect because it represents the privileged few rather that the needs of the masses. It is not that the decision makers have been unable to figure out the steps necessary for change. It is that they oppose the things change entails–a re-distribution of resources, power and wealth. If the political system was re-tooled to do that, investment incentives would diminish greatly.
The only way the political system could re-distribute resources, power and wealth to meet the needs of the masses, would, in effect, be public ownership over the means of production. And since that threatens the survival of privileged/private interests, change will not come under the current political-economic arrangements.
The immense social crises experienced by more and more of the population are not aberrations that are to be solved by replacing one money sponsored political decision-maker with one who would be better intentioned and more socially aware. The crises are rational outcomes of a basically irrational system structured not for the satisfaction of human need but profit and other private interest.
The politics of ghetto living insures that the ghetto will remain the ghetto. How some of us live is not a mistake, neither is it the product of a broken system. We live like that because it is profitable to a lot of people businesses: pawn shops, pay-day loan services, slum lords, creditors, social services, and other who traffic in misery.
That is like the school. Since when does the oppressor educate the oppressed? Even if we mastered the curriculum they teach us in those places, that are custodial in nature, we still would not know how to solve our most immediate problems. Math and science, the standards by which schools and school children are measured, means little when we don’t know how to stop police from brutalizing and murdering us, or how to make our families whole again, or learning identity, purpose and direction.
This then, is a feature of real significance in any understanding of political power in the U.S.: almost all the social institutions and material resources existing in this society are controlled by non-elected, self-selected, self-perpetuating groups of people who are accountable to no one but themselves.
This insightful writer can be contacted by clicking on his name Lacino Hamilton
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