Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why We'll Never Reach Utopia

With all that is going on these days, from the protests in the Middle East to the bill passed by the House to pull funding from Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers to the resistance against prohibiting unions in Wisconsin (of course, the Social Problems course I'm taking now and the Morality & Justice course from last semester may have a bit to do with my thinking as well...), I really have to wonder what it would take for governments to actually do what I've always been told is their job: Protect the people of the nation through law and regulation.

The fact of the matter is, while this is a lovely utopian ideal, governments have never done this in a satisfactory manner. There is no government in the world that has ever been able to offer true equality of treatment. There has always been an unequal distribution of power, and those who possess that power are in no hurry to let go of any of it. Whether the imbalance is fiscal or political, it seems that the priority of equality and actually doing the job right has always taken a backseat to the priority of maintaining power.

But would it hurt to try to get it right on occasion?

When it comes down to it, the balance of power is always weighted in favor of the status quo. It takes a lot of force to overcome the inertia of the political machine, and it is not those who sit on Capitol Hill who are going to have to work to start changing things. Sure, it's great when some top-down policy change actually happens, but most of the time, there's almost no chance of this happening. Our legislators, for the most part, aren't interested in actual equality; they're interested in remaining in office. In fact, it is all but guaranteed political suicide to work for equal treatment when that equal treatment means taking power or -- god forbid, money -- out of the hands of the rich and powerful.

Those in political power are the ones who can most easily alter how things work in this country, but because they need to be reelected, they are dependent on those who have fiscal power. In the United States, you can't run for office with no campaign budget. It takes money to be heard, be seen, be known. It takes sponsors or personal wealth, and when this is what it takes to chase a government office, very few candidates are willing to support policies that go against the best interests of those who are funding the candidate's campaign.

In the end, what is best for the richest sliver of the population and for the top businesses is frequently not what is in the best interest of the majority of the populace -- and as the income gap continues to widen, those at the top seem to have an increasingly louder voice as those with less money and power are heard less and less.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, unless it's carrying a concert-worthy stack of amplifiers shouting out that there is no squeaky wheel. And that's what happens in our political structure. In order to be heard, you need one of two things: power or money. Those who are poor and those who are powerless -- basically, those who most need the support of the government -- are almost never heard.

So, will we ever have economic regulations ensuring that minimum wage is a living wage? I doubt it. Will same-sex marriage be legalized across the nation? Will women be allowed sovereignty over their own bodies? I don't see it happening any time soon.

Will we ever realize that we suffer as the rest of the world suffers?

As a nation, we have it pretty good. We at least have a minimum wage; we don't work for pennies a day. We at least have basic human rights and freedom of religion; our children aren't burned as witches and we aren't prosecuted for apostasy or for insulting the state religion. But we need to understand: as we become more of a global society, as our interconnected economy reaches to every corner of the map, we can either stand as one, or we can fall as one.

For the Chinese workers paid pennies to make shoes for Nike, for the Indian people who forgo their traditional holidays to answer tech calls, for all the people the world over who work under inhumane conditions or at unlivable wages so that good may be made and shipped and supported cheaply, there are people in the United States and other more regulated nations who can't find a job.

Those for whom the current situation is favorable don't want it to change, and they lend all their considerable power to the natural inertia of resisting change. Religion has power, and the religious don't want to relinquish that. Low or nonexistent minimum wage puts money in the pockets of the already-wealthy, and they view that money as their right -- any argument that their outrageous salaries are paid at the expense of employees being unable to meet rent or afford a decent lifestyle falls on deaf ears.

It is in the interest of the elite to keep the average under control, and we give them the power to do so.

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