“Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has to throw off his mask? Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?“ ~Soren Kierkegaard
We are the author of our own personal truth. We make daily decisions, as the creator, designing and constructing the platform-frame as a foundation to which we attach our personality, build a narrative history, and create a legacy that becomes the unique remembrance of us in the world. We do this as individuals and as the United States of America.
Nationally, as Americans, we love to believe in the American Dream – that anyone can become anything, rising above circumstances and limitations, to become an American success story. Our history is one of dreamers and dreams being born and flourishing. Our soil grows an independent fighting Spirit that makes us seek more and better; each new generation shoving past its predecessor to become smarter, brighter, stronger, richer, and happier. This is the promise we have cherished since becoming a nation; a promise believed to be our great Destiny. We are a nation built on hope, individuality, and dreams.
But, times are changing, and as New Americans we live in a time of masks. Our politicians are primarily a collective of hidden faces behind picturesque disguises, the national economy still tragically caught within a depression that is masked by the title recession, and numerous negative sociological and cultural changes ignored and denied as non-existent boogey-monsters imagined by an uneducated and panicky lower-class public. The American Dream still applies to 1% of the population, but what about the 99% who have trouble sleeping and haven’t dreamed in years?
Class Levels and the Battle for Education
America has always been a land of class division as much as she would deny it. However, not since the years of open slavery has the schism between the rich and poor been so great. The classes continue to grow in distance from one another, with the realities of one class being almost incomprehensible to the other class. At the heart of these different realities lies education.
The poorer classes traditionally are less educated and less literate than the more prosperous classes. The recent cuts in public school budgets for arts and sciences, the teacher downsizing and layoffs in the public schools, and the current trend toward staff reductions and closing of public libraries is obviously more detrimental to the poor. Likewise, when the fear of government shut-downs were discussed, it was the military and public parks that faced pay cuts and closures – both of which are utilized by and filled with people of poor to modest incomes. The rich seldom need to use these services or join our military forces.
The money and privilege of the higher classes provides advantages beyond what the “average” American can afford. High crime rates, violent acts during a crime, and major drug use are often directly traceable to lack of education and trauma in the home. Deprivation of basic resources and a sense of stability and security, along with unhealthy self-esteem, creates an unbalanced psyche that leans toward mental illness, drug use, and violent crime. While the answer may not be to throw money at the problems once they’ve reached that stage; certainly, no one would deny that our society benefits from educating our children, teaching them to be productive, ensuring that all children have their basic needs met, and are provided a good, basic education.
Education is like medical care: those with higher incomes and more disposable money will always be able to purchase both commodities. Those without the funds to do so lose the foundation of opportunity. We create a society in which violence thrives because higher education, critical thinking, logic and problem solving have not been taught. Instead, people take what they want by forces believing that to be the only way they’ll ever have it. Lack of opportunity, inequality, and jealousy creates violent men and women.
In recent years, our public education system has fallen terribly short of its objectives – we do need review and changes. However, cutting teacher pay, laying-off teachers, and increasing class size are not forward-moving steps. Rather, these are antiquated methods that lock doors to keep certain people (classes) “in their place.” An uninformed and uneducated public is also a less powerful public. But, we must beware, because history shows that mob rule becomes the norm when people cannot find voice or power any other way.
Who is the 99% ?
There’s a wonderful article by Joseph E. Stiglitz, in this month’s Vanity Fair, titled, “Of The 1%, By The 1%, For The 1%,” that explores the inequality in wealth and class in America. According to Stiglitz:
The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent….While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall.
This is a staggering truth – the numbers don’t lie. The rich run the country through wealth and power, and the middle class IS shrinking. Stiglitz goes on to examine this situation in depth, looking at the ruling class and politicians, at current reinforcing rules, and at what this means for America as time passes. In closing he explains a basic truth often forgotten by those in power: As a nation, the fate of the 1 percent and the fate of the 99 percent is intricately knotted together.
The 99 percent could be called the “average Americans.” The men and women who work a job in construction, food service, plants or warehouses, service industries, and myriad other “blue and white collar” jobs. The 1 percent are the politicians, the IT millionaires, the privileged dynasty families, and the other top power brokers in our nation. The 1 percent, like the mythical comments of the French queen, may very well say “let them eat cake,” as the lower classes starve. Again, history teaches us valuable lessons about the abject distance between the two classes and the violence that is possible when the rich and powerful men forget that the poor man has a destiny entwined with his own.