Friday, December 17, 2010

A Decent Proposal


No matter how noble the objective of a government, if it blurs decency and kindness, cheapens human life, and breeds ill will and suspicion—it is an evil government.
Eric Hoffer, American social writer & philosopher 
Each person has inside a basic decency and goodness. If he listens to it and acts on it, he is giving a great deal of what it is the world needs most. It is not complicated but it takes courage. It takes courage for a person to listen to his own goodness and act on it.
—Pablo Casals, Spanish cellist

Our scientific age demands that we provide definitions, measurements, and statistics in order to be taken seriously. Yet most of the important things in life cannot be precisely defined or measured. Can we define or measure love, beauty, friendship, or decency, for example?
Dennis Prager, American journalist


Proposals by writers have a long and honoured history. In 1729, for example, Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal, a satirical take on the failed policies of economic utilitarianism regarding the poor of Ireland. In 1993, Adrian Lyne directed a film about a proposal of a different kind: Indecent Proposal. In it, a married woman is offered one million dollars to spend the night with a rich man. The outcome was predictable as it was sad. Everyone loses their dignity.

I would like to offer a proposal, as well. It is neither modest, nor indecent, but a humble look at what I would like to see take place, both near and far. Some might call this a flight of fancy, an imagination grounded in fantasy. So be it. There are enough hard-headed (and hard-hearted) realists out there who have had their way for eons. A change for the better to advance human society would be welcome.

My point here is not emulate Mr. Jonathan Swift in his satirical wizardry, but to draw attention to the fact that we  are fighting wars, battles, and spending money in the wrong places. As was the case in Mr. Swift's times, poverty is no stranger to us. We still suffer poverty, here in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom—wealthy industrialized nations. (see Can We End Poverty?)

And people in dire circumstances, as the film shows, will do indecent things for money. We are also far, far away from acting, in general, as decent human beings. This is not a tenable situation, if you think about it.

Justice and Peace Kiss Each Other: From the Gallery, Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia (Italy): circa 1880.
Photo Credit: Giovanni Dall'Orto, 2002.

But humans have the capacity to change their views and even their ways. So, here are my humble proposals, some are of a more personal and modest nature that we can all put into practice. Others will take the convicted will of world leaders and the powerful elites of business and politics. The benefits to society are great: restore humanity and individual dignity to us all. 

Peace Efforts: 42 nations have soldiers in Afghanistan, the largest contingent by far are the Americans with about 95,000 soldiers out of an estimated total of 120,000, reports CNN.com
The United States should lead the way and withdraw in an orderly fashion from Afghanistan as soon as possible. Other nations, including my own (Canada) will surely follow. The war has cost too many lives, and a prolonged presence benefits few people. The United States calls it Operation Enduring Freedom
As for Iraq, the United States is the only foreign nation with troops on the ground, with 48,000 soldiers stationed in that war-torn nation, primarily for security and training missions. The War in Iraq has cost US taxpayers about $900 billion (as of  Nov 30, 2010), reports About.com. These soldiers, serving their nations, will not be home for the holidays. Their families will miss them. That is a loss, to be sure.
But the greater loss is of human life. Thousands of soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice for their nations. Millions of people displaced, and families uprooted. All thse figures are sobering, because each represents a real person. One figure stands out: More than 100,000 reported civilian deaths, says Iraqi Body Count, including children, in Iraq. (My views on war are clearly spelled out in War Stories.)
Governments: Too many democracies in the world, including Canada, United Kingdom and the United States, have allowed freedoms and human rights to erode, shifting increasing power to the State and away from individuals. (see Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2010) .
This is taking place despite the legal and moral power of the Constitution these nations' leaders say they cherish and uphold. We ought to examine  and have open forums questioning why this shift is taking place and resist it with all the legal, ethical and moral arguments we can muster.
Democracy, it must not be forgotten, is a system of government by the people and for the people. In effect, this means that the interests of the majority of people ought to be upheld first, and not only those of the elites.
Business: Employers ought to pay their employees more, if they could afford to do so. ( I was speaking to a cashier today at my local supermarket, and she was getting paid $14.00 per hour after twenty years of service. The situation is similar for lower-paid bank tellers and other clerical positions.)
Millions of people are out of work in Canada and the United States alone. If employers can hire even one person, that would make a difference, having a multiplying effect. It's more than the bottom line, or at least it ought to be.
Consider this. Look at employees not as human resources, a most inhumane term, but as humans who make your company profitable. Some employers make obscene profits, and yet pay employees a mere pittance. This is shameful. Before giving money to shareholders, give first to your employees.  It makes perfect sense if you think about it.
Parents: Be kind and compassionate to your children. They are truly our future, and we have the power to shape them for good. Spend time with them. 
Talk to your children, and listen to their concerns. They can teach us parents many things. (I know, mine do!) As well, read more books to their children. Use the wonderful libraries available in most communities. (See Reading for Pleasure & Imagination.) 
Children: Show respect for your parents, even if you think they do not deserve it. Some would say some parents are horrible, and undoubtedly this is true. 
But I am not talking about these brutes, a small subsection of humanity. I am talking about the great silent majority of parents who have one of the hardest jobs in the world, and who do the best they can. So, children, give your mother, father, or both a hug today and tell them you love them. It will mean a lot.
These ideas have the power to change the world. We can do some of these things, and help make the world a better place. I know that many of you people reading this already have been thinking about these matters and have been acting accordingly. This proposal is for the others. It's the decent thing to do.

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