We are a reactive culture. At the heart of our cultural and economic woes are some deeply seated issues that require extensive examination; however, as a society, our impulse is to look at the symptoms of our woes and fix the symptoms rather than the underlying causes.
Our economic and foreign policies in our relationships with our neighbors to the south are historically exploitative. Our food industries are heavily dependent on migrant workers and illegal immigrants. Without the input of exploited immigrant farm workers, our food would not be harvested or at best would be much more expensive, yet our knee-jerk attitude towards immigration (i.e. it’s us against them, fence the borders), does nothing to address our real problems with Latin America.
When we are sick, we swallow a pill (if we can afford it). High blood pressure is treated with a pill rather than eliminating the underlying causes that led to the problem in the first place. If one’s stomach is overly acidic, they take a little purple pill at a cost of $5 each to shut off the production of acid in the stomach instead of addressing the obvious question of why the stomach isn’t functioning optimally. With cancer, we cut out the tumor, bombard the body with radiation and then fill it with poisonous chemotherapy essentially disarming the immune system. Our attitude towards health care is the same as our attitude towards foreign policy. If we can’t fix it, we will bombard it and kill it and hope it goes away. Nurturance rarely if ever even comes into the picture.
We are running out of crude oil, not to mention the sticky complicity of fossil fuels’ contributions to global climate change and terrorist states, but rather than spending money to develop alternative technologies, we waste trillions of dollars on wars in the Middle East to ensure the security of the crude oil supply, albeit not very successfully. We invent more fuel efficient cars and then continue to encourage the urban sprawl into open space that requires the American automobile lifestyle and pursue political policy to ‘drill baby drill’ in search of the ever more elusive crude elixir. We need an alternative, sustainable form of energy, but we continue to try and find a way to put off the inevitable and keep using oil.
The very expensive war on terror targets terrorists rather than trying to undo the vast gulf of social and political injustice and inequality that created the terrorists’ rage in the first place.
On Thursday, September 24th, 2009, while most Americans were begrudgingly going about their daily travails, 16 year old honor student Derrion Albert was beaten to death on the streets of Chicago. Three teenagers, aged 16 to 19, have been charged with first degree murder for his killing. In looking upon this tragic history, one can blame neglectful parents, drugs or gang violence, but the reality is we have all failed these four children. As a county, we ignored and neglected them until a crisis wouldn’t allow us to wallow in our collective indifference any longer.
Derrion’s sad story is not an isolated event. Last year 30 other children were violently murdered in Chicago, and countless others faced the same fate across the country in crime infested urban areas. From our suburban, middleclass, glass houses with white picket fences, it is easy to point fingers and lay blame squarely elsewhere, but what does it say about our culture when we are so content to turn a blind eye to the senseless slaughter of children in our own national backyards?
Derrion’s murderers will now go to prison, probably for the rest of their lives. In prison, they will not contribute to the betterment of society, and tax payers will pick up the tab for their incarceration. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. More than one in every hundred adults in this country or 2.2 million people are currently behind bars in America (1). A further 5 million people are on parole or probation. The national average annual cost to jail a single prisoner is approximately thirty thousand dollars (2). Add the costs of incarceration to the costs of law enforcement, legal fees, probation and parole officers, and the national price of ignoring our social ills adds up to trillions of taxpayer dollars every year. Certainly our money could and should be spent in better and more productive ways.
We could invest our money in prenatal care and parenting classes for the underprivileged, early learning and counseling for children at risk, drug prevention and treatment, job creation programs, college educations for all who deserve them, teachers and healthcare. We could nurture and cherish every child from conception through college as a member of our larger American family. The result would be a well adjusted, well educated and nurturing population rather than the dysfunctional, violent and despairing society we currently suffer with. By putting our money towards what is desirable rather than spending reactively, we could transform our world.
1- World Prison Population List at www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/downloads/world-prison-pop-seventh.pdf
2- The Real Cost of Prisons at http://www.realcostofprisons.org/