Monday, May 02, 2005

Civilization and its Contents - V

"You work three jobs? Uniquely American, isn't it? I mean, that is fantastic that you're doing that."
George W. Bush, to a divorced mother of three, Omaha, Nebraska, Feb. 4, 2005
Civilization is composed of people. Don't argue that its bricks and mortar, paintings, laws, music, poetry or literature. [And for God's sake, don't argue that its religion, although religion, in theory, has the sentiments of civilization. Tragically, in practice, religion is a disaster.]

In my mind, then, American Civilization is made up of American people, and how those people live and die. While this seems trivial, please bear with me. Certainly the bricks and mortar, paintings, etc. are important, but as primary artifacts. They are exponents of civilization. Ramifications, products, whatever you want to call them. Civilization itself is more ephemeral and, sadly, can die. There is no Roman Civilization at this time, of course. Again, this seems trivial, but bear with me.

American Civilization is set off from all others by the opening lines of its Constitution:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Why do I get a little chill up my spine every time I read this. I know, I know, this is about as anti-snark a position as you can imagine. Who would think a curmudgeon would feel this way. But, there it is.

No other Civilization had ever had this sentiment at its base.

In 1998, I traveled to Kaliningrad, the city formerly known as Konigsberg that was the Capital of East Prussia. The city now belongs to Russia but is separated from it by Lithuania. I had the privilege of being hosted by the vice mayor and the director of health. These officials cared for their people. While poor as dirt, as was most of the world in the Former Soviet Union, they still cared deeply for their fellow citizens. I was struck by this over and over again both at the hospitals and the orphanages that I visited. They cared about their children.

In 1993 I traveled to Siberia and in 1994 to Bucharest, Romania. I observed the same thing, they cared about their children. All three places had little in the way of "goodies." There were few cars, broken down trams (the back window of the bus was boarded up with plywood). But through it all, they cared about their children.

So, I'm going to make an observation. You can agree or disagree, or you can say its trivial.

American Civilization should be judged on how we care for our poor, our aged and our children.

Now, how are we doing in this regard? Well, you can answer that yourself, but from my standpoint, not very well. We are so obsessed with "goodies" that we have little or no time for these things. Getting ahead, Material Girl, etc. they all point to the same thing.

Our government wages War to the tune of $1 billion a week when it is cutting Medicaid, the health support for the poor (and giving a massive tax break to the rich). Our old people (and I am one of them) are shuttled off to limbo until they die. And when they die, in spite of the hullabaloo about Schaivo, they frequently die poorly. Things that are routine in European Civilization (concern for the environment, small cars, conservation, etc.) are dwindling in American Civilization.

A number of years ago there was a little book that was popular, it was called the "We-uns." It was an archeological dig many years in the future in what is now the US. (Get it, US = We). All I can remember was that the dig unearthed many trivial items, that was the joke. Trivia. I suspect the remnants of a Happy Meal were one. The American Civilization, that we think so highly of, may disappear without a trace.

Once we were on the road to something good. Where we went wrong, I don't know. Such grand sentiments in our Constituion, and the irony is that we have the means to implement them. If only greed had not got in the way.

Remember: the poor, the aged, and the children.

1 comment:

EG said...

Great post, as always.

I've noticed the me-me generation in charge and asked myself, what would my grand parents think of this country today? How about my great-grand parents? Would they be proud or sad of what America has become? Or not surprised at all?

Meanwhile, Bush argues for Social Security reform with the mantra, 'It's your money!' Never has he addressed how his reforms will affect the disabled and survivor benefits. And most Americans, I fear, don't care because ... 'It's their money!'