Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Price of the Greater Good

So, in light of the crumbling failure that is Health Care Reform, as well as a series of serious disappointments I've seen play out during the past 12+ months, I've found myself wondering what price should be paid to make the world a better place. I'm not a particularly patient person, and as a result, I don't enjoy seeing wasted opportunities. Sometimes, you only get a single chance, and I take no pleasure in watching excellent chances simply slip away.

Now, I realize that this is a personality trait of mine. The whole world doesn't see things as I do, of that I am all too well aware, so I have learned how to see the world through multiple sets of lenses. I can typically understand just about any viewpoint (no matter how vocally I may pretend otherwise). I have in my lifetime been a staunch, hawkish conservative, a fierce liberal, and most points in between. I have run the gambit from a rabid fundamentalist to a die-hard humanist, and even dabbled briefly in unbridled apathy. However, I am what I am, and I cannot be otherwise. So, while I may comprehend why some people would rather play it safe, I am not one of those people. So it is, I cannot stand the current state of things.

I believe that just because things are functioning in their current form, that is not a guarantee that it will always be such. I believe that people must constantly question the status quo, because sometimes (as a great man once said), “the status is not quo.” Complacency is as much a sin as any of the big seven, in my opinion, and must be avoided at all costs. Even if you are comfortable the way things are, that does not mean they cannot be improved. The human creature is innovative and the pages of history are full of people who have worked hard make things better. Or, at the very least, to keep things moving.

A little over two hundred years ago, a group of second class citizens banded together to buck off the standing authority and lay the groundwork for one of the mightiest nations in human history. Their contemporaries were by no means unanimous in support of this, but go out today. Pick anyone on the street, and ask them if any one of them would go back to being colonists of England. Ask them if they would give up all the freedoms and representation they have today.

Roll history forward a bit, and let us look at a period of time that has been referenced often lately. Let us look at the Great Depression. One of the darker chapters in United States history, the Depression was the result of fundamental flaws in the economic system that were rife in the opening years of the 20th century. Before that, though, people had been blissfully happy. The “Roaring Twenties” are still referred to with a glimmer of nostalgia. But I am confident that if you were to ask around, no one would actually suggest that we bring back the economic system that brought about the total collapse of the existing financial system.

My point here is twofold. First of all, I'd like to point out that there were people in both eras who were perfectly happy with the state of affairs. Average citizens who would have been perfectly happy with life continuing just the way it had gone before. However, the state of affairs was unsustainable, and proved itself to be just that. People should never assume that simply because they are content, that the rest of the world is content as well.

Second, and the real core of my pondering, is the fact that a price has been demanded for each improvement. Patriots died freeing the US from England. Farmers and the poor suffered and died in the chaos that followed the stock market crash. I am a progressive, however the price of progression is often steep, and is not always paid by those who you'd think. That is the issue I keep running into, and the question I am trying to answer.

Who has the right to decide that people will suffer to improve the world? What person has the right to bring suffering into the world for the Greater Good?

As much as I want the world improved, as much as I want things made better and the human race to be better off, I also value freedom and liberty. Personal choice. I desperately want to improve things, but is that enough? Is that sufficient justification? I may feel the world has been improved, but what about the suffering people? What about the people whose lives would be harmed, hindered, or ended?

Now, I realize that the current state of affairs is not as miserable as things were back before the Revolutionary War. They were second class citizens, governed by a ruler who wasn't even on the same continent. They were overtaxed and completely unrepresented. Today, we are an affluent and powerful nation. We have most of the things we want, have a (moderately) effective government, and at first blush, don't have too terribly much to be upset about.

The system is broken, though. Politicians are compromised, men and women deep in the pockets of companies who don't really have the people's best interest in mind. The legal system is used to circumvent justice just as often as it is used to actually achieve it. The government intercedes to protect massive ineffectual corporations, yet they won't go so far as to regulate them effectively. It is unbalanced and dangerous, but not unsurprising.

It would be extremely difficult to fix things in one go right now. Maybe impossible. Invariably, it would hurt. A lot. People would suffer. The country would reel. The status quo would be upset terribly. All in the name of the Greater Good.

Would it be worth it? Would the pain of the moment lead to a better world? Who has the right to make such a call?

Oh well, it's Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone one!

(Yes, that is a cop out. No, I have no shame in wussing out. It's Christmas dammit!).

No comments:

Post a Comment