I just finished watching Hot Coffee, an HBO Documentary about the limitations on civil liberties brought about by “tort reform.” In a familiar story, corporations spend millions of dollars getting the judicial, legislative, and executive branches (at the state and federal level) into their pockets at the expense of the American citizen.
I did not even realize the extent of my disgust, disappointment, and hopelessness with my country and with the world until I lost it minutes later. Telling my mom and her new boyfriend Paul that the movie was depressing, Paul began to ask probing questions: “How do the corporations exercise so much power?” and “What’s the alternative: socialism?” He quickly turned my disenchantment with the human race into a political debate, demanding practical, well-articulated answers to an issue I had thus far only addressed with newly-formed raw emotions.
Inherent in the socialism question was the deeply-seated American aversion to just the word itself, despite our multitude of socialist programs. I was turned off by his desire to corner me into a solution, a solution that of course he would counter with a new set of problems brought on by socialism. I was torn between not wanting to reject socialism unilaterally and a reluctance to suggest it as a solution, merely because I hadn’t even thought that far ahead.
Frustrated by Paul’s solution-oriented rhetoric, I erupted into tears and found myself inarticulate. After a short argument, I went upstairs to my room and burst out crying on my bed. I was overwhelmed with a crushing sadness for humankind. Why aren’t all people good?*
Over the past few months more than ever, I care about making the world better. It’s devastating that people care more about money than they do about other people and that money equals power. This July 4th I’m supposed to be proud of my country for providing people with so many opportunities, so many hard-won opportunities, and now I’m confronted with stories suggesting a regression in that regard. Everyone over 18 can vote and serve in a jury, but legislators have decided that those juries’ decisions (in civil cases) can be tempered, and judges often don’t deem that unconstitutional.
I remember when, a few months ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing businesses to donate any amount to a political campaign. “That’s unfortunate,” I thought, “but I guess it would be unconstitutional to continue capping the amount.” After seeing Hot Coffee, I don’t see that Supreme Court ruling in a vacuum; I see it as the most recent play by corporations, the same reason the CEOs of bailed-out banks have fat paychecks, the same machine that propelled Bush-whisperer Karl Rove.
I’m sure there are good arguments on both sides for the constitutionality of laws that either directly or indirectly favor corporations over the individual. I’m not versed in law so I don’t know all the intricacies of that. But the law does not always take into account ethics.
I want to live a world where everyone is ethical, where our codes of ethics are more or less the same, where people understand responsibility, culpability, and integrity. Where money is an incentive that doesn’t come at the expense of basic human rights.
Are we any further along than we ever once were? Is it significant now that we have a concept of “racism” as being “wrong”? Are loopholes and backdoor deals preferable to lynchings or are they the same human instinct expressed through a more restrictive system? Is the system in fact more restrictive and therefore protective, or has it just become more protective in some areas and less protective in others?
In other words: is progress a real concept or just an illusion?
I aspire to live an ethical life and I aspire to make change. I don’t yet know exactly how I’ll do that. I really should become a vegetarian, for one, or at least significantly cut down on my meat consumption. But as far as changing the world, I’m really just waiting for my next big idea. I have purchased my *eco-friendly* lightbulb and one day I’ll illuminate it.
Post Script: What ways are there to incentivize ethical behavior that also promote a healthy economy? If only those jerks on Wall Street and on the Hill cared about that more than they cared about making money, we might have more answers.
*Clearly, it was because he had glossed over what was really upsetting me (bad people) in favor of engaging in some type of solution-focused political dialogue, that I was rendered unprepared and betrayed. Why was I made to feel inept because I couldn’t answer his questions? But wait, how could he make it about something so small when the implications of the film are world-wide?