Friday, December 07, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

I'm going to set aside the usual format today in favor of exploring this forming exhoration in my breast.
I'm looking back over the past year, and as I grow a little bit older, I'm wise to the fact that my best days may be behind me. Parts of me that haven't hurt before do, and parts that have hurt, hurt a little more. My skin cancer bounced back (on my ass, no less!) and I had a little scare late in the year that seems to have passed, mysteriously appearing and disappearing in the blink of a blood test.
Outlier? Possibly. It wouldn't be the first blood test the lab screwed up. Still, it was enough to deflate any notion I had that life was going to get easier after the past turbulent decade.
I feel like I haven't made much of a difference, that my efforts seem to be running into walls.
And I don't want to make it out that I consider the year a failure. In many ways it most certainly was not. Indeed, on balance it's been a pretty good year. Except the bits that didn't go well are bits I could have handled better.
All that is a roundabout way of getting into what I really want to talk about: taking responsibility.
In many respects, the conservative and Teabagger mantra of "take responsibility for yourself" appeals to me. We should. We all should look after ourselves to the best of our abilities.
But here's where Teabaggers and I part company: some people, many people, hell, ALL people have weak points. We all have places in our lives where we can use a little help. For instance, mine is in staying on a diet :-)
What? You didn't think I rode my bike 3,000 miles this year for my health, did you?
Well, I mean, I did, but I did because if I didn't, I would balloon up. But I digress...
The whole point of a society is, if you have a weakness and your neighbor has a strength that dovetails nicely with your weakness, it's part of his responsibility to help you. This is what neighbors do. The problem is, our society has become so expansive and so enumerary that it's hard to match up needs to strengths.
Indeed, it would be possible for imbalances in this equation to form: one person taking more than they need, another giving too much because he or she has to, based on the needs of others.
And this is where government steps in. It can create pathways for help to get to those who need it. It can create avenues for those who can give help to do so safely and without concern that they'll exhaust their resources helping.
Think about Sandy and how hard it's been to clean up and fix up things, and then imagine what would have happened without government.
Some tragedies are obvious. Some are not, but that doesn't make them any less tragic. Hunger, for instance, food insecurity. Newark Mayor Corey Booker is trying to spend a week surviving on just food stamps, to prove that a) it cannot be done, and b) that most people who rely on them use them to supplement other income and so shouldn't be called names like "lazy" or "shiftless".
This is where the Teabaggers fail epically. Nobody wants to be on food stamps anymore than they want to be unemployed or on welfare. Perhaps you can find one in 10,000 who challenge this rule, but really...are we going to punish millions for the sake of dozens?
Taking care of our own is part of taking care of ourselves, as we've seen. This is part of the social contract with a community -- to give when you can and receive when you must -- and in this case, the government is part of the community.
We pay taxes for programs like this because it's how we can best make a difference. We contribute a little to a much larger pot, and that's how we make a difference in other people's lives.
But there are other ways you and I can make differences, and surprisingly, in small steps we can help solve big problems.
A plastic bag floats over the sidewalk on the breeze like a spastic jellyfish. You can let it go, or you can pick it up and walk ten feet to a trashcan and throw it away. Which would you do?
Eventually, that plastic bag could make its way into the belly of an animal, or wrapped about the throat of a bird. Or more likely, a bag just like it could end up on your front lawn or sidewalk, forcing you to pick it up. If we could all pick up the loose bag when we see one, it really just shifts your responsibility forward a little.
Too, it gets you involved in your community, picking up the trash on a sidewalk that's not yours. Incrementally, it makes your community more important to you and by extension, a bigger part of you. When everybody takes responsibility for the community streets, you have a society.
One step further: you buy locally. You try to find food grown within a hundred miles of your house -- not an easy task in colder climes, admittedly. You stay away from retailers who are hostile to workers and unions, because you believe anyone deserves a good paying job with benefits that won't force them on food stamps (see how this works?)
That retailer will either change or die if all of us do that, if all of us take responsibility for ourselves and our community and suddenly that community has expanded to encompass that big box retailer who has to deal with declining sales and a hostile consumer base. They have to change or not be part of the bigger community outside their doors.
And soon, as a nation, we're starting to solve the world problems that we impact the greatest: if we all decide to stop buying cars that use an inefficient gasoline engine and start to use transportation with less of a fetid impact on the planet, we go from the number one carbon polluter to much farther down the list, and someone else becomes "the worst." And they'll start to race us to the bottom.
Yes, there will be low-normals who object to these changes, but here's the thing: if enough of us do it, those changes become cool, and the people who resist them become pariahs in their own communities. Suddenly, the sneers they reserved for "welfare queens" are flipped around, and those who sneered becomes the sneered at.
Will we still need government to enforce these? Absolutely. Problems like these, as I've shown, exceed the capacity of local society to enforce. But if society itself can get behind them, then the power of enforcement is made much less intrusive, since it will be less and less likely that people will resist when they see all their neighbors picking up the trash.
So maybe my year wasn't as productive as it could have been because I've been looking at the big picture and forgetting that it's the little things in life -- the smile, the kind word, the tossing loose trash in a trashcan, or even just writing nearly every day at this shitty little blog and changing just noe mind -- that end up mattering in the long run. Maybe, just maybe, I made a difference.