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when too few have too much and too many have too little, we do not have a sustainable society
The words are from Bernard Rapoport, known to his friends simply as B.  

I have been reflecting upon them for the past few days, because of having attended his memorial on Tuesday, about which I wrote yesterday in this post, which I think may be as important as anything I have ever posted here.

We are seeing the continued development of an America were too few do have too much and an ever-increasing percentage have too little.

The situation will be made worse if the Affordable Care Act is overturned by the Supreme Court.

The situation has been made worse by a series of decisions about campaign finance, going back to Buckley v Valeo equating money with speech, and when combined with the idea that corporations are persons culminating in Citizens United, along with the existence of 527s, Super Pacs, and the abuse of 501(c)(4) organizations by the likes of Karl Rove.

B Rapoport once asked a close friend "Moyers, what can I do to make this world a better place?"   I have some thoughts on this, and they are combined with the third of the three things he learned from his father, that he needed to have a sense of outrage at injustice.

I invite you to continue to explore some ideas with me.

I do not seek to level society.  I see nothing wrong with some degree of differentiation - in wealth, in ability, in knowledge, in skills in various domains.  I can admire someone who starting with some skill develops into a superb athlete beyond what I could never imagine as possible for myself.  While I have a fair amount of talent as pianist (and used to as a cellist as well) I did not choose to dedicate myself to the development of those talents. I admire those who did, and see nothing wrong with their benefiting from that development and dedication.

I would, had I ever met B Rapoport, been prepared to argue that such development can make the world a better place.  It is why I think PUBLIC schools should be places that students explore ALL their capabilities, including athletics and arts, but also domestic arts like cooking and sewing, industrial arts like auto mechanics, as well as literature and social sciences -  science, technology, engineering and math are not the only skills a society needs.

I grew up in an upper middle class household, in an upper middle class neighborhood.  Some of those I knew in elementary school went on to prestigious non-public schools -  St. Grottlesex, as the New England Prep Schools were sometimes labeled, or Jesuit prep schools for the Catholic Boys like my next door neighbor Tom Schneider, 1 year older than me to the day.  I remember the father of one of my elementary school classmates saying that he had had his experience of democracy in elementary school, now his dad shipped him off to Le Rosey in Switzerland "to help prepare him for his proper place in the world."  I thought that was obnoxious.  

I played on a Babe Ruth League baseball team funded by the mother of one my classmates (he didn't play baseball, as tennis was his sport).

We knew craftsmen who were skilled, who made good livings.  The carpenter brothers who redid our basement, for example, one of whom had been in the Battle of the Bulge with a relative of ours.  The tailor whose shop was next to the movie theater.  The mechanic who maintained our family car for many years.

There were working class kids in our high school, even a few who were poor, although not like those who were really poor in urban ghettoes, or the rural poor who were completely out of mind as well as being invisible by distance.

My sister and I had classmates whose fathers (and it was only fathers) ran major corporations or major educational institutions.  One of my classmates had a father who was a world-reknown conductor, another whose father was one of the best-known performers on one particular instrument.  I went to dinner and parties or picked up dates at houses that dwarfed our substantial (around 3200 square feet, and now valued well over a million dollars) residence - some had indoor pools, one had an indoor basketball court, and more than a few had private piers on waters leading to the Long Island Sound).  Yet we went to classes together, we socialized as individuals and groups.  Some even married one another.

American society in the 1950s and 1960s when i grew up had a great deal of inequality.  Yet we recognized it, and strove to ameliorate its worst effects.  We had seen the development of Social Security in the 1930s to help prevent desperation for seniors.  During my young years we got national educational programs, recognizing the importance of education to enabling those without family resources to advance from poverty.  As a society we attempted to address the discrimination of race -  I write these words on the Anniversary of Plessy v Ferguson, and one day after the anniversary of Brown v Board.  We made an attempt to overcome the divisiveness of race.  Later we would attempt address sexism as well.  

Somehow we have lost the idea that all are entitled to pursue the American Dream.  

Somehow we as a nation seem willing to abandon the notion that all are created equal entitled to rights that include the pursuit of happiness.

Somehow we seem to willing to accept a notion that some can succeed only by preventing the success of others.

Too many seem to think they did it on their own, failing to recognize that their success was not possible without the framework of a nation and a society to which all have contributed.

To put it bluntly, some think that their wealth and their position entitle them in ways that are obnoxious
- to dictate the lives of others
- to make them immune from the consequences of their own actions
- that their shit doesn't stink.

They divide - by religion, gender, national origin, sexual orientation, wealth, school or college attended, or any other means that makes them in their own eyes "superior" and those not like them "other" and "less worthy"

They seek to have ever more and when they do somehow see nothing wrong with using what they have to gain still more - money, and through that money power and exemption from social responsibility, starting with paying a fair share in taxes to the society that enabled their accumulation of wealth (even if inherited from family).  They want different rules from them, exempting them from the burdens they are willing to impose on others they view as less "worthy."

They have, as B Rapoport would say,  too much.

They are willing to keep too many with too little.

Such a society is not sustainable.

What then can we, can I, do about it?

I can give back -  by paying my taxes, by working for programs and policies that make things better for more people, by only supporting those politicians who are willing to commit themselves to the greater good, by not patronizing businesses that abuse their employees, do not support their communities.

The responsibility for a just society falls upon all of us.

For me, if I do not start with myself, I have no grounds on which to accuse others.

Far better to live what I believe, even if it costs me.

If I benefit, I should want others to have the same opportunity to benefit.

Moyers, what can I do to make this world a better place?

B Rapoport lived his life attempting to answer that question.

He never lost sight of the ideal of leaving no one behind.

The third, and most important thing he learned from his father was this:  most important, have a sense of outrage at injustice.

That sense of outrage is a starting point, something with which we can each motivate ourselves to make a difference.

B Rapoport was a proud Jew.  I come from similar Eastern European Jewish background, and my family taught me many of the same values.

I am a Convinced Friend, a Quaker by choice.

To those values I add the ideal of George Fox, that we are to walk gladly across the earth, answering that of God in each person we encounter.

Each person.

That includes the oppressed, the poor, the ignored.

It also includes the oppressor, the rich, the ones who already get far too much attention.

I am required to challenge, starting with myself as an example, but others as well.

I can ask them the question B posed to Moyers, but really asked himself:  what can I do to make this world a better place?

None of us will be without failure.

At which point I remember a tale from the Desert Fathers.  The novice asked his master what they did in the desert, and the answer was that We fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up.

Years ago, when I was an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I used to visit Mount Athos, the peninsula in Northern Greece that has been a monastic republic for more than a millenium.  Often when I traveled between the various monastic houses I would forego the opportunity of vehicular transportation to walk the ancient footpaths through the wooded terrain.  I came to realize that the point of a pilgrimage is as much the journey as it is the destination.  I came to understand the point of the words of the Gospel which asked the question of what good it was for a man to gain the whole world if he lost his soul.

I think that is what B Rapoport not only understood, but tried to live.

Even more, it is what he tried to make possible for others.

Ultimately, it is why I became a teacher.

It is why I write.

Teaching is at its best co-learning.

Life is a pilgrimage.

Remember, the journey is as important as the destination.

And I will never lose my sense of outrage at injustice.  It gives me reason to keep on striving even when exhausted, tired, feeling a sense of despair.

So long as too few have too much and too many have too little, our society is NOT sustainable.

So then comes the question:

What can I do to make this world a better place?

Not a bad question to keep before me, is it?


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Comment Preferences

  •  Very (12+ / 0-)

    Nice Ken. Thank You.

    "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

    by fugwb on Fri May 18, 2012 at 04:18:12 AM PDT

  •  G'mornin teacherken, thanks for the thought (9+ / 0-)

    ...provoking diary.

    ... the notion that all are created equal entitled to rights that include the pursuit of happiness.
    That's based on the faith that "God is in each person and that there is only one God" (E Pluribus Unum)

    Our so called "Christian" politicians here in Virgina, who often put on a faith show with "prayer breakfast," became indignant when president Obama spoke about "E Pluribus Unum" being our national motto, not too long ago. They huffed and puffed and made sure that our nation's motto is "In God We Trust," not "E Pluribus Unum." Empty talk much? They do. But there is more to their battle against "E Pluribus Unum." See, "In God We Trust" separates "God" from "We," (Trusting and the trusted) which I believe is not how the founders envisioned our nation's core philosophy. By not using the word "God" (English for the attribution of deity) and by asserting "E Pluribus Unum" (all created equal) the founders followed the pattern they observed in nature in which the deity (the creator) was not separate from the creation. The equality then was never about the 'sameness' (no two are the same) of all but about the potentia to 'become,' due to the singular divine spark connecting the whole, infinitely.

    Therefore, who could be less? Who could be deserving less?
    When all had that singular divine in their core?

    And who could be more? Who could be deserving more?
    When all had that singular divine in their core?

    Have a great day.

    "Corruptio Optimi Pessima" (Corruption of the best is the worst)

    by zenox on Fri May 18, 2012 at 04:36:38 AM PDT

  •  divide and conquer or unite and proceed? (6+ / 0-)

    Good catch, teach. There is far too little emphasis put into finding ways forward for civilization and society, and way too much energy expended creating societal strata from Patrician leadership.
    We are not at war with each other, and those who would divide us are the enemy. Enemies of democracy, enemies of enlightened society, and enemy of a rapidly vanishing American Dream. Until we as a society recognize and repel the propaganda coming from the divide and conquer crowd, their ad nauseam misinformation campaign will be the villain that is threatening the country and its purpose.

  •  Tipped, Rec'd and Tweeted (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Excellent diary Ken, double digit profits for all, fly in the face of sustainability. Society has to wake up and realize that we rise and fall together..... we are all one when it comes to cause and effect.

    "The real difference between democracy and oligarchy is poverty and wealth. Wherever men rule by reason of their wealth, whether they be few of many, that is an oligarchy, and where the poor rule, that is democracy". Aristotle

    by MuskokaGord on Fri May 18, 2012 at 05:08:52 AM PDT

  •  And each evening, before bed... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Heart of the Rockies, teacherken

    Ask yourself "What DID I do today to make the world a better place?"

    Identifying your opportunities is only the first step.

    "As God is my witness, I thought wingnuts could fly."

    by Niniane on Fri May 18, 2012 at 06:09:20 AM PDT

  •  americans can stop idolizing (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    americans can stop idolizing and envying greed.

    Thats where it starts.

    Big houses using up resources for what? how many cars does a person need?  In a society with a homeless problem why envy the person with giant houses and extra bedrooms he'll never use.

    Stop rewarding greed, stop envying greed, and you wil start to stop greed.

    America is a very sick society, at this point it is actually based on the 7 deadly sins.

    Bad is never good until worse happens

    by dark daze on Fri May 18, 2012 at 06:27:23 AM PDT

    •  Our political system and our economy are both (2+ / 0-)

      largely based upon those sins, most notably greed.  Back when I saw "Wall Street" in the 80's and heard the Gospel According to Gekko ("Greed is Good"), I assumed that most Americans shared my revulsion and that something would be done to change things.  25 years later, I've learned differently.

      Sadly, greed appears to be a bipartisan meme.  One party is owned by the 1% (or maybe the .05%) lock, stock, and barrel.  The other is rented out on an as-needed basis.  As the likes of Taibbi note, what FIRE wants, FIRE still gets:

      Two years later, Dodd-Frank is groaning on its deathbed. The giant reform bill turned out to be like the fish reeled in by Hemingway's Old Man – no sooner caught than set upon by sharks that strip it to nothing long before it ever reaches the shore. In a furious below-the-radar effort at gutting the law – roundly despised by Washington's Wall Street paymasters – a troop of water-carrying Eric Cantor Republicans are speeding nine separate bills through the House, all designed to roll back the few genuinely toothy portions left in Dodd-Frank. With the Quislingian covert assistance of Democrats, both in Congress and in the White House, those bills could pass through the House and the Senate with little or no debate, with simple floor votes – by a process usually reserved for things like the renaming of post offices or a nonbinding resolution celebrating Amelia Earhart's birthday.

      The fate of Dodd-Frank over the past two years is an object lesson in the government's inability to institute even the simplest and most obvious reforms, especially if those reforms happen to clash with powerful financial interests. From the moment it was signed into law, lobbyists and lawyers have fought regulators over every line in the rulemaking process. Congressmen and presidents may be able to get a law passed once in a while – but they can no longer make sure it stays passed. You win the modern financial-regulation game by filing the most motions, attending the most hearings, giving the most money to the most politicians and, above all, by keeping at it, day after day, year after fiscal year, until stealing is legal again. "It's like a scorched-earth policy," says Michael Greenberger, a former regulator who was heavily involved with the drafting of Dodd-Frank. "It requires constant combat. And it never, ever ends."

      That the banks have just about succeeded in strangling Dodd-Frank is probably not news to most Americans – it's how they succeeded that's the scary part. The banks followed a five-point strategy that offers a dependable blueprint for defeating any regulation – and for guaranteeing that when it comes to the economy, might will always equal right.

      I am often at a loss when I look at our system anymore.

      Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?

      by RFK Lives on Fri May 18, 2012 at 06:37:38 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  As Noam Chomsky says (0+ / 0-)

    you can determine the overall health of a society based on how well you control the wealthy. We are doing a poor job of controlling our wealthy and our society is suffering for it. Once people realize it's within their power to stop cooperating with the wealthy's plans there can be change. We the people can have influence through our government but most people have either given up trying or stopped caring. It makes me wonder how far we will let the wealthy push us into the ground.

    The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. G.B. Shaw

    by baghavadgita on Fri May 18, 2012 at 06:35:58 AM PDT

  •  I always learn and am frequently inspired (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, zenox, barbwires

    when I read what you offer. This diary easily accomplishes both, and is a thing of beauty. Thank you for sharing.

    To talk without thinking is to shoot without aiming - Maguire, Robison, and Maines

    by Captain Sham on Fri May 18, 2012 at 06:42:44 AM PDT

  •  We will have to chose, sooner or later (3+ / 0-)

    Because if the economic system is not working for most of the citizens, either the economic system will be changed, or democracy will be sacrificed.

    And part of making the world a better place is helping to make that choice the right choice, and have it made peaceably.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra En théorie, il n'y a aucune différence entre théorie et pratique, mais en pratique, il y a toujours une différence. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Fri May 18, 2012 at 06:53:43 AM PDT

  •  Not a bad question to keep before all of us... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, zenox, barbwires

    ...A thought provoking diary, and one that shall be reread several times before the day is up.

    Tipped and Rec'd.

    “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

    by LamontCranston on Fri May 18, 2012 at 07:08:31 AM PDT

  •  How to make America a better place? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Heart of the Rockies, teacherken

    Address wealth and income inequality.


    Immediately reject any regressive tax.

    This means no...

    (i) Cap and Trade / Carbon Tax
    (ii) New excise taxes or an increase in current ones
    (iii) National Consumption Tax, as many Dems have hinted
    (iv) Increase in parking rates (as so many Dems at the state/local level, too coward to ask the really wealthy to pay their fair share, have championed)
    (v) Soda Tax (another favorite of certain Dems at the municipal level).
    (vi) Increase in the Sales Tax, as Governor Brown has just proposed.

    Do you know how Minnesota Dems want to finance a stadium deal?  (i) sales tax hike and (ii) enhanced gambling taxes.

    A majority of Minnesota voters have indicated that they don't want the stadium to be financed via regressive taxes.  But Dem lawmakers don't care.  They want their stadium, even if it means building it on the backs of the poor.

    These same Dem lawmakers are subsequently shocked when rank-and-file enthusiasm is less than expected.

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project.

    by PatriciaVa on Fri May 18, 2012 at 07:35:26 AM PDT

  •  fix the belief that equality is also unjust (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We as a society believe that equality of opportunity (no less than that of results) is unjust to those who we believe to be superior.  We believe that the poor are poor because of some innate defect while the rich are rich because of some innate gift, and that extreme inequality is somehow natural and therefore just.

    The problem is that we can't distinguish between the causes and effects of poverty.  The children of poor people are routinely denied any opportunity to better themselves, then we point to their inevitable failure as proof that our decision to deny them was correct.  Meanwhile, the children of the rich grow up with every possible advantage, and when they go straight to the top, we point to that as proof that society's resources are best invested in them.

    Arguing systemic bias doesn't help matters, because many people will still point to the biased results and say: "It's great that our system can do so much for the rich.  Why do you want to take that away from them?  Why do you want to take it away from us?!"  As if the rich are the glory of our entire society; something that reflects well on all of us.

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