“Life is…nasty, brutish, and short;” wrote Thomas Hobbs in his text, The Leviathan, published in 1651. In the text, he argued that a strong government was necessary to lay down laws and keep order, lest we fall back into chaos and a “nasty, brutish, and short” life.
Fast forward to 2012.
The United States has spent the past five years climbing out of a recession the likes of which many had not seen before; a recession that would have been avoidable if the proper restrictions had been in place, if the executives chosen to care for this country’s financial system had not been blinded by greed and, instead, done their job. The nation’s financial leaders have spent five years pointing fingers and trying to clean up the mess without accepting any part of the blame themselves. (Source: Financial Crisis Timeline from the St. Louis Fed & Inside Job)
The United States has spent the past decade falling farther and farther behind in education; watching the developing world and Europe surpass us in the preparation of our youth. (Source: Program for International Student Assessment study & Waiting For Superman)
The United States has spent the past fifteen years watching their manufacturing jobs, once the heart of middle-class employment, lose benefits, pay, and eventually leave the country all together. (Source: NPR)
The United States has spent the past twenty years watching food production monopolies form, while the local farm down the road goes out of business to make way for a corporate giant, and more of our food becomes covered in pesticides, processed, and genetically enhanced. (Source: Food Inc.)
The United States has begun to watch and lament itself to death. The people of this once great nation now sit on their couch and grow obese lamenting the poor economy, poor schools, poor entertainment, and ridiculous food prices where a burger costs only 99 cents but one organic apple is $1.30. The United States has become a country that asks for remarkable, miraculous fixes and becomes surprised and offended when they do not automatically come to pass. In this “me first” society, many are no longer willing to make sacrifices for the good of the community, even to the extent of vaccinating their children.
Something clearly went wrong. The balance has been broken and life is reshaping itself into what Hobbes cautioned us it could be: “nasty, brutish, and short.” Nevertheless, this country used to be great, and this country can be great again.
This can only happen however, if people like Michelle Rhee are allowed to make the tough decisions to close schools and fire bad teachers without getting run out of office. If people like Moe Parr are allowed to help small farmers avoid genetic engineered seeds without Monsanto forcing them into bankruptcy. If people like Elliott Spitzer are able to prosecute corporate malfeasance without being hounded by private investigators hired by those same corporate executives until he is forced to resign.
We as Americans can and must celebrate the people who take the risks and make the tough decisions, even if they aren’t popular, because they are the right ones for our country as a whole. Even if those decisions don’t help us specifically, they help our country and our community and will make it stronger with time.
It was a lack of regulation and enforcement, along with the promise of large profits, that caused the financial institutions to invest in risky , often shady deals and encourage homeowners to take loans they knew the homeowners were unable to pay off. It is a lack of regulation and enforcement that allows the food industries to treat livestock horribly and invest our food with goodness knows how many pesticides, hormones, and other chemicals. It is a lack of regulation that allows food corporations sell genetically modified food as if it is completely natural. It is harmful government policies that give military aid to Israel while pulling money from our children’s’ education. For this country to become great again our laws must be modified and regulations must be put into place and enforced.
But even with regulation, there is no guarantee of safety. The government holds the responsibility to regulate, but it does not hold all the responsibility in its hands. Even with the lack of regulation, corporations should be expected to be honest and admit to the people that yes, this chicken was genetically engineered and yes, we did feed those cows hormones. They should admit that yes, this investment is likely to fail, and yes, this teacher did not make sure that every single one of the second graders could read before passing them on to third grade.
Businesses should also have the moral inclination to try and do the right thing. They should be able to look past the pile of gold those subprime mortgages could make, and see the damage those mortgages could also cause. They should be able to act on that view, and not grant the mortgage, not make the under-the-table deals, and not bribe the government to go against the best wishes of the people.
Yes, maybe they will fail. Maybe the election will mean more to a politician than his duty to vote for unpopular but needed policies. Maybe a quick profit now will always mean more to an investor than a stable economy later. Maybe moving unqualified children up a grade now so that the teacher looks good, will mean more than a successful student later.
Our desire for a better life requires work and personal responsibility. Every one of us is also responsible for a successful nation. We are required to understand what is happening in our community and read newspapers, books, and magazines. We are required to think over what we have read and discuss it with others. We are required to pay attention to documentaries even though they may not be as fun to watch as Mission Impossible. We must look past the propaganda and investigate a political candidate before casting an informed, well-considered vote in every single election. We are required to read the labels on food and buy only those items that fit with our ideals. We are required to learn, to study, in school and every day out of school. We are required to work hard; to do the best job we can possibly do in all we attempt. We are required to look out for our neighbors and help them if we can.
These are our responsibilities and when these are met, and only when they are met, will society prosper. Only if they are met, and society does not prosper, do we have the right to complain. No one person holds all the cards; no one organization holds all the responsibility. It is a group effort. Government, Corporations, and the Public must work together to form a more perfect union.