Double Binds

As always the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain had my mind churning today (Episode 48*).  This one was talking about the double bind women find themselves in when they strive for leadership positions.  I am sure any woman reading this doesn’t need much explaining.  The basic idea is that if you’re nice (as you are stereotypically supposed to be) you’re weak, and if you’re a competent strong leader you’re unlikable. The lack of representation of women in government and as CEO’s of fortune 500 companies is pretty good evidence of this.  And I know professional women experience shades of this regardless of whether or not they are vying for top leadership positions.  Just asserting yourself can have you seen as bossy, bitchy, abrasive.  Attributes that rarely get prescribed to men when they are assertive.  And there are other double binds beyond the scope of the podcast such as additional judgments that go along with their appearance that men often don’t have to face.  The expectation to maintain the home, and take a lead role in parenting in addition to their own personal ambitions.  For many women it seems like there are consequences no matter what they choose.

What my mind started to think about, in addition to the challenges women face, is why would we consider a “nice” woman a “weak” woman?  In terms of leadership attributes studies are showing the importance of empathy in a leader.  Another episode from the same podcast (Episode 43) reported that people who were empathetic inspired more people to follow them than those that were authoritarian.

research-women-frenemies-friends-390x285One thing that has always bothered me about the oppression of women and I feel doesn’t get talked about as much is the devaluing of those qualities that we typically associate with women.  Why is kind, nurturing, or emotional a bad thing?  In a fascinating story (also in podcast form, but written about here) a new method for improving safety on oil rigs was employed where employees (all male) were trained to become more openly emotional.  To be vulnerable.  The results were astounding with an 84% drop in the accident rate.  Many of the workers also forged more meaningful relationships with their spouses and children as a result of being more emotionally open.  Today we see how many of the stereotypes that men face, as a consequence of those feminine characteristics that we devalue, are equally harmful and dehumanizing to them as well.  The key difference between these gender stereotypes is that one is valued and one is not.   Maleness is the standard.  I wrote about this in one of my earliest blog posts concerning a biologist who talked about how the male of every species is the one usually depicted in textbooks and used as the star in major animated features.  Feminism is a fight for gender equality and important one.  But I worry sometimes that too often the fight is women trying to achieve that standard of maleness, as opposed to celebrating those feminine qualities and seeing them as having value, seeing those a strengths, and not weaknesses.  I’ve always gotten along with women better than men, because I have always been drawn to that dialogue that is open emotionally.  It has helped me grow, become wiser, become stronger, and in my opinion is a superior way to be human.

And that’s what it really boils down to:  defining what qualities make for a healthy human.  I don’t mean to be binary here in my discussion because there are so many qualities that are beneficial to us as human beings. Distributing those qualities among men and women and automatically assigning value to one because it belongs to a certain gender isn’t really what we should be after.  To put it another way, is gender equality about having more female Donald Trumps, or is it about having more female Bernie Sanders?  Maybe it’s both, but I’d certainly like a world with less Donald Trumps.

I don’t mean to criticize feminism here, because in the end I believe in the value of a woman’s right for self-determination.  If she wants to be a power-hungry authoritarian leader then so be it.  I simply have never found much to like in such an individual.  Man or woman.  My friend Victoria over at Victoria Neuronotes has told me that I am a man who is in touch with my feminine side.  I take that as a compliment, but I’d rather think that I have gained a better understanding of how to be human.  Women, at least the ones I have known, have always represented the best in humanity to me.  As a man I have often felt that I would be better off to try and reach their standard as opposed to what the patriarchy has decided as the standard.

Women have and still do bear so much in this world at the hands of men.  Maybe it’s because they’ve been given the freedom to be more human that has helped them survive through so much unspeakable dehumanization by men.  Those emotional, empathetic creatures who are great at listening and nurturing.  Maybe true gender equality is only reached when we recognize what qualities put humanity at their best and that these qualities are ones we all should strive for.  This is why feminism, to me, is not just a plight for women, but something that we all should see as important.

*Note:  The Hidden Brain Podcast on Women and Leadership challenged each listener to share it with one man and one woman.  I thought it was worth it for more to hear it.  I’d love to hear what you have to say about it.

A Letter to Bernie Sanders

Dear Bernie,

First, I hope you don’t mind me calling you Bernie.  You have from the start of your campaign felt like one of us.  Something no other candidate has been able to pull off.  So many presidential candidates seem so out of touch with the large majority of the population, and so the first thing I want to thank you for is being is so accessible to so many of us.  Hell, you even flew coach.  At the age of 42 I find that exhausting and I’m not doing the intense amount of traveling and campaigning that you were. This is just one of the many things I have to thank you for in this letter.

I want to thank you for running a brilliant campaign.  You used social media in a way that no other candidate has done before. To communicate with young people and get them excited about politics (as they should be) is important.  I also know it was a way to get attention that the corporate media wasn’t going to give you.  I imagine the excitement you could have generated in this nation if you had been given similar exposure as your democratic running mate and the progress that could have been made if you were elected.  You certainly deserved it and exposed the fact that the media isn’t trying to respond to the will of the people, but trying to bend the will of the people towards their narrative.

I want to thank you for running a clean campaign.  You made it clear right from the beginning that you had a message and that you wanted to talk about the issues.  You didn’t attack your opponents with meaningless minutia, but gave fair and substantive criticism of their political positions, policies and plans. It’s easy to get disappointed by the election process when it seems like slinging mud at each other is something that has to be done if you want to get elected.  When it seems like pandering has to be part of the process.  You generated so much support by being an honest politician and simply talking about the problems that you would have to face for the job you hoped to be elected for.  I hope that you will be an inspiration for politicians in the future, because we quite simply need more who run their campaign the way you have.

I want to thank you for not using a SuperPAC.  The marriage between big business and government has to end and you lived that message during your campaign.  You depended on support from the people, the unions fighting for the people, and you did amazingly well.  The fact that you gained so much support and won so many hearts without playing by the rules that so many politicians today feel they have to play by gives me some hope for the future of this nation.  You are the only candidate who took the term “public servant” to heart, instead of being the “corporate pawn.”

By not being bought, I want to thank you for always having the courage of your convictions.  You have a long history of political consistency.  This is rare in of itself, and I am sure you had many advisers suggesting that you waver from that in order to get elected.  Even close friends might have suggested that, just knowing the good you could do if elected, but you took the high road and trusted that if being true to yourself got you this far, it might even get you to the highest office of the nation.  Whether we like or dislike a candidate we deserve a group of people to vote for who are exactly who they appear to be.  Gandhi famously said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  You seem to have always lived by that creed.  I am so grateful for that, because I simply thought that candidates like you didn’t exist anymore.

That face. The kind he’d give to the media when they were asking pointless questions. 🙂

Finally, I want to thank you for changing the conversation.  You were substantive and intelligent when talking about the issues.   It may be that there are different or even better solutions to our problems but you never backed down from an honest conversation about them.  You changed the conversation from one that was divisive to one that was inclusive.  You talked in red states.  You talked at Liberty University.  You avoided talking about religion, which has no business being in our political system, but more importantly, because you knew that regardless of one’s individual beliefs we must focus on our common aims than our differences.  We must realize that there is more that binds us than separates us.  You showed political courage even when you didn’t have to for the simple reason that you wanted to suture the tear that seems to be worsening and threatens to move the people of this nation further apart.  You genuinely want to help all citizens of this country, you care about the oppressed, the marginalized, and the unlucky.  You demonstrated so much compassion and integrity.  We sink or swim together and you seem to be the only one who really gets that.

My heart is broken that you didn’t win.  However, my heart is lightened by what you accomplished in this primary.  When a virtuous and honest man comes to the fore it forces a lot of people to ask questions about their own character and so I hope that even if you can’t be president, the greater thing you accomplished was that you created a better political climate going forward.  We need that combination of empathy and courage from the men and woman who want to be political leaders in our country going forward.  Thank you for being an example for those who follow you.

Sincerely,
Swarn Gill

Feeling the Bern, Taking a Stand, and Zealotry

Bernie Sanders is my guy.  He is a true politician no question and to see he is without strategy would be incorrect, but that strategy I think is an honorable one.  He is trying to have important conversation about real problems that are impacting this country.  He puts forth solutions to those problems.  They are from the perspective of democratic socialism.  As a Canadian I adore democratic socialism, but I can tolerate people having different points of view on the matter.  There are those who have different political ideas.  I would love to see more politicians like Bernie Sanders coming from different sides of the political spectrum.  Actually they exist in the likes of candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein but for a large part, well you know what kind of candidates we got this election cycle – panderers, double-talkers, hypocrites, liars, and those who are ethically questionable at best.  It’s a real problem.  Should we all fall in love with, what I think is at least a good model of a politician.  While my heart tells me yes, I know it’s only because I agree with him.  In the end, for many, it’s still a hard thing to do if you disagree with his ideas.  As I wrote before, among his qualities, ideas and principles I admire is that he tries to be inclusive.  He has reached out to evangelicals, he has spoken in some very conservative areas that some democrats dare not go, and he has even tried to empathize and connect with Trump supporters.

So why should such a man have supporters who are much more extreme than the man himself?  As I’ve watched his message reach people and move people there is no question that he is reaching many people on both an intellectual level and an emotional level.  Ultimately, Bernie like any politicians does play to people’s emotions too.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  While I do think he also have some very intellectual things to say, he knows that to move a large group of people in favor of your ideas it isn’t all going to be done with logical arguments.  It’s going to have to start with emotion.  Many of the things that Bernie Sanders talks about are things you should be mad about, are things you should worry, are things you should be passionate about.  But as I’ve watched people “feeling the bern” over the course of his primary run it’s been interesting to see how many Bernie supporters have become very similar to Trump supporters.   I know I am going to get backlash for saying that.  But many pundits, writers, and just people in general have noted how much anger one gets any time there is criticism of Bernie.  First I’d like to say that I’m not criticizing Bernie, I’m criticizing a portion of supporters who worry me a little bit.  Now let me also qualify when I say “like Trump supporters” I am not saying that you’re racist, misogynist, or stupid.  It should also be noted that such a generalization of Trump supporters is not that helpful, but I am speaking in terms of stereotypes intentionally.  What I mean by “like Trump supporters” is quite simply zealotry.  A zealot is a dangerous thing, regardless of how righteous the cause.  You can be 100% right about something and still be a dangerous person.  If you’re in a state where you cannot be reasoned with or compromise, if you’re in a state where you are willing to go to any length for your cause, if you are in a state where someone is quite simply for you or against you just because they disagree with a portion of your argument, that’s a dangerous place to be and it can be extremely destructive.

I have seen the emergence of the Bernie or Bust movement and I honestly find that movement a little troubling.  People have chosen to take their stand.  Taking a stand at times is very important, but I think we need to ask ourselves, whenever we take that stand, “what do we hope to gain?”, “what is the best way to make my stand?”  and “what are the consequences of taking that stand?”  I truly believe that Trump is an extremely dangerous man to have as president.  His policies, if enacted jeopardize religious freedom, increase the suffering for the poor, minorities, and women. Refusing to vote Democrat carries that consequence.  Are we ready to hand over the judiciary branch to the conservative platform?  Refusing to vote Democrat carries that consequence.  And there are a lot of important issues that get decided by the Supreme Court as we have seen over the past decade.  We know how important the supreme court has been for issues like gay marriage, the ability for public teachers to unionize, gerrymandering, affirmative action and health care. And who knows what decisions might get overturned.  Roe vs. Wade?  Marriage equality?  I am not trying to convince you through fear but only ask that we all carry these ideas in our heads and understand the full weight of our decision.  Also can we not make changes even if Bernie doesn’t get elected?  Can we support more grass roots candidates for the legislative branch?  At the municipal or state level?  Can we do a better job of participating in mid-term elections?  Does the DNC really think they need to make changes when most establishment politicians are already rich, and even when not in the majority still enjoy a great deal of wealth and power? Again maybe Bernie or Bust is the best call right now, but I see less and less reasoning and weighing of the evidence by Bernie supporters as this primary comes to a close and it looks like Bernie will not be the choice to run as president for the Democratic Party.  So again I only ask that we carefully weigh the pros and cons of sticking by our guns at all costs.  Bernie was never going to be our savior.  At best he is sowing the seeds of some positive change and if he became president we could see those seeds grow a little bit more, but we would still be a long way from seeing the flowers bloom.

Bernie_Sanders

There may come in a day where a large majority of us are happy with a more democratic socialist way of life, and today is not the day.  And I’m not trying to just single out Bernie Sanders fans here, it just seems interesting that what started as one of the most thoughtful, passionate, and intellectual movements and devolved into something that it should not in a country that has real problems and needs to work together to solve them.  Continuing on a path of divisiveness and stereotyping the other side doesn’t lead to revolution, it leads to civil war, and I’d rather take a peaceful piecemeal progression towards a better way of life than a bloody one, which by the way, in the end, your side might actually lose.  The idea behind a democracy is not one of…”hey we won…suck it you losers who disagree.” Whoever become President becomes leader of the country, of which, regardless of our political views, we are all citizens and have the right to be treated with humanity and civility by that leader.  We also must demonstrate that towards each other.  Does attacking Trump supporters really teach them a lesson, sway them towards reason or a better way of government?  The most important quality, to me, of Bernie Sanders besides his ideas is his principles for inclusion.  If we truly support Bernie Sanders, I think we must carry that torch more than any other if this country is going to reverse our decline in quality of life and heal a nation which continues to grow ever more divided.

Tuition Free

One of Bernie Sanders big talking points during his Primary campaign run is free college tuition and public colleges and institutions.  Something so grand is easy to get behind and while I in principle support equality in access to education I think it’s worth looking at a little more carefully in terms of costs and benefits.

A couple of years ago The Atlantic published an article that showed that the cost to giving free public higher education in the U.S. would cost $62.6 billion dollars.  Now this is tuition alone, it may not include some student fees, and does not include room and board which can also be a big expense for parents.  Nobody could argue though that life would get a lot easier for families or those students only having to pay living costs.  So where should this money come from.  We could, as a society, just decide to pay for it.  It would be roughly $630 a year for the average taxpayer (approx. 100 million taxpayers in the U.S.), which means the average person’s taxes would increase to a little over $50 a month.  While I could certainly afford something like that, I don’t think everyone could, nor would such a tax increase go over well.

Now Bernie Sanders has a plan to get that $75 billion through a Wall Street speculation tax.  There seems to be some disagreement as to whether this is a good or bad thing, but even if he was able to cut college tuition costs by half this might be a good thing.  Of course the tuition costs are only one of the things he wants to change.  He wants to stop the government from profiting off of student loans, and he also wants to allow students to be able to refinance their loans at lower interest rates.  Overall I would say that he wants to make some sensible changes.  Educating your people is an investment, one that pays off, and you don’t need to profit off their loans as well.

Thomas Jefferson believed that an educated public was one of the most important parts of having a successful democracy and he is quite right.  So there is some big support for making college accessible to everyone.  My biggest concern though is that free tuition doesn’t necessarily support this aim, and so much larger shift needs to happen.

  1. With free tuition my hope is that universities will shift away from the expectation of simply producing job ready individuals. My hope is that we can allow many more students who simply want to go through and learn more about philosophy, the humanities, ethics, and how science works. More of that liberal arts centered education which has shown to be very beneficial in the market place even if it doesn’t directly seem to qualify one for a particular job.  With public higher education not being run under a business model anymore, then perhaps we can shift away from students being seen as products that have to yield immediate results or a directly translatable degree to a job.  My university actually has a degree in Professional Golf Management.  Yes I still can’t believe this is a thing.  I’m not saying that such people don’t need to be educated, but the fact that you need to create a specific degree to do that job seems surprising.
  2. As a professor it is clear to me there are many students who don’t want to be there. I don’t see free tuition as the thing that sparks students into working hard to learn and become better people.  Now may be classes could become more fun when everything isn’t so outcome based as it must be in order to meet certain performance indicators for funding, but in order for college to be of the most use to us as society several other things need to happen.  The first is K-12 reform in also getting away from a business model through those compulsory years.  By promoting critical thinking better, students may be able to handle college better.  I feel a lot of problems I see with students today are a result of being raised in a school system that focuses on rote memorization of facts and testing, over critical thinking skills.  A system in which getting the grade is more important than how you get there.  We also need to promote the value of education in general.  Perhaps it’s a bit of a chicken and egg since running schools like a business tends to put people in the mindset that knowledge is only valuable when it is directly applicable to a job, but we all need to be better in promoting how a broader knowledge base has benefits beyond just our job, since being in a democracy and being part of a pluralistic society requires us to be multidimensional in the knowledge we are proficient in.

    We also need to stop promoting college education as the be all and end all of being valuable in society.  In many countries with free tuition students much choose a track at the age of 16 as to whether they want to go to college or take a vocational track and learn a trade.  And while I don’t want to shut students off so early to the possibility of going to college, trade skills are of such an important value to society that it makes me sad here that we still are under this paradigm that everybody should go to college to be valuable in a society.

  1. I do think free tuition a higher education institutions is not necessarily a right. I do think it is a privilege.  A privilege that I think our country can afford.  And I think free tuition allows university to maintain higher levels of academic rigor.  Currently universities don’t want you to fail people, pushes you to graduate students to keep numbers higher, to make it look like your program or universities has a high graduation rate, all because it brings in more students and brings in more funding.  So I think free or lower cost tuitions gives more institutions freedom to keep standards high and thus those that do graduate are of a higher quality.

Of course there are even more secondary positive impacts.  More informed voters should lead to more responsible politicians, and less government waste.  The last episode of Jon Oliver’s Last Week Tonight was an excellent example how making the decision to eliminate lead from homes would actually be a benefit instead of a cost in the long run.  We need voters who not only understand issues but understand economics well enough to realize good investments from bad.  Then there is also the stimulation to the economy as many more graduates who would no longer be burdened by massive student loan debt would be able to spend more.

People complain about the idea of free tuition, often because they say they don’t want to pay for someone else’s education.  But you already pay a lot more for people’s ignorance.  You pay a lot more because our generation of college graduates are deeply in debt and can’t spend money.  You pay a lot when our best and brightest can’t go to college and only our richest can.  You pay a lot more when someone remains in poverty instead of being able to get out of it through a college degree.

Minimum wage vs. College Tuition costs

Whether you feel like tuition should be free or not, the problem remains.  Students are in massive debt.  College tuition prices have increased faster than wages, and we are no longer able to give an equal opportunity to students who want to get college degrees.  Something has to change.

Social Media, Fear, Change and Love

It has been a rough past few days.  Even though I thought I had thinned my social media friends to a group of more reasonable people, you still end up seeing the most ridiculous comments come up under friends’ threads in regards to the Syrian refugee situation.  And still there are others that you feel obligated to keep as friends, but at this point I just feel like I can’t do it anymore.  While I feel that it is important to not isolate myself intellectually, what I see through social media does not present me with intellectual diversity, only differing opinions.  Opinions not based on any evidence, but simply fear and rhetoric.  Is it important for me to know that such viewpoints exist?  Sure.  But I know they exist now, and I think it’s time to be done with it.  Let’s face it.  Social media just isn’t the place to change anybody’s mind.  There was one person whose opinion I influenced in my entire 7 years or so on Facebook.  I remember it fondly.  It was a beautiful moment.  Perhaps I hoped I could relive that moment again somehow, but either I’m utterly awful and changing people’s mind, or social media just isn’t the place to do it.  Or maybe it’s both.  Either way the result is the same.  My sanity and well-being is more important, because being bombarded with the kind of people there are out there just drains me of my strength. And I’m not talking about ISIS.  I expect evil to exist, but I also expect us to fight that anyway we can.  Not just with guns, but with the most powerful weapon we have against hate and that is compassion and love.  And I just don’t see enough of it right now.

A lot of the impetus for this e-mail came from reading an article this morning here about fear.  Something I knew, but I reminder of how fruitless the battle is on social media is no matter how many studies or facts you post, ultimately what you are fighting is fear.  People who don’t want Syrian refugees are afraid.  Whether that fear is unfounded or not, this is the culture we live in.  Politicians (especially on the GOP side) and the media love to make people afraid.  People who are afraid are easier to control, the less likely they are to think critically, and the less likely they are to use reason to get them out of that state of fear.  I must ask myself the question then if engaging someone in an issue directly isn’t working, how do I make people less afraid?  I can find no way to easily do that on social media, so I’ve decided that ultimately maybe it’s better that if social media is going to be relaxing and enjoyable than I just need to make it a community that I want to be in.  I’ve thought about dropping Facebook altogether, but with family far and wide, and good friends I want to stay in touch with I know that’s not realistic, but maybe it’s my own weakness, or maybe it’s just age, but I can’t keep getting bombarded with bigotry and hatred every time a tragic event happens and we have the compassionate reaction continues to get treated as the worst idea ever.

To those of you who are afraid.  I wish I could take that fear away.  I wish I could help you realize that statistically, the real things you should be afraid of in this world have nothing do with refugees fleeing for their lives, black people, or gay people.  I wish I could convince you that nobody is coming for your guns, nobody is persecuting you for being Christian, nobody is turning your children autistic or trying to poison you with vaccines, and the anthropogenic climate change is a real problem and not a liberal agenda by scientists.  I wish I could convince you that most people really do want to help you and that most people want to simply enjoy the same feelings of freedom and safety that you have even if you do live in too much fear to really enjoy the life you’ve been given.

Many of you who live in fear, live in a land of what ifs.    I wish I could ask you to ask a different set of what ifs too.  What if things actually get better if we help people?  What if by embracing the unknown it becomes known and we aren’t so afraid anymore?  What if instead of creating more enemies, you gain more friends.  What if defeating an enemy is actually done through compassion than hate?  What if those people who you dehumanize are not that different from you?  What if the difference in whether the outcome of a situation is good or bad, depends mostly on your attitude and that you can make things better simply facing a situation with courage, love, and humility, instead of running and hiding?  And since history teaches that empires often crumble, what I really wish is that you seriously sit down and ask the question what if that destitute Syrian refugee who once had all the comfort in the world but who is destitute, scared and has lost friends, family, and love ones was you?  Really think about it.  Really think about what kindness would mean to you at that point.  Really think about how desperate you might be to even have a remote chance of feeding your children.

And finally to those whose concern for the homeless and impoverished in our own nation have come to the fore.  Assuming you are not just making excuses, then bravo.  We have a lot of people who suffer here too.  We have growing income inequality, a shrinking middle class.  We have a high cost of tuition that prevents many people from getting educated unless they start off life in a great deal of debt.  We have a lack of sex education, we have a lack of social support for families who need more maternity and paternity leave.  We have disparity in public education K-12, and many states that lack funding, accurate historical textbooks, and are forced to not teach strongly supported scientific theories like evolution, the big bang and anthropogenic climate change.  We have a corrupt political system that favors money over serving the people.  We have incarcerated far too much of our population for minor crimes, and a tilted justice system against minorities that prevent them achieving the equal status that law guarantees them.  We have spent vast sums of money on foreign wars that haven’t seemed to make us feel any safer, and have most likely bred more harm in the world than we have helped.  And if this compassion that is overflowing in your heart for your fellow man or woman here in the U.S. I encourage to fight for it every day, not just on days where we talk about Syrian refugees being let into the country.  I encourage you to always be politically active and vote for those people who can bring about the change we need to help our own people.  I even have a presidential candidate just for you. 🙂

You live in a country that over time has helped many impoverished people from other countries.  You have helped women, blacks, and LGBT’s become more equal and gain more freedom.  These are all things to be proud of.  Compassion requires perseverance as well, so don’t ever think you are done.

The Scales of Justice

I recently watched this clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver about public defenders.  It is not a slam against public defenders, but rather a criticism of a system in which anywhere from 60-90% of people arrested cannot afford lawyers and rely on public defenders, but there are just far too many of them for public defenders to do their job adequately.  This leaves many defendants with less than adequate representation.  As a result over 90% of cases by public defenders end in plea bargains, even when the people aren’t guilty.  That’s a quick summary, but watching the clip is well worth the time and speaks for itself.

And I started to think about the entire philosophy of justice we have in this country and got really sad about it all.  It would be one thing if we had a beautiful ideal and we were continually striving towards it, but it seems that there is enough of a portion of this country that feel justice is working fine, and that if you are in a position to be arrested than you simply have some sort of punishment coming your way.  The system is rigged from the police procedures that target low income people knowing that many can’t afford to fight back and will pay fines whether they were really guilty or not, to the court system which puts low income people at a severe disadvantage, to the prison system which profits from long jail sentences for minimal crimes.  And once they are in there, opportunities are so low once they get out.  As President Obama said, we have 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population and compared to other western nations with similar standards of living we are one of the least safe nations.  The violent crime rate is down 40% from what it was in 1980 and yet prison populations have increased by over 400%.  Something is definitely not right.

Bernie_memeAnd my question really is why is it this way?  As poverty continues to grow in this country why do we continue to punish the most impoverished of our people for simply being in poverty?  I’m not saying that there aren’t people who commit crimes and that we should just let it happen, but when you look at the environment and challenges they face, those who criticize rarely have experienced such adversity.  Sure there is always a small portion who rise out of poverty but for the most part the poor are simply exploited for their labor or for their money.  On average, we don’t give them a living wage, we don’t give them access to equal education, we don’t give them equal access to quality health care, and we don’t give them equal access to healthy and affordable food options.

But they all deserve it right?  Making those bad decisions when they had so many good decisions open to them.  Do we not have a responsibility to raise the less fortunate up?  Do we just leave those who haven’t had the opportunities we had to languish and justify it with the idea it’s their fault they are in this position?  What about forgiveness?  What about compassion? How can we paint such a large population of our country with just one color and ignore the tapestry of lives that exist there?  As the top income earners continue to suck away the wealth of the bottom 99% why do we turn our attention downwards, kicking those at the bottom instead of shaking the tree more to let the fruit fall to the ground?  Some people in this country act like if we just eliminated the poor the country would be a better place, but in fact it would be chaos and nothing would remain.  No soldiers to fight our wars, no workers to pick our food, serve our food, work in retail, and all the other jobs we don’t even notice get done everyday.  And even if the void could be filled, the capitalist policies our country function on would simply shift more of us down to the bottom, while the rich keep benefiting.

Welcome to an economy built on consumerism and profit.  To answer the real question why, one simply has to follow the money.  It is to the benefit of the rich to keep the population of a large portion of the country poor.  Because there is only so far wealth can grow, it is finite and if the populous has more, they have less.  Life, liberty, and happiness for all citizens of this country take a backseat when money is involved.

I know this post was ranty and I try to put more logical discourse, but just sometimes you just look at these large systems that are so difficult to change when you are just one person and see millions upon millions of people being impacted by a system that is simply not there to help them, and in the long run doesn’t help the rest of us either.  I made a resolution with myself about a year ago then when I moved strongly by something emotionally I need to not just complain but do something positive, even if it’s just donate some money to a worthwhile charity.  Although perhaps on the periphery of the central theme of this post, there is something that I have been sort of procrastinating getting involved in for some time and I am happy to say I am procrastinating no longer.  I have decided to be a CASA volunteer which is a wonderful program where the volunteer acts as an advocate for a neglected or abused child in court until the system finds them a good and safe home.  Incarceration is a strong possibility for children who grow up in broken homes and maybe helping in this way I can help a few kids stay out of the prison system in this country.

The Cost of Education

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has been talking a lot about the minimum wage and the cost of education in this country.  It’s been a subject of course of many democrats.  One of the memes that I think ties both together well is the one that shows how many hours in a day you would have to work to pay off yearly tuition at Yale at minimum wage in 19—compared to today.

But I don’t want to talk so much about minimum wage, but rather the cost of education.  Bernie Sanders would like to make it free at public institutions.  There are many memes mocking this idea, mostly in regards to this being a wild campaign promise that has no chance of coming true.  Or questioning where all the money is going to come from.  Bernie has a plan for that but I’d like to take the politics out for a second and question why anybody would be opposed to the idea of free tuition at public universities.

Can anybody argue that an educated public is not better than an uneducated one?  Regardless of the type of government a public that is educated simply has less chance of becoming oppressed at least long-term than one that is uneducated.  In fact we should be worried about a society in which education is become less and less valued, and less accessible to a good portion of the population.  The constantly rising price of tuition and the decreasing middle class certainly implies a general decrease in access of education for many families.  Sure student loans are an option, but that’s a heavy cost one has to pay going $40,000 or $50,000 in debt puts you behind the 8 ball for sure through most of your young life.   My generation (which would be about the age of many the students now) or the previous one never had to start out life that way, so why should it be that way for this generation?

A more educated one is also more civil and less divided.  We argue in this country over issues that are non-issues to most other industrial nations.  Issues that become politicized which have no need to belong to one party or the other because they are simply something we need to all agree on and do something about.  As the public becomes less and less literate on important issues such as climate change, GMO’s, vaccines, environmental conservation divides in viewpoints exist when they should not.  Even when viewpoints do differ and educated public will force the debate to be relevant, and compromise is more easily found.  A democracy is only successful when everybody participates.  But how can people effectively participate when they don’t understand the issues?  For many who participate their vote is based less on an understanding the issues over more surface based and emotional reasons.

Look at any country in which all people have equal access to education and you will find a country with less crime, a large middle class, and a productive economy.  So why would anybody oppose free university education without seriously looking at how it could be done.  It’s not like we don’t have the money but yes it would cause us to put less priority one thing to put the priority on education.  It’s simply unclear to me why equal access to education wouldn’t be a primary concern for any nation.  Education makes business better, but that does not mean education should be a business.  As soon as we turn education into a product we’ve ruined it.  This is because like any product, when the quality is high, the cost is also high and few can afford it.  People with less money who want that same product end up getting a cheaper version of the product that simply isn’t as good.   Most universities do want to keep their quality high, but it leaves them with a choice of raising tuition costs to do so, or lowering standards of enrollment to get more students.  After they’ve let more students in who they know will struggle in university they end up inflating grades or lowering expectations so they can appear ethical and that they haven’t just let a bunch of students in only to make money.  Anybody who is in academia sees this business model as a terrible way to run education and yet it seems to be the trend.  There is no doubt in my mind it will come back to bite us.

So let us not oppose the idea of free college education, let us work together to find a way that it can happen. Other nations are able to provide this to their citizens.  Why can we not do the same? It really is to everybody’s benefit.