I believe that any movement, organization or so-called leader that tells a class of people that all of their problems are someone else’s fault is as dangerous as it is seductive.
This approach has energized masses to great destruction throughout mankind’s history: Nazis against Jews, Hutus against Tutsis, Chinese communists against real or imagined counterrevolutionaries, and almost countless conflicts between and within Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Even after the king of France stepped down to avoid bloodshed during the French Revolution, the fury of blame against anyone aristocratic led to countless beheadings.
In addition to the damage done to those accused, the accusers’ side generally ended up worse off for their efforts, and certainly never had the gains that the same energy could have provided if it was directed to a constructive effort.
True leaders differ from rabble-rousers in two important ways: They focus on the behavior of those they lead as much or more than those they oppose, and they take stands against specific behaviors, not against classes of people.
Martin Luther King had as much to say about how black Americans should conduct themselves as he did about the injustices that they faced from racist whites. And he combated segregated seating on buses, voting injustices and specific objectionable behaviors with specific directed actions rather than just complaining about white people in general.
Today’s series of “Occupy” movements, though lacking in real definitive ideology, seem to be roughly banded around branding the rich, predominantly corporate CEOs and Wall Street financiers, for all of the personal troubles and the real or perceived threats to the well-being of the occupiers. At their most presumptuous they even claim to represent the 99 percent of people. (I wish that they’d drop that to 98.9999 percent and leave me out).
I have worked as a cook, a mechanic, a janitor and secretary, a carpenter, a welder, a teaching assistant and an engineer. I can tell you that in every profession that I have worked in, or worked with, there are those who are ethical and want to do a good job, and those who want to get maximum reward for as little achievement as possible.
I have seen police officers motivated by respect for the law and prevention of tragedy, and those who like to throw around authority. I have seen doctors who focus their entire attention on studying symptoms to best help the health of patients, those who run patient mills and crank them through to profit their business, as well as those who aim to please with the prescription pad. We have all seen both sides of attorneys.
CEOs and Wall Street executives are no different. There are those who thrive on running a successful company, providing jobs or financing a successful operation, and achieving an excellence that only a capitalist society makes possible. And there are those who fleece dollars out of the system. Blindly damning them all is no different than blindly damning all those of another race, religion or political party. As history shows, it may damage those who are blamed, but it will not benefit the blamers.
The approach seems to absolve “the 99 percent” of any wrongdoing. How can this be? The swing voters resist cuts in programs and refuse tax increases (e.g. Social Security). This has increased national debt. We vote based on short-term economic indicators, leading to Bill Clinton’s “It’s the economy, stupid” slogan, so the government must pound out a short-term stimulus to get votes. We re-elected one president who threw money into pits in the Middle East, and then elected another who throws money at everything.
We drive, shop and live with tremendous waste. We live for years on unemployment. We borrow money to achieve useless college degrees, then bluster about the unfairness of our debt.
We bear responsibility in many ways. I have heard nothing of this responsibility from the Occupiers. This is because personal responsibility is never the most seductive rallying cry.
In execution, the “Occupy” movement might be the lamest movement in history. I mean really, we are going to sit in this park and wait for someone to send donations to feed us until somebody makes things better?
Only the children of the 1980s and ’90s could come up with this. What if Susan B. Anthony went and sat in the park instead of forming the Workingwomen’s Central Association?
I offer a challenge: Show me any society where an individual is born more able to determine his or her own destiny than they are in the United States today. Show me a society that better caters to individual needs than we do, from birth to death. We have neonatal intensive care units that spend millions to save the children of grossly neglectful parents right alongside those that are just unlucky. There are clinics, Medicare, Medicaid and strict requirements that force hospitals to give emergency care even to those who not only can’t pay, but don’t really need emergency services.
Success is possible
We have a great library system that any parent can use to teach their children, a solid school system that is free from kindergarten through high school. Community colleges are very affordable and in addition to scholarships based on capability, there are huge numbers of loans, grants and work-study programs to help those who are even vaguely qualified complete higher education. We can form our own businesses without excessive bureaucratic delays or prohibitive bribes and corruption.
Even after fundamental errors in life, an American can achieve success through hard work and determination. I’ve seen it, and lived it. Yes, you do have to provide a value-added service to get back value from society, but any part of the 99 percent that has capability and motivation can become part of the 1 percent, if that is what is important to them.
We have the resources to see all bills in Congress, to know how our elected officials vote, and to communicate our opinions to our elected officials on any issue without fear of reprisal. We have unprecedented abilities to investigate business practices, and to publish what we find. We can petition our government and press for specific actions.
Or we can go sit in the park and complain.
Norman Perazzo lives in Glenville. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.
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