One-Liner Wednesday: individualism

 Radical individualism is a virus that is extremely difficult to eliminate, for it is clever. It makes us believe that everything consists in giving free rein to our own ambitions, as if by pursuing ever greater ambitions and creating safety nets we would somehow be serving the common good.

Pope Francis, from the just released encyclical Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 105

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One-Liner Wednesday: love and justice

Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. 
—Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971)
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School/work

The pandemic has heightened awareness of a number of social problems in the United States.

One revolves around the care and education of children. Political and business leadership often spout platitudes about how important children are and how much they care about them, but they seldom back up their words with meaningful policies that help children and the people who love, care for, and educate them.

Before the pandemic, American families often cobbled together child care with parent(s), school, relatives, neighbors, and paid caregivers, who often had to charge more than the family could afford to pay even though their own salaries were so low it was hard for them to get by. When schools and most day-care centers closed due to the pandemic, parents were suddenly trying to do paid work themselves from home while simultaneously trying to care for and educate their children or were forced to quit a job outside the home to be at home for their children.

It’s not a sustainable situation for many families.

There is a big push by the president and some state and national leaders to re-open schools full-time and full-capacity in the fall, even though that is against the recommendations of public health experts, in order for adults to return to jobs outside the home or so they can work from home without interruptions, but, besides being a huge health risk for children and adults, it fails to address the root of the issue.

Somehow, caring for children in exchange for a salary is considered “work” but caring for children without a salary is not considered work. Hazel Henderson calls this non-monetized part of our system the “love economy.”

The United States lags far behind other countries with advanced economies in acknowledging the love economy. We don’t offer mandatory paid sick leave, parental leave, or caregiving leave. People who do get paid as caregivers, whether for children, elders, or other vulnerable people, often earn shockingly low wages. For that matter, many people working in other kinds of jobs also don’t make a living wage, making it impossible to fully care for their family. Other countries also have a must more robust system of social services, so that people have access to adequate clothes, shelter, food, medical care, and education regardless of their income level.

As part of our efforts to #BuildBackBetter, the United States should reform our economic, health, educational, and social systems so that every person has adequate resources to lead a life of dignity. Some components of such a system that have proven successful in other countries have been single-payer universal health care, required living wages for workers, a graduated tax system that raises enough revenue from the top of the income spectrum that those in the lower end can afford their tax bill without compromising the needs of their household, free public education, paid leave for sickness, caregiving, and vacation, and a robust social safety net so that no one goes without food, housing, and other basic necessities. I would also like to see more social recognition and financial support for caretaking that is currently part of the “love economy.” A possible way to address this would be through a program of universal basic income or a stipend for those caring for a child, elder, or person with a long-term illness or disabling condition.

Obviously, crafting systemic change will take time and new national leadership. For the moment, I think it is foolish to implement a national school opening policy. Historically, education has been the province of local districts within the framework of state policy, allowing the system to adapt to local conditions. The wisdom of that flexibility is even more evident during the pandemic. Areas with low rates of illness may plan to implement hybrid systems where students attend in person part-time and online part-time so that physical distancing can be used to keep the virus in check. Areas with very high infection rates may need to keep students at home learning virtually until their infection rate is under control, when they could begin to phase in in-person attendance. All schools will need plans for dealing with changing circumstances; as there have been school closing plans to deal with severe flu outbreaks or natural disasters, there will need to be COVID plans to try to keep the school community and the general public as protected as possible.

Everyone wants students to be back to in-person classrooms, but only if it is safe for them, the school staff, their families, and the community. Pretending we can go back to the pre-pandemic system without grave public health consequences is foolhardy. Instead of wishful thinking, we need to use data, science, expertise, care, and intelligence to adapt to our changed and changing circumstances.

It’s what our children and youth need and deserve.

The US and the First Nations

2020 has magnified long-standing structural racism in the United States. This has been most visible in regards to black Americans, as the legacy of slavery, violence, and repression over centuries have led to lower wealth and income, poorer health outcomes and access to care, higher levels of police brutality, and other injustices, now brought more strongly into the national spotlight by the pandemic, the killings of unarmed black men and women by police, the #BlackLivesMatter marches, and the removal of Confederate symbols.

There is hope that the United States is finally undergoing the kind of systemic and social change that will address the grievous wrongs against black people. I also hope that our country will acknowledge and redress the wrongs against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, who have suffered many centuries of oppression, violence, theft, and dehumanization at the hands of the United States government and society.

[A note on language: Generally, if I were referring to an individual, I would identify them by the tribe/nation to which they belonged. In this post, which is about all the indigenous peoples, I have decided to use the term “First Nations” even though it is more often used in Canada than in the United States. I hope that this term conveys the respect I intend.]

The First Nations have suffered many, many losses since the arrival of Europeans, from disease, violence, forced dislocation, theft, broken treaties, environmental degradation, attacks on language and culture, and more. People of the First Nations who live on reservations have high rates of poverty and chronic disease and sometimes lack access to running water, electricity, appropriate medical care, and educational and employment opportunities. There are also terrible problems with legal protection that have led to an alarming rate of murder or disappearance of women and girls.

This year has brought attention to the plight of the First Nations in two ways. First, COVID has afflicted some of the reservations very badly, as one might expect among communities that were already struggling. The Diné and Hopi Nations in the Southwest have some of the highest infection rates in the United States. Second, the public debate on removing statues of Confederate figures and/or slaveholders has broadened to consider those involved with oppression of the First Nations. This was heightened further by the president’s July 3rd speech and fireworks at Mount Rushmore. The monument there desecrates a site holy to the Lakota, who, by treaty, should have sovereignty in the Black Hills.

I hope that this greater awareness will result in concrete action to redress the centuries of damage done to the peoples of the First Nations. 2020 is increasingly appearing to be an inflection point in United States – and, perhaps, world – history. May the United States finally embody its highest ideals of equality, justice, and promotion of the common good.

re-opening fears

Some of the states here in the US are re-opening stores, hair, salons, dine-in restaurants, recreation activities, and other businesses, even though they haven’t met the not-very-ambitious federal benchmarks to do so during the pandemic.  They feel safe enough because they are not large cities like New York City or Chicago and they don’t have thousands of new cases every day in their state – or are ignoring it if they do.

I’m afraid they are ignoring not only science but also the experience of my state, New York.

The health guidelines are that limited re-opening should not occur until a state has had two weeks of decline in the number of cases. The reason for the two week timeframe is that fourteen days is considered the maximum incubation period, although people can develop symptoms as few as two days after exposure. If numbers are declining for two weeks, it signals that the outbreak is under some measure of control, so careful resumption of some business and recreational activities can resume in conjunction with testing widespread enough to quickly detect a rise in cases, in which case stricter measures would be resumed until there was again a two week decline. Not only do the states that are opening not meet the two-week decline criteria but also they don’t have the testing capacity to quickly detect an uptick in cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in studying the virus’s path in the United States, now realize that the strain that has caused so much illness and death in New York came through Europe, not directly from China. This strain appears to be even more virulent than the strain that came to the western US directly from China. During the weeks when the administration was banning travel from China, thousands upon thousands of travellers arrived from Europe to NYC area airports, some of them bringing the virus with them. It’s now estimated that there were 10,000 cases in the NYC area before any were officially recognized as COVID-19; this explains why New York State has so many more cases and, unfortunately, deaths than other states. The virus was already wide-spread in an area with a high population density weeks before anyone realized it.

New York, through closing all but essential or work-from-home businesses and encouraging most people to stay at home except to buy needed supplies, has managed to bring down the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, although not yet for long enough to enter phase one re-opening of some businesses. Plans are being made for eventual re-opening with testing in place to make sure that things will not get so out of hand that our hospitals will be overwhelmed with critical cases. There is the very real possibility that, despite all the planning and precautions, we might have to reverse course and close down again if the numbers start climbing. Until there is a vaccine, it is unlikely we will be able to get the case number down to zero or resume large-scale gatherings.

It’s not that Governor Cuomo and other state leaders don’t want to open more of the economy. They do, but not at the cost of more debilitating illness and death. As a community, we are all responsible for trying to protect the health of others, especially those most vulnerable to complications and those who are working in health care, food service, delivery, transit, custodial, and the other essential businesses that have been continuing to serve throughout the pandemic and who have been getting sick at much higher rates than other New Yorkers.

Our state leaders are also acutely aware of those who are unable to work because of the restrictions in place. There is enhanced unemployment insurance in place, as well as emergency food, utility, health, and homeless outreach programs. They are refusing the false dichotomy of illness/death or the economy, trying to prioritize health and life for everyone so that we are healthy to re-build our economy.

There are some New Yorkers and some folks in other states who are claiming that they have a right to be anywhere they want and do anything they want and that government has never interfered in people’s lives like this. They are overlooking that with our rights, both political and human, come responsibilities. The individual has the right to risk their own health, for example by drinking alcohol, but with that comes the responsibility not to harm others through violence or driving drunk. National and state governments have taken action to protect the public health in prior epidemics, such as the 1918 flu pandemic and the waves of polio that afflicted the world before the development of the vaccine. As I am fond of pointing out, in the Preamble of the Constitution, we the people of the United States established our national government to “promote the general welfare.” Each person has that responsibility to all the others. While some may have fallen into the illusion that individual freedom entitles them to do whatever they want, our system has always been a social one. One person’s freedom can’t interfere with others’ well-being, at least, not without challenge.

As I watch the news of opening of businesses in other states and see people in large gatherings without personal protection, I worry that, within a couple of weeks, there will be coverage of spikes in cases, more hospitalizations, and more deaths, especially because some of the states have re-opened with major outbreaks in factories, nursing homes, and prisons, as though those cases won’t spread beyond facility walls. Maybe the strain they have circulating is not the more virulent one we have suffered with in New York.

Or, maybe, our collective burden of sorrow will be increased, knowing that learning lessons from New York’s experience could have saved heartbreak and lives, if only people had heeded them.

One-Liner Wednesday: freedom

“When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then (they) ceased to be free.”
~~~ Edith Hamilton/Edward Gibbon from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
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One-Liner Wednesday: a time is coming

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”
~~~ Abba Anthony, one of the Desert Fathers in the early centuries of Christianity
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Let’s be serious

I am sometimes accused of gravity.

No, that doesn’t mean that things are attracted to me.

Rather, some people think I am too serious.

It’s true that I am a serious person and have been for a long time. When I was a student, I was very serious about my schoolwork. I wanted to understand everything thoroughly and expand my knowledge. I played the organ at my small, country church, first as a substitute and, starting in my sophomore year of high school, as the only organist. Catholic mass is a serious undertaking and, with the organ in the front of the church, I had to be careful to stay attentive.

B and I were high school sweethearts. We were friends first and then fell in love. Even as teens, we had a serious relationship. Neither of us were into the social scene, which led to some interesting discussions with our friends. For example, some of them were pressuring B to ask me to his senior prom, saying that I wanted to go, which I assuredly did not. B and I talked about it and, because neither of us wanted to go, we didn’t attend either of our senior proms.

Being serious does not mean that we don’t have fun. Well, things that we consider fun. We spent part of our honeymoon at a living history museum, which was fun for us; we wouldn’t have known what to do with ourselves on a cruise or at a fancy resort or, God forbid, a casino.

We married in our early twenties after we had both graduated from college and set about doing serious, adult things, like buying a house and starting a family. Challenges with careers and medical issues and spiritual issues and educational issues followed, often one atop the other.

There were a lot of things that called for gravity – and, by then, I was very experienced with it.

I feel that there are many grave issues facing us at the current time, among them, climate change, war, inequality, discrimination, and lack of civility and commitment to the common good. I consider it a personal obligation to help care for people and the planet, even though I know that my personal impact is limited. I do trust, though, that all people of good will acting together can move things in a positive direction.

If that means that people accuse me of gravity, I gladly and gravely plead guilty.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Using the prompts is optional and most days I do my own thing, but today I decided to use the prompt “gravity.” Find out more about Just Jot It January and the prompts here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/12/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-12th-2020/

 

SoCS: How?

How am I supposed to plan for the future in our present world? Or maybe, how am I supposed to feel settled enough to think that planning is useful?

I don’t mean this in a personal sense. I learned a long time ago that things happen to ourselves and our loved ones in random and inexplicable ways.

I did you used to feel, though, that institutions, like the US government and the Catholic church and society in general, had certain rules and ways of being that lasted or that transformed over periods of time as knowledge advanced.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Today, of course, there was a lot more news coverage on what the assassination of General Soleimani might mean for the future. United States citizens and businesses in the Middle East are considered most at risk, but there is the possibility of reprisals within the US or a cyberattack. It’s known that foreign entities have hacked into US infrastructure, such as the electrical grid. How does one plan for that? Should I wake up every morning thinking about what I would do if the electricity went down for weeks?

I don’t think I could sustain that level of alarm long-term…

How do I remain calm in the face of the political turmoil in the US? The upcoming impeachment trial and the legislative fallout from the Iran conflict and let’s not forget about North Korea’s threat to test a new weapon of some sort. And who will the Democrats nominate? What new rifts will develop among the already sadly fractured electorate?

Did all the people who hate someone because of their skin color, language, religion, gender, etc. always feel hateful, but we are just noticing it now because they aren’t afraid to express their hatred publicly?

Don’t even get me started on dealing with the maelstrom in the Catholic church.

As Greta Thunberg has reminded people so directly, how can we not treat the climate crisis as, well, a crisis that needs our concerted efforts every day? How do we not see the suffering from fires, floods, storms, droughts, sea level rise, deforestation, desertification, and ocean warming and acidification that is always present? Or how do we see it and still not act?

Wow, this stream of consciousness started out serious and just keeps getting more and more serious. For better or for worse, this is how JC’s mind works.

And I don’t know how to turn it off.
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The prompt for today was to use a word with “ow” in it. You are probably all sorry that I let my mind stream on the word “how.” Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/03/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-4th/

Whose labor?

Today, the United States observes Labor Day, which celebrates workers, especially those who are members of unions.

I heard a discussion on the radio today about jobs that have been replaced by technology and another about the rights of workers who are considered independent contractors instead of employees, which generally means they get no benefits. These discussions also touched on the nature of work and what it means for human dignity and living standards.

One caller touched on a subject that is close to my heart, that people who act as unpaid caregivers are not considered part of the economy at all, despite their value to their families and communities. Most of the tasks that I have done over the years can be paid work, too, such as child care, elder care, driver, cook, laundry worker, and now even grocery shopper. Of course, these occupations are usually low-paying, reflecting the devaluation of caregiving in the United States. Granted, most people with paid employment also have to take care of homes and/or family members, but many of them pay someone to do some of that work.

Caregiving is work and those that do it should be respected and recognized as part of the economy. This dynamic is part of the movement for a universal basic income, most publicly articulated at the moment by Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

Having spent most of my life in volunteering and family caregiving, I know that my labor has made valuable contributions to society. It would be nice to have meaningful national recognition of that.