Monday, April 26, 2010

the have's and the have-not's

-- In July of 1863, there were draft riots in the United States, the most notable in New York. Those among the less affluent who could not afford to find a replacement or pay $300 were to be conscripted in a 'lottery' to fight for the North in the Civil War under a law signed by President Abraham Lincoln. An estimated 1,000 people died and of the some 400 arrested, few had Irish names, although sentiment of the time was often biased against the immigrant Irish.

-- In the early and middle 1900's, American workers fought literal and political battles in an attempt to improve working conditions that evolved in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. The agricultural workers who moved to cities in search of employment were subjected to long hours and low pay, a kind of slavery that extended to women and children as well and men. The local and federal governments often sided with the factory managers who were not anxious to see unions become a reality. It was often a bloody business.

-- During the Depression of the 1930's, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was heard to marvel that those so beaten down by the economic juggernaut did not revolt. During that same period, when my mother was growing up, the only way she knew there was a Depression was that "we lost the upstairs maid."

-- In the 1960's, young people in their thousands took to the streets to protest the 'police action' in Vietnam, and adventure that meant among other things, that as before, those with less fought the battles of those with more. Simultaneously, the Civil Rights movement gathered strength ... "why must schools and lunch counters and drinking fountains be different for blacks and whites?" might be one way to oversimplify the anguished questions.

-- And not long ago, I read somewhere that today's U.S. government has in place contingency plans for what to do in the event that the populace should rise up in the face of a new, grinding adversity ... still referred to euphemistically as a "recession."

All of these instances have a multitude of explanation and meaning. Certainly they are oversimplified here. But I cannot help but look at such things and see them as largely conflicts and frictions between the "have's and the have-not's."

"Some pigs," George Orwell observed, "are more equal than others."

And Marine Corps General Smedley Butler (July 30, 1881 - June 21, 1940), a man who won TWO medals of honor and became known as "The Fighting Quaker," took a good deal of trouble trying to point out to Americans that war was a matter of economics ... as in his "War is a Racket" ... a racket perpetrated by the haves at the expense of the have-not's.

I cannot pretend that the linking of the roughly-described incidents above is warranted or even necessarily logical, but I cannot help but feel that the egregiousness of greed, whether personal or political, is truly sad and something that no one should overlook. Roughly speaking, for those who have, based on the labor of those who have-not to then disdain the very people who have assured their ascendancy is excessively stupid and cruel.

History asserts such stupidity and cruelty from a time before America was a twinkling in its daddy's eye, but that doesn't make it any more palatable or responsible. And white-whining about it is hardly an answer. The have's and have-not's are unlikely to find any peaceful ground.

But I do think, that greed is no philosophical Tinker Toy and that the best lesson anyone can take from the mistakes that appear before their eyes is this: Just don't you do that. Be as activist all you like -- sign petitions, join a movement, cuss up a storm ... but don't you do that.

Gautama the Buddha was not just whistling Dixie when he said, "It is not what others do and do not do that is my concern. It is what I do and do not do -- that is my concern." Even when the irresponsibility or cruelty or avarice of others enrages or makes you incredibly sad, keep your eye on the ball, don't be irresponsible ... don't you do that.

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