Sunday, October 16, 2011

farewell luxury

There was something heartening about it -- the level, almost droning, voices of the Supreme Court justices who probed the issue at hand on the TV. It was only an audio recording, with head shots of the person speaking appearing as the voice spoke.

The issue at hand -- and I tuned in in the middle -- was a case of church-and-state and the proper divides between them. Specifically, teacher Cheryl Perich had gone on disability leave for narcolepsy and objected when the church school in Redford, Mich., said it would not rehire her in the middle of the school year. She threatened a lawsuit and was fired. Perich applied to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for relief. The Lutheran church said ministers were forbidden to seek outside legal assistance because the church has its own functions for dealing with such matters. Among the issues is whether Perich is or was a minister while performing her teaching functions.

The voices droned on and on -- ever civil, ever probing. I suppose it was on CNN ... who else runs such data without ads? There was something luxurious about it all -- people who could think doing their best to winkle out the nuts and bolts of an issue that, in other hands, might have been given over to one thin-tea bias or another.

It was civilized and spoke well for the need for civility, the need for a forum in which patience and care were applied. It also spoke of the implied alternative of living a life without laws and filled with raucous, rancorous and sometimes violent uproar. Perhaps I was taken with the TV show because, as economic times get worse, the luxury and comfort and caring of such settings comes under pressure.

Human beings live together because they are social creatures. After enough mayhem, enough asserting of egotistical desire, enough belief-prone violence, some agreement is reached: I would rather you didn't kill me, so I guess I'll agree not to kill you. Bit by bit, civility is codified and people announce with satisfaction, "we are a nation of laws." Only the egotistical would claim that those laws are perfect or inviolable. It's a house of cards (codifying the parameters of human behavior is not possible), but it is the best house of cards anyone can come up with.

What a luxury. To think and turn that thinking into a relatively peaceful society. A luxury in the wake of so much bloodshed.

But when hard times come calling, the luxuries are called into question. Those charged with administering the law grow self-important and forget what dedication there might be to the best interests of the whole, the interests of the best-we've-got laws. They need a kick in the pants to remind them, but by that time they are so entrenched in their self-importance that they resist with any weapon at hand -- police, military, spin-doctoring: I've got mine...fuck you!

Hard times and the voices of suffering grow louder and are met with the louder voices of I've-got-mine-and-my-bias-is-more-compelling-than-any-law. In Russia, I read, American businessmen who had swooped in after the demise of communism were pulling out in droves because there were no laws to assure the stability required for their enterprises.

Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of England, once observed that "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the rest."

In economic hard times, I get the sense that there is a renewed and ill-advised interest in "all the rest."

In economic hard times ... farewell luxury!

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