Children of the Disposable Society: A Liberal View of the Disposable People
It is oft stated that America is a 'throw-away culture' or 'disposable society.'While the latter could be interpreted on more levels than the former, alluding to the relative absence of culture had by the typical American, both terms are generally meant to infer a non-sustainable ratio of consumption to resources. In a living and breathing entity such as a global market or national complex one seldom bothers to ask whether the old-time saying 'you are more than the sum of your parts' holds true on a national level. Of this saying I beg to differ, even on a micro level, but more fundamentally on the subunit of any country or economy: the person. The fact that almost 300M Americans are amalgamated into the vast tract of corporate enterprise which does little anatomically than further its own misrepresentation of the sum of its parts one must examine how our holistic endeavor improves the lives of its founders.
It should be stated first, however, that people may perhaps be the most important product of our society, as well as the most important commodity to any economic system we have yet encountered or can reasonably expect to encounter in the easily foreseeable future. People fix broken machines, mastermind the mechanical muscle required for the transport & production of goods, render a broad array of intellectually-intense services beyond the capability of our industrial automatism, improve upon our technological infrastructure via methodology far more advanced than the wildest fathoms of our bots, and perhaps most importantly-dictate the future via social investment in generations to come through public & individual contributions to: education, the arts, environmental conservation, and cultural tolerance. Yet while the individual person may be said to be the most important aspect of present day culture as well as the future of our species; one finds marked social striation, mistreatment & inequitable distributions of wealth, power, influence and opportunity within the ranks of our industrial army. The masses serve as but fodder for hidden agendas while others play people like pieces in a game of global Othello.
Let us look more closely:
While at the catbird seat of research & technology, a cliché which has become synonymous with American 'culture,' the vast majority of Americans lack even the most rudimentary understanding of the basic sciences, leaving a vast and growing rift between the intellectual elitists and the automaton drones of greater society; we find newsprint & journalism, as a whole, to be written at a complexity easily understood by the average 12-year old (ie 7th grade reading level), which considering the lack of quality education dominating our youth, is an amazing under-achievement. One also finds that roughly a quarter of the American population reads at or below the 5th grade level, when considering the ramifications of 1 out of 4 people across the country incapable of understanding concepts easily grasped by any random 5th grade student the conclusions are staggeringly disturbing, it's no wonder the American public generally has a very poor grasp of national issues, without mentioning anything of its understanding of international events. Much like Rush Limba's pseudocertain following the average citizen remains blissfully unaware of his/her own dearth of knowledge deemed, time and time again, essential for advancement in the 'new economy,' a term which seems more and more inclined toward furthering economic inequalities than a revolution in which the masses may actually partake. And thus the haves and have-nots are traveling upon divergent paths leading to an inevitable and relentless bolstering of a perpetual intellectual autocracy.
The 'information gap,' as it's so often referred to, is a fundamental driving force for one of the most blatantly biased & disturbing aspects of modern America, public health. America for the past several years has spent more money per capita, as well as % of GDP on health care than any other country in the world, and yet approximately 1 in 7 Americans (40M) remain without any legitimate access to care whatsoever. This under-represented group of mostly poor & undereducated persons rely primarily on emergency-room-type services for which the expense is absorbed by the overall system & individual institutions which in turn contributes to the spiraling costs seen in our health care system currently, largely due to the inefficient nature of Emergency Rooms from a cost vs. benefit perspective & by the resulting curtailing of preventative medicine and overall health maintenance due to their lack of access to clinics. But this glaring statistic receives an unduly small amount of press or attention, instead public debate focuses primarily upon the lack of coverage of pharmaceutical products for the nation's elderly population, while it is inarguably important that our senior citizens receive proper care, addressing the issue primarily consists of feel-good legislation to win vast hordes of ARP votes while doing little to address the enormous shortcomings of our current arrangement, and does little overall to address the real problems facing health care today. Not only is undereducation a huge cofactor in the direct cost of health care due, in no small part, to the inability to successfully demand coverage from either current or prospective employers as a result of poor bargaining positions due to weak employment value. But the general level of ignorance regarding basic maintenance of health by means of preventative medicine, diet, exercise and overall lifestyle, leads to a compounding of problems many years later, and thus inappropriately inflates the costs associated with many common diseases (Diabetes Mellitus type 2 and Cardiovascular Disease are two very good examples). Also of great importance to public health is the overall view of health in society in general. Our current unsustainable fast-paced 'now or never' mentality, which permeates every niche & facet of the American life generally promotes little, if any, emphasis on long-term well-being and sidelines health as an assumed asset rather than one 'earned' by any lifestyle sacrifice whatsoever. This, not so much a problem of undereducation but rather culturally-induced ignorance in the vast majority of Americans typifies many of the inherent problems caused by our culture glorifying the misallocation of priority & resources. Nevertheless for the purposes of health care dollars 'now or never' escalates the 'future crisis,' as so many politicians so ineloquently describe an impending phenomenon which many people already see in the here & now, and will undermine the ability for medical advances to improve the lives of ordinary citizens in the future. While insurance groups and HMOs are oft blamed for the deepening inequalities in health care, they are but messengers upon the winds of change, yet for 15% of Americans the storm is already upon them.
When considering social inequality perhaps the best measure of its degree is wealth distribution since money has come to be perceived as the direct measure of individual worth and social importance in this country. In America the aristocracy of wealth is virtually complete, while the republic relies solely upon the votes of the masses the act of campaigning has come to rely almost solely upon the dollars given by an elite few, and thus the votes of the masses are in effect purchased by an over-represented minority. Disenfranchisement with this conundrum only bolsters this effect; in the 2000 elections GW Bush 'won' the presidency with a minority (by about 1%) of votes against his primary adversary: Al Gore, and achieved about 47% of the 'popular' vote. Of Americans only 105M of them bothered to even vote in the 1st place, which means that GW Bush was elected by less than 20% of the voting American public, of which only 5% could possibly be the top 1% of Americans who will certainly benefit most from a pro big business republican leadership. Additionally the Florida voting scandal was blatantly handled with the vested interests of its republican-lead government, headed by none other than GW Bush's brother Jeb, who has since received numerous favors & popularity boosters from GW Bush from government off-shore oil field buy-outs, to continued oppression of the Cuban peoples. In addition to direct campaign financing the 2000 elections were influenced by the blatant bias of major election-covering media outlets, whose conglomerate parents perhaps had the most to gain from GW Bush's pro big business antics. With GW Bush's ambition aimed at abolishing the 'inheritance tax' the royalty via wealth will surely covet immortality. But if there could be a single example epitomizing the influence of money over social policy, and thereby over people, or more importantly, simply the amazingly biased distribution of wealth one need not look further than Bill Gates & Microsoft. Currently Microsoft holds $40B in liquid assets, which it refuses to use as dividends to the share-holders of this publicly owned company, and is valued at roughly $300B. The vast majority of this money has been acquired through illegal and predatory market practices against computer vendors, competing corporations, educational institutions as well as the general public. Bill Gates himself who was once valued at over $90B, has long been a vocal opponent to the Open Source Software (OSS) movement, open standards (especially for internet cross-platform compatibility), and other altruistic market forces which would be hugely beneficial for the public domain. But simply a worth of $90B says more than perhaps how he made this money, to put things into perspective the average American household amongst College Educated persons is, even by the most enthusiastic measures far less than $200k (most estimates place it at much less than $150k). As a rough comparison Bill Gates is worth over 450k 'average American households.' Which says nothing for the nation's poor, such as Blacks who are typically worth about $0.09 to every white person's dollar. Or more quantitatively the 2000 census determined that over 11% of the total population were living at or below the 'poverty line' which is defined by an amazingly low income level of which the specifics may be found here: www.census.gov/prod/2001pubs/p60-214.pdf . but to provide a rough idea for 2 persons supporting one child the household income would have to be less than $13,874 per year, or approximately 0.00000015% of Bill Gate's net worth, 0.000000046% of Microsoft's net worth, or about 0.000014% of Microsoft's monthly income. Even more disturbing is the fact that in 2000, the year these census data are derived, Microsoft paid $0.00 in federal income taxes. When it comes to American politics money will always speak louder than public interest, especially when its noble prodigy is at stake. Apart from the inequalities of wealth domestically it is worthy of note that from a global perspective Americans are exceedingly wealthy containing about 4% of the world's population, yet utilizing around 44% of the world's resources, next to the Indian farmer making $1.00 per day a household income of $13,874 is quite hefty. In light of this it should never be forgotten that we live in a global community, while this paper focuses almost solely upon American policy it is for the sake of simplicity only, and in no way should it construe any bearing on holistic importance. Additionally to sink one more nail into the coffin of a compassionate America, I should just take but a moment to mention that America is also the stingiest amongst its developed counterparts. Americans donate roughly 0.1% of their GDP to international charities even though we consume an enormous disproportion of resources, and control a similar proportion of wealth. The average developed country donates roughly 10 times this amount to our impoverished brethren. While the United States doesn't seem to have any problem spending over $360B per year on the military, it remains skittish and uneasy when confronted with spending any amount of money on the public's well-being.
While not being overly familiar with the woes of public education or environmentalism, I should mention that these two social priorities could theoretically be used as a direct measure of investment for a sustainable future. Unfortunately here in America we seem to allocate resources very poorly for these and related programs. While being one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases, less than 1 year ago the United States withdrew from the Kyoto treaty citing excuses of industrial necessity (the US later agreed to cut greenhouse emissions by 7% instead of the 8% required by the treaty). In addition to industrially-produced greenhouse gasses US highways are littered with ultra-tipsy 'Sport Utility Vehicles' (SUVs) which, contrary to their misnomerisk entitlement are neither 'sporty' nor useful for common utilitarian purposes required of the average American in any greatly advantageous manner outside that which are traditionally provided by non-SUVs. In the name of this SUV boom's primary profiteers, namely US companies, the manufacturer mileage standards have been laxed in recent years allowing these gas-hungry behemoths to dominate the roadways despite their established inefficiency with regard to energy, roadway congestion, and cost, as well as their established danger to motorists in smaller vehicles. While environmental conservation remains at the forefront of 'national importance' throughout consisting polling throughout the years, this yet remains to be mirrored by public policy, especially in lieu of the current administration's inappropriate infatuation with big business at all costs. In addition to environmental woes bringing to light a questionable tomorrow for our future generations, the current education system in the US leaves much to be desired. While maintaining a lead in research and technology it has been noted in recent years that this lead is being diminished, with many European and Asian countries outspending the US (as a percentage of GDP) on research & development for the advancement of science. While these large-scale public policies may seem far removed from the education of the average US denizen, this shifting in government priority is synonymous with the overall long-standing decline in our country's ability to educate its populace. It has been noted for decades that US students have progressively fallen further behind than our developed counterparts in fields such as: math, science, verbal reasoning, and reading/writing. Yet despite recognition of this failing little has been done to overhaul the inefficient and cryptic US school system whose inadequacies are to blame, at least in large part, for the international standings of US students. While in most urban environments those from more or less 'privileged' socioeconomic strata are afforded education from private institutions, the urban poor must rely on the cumbersome public schools for which little support remains amongst tax-paying land-owners. These private schools whose infrastructure is centered solely upon individuals naïve to the daily turmoil rampid amongst the nation's most underserved, have thus become institutions for the 'wealthy,' or at the very least institutions excluding the poor. It is this tiered system that individuals from poor backgrounds are by nature disallowed from participating, and in turn, disallowed from improving their situation in life, let alone fairly competing in a global marketplace. The woes of the US educational system can be tied directly to the general disparity in education levels throughout the population as a whole, as the failure of public education continues to striate individuals long before they're aware of their own place in society. Poor education is a virtue which breeds upon itself fueling such idiotic notions as governmental mandates to teach creationism in the public school system. Lending itself to a lack of education are countless social setbacks such as racism, the blatant use of religion manipulatively, and the general public being generally deceived by governmental policies and bureaucratic nonsense.
It is from this social environment that the 'disposable society' arises. While small segments of the country bound away in their own quasiworld of wealth, technology, and political stardom, the general population seems more or less content with McDonalds, religion, professional sports, and poor television programming supplied most simply to enunciate the breadth of social difference. While the social dynamic spins wildly into the depths of its own unsustainability, only the furthering of inequality today is used to hedge the inexorable. While from a social standpoint the only purpose of the individual life is to contribute its services, whatever they may be, from an individualist perspective a life is worth so much more. Stalin once said "one death is a tragedy, 20M deaths is a statistic" while communist rhetoric is generally frowned upon by capitalist America, and his purges coincidentally killed 20M people before the USSR had even reached maturity, the truth couldn't be more obvious within the, proclaimedly, most uncommunist of countries. One life is profoundly priceless & beautiful, 280M Americans trying to make money is far from, and is priced by its own infatuation with monetary value. It is on these grounds that the whole is not more than the sum of its parts, on the contrary, 'the parts' are somehow lost in the midst of 'the whole.' Somehow in a country glorifying fast-food, impulse buying, credit cards, and continual loan repayments not only have almost all of our products become disposable, but holistically our citizens have come to be disposable as well. The disposable viewpoint has permeated not only our national & corporate mentalities but has penetrated the lives of our citizens as well. As far as the eye, or alas, the dollar, can reach, institutions abound thriving upon the ideology of the disposable person, chiefly because the average person agrees with this mentality. National retailers, grocery chains and service providers pay $6.00 per hour to a vast horde of sorry individuals for no other reason than that they can, while reaping profits in the billions of dollars annually, to say nothing of their common employment of cheap and questionably unethical labor from abroad. The hire & fire practices of many of the nation's largest employers on the basis of bolstering share prices certainly and directly places the dollar above the person. The fact that it is not uncommon to see a 35 year old person working full time at Wal-Mart on a salary smaller than his/her insurance premiums, while the 1st heir of Sam Walton remains one of the 5 most wealthy persons in the world, laments the belief that the nation's elite stand upon the backs of the nation's disposable. Alas in the eyes of most institutions, people are seldom more than numbers, more oft than not related to money. While the widely held unsettling feeling of worthlessness with regard to the corporate or financial world occupies the minds of enormous numbers of people, giving rise to frustration, resentment and social unease, the individual seldom realizes the cause, which is oft his/her own undervaluing of him/herself. The idea that one is powerless in the face of international movements, or even local trends is far from an uncommon occurrence, yet seldom is it attributed to the undervaluation of people. Like most other social inequities seen across the world the inability to establish a personal worth is one of self-perpetuation, leading the undervalued down an ever declining path toward despair. It is from this unhappiness that religion is used both politically as well as culturally as a means of controlling large groups of people, in exchange for justifying an otherwise empty life. But by no means is religion a non-profit venture, as the general populace would steadfastly believe. On a purely monetary basis the catholic church within the confines of the US alone receives an estimated $8B per year, and is worth many times this in net worth, although other religious denominations have accrued far less, the commercial industry surrounding religious paraphernalia is very profitable indeed. Aside from monetary value, however, is the fact that religion consumes a staggering amount of time and resources, even for atheists who must spend their time explaining the absurdities of religious organization time and time again, drawing time and energy away from endeavors of personal betterment, in addition to sapping any ambition to do so. Aside from religion's indirect consumption of the 'disposable people' it plays an active and driving role in countless social conflicts worldwide. Religion fuels terrorism, the Israeli conflict with the Palestinian peoples, gender-based discrimination and genocide (to name a few), while on the domestic front it hinders scientific research (namely stem-cell research), individual empowerment (abortion ideology, individual initiative), individual rights (homosexual discrimination, racism), and allows manipulative political parties to remain in power while failing to properly represent the needs of its people. Whether this long sweeping turn of events has fundamentally improved the intrinsic lives of people in this country remains one of the hottest social debates of our time; while we live longer and healthier lives than our ancestral counterparts, the quality of this life remains in doubt. We live longer but suffer greater mental affliction, and at an earlier age (depression rates have skyrocketed for unknown reasons within the past several decades), and within healthcare circles around the country the unquantifiable idea of 'quality of life' takes precedence when evaluating the value of a longer lifespan in our nations elderly. Many people perhaps altruistically, but probably more foolishly than anything else, proclaim a culture growing 'away from god' as the primary reason that peoples' lives seem somewhat removed from the benefits of technology, others cite novel lipophilic chemicals either recently synthesized or discovered, and many turn their eyes toward a perceived decline in 'family values' or some such ideologically error-prone morality. Yet whatever the reason, the question remains; Are our lives fundamentally better today than they were 50 years ago? For the vast majority of individuals the answer could easily be "no," while their lives, by all quantitative standards, should be easily found to be superior to those led by their forefathers the technology revolution has granted them ready access to viewing lifestyles they are incapable of ever attaining, leading to a chronic 'glass is half-empty' outlook. Furthermore the availability of technology does not necessitate a culture proficient with its usage, and many technologies, designed specifically to improve convenience of life (and to make huge amounts of money), such as mobile phones, have done nothing but tether countless individuals to the inconveniences of a 24 hour business day. Like many things 'social advancement' provides the least benefit for the masses, while helping the elite to quantify the existences of the 'laity.' The US has long identified with a fast-paced and highly commodity oriented creed, in the distant past our ancestors have stepped upon the slippery slope toward quantifying people. Today whether a US citizen is his/her SSN, the amount of dollars in his/her bank account, or zip code in which he/she lives, we have come to be quantified by everyone we've never met, and in ways we can't imagine, alas, as children of a disposable society, we have become completely and utterly disposable.
by tid242 | posted on 6/20/2002