Commentary: Problems rooted in rotten cultures

By Richard Hoover

In an informed and provocative October letter to the editor, Gloria Rickel parallels the present United States with France on the eve of the 1789 Revolution. Citing the cavernous income gap between rich and poor, and buttressing that with mentions of social/economic unfairness and inequality, of grass roots hatred and resentment, of the Watts riots, and of Ann Romney’s two Cadillacs, Rickel infers that America may be on a revolutionary course, one that might be reversed by dispossessing the rich and electing more Democrats. This is strong stuff, worthy of serious thought!

I hold that revolution is not so likely inasmuch as what thinking poor would rise to overturn the hand that feeds them — the United States, one of the most generous welfare states in history. One in six households, almost 48 million Americans, receive SNAP (food stamps), and millions collect unemployment, disability, Aid to Dependent Children, and are enrolled in Medicaid. In some states, even, those on welfare receive more than those who work. Further, almost half of today’s workers are excused from paying income tax! Owing to America’s generosity, I believe the French-American comparison comes undone: in 1789, the French poor could not have imagined such “safety-nets.”

Nor can revolution, if it ever comes, realize the hopes many seem to place in it. As the French discovered, offing-the-rich and divvying up their resources is hardly a sustainable exercise; there will never be enough loot to go around, at least not for long. Even if there were enough, revolutionary solutions based on the principle of “gimme” will not solve the deep internal problems that are preventing millions of our fellow citizens from becoming “equal,” whether as parents, workers or as good citizens.

How would confiscating the resources of the “haves” turn around those mothers and fathers who refuse to parent-up and provide the care and proper training that innocents deserve? And how would confiscated resources turn back the social challenges and pathologies which all too often spring from such broken nests — the births-out-of-wedlock, the aborted, the drugs and the crime, the ignorance, promiscuity and aimlessness which characterize too many teen-agers and young adults? How the increasingly vaunted term “fairness” relates to this dismal social picture, I can not begin to say.

The thoughtful letter writer also posits that the threat of another Watts hangs over American inaction. Maybe. For what it’s worth, however, let me add a gut feeling, that any present crisis of have-nots is already on the way to transcending race. While black unemployment is well above the national average, the 2014 percentages of whites and blacks receiving food stamps is nearly dead-even. And I see plenty of evidence, daily: while observing crowds at a recent area festival, I saw no shortage of whites among the down and out. In other words, I think that we could be going toward that much anticipated “Post-Racial America,” not one marked by shared prosperity, unfortunately, but by shared failures.

My point is that the problems dragging so many of us down are not amenable to materialistic revolutionary correctives; rather, these problems are rooted in rotten cultures, in values which do not promote personal responsibility and personal independence, but stunt the human spirit and, eventually, lead to poverty, to a kind of slavery self-brought-on.

Even an unlikely Democratic sweep on Nov. 4, as Rickel may believe, will not make a dent in this complex problem. Rather, it will take, on a national scale, a transformation of the human spirit, a broadcasting of proven values and the discrediting of those values that prove to be wanting. This will take much time. Fortunately, our churches and temples, our civic and fraternal organizations are there, and are engaged.

Locally, I think of the superb work done with young people by the Warren Coalition. Maybe the American Humanist Association, with whom I have fundamental disagreement, is also lending a hand; a quote lifted from its mission statement hits the nail on the head: to “affirm the ability and responsibility of human beings to lead personal lives of ethical fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”

Richard Hoover is a retired Foreign Service officer (1969-95) who resides in southern Warren County.