Grasshopper Soup: Core American values at odds with each other
While politicians promise to put people first, trusting senior citizens are being forced out of their homes in the Tahoe Shores Mobile Home Park in South Lake Tahoe. Forced, however, is not really the right word. The property owner has the right to develop. People who rent and live under a landlord have no reasonable expectation of lifelong security unless their landlord intends it for them and is a person of higher consciousness and sound virtue. Conveniently, higher consciousness and virtue are not required in a capitalistic society. The question is, should they be? That seems to be what the politics of change (touted by both Democrats and Republicans) is asking.
What is the answer? People first means what it says. Anyone who cares how the world goes knows it makes perfect sense, and should be the first guiding principal of all our actions, public and private, personal and civic. Why then is it OK, in a nation supposedly founded on Judeo-Christian principals, to remove people from their homes?
Just compensation would seem to mitigate ethical considerations. But what is just compensation? When it comes to people, it can be very subjective. Before being informed of their fate, the citizens from South Shore felt blessed for the rest of their lives. If the compensation they receive equals that, plus everything they feel they had before, then, in that case, it would be OK. They would have to swallow their pride and accept the deal.
But financial compensation is not always the answer. If money is the only measure of putting people first then only the wealthy have the right to live near the lake. According to most core American values, that is wrong.
Stephen V. Riley of Tahoe City highlighted the need for serious introspection along these lines in a recent letter to the editor. He spoke about the dangers, both domestically and internationally, posed by the unchecked forces of corporate capitalism which has led to what he called “…the increasing domination of the rights of capital over all human rights.” It has been crammed down our throats for centuries, usually with badges, billy clubs and guns. Mr. Riley, quite astutely, recognizes that this is a problem not of economics but one of a spiritual vacuum.
The TRPA’s approval of the project which will lead to the uprooting of the elderly from their mobile homes may or may not be evidence of a spiritual vacuum. Corporations laying off American workers and giving their jobs to cheap labor overseas is a better example. But, the end result is the same; people are customarily expendable where profit can be made. We have been programmed by government, even religion, into accepting it.
If we want a just and peaceful world, we better critically examine our conduct. Sometimes it seems we are more willing to spend money on injured and lost animals than we are on human beings in need. Super powers have fallen before because of spiritual vacuums.
This is not the first time the poor and powerless have been sent packing to make room for private development in the Tahoe Basin. Without mentioning specific instances, let me just say there are probably a lot more sad stories than the few I know about.
The American values of capitalism and democracy, unlimited individual achievement and the common good, the rights of the strong and powerful versus the rights of the weak and powerless have been at odds with each other longer than America has existed. You can still hear the contradictions in the appeasing rhetoric of both political parties.
Hurricane Katrina, and now Gustav, are finally causing even our highest government officials to act differently. Too bad it takes so much death and destruction to start them down the right path.
What about the rest of us? Are we in it for each other, or just the money?
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