I am very disillusioned with the state of our country right now. Ever since the election, I have been trying to figure out how people could elect those that don’t have the well being of the average citizen in mind. Instead of stewing over the loss, I tried to educate myself. My intuition told me to start with slavery and the Civil War, as this is a period of American history that is still affecting how we think today in terms of our regional and cultural divides.
While I was thinking about all of this I had the opportunity to go to Australia. I want to share some facts with you about Australia:
1. By law they get 28 days of paid time off each year.
2. Healthcare, although it is slightly more complicated than this, is basically free.
3. Minimum wage is 17 dollars an hour.
4. If someone is without a job or homeless they get a stipend. It’s like unemployment that never runs out.
5. They have clean and plentiful public transportation.
Those are all facts. However, here are some personal observations that I made:
1. The cities that I was in were very clean.
2. The people were almost all friendly and helpful.
3. Most of the people looked in relatively good shape.
4. I saw no large-scale poverty. In fact, while walking many days through a city twice the size of Austin, I never saw one homeless person. (I’m not saying that they don’t exist, only that they exist in much lower numbers than they do in American cities.)
5. The cities that I saw were vibrant and modern.
I know that Australia has its problems. Right now they are having immigration issues for instance. However, they seem to do a much better job at taking care of their citizens than we do. I can imagine that just having 28 paid days off each year while living in a nice climate would alone make life more livable.
So how is it that a country that was started partially by criminals can be doing things so much better than a so-called Christian nation? To answer this would require a book. Although I intend to come back to this question, I am not going to answer it here.
The whole time I was there I was again reading about slavery and the Civil War. What I found troubling was that so many of the arguments that were used to protect slavery are still used today to protect powerful economic interests. Often progress in this country is stopped by arguments over states rights, religion, and economics. We can’t pass a certain law that would benefit people because it would:
A. Infringe upon states rights
B. Would force people to go against their religion
C. It would hurt the economy
These are the same kinds of things that again were used to protect slavery. In cases A. and B. these are the exact same arguments. Although there were many people that were anti-slavery from a religious standpoint, there were also many that used religion to justify slavery.
During slavery education on average in the South was far behind the North. In the present economic power is doing what it can to strip critical thinking from education. This is not a North/South thing, although there is some of that going on if you look at recent election results. However, I can take you to places that are backwards in my home state of Pennsylvania, while my current home of Austin is quite progressive in a lot of ways.
It’s just that as I dig deeper and deeper into the well I find myself more discouraged at the state of our country, not less. Especially when you look at someplace like Australia in comparison, you realize that there is no reason that we couldn’t be doing a better job of helping the less fortunate. It’s out there in the world, being done, right now as we speak.
Often when I have looked at the war in Afghanistan I see it as almost science fiction. It’s like people from the present are fighting people from the past. That is not to say that I believe we are right to still be there, only that if you look at the technology and education of the United States against somewhere like the mountains of Afghanistan, which are still tribal, I think it is a fair way to look at things.
After visiting Australia and reading about our history I can’t wonder if our own country is still fighting culturally outside of space and time. Are there not places that still have the mentality of the 1950’s arguing against people from the present?
All of this raises more questions than answers. But that is where I’m at. How did we get to where we are at and how can we make it better? Can we make it better with entrenched economic powers that need to keep people ignorant to achieve their goals?
In one sense there has been a lot of progress in our country. I don’t think anyone but the Ku Klux Klan wants to go back to the days of slavery or Reconstruction. However, we are not where we need to be. We need to stop thinking that we’re number one at everything and realize that there are other places out there that have some of the answers. We have to confront our history so that we can recognize the problems of the present. There is no shame in realizing you can do better then you are, getting up, and trying again. Shame is only for those that quit. When and where do we start?