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A Civilised Society?


Guest Stephen Turner
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Guest Stephen Turner

Carrying on from a debate on welfare provision, currently raging on the JFK section, I would like members comments on the following quotation.

"The test of a civilised society is how it treats its young, old and infirm.

How well are we doing in the West, in regard to this. Do you feel that provision of welfare create's a culture of dependancy, or that no true civilisation will allow its weakest, most vulnerable members to go to the wall.

regards, Steve.

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Carrying on from a debate on welfare provision, currently raging on the JFK section, I would like members comments on the following quotation.

"The test of a civilised society is how it treats its young, old and infirm.

If anyone is interested in an extreme right-winger's view on this subject I suggest that people take a look at this thread:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1160

I doubt if you could find many people in the world outside America expressing such views as Craig Lamson. It just goes to show just how different America is to the rest of the world. I expect it is because they have never experienced life in a welfare state. No doubt there are probably extremely rich people in the UK who might think like this, but they are highly unlikely to express it in public.

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Carrying on from a debate on welfare provision, currently raging on the JFK section, I would like members comments on the following quotation.

"The test of a civilised society is how it treats its young, old and infirm.

If anyone is interested in an extreme right-winger's view on this subject I suggest that people take a look at this thread:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1160

I doubt if you could find many people in the world outside America expressing such views as Craig Lamson. It just goes to show just how different America is to the rest of the world. I expect it is because they have never experienced life in a welfare state. No doubt there are probably extremely rich people in the UK who might think like this, but they are highly unlikely to express it in public.

John and Steve (and Craig and Peter and Mark and....),

I have to take issue with the contention of "how different America is to the rest of the world." It's too easy to lump all Americans in via the expressions of conservatism as provided by Messrs. Lamson, Slattery, etc. As good historians, you should recognize that we wage an ongoing struggle here against the troglodytes with regressive agendas, a struggle we constantly seem to be losing due to the concentration of interest in terms of wealth, political influence, media influence, "religious" influence, etc, etc. (Power, in other words.)

regressive forces in any country have the real power for the same reason. And what happens when those forces are checked (always belatedly, incrementally, and half-heartedly)? The regressive forces go off the deep end in terms of rational discourse---xenophobia, chauvinism, anti-Semitism, wide-scale lynching, bombing campaigns. This would be funny (psychologically) if no one got hurt---as in people running around claiming the sky was falling because of the "media's liberal slant" when conservative ideas and "values" are so widely subscribed to. (Fox News as a paranoid over-reaction to a belief)

Our country reacted to the Bolshevik Revolution and the internationalist idealism of Wilson with a Red Scare and Palmer Raids and a decade of unbridled "private entrepeneurs" leading to the stock market crash and the Great Depression. Undaunted by stupidity, the regressive forces emerged from World War II with all their old grievances intact---and now had to deal with the rest of the world on a larger stage. So we "lost" China, the social safeguards initiated under the New Deal were "creeping socialism," Communists might be lurking in your very own home, segregation was essential to "the American way of life" and Negroes pressing for their civil rights were Communist-influenced, Ike himself was not ideologically pure enough.

then a pragmatic Catholic becomes President of these United States, the Antichrist is here, and his successor is a traitor to the South (pushing hard for civil rights progress). George Wallace gets almost 10 million votes running as a 3rd-party candidate in 1968, and those votes would have gone to Nixon if Wallace hadn't been running. Within a decade, those voters who would never have believed they could support "the party of Lincoln" were joining the GOP in droves because the GOP now represented the "values" the previous segregationists held so dear. And so all the issues were successfully reframed accoring to a conservative temperament: black Americans now had their civil rights, the whole world began anew, and there was now widespread "reverse discrimination"; there was not enough private initiative due to the inimical influence of the welfare state; God Himself had been kicked out of the classroom by secular humanism (read: education in a democratic society). And let's not forget the flag, since the inviolability of a piece of cloth is regarded as a much more serious thing than the United States Constitution.

The problem with all regressives is how blatantly hypocritical they are. As if "social welfare" has never applied to how they have been able to succeed in life (via tax-cuts and exemptions, subsidies, the benefits that come from "knowing the right people" in society and being willing to kiss the asses of those right people). As if "progress" were a zero-sum static thing instead of an ongoing process (since civil rights laws are on the books there is not now nor ever was such a thing as discrimination, end of story, period--the whole world was created yesterday).

It may not be clear right now, but President Bush is succeeding in laying the foundation for an overall progressive renewal: just as the bankruptcy of the old regressive agenda was laid bare by the Great Depression, so the bankruptcy of the regressive agenda and what has passed for "conservative values" in the US over the past several decades has been laid bare and revealed for what it truly is in this decade. Most of the American people are dimly aware of where the money and the benefits are going in this society, above all they recognize that it's not going to them. But it will still take some time to see how it plays out, since self-righteous hypocrisy has been an advantage instead of a problem for regressive troglodytes, and they've never let what they call their "Christianity" stand in the way of their agenda. In fact, their "Christianity" has always been the most important tool in their belt, as long as it is defined "correctly." But I personally regard that attitude as blasphemous as such---the idea they have that they "own" God or Jesus or Heaven.

It is not that a lack of life being fair is the continuous factor - but selfishness, ignorance and a lack of altruism.
Sincerely,

Dan

Dan,

Yes, very thoughtful post. I agree about Bush. So far he's been the best friend a terrorist recruiter could ever wish for. He will also prove to be the catalyst for a progressive renewal and rethink. Exploitation and ruthless interference in the affairs of other countries, overconsumption of scarce resources with scant consideration for future generations and the use of "Christianity" as a weapon to justify this behavior will need to be reappraised and recognised for what it is. Currently, the US fails the civilised society test but that doesn't mean there won't be a change.

The high level of political illiteracy in the US, as John Simkin noted, is a big problem. Exacerbating this, of course, is a mendacious mainstream media which actively promotes causes which do great harm to American society: global military adventurism, the 'war on drugs' and tax policies which strongly favor the rich to name just three. The media persuaded Americans to re-elect Bush. It shapes the opinions of many (unfortunately). And it is shamelessly dishonest. The media refuses to debate issues which desperately need to be debated while blatantly creating hysteria by overzealously stressing others. Curiously, the issues it constantly reports on like crime, drugs and terrorism are issues from which the media derives great profit. The issues which the media ignores like the corruption of America's political system, the duplicity of the 'war on drugs' and the 'war on terror' and even the assassination of JFK, RFK, MLK and others are issues which, if properly analysed in the light of day, might pose a threat to the media's future profit forecasts.

However, I basically agree with the sentiment of your post. The further America moves to the right, the more globally isolated they will become which will, despite the mainstream media's reluctance, necessitate a general debate on just exactly where they plan to go. 'Conservative values' will be re-defined.

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The further America moves to the right, the more globally isolated they will become which will, despite the mainstream media's reluctance, necessitate a general debate on just exactly where they plan to go. 'Conservative values' will be re-defined.

Or so we can hope, Mark. The simple fact of the matter, however, is that the conservative agenda here has successfully redefined "moderate values" and "progressive values" to such an extent that i can only laugh when I hear the usual "conservative" BS about "the Left" in the US (as if there was such a thing). Being a "Leftist" in the US means that you vote for Establishment Democrats in the hope that they might be better than a dumbed-down alternative which appeals mostly to morons (and, of course, their ilk with their scintillas). But I don't think education per se is the problem (or the solution); it's more a question of what people in power and in a position to do something have to tell and have to offer. I'll take common sense over "education" anytime (you can apparently get both an undergraduate and a graduate degree from a good university here, and still come out inordinately stupid); but our movers and shakers don't seem to be able to let anyone know what a common sense, pragmatic alternative would be.

There's much more that could be said, but I'd have to disagree about the media getting President Bush re-elected. Most of it was fear---3 years after 9/11, troops at war, and a sense that the President had done the best he could with what was handed him (9/11). In that sense, among many Americans, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" backfired because it put so much blame upon "Bush" that some people felt sorry for him. And yet, in spite of the fact that he was Commander in Chief with troops in the field in 2 separate countries and was the nation's leader just a few short years after the worst attack on the mainland, he managed to get all of 51% of the popular vote. Not exactly a ringing endorsement........

Dan

Dan,

Since I live in Australia, I would concede that you would know more about the US media's role in getting Bush re-elected than myself. However, I would submit that they gave him a rather large boost, in that they fully supported the invasion of Iraq. The goals of the media owners and the Bush Government neatly complemented each other. Also, I regularly heard media opinion leaders report on Kerry's apparent cowardice, when in fact it was Bush who went missing during critical years of his youth. I agree that circumstances favored the incumbent, as they do in times of national crisis.

I agree that it's amusing to hear American opinion leaders complain of left wing or liberal bias in the media. And neither major political party remotely resembles the left of the political spectrum, IMO.

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Carrying on from a debate on welfare provision, currently raging on the JFK section, I would like members comments on the following quotation.

"The test of a civilised society is how it treats its young, old and infirm.

If anyone is interested in an extreme right-winger's view on this subject I suggest that people take a look at this thread:

http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=1160

I doubt if you could find many people in the world outside America expressing such views as Craig Lamson. It just goes to show just how different America is to the rest of the world. I expect it is because they have never experienced life in a welfare state. No doubt there are probably extremely rich people in the UK who might think like this, but they are highly unlikely to express it in public.

John and Steve (and Craig and Peter and Mark and....),

I have to take issue with the contention of "how different America is to the rest of the world." It's too easy to lump all Americans in via the expressions of conservatism as provided by Messrs. Lamson, Slattery, etc. As good historians, you should recognize that we wage an ongoing struggle here against the troglodytes with regressive agendas, a struggle we constantly seem to be losing due to the concentration of interest in terms of wealth, political influence, media influence, "religious" influence, etc, etc. (Power, in other words.)

I thought I made it clear that I did not lump all Americans together. I know from my many friends in the United States that there is a considerable number of people willing to resist the ideas of Craig Lamson and Brendan Slattery. My point was that I made was “I doubt if you could find many people in the world outside America expressing such views as Craig Lamson”. This is a comment about right-wing conservatives, not the whole of the population.

In his postings, Craig Lamson reveals that he is not a supporter of democracy. He accepts that a large percentage of the American population would favour the kind of welfare state that exists in Europe. He is therefore grateful to the American undemocratic system that stops this from happening.

D. H. Lawrence once said that every philosopher ends at his fingertips. This is definitely true of Craig. He assumes that everybody is lazy and does not want to work. He thinks this is the natural reaction to the introduction of the welfare state. This is of course not true. Only a very small minority chose not to work. In reality, people get pleasure from working for a living. In fact, it helps give life meaning.

It might be true that Craig is lazy and therefore needs the fear of poverty to motivate him. However, it is not true of most people.

Craig has claimed he has got his money by working hard. Does he not realize that people in low paid jobs also work very hard? Sociological research shows there is little evidence to suggest a link between wealth and “working hard”. Craig probably believes the “log cabin to president myth”. In modern times, all US presidents have either been very rich or willing to do the bidding of rich sponsors. It even seems to help if you are the son of a president (maybe there is a president gene).

Recent research shows that it is more difficult to obtain upward social mobility in the United States than any other advanced industrial society. This is not surprising as the quality of state education is the main determinant of upward social mobility. A good state education is an important ingredient of the welfare state.

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Why not post the links to that "research" on upward mobility. I'd love to check it out.

By Peter Daniels

20 May 2006

Several recent studies have punctured the conception, assiduously fostered by the media and political defenders of the profit system, that American capitalism makes possible the rapid acquisition of wealth for anyone motivated to work for it.

The truth is very different. A study by economist Tom Hertz of American University, “Understanding Mobility in America”, finds that a child born into a poor family, defined as the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, has an infinitesimal one-in-a-hundred chance of making it into the top five percent income level.

Hertz’s report, issued by the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress (CAP), studied both “intergenerational mobility” and “short-term mobility.” Intergenerational mobility, comparing an individual’s economic status with that of his or her parents, is taken as a measure of equality of opportunity, since economic success independent of the status of one’s family would seem to indicate that merit and work are the principal sources of material rewards.

As far as intergenerational mobility is concerned, it is not only the children of the poor in the US who have little chance of becoming wealthy. Children born in the middle quintile (the 40-60th percentile of incomes in the country, $42,000 to $54,300) also have only a 1.8 percent chance of reaching the top five percent, a likelihood not much higher than in poor families. These findings were based on a study of over 4,000 children whose parents’ income was determined in 1968 and whose own income was then reviewed as adults in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1999.

Breaking the data down by race showed that, within the framework of increasing pressure on the working class as a whole, black families continue to face higher burdens. While 47 percent of poor families remain poor in subsequent generations, this figure is 32 percent for whites and 63 percent for blacks. Only 3 percent of African-Americans jump from the bottom quarter of the income distribution to the top 25 percent, while for whites this number, still small, is 14 percent.

The second feature of the study focuses on short-term mobility, which is a measure of annual income volatility. Large changes in annual income correlate with economic instability and insecurity.

On the subject of income volatility, the report’s findings also contradict the claim of equal opportunity and rewards for hard work. Those in the middle income levels—the majority of whom consist of both industrial and service sector workers who are commonly lumped together and labeled “middle class” based on their income level—experienced increased “insecurity of income” between 1997 and 2004, compared to 1990. Downward short-term mobility—an annual income decline of $20,000 or more—rose from 13.0 percent of the population in 1990 to 14.8 percent in 1997-98 and 16.6 percent in 2003-04.

This downward mobility was concentrated among those earning between $34,500 and $89,300 a year, while those in the top 10 percent of income earners ($122,880 or more) saw less negative shocks during this same period. Moreover, the middle income household was no more upwardly mobile in 2003-04 than it was in 1990-91, although the early nineties was a period of recession and the more recent years were ones of officially strong economic growth.

Hertz’s findings parallel those contained in a number of similar recent studies. A report prepared by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon for the National Bureau of Economic Research in December 2005 shows that those in the top 10 percent income bracket received 49 percent of the growth in wages and salaries in the period between 1997 and 2001, while the bottom 50 percent received less than 13 percent.

Dew-Becker and Gordon explain that whereas in the past there was some modest improvement in real wages for the lower-paid as a result of productivity gains, that is no longer the case. While there was either decline or virtually no gain for the vast majority of working people, between 1996 and 2001 the earnings at the 90th percentile (10 percent from the top) increased 58 percent, those at the 99th percentile by 121 percent, the top tenth of one percentile by 236 percent, and the top one-hundredth of one percentile by 617 percent.

These statistics reflect the reality of a new gilded age, more extreme in terms of social inequality and concentration of wealth than that of a century ago.

Another paper published by the NBER in January 2006 shows that the polarization between the super-rich and the poor is returning to early 20th century levels. In the mid-20th century, partly in response to the explosive growth of trade unionism during the Great Depression as well as the threat of socialism embodied in the example of the Russian Revolution, reformist policies led to a rapid fall in the share of the top 0.01 percent of US earners of total income—from 4.5 percent in 1916 to “only” 0.5 percent in 1971. This latter figure was still 50 times what it would have been under conditions of complete income equality.

In the last three decades, however, this trend has been sharply reversed again. By 1998 the share of the top 0.01 percent had risen in little more than a quarter century as rapidly as it had fallen in the previous 50 years, reaching 3 percent of total income. A major component of this is compensation for top corporate executives. The ratio of the pay of CEOs to average wages rose from 27 in 1973 to 300 in 2000, and it has continued to climb since.

“Understanding Mobility in America” contains a number of other significant findings. It presents comparisons between US intergenerational mobility and existing trends in other advanced capitalist economies, especially in Europe. It finds that mobility is lower in the US than in France, Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among the major wealthy countries, only Britain has a lower rate of mobility than the US.

This is particularly noteworthy, given the incessant claims—repeated most recently in comments by various media pundits on the mass struggle of French students and youth against the government’s plans to attack the rights of young workers—that European workers and youth, by fighting to defend past social gains, are foolishly forfeiting the chance to strike it rich, a chance which is allegedly greater in the United States.

Even as American society has become more unequal and social mobility has declined, the myth of mobility maintains its strength. A recent survey in the New York Times showed that 80 percent of Americans polled believe it is possible for anyone to move from poverty to great wealth. The same question posed in 1983 produced an affirmative answer from less than 60 percent.

The extent of these illusions is no doubt overstated in polls that tend to register the most immediate impressions of individuals who repeat what they have heard endlessly on radio, television and the rest of the media. Moreover the ideological role of individualism in America, along with the influence of advertising and the media, is not new. Even so, the apparent disconnect between these conceptions of social mobility and a reality that moving in the opposite direction is significant.

The last few decades have seen the collapse of all varieties of national reformism, and in the absence of any genuine political alternative, many workers have become increasingly susceptible to this kind of outlook.

The gulf between the actual conditions of life and these illusions cannot continue to grow indefinitely, however, without producing a social explosion and creating the conditions for a new period of ... political struggle.

http://www.worldproutassembly.org/archives...rts_expose.html

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Guest Stephen Turner

Thanks Gents, some fascinating points. Not meaning any critisism may I restate the my opening point.A society's right to be called civilised must be judged by how it treats it vulnerable members.

Britain, I contend largely fails this test. Nearly one third of our Children live below the accepted poverty line.

Many old age pensioners live on as little as £8-50p a day, and many are denied routine operations due to cost considerations, Our "homeless" population is the largest in Europe, and all this at a time when the gap between rich, and poor is the largest on record..I would value your thoughts on this, and the wider point.

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Thanks Gents, some fascinating points. Not meaning any critisism may I restate the my opening point.A society's right to be called civilised must be judged by how it treats it vulnerable members.

Britain, I contend largely fails this test. Nearly one third of our Children live below the accepted poverty line.

Many old age pensioners live on as little as £8-50p a day, and many are denied routine operations due to cost considerations, Our "homeless" population is the largest in Europe, and all this at a time when the gap between rich, and poor is the largest on record..I would value your thoughts on this, and the wider point.

Sorry for not answering the question. I completely agree with you that a society should be judged on the way it looks after those living in poverty. That was the reason I joined the Labour Party in 1963. It is also one of the reasons why I left the Labour Party in 1998. It was clear by then that Blair had to intention to do anything about the unacceptable gap between the rich and the poor that had been created since 1979 under the Tories.

Although some measures were taken such as the introduction of tax credits and the medium wage that helped the poor, the government refused to tackle those issues that really make a difference such as reforming the income tax system. As a result, the gap between rich and poor has grown even greater under Labour. Our record compared to other advanced industrial countries is appalling. We are now side by side at the bottom of all the relevant league tables with the United States.

I travel a great deal. In comparison with other European countries, especially in Scandinavia, the UK can no longer consider itself a civilized society. This is not only about the way we treat the poor, it is also about our public services and the way people behave on the streets.

As I have been pointing out over the last few weeks, this current government is extremely corrupt. Recently I was in Sicily. This is another corrupt part of the world where the Mafia still rule. Unless we do something about the present system, UK will end up looking like Sicily rather than Sweden.

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One of the points I have to make to both US and Swedish students on US Culture and Society courses is what I call the 'red shift' in US politics. By European standards, the Democrats are not a left-wing party. What are called 'neo-conservatives' in the US have long been called 'neo-liberals' in Europe, and 'Liberal' parties all over Europe are parties of the right.

So … if you want to resemble a moderate European social democrat in the United States, you have to place yourself in a position that will be locally labelled 'extreme left-wing'!

This didn't happen by accident - the US had 'real' left-wing political movements, but they were systematically crushed at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century (look into what General Pershing was doing in the 1920s, for example). The tactics used were very similar to the ones used in countries like Belorussia today. E.g. you don't actually ban demonstrations - just demonstrators. If Europeans ever wonder why demonstrators in the US walk round and round in circles, rather than just standing still, it's because of one of the sets of laws passed in the 19th century to prevent people from gathering in free political associations.

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  • 2 weeks later...

One of the signs of a civilized society is the way we help the most vulnerable in society. This includes the birth of children. A recent report points out that the current US infant mortality is 6.4. This makes it the 42nd best in the world. The average baby has more chance of surviving in Havana or Beijing than in America. The reason for this that a significant proportion of the American public cannot afford adequate healthcare. What a condemnation of the so-called private enterprise system.

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One of the signs of a civilized society is the way we help the most vulnerable in society. This includes the birth of children. A recent report points out that the current US infant mortality is 6.4. This makes it the 42nd best in the world. The average baby has more chance of surviving in Havana or Beijing than in America. The reason for this that a significant proportion of the American public cannot afford adequate healthcare. What a condemnation of the so-called private enterprise system.

Yes.

And this rogue State, with an annual military budget in the hundreds of billions and a history of invading other countriers on almost an annual basis since 1945, is the No.1 ally of the 'left-wing' Government in Britain.

Britain did not pick enemies and allies in World War Two on the basis of health care policy - nor has it figured in foreign policy calculations since. I wonder if Hillary Benn would like to change that?

Nevertheless, Americans can take heart. In 2006, infant mortaliity in Iraq, Afghanistan and The Lebanon is higher than in the USA. For the impoverished, it's probably still somewhat better to reside in a country that's a serial war ciminal with a bloated military budget than somewhere that's merely the dumping ground for high-tech bruality.

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And this rogue State, with an annual military budget in the hundreds of billions and a history of invading other countriers on almost an annual basis since 1945, is the No.1 ally of the 'left-wing' Government in Britain.

There is nothing left-wing about the current Blair government. Except for spending on the public services it is as right-wing as the one led by Margaret Thatcher.

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Guest Stephen Turner

And this rogue State, with an annual military budget in the hundreds of billions and a history of invading other countriers on almost an annual basis since 1945, is the No.1 ally of the 'left-wing' Government in Britain.

There is nothing left-wing about the current Blair government. Except for spending on the public services it is as right-wing as the one led by Margaret Thatcher.

And has indeed allowed, even encouraged the market to run riot in areas even Thatcher balked at. Education and health being only the tip of and ideological iceburg. PFI alone will cost the taxpayers billions of pounds over the next twenty years. I now firmly believe that a defeat at the next election for new labour would be a positive thing, at least with a Conservative administration the unions will have less qualms about a long overdue fight-back.

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