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“We have met the enemy, and he is us”

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To quote the late Walt Kelly, in the words of his character Pogo.

There is no “Them.” There is only “Us.” We humans are all in this together. We are connected, interconnected, in ways that we cannot see, probably cannot imagine. Each one of us has all the potential that is exemplified by the best of us and the worst of us. Oh, of course some have physical or mental conditions that mean the potential–for good or ill–could never under any conditions be realized. But it’s there, and we go on ignoring that at our great peril.

Maybe there was a time in human evolution when dividing the world up into “Them” and “Us” served a useful purpose, promoted survival. That time has passed. With  communications technology expanding even as we use the latest thing, the connections, the interconnections, between us become more apparent every day. Someone in the remotest village has the possibility of knowing things about people anywhere in the world–things that someone in the most developed countries could never have known just a few decades ago. We learn about a disaster on the other side of the globe in minutes–sometimes we watch it as it happens–and not that long ago, as history goes, people might learn of a disaster in the next state, county, maybe even town only when someone traveled from there to tell the news.

There is a woman in India whom I know online. She is a generation younger than I, from a different culture, a different socioeconomic class, a different religious background–everything. Yet we have discovered that we have many values in common, that we have similar parenting styles, that we have elements of our personalities more like each other than like the people around us. What a wondrous thing such an acquaintance is, and how short a time it has been possible! But with this evidence in my own life, how can I believe in “Them” and “Us”?

In the current strife over guns, so many people see the other side as the enemy against whom they must protect themselves. But as Pogo said, the enemy is us.

Many fear gun owners, and so argue for more control, particularly to protect children. The Sandy Hook killing of 20 children was terrible, but the United States Government Accountability Office reports that more than 5 children die EVERY DAY from abuse. Yes, the U.S. has the worst record of children killed by guns, but we also have the worst record among industrialized nations for children killed by abuse. And it isn’t some “Them” killing these children; child abuse is found at every socioeconomic level, among every religious and ethnic group: “Us.” Where are the celebrities speaking out against that? Where are the bills introduced in the national and state legislatures? Where is the attention to protecting those little victims, 5 a day, every day, month after month, year after year?

Others fear the home-invading stranger, the thug on the street, and so argue for everyone to own a gun for protection. But just this week, what are the big stories? First, the military’s best sniper is killed at a shooting range, surrounded by guns that didn’t protect him–killed by someone he knew and was trying to help. Next, a young couple, then a police officer, are killed, and two other police wounded, by a former member of the LAPD and former navy officer. You don’t have to be a Google expert to find, every day, a story of a child accidentally killed with a parent’s gun or a domestic situation that turns deadly. That’s not “Them” doing it, that’s “Us.”

I am not making an argument for or against guns, nor for or against gun control. I am saying that statistically, the greatest danger to you from another person, whether by gun or any other means, comes from someone you know, maybe trust, even love. As long as we define “violence” (of whatever kind) as something “Them” does, we have no chance to defeat it.

One last point that ties into this: I cannot control what anyone else does. You cannot control what anyone else does. We can try persuasion (there are many kinds), and if we have the bent for it we can try force, but in the end each of us can control only the self. If there is a dividing line, it isn’t “Us” and “Them,” it’s “Me” and “Everyone Else.” The only thing I can do that will absolutely, certainly make the world more what I want it to be is to be that way myself. And that is true for each human.

 

The Job Market, College, and Job Status

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Generally speaking, the job market is crap. Young people are coming out of college with degrees, many of them with tens of thousands of dollars in loans to pay back, and they can’t find a job. Yet society keeps telling teens they must go to college if they want a good future.

It’s time to stop this madness. And the first step, as I see it, is to start changing the way society looks at jobs.

We must stop judging people’s worth–worth to society but especially worth as human beings–by how much money they make. Maybe some of that is already happening, as ordinary folks find out just how corrupt are some of the people at the top in business–how they are not helping but rather are hurting society as a whole, along with millions of individuals. Along with that, we must praise business leaders who do right for society and for their employees, and we must support their businesses to the extent we can, even if we pay a little more or have a bit more inconvenience.

Next, we must stop judging people’s worth by some arbitrary status we assign to the work we do. And yes, it is arbitrary–it’s a social construct. In some societies teachers have much higher social status than in the U.S. In some societies physicians have lower status than in the U.S. And no matter how many jokes we tell about scum-sucking bottom-feeders, lawyers still have high social status here.

What do we need more of right now, lawyers or plumbers? Journalists or electricians? Accountants or HVAC technicians? In every case, the second one is the answer.  Angie’s List magazine, in a current article, says that with so many tradespeople nearing retirement and fewer young people entering the trades, the labor shortage in such fields as heating and air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, roofing, drywalling, and tiling is acute and will get worse.

So why aren’t we–as a society, but also as parents and teachers–steering more young people away from years in college and into the trades? I think that one important factor is job status.  Too many parents would rather say, “My daughter is a lawyer” than “My daughter is a plumber.” But let’s inject some of the realities of today: wouldn’t they rather say, “My daughter is an employed plumber who just bought a house” than “My daughter the lawyer can’t find a job and has $100,000 in student loans to pay back”?

Pointing students toward the trades got a bad reputation when guidance counselors were doing that for most of their minority students, while they helped less-qualified white students apply to college. That situation absolutely had to change, and where it still exists we must continue to challenge it. But we can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Not every high-school student–of any ethnicity, gender, family background, or socioeconomic class–will find their best future by going to college.  The trades need them; WE need them.

If you can’t get an appointment with a lawyer to draw up your will this week, it can wait till next week. (This is an unrealistic example; there are more than a sufficiency of lawyers out there eager for your legal business!) But if a pipe is broken and you can’t get a plumber, if your power is out and the power company doesn’t have enough electricians, you are, not to put too fine a point on it, SOL. Even if it’s just the cable going out right before your favorite show, or the A/C stopping when it’s 103 F., you are going to suffer if you can’t find a skilled tradesperson quickly.

And workers should have a status that reflects that. “My son the roofer” should be as proudly introduced as “My son the doctor.” High schools should be praised as much for how many students who want to pursue a trade are accepted into trade apprenticeships as for how many who want a degree are accepted into college. Probably they should be praised more for the former, who are almost guaranteed a job at the end of their training, than for the latter, who may join the masses wielding useless degrees in an overcrowded job market!

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