Is caring about each other, going out of our way to help each other, a tactic or strategy or core mission of human life? For example: One of the amazing realities of our streets is that despite the frequent design inadequacy and congested confusion of busy intersections, we almost always find a way to safely and semi-efficiently make room for each other as we wind our own way forward. What’s amazing is not that there are so many accidents, but that there are so few.
Do we make way for each other as we drive-walk-bike simply because being too aggressive risks causing a time-consuming jam, or even self-injury? Or because we fear retaliation for misbehavior? Or do we do it because being courteous, even helpful, to others is a type of enlightened self-interest, perhaps even a value statement about the way we think human interactions ought to occur and the kind of society we wish to inhabit?
At an even deeper level, the question becomes: is life ultimately a “war of all against all” with individual self-interest and self-protection the only valid motivation for human interaction, or are we inherently social beings needing to stand up for ourselves but ultimately so mutually dependent that our own welfare is inescapably tied to the actions not only of family and friends but even of strangers?
We are currently engaged in a national debate over guns and a state debate over taxation. On the most fundamental level, both debates boil down to how you answer the earlier questions. If you believe that individualism is primary, then anti-gun control, anti-tax, and anti-government arguments might make sense. If you believe, as President Obama said at Newtown, that “we’re all in this together” then it might make sense to restrict access to weapons, use government as a pro-active agent, and accept that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization” (Oliver Wendell Holms Jr.). If so, then the pursuit of happiness may be best conducted by working together to create the friendly village that children need to grow and we adults often describe as own preferred neighborhood.
GUNS: One of the preconditions of peaceful interaction and livable communities – on the streets and in our homes – is the progressive removal of violence from daily life. The NRA vision that everyone must be his own policeman leads not to equality but to tyranny, to the empowerment of local bullies and vigilantes whose greater strength, aggressiveness, and willingness to inflict pain gives them a competitive advantage. Universal gun ownership is not an equalizer but an enabler of domestic violence, protection rackets, and social disintegration: do we really want our communities to resemble Somalia? Restricting the legitimate use of force to authorized bodies, the police and military, does make the unarmed population weaker in relationship to the government — which is why it is so important to keep strengthening democracy and preventing its constant distortion by the rich and powerful, including the hyper-funded NRA.
(Even if you believe, as some right-wing fanatics do, that the US government is or is about to become an irredeemably Stalinist dictatorship, it would be impossible for even an assault-rifle-supplied uprising to beat today’s airborne military without – horrors! – foreign intervention, as the Syrian and Libyan rebels know all too well.)
TAXES & SPENDING: In Massachusetts, Governor Patrick has once again stuck his neck out and proposed decreasing the regressive sales tax while increasing the progressive family deduction and income tax. Filers earning less than $37,523 would end up with a net of $100-to-$200 more each year; filers with taxable income over $102,886 would pay a few thousand more each year; the majority of the state’s families, whose taxable income falls between these extremes, would see a net annual of $100-$400 depending on their mixture of revenue sources and spending patterns. (The Governor also proposes to raise $149 million by eliminating some individual and corporate deductions.) In other words, those who financially benefit the most from the social stability and economic growth that the state helps create would contribute the most to its continued operation.
On the spending side, the new funds would be primarily used to keep our transportation system from collapsing and to expand educational opportunities – both of which are investments that will bring long-term benefits far in excess of the initial cost. While the operations of MassDOT can always be improved, there is little question that simply maintaining our current transportation system, much less expanding and redesigning it to meet the demands of the 21st century, require much much more than can be found through internal savings. We either raise the money or accept economic stagnation.
And anyone who thinks that increasing the skills of our future workforce isn’t a vital step for more general economic well-being – including their own – is simply stupid.
READ AND WRITE: But don’t take it from me. I urge readers to learn more about the Governor’s Transportation and Revenue Plans. Then let your state Legislators know what you think (look them up here) as well as House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray.
And as you read, think, and express your opinion, remember that unless you are Robinson Crusoe living in isolated self-sufficiency (although even he wished to be rescued!), then the real cost of avoiding one of Benjamin Franklin’s two inevitabilities, taxes, is to become exposed to lots more of the second, death.
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