Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On those most vulnerable

I want to revisit a post from last November, A new kind of Pareto optimality, in light of a recent article I read in the Metro Times, Kick the needy. The article mentions that the State of Michigan will cut twelve thousand six hundred families from its welfare payroll, saving the state more than seventy-seven million dollars. Of course, this is in a state that has a flat-rate income tax. Now, this post isn't about taxes, but it is rather about the skewed priorities, and ways we interact with the things and people most vulnerable. Indeed, it is because they are vulnerable that we are not.

What do you think is the most vulnerable part of your life? Your health? Your paycheck? Your relationship with your parents? How do you deal with that vulnerability? Do you neglect it, like a cavity that you just don't want to take care of? Or do you tend to it, nurture it, and hope that it changes into something strong and healthy? I would hope the latter. What does vulnerability look like in our civic life, and of our collective lives? Our freedom to respectfully and graciously discuss and speak uncensored? Our public education? Our welfare system? Our Earth, its water, air, and land? We have viewed these vulnerabilities as distinct ones, ones which can be tended to without tending to the web of interactions. At the same time, it is clear that those things which are most vulnerable, particularly to exploitation, have been suppressed and oppressed in order to strengthen those already strong - I am talking about politicians, corporations, and those of us who have the privilege of daily food, shelter, and comfortable lives.

We have a tendency to only pay attention to the things that grab our attention - dazzling military machines, computers and touchscreen phones, reality television with personalities of people that should not serve as role models. This takes away from where attention is needed most - those that are hurting, truly hurting, because of this culture we've created for ourselves. When it comes to how our governments and corporations make decisions today, it is the interests of not the most vulnerable among us, not on the vulnerable grounds we stand on that give us food, but the interests of the most powerful among us that are front and centre.

Many people have an almost evolutionary sense of socioeconomic (or socioecological, more broadly) classes and strata. They think that just because they have made it, because they no longer live in polluted neighbourhoods or close to mountaintop removal sites, that everyone can do so, too. Many feel that those that suffer do so because of their own doing. Many people feel that the Earth is theirs for dominion, that there is some god-given right to be libertarian and use and degrade as they please. There is a lack of compassion in these people, and in this system, in this culture. When we see vulnerability, we don't ask Why? with open eyes, but rather we judge blindly, and continue old behaviour.

We must act in ways that first and foremost recognise vulnerability. We need to dig deeper than the surface and really sort the healthy from the not-so-healthy. And we must act on vulnerability. Because much of this is our own doing, and we do have the power to correct it. 

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