For more than 30 years, I have mourned my country’s decline. When it comes to generating capital, the United States remains a leader, creating wealth at unprecedented rates. This meteoric rise in wealth, however, is accompanied by equally steep increases in indifference, poverty, and environmental degradation. Anyone who expresses concern or even sadness is mocked and rebuked. In an Orwellian turn, “compassion” is now “hating America.” Concern for declines in education and employment is now “liberal fascism.” As a nation, we have forgotten our humanity.
Like many in this country, I had given over to despair and resignation. Corporations are allowed to fund our elections as well as write and enforce our legislation. How can one resist a power that comprises the global economy and the governments of the developed world? Perhaps, it is still not possible, but the Occupy Wall Street protesters have sent one clear message: “By virtue of being a human being, you deserve a modicum of respect.” This belief, that people do matter, is common to every religion known to me. It is also common to every philosophical approach to ethics and morality that I can name. Even Ayn Rand’s exhortation to “selfishness” recognizes the demand that no one has a right to trample the needs of others. To pursue your own happiness entails concern for promoting good relations with others.
America has become a nation of talking points and PowerPoint lectures. When people ask what the protesters want, specifically, they are really demanding a “study sheet” for a humanistic movement. What do the protesters demand first? That humanity be recognized as something of concern. People must be treated as persons, first and foremost. From this assumption, policy decisions will flow. No simple solution exists, so no one can articulate it. Life is complex. Economies are complex. Legislation is complex.
If we can once again affirm the value of our humanity, however, we will live in a better, if imperfect, world.