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A Voice In The Crowd: Observations of an onlooker

July 1, 1993

A Voice In The Crowd: Observations of an onlooker

By Jim Spelman

The other night after a walk along the bike path, I encountered an acquaintance who, with his wife, had, like me, been enjoying the Rockford riverfront and the fine autumn weather.

After mutual salutations, and with a glance toward his spouse, my friend smiled and said, “Meet one of George Bush’s biggest supporters.” My awareness of this fellow’s political leanings to the right surely influenced my judgment that his words contained more than a suggestion of sarcasm.

Not being a student of world history, I must confess my ignorance of the pacifist protests preceding World War II about which my friend, without surrendering that hint of scorn in his voice, proceeded to tell me. “And, while they were protesting, Hitler took over half of Europe,” he added with emphasis.

“But,” I responded, “that was totally different than what’s going on now.” Without uttering a reply, the couple turned and left.

My conclusion was that by what were meant as somewhat derisive comments, I had been given a backhanded compliment. A pacifist I am and have been since early in the Vietnam War (a conflict for which we owe an enormous apology to the world and particularly those young people we sent to die and be maimed for a fruitless cause).

In one sense, my friend has a point. It’s obvious that we, who think our government is heading our country in the wrong direction, are powerless to change the course. The most we can do is raise our voices and flex our pens in protest. We are onlookers. I am but a voice in the crowd.

That said, I’d like to share some of my observations as to why we, as a nation, have come to this precipitous place in our history. Their position on the list merely indicates in what order they came to mind. If that determines their relative importance, so be it.

First, our culture is out of balance. It seems that most of our energy is focused on obtaining material wealth. That’s done by winning. Concentration on winning the promotion, winning the game, winning the contract, winning the lawsuit, winning the race, winning the match or winning the award too often displaces other vital aspects of a balanced existence. We are apparently ready to send men and women to kill and die to preserve our lifestyle rather than our way of life.

Second, the accumulation of material wealth, affluence, if you will, leads to an attitude of “we are entitled to it.” We seem to have forgotten all the responsibilities undertaken and strife suffered by our forebears in order for us to be able to live the way we do today. We’ve actually done little to earn what we have. We’re just darn lucky we live in the United States.

Our complacency and unwillingness to participate (How many millions don’t vote, and how many more don’t even register to vote?) has allowed opportunists and scoundrels to occupy our seats of government. They have, in turn, allowed others to rise to affluence and power by raping corporate stockholders and employees.

Third, the creation of debt allows those who have no accumulation of money to acquire the material goods they are constantly hounded to buy. (Selling what is bought makes the rich richer.) But debt turns out to be a form of slavery! The worker works to make the employer richer and buys to make the seller richer. Is the worker any richer?

Next, it follows that bigger isn’t better. Leaders of big business become obscenely wealthy because they are so distant from control by virtually powerless stockholders and unionless employees. Their abundance also allows them to buy political influence and hire legal and accounting assistance which are unavailable to most of us. Also, concentration of economic power in just a few companies eliminates competition and choices for us customers. (Whatever happened to the anti-trust division of the Justice Department? Ask Ronald Reagan!)

Right now, one big difference between business here in the States and that in Europe is that there, although they’re lurking and ready to move in, big companies don’t yet monopolize the retail market. No one does. In a small European city, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of small entrepreneurs who sell everything a consumer might want or need. They might not be millionaires, but they obviously earn a livelihood. As an added bonus, they, their employees and customers have the luxury of personal relationships. Which are, as the Master Card ad says, “Priceless!”

Wow! These are just a few of the things that occur to me as I take my daily walk or sit in the driver’s seat of my four-cylinder SUV. (I guess I’m an unpatriot because I do drive a lot of miles, but at least my machine gets 25 to 30 miles to a gallon of that stuff we’re about to kill for.) Anyway, you probably wouldn’t read a piece much longer than this, so I’ll save my other “observations” for an issue. Until then I’m just, A Voice in the Crowd. Jim Spelman

Jim Spelman is a local attorney.

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