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Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy Criticism Day

It’s that time of year again.  The time where we’re supposed to list all of the things we’re thankful for.  But like most expressions of gladness, I have a bone to pick with that word ‘thankful.’  You see, it’s hard to use the word ‘thankful’ without accidentally insinuating that there’s some kind of person-like being towards which you are expressing your thanks.  And that’s the last thing I want to insinuate on this blog.

But not believing in any kind of divine whoyamajigger is not the only reason I dislike the idea behind Thanksgiving.   There are a couple of other qualms I have regarding this season.  For starters, the idea of expressing thanks for something I worked hard to get, even if those who paid me are still around to thank, irks me.  I’m sick of people expressing thanks for their house when they’re the ones who paid for it.  I’m sick of people expressing thanks for their job when they’re perfectly qualified.  If it’s genuine charity, then sure.  But even many charity-looking things aren’t really all that charitable.

Take scholarships for example.  As a student, I know many people who have expressed thanks for their scholarships or financial aid.  But when you get right down to it, a lot of that money is more of an investment than a charity.  Especially the merit-based scholarships.  Am I glad that I had financial aid to get me through my undergraduate degree?  Sure.  But do I feel the need to thank my school for providing it?  Not really.  This isn’t about taking things for granted.  It’s about realizing that my school’s financial aid was in large part an investment.  If the school didn’t provide such aid, it would not have a sufficiently large body of alumni to carry its endowment into the future.  I probably will end up donating to that school.  And not as thanks, but as a means of passing the benefits forward.  And even if I don’t, the school can still ride whatever reputation I develop and use it for its advertising purposes.  But I it’s important to realize that the school’s financial aid wasn’t some kind of charity.  It was a very necessary act on the part of the school.  It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.  And signaling aside, I find no motivation to thank someone for entering into a mutually beneficial arrangement.

(Aside:  The reason I think this is so important is because we have so many people dismissing any kind of financial assistance as charity.  Taxing the rich to help educate the poor should not be seen as some Robin Hood styled thievery, but as a mutually beneficial arrangement that helps American corporations train and care for a qualified labor force.  Similar arguments can be made for other mildly ‘socialist’ programs.)

The other reason I dislike Thanksgiving is because I am, generally speaking, anti-optimistic.  This is not to say that I am pessimistic.  If anything, I’d consider myself a realist.  But if I had to choose between being over-satisfied with my lot and being under-satisfied with my lot, I would rather be under-satisfied.  This is because I want to improve things, and improvement doesn’t happen when you focus on how great something is.  I don’t like the idea of finding the silver lining because it teaches us to be satisfied with not fixing the rest.  And when you get right down to it, I’d rather be a miserable person who helps right the wrongs than a blissful person who ignores them.

So in stark contrast to tradition, I am not going to list a bunch of things that I am thankful for.  Nor will I even list a bunch of things that I am glad about.  Instead, I am going to list ten things that need improvement.  That way, we might actually be able to get some fixing done.

Social Mobility: Until we have a system where everyone’s income is actually linked to their merits, I don’t want to hear any more “Get a job” or “Get educated” excuses.  The first step here is per-capita funding for public schools, with ADA/Special Education requirements funded separately.

Separation of Money and Power: A political system where your money counts more than your vote is what we call corrupted.  Overturn Citizens United, place term limits on senators and congressmen, and link the pay of civil congress, supreme court justices, and the president to the minimum wage.

Due Process: We need to find some way of actually preventing Congress from legislating their way around due process.  We need to find some way of actually preventing the executive branch from violating due process by shouting “terrorist.”  And we need to find some way to stop such violations before they occur.

Blind Assessments: Don’t give me affirmative action.  Don’t tell me you’re going to consciously account for it.  Remove the bias in the only way that has been scientifically demonstrated to actually work; by removing the information it’s based on.  We’ve got finance-blind admissions.  Give me race-blind, sex-blind admissions.  Give me race-blind, sex-blind scholarships.  If you want to help people overcome previous discrimination, then ask them to write an essay about how discrimination hurt their education, and assess these essays in a race-blind, sex-blind manner.  That way, you can link your aid to actual discrimination, and you can continue to do so even as anti-discrimination progress is made.  Note: The same goes for insurance.  No more auto insurance companies charging men more.  No more health insurance companies charging women more.

Make Adults Actual Adults: Don’t tell me that some adults can be drafted, but can’t drink alcohol.  Don’t tell me that some adults can be drafted, but can’t run for president.  Give me one adult age, and remove the other age restrictions.

No Taxation Without Representation:  Give DC more federal representation.  Either let convicted felons vote, or stop taxing them.

End Unpaid Labor: Stop allowing unpaid internships.  At least pay these students the minimum wage.  This goes for governmental, academic, and private internships.  If a student is doing research credit at a university, the university should pay the student for those credit-hours, not the other way around.  In a similar vein, do a better job of enforcing overtime rules and closing loopholes.  I can’t count the number of students I know who are required to lie about their hours worked so they can be paid less.

Socialize Healthcare Payment:  Note that I am calling for socialized payment, not socialized decisions.  I don’t want the government saying what operations you need.  I do want them paying for the operations your doctors say you need.  Everyone keeps telling me people don’t have any right to healthcare, but many of those same people will say that I have a right to life.  Guess what?  In my case, no healthcare means no life.  If you want to actually protect people’s right to life, instead of just paying it lip service, you have to give them healthcare.  In a similar vein, don’t allow politicians to access different publicly-funded healthcare plans.  They get the same insurance we do.

Remove Religious Bonuses: Stop granting tax-exempt status to churches that don’t meet the standards laid out for non-religious organizations.  Stop giving the children of Quakers instant access to conscientious objector status while making it virtually impossible for a non-religious individual to gain that same status. I am not trying to do away with religious freedom here.  I’m trying to do away with favoring religious people when it comes to handing out freedoms.

Secularize our Government: Remove religious speech from our courthouses, money, pledge, and anthem.  DO NOT PROMOTE ATHEISM.  DO NOT PROMOTE THEISM EITHER.  Maintain a stance of neutrality or nothing-to-say when it comes to religion.  Along similar lines, stop giving soldiers grief for being atheists, and do not punish them (overtly or subtly) for refusing to attend religious services.

Happy Criticism Day!

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