A friend asked me what i thought of Shaw’s line that in a democracy we get the government we deserve. An interesting concept that. But, i think, largely wishful thinking. I’ll digress for a moment on the way to explaining why. This is one of those cases where you have to take the long route to come back a short distance correctly.
I spent a very little time in Mexico many years ago, working with a religious group that built houses for severely impoverished folk in a small town near the US border. The system worked a bit like Habitat for Humanity except that there were church services involved. I was at the time, as now, a stalwart atheist, but it didn’t seem to me worth abandoning the chance to do good work simply because i differed in ideology from those providing the opportunity. Perhaps that was lazy of me. But i have many good memories of the trip, the work, and the people i met there, and there’s a playground, a house, and a foundation built in part by my hands. All in all i count it worthwhile. I tell that to tell this.
One day we were putting up a wall on the house of a woman with several children – all of whom wore immaculate white clothing – clothes much whiter and more neatly kept than those of the mostly rich college students who were building her new home. She fed all twenty of us from her tiny one-room corrugated shack with its particle-board door that hung askew on rope hinges, leaving the carefully swept dirt floor exposed to view. Best meal i’ve ever eaten.
There was a man helping us, who worked with the mission – a Mexican man who spoke no English. He spoke at some length with great intensity. One of the girls translated for me what he struggled to convey. What he said essentially was this: You are good people. America is wealthy and powerful, because its people are so good. You come here to help us, we who are poor. If the people in Mexico were good, like Americans, God would bless us with riches also. But there are many bad people here. Many sinners. So we suffer.
I don’t think poor people are nicer or meaner or kinder or crueler, just because they are poor. I do not believe that man suffered because he or his countrymen sinned. I don’t believe that woman and her children deserved her little shack, nor that i deserved the big pink house i grew up in. I think i have a lot, and they have a little, because of measurable discernible economic, social, and cultural forces. I don’t think the Mexican government or economy is in its current state because the citizens of Mexico haven’t earned better. And if i think that there, i have to think it here in America as well.
(more on this tomorrow. it got long, and i hate to bore.)