October 1, 2013

Humanism

...or the reasons I find the hatefulness of the modern Republican Party so abhorrent

Probably the best way to begin this thesis is to describe the ontological viewpoint known as humanism… or more accurately, secular humanism. This general philosophy represents how I choose to live my life. 

Recognizing that any definition of particular philosophies must be broad and that no definition can be all-inclusive or unilaterally applied, secular humanism generally represents the notion that humans are basically good in nature… and that accepting responsibility for the collective human condition is something individual humans can do, and in my opinion ought to do. 

The humanist accepts that it is a more pleasant world when we lend a helping hand to the disadvantaged and backstop each other in the event of unexpected events. Human efficiency improves when we work together as a team. The more productive members of the team are those who don't have to worry so much about the next meal or what they might do in the event of catastrophic illness.

Humanism is comparable to libertarianism in some ways. Both philosophies stress individual rights and responsibilities ... but unlike libertarianism the classic humanist attempts to be unselfish, focusing on human dignity and trying to understand human failings. When confronted with fraud, duplicity or other aberrant behavior the humanist will more often take a stand for human rights even while disagreeing with individual behavior that can be dealt with within the framework of established law. 

Humanists try to reject fear and chauvinism along with the incumbent hatred and bigotry that seems so prevalent in the fearful. In humanism the greater emphasis is the collective whole, with selfish individualism taking a back seat. 

In general the humanist tends to understand the responsibility humans ought to feel toward other humans and recognize the imperative of nurturing, protecting and caring for the other individuals and the tribe as a whole... when that is possible. 

Humanists generally recognize that as a species we are stronger when we band together to sustain and protect certain weaker or disadvantaged members. It seems apparent that our lives are generally better with the comforting knowledge that our fellow humans are ready and willing to reach out with a helping hand if we find ourselves in need, rather than living with the fear that if the worst should happen we could find ourselves on the street or with hungry children.

Humans are fallible and imperfect and the humanist is no different, but for the most part the humanist knows that turning a blind eye to the disadvantaged or letting any part of the whole suffer means that the specie will experience some degree of failure. The humanist finds this unacceptable. 

The humanist tends to be more accepting of new ideas and unfamiliar concepts, not fearing or hating others simply because they are somehow different. Discovery is important, and in general the humanist tends to look at life more as the journey than the destination.

History has taught us that humans are quite capable of explaining phenomena with rational thought and employing the scientific method, so humanism is skeptical of supernaturalism, avoiding magical or mystical explanations for problems we haven’t yet solved with science. The humanist knows that a natural or physical answer will come in time.

Humanists recognize the existence of certain venues and alternatives that at times and under certain conditions suffice in caring for our disadvantaged members yet remain willing to use all available means... including the fallible systems of state governance... to leverage the greatest effort to sustain our neighbors who might otherwise fall victim to extensive illness, hunger or disability. 

The humanist realizes full well that greedy, lazy and opportunistic people will take advantage of benefits they neither need nor deserve. Because of this the humanist will support rules or laws that prohibit or prosecute such bad behavior… so long as there is assurance that arbitrary or broad brush laws will not allow the truly needy to lose the help intended for them. A humanist would find this accidental denial more offensive than allowing the undeserving to get away with a crime. 

All of the above is simply a preface for a bit of a rant against hateful GOP/tea party tropes on how much welfare, food stamps, and other “entitlements” are sucking from society. In general the humanist doesn’t pay attention to the fear mongering because humanists understand that there are far more truly needy individuals and families depending on these programs than who unjustly take advantage of them, and that the cost is minimal. 

I got started on this line of thought when the following graphic landed in my Facebook feed. 


I'm sure the person posting this simply thought it was funny, but the implication that his tax money goes to welfare and that the people receiving assistance are “lazy bastards” is far from funny. To take an entire segment of American society and arbitrarily accuse them of being lazy and bastards is simply hateful. 

We have all heard the stories of leaches unfairly bleeding the system, but the fact remains that an overwhelming number of those accepting assistance are simply down on their luck. The greatest number are children. The humanist in me cares less about a few leaches bleeding some small amount from my tax dollars than I care about helping the ones in need. 

The notion that tax money is "supporting" anyone seems a bit of an overstatement, since the allowable benefits are so small. I did a little research to see just how much of my tax money actually went to welfare, and what the documented rate of abuse might be. 

The first data I discovered tells us that SNAP fraud is at an all-time low, estimated at just 3% of the total allotment. So the waste and abuse meme is simply a myth. 

Further research provided data on how much of our individual tax bill actually goes to welfare. The amount that SNAP costs when spread over the entire population is only slightly more than the average wage earner spends in a week just for lunch and coffee. 

If you are like me... pretty much just an average working stiff... you probably paid somewhere between 18% and 22% of your 2012 income in federal taxes. For me that was about $1,200. 

Under current law about eight cents of each of my tax dollars is designated to some non-military welfare fund. In other words I contributed just under $100 toward those hated “entitlement” programs. Programs that are helping underprivileged and disadvantaged members of our human tribe… giving them a chance to sustain themselves until they can gain a foothold and start contributing back to the society that gave them a helping hand. 

As I have already admitted, I know there there are leaches sucking the government tit and taking advantage of my small largess, but as a humanist I’d far prefer to see a Cadillac driving slug in Wal-Mart buying cigarettes and potato chips with food stamps than I would see a down on her luck single mother or her child miss a meal and lose the chance to claw her way back to self sufficiency. 

I really wish that otherwise bright people would do a little background checking before posting these hateful memes or making such bigoted statements. It is almost as if they have minds already made and purposely avoid any data that might demonstrate their position flawed. Regrettable, especially when such drivel comes from someone I call friend. 

As a sidebar, for every cent of my taxes (yours too) going to welfare there are about five that go toward supporting us when we get older and retire. Another four cents goes to the Pentagon’s budget. If you want a photo of what your taxes support I can send you one of an old fart in Bermuda shorts, Hawaiian shirt and Panama hat standing in front of a B-1 bomber. That could be you or me if we are fortunate enough to survive that long, and I certainly don't want to see a part of my retirement that I have paid into and supported all these years disappear simply because a few people refuse to check the facts and choose to remain ignorant.

The breakdown for how tax dollars are spent is roughly this: 

  • 24 cents to military, defense and veterans programs
  • 16 cents to Social Security
  • 16 cents to Medicare
  • About 10 cents to interest on the debt
  • About 8 cents to the classic “welfare” programs, including food stamps
  • 6 cents to public health and disease prevention
  • 4 cents for infrastructure, transportation, highways and bridges
  • 3 cents for unemployment assistance and job retraining (the fellow who posted the above graphic should know a little about this part)
  • About 3 cents for education
  • 2 cents for natural resources
  • 2 cents for federal pensions and the general running of government
  • 2 cents to “foreign aid”
  • About a penny for disaster aid
  • About a penny to the court system and federal prisons
  • Less than a penny to commerce and housing
  • Less than a penny to science and research
  • Less than a penny to agriculture 

So instead of chiseling poor people out of the few dollars they get from the social programs, why don’t we chop the eight cents off of the Pentagon’s budget. We ought to be able to accomplish that since we already outspend the next eight big spending countries combined. If we were to slice a third of the defense budget we’d still outspend the next five combined.


The point to all of this is that people aping these hateful memes should pause a bit and check facts before blindly accepting them to be factual. Almost all of these are rooted in bald-faced lies and distortions and are composed by people with fear and hate in their hearts. Almost all of them are forwarded by people who have a belief and do not want that belief challenged... so they don't check them.

If you are so easily manipulated that you don’t mind blindly forwarding hateful lies, you live in a very small world indeed. 

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