Welcome to Alternative Ideas...

Providing a platform for new and different voices...

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marriage Equality, The Same as any Equality?

I find this debate over same sex marriage incredible.  That is, that at this point in America's existence - and after all the social struggles we've been through - that we are even having this debate.  Just step back for one second from emotions and the flood of positioned journalism, and you will quickly see the problems with the existence of even having this debate.

If, as a logical foundation, you take each individual person and view them as their own personal and legal entity - which I believe is safe to say we as a country do - then each individual is one person, one human being, one legal entity.  Each one with rights, civil liberties, goals, dreams, aspirations, etc.  With this concept of a person in mind, we should theoretically all be treated in a way that allows us as individuals to interact, communicate, and enter into contracts and such with each other equally, and where one or another person should not be disallowed entrance into any type of interpersonal or legal engagement for whatever reason.

Yes, our laws create limitations to equality of entry on some issues.  But these issues are mostly based on economic grounds both stemming from a capitalist based social system and the creation, usage, and control of money (which is an inherent exclusionary barrier for those without it).  This barrier is however exclusionary in many ways both for haves and have-nots - especially if you look at money in a "value neutral" way.  Everyone can't apply for social services, everyone isn't taxed the same, everyone doesn't use state services like roads and police the same, just as those with money can buy, go places, and do things those without can not.  But capitalism and economics is a different story.  The point of this debate on marriage inequality is along the lines of race, sex, and creed - things the constitution and laws of the United States says we can not discriminate against.

I can not tell you that you can not do something simply because you are a woman, or black, or Asian, or whatever (though unfortunately people still try).  This issue with the marriage equality debate, and what makes it so absurd, is that to be against this type of equality is to try to say that you as a woman can not pick who you want to marry (or get benefits within a marriage) based solely on the sex of that person you marry.  Those against the allowance of marriage equality says that if I as a man marry a woman, not only am I allowed to do this, but I am entitled to certain things, certain legal benefits.  However, they then say that if I marry a man, then I am not entitled to these same benefits.

That inherently states through its inherent and unavoidable action and outcome that men and woman are NOT equal, or at least not legally of equal standing in United States based SOLELY on their gender and relationship to other genders.  The fundamental problem though is that if this were correct, does it not directly juxtapose a United States constitution that states that "all men [and presumably women] are created equal"?  By telling me that I can or can not marry another person based on no other reason than their gender, you are telling me that the sexes are not equal.  But while many people, including myself, may feel that a gross injustice of inequality exists between men and women in this country, especially in terms of outcomes, historical standing, current day power relationships, is it a fundamental and core value of the the United States that men and woman are NOT equal in one-to-one human terms?  Are not capable of entering freely into social and legal engagements with one an other?  Almost everything/one (including morals, ethics, and everything in between) tells us that this unequal stance is not only the wrong way for our country to proceed, but all together wrong on a basic human level of existence.

Marriage Equality is not a gay or straight issue, a sexual preference or what someone's kids call them issue, and it is most definitely not a "states rights" issue, it is a gender equity issue.  That every human being - no matter their gender - is of equal personal and legal standing to the next person and is legally allowed to interact with everyone in the exact same manner.  Of course, this gets tricky though in some senses.  Because I have NO idea what we're going to do moving forward.  God help us once corporations start trying to get married!!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Back Door

I want to take a moment to examine the idea and conceptualization of the service entrance, the servant, and the segregating of social classes/places/people, etc.  In my recent work as a "delivery boy" for an upscale supermarket, I deliver food throughout Manhattan's midtown and upper east/west sides.  I spend my time going in and out of the buildings "service entrance", and entering apartments many times - especially in the older buildings - literally through the back door.  I have also been reading the People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and the two of them have gotten me thinking about the history of segregating out "servants", and the way that America has both reinvigorated and fostered over hundreds of years a class based society where the rich or "better off" do not have to see or come in contact with those they either see or place as their "inferiors".

Yes, I use this word "inferior" because as per my observations, this is the design of the concept of service entrances.  There are generally as I see it three uses of the service entrance/elevators.  One is construction, the hauling of materials, dirty men, and tools up to a construction site.  Two is moving/shipping and receiving in which people need a larger elevator or don't want giant sofa sets or bed frames to scratch up the main elevators.  Third is the day to day use for deliveries.  Pizza, groceries, whatever. 

All of these buildings that I am delivering to above five floors have both main elevators and service elevators, and NYC and the area I'm delivering in specifically has hundreds of these buildings.  They most all have doormen and elaborate teams of workmen (yes, almost always men) that run these buildings.  Sometimes this means over one hundred workers for one building.  There is a front entrance where the residents and their guests enter, where the doormen cater and fawn over any request (lest they not receive their Christmas tip money).  There is then a person at the service entrance checking people in and sending them on their way - with much less fan fair or niceties I assure you.  Some buildings let you come in the main entrance now and again, after hours, etc, and show much more openness with it.  Others are down right contemptuous about it.  Not to mention some tenants.  I was told two days ago by a doorman that he doesn't like one tenant because the tenant said to him "what are you doing in this elevator? You can't be in here."  The guy works there, sorts his mail, delivers the food he eats.

This attitude is certainly prevalent in many of these buildings.   And when I say these buildings, some of these buildings - especially those overlooking Central Park are incredible.  I was told by one elevator operator (yes, one person who's job it is to sit in the elevator all day and make sure the servants get where they are supposed to get to without getting into mischief , that not one person in the building had a net worth of less than one hundred million dollars - 15 Central Park West.  Amazing.  

Anyway, the real point that I would love to examine here is the construction of and the concept of a servant, and thus the segregation of servants from their "masters".  Why is it that the wealthy do not see it fit to co-mingle with their "inferior" servants?  It takes me back to the people's history, of the slaves, indentured servants, woman, and "Indians", upon who's backs this country was founded and developed upon.  For time immemorial these groups - all historically inclusive within the lower classes - have been entering through the back door.

What does this do to a society and to people?  Now I understand that there was certainly a history of cleanliness and such going back centuries, but in current day sanitary conditions we are all human beings carrying no more disease than the next person.  Yet still there is a purposefully constructed barrier between the classes in their residences.  Why is it that the servants are not treated as equals?  Why are they not allowed to use the same entrances and same elevators and same doors as everyone else?  Would the lobby become over crowded?  Would the people in these buildings be forced to address and see the lives servants lead, the people doing their work for them?  

To many people in these buildings, their goods and groceries seem to just appear.  They go shop, and then get home later and there are their groceries in the kitchen.  They don't care to know about the low income delivery person that carried all eight bags of their stuff through the alley and down the steps in the basement at the back of the building, tried to open the double security doors while hold the groceries, using their head when necessary, then struggled throughout the maze of the basement to find which elevator is that person's - while being monitored the whole time.  Up the elevator, with a guy to watch even as you knock on the back door service entrance to an apartment that covers an entire floor of a building over looking Central park.  The maid, or nanny, or housekeeper, accepts the groceries (and servants never really give a tip).  Then the meager delivery servant is sent upon his or her way.  shoo shoo...  Poof!!!  Your groceries are in your kitchen!!  Rich people (most anyone that lives in this area of Manhattan it seems to me really, and by global measure as well), don't want to know or see these people.  

Yes, there are average people, with single apartments that accept their own groceries and do give you a couple dollars, but the process in the building is the same.  You are subservient, beneath the residents.  You will enter through the back, be monitored, leave the things and go.  My real question and interest with this though is what has this created in terms of the separations of people and classes in a society, and in the creation of class based frames of reference and the construction of a view of the self.  For rich people to never see their servants means that they will never understand or see their lives.  That these people are regular, normal and intelligent people simply struggling to make their way in a world that has not been as kind to them as their masters.  That these are a group of people that have been institutionally suppressed and been made to either feel or see themselves as inferior.

With every building built, and every policy put in place that requires this continued segregation of the classes and people, our society perpetuates the concept of an underclass and an upperclass; that some people are beneath others.  Rather than creating a society based on equality and human dignity, we structurally induce hierarchical social arrangements and ignorance of other people and their lifestyles.  Not sure what kind of a melting pot that is.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Political Profit

In filling out paperwork to register a non-profit company here in the US I have come cross what I see as a substantial problem with the legal structure of the American political landscape.  Of course the ability of corporations to act politically in much the same ways as people is an obvious one, but within the same spectrum, the inability of non-profits to engage politically is equally troubling.  The laws on this vary by state, but to incorporate as a standard 501(c)3 non-profit you must state that your company:
will not engage in prohibited political and legislative activity under 501(c)(3):
No substantial part of the activities of the corporation shall be the carrying on of propaganda, or otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and the corporation shall not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distribution of statements) any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Notwithstanding any other provision of these articles, this corporation shall not, except to an insubstantial degree, engage in any activities or exercise any powers that are not in furtherance of the purposes of this corporation.
So a regular for-profit company can engage and influence politics all it wants, but a non-profit can not?  Is the profit motivation a necessary precursor for inclusion into today's public political sphere just as being white and male once was?   Now, I understand that many would say that there are conflict of interest issues here.  It could be said that allowing non-profit's - with their tax exempt status and a good deal of their funding usually coming from US government sources - political influence could be seen as "having their hand in the cookie jar".  Yes, of course it could be said that non-profits have every interest in influencing the political realm for their own benefit and that government money could then be circling back to influence the government itself.  Of course there is area for conflict and abuse here.  As we've seen of late, government cuts are defunding and destroying many programs that non-profit organizations live off of.  As a result of these cuts, they are hemorrhaging jobs, services, and capacity more and more every year.  Yet still, in the face of this onslaught, they have no specific capacity to lobby or influence the political process to stop this bloodletting and to be able to maintain their businesses and services.

Still, this voice is now doubly important.  It is these non-profits that are best positioned to pick up this slack and maintain innumerable services, once rendered for public good, as these government cuts and the rush to privatize disproportionately affects many already marginalized communities.  However, without any dedicated political voice in how or when these decisions are made these processes and our legislative apparatus favor those with exponentially more political influence, for-profit companies with the money to lobby for their interests.  The problem is that for-profit companies generally only get involved if they can make money.  Yet how much money can be made providing assistance to the poor, or meals on wheels to the elderly without money to pay for the services?  None really, that is, unless there is money or grants coming from the government.  Without a voice to be heard, the money and these services are more and more readily falling into the hands of for-profit companies (with their outsized voice) as opposed to those looking out for the public good.

The point here is that non-profits rely heavily on the political apparatus for survival, yet they have no ability to advocate for what they want or need.  This on the other hand, is exactly the opposite with for-profit companies.  They have both an incredible amount of political power and a tremendous conflict of interest.  This as well has recently been exacerbated by the Citizen's United decision that corporations are now considered "people" and allows them to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.  These contributions continually garner corporations increased government subsidies on corn-based ethanol production and defense or pharmaceutical research, tax breaks/deductions/loopholes that in many cases result in net refunds for companies, and less and less regulations that "hamper" their business endeavors (even if they "serve the common good").  For-profit corporations push for road construction, policing, and patenting that benefits their own interests, they lobby for the use eminent domain to take private property for their own interests, and they help create labor laws that benefit their profits and own interests first and foremost above those of their workers.  The fact of the matter is that for-profit companies are just as largely funded and indebted to the Government as non-profits are.  Yet all companies do not get an equal say in their own economic climates or governance.  A not-for-profit company is still a company, still an economic engine, does it not deserve the same amount of power for political engagement?

One would think so.  But this however, illuminates the actual problem: that corporations in general have such an outsized influence over our political lives.  If we do live in a democracy - which is said to be "rule by the people" - then companies should not have influence in the political realm.  This sphere should be left to individuals, even if those individual are members of corporations who - in acting on behalf of their own economic interests - end up vicariously stumping for corporate interests.  This would still be an individual human interest, not a direct corporate one.  The problem though, is that we do not live in the democracy we'd like to think we do.  It should be simple, if a company is made up of individuals that have the right to vote, why then must a company have another say?  This could very easily be seen as allowing one person two ways to influence the government - both as a person and through a corporation.  This would of course be exclusionary though as most people do not have the clout, power, or resources to either influence politics on their own, let alone steer a company towards political influence via lobbying or through financial donations.

This power then becomes doubly worrisome if only for-profit companies having powers such as this as it innately puts companies with one type of interest - that of individualized profit maximization - as more important than another.  Thus, creating an inherent monopoly of political influence that minimizes what could prospectively be competing political voices such as those of community, family, environment, etc, that do not have personhood status or the capacity - either through legal or financial means - to influence political decision making or via for a person's vote.  Our laws thus inherently say that if you are motivated solely by individualized personal/corporate profit you can influence the (public) government, but if you are motivated by addressing things for the public, the good of the people on a whole, or the world we live in you may not.

It would seem doubly to me, that if one type of company is going to have a voice in our political sphere that all companies should have an equal say in any government that effects them.  If democracy will be circumvented by corporations, let them circumvent it equally.  This is of course only until we live in the true democracy that many of us aspire to.  Yes, the democracy "by the people and for the people" that we like to claim we live in, but don't.  Within the illusive true democracy of our dreams, I think it goes without saying that no corporation should be seen as a person - no matter whether they chase profit or the common good.  No corporation should be allowed to engaging in or propagandize within the political sphere.  Yes, this may open itself to numerous questions of structure ranging from how to manage "the media", to how industry would speak to power and allow for a prosperous business climate.  But I would rather see these debates transpire democratically through the people.  Throughout a democratic process that does not monopolize the voices of power in the hands of for-profit corporate interests.  Allow the people's voices to be heard, even if it has to start through diversifying the corporate megaphone to include non-profit organizations who's mandate rests in the interests of the common good.

Business - let alone for-profit business - is no more important than any other component of our society.  No more than a mother, a family, a community, the environment, the common good, me, or you.  Yet companies' voices disproportionately overshadow all other voices in our political sphere.  We must allow other interests to enter into the fray, allow our communities and individuals the ability to compete on an equal playing field with the financial goliaths barricaded within their glass castles.  People over profits, business as a part of communities, and one person, one vote.