I'll start this article with two definitions.
"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness - That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men..."
Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence
Society is a group of humans characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals that share a distinctive culture and/or institutions. More broadly, a society is an economic, social and industrial infrastructure, made up of a varied multitude of people... a highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security and a national identity for its members.
We need governments because we live in a society. In America, the people choose other people to exercise power on their behalf. Local council members, mayors, governors, senators, the president, these are all people chosen by members of society to act for them.
That implies that elected officials have a duty to meet the needs of the people who elected them and to be accountable for their actions in the exercise of that duty.
Sarah Palin believes in small government, her ideal economy is one where the big corporations are empowered and their wealth trickles down so everybody benefits. On the social side, it's each man for himself. People should look after themselves and expect no assistance from the government.
People. That's what's it's all about. People means everybody, the whole of society, with their differences, with their diverse needs and beliefs.
It is the role of the government to ensure that society flourishes. In an organized society things like education, health and the welfare of the people have to be taken into account by those in power. It has nothing to do with socialism, as Sarah Palin seems to believe.
In previous posts I looked into prisons and children taken into care. The simple fact that society needs prisons to isolate people from society and social services to step in when families are unable to look after their young indicates that certain things are not being addressed. The first one that spring to mind is education.
The family is the first group to which we all belong. How we interact with the other members of that group will dictate how we find our place in a larger one. Poor education leads to low expectations, lack of opportunities, financial hardship, which in turn lead to loss of self-esteem, which may result in mental health problems, substance abuse, that then lead to poor interpersonal relationships and so on.
How do children from poorly educated families, with all or some of the problems described above, integrate into the larger society? Some will be taken into care and have their problems addressed. Or not. Others will scrape by still within their families, without positive role models, without motivation to pursue an education and lacking the necessary guidance to become part of a larger group. It is a vicious circle. There are generations within the same family that have been through the same rituals.
I'm not saying that poverty leads to a life of crime. But poor education and low expectations certainly are factors to be taken into account. Children with problematic backgrounds are much more likely to have their education disrupted. In care or not, expectations for such children are low. Eventually they grow up and pass on this legacy of low achievement to their own children.
Criminal behaviour could be defined as failing to integrate into society in a healthy way and breaking the rules. Criminals tend not to have high regard for other members of society, feeling that society failed them, so they don't have to follow the rules or give anything to society. Some young people will join gangs in an attempt to feel accepted, validated, safe. They take their revenge on those they believe failed them by breaking the law.
In a civilized society, what's the best way to solve these problems? Would building bigger, more secure prisons help at all? Yes, if the causes of crime are not addressed, in which case future generations would have to make the prisons even bigger and more secure.
The solution lies in building bigger, better schools and community based projects to help break the vicious circle, helping the families that lost their way, educating the parents so they learn to expect more of their children. A strong and healthy society, where people work together, can overcome the social problems that lead to people being left behind, on the sidelines.
Another topic that's been discussed is the situation of rural Alaska and the natives. Their culture and way of life are the elements that give Alaska its unique character and identity. There are many very serious problems, social and economic, being faced by several communities of Alaska Natives. The causes of these problems are the influence and the power of white man.
White people in power have a duty to preserve the integrity and dignity of a part of society that existed in harmony and prosperity long before they were forced to enter this larger community of people whose interests conflict with their own. The needs of Alaska Natives have to be met on their own terms.
Governor Palin, it's time to start investing in people. You cannot say that you were elected to serve the people of Alaska if you don't believe in them.
You cannot turn your attention to the big corporations, fight their battles and advocate their aims in the hope they will address all of society's needs. That's not small government, that's irresponsible government.
You do not have the right to appoint your cronies to positions of power, punish those who criticize you or bribe dissenters with promotions.
You were not elected by the people of your state to further your own interests, those of your church or any other group you happen to favour.
The purpose of government is not to serve a small section of society, hoping that charities will take care of the needs of the rest of the people. The big corporations may create jobs, but people cannot obtain jobs without an education. People cannot hope to have a decent job if their families are desintegrating and their children are passed from pillar to post without having real opportunities.
Communities cannot flourish if their real needs are ignored and the solutions offered to their problems mean the dispersal of the communities they are attempting to preserve.
Failing to respond to a crisis faced by some of your constituents because it's not the government's job to do anything then turning up with an Evangelical circus for a photo opportunity is not governing, Ms Palin. It's cynical self-promotion.
Ignoring the educational and welfare needs of families in the hope that some charities might fill the gap is not governing, Ms Palin. It's relinquishing all responsibilty.
In order to shirk responsibility you equate a goverment concerned with the needs of society as a whole to socialism. No, Ms Palin, it's not socialism. It's understanding the purpose of government, it's recognizing that government exists to meet the needs of all members of society, not just the chosen few.
Small government is a cop-out. In your case, Ms Palin, small goverment is even smaller, it's just a soundbite.
Two articles that provide further background on Sarah Palin's misuse of power can be found here:
Progressive Alaska and Nailin' Palin Now
Previous posts about children, part I and part II ; Alaska Natives. For all posts about Alaska Natives, click here.