Letter: Don’t Be Fooled by Labels
To the Editor:
Steve Nelson is a hard act to follow, but his excellent Dec. 8 column, “Charity Is Not the Same Thing as Justice,” is worth all of us trying to give it some serious thought. The question that is the subtext to his essay (and we would not ourselves change a word of it) is: How did America get itself into the habit of sentimental self-congratulation over what is essentially media-manufactured glorification of publicity stunts that get substituted in the public imagination for serious attempts to deal with social injustices and long-term chronic problems? The habit is deeply ingrained and could not be cured overnight by any example or polemic, but it is necessary to ask ourselves, if we can, where it came from.
One possibility is that our really acute problems have a social dimension that calls for long-range and large-scale attacks of the kind that were characteristic of the New Deal. The description of such solutions will inevitably be denounced as “socialistic” or, the nuclear option, “communistic.” Those who see the accumulation of wealth as the only proper goal for their energies have devoted themselves for more than 100 years to attaching the “socialistic” label to any threatening program they can, whether that label is plausible or not. The use of the term seems to be enough to make much of the population dismiss whatever altruistic initiative might be under consideration (Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, free public education ...); it must be a “socialistic” idea and therefore dangerous.
Until we can free our thoughts from this taboo one way or another, our prospects for getting into a right relation with our social realities don’t seem promising. It is not a decision only a few people can make by themselves. Somehow the populace as a whole has to make up its mind to turn away from the paralyzing cliches that Nelson has so clearly identified. Where do we start?
David and Shirley Montgomery