by Jack Bragen
People have a tendency to ignore the things that are the most obvious. A stimulus which is prevalent and constant is usually tuned out by the human nervous system. If someone lives in a house next to railroad tracks, and there is a noisy train that passes by every night at the same time, that person will learn to sleep through the noise without even noticing it. They say that the people who work at sewage treatment plants stop noticing the smell after working there awhile.
These examples are for the purpose of illustrating my next point. Our society is saturated with punishment. This fact is something we might not notice in our daily existence. In the present day, more incarceration facilities have been built in America than ever before.
It has become much easier to be locked up for violations of laws that often seem arbitrary and perhaps senseless. Large segments of our population are routinely incarcerated, in some cases with life sentences, due to the three strikes law in California and in many other states.
Two examples of this overuse of incarceration are people locked up for possession of marijuana, and those locked up with infractions that are incidental to having a mental illness.
Because of how easily someone can be locked up in prison for years at a time, in conditions that most people would consider horrible and inhumane, you could believe that we are in another period of Dark Ages.
Two additional supports for the Dark Ages comparison are the classism and the inequality of wealth that exist today. There isn’t much of a ladder for the poor to lift themselves to prosperity and better conditions. There is less of a socioeconomic ladder than there was ten, twenty or thirty years ago.
Especially in the last ten years, we no longer have heard stories about people going from rags to riches. The pinholes in the dam seemingly have been sealed shut, and few lower income individuals can squeeze through. Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and J.K. Rowling are extremely rare exceptions, and those in charge of the monopoly board have made sure those successes aren’t often emulated.
Technology has made many people’s living conditions materially better than they have been in any previous time period, regardless of complaints about inequality. The Internet, in one fell swoop, has given a richness to the lives of perhaps billions of people, without the requirement of a Robin Hood stealing from the rich. The modern definition of poverty might have been considered an acceptable living situation a few hundred years ago. Additionally, the human species has become less ignorant.
There no longer exists an excuse for political leaders and for the wealthy people who influence them to allow the widespread poverty, hunger, disease, violence and incarceration that continue to mar the lives of a very large segment of the population of our planet.
Even though in many cases the awful conditions are relative, the fact that, because of technological advances, we could be doing much better for all people, bespeaks a horrendous injustice. The starvation, violence and disease that continue to exist in many places would not exist today if the people who hoard most of the wealth cared about helping their fellow human beings.
The disease that is the most prevalent, affecting more than half of the world’s population, affecting many financially rich people as well as many poor, a disease for which we haven’t found the cure: Human ignorance.