I do philosophy. By philosophy, I mean thinking about the meaningfulness of the relationship of the things in this world. It is a very important thing to do, and we all do it to a greater or lesser extent. We all think about what it is that makes our lives meaningful. We all want to make the world a better place, and we all want to do the right thing. Granted we all have to provide for ourselves and our families, and we all want to enjoy our lives. Yet we are all very serious about wanting our lives to mean something. We pray. We read about various civic and political events. We consider politics, and we vote. In all of that, we are doing philosophy. We are thinking about the meaningfulness of our relation to the people and things of our world.

Lately, however, I have discerned a certain avoidance of, and even hostility to, that kind of thinking. Instead of honest discourse and give-and-take discussion, our conversations on the issues of the day have become shouting matches, or, likely much worse, complete silence. For instance, I was talking to a neighbor of mine who had made it clear that his view of things was decidedly right-wing. Another, like-minded neighbor, came along, and the first man said to the second, “Don’t talk politics with him. He is a liberal.” I probably laughed at the comment, but I cringe now thinking about it. That is, in fact, the case. We simply do not discuss the issues of the day with those we meet. We take our positions, however we arrive at them, and then we build walls around them to prevent any challenge.

This disease of the avoidance of thought seems to have become standard practice among our politicians. Recently, presumed presidential candidate Scott Walker took a trip to Israel. We have no information about that trip other than that he was there for a few days and apparently got a guided tour of Jerusalem. He returned from that trip and announced that, apparently as the result of his guided tour, he had developed an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. He was actually questioned about the problem, and he actually spoke about the problem, and someone actually wrote down what he was saying and published it in a newspaper. Where he got these opinions, I have no idea. However, I have been to Israel, and I have talked with many people at length about the problems facing Israel and the Palestinians. I think I am beginning to understand that complex and centuries-old struggle. The only one thing I am absolutely sure of is that a tour of Jerusalem is not sufficient to qualify me as an expert on the subject.

That, however, seems to be the state of things today. If you are a public official, you do not think about the subject at hand. In fact, you avoid thinking at all costs. Instead, you check with your party boss or your campaign director. You identify the party message. Then you sing that message at the top of your voice, and, if you speak at all about opposing views, you ridicule.

We are in trouble, big trouble. Our physical and political infrastructure is crumbling, and we are creating ever widening gaps in the various sectors of our country. Bigotry — racial, religious, political, financial — is becoming the order of the day. I put it all to a refusal to think, to a ban on thinking, to the mindless building of barricades against any sector of the country opposed to our own. We need to think. Most of all, we need to listen, really listen, and try to understand opposing views. If we do not think, if we do not listen, we will face the alternative. The opposite of thinking is not ignorance. The opposite of thinking is violence. We all deserve better than that.


My father was a self-employed lawyer. As such, he had to pay his taxes on a quarterly basis. So, every three months, he would take us children with him to the mailbox, and, as he put his check in the mailbox, he would say, “Remember that it is not just a duty but a privilege to pay the taxes that help run this country.” The mailbox was across the street from a public school located in a public park that had a public swimming pool and, in the winter, a public toboggan slide. The message was clear to all of us, and it has stuck with me all of my life that I am privileged to make enough money to be able to contribute, at least through my taxes, to the welfare of my community.
We are, today, faced with a massive reduction in services. Our roads are a mess. Funding is being slashed for schools from kindergarten to university. Public officials are being laid off or are seeing their net wages severely reduced. Health care is being cut. Environmental protection is being cut. Assistance to family farmers is being cut. There is not an area of community benefits that is not being signficantly affected by funding cuts. And, on top of all that, my state government is threatened with multi-billion dollar deficits that augur still more drastic cuts in the future.
Why? One simple answer: tax cuts. It has become fashionable, and in some circles absolutely mandatory, to provide tax cuts, particularly for those in higher tax brackets. The reason, we are told, is that these are the “job creators,” and the reductions we make in their tax bills will redound to the whole community in the form of jobs. It is an interesting and appealing argument, except for one thing: it doesn’t work. We have, in the years following the Great Bush Recession, watched what everyone acknowledges is a jobless recovery. The unemployment rate has gone down, but it has done so by people taking two and three and even four jobs, all for less pay and fewer benefits. The “job creators”, whatever else they may be doing, are not creating jobs. Meanwhile governments follow a pattern of limiting worker’s rights, reducing their own employees’ pay and benefits, and cutting community services to the bone and beyond.
We really need to return to a notion that was once a keystone for our communities. We are a community, and being a community requires us to provide communal benefits — good schools, good roads, good services and good pay. All those things cost money, and we owe it to ourselves as a community to pay for those things. It costs money to belong to a community, and we owe it to the community to pay our fair share. The only way we can do that is to set taxes at a level sufficient to pay for those benefits. Since we are clearly not doing that now, we need to raise our tax levels to make sure we can.
Granted, it is important that we make sure that the money given to public officials to provide those services is not squandered. We need to make sure that there are no thousand dollar toilet seats and five hundred dollar hammers. My miniscule experience with legislators in my state is that our legislators are good, honest people who are being as careful as they can about spending, and I am confident that the press is doing its best to be a watchdog over the conduct of government. It makes no sense, though, to throw the baby out with the bath, to restrict and eliminate essential community services in the name of economy. The word “economy” comes from a Greek word meaning household. It makes no sense to let your house fall down around you in the name of frugality. It equally makes no sense to strip government at every level of essential services in the name of saving money.
We want a good municipal, county, state and federal community. That costs money, and we all owe it. It’s time for us, for all of us, to return to the privilege of paying our fair share in taxes.