“Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey!” (Isaiah 10:1-2)
David Brooks had thought-provoking column in Aug. 30’s New York Times.
He wrote about haimish. Brooks defined it as a Yiddish word “that suggests warmth, domesticity and unpretentious conviviality.” He wrote how haimish seems more present in simpler settings than luxurious ones. He noted that some restaurants and bars have haimish and some do not. Establishments that are not as refined, where service tends to be more informal than formal, where food is more comfort than rarified, tend to have haimish. He observed that sometimes the simpler, less costly choice can lead to more social interaction with other people. People with more money might choose privacy and space, which is alluring, but also diminishes haimish.
As I read it I drifted back to another essay printed in The New York Times a couple of Sundays ago. The Sunday Review (the re-configured, re-named Week in Review) asked several people what they would do if they were President. One person, Michael J. Sandel, a moral philosopher from Harvard and author of Justice What’s the Right Thing to Do? wrote that he would “lead a campaign against the skyboxification of America.” (You can read his short essay by clicking on the link below:)
He wrote, “Not long ago, the ballpark was a place where C.E.O.’s and mailroom clerks sat side by side, and everyone got wet when it rained. Today, most stadiums have corporate skyboxes, which cosset the privileged in air-conditioned suites, far removed from the crowd below.” I loved the metaphor. Prior to skyboxes, the rich and poor mingled together in the stands. They shared a common lot, even for a few hours. Today, skyboxes allow the rich not to have any contact with the poor. They don’t enter by the same gate. They don’t sit together. They don’t eat the same food.
We’re experiencing an overt preference by many of our national leaders to favor the wealthy over the poor. We’re watching policies that continue to exacerbate the widening gap between rich and poor and hearing rhetoric from the media that sometimes blatantly marginalizes the poor. Some say the idea of raising taxes upon those in the very high income brackets is class warfare (Their rhetoric strikes me as class warfare, but then who am I?) And the deafening silence in response to that rhetoric subtly marginalizes them as well.
Sandel wrote briefly in his essay and described more fully in his book that as the disparity in wealth increases in this country, those who reside at the top have the ability to set themselves apart from everyone else. They can live in their own communities, some with private security. They can send their children to private schools. They can afford top-flight medical care.
Returning to the skybox metaphor, the political result means that those who can afford skyboxes have little vested interest in the daily lives of those who sit in the stands. Who cares if the food is terrible? Or more practically, living in a gated community with a private security force, does it matter if we don’t have enough tax revenues to pay for a municipal police force? With children in private school, why should it matter that the public school parents have to do fundraisers to purchase textbooks and art supplies? Being able to afford top-flight health care, does it matter that the costs of our health care corresponds poorly with its outcomes? Why, we can even hire people to fight our wars.
When you think about Jesus, you don’t see him in a skybox (actually he probably couldn’t afford the ballgame anyway). Jesus lived among the people whom he consistently championed. Jesus shared our common lot. Here’s a picture that I took many years ago that says it pretty dramatically.
Makes me wonder then about all these politicians who make it a big point to claim their Christian faith, but won’t advocate for those who are really struggling for their daily bread.
Sure they can say it’s just policy differences. But when they refuse to consider raising taxes any which way, it makes you wonder. Taxes pay for police on the street. Taxes pay for textbooks and art supplies. Taxes pay for people who show up in hospital emergency rooms without health insurance. Taxes paid for the weather predictions that probably saved a lot of lives from Hurricane Irene. Taxes are helping people recover a semblance of their lives from the hurricane’s aftermath.
Not raising taxes will not make the government smaller. Not raising taxes will, however, diminish our common life. We won’t be able to fund the institutions that bind us together as a community. Furthermore, the increasing disparity in wealth will lead to a diminished commitment among those who can most afford paying taxes to support these vital community institutions. I’m not sure which gospel these politicians who flatly oppose taxes are reading.
I liked Brooks’ essay because he made me aware of haimish, something I was only dimly aware. I just wish he went further and didn’t only caution us on how we spend our money (basically, don’t spend it in such a way as to lose haimish). His ending romanticized haimish without acknowledging the harsh reality the increased ability by people to live apart from most of the community will shred the community fabric we truly desire (it’s called haimish).