There is a very straightforward conversation to be had in America right now. I believe that this conversation is taking place all over the world - I have no intention of putting America in the center of this global conversation - but I am speaking about America because that is where I live, that is what I know, and maybe more to the point, I feel like this is where the conversation has gone awry.

It is this: do people have a right to live?

I don’t believe in God, and so I cannot look to an external, objective source for my answer. In some ways, this inhibits me, because there is no ethical or moral tradition of moral absolutes I can draw on. If I am being extremely literal with my answer to the question, then the answer is that no, people do not have a right to live, because there is no such thing as a “right” in any objective, absolute capacity.

This is why we can ask the question at all.

That means we are forced to decide what our priorities are as a civilization. We get to make a choice. In fact, we are forced to, because even neglecting to take a position is a choice and this is the choice that allows us to turn a blind eye to the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and the refugee from violence and terror saying, in effect, that it’s not your place to make a decision.

Which is cowardice. There is no human being alive or dead who has more of a right to decide than you, right now, what your priorities are for the civilization you partake of and contribute to. There is no way out of this decision.

As a civilization and as a nation - since we are forced to make due with nations for the time - do you think that everyone should have a right to medical care, food, shelter, water, education, and from aggression?

Or do you believe we have more pressing priorities and that we should allow people we could save to die?

That’s what it comes to. That’s the first question you need to be able to answer.

I don’t really consider my writing to be polemic. I do consider it to be theory, with a practical bent, in a way. Let me put it this way - I have seen and understand the arguments people make against things like full employment, universal income, or simply making sure everyone, everywhere has food and water.

These arguments make sense. They come from a certain perspective. Some of them are oriented around the idea that poverty is the material sign of a lack of morality, or are rooted in a personal weakness. These arguments are either disingenuous - made by someone who knows that poverty originates systematically - or they’re founded in a misunderstanding of how Western society functions.

Providing you can explain that to someone who holds this opinion, what you will typically end up with is someone who retains their beliefs, but changes why it is they hold them. Exactly why this happens, I don’t know, but very often the holder of this opinion has something at stake in retaining it. Sometimes it’s material - they tangibly benefit from the system as it is. But other times, it’s the result of a deeply sick world view - this is the case when you see very poor rural whites vote against their disinterest. The morality of their suffering is, to them, rooted in the objective, absolute judgement of the divine.

These are very broad strokes, I know.

So when I write that the problem of poverty - which is a lack of good food, water, housing, transportation, power, etc - is systemic, and that system is made by humans, I’m stating that we have the power to change that system if we choose. So the question we have as a society is “what priority do we place on ending this material poverty” and not "can we eliminate this material poverty?”

Since that is our question as a society, we can essentially ask the question, “As a society, will we commit to prioritizing providing all of us the things we need for a happy and healthy life, or do we prioritize something else?”

And if you choose something else, we should admit that this is the choice that announces that we are fine with watching people die in order to make sure that other thing is upheld - and in our society, that other thing is almost always the continued profit of the very wealthiest in our society at the expense of the incredible suffering of the rest of us.


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