Chelsea Green Publishing

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E Pluribus Unum or Social Darwinism?

This past weekend, hundreds and hundreds of Vermonters responded to the governor’s call to help clean up the debris left behind by the onslaught of tropical storm Irene. We may never get the exact count–it doesn’t matter. What we got was another affirmation of the Vermont sense of community. Ever since the rivers overflowed their banks many Vermonters brimmed over with empathy for their neighbors, and often, for complete strangers. Why did they leave their own comfort zone to comfort others? And why does this generous spirit seem to only surface in our small state, when the country at large is in need of a similar sense of neighborliness? Is it because we are a small state where a lot of people know one another; is it because we can see the devastation with our own eyes, and do not rely on anonymous photographs and statistics that are scrubbed of all emotion? Or is it, as we may be tempted to conclude, that we in Vermont are simply better than those in other far flung states? I doubt that we’re that much better. We’re all, basically made of the same stuff: generosity and selfishness, goodness and greed. If we believe that the human condition is not that different from one place to another, how can we accept or explain the recent agenda in the Congress–to cut winter fuel subsidies, to chip away at the Medicare and Medicaid, to cut food programs, at a time when the coming winter will again be cold, people will continue to get sick, and a shameful percentage of Americans–especially children—have to go to bed with gnawing tummies. Why can’t that sense of neighborliness, which works locally, work nationally? In theory, it should. The great seal of the United States of America has spelled out the Latin words, E pluribus Unum, since it was adopted in 1782. Out of many one. The state of Vermont’s seal is similar. “Freedom and Unity.” Unity is our local and national theme. Whatever conditions confront us–good times or bad–the message is, we are in this together. For better or worse, we stand side by side. In Vermont we’ve had the opportunity to translate those words into action. In Washington, the translation of E Pluribus Unum has been lost. The belief that we are one nation–united in purpose–caring about and for one another is no longer the practice. The budget battles reveal that the new motto is: Each man and woman for him or herself has become a form of social Darwinism–survival of the fittest and forget everybody else. Providing help to those who need it is a sign of weakness, not strength. Why did programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and unemployment insurance exist in the first place? It was not because we were a rich nation; it was because we were a caring nation. We knew how to walk in someone else’s shoes and could feel where they pinched. It is time to resurrect that sense of neighborliness on a national scale, so that E Pluribus Unum gains meaning once again.
pearls Madeleine M. Kunin is the author of Pearls, Politics and Power.


Pushing Forward With Paid Leave, Workplace Flexibility for All

“Five of us were meeting for lunch and reminiscing about the women’s movement. ‘I was never one of those angry women,’ one said. ‘I’m still angry,’ I blurted. My reaction surprised both me and my friends. Where did that come from? A source I hadn’t tapped before. Upon reflection, I realized that I’m not angry […] Read More..

The Business Case for Workplace Flexibility: How Employers and Employees Can “Have it All”

“Job Killer.” Those are the two words you are most likely to hear uttered by most American CEOs when confronted with proposals to enact family-friendly work policies. This was true in the battles for earned sick days, paid maternity leave, increases in the minimum wage, and even workplace flexibility. Sure, there are exceptions. In fact, […] Read More..

A Cathedral to Democracy

The Strafford Town House is commanding. It is easily mistaken for a church because of the  white spire that reaches for the sky.  Set up on a steep hill; the giant structure forces you to look up to it, from the more fittingly modest village common. Now boasting a population of 1,045, what were the […] Read More..

Spring Has Returned to Vermont

Who could have thought that May would bring us so many hues of green? We feel refreshed just by slowly gazing at the trees in all their newborn shades. For a brief period, our thoughts can turn away from the bold black headlines of the daily news, and our ears can silence the angry voices […] Read More..

Why Girls Should Create Video Games

Why are video games so violent? The ones I’ve seen remind me of the 4th of July, with everything exploding, buildings, cars, airplanes, men and women. Kill, kill, and kill for sport and entertainment. Video games seem to be mostly a boy thing — viewed by young boys and created by big boys. I believe […] Read More..