For a free society to function in any capacity there has to be transparency of and access to information, as well as a set of rules that are applied equally to everyone. Our society has chosen not to hold those responsible for the financial meltdown accountable. This is destroying our society economically by stopping access to transparent information and is destroying our society socially by not applying the laws equally to everyone. Economists and others can attest to the languishing of our society in this financial quicksand so this commentary focuses on the social side of the scandal.
This blatant and overwhelming example of selective application of the judicial system forces even the most optimistic citizen to recognize that we now live in a society of the few unaccountable privileged and the many to which justice applies. Of course this didn’t happen overnight, but this state of our union has reached a tipping point now. For example, the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s did at least result in an application of the law to put at least 800 white collar criminals in prison. In just a couple of decades we can certainly detect a significant increase in the protection of the privileged class from the justice system. At this point it is difficult to imagine a scenario under which a group of persons within this class would be held accountable by the law. The justice system no longer applies to the few unaccountable privileged in our society.
The social destruction that this is causing to our society is one of despair. When people feel like the societal structure is unjust, unfair or “rigged”, they lose respect for it, withdraw from participating in it and simply don’t care about their communities or others. Once it becomes clear that we do not live in a free society of opportunity, but instead, one in which the privileged elite decide the rules to the game and to whom those rules apply, citizens do not have any reason to hold onto hope.
Just recently (in the context of human history) humanity challenged corrupt authority and introduced the concept of respect for the individual. From this was born the societal constructs of a republic and a democracy with unprecedented economic and social equality and mobility. We are the descendents of these great innovators and can choose to allow this to go down in history as a failed experiment in human society or we can choose to continue its existence with necessary structural adjustments.
Although our society has been hijacked by these few privileged elite, we do still have individual rights and with those historically-important responsibilities. Let’s be clear that the status quo is not an option. We didn’t get where we are today because we have always been like this. Our selective application of the judicial system and resulting immunity of the privileged class from justice has been a path our society has been following for decades. We can either continue along the current path or we can change course. Our society will not stay the way it is today.
Our political system is structured in such a way as to include money and influence as vital and integral components of the process. Any elected official on local or national levels is required to accept money to pay for activities that will get him/her elected. Anyone who has observed human nature knows that when a person receives money from another, they are beholden to that person. Not only does the person receiving feel an obligation, but the person giving has an expectation. With this indebtedness component built into the structure, how can we expect the political process to be anything other than skewed towards the interests of those with money? Why is money and influence built into the system to begin with? The structure of the political system is flawed and therefore, all decisions and actions resulting from that system are flawed. We have a duty and responsibility to change this structural flaw in our political system to avoid the disappearance altogether of our rare and historic free society.
Opinions by Shelly Bernal