When did caring about people become a ‘radical’ political idea?

District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill
District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill

A friend said to me, “I think you’ve been radicalized, is what it is.”

We were talking about how frustrated and angry we are all the time by the state of the country, the state of SLO County and the state of our culture. We were talking about political apathy, the contamination of public discourse, and the corruption of the very meaning of truth and facts, and what a profound luxury it must be to pay attention and not be pissed-off.

We were talking about how believing and acting as if we’re morally obligated to help the least among us is viewed by many today a “radical” life philosophy.

We mused about the fact that when we’re not angry and lashing out, we’re depressed and lashing out at the obscene shift of wealth and comfort toward 20 percent of the population at the expense of everyone else.

We were talking about the cult of selfishness and obsession with status so pervasive no one thinks to question it anymore. To question it is to be labeled a scold or jealous or a loser.

We were talking about how even acts of charity have been undermined by the egos of donors, by people who crave public credit for what used to be private acts of goodwill and conscience. They won’t do what they won’t get credit for, even if doing it is what’s best for those they allegedly want to help.

We were talking about the extinction of the notion of true virtue, of sacrificing for others. We were talking about the decades-long and ongoing divestment in public services meant to help the most vulnerable. In exasperated voices, we talked about how people now openly hate the poor.

Of course, we had to talk, too, about the moral complacency our community, where an active professional class of moneyed interests gather in tuxedos and gowns to toast to the wonderfulness of us, which visitors confirm again and again, without mentioning the jarring racial homogeny or the glaring wealth gap between younger and older generations.

But we also lack political variety as well. Calling attention to the prevailing attitude of haughty self-satisfaction of those untroubled by the suffering that occurs behind every shiny façade gets one labeled a loudmouth, a divider, a traitor to the creators / inheritors / keepers of what matters here.

My friend said, “Keep this up, and you’ll have to learn to enjoy being ostracized.”

We laughed, knowing it’s merely the temporary status conferred upon me by voters that makes me even worthy of personal attack and political shunning.

Being a wage earner who never inherited a dime, I wear that reality on my sleeve as the mark of personal humility and grounding in working-class values.

While I’ve had the privilege of visiting grand homes and private landscapes of breathtaking beauty, I’m always mindful of why I’m there, though, admittedly, I’ve caught myself at times pretending I belonged.

We talked more about subjects no one likes to talk about, like the lottery of birth, the weird defensiveness of wealthy people, the reflexive NIMBYism of elitist liberals, the dearth of undeniably brave activism. We wondered if it’s too late in our greed and ignorance to do more than pipe dream about a truly decent society, one that demands rather than blithely promises that everyone get a real shot at pursuing happiness.

“Everyone is sick of your harangues,” my friend said, and I nodded.

“No, really, they are gonna run you out of office. This place doesn’t tolerate such in-your-face dissent.”

“Even the truth—”

“Especially the truth.”

And so our talking had lapped back around to what it means to be radicalized, a concept our political culture long ago turned into an epithet.

The very notion of living up to our founding spiritual and political ideals, the conviction that we should not give into our basest selves, the belief that we have a moral obligation to raise our voice to fight for those who have no voice at all — these are not radical ideas, but that they have become so, only demonstrates how far we have strayed as Americans from who we once wanted to be.

Adam Hill represents the 3rd District on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.

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