A Town In Need of a Public Library

by on October 10, 2019 · 11 comments

in Education, Ocean Beach

Van Buren County Public Library in Clinton, Arkansas.

By Joni Halpern

Dear Ohio,

There is a little town about 772 miles from the southern border of Ohio. The people there have been poisoned, and I am writing to warn that the poison has spread. You must take precautions. It can be fatal.

In Clinton, Arkansas, a rural community of about 2,500, in which almost one-fourth of the residents live below the poverty line, the majority of voters have become blind to the economic, social, civic, or spiritual sense of spending taxpayer money on endeavors that help their fellow human beings.

The people of Clinton don’t want a public library.  It’s a waste of money.  They don’t want government services even for the very poor.  They don’t want taxes.  They don’t want government spending.  They just want people to fend for themselves, and that means every man, woman and child.

To the people of Clinton, the prescription for managing life’s complications, or in the nation as a whole, is for each person to shutter the windows, lock the doors, and hunker down.  “Community,” even in that tiny town, no longer exists.  Clintonians might as well be living in Los Angeles, where the small towns of the post-World War II era were long ago transformed into a series of exits along an endless labyrinth of freeways.

Clinton is not alone in its thinking.

All over the country, rural America finally has become what it hates.  It has become the champion of the survival-of-the-fittest, every-person-for-himself, devil-take-the-hindmost values once associated with the darkest side of America’s biggest cities.

No longer will rural America remind the nation that we are our brother’s keepers.  Townspeople may talk a good game about spiritual values, but rural America has made a deal with the devil, and they don’t care who pays for it.

In a way, I can’t blame them for it.  But in a way, I can.  And they’re not alone.

I can understand why people like those in Clinton are upset that local government can’t afford anything anymore.  At times, things were better when big business found profit in exploiting natural resources or cheap labor in rural communities.  But when those times were over – when the calculation of profitability no longer favored a particular place – corporations moved, and the rural community, was left with the tax bill for necessary services.

In rural communities, there just isn’t anything left to pay those bills.  No wonder rural residents are upset at being taxed.

Rural communities were not alone in this experience.  The big cities of the United States have been abandoned by corporations in search of lower labor costs and global markets.  City-dwellers often feel the same about the cost of government services.  Here in California, we were the first to start the wave of state initiatives to limit government’s ability to tax property, for example.

But here’s something Clinton and lots of other Americans did to ourselves.

Whether liberal or conservative, urban or rural, a great majority of us embraced the notion that helping people is a futile gesture and a bad investment of tax dollars.  Many Americans welcomed the mythology of welfare queens and theories about how helping people is a strategy that creates dependency.

All across America, people whose lives were made so much better by government shouted from the rooftops that it is not the job of government to help the disabled, the old, the sick, the children struggling with hunger, the teachers and librarians who can’t make the rent, the young adults who can’t afford to go to college.  It is not the job of government to ensure clean water, breathable air, and a habitable continent.  If the job cannot be done by individuals or business, it should not be done at all.

In our rural communities, our neighborhoods, our cities, and now our whole country, we sit in our chairs playing with our phones, sending pictures of our trivial moments, glorifying in the newest pulse on the internet, smugly passing judgment on those who connect with our infinitesimally small attention span.  We look past those in need and say, “Not our problem.  Why should we pay?”

The truth is, we cannot pay for everything locally that government must do, but we cannot thrive as a country if federal and state governments abandon us, even if we live in the tiniest villages of rural America.

Government’s role is to do for its people what is necessary for the safety, order and well-being of our communities.  There are so many things business cannot do at a profit.  When government provides for people who cannot produce profit, or invests in people who will be able to produce it, it releases business to focus on profitability, productivity and innovation.  When government provides a minimum threshold of safety and health for its people, businesses thrive with the order and human capital that is generated by this investment.

Over the years, however, the apple painted with the dual poison of absolute personal responsibility and the utter uselessness of government has taken hold in the guts of America’s rural communities, the same as it has among people in our largest cities, where people were used to being walked on and sometimes crushed in competition for the necessities of life.

Now rural America has decorated its main streets with the urban noir of ruthlessness, selfishness, and “American first.”  Rural American has suffered deeply at the hands of the Mitch McConnells and Rand Pauls of legislative bodies, for these charlatans masquerading in rural values have enriched themselves and their friends, and secured their economic success, at the expense of the people they serve.  This they have done while everyday Americans struggle with hunger, housing, health care, employment and retirement.

The fact that so many Americans have ingested this poison is not the fault of the McConnells and the Pauls, however.  Politicians like these are just opportunists, banking on Americans’ traditional distrust of uncomfortable truth, especially if it involves prolonged attention to the printed word, the divergent thought, the spoken testimony of those who are different in some fundamental way that feels threatening.

The fact is, the people of Clinton, Arkansas, are like so many other Americans in cities and rural villages across this nation.  We wake up each morning and lie to ourselves that we need not sacrifice anything for a better community, a better state, a better nation.  We tell ourselves we don’t need anyone, and no one needs us.  We can all fend for ourselves.  In church, of course, we sing a different tune, but that is simply to inoculate ourselves against diseases that might imperil our souls.

The poison has spread, Dear Ohio, and it is taking effect more quickly as time passes.  Soon we will be unable to move our body politic at all, let alone in a direction that could form a more perfect union.

As it turns out, the one thing Clinton, Arkansas, and the rest of us need is a public library.

 

 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Hopper Moss October 10, 2019 at 3:02 pm

“The people of Clinton don’t want a public library. It’s a waste of money. They don’t want government services even for the very poor. They don’t want taxes. They don’t want government spending. They just want people to fend for themselves, and that means every man, woman and child.”

Sounds like a great place to live or to at least visit; seemingly void of the freeloaders and moochers who clog our urban areas, sucking on the public’s teats. Does anyone know the nearest airport?

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Frank Gormlie Frank Gormlie October 10, 2019 at 10:07 pm

Hopper – sounds like you’d really like to live in the US 100+ years ago, before Social Security, Workers Comp, Medicare, before we had gov’t built roads, waterways, ports, telephone lines, before the 8-hour day, the 40-hour work week, unions to protect your wages and rights, the EPA – so basically you’d like to see the ol’ wild west return where might makes right and the fastest gun beat the dust, before women and African-Americans had the right to vote. Get on with it, then, pack up and get the hell out.

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Avatar Hopper Moss October 10, 2019 at 10:21 pm

Frank, “No” to living in the U.S. 100+ years ago, before modern medicine and life-saving chemicals such as synthetic antibiotics, insecticides, and herbicides. But a “Yes” to the elimination of Social Security, Workers Comp, Medicare, gov’t built roads, waterways, ports, telephone lines, government-mandated 8-hour days and 40-hour work weeks, union thugs, and the EPA.

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Avatar Chris October 11, 2019 at 6:58 am

On the other hand, yes to all those things.

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Avatar Joni Halpern October 11, 2019 at 5:58 pm

In so few words, Hopper Moss, you prove my hypothesis. People who claim to care about this country, but care nothing for their countrymen, are at the heart of our what ails our nation. Thank you for sharing.

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Editor editordude October 10, 2019 at 10:09 pm

You’ve been on here before and your total lack of compassion for your fellow human got you “banned” temporarily as we recall. How do we know you don’t come from a pack of freeloaders and moochers your self? How do we know you’re even legal or even a human and not a Russian bot who drinks German beer to fool everyone?

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Avatar Hopper Moss October 10, 2019 at 10:29 pm

You must have me confused with someone else, because it is those who advocate for a powerful central government that uses violence or the threat of violence to force one person to provide for another person’s stuff who are immoral and who lack compassion for their fellow human beings. Unfortunately, the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was designed to eradicate such immoral behavior, hasn’t stopped liberals from using the power of the government to force people to provide for others.

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Avatar Geoff Page October 11, 2019 at 2:10 pm

“one person to provide for another person’s stuff” that is the bugaboo for people who absurdly think they can live in this world all alone and do fine. Even the most primitive societies like the tribes deep in the Amazon, take care of each other. It’s called survival, Moss. You willingly take the benefits of this society but hate paying for it and heaven forbid, taking care of the less fortunate. Poetic justice would be to have you reduced to one of those who needs society’s help one day, maybe then you’d have some compassion.

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Avatar Hopper Moss October 13, 2019 at 4:38 pm

Geoff, coerced compassion isn’t.

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Avatar Chris October 11, 2019 at 7:09 am

I guess if these rural communities want to shoot their own foot and vote for their own self destruction we are we to stop them? The big irony being that many of these people who don’t want tax dollars to fund social services are themselves amongst the very poor.

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Avatar Gilbert E Field October 11, 2019 at 4:18 pm

I live in Carmel Valley where we have some of the best schools around.

Smart people want to live here to allow their kids to attend our good schools.

Our public city library is busy from the moment it opens until it closes, seven days a week.

Our public library here is a highly valued asset among educated people who seek knowledge.

I am sorry for the folks in Arkansas.

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