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John Florez: The institution trumps the individual

Published: Saturday, Dec. 17 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

The Utah state capitol building is seen through raindrops as a November rain storm falls along the Wasatch Front Sunday November 16, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News archives

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Welcome to our world where the individual is sacrificed for the institution.

Remember when you could call a government agency and a person would answer; when you had a complaint and you got a response? Now, you never can find a human voice to take your call or hear a complaint; you only get to press a multitude of buttons and leave a message. The business world is no different. All you hear is, "Your call is very important," and you never get an answer. Or more serious are the allegations of child abuse by staff at Pennsylvania State University that were covered up for the sake of the institution. What does it say about us when we sacrifice the individual for the institution?

Citizens, today, feel more vulnerable and resentful of our elected leaders, government institutions and faceless corporations. We have become disillusioned and resigned ourselves to accepting a more impersonal society. Our nation was founded on the belief that the individual mattered; institutions — especially government — were there to serve the individual. Now, the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the institution.

We have become victims of our own success. The industrial revolution created a society where mass production led to greater efficiency with more goods and services — and more impersonal treatment of individuals; the institution became more important, and we are now paying the price. Today's digital world has taken it to a new level.

We live in a rapid-changing society that is complex, sophisticated, specialized, with a dispersion of authority and where people are alienated form the political process. Most disturbing is the loss of means where people can find redress for their grievances, "You can't fight city hall."

People feel disenfranchised from the political process and now crowded out by corporations that are deemed to be people. As far back as 1964, Robert F. Kennedy in his May Law Day speech at the University of Chicago said, " … we must begin asserting rights, which the poor have always had in theory — but have never been able to assert them on their own behalf. Unasserted, unknown, unavailable rights are no rights at all." Now, half a century later, his statement would apply to today's average citizen.

People have lost hope about government being able to respond to the challenges we face in the era of globalization and are frightened with the disruption in the quality of life they have come to know. They are fearful and seek answers for the problems they face, while unscrupulous politicians are quick to exploit their fears. Rather than pulling people together and calling them to work in the public's interest, politicians have created a division between those who have access to those that control power, and those that do not.

Our government is broken and the Wall Street occupiers and tea party movement are telling politicians to fix it. It's unfair, unjust, and politicians are not listening. They are owned by big special interests that draft the laws for them. We need to work to change our campaign contribution laws and contact our representatives, asking them to work in the public's interest rather than special interest. We need to start or get involved in groups that are advocating for fair, honest, policies that are responsive to the problems our nation faces.

We must elect leaders who share the common values of our people — integrity, honesty and working for the common good — and throw out those that don't. It takes hard work, but each of us must do our duty. Our Founders designed our government to serve the individual, not the institution. It's up to each of us to make sure it does.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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