Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Now How Much Will You Pay?

Putting aside the fact that Wall Street does not represent the entirety of the U.S. economy, and that economy has been a wretched mess for several years now, and that troubles in Europe seem never-ending, can we really be shocked by the follies that have taken place of late in our country and the world? A botched attempt at maintaining our country's credit rating is a trifle compared to hunger in Somalia, political revolution in Syria and Libya, and lawlessness and poverty in Tottenham and elsewhere in Great Britain. Even so...

The hew-and-cry has always been that we need to focus on the problems we have at home. Assuming we could wall ourselves off from the rest of the world, the problems of the globe are not only our problems, too, they reflect the same problems that still plague our nation as deeply, if not as forcefully. So, yes, let us focus on the problems at home, large and small, and let's see where they originate. The answer may surprise you, though it shouldn't.

The problem is us.

Take a good look around. This nation so many profess to love is a pit of iniquity and inequality that even two centuries and a civil war have not managed to iron out. The freedom and liberty we enjoy, whose cost was so high to being about, is treated like so much old lawn furniture by a people not smart enough to bring it in out of the rain. The Constitution, font of our freedom and liberty, has been turned into just another wrapper to be discarded beside the road. Justice, a cardinal virtue upon which this nation would come to rely heavily in its formative years, is now just a commodity. Representative government, the key ingredient the Founding Fathers were sure would lead to a long-lasting and resplendent nation, is now a taxing and tempestuous treadmill of greed, corruption, and self-satisfaction.

If you think the words too harsh, I enjoin you to look around again. Look at the people living in the streets. Look at the people forced to visit the food banks. Look at the people queued up by the thousands for free school supplies. Look at the hundred thousand applicants for a handful of jobs. Look at decrepit bridges and highways. Look at run-down schools. Look at whole neighborhoods, whole sections of towns and cities, moldering as people are thrown from their homes. Look at dusty and dilapidated store fronts that have been empty for years. Look at the elderly being herded into homes and communities, stripped of their memories and their dignity. Look at the jails, crammed to the rafters with recidivists, warehouses for the damned and demoralized alike.

Look at it. What? You don't see it? That's because you don't want to.

You, me, every one of us, bear responsibility for the tableau. This nation is the product of the slow degradation of character, the continual decimation of our once proud educational heritage, the disillusion of so many at the constant barrage of bad news, and the grinding destruction of the beautiful national edifice that the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution, by the vested interests that seek to wrest power away from its rightful owners, the citizens of this nation. The messes we find our nation in start right at our doorstep.

"How?", you ask. After all, isn't corporate greed the fault of big business? Isn't lackluster journalism the fault of the news organizations? Isn't political malfeasance and chicanery the fault of political parties? Isn't constant warfare the fault of war mongers in the military? Isn't constant crime the fault of a broken justice system?

How do you think those things got that way?

We have spent a great portion of the later history of our nation turning away from the responsibilities we were given by our ancestors. This nation was set up with virtually all the tools it would need to be self-sufficient, self-sustaining, and above all, free forever. The caveat was -- and still is -- that for the system to work, the citizenry would have to maintain it. Preservation of freedom and liberty, the integrity of the Constitution, the operation of a representative Federal government, the apportionment and control of free commerce... all of that was placed on our shoulders. It meant that, to be successful, the United States would have to have the most enlightened, literate, and engaged citizenry of any nation. Being that many of the Founding Fathers were men of The Enlightenment, stirred by the ideas of humanism and science, it is no wonder they thought the continued exposure of the fledgling nation to new ideas and new knowledge would allow its citizenry to keep the country on an even keel.

They gave us too much credit, it seems.

Perhaps it can be chalked up to the rapid expansion of the nation, or the clinging to parochial attitudes of the past, or the relative distrust of immigrant groups for each other, or maybe even the fact that the initial buzz of the "new frontier" finally wore off, but Americans have slowly disconnected from the initial vision of the Founders, sloughing off their responsibility as dutiful citizens, entrusting their future with and thrusting their liberty into, the hands of those who are least qualified to be so entrusted: political parties, corporate councils, and religious fundamentalists, to name a few. It appears to be far easier in the minds of many Americans to let someone else take on the heavy burden of seeing to the health and welfare of the nation. The trouble comes when we don't keep an eye on our proxies.

We have paid for our ignorance, our laissez faire, our disinterest in public affairs by suffering through crippling recessions, sudden economic downturns, fluctuations in the housing market, bank failures, foreclosures, budget deficits, decrepit infrastructure, natural disasters, and foreign interventions. We have handed the keys to the nation over to driver's with less than exemplary records and are shocked when they drive the nation into a ditch, sending our insurance rates skyrocketing. We give power to govern to those who squander the resources we give them, then see fit to blame other parties for their incompetence and lack of will. We give our money to companies for their cheap goods and left wondering why things fall apart so quickly. We allow banks to take our money and hand it to people who have no business being in business, and wonder why our savings accounts yield little interest. We allow corporations to strip away our livelihoods and send them overseas, leaving us holding the bag for the lost revenue.

We do this. We do it by not staying informed. We do it by accepting information at face value. We do it by refusing to question our leaders. We do it by refusing to examine our own behavior. We refuse to challenge our own morality and values. We refuse to take a fresh look at things in the light of current knowledge. We hang on to dogma, to parochialism, to bigotry. We do not call out hypocrisy when we see it, nor do we admit our own when called on it. We do not demand better of ourselves, or others. We do not plan ahead, and thus are always falling behind. We do not accept the responsibility that is ours, cherish it, and and attempt to do well by it and through it. We always want something for nothing, as if hardship were an allergy.

So, in light of the turmoil in our nation, in the face of looming debt, soft housing markets, and rampant unemployment, ask yourself how much you are willing to continue to pay for all this. To continue doing what we have been doing up till now means that the cost will just keep rising, to the point that the rescue of our nation will no longer be assured. How much are you willing to pay?

I, for one, am no longer willing to bear the cost of the incompetence of others. Taking back the nation means taking back control, shifting power away from the ephemeral groups that seek to run the nation to their liking, and reasserting our claim to control of governance. I cannot do ti alone. Together, as a nation, we must stand up, take stock, get our bearings, then begin the arduous task of wresting the reins back from those who have sent us careening toward the canyons. It's time to tell the political parties, the corporate cultures, and the religious fanatics that their days of poisoning a decent system is over, and we do that by voting them and their cronies out, at the ballot box, at the grocery store, at the gas station, at church, etc. We vote in every significant way possible, withholding money and power and obedience from those who want it most from us, and making them bend to our will, as it should be. This nation was not founded for the convenience of a few -- it was founded to provide freedom and liberty for the many. It is time for the many to remind the few of this salient point, and for us to ensure they do not forget it.

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