Monday, August 29, 2016

Selfishness Is NOT The Solution To Our Problem; It IS The Problem

This is the saddest aspect of reality in America in the early 21st century:  we can no longer agree on what reality is.

There was a time, way back in the 1970s when, despite partisan divides as bad as the current one, that such a state of affairs might be unimaginable.  Even when a President was on the political ropes thanks to a scandal of his own making. and members of Congress were divided among party lines about how to respond to the situation, a piece of reality showed up that was also of the President's making:  his tape-recorded Oval Office conversations  Once the contents of the conversations were revealed, his Congressional support all but vanished.  There was simply no way that House and Senate Republicans could deny Richard Nixon's efforts to obstruct justice when Richard Nixon admitted in his own words that he was doing so.

Unfortunately, confessions of that sort come along very rarely, just as (thankfully) politicians like Nixon come along rarely.  Or, at least, the latter used to be the case.

We now live in a world in which politicians feel free to deny the existence of the weather itself in order to protect the people who buy them their offices.  We live in a world in which the same politicians stubbornly insist that cutting taxes balances budgets and creates jobs, even when it has been shown time and again that cutting taxes merely cuts public services and swells foreign bank accounts.  And we live in a world perhaps worst of all, in which own and using a gun at will is perfectly acceptable, provided that the shooter is white and the victim is black.

How did we get here?

There are those who argue that all of us are the victim of being overwhelmed by data in a digital age. Then again, there are those who blame the problem on sheer ignorance, or stupidity.  I don't think either of these answers solves the problem.  I doubt that stupidity, as a species issue, is any greater or smaller than it has ever been.  And, even allowing for the failures of our educational system in an age of spending cuts and pedagogical ideologues, the fact is that the Internet provides enough material to counterbalance at least some of those weaknesses.  And much of that material is organized in such a way as to make it less overwhelming.  That's why aggregator Web sites have sprung up in the first place; they are the new newspapers and journals of the modern era.

So, why are we here?  Selfishness, that's why.

Some thirty-five years ago, we launched an age that essentially said good-bye to any sense of shared obligations.  It was no longer "cool" to care for others; in fact, it smacked suspiciously of Soviet-style confiscation and control.  It was not only acceptable to sacrifice the needs of others for the same of advancing even one more inch of self-interest; it was positively necessary not only for the sake of the national interest, but even to otherwise justify any standing you might have as a patriot.  We were told that this would be that path to an unimaginable era of peace and prosperity for all Americans.

Well, they were right about one thing.  The unimaginable part.

Thirty-five years later, America is crumbling.  Literally.  Its roads, tracks, bridges, tunnels, wires and drainage systems are falling apart.  Our schools, cities, and housing are beginning to tumble with them.  Most of us can no longer afford to visit a doctor or get an education, much less imagine a future in which they can pay their own bills (and never mind fulfilling any of their dreams).

But, for a tiny handful, it's not so bad.  In fact, for them, it's never been better.  The wealth they've managed to plunder from the rest of us (on the grounds that we didn't deserve it) has allowed them to create a bubble so strong and complete that it no longer depends upon the existence of this nation to maintain it.  Ours is not a tale of two cities.  It is a tale of two nations:  one living on stolen money, the other barely able to live at all.

And when a disaster comes along for the latter nation, one that is essentially predicted by science, you don't have to justify your failure to either prevent it, or even to wait a week to respond it.  Not if you have the gall to spend your time and energy describing the real solution to the problem as a tax. Just ask Larry Hogan, who doesn't give a damn about anyone except the real estate developers who helped him get elected, and who are his professional peers in the first place.

Selfishness is the reason we live in a "post-reality" society.  Selfishness, by a handful of people with no concept of "enough," is why ours is a tale of two nations.  Selfishness, to paraphrase the author of all this misery, Ronald Reagan, is not the solution to our problem; selfishness is the problem.  And, if we don't find a way to disenthrone the problem, the only reason that Americans won't be able to worry about it is because America will no longer exist.

We are closer to that point that most people realize.  Do you care?  Don't tell me.  Show me.

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