The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
– Bob Dylan
The first New Hampshire Republican Party presidential debate will place on June 13th. This event marks not the beginning of the quadrennial U.S. national campaign: the campaign has been conducted intensely since the election of President Obama. It does make an occasion however to reflect upon the nature of the exercise, and the condition of the nation that a host of declared and undeclared candidates propose to lead from 2012-2016.
Every thoughtful person will agree that the economic condition of the United States is profoundly unhealthy.
Unemployment is unacceptably high. If measured accurately, if the tallies published monthly were to include those who no longer feel able even to seek jobs and those who are permanently underemployed, the rate is far higher than even the grimmest figures presently define. This is particularly the case with respect to vulnerable ethnic and generational groups: notably African-American males, persons 40 years of age and more, and youthful entrants into the workforce.
The housing crisis is unabated. Indeed, it is worsening. Investor and consumer confidence is low. Our currency, deliberately but inexplicitly devalued, is weak. Household debt is high. Our sovereign debt is ruinous. Almost all bank shares continue to fall precipitously.
The most puissant financial system and market economy in history is gravely debilitated, and none of us can find meaningful signs of impending renewal. All laypeople and many professional observers fear the nation’s financial architecture, monetary foundation, and production capabilities, once stalwart and dynamic, have become weakened, perhaps even fragile.
Vast wealth continues to be generated in America. But it aggregates in increasingly large proportion to increasingly few, already established and perhaps excessively empowered segments of our society. Large numbers of our citizens and whole sectors of our populace are struggling, sorrowing, and suffering; and they discern no prospects for recovery – let alone mobility and growth.
What happened? What went wrong? How has so much damage been inflicted upon our supernally strong, seemingly invincible social and economic systems?
We hear a great deal about the malfeasance of investment banks, the chicanery of mortgage firms, the profligacy of government, the unfairness of China, the greed of oil-producing nations, the dysfunctions of illicit immigration, the injustice of free trade agreements, the pernicious impact of globalization, the perfidy of individual cheats, the excessive greed and power of corporations, etcetera.
Rarely do we hear the truth. The truth is that for many years – far longer at this point than the entire duration of World War II – the United States has waged undeclared and unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, undisclosed but numerous international and domestic espionage and paramilitary ventures in putative opposition to “global terror,” and, recently, open-ended combat operations in Libya nominally intended somehow to prevent one of the world’s multitudinous illegitimate tyrants from brutalizing his own people.
The price tag for these undertakings is not yet publicly known, and most likely never will be. The immediate cost to our nation’s treasury has been immense. The long-term costs are unpredictable, but we can be certain they will be prohibitive. Not to mention the physical and psychical cost to our soldiers and their loved ones, nor the cost to our combatants’ and innocent civilian bystanders’ equally human fundament.
The staggering expenses attendant upon our policies and practices is rarely measured or even mentioned in our national discourse. And, let us repeat, the outlays are almost entirely unfinanced. We do not levy the taxations required to support these enormous, open-ended costs because no faction in our otherwise polarized leadership wishes the nonexistent public support for our adventures to escalate into outright opposition. In fact our political class has chosen to enact major tax reductions throughout this lengthy period, and we the electorate consistently have rewarded them for doing so.
There exist no potential restraints or disciplines in future discretionary spending that can equal our prolonged expenditures for our undeclared warfare. This is surely the obvious, widely intuited, but never discussed major reason for the terrible imbalances in our country’s budget and the precipitous reduction in the value of our country’s currency. The precipitous reduction, we should say, in our nation’s value.
To believe differently is a delusion.
Our nation’s economic fundamentals are important. So are our national ideas and ideals.
Many political leaders, ministers, historians, and philosophers in the United States make frequent reference to American exceptionalism: the conviction that God approves and uniquely favors our country. These thinkers insist that the American systems of economic and social organization are divinely privileged. They assert that our values, virtues, and their design deserve to become universal, and in time inevitably will become so.
This ecstatic theory used to be termed Manifest Destiny. Now it’s called American exceptionalism. Some adherents of this visionary historiography attempt to adduce evidence to support it, but most don’t. They regard their beliefs as empirically evident and, some say, biblically endorsed.
The rest of the world, we need hardly state, regards the concept of American exceptionalism as preposterous, offensive, and perilous bunkum. A delusion.
The belief in our country’s singular sacral merit is closely related to the sense so prevalent in our society that life somehow owes Americans infinite privileges. Many Americans consciously or unconsciously believe they deserve wealth, gratification, importance, and influence simply because … we’re Americans.
Certainly Americans consume a monumentally outsize proportion of the world’s resources and goods. We also feel a monumentally outsize sense of prerogative and right in our relationships and interactions with other nations and civilizations. Many of us also enact this imperial consciousness in our associations with one another.
Abroad everyone notices, resents, and ridicules this increasingly pervasive American attitude of regal entitlement. This delusion. No one in any other country supposes she or he merits less happiness and power than women, men, and children who happen to reside in one large North American nation.
Is China our enemy?
We often hear on television and read in the print media that, since the demise of the former Soviet Union, our country’s most determined and formidable enemy is China. We’re told China unfairly maneuvers its economy and its currency, systematically violates its people’s rights and preferences, and is hell-bent on rapidly building land, air, and sea forces that can sustain combat against our own.
None of the commentators who expound these paranoiac views knows anything about China. They’ve committed little or no time to exploring China, living among Chinese people, or dispassionately observing and analyzing the actual phenomena of Chinese life.
I have. I know the anti-China hysteria that increasingly is being promulgated throughout the United States is arrant nonsense. A delusion.
China differs profoundly from the United States in point of every salient principle of culture, polity, and socioeconomics. This circumstance doesn’t define villainy. It only identifies difference – difference mandated by striking dissimilarities in geography, demographics, and their attendant history.
Anyhow, like us, like every civilization and every people, China faces massive problems of its own. No one of any consequence in China regards the United States as an enemy nation or seeks our destruction.
Is immigration our enemy?
We also hear, ever more shrilly, that immigration into our country is untrammeled and calamitous. We’re told that men, women, and children who seek entrance into our nation are stealing jobs from entitled Americans, crippling our healthcare services, ruining our public schools, doing this, doing that.
Let us recall that we all descend from courageous forebears who came to America to make a better life for their family. Many of us are the entering generation, and will be the pioneers for their descendants. Surely most of our currently immigrating sisters and brothers work desperately hard, conserve and build, are bedrock for their families and communities, and are deeply decent, deserving souls.
And let us recall that every element of the American society and spirit we and much of the world revere was created by the complex, difficult, miraculous fusion of the whole world’s countries and cultures.
Legitimate citizenry does not monopolize human grace and goodness. Nor does immigration precipitate anything like the preponderance of our nation’s problems. Immigration is, however, and historically always has been one of the constantly evolving solutions for our country’s challenges, one of the principal sources for our perpetually transforming national imagination and productive genius, and the single most significant reason for the respect, good will, and love our nation still inspires throughout the world.
Immigration legal and illegal is not our major problem. To believe otherwise is a delusion.
Let’s look within
We best can locate the root causes for our nation’s growing discomfort and decline in our own beliefs and behaviors.
Not terrorists, real and imaginary, not the people of China, not immigrants legal and illegal, not perfidious bankers or wicked corporation executives, not political leaders alone but each of us for a long, long time has embraced delusions about how we should think, what we should expect of ourselves, and how we should live.
We know full well that our patterns of consumption are unsustainable. We know our materialism is gluttonous, soulless, and invidious.
We know we can’t idly wreck our marriages, disregard our children, walk away from our consecrated commitments when they no longer effortlessly excite or swiftly reward us.
We know we can’t neglect our schools, discount and disregard the needy, insulate ourselves inside bubbles of appetites and volitions we name “needs.”
We know we shouldn’t spend more than we earn. We know we shouldn’t enter into mortgages we can’t afford. We know we shouldn’t trust a Bernie Madoff who promises we always and forever will earn far more with him than diurnal, volatile markets ever can return.
Sure, life should be fair and maybe in a future utopian America everybody will play honestly by agreed rules. But we know it changes nothing in the present reality, least of all our own lives, to whimper about privileges other folk were born into or rave against compensations a small number of seemingly insatiable souls seduce their companies into awarding them.
We know all this. So we also know why our country, once much greater in essence and in influence, is suffering deterioration. Our country is suffering because we’ve strayed far from the insistent, prideful self-reliance and stanch, persevering steadfastness that once was the hallmark and engine of our civilization.
Not chimera enemies but we ourselves built this house. We all built it.
Republicans and democrats
Now we commence another prolonged, loud, tendentious, horrendously expensive presidential campaign.
Each side will assure us we’re not responsible for our travails. They’ll tell us the other party is, our foreign enemies are, and our domestic enemies are.
Each side will vilify the other slanderously. Each will assert it unilaterally possesses every remedy needed – each one of which will be cost-free, easy of implementation, and somehow part of a divine plan to reward Americans for being Americans.
These are delusions. No they’re not. They’re conscious, deliberate, vile mendacities.
We might wish that those who master the science and art of political suasion would choose statecraft over blunt accession to influence and power. But we can’t blame professional politicians for preferring to retail mendacities. They do this because that’s what we continually reward them for doing.
We prefer our leaders to shower us with iterative delusional untruths. We don’t want to acknowledge that we ourselves have made errors in our lives, and that we and only we can fix our lives.
We can’t honestly say that we seek truths from our political discourse. We seek undeserved ratifications, unearned entitlements, and a raft of other impossible exemptions from obvious reality.
Our generation inherited the United States of America. On that beautiful foundation, our birthright legacy, we’ve for many decades been constructing the United States of Delusion.
Initially it may feel dispiriting to consider that we ourselves, not foreign bogeymen and domestic bugbears, have created the problems our country now confronts. But I think this actually is empowering news. It’s empowering because it means we readily can deconstruct every unwholesome custom into which we inadvertently have fallen.
Since we’re the authors of our delusions, we have authority over them. We can retire them, and substitute in their place practices greatly more authentic, natural, dignified, and enabling.
What can we do?
All of us feel overwhelmed by events. All of us feel we’re inconsequential pawns. Sometimes – often – it feels as though we barely can keep our heads above water. So, how can we possibly exert influence, drive change, save ourselves, help our country, and do our part to build a better world?
I’ve spent most of my adult life thinking about this question, and striving to find answers. I think I’ve learned some truths. I believe I know some concrete things we each of us can do.
Most importantly, we can stop searching for enemies to blame. We can recognize we’re the ones who made this mess, and resolve we’re going to clean it up ourselves. We can realize we’ve been stuck, and decide we’re going to emancipate ourselves.
We can renounce dread, and we can refuse rage. It doesn’t matter how afraid or angry we feel. No matter how understandable or consoling these emotions may be, they get us nowhere.
We will quit feeling helpless. We will void our surrender to the incubus of inertia. We will shake this off like mud from our trousers and choose to live our lives with confidence, joy, and power.
We will stop wallowing. The lost decades are lost. We will not any longer lament and ascribe blame for what’s wasted and gone. We will determine instead to look after the present, and build the future.
Finally, we’ll remind ourselves every day during the 2012 presidential campaign and every day thereafter that we don’t need our government to pretend it’s going to enliven our spirits, revive our economy, and provide for us.
Government can’t do any of these things, but we can. Individually, collaboratively, in time collectively we can take a host of actions that are mandatory for our individual wellness and essential for the health of our nation.
There are a series of related measures we can take as individual women and men to break our paralyzing sense of fear, fury, and powerlessness. These measures are completely within our control.
Let’s get ourselves fit. Let’s get our own lives in good order.
The most significant elements in our lives, really our only important works, are our relationships.
Day by day, we can nurture our loves: our families, our friendships, our commitments, our communions, our communities. We can do our utmost to be the best, the absolute best, human being we know how to be – not in our solitary existence, but in our sacred roles of association and connection.
Most of us need far less money than we believe we need – and we vitiate vital life energy to obtain it. Many of us find it difficult to coordinate our resources with our expenditures.
It’s impossible to nurture relationships if we’re constantly worrying about our finances. Somehow money worries can contaminate and capture all the spirit we possess.
We can take control of our money worries. We can begin by substantially reducing our wanton, unnecessary, unsatisfying consumption.
We should work earnestly with our loved ones to decide what we verily need and keep that, husband it, enjoy it, feel thankful for it. Then we should divest every extraneous possession that we don’t absolutely require. Sell it, give it away, throw it out. We can begin with the superfluous electronics that are a canker on our lives. Clean our garages, basements, storage cupboards, closets. Take a first pass. Wait a week. Do it again. Then again. Ruthlessly, relentlessly.
Decks cleared, we can work passionately with our loved ones to define and maintain a realistic family budget. We can get rid of costs we needn’t suffer, pay down debt we shouldn’t have incurred and eradicate it as soon as we can. Absorb what we’ve got to absorb, and begin anew.
We’ll need to give ourselves time, but not too much time. This is an act of emergency surgery. We’ll cut deeply, as swiftly as we can, and accept collateral losses. We’ll curtail our costs, pare them, prune them.
We’ll simplify. We’ll dismantle clutter, divest excess, shed expense, and get right with money.
It feels horrid to live beyond our means. We’ll learn by doing that it feels good to live within them.
Health and wellness
It’s even more important to get our bodies in shape. To accomplish serious, life-affirming, superb physical condition. We can do this vital rejuvenating work, because we have complete operational control over how we think and how we live.
We can eat more wisely. We can truly exercise, not with costly useless mail-order gizmos but by walking, biking, climbing, swimming, playing. Every day. No matter what.
No smoking. Reasonable drinking. No drugs: none.
It’s wise to get some free help with this. We’ll each find one good friend or two or three to help us set, keep, and expand our goals, and chew us out when we falter. We can return the favor for the friends who assist us.
Wellness feels sublime. It builds and builds. It helps us feel happy, hopeful, and powerful. It suffuses and rarefies every aspect of our relationships.
We can get ourselves well. It’s free. It’s fun. It begets a salvation fully available to every person who seeks it.
Kiss off our betrayers
Unemployment has become the most vexing problem in America. It’s here to stay.
We should say sayonara to the corporations that downsized us, off-shored us, expatriated us, de-unionized us. Those jobs and the fantasy of lifetime paternalistic sinecure that surrounded them are gone forever.
No politician can bring that delusive world back. It’s outmoded. So, let’s say good riddance to it and build anew. We can make our own worlds of work – new worlds, with new mentality behind them.
This already is occurring spontaneously throughout our country. It needs to happen more. It needs to happen everywhere.
If we deepen our loves and strengthen our relationships, reduce our detritus and trim our costs, train ourselves into vigorous good health, we don’t need big kind companies to take care of us.
We can focus during our hikes, our climbs, our bike rides, our swims on what we can do with our own unique, innate, personal skills. What we can build. What we can make. What we can give.
Everywhere we look we can see families, friends, and neighbors experimenting with localizations, collaborations, collectives. Women and men who once worked in offices and on factory floors are devising ways now to work on their own, from hearth and home. Hosts of people are rediscovering farming, baking, brewing. Exchanging services, trading, bartering. Means of diminishing or replacing hunts for money with services for hire or exchange.
Everywhere we look we can see partners changing roles, one generating a single salaried income, the other looking after the household and working as an entrepreneur at a venture close to her or his heart.
Everywhere we look individuals are recovering from their sufferings, claiming autonomous suffrage, and creating ways to work on their own or with loved ones is ways previously unimagined.
We can do all this and more. After all, we’re Americans.
Our forebears made that honorific mean something. We can too. On our own, in our families, with our friendship circles, in our communities. That’s what our forerunners did, with homesteads, family farms, ranches, villages, shops, stores, towns, hamlets. Small wasn’t perfect, but big hasn’t been ideal.
Pain can be a blessing
Suffering feels hateful, but it can be a blessing. Pain teaches us something’s wrong and makes us decide to fix it.
The hardships we’re experiencing may be gifts. They may be signs to us that we’ve been living in ways contrary to our essence, harmful to our nature, destructive to our selfhood, and devastating to our society with one another.
We can’t cure our sufferings by embracing delusions about their sources and causes. But we for sure can do a lot on our own, with the people we love, and with the people who love us to discern truths, find sensible optimisms, liberate strengths, devise remedies for wrongs, and create new growths in place of desiccated deadwoods.
Once we get ourselves fit, once we build our local renewals, we individually and communally can turn to our work of national cleanup.
We know what needs to be done. We can see surges of awareness and activity everywhere in our country. These phenomena of American uprising are related closely to the inchoate, often spontaneous populist movements that have transpired throughout Eastern Europe since 1989 and at present are occurring throughout the Middle East and northern Africa.
Our contexts are radically different, but our underlying longings and determinations are similar. People want life to become more human: more reasonable, fair, natural, and free.
Once we fix our own lives as best we can, we can work on our country in ways that individually and in assemblies we’ll figure out how to design.
Many thousands of women and men have made beginnings. We can join them, or we make other beginnings on our own.
We do know what needs to be done. Everyone knows.
1. We need to demand that our undeclared, unfunded, purposeless, open-ended warfare cease and desist. We must invest in our country, not decimate others. We must redesign and rebuild our entire infrastructure. We need to revolutionalize our calamitous education system. We need to revolutionize the ways we extract, aggregate, and use natural resources. We need to sponsor wellness and right worth at home, not rain destruction on those whom we do not know and need not fear.
2. We must demand that our moronic partisan political theater cease and desist. We have serious problems, and we need thoughtful, earnest, kind, and responsible people to help us solve them. If we authorize individuals to work as leaders, we need them to behave themselves fittingly. If our existing institutions cannot generate these baseline political and governmental requirements, these fundamental necessities, we’ll need to join our peers in many other rapidly changing nations and replace what is not working.
3. We need demand that, like each of us, our government – let’s emphasize that our government is ours – must quit its whining, reduce its costs, balance its outlays with revenues, help those who legitimately need help, and properly defend the real interests of our actual homeland. Of course this is hard. That’s why we elect gifted ones to lead the work. If they can’t do it, if they’re not gifted, if they can’t operate in office as adults, they need to be recalled and retired. Quickly, for this work needs to be accomplished right now.
We are, and we can
We all know what it’s like to feel helpless. We’re individuals in a nation of 300 million. We’re tiny, and so many entities are mighty. But we have potent weaponry at our command. We have minds, and we have souls. We have opinion, we have will, and we have the vote.
We all can mobilize our resources, and I believe many of us will. We do not need and we do not intend to fade into inertia, irrelevance, or impotence.
I think that anyone who fails to understand this is deluded.