Here’s our problem, America. We’re immature, uncultured, unevolved and unintelligent. We’re childish. We’re gullible, fearful, cowardly, selfish, and averse to suffering. And it’s killing our country.
That’s Obama’s problem. He’s too mature, cultured, evolved and intelligent. We’re not ready for him.
I blame most of our arrested development on religion. It has kept us babies for centuries. We’re credulous; we believe the silliest things and have no discernment for truth. Religious notions of the afterlife have fostered an “us and them” mentality where “we” get paradise and “they” suffer and we’re okay with it. We’ve lost our soul. We believe in a kind of economic Wild West where individual self-interest is the bomb and will ensure the survival of the fittest. In our fantasy cult of economic anarchy, fellow Americans justify turning on each other in a kind of bloodsport. It allows otherwise good people to run roughshod over our neighbors. We’re horrified by the phrase “redistribution of wealth” as if our fellow Americans in need would have to pry the filthy lucre from our greedy clutch.
What are we afraid of? Reality. Nietzsche wrote, “To live is to suffer,” and Orwell wrote, “Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise.” We can take more suffering than we think, especially when we stick together—which is probably the point of our existence if there is one. There are great benefits in suffering. Suffering produces perseverance, character and hope. Life is just hard . . . for everyone. No one comes through unscathed. The universality of suffering, as evil as it seems, has a bonding effect. When we realize we’re not special, our suffering is not unique, and we both need help and can give help, we’re empowered to empathize with each other. Thich Nhat Hanh said in a recent interview, “I would not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because in such a place they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate.” It is possible to gain the world and lose one’s soul. Mandela said, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Our current economic trajectory driven by fear is unsustainable. If we don’t grow up, realize that the perfect life is a delusion, join the human race, be thoughtful of our neighbors, and live within our collective means, then our lack of self-restraint, proven by our inability to self-govern our extravagant spending and thus our extravagant incomes, will no doubt ensure the expansion of governmental regulations. It’s true of parenting: when the child’s self-government lapses, intervention becomes necessary. Freedoms are for grown-ups. So if you like big government and the loss of freedoms, keep expanding the wealth gap; intervention is coming.
More than any time in American history, company executives and stockholders are victims of this childishness. In order to support their delusions and fears, they must make more money in one week than the workers make in a year. This chasm is ten times broader than it was in the ’70s. This demand puts a strain on the economy and forces companies to lay off employees, to seek cheaper labor outside of America, and to deplete the benefits for those lucky enough to keep their jobs. It has crippled the economy for America’s working middle class. Only deluded addicts could look at the evidence and continue to justify stuffing their insatiable appetites and deny the adverse effects on the economy.
Enough is never enough. Like spoiled children, we hinge our happiness on that next upgrade or that new thing, we cannot restrain ourselves. We’re in hot pursuit of the perfect life—a chasing of the wind—and only maturation or intervention will save us.
The reality check is we live in a finite world with limited resources. Money doesn’t grow on trees. Travel options are limited for most Americans. We’re stuck with what we’ve got. Adam Smith taught that capitalism relied upon the moral consideration of the entire community. When we lose our sense of connectedness, we’re out of touch with reality.
The gap between the haves and have-nots has been growing for 30 years. Even during the recession, which could’ve served as a wake-up call, the gap only widened. Since 2008, the earnings of the top 1 percent of Americans have risen by 11.2 percent, while the income of the other 99 percent has declined. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took more than half of the country’s total income—the highest in American history. It’s not sustainable.
This delusion is actually something from which we all suffer. None of us wait until everyone has enough to eat or a roof over their heads before we buy that superfluous item. We all are tempted to spend money as fast as it comes in. Perhaps the best we can hope for is a small tweak on the collective conscious of the general population; a slight return to the neighborly America I grew up in. Maybe America could get its soul back if we simply heeded Albert Schweitzer’s advice: “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” Don’t look away, Rocketman. We need everyone to do their part, from the office to the factory, to sustain a healthy economy that will prosper our nation. We need everyone to rein it in, to live within our national means, not just the government.