We would like to bring back yesterday, wouldn’t we? Start all over. Figure out how we could have been so seduced, where we went wrong. So many say if they had it to do over, they would have done things differently, but would they? Already, California is becoming a haven for those who still have money to invest in real estate, never mind what will become of the foreclosed home owners. One takes the opportunities as they arise. There is a curious lack of concern for the unemployment rate, unless we happen to be one of the possible unemployed. The stimulus package? There are states ready to reject it off-hand, with no other solutions to offer; just that it isn’t the “American way”. The American way is a distorted grasp of freedoms that has nothing at all to do with basic human rights and everything to do with status. If you own a nice home, have solid assets, gravitate within influential social circles, you have the unalienable right to judge your less fortunate brethren and make sure they don’t jeopardize your comfortable position.
The American way is to point fingers when their own self-interest collapses into unrest and economic failure. The American way is to fault others for duplicity and errors in judgment, but to never fault themselves. They were led by the nose. They were fed false information by the media news coverage and advertising. They were indoctrinated.
The indoctrination can’t be denied, but one has to wonder how a Nation that struggled through internal and external wars, civil disobedience, and cultural re-definition could have come so far in creating a society built on self-gratification. Side by side with the civil rights expansions and consequent social awareness of responsibilities during the nine-teen sixties, another revolution of thought developed; A philosophy of The Expanded Ego Foundation. Beginning with a rather benign, mildly assertive book called, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay,” the flood of confidence building, self help seminars, lectures, writing material, and of course, advertising, began. The readers were told they could be rude to sales people who only wished to assist them, tie up public meetings for hours with your own digressions, and intrude on subjects you knew nothing about because your voice had a right to be heard. The reader was not taught how to listen, mediate, evaluate and compromise with the opposition.
“You’re Okay” began to lose some of its qualities as assertive manuals began telling their readers how to pound home their opinions, and eventually, what those opinions should be. By the time the genius of just say “no” came around; one of the first words a baby learns, with a head shake sufficing before he’s even able to articulate; there were careful instructions on exactly what you should say no to. This catch phrase became the slogan of every organization from drug abuse to social reform. You don’t use public transportation? Just say no to a new public service bus line. You don’t want your real estate value to weaken? Just say no to a low-cost housing project proposed by the zoning commission in a community uncomfortably close to your own.
Self-help began to dwell on the aspects of what a person deserves. You deserve to be beautiful, to spend a fortune on dress and appearances, cosmetics and surgeries because growing old naturally is only for the poor and down-trodden. You deserve luxuries and vacations, not because you worked and saved for them, but it’s your inherent right to be pampered. You deserve an over-priced, corrugated wood mansion because it’s crucially important to appear influential and well-connected. Otherwise, your voice; which has by now, become completely emerged in self-absorption, will not be heard.
Indebtedness is nothing uncommon to American society. A news appraisal stated during the Johnson years that the economic classes were measured by the amount of money a household owed, not what they earned. The contention was that a home would not borrow more than it held in liquid assets. The biggest difference at the time was the liquid assets carried a “real”, or stable value and not the elevated estimates of speculation. As the demand for loans based on projected income went up, so did the possible value of their investment. The pyramid began tumbling when supply began out-stripping demand.
The collapse was inevitable, not just because of a “the sky’s the limit” rampage of spending, but also because of age demographics. For years, the World War II survivors and baby boom generation oiled the machinery of Capital gain. The dismantling of social ideals, begun under Eisenhower as contrary to the interests of free enterprise, found a captive choral response among up and coming baby boomers intent on developing their business interests. They built, they developed; a very large number succeeded, keeping the economy bolstered. Now, the parents of the baby boomers have passed away or are currently in a home for the elderly. The baby boomers themselves; the largest population to have been born into the United States; are becoming elderly. Many of them have retired. The massive figures that went into Social Security and Retirement Funds have been dwindling. The work force that had enabled the machinery has passed on to a smaller generation.
The heirs of the baby boomers were born on a wave of steadily climbing prosperity that had endured for fifty years. Within that fifty years, the dynamics of a people who had been basically socialized in their views of such public services as health, education, rescue and transportation, radically changed to a service for profit mentality. The grass roots origins of a population that had been ninety-four percent agricultural less than a hundred years ago, have been all but erased in a world so highly technical, it takes a college degree to raise cattle. The tendency, nurtured by the Expanded Ego Foundation, which by now has made enormous amounts of money by flattering individuals with their lures of lights and cameras, has been to openly support whatever doesn’t affect personal comfort.
A side affect of the Expanded Ego and its emphatic say, is that nothing ever gets done. No matter what the issue or legislation, there is always somebody emphatic enough to lead an organization with its team of members paid for attorneys, to carry the battle into the courts. As quickly as one bill goes into passage, it gets over-turned by another. When a measure is passed in favor of your Ego’s campaign, there is elation; but it only lasts a little while before the opposition challenges the act and reverses it. It’s then time to delve into the pocket book once more and pay the attorneys to continue the battle.
This is not the model for a progressive governmental institution, but a pay for justice legal system. Effective legislation for land management, wildlife preservation, clean water, public services, trade agreements, human rights considerations, remain tied up in courts for years, each side milking their supporters for a little more money to “settle” a matter that never truly gets settled. What is needed is a return to common sense, mediation and ethical considerations. Although we each rightfully have a voice to be heard, along with this right comes the responsibility to listen. We must put aside the narcissism of comfortable choices. We must quit passing along the blame and accept that we each contributed a little to our fall from grace. We are a Nation divided into so many fragments, we have no unity, no common drive. It’s time to pick up the pieces. It’s time to define ourselves once more. It’s time to quit saying just no and learn a few more words, such as compassion, consideration and even an occasional “yes”.