IT IS FUTILE TO BATTLE IDEAS WITH FIREPOWER.
TO CONFRONT DANGEROUS IDEAS—LIKE THOSE OF ISIS—YOU NEED BETTER IDEAS (THOUGH YOU MAY NEED FIREPOWER TOO)
DO WE HAVE THEM? AND IF WE DO—DO WE PRACTICE THEM—OR IS OUR STATED COMMITMENT TO FREEDOM, DEMOCRACY, AND THE FREE ENTERPRISE SYSTEM, SOMETHING OF A SHAM?
These are provocative questions, but it is hard not to admit that our representative democracy is in a very bad way. The Mid-Terms illustrated the point. They were entirely dominated by Big Money—largely donated by a very small number of people—and most Americans showed their disillusionment by staying away. Voter turnout was something like 36%—a near record low and a disgrace—worst in 70 years.
In effect, American voters said: “Our political system is a total, unmitigated, failure.” Congress is held in particularly low regard. In comparison, the President is downright popular.
But the fact that our democracy is really a plutocracy is not the only issue—important though that is. We also have a grotesquely unequal society, are consumer driven and materialist to excess—and, abroad, spread death, destruction, and corruption wherever we meddle (and we are meddling in a distressingly large number of countries from the Yemen to Chad).
Look no further than Afghanistan and Iraq right now for chaos, societal failure, and massive corruption (after over a decade of U.S. occupation in each case)—but, if you are inclined to dig a little, you will find a veritable laundry list of counties where we have backed bad people, done truly terrible things—and continue to do them.
Yet Islamic extremism is stronger now—much stronger—than it was when 9/11 occurred. There is considerable evidence that a great deal that we are doing is counter-productive.
But you don’t have to look abroad. The Great Recession, just by itself, demonstrated the rottenness and malfeasance of our financial system—and it speaks volumes that after all this time the individuals and institutions which caused such economic carnage have not only not been prosecuted, but have been supported massively by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. taxpayer.
Other Developed Nations—and many on the cusp of achieving that status—have evolved a series of mechanisms that lessen the stress of everyday living while still encouraging both entrepreneurship and creativity. Such mechanism include:
- A comprehensive social safety net.
- A cooperative work environment.
- Job security and worker rights.
- Long vacations.
- Low cost housing.
- Superior infrastructure.
- Adequate pension systems.
The contrast with the current American Way of Life—as far as most of us are concerned—is self evident. We have evolved a high threat, unfair, decidedly insecure, high stress environment where roughly half the population lives paycheck to paycheck, where most incomes are in decline (when inflation is factored in), and where critical needs such as healthcare, housing, and education are rapidly becoming unaffordable.
Fear—above all of economic disaster—stemming from something as simple as the loss of a job or some medical issue—has become endemic to how we live, and is leading to an ever increasing number of Americans becoming traumatized.
The American Way of Life is significantly shorter than that of our European friends. While we live, we are less healthy—and we die roughly three years sooner. The reasons for this shattering discrepancy are not hard to find—and are self-inflicted. They are self-inflicted not just in terms of lifestyle—which is certainly a factor—but, much more to the point, because we have let ourselves be manipulated to the extent we do.
Freedom, as they say, is not free. More to the point, it is something you have to fight for every day in numerous ways—or, as is the case here, greedy people will seize power. It is in the nature of such people to avail of every opportunity—and by our neglect of our hard won democracy, we handed them just that.
This country is now run, to an extent just short of total, by a very small group of exceptionally rich and greedy people supported by large numbers of people who serve them. They run things for their own benefit and our stressful lives are just one unfortunate consequence.
Let me quote from a piece by Lynn Stuart Parramore in Alternet.com:
I know that a serious illness could bankrupt me.
I am afraid I will never be able to afford to have a child.
My nightmare is to end up poor and abandoned in my golden years.
A 2012 study of hospital patients in Atlanta’s inner-city communities showed that rates of post-traumatic stress are now on par with those of veterans returning from war zones. At least 1 out of 3 surveyed said they had experienced stress responses like flashbacks, persistent fear, a sense of alienation, and aggressive behavior. All across the country, in Detroit, New Orleans, and in what historian Louis Ferleger describes as economic “dead zones” — places where people have simply given up and sunk into “involuntary idleness” — the pain is written on slumped bodies and faces that have become masks of despair.
Modern communications are such that our enemies are intimately familiar with what is happening here—and they are using it to advantage, and with considerable sophistication and success.. They don’t do it fairly—and they ignore the deep-rooted strengths of our society (which we seem unable or unwilling to deploy)—but the end result is that Islamic Extremism is made to seem as superior in many ways, and a cause worth fighting and dying for.
Our massive failure to live up to our own professed beliefs has become a serious vulnerability—and a matter of National Security. It constitutes an existential threat—a threat to our very existence—in the very real sense of the term.
Who else is better qualified to destroy this Great Nation than Americans?
We have made an impressive start at such destruction.
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