A public malaise?
I detect a public malaise. When the discussion turns to today’s politics or business or and government, the comments all sound similar. Modern American society seems pervaded by a cynical social paradigm. Examples:
A. All politicians lie—you can’t trust ’em;
B. Business cheats—the cereal box is larger than the contents;
C. Government will get you, either by insufficient control of itself or excess control of you;
D. They are trying to take over—”they” meaning liberals, conservatives, democrats, republicans, Big Business, or uppity minorities.
I don’t remember that discussions during the 1950’s sounded so severe, so worried, so hands-in-the-air defeated even when Senator McCarthy generated a red scare by lying about communists in every corner. In the 1960’s there was a real minority who were trying to take over—that is, acquire powers like voting rights and admission to schools. But I remember no paranoia. In the 1970’s, Government was indeed getting you—getting you to Viet Nam. The response was angry, but without any sense of helpless defeatism.
In prior decades, despite the real strains we lived through (or died in), our official discourse was more civil. Wasn’t it? Protesters acted like hooligans, but Senators didn’t.
What’s going on now? Well, first, remember that privileged Americans have always played “ain’t it awful” as a conversational gambit. The less-privileged for whom things were truly awful didn’t say much in places where they could be heard. Unless they got uppity, that is.
Today, the distrust, the sense of looming calamity, the resignation of competent people under postures of powerlessness seems new, true, and self-defeating.
I see some cause for the cultural resignation. Yes, the problems are bigger than ever before. That’s because there are more of us and we’re all connected as never before, whether or not we want to be. The price of putty in Peru might affect your taxicab in Toledo (Blog 10). We scientists tell you global climate change is real. So is control of politicians by money, control of government by money, and the control of youth who must maintain status by continual electronic interconnection on a smart device.
These things are real, unprecedented, and (to folks who experienced history) unnerving. But only two facts constrain us: 1) we’re all interconnected, and 2) we’re all subject to global impacts. We have the power to change laws, culture, and congressmen if we act. Act together, that is.
So what’s missing?
Integrity is missing. Integrity is being what you say you are, and that’s missing in politics, business, government, and in electronic personality. Politicians speak in euphemisms, using prejudicial words to pander to prejudiced audiences. The cereal box does not contain sugar, only “evaporated cane juice.” Banks claim not to create Ponzi schemes; they get regulations erased, thereby allowing credit default swaps and the economic system collapses.
Public discourse does not describe reality, and that obfuscation occurs for a reason. It maintains power. Without precise language, you can’t talk about something, and if you can’t talk about something, you are powerless to change it.
We complain about the changes that are happening to us. That complaint is a means to absolve ourselves by not talking—in precise language—about what’s really going on. It’s the difference between idle lamentation and the work of action. Problems can’t be met, let alone solved, unless you talk with others and make effort to do something. “Do” doesn’t mean demanding that somebody else “do.” Impact global climate? Consume far less. That will also cure obesity, a pandemic brought about by excess consumption in search of oral satisfaction as a substitute for real satisfaction. (See pg. 95 of the Spirit Level book.)
Talk about what can’t be talked about. Always talk politely. Talk polite, act polite, be polite. Anything less is disrespect for the other person. Congress refuses to talk. That’s disrespect based in self-righteousness, reflecting self-righteous voters. If a congressman refuses to talk with his colleagues, declines to reveal who he is and where he gets his money, throw him out.
Talk about the real issues. Forget “Obama care—that’s a prejudicial euphemism to cover a faulty act of congress. Do we want a health care accounting scheme that assigns medical costs to some distant third party or do we seek a healthy population? Talk about what can’t be talked about. A healthy population implies responsibility for self-care. Affordable treatment in a healthy population also implies triage—public decisions about who gets how much of which costly care. That’s something the politicians won’t talk about. So you talk about it.
Remember this: Lifting of the social malaise requires social responsibility. Responsibility of government, of business, and of individuals. There is no absolute freedom. Social responsibility implies that some actions must be restrained for the good of the whole. The alternative is oppression by the controlling one-percent.