Blog 94. Explaining America to Martians (and to ourselves)

I detect an anxiety in America, a palpable tension that has no single focus, that has no one definable cause and no single remedy.  If I met a Martian, or even another American, I couldn’t explain it with a single sentence. So, I’ll quote or paraphrase variety of authors, and sometimes add a reflection of my own.  If you have angst regarding the state of our State, perhaps you’ll find an insight or a phrase that encapsulates your concern.

Political anxiety, discussing governance.

“We’re in a dystopia-producing segment of human history now, because people looking ahead are not seeing a rosy future … The dystopian part of the utopia is that (the bad guys) turn out to be us.” [1]

“… liberals and conservatives who deliberate questions openly only with people of the same political stripe become more confident and extreme in their views.” [2]

“…  Most politicians are concerned with keeping power, not governing.  Their narrow self-serving outlook ‘is a tragedy for us all.'”  [3]

“They offer radical solutions …  that appeal to voters who believe globalization has stripped them of control of their economics and societies.”  [4]

The current style of conservative discourse assumes the presence of concealed enemies.  [5]
Historically, there was a valid conservative discourse based on an unquestioned trust in principles, in contrast with liberal proposals based on immediate facts.  dn

There is a death-struggle atmosphere in politics, a suffusion of fanaticism expressed in paranoia.  [6]
If winning is the dominant value, there will necessarily be wars. Winning is often a way of claiming to be right by making others wrong.  dn

Economic anxiety, all about dividing the common pie.

“Democracy requires the ability of political power to control economic forces.  Otherwise we have a national corporation, not a country.”  [7]
Right now, monetary pressure controls political action.  I have not seen any politician dare to propose realistic means to alter that control.  dn

“The people at the top don’t seem to be losing their jobs.  But we are.”  [8]

“America is already a welfare state.  In fact, if you add local and state government spending to federal outlays, the U.S. government spends more per citizen than do France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.  The only real difference is that we aren’t honest about our appetite for big government.”  [9]

(During post-Nixon recovery) “…the costs included a decline of public trust in institutions, a spate of national self-questioning, and eventually an embrace of radical remedies: aggressive deregulation, monetarism, deficit-fueling tax cuts.”  [10]
Sounds like the current situation, remedies, and proposals?  Artificially low interest rates on savings impose a hidden tax on families and the lower middle class, destroying motivation for thrift and the dream of a secure old age.  dn

“Today is better when you’ve taken care of tomorrow.”  [11]
But it’s the inability to take care of tomorrow that generates the anxiety today.  dn

“Even the priceless has a cost.”  [12]

Anxious feelings, the foundations of society are shaking.

“Most Americans believe the country is going to hell.  (But) They’re wrong….that view is a great constant through American history. … The ‘out’ party always has a reason to argue that things are bad and getting worse.”   [13]

“…Americans are growing increasingly cynical about a system that they believe, correctly, is rigged.  (Many) are seeking solutions through scapegoating …”  [14]

The privileged don’t feel privileged.  They feel threatened by removal of some privilege, even if it wasn’t earned.  They feel persecuted, even though they are still privileged. … The privileged are in distress.  [15]

“… What really motivates people is the idea that they are doing something useful and meaningful … that you can influence your work—and can make a difference”  [16]
The pervasive feeling is that the individual is helpless to make a difference, our beliefs and customs are shaking under our collective feet, so we are all pawns manipulated by a mindless, meaningless, system operating beyond anyone’s control.  dn

So why work to preserve the priceless?
Every significant difference was started by an individual.  In the complex system that is society, your action might amplify.  So do what you can, where you can, when you can.  Even if it’s only writing a blog.

====================== Attributions ==========
[1] Interview with Margaret Atwood in The Writer magazine, September 2012.
[2] Michael Fertik, writing a column in Scientific American February 2013, P. 13.
[3] Leo McKinstry in Express.co.uk, reported by The Week magazine, January 18, 2013, p. 14.
[4] The Week magazine, December 5, 2014.
[5] Paraphrased from Sam Tanenhaus, The Atlantic, March, 2016, p. 44.
[6] See [5].
[7] James Fallows, The Atlantic, March 2016, pp. 58-72.
[8] Russ Kendall citing Dale Maharidge, The Nation, March 21, 2016, pp.20-25.
[9] The Week magazine, January 18, 2013, citing NationalReview.com.
[10] Sebastian Mallaby, The Atlantic, March, 2016.
[11] Mutual of America advertisement.
[12] Rev Stefanie Etzbach-Dale  March 1, 2016.
[13] James Fallows, The Atlantic, March 2016, pp. 58-72.
[14] Public Citizen news, 2016
[15] UU World, Winter 2013
[16] Wm. Roelands, Harvard Business Review, quoted in The Week magazine January 18, 2013, pg 38.

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