Monday, February 16, 2009

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Like an old vinyl record with a bad scratch, history seems to be repeating itself - yet again. I know that I will not be the first person to point this out, but there are features within the current loop that no one seems to have noticed. While the talking heads have covered, in exasperating detail, the dire state of the economy and the rampant business and political failures that have led to it, they seem to have overlooked some of the environmental similarities to depression era times.

Like before The Great Depression, everyone can see that we’ve been going through a long period of rapid growth fueled by incredible technological advances and over-optimistic expectations of what those advances meant for the future. But also like before The Great Depression, we’ve had decades of increasing distrust of government, of big business, and of people with wealth and power in general. And just like before The Great Depression, we have failed to recognize the ramifications of that distrust.

Like before The Great Depression, everyone can see that we’ve gone through years of moral crusading about lifestyle choices and substance abuse while preaching the advantages of self-government. But also like before The Great Depression we’ve been unable to see the hypocrisy that those opposing stances represent. And just like before The Great Depression, we have failed to recognize the ramifications of that hypocrisy.

Americans love to boast about the great ’moral’ heritage on which The United States was founded. And yet those same morals were used to justify horrors like native extermination, human enslavement, religious persecution, and denying rights to women who were just as white and religious as the men. What is there to be so proud of? While it’s true that the beliefs held by the founders lead them to create the U. S. Constitution, which lays a fairly good foundation for a life we can be proud of, the hypocrisy demonstrated by the lives they actually lived - and how we still live today - stands as clear evidence of the flaws inherent in those beliefs.

Money is arguably the greatest invention in human history. It was this invention, more than anything else, that made it possible for all people to deal with one another as equals. But we seem to have never quite grasped what money actually represents. We came close many years ago, when we declared that theft was a crime of very high significance. We come close today every time we toss around phrases like ’time is money.’ But we’ve never straight-out acknowledged the fundamental connection between time and money. Money represents the part of a man’s life, time which he’ll never get back, that he has spent earning that money. Money, and the property it buys, is all he has to show for that time. This undeniable truth speaks to us quite loudly through the sense of outrage we feel when someone is told ’at least you have your life’ right after being robbed.

Americans today are so confused when it comes to the issues of morality and money that the ’truth’ of statements like ’money is the root of all evil’ are now accepted without question. So blind is the acceptance of these so-called ’truths’ that no one seems to realize just what an indictment this represents against every person who has ever worked an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s pay. They’ve even gone so far in support of this lie that they’ve even twisted the story of Robin Hood, which was actually about a man fighting to regain the riches stolen from him by the government, into one where he robbed from the rich to give to the poor. This lie has been used to justify ’robbing Peter to pay Paul’ for a very long time.

I believe that a person has an inviolate right to do anything with his money he wants. I do not believe that the U. S. Constitution grants to government the right to do anything it wants with our money. The ’progressive’ U.S. tax system requires those at the top end of the income scale to sometimes pay thousands of times more than those at the low end of the income scale. Considering how we treat the wealthy as if they couldn’t possibly have earned their wealth, should we really be surprised when the wealthy take a ’by any means necessary’ approach to protecting what is theirs? Why are we so shocked that the principles separating freedom fighters from pirates have been so badly corrupted?

After the media and the people have spent so much effort denigrating the legal and political professions, why should anyone be surprised that these professions now tend to attract the kind of people who can be tempted into corruption? After spending so much time and money criminalizing the activities of millions of Americans, why are we now surprised to discover that our society is filled with outlaws? And after making it the sworn duty of our police to arrest people who have harmed no one other than themselves, why are we now so shocked when the resulting conflict of interest leads to dereliction of duty and corruption?

This society uses the cover of morality to justify denying the rights of anyone unlucky enough to fit within a group that can conveniently be used as cannon fodder in the war to avoid the awful truth it seeks to hide. To feed the needs of this beast we pretend is not there, we’ve been willing to deny the freedom and seize the wealth of anyone that can be painted with the brush of unpopularity. While we claim to have grown past the petty discriminations of the past, our society has seen far too many seek the comforts of other shores and our prisons are filled with far too many convicted of crimes that had no victims.

We even use the cover of morality to intrude into areas that should clearly be off limits. Areas where people should feel safe to sleep with whom they want and to resolve their relationship issues in private, away from unwanted intrusions by the media and the government. In fact, we were so busy meddling in Bill Clinton’s sex life in the late 90’s that we completely missed the rising threat from people who are even more extreme when it comes to using ’morality’ to justify their actions. And despite the obvious lesson to the contrary, we have chosen to be even more like our enemies than we were before.

Rather than recognizing that more freedom and not less is required to deal with our problems, we still resort to name calling and finger pointing to make sure that no one dares to speak out against the system as it stands today. All while still pretending to be the world’s greatest advocates of freedom. I have to wonder if I’m truly the only one who wishes that Bill Clinton had answered the attacks against him with, "Yeah, I had me some fun with that woman. Now, Lord help me, I’ve got to answer to Hillary. So I will thank you to keep your damn noses out of our private lives, you ambulance chasing dogs!" While this may not have altered the terrorist’s plans, it would have gone a long way towards drawing ’a line in the sand’ for freedom.

We spend so much energy advocating the ’free market’ and yet we consistently fail to recognize the free market at work. We think of the free market as a place that involves only the exchange of money and property, when it’s actually a market driven by the free exchange of ideas. We have allowed our confused understanding of morality and wealth to turn us into a people who are unable to recognize either. With everyone so focused on how the system is failing to meet their needs, no one seems to realise that our economic troubles could’ve been avoided if we hadn’t been so immoral and greedy in the first place.

I have spent my entire life living on the ’middle earth’ between ’a lawful existence’ and the freedom to live as I choose. Many others have lived in that reality as well. I have also spent my entire life struggling to stay sane while drowning in a virtual sea of mysticism and superstition. Again, I know that I have not struggled alone. But even as a disillusioned teenager, I was smart enough to see that we were headed for both economic disaster and religion-inspired warfare. How could any sane person expect a different result, considering how we can’t seem to resist betting our future on the belief that we are better than the choices we actually make?

The lesson that we should learn from all of this is that, regardless of how we ’feel’ about it, the marketplace of life is very real and has rules that absolutely must be obeyed. What we are now experiencing is a real ’market correction.’ And as everyone rushes to jump on the bail-out bandwagon, I’m reminded of The Cars when they asked, "Who’s going to drive you home... tonight?" I hope that, as the government stamps out more money to throw at the problem, we remember that all that paper must derive it’s actual value from the lives of the people who carry it, and from the lives of our descendents who will still be paying for it.

I believe that we have, in fact, come a long way towards the ideals that this country was founded on. People are now relatively free to live and work in ways and arenas that would never have been tolerated in the times before The Great Depression. I doubt that anyone during those times would have predicted that we would one day have a President of The United States of African-American descent. But a man is either free or he is not, and ’relative freedom’ is a price that a country claiming to be ’the leader of the free world’ cannot afford to pay.

I want ice water.

No comments:

Post a Comment