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The Core Sickness

Something is terribly wrong in America. Like an ER doctor, all of us feel compelled to treat the life-threatening symptoms in front of us.

Useful stooges run the White House, boardrooms, and apparently at one time the DNC. Drug addiction is rampant. People simply go crazy and kill dozens for the sheer thrill of it. It is more than fashionable to readily assume the worst about every person, every debate, and every event. Guns honestly seem like a solution to many problems to many problems. Spirituality itself is weaponized almost casually.

As we will continue to learn, our political system was completely corrupted and compromised by a hostile foreign power. But what’s far more troubling is how easily we let it happen.

Narcissism is essentially normal in today’s America.

There is definitely something wrong at the core of America. By that, I mean the core values and shared history which are supposed to bind the many different peoples of this land together have been rendered meaningless. Revisionist history of events like the Civil War have actually become a staple of arguments, suggesting that there is no singular truth at the core of anything. The assault on our nation by a hostile foreign power, bent on demonstrating that democracy is weak, is often disregarded as either unimportant or “fake”.

It seems impossible to believe that this could happen overnight, or for that matter without a strong force acting. It must be extra-political in origin.

The system which we have is of the people, by the people, and for the people. People are the strength of it but also the weakness. The human frailty which seems to have failed all of us is fear. People are just plain scared and constantly on the defense against the smallest slight. How did it come to that?

The future is theirs. Let’s make it bright!

While writing “People’s Economics” I have hit a dead end as I contemplate this problem. It seems that everything in the news today is yet another symptom of something gone horribly wrong. By presenting another framework for understanding how everything is or must be organized in order to be healthy, the principles of “People’s Economics” are supposed to cure an underlying disease. It is supposed to go beyond the symptoms and into the cancer at the core.

But it seems much more complicated than that.

In a world in which everyone is scared, nothing is going to work well. Authoritarianism seems like a viable option, at least to the extent that it appears to protect us. Many nations have systems like this and most people are easily able to ignore their rulers on a daily basis. As long as they feel safe the rule of force has some appeal to many.

Our system has freedom much more deeply embedded in it to function at all. A free market requires people to trust each other at some level, or at least trust things like money, shipping, and consumer fraud protection. A corporation cannot function if everyone is genuinely out for their own short term gain and the board of directors is there to simply fleece the operation.

We have to fix just about everything. And that means we have to address the root problem.

Any sense of “self” which does not open up all the parts of “self” has the potential to be poisonous.

I believe now, after much thought, that what has made everyone run scared all the time is the end-game of individualism run to an extreme. The same impulse which made it possible for us to conquer a continent and then the world makes it impossible for us to function once we have no choice but to work things out with people we don’t necessarily even like. Other nations are more used to a politics of steady-state, such as China and Germany, so their ability to adapt to a more freely changing world of development and technology is actually liberating. Being close to the rest of the world is, to our culture, stifling.

It also means that individualism can’t possibly cure everything. We have to work instead on getting along.

I’m not entirely sure why we are so terribly afraid of everyone and everything, but that does seem to be the emotion which drives all of the symptoms that are destroying us. Exactly what created this crippling fear is worth debating, and I’ve offered my belief. It doesn’t seem to be a fully baked idea, but it’s what someone with Anabaptist beliefs would naturally come up with first.

I’d love to know what you think. Is the United States genuinely sick at the core? Why? What is the root problem which creates all these symptoms we are incapable of dealing with?

11 thoughts on “The Core Sickness

  1. I agree the U.S. is sick at the core. Band-aids can’t even be applied anymore because the blood just washes them away. But I can’t put the problem down to individualism run extreme. You mention “the impluse to conquer a continent.” But that impulse was more than individualism – it was arrogant manifest destiny, coupled with an inability to ever see the “others” as equal humans with honest and good thoughts, emotions, and culture. We wiped out hundreds of cultures and thousands (millions?) of human beings in our march to conquer this continent, while enslaving thousands of others to do the hardest work.

    You are exactly right that we need to learn to get along again – we used to do that, but the reality for a great many was that “getting along” meant they had to hide their true selves and pretend to be something they were not. This could be as simple as an atheist attending church every week and praying at every meal because he didn’t dare express disbelief. Or it was as severe as a woman living quietly with the husband who regularly beat her, or the gay man lurking in alleys for a quick meetup that did nothing to end his lonliness, while his unknowing wife and children sat at home, thinking he as working late, or the meek posturing of black people given their “freedom” but with normal opportunities kept forever out of reach. Reality was a million other things for too many people.

    Yes, we need to “get along” again. But it needs to be in the light of reality and honesty and tolerance. Until we do that, we will have lost everything.

    • Thank you. I know my initial impulse in terms of moral / emotional crisis is not a good one, which is why I asked.
      Perhaps less has actually changed than we think, we’re just more aware of it now than we used to be. Confronting things like racism is very painful and it is causing people to feel like they are under siege. Confront sexism is only going to be worse as it is embedded in every family structure.
      European Americans, white people, are very conformist by nature. But what is expected of us today, in a more diverse world? Is it possibly the opposite of individualism which is breaking down, was I completely 180 degrees off? Perhaps.

    • I think you hit the nail on the head. Everyone was expected to ‘look like us’ and act like us & all that. Now people are out of the closet about everything. Thats all that changed.

  2. Too many uncomfortable truths coming out too close together.

    * Results of extreme-free-market-purist ideology betw. 1980s (Reagan) thru 2000s (Bush + first 6 years of Obama) finally visible, now baked into cake for a generation. See politics II, below.

    * Terrorism coming home, as it has for the EU and the Islamic world. Invading all those countries… what was it like 7? in 15 years was a bad move. Not cool. Bush should’ve gone to jail, instead now half the country thinks he wasn’t that bad (incl. Chuck Schumer. nice, eh?) Billion+ Muslims. All they can do to not think the US is trying to harm them in some way.

    * National Politics that narrows our options to 2 parties, a 300 year old structure that shields them from competition. Citizens United gives corporations unlimited power to spend on media. Both parties play for same team – the green team. They’ve been really good at shutting down any attempts at reform. Any Prince or Sheikh, any Corp. with a checkbook can stick a hand up the massive sockpuppet which is the “DC family”. Perhaps Mueller will succeed at locking Russia out of such access. Won’t make an ounce of difference, the other puppeteers are no more interested in the well-being of the US.

    * Politics II- this one is international. 30 years after beginning the rollback on subsidies for the sake of social stability, via “neoliberal” policy vision, we have – wait for it – lack of social stability, as the downwardly mobile pull what few remaining levers are available to them. Since the ruling duopoly feels more threatened by leftist reform, they have focused on shutting those down. For anyone rejecting the status quo, and they are increasing, Right wing extremists win by default.

    * Race relations – While Obama was a high point, we now have a bounceback. I think this one is temporary. Over time demographics will help.

    * Crap medical system – US, with the best tech in the world, has trouble even *staying in* the league of developed countries, when we look at what the median person gets. But hey, it’s a profit center.

    Philosophy won’t help. Fix the problems one at a time.

    • So you see some of the symptoms as a diseases in themselves, a general neglect of everything that would make us “one people”? I can see that, but I wonder if there isn’t one bigger thing at the core. For example, in the two party problem (which I agree is a problem) – why aren’t we demanding better? Why did about half of voters pick an obviously unthnking, immoral person under the guise of just draining the swamp, burning it all down, causing change any way they could? Why not organize for more effective change?
      There is a terrible neglect of the public space of our world, a huge tragedy of the commons. That’s why I go to excessive individualism. I don’t disagree that fixing each of these one at a time may be the only thing we have to do, but we have to get people engaged before any good solution will happen for any of them.
      I don’t see that happening in a constructive way right now.

      • “Why not organize for more effective change?” Trying… It’s not impossible, just hard.

        The problems are interlocked, or rather, knotted up. US 2 party system , campaign finance, media capture, twitterization (reduction of information flow to 2-sentence fragments), us-vs-them, economic inequality, international gamesmanship (goes around the world and comes back from around the other side, to many people’s surprise).

        I think all the pieces came to the surface in 2014-2016, where it goes is anybody’s guess.

  3. I don’t disagree that there is something wrong at the core but I don’t think you can put it on individualism. We have always been that way and we did get along before. I like when you call for more formalism like just being polite and respectful because that seems to work in other places like Europe. But that may not work for us. We have never been very formal. I don’t know what the answer is but I think people need to calm down first and think about what they are saying & doing. Maybe its that they are scared or whatever but if people just watched their mouths they wouldn’t say hurtful things just to say them which is what I think the trolls of the world are doing. Also they may be a very small but loud number of people that are making all the trouble, we have to think of that as well. Maybe we should just ignore them.

    • Ignoring those in pain is probably a good start, but I’d like to offer them something to heal their pain. We need to get beyond it somehow. I do think being a lot more formal, essentially backing up a bit, would help a lot. There is a basic assumption that we are all the same or that we should be, which sounds like a noble expression of egalitarianism. It doesn’t always work out that way, as Marlene pointed out. There has to be room for people to be different and comfortable expressing that.

  4. Regarding racism and sexism, which are very similar in many ways – I do think that European Americans, especially men, do understand at their core that they are privileged. We are members of a ruling class. The problem comes when so many of us are struggling on a daily basis just like anyone else. There’s a disconnect there between what we feel in our guts, learned at a young age, and the reality of the world. Someone lied to us, and it’s much easier to say that the adult everyday life is simply corrupt and holding us back than to challenge the beliefs at our core, to realize that we are not an inherent ruling class.
    Perhaps that is what has broken down. There is definitely a rise of those who are different – by race, by gender and sexual preference, by non-Christian faith – which is itself something of a backlash to the enforced homogeny of our world. Feminism is much more difficult, as I said before, because it works through so many people with so many experiences and it redefines the family, but it is also rising up and challenging the conformity.
    We have to deal with it. I see a lot of good things here, and thank you all for it. I am focusing on conformity right now, along with the idea that privilege is actually well understood at a gut level. I am also thinking about how we just start making headway one issue at a time, acknowledging that shared work is the best way to bring people together.

  5. Pingback: Casualties of War | Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

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