Monday, May 14, 2012

Stupid or "Sick?"

I have been wondering for some time now whether I believe the United States, as a nation, is merely stupid or seriously “sick.” It is possible, you know, for nations, states, or any other cultural entity, to be so dysfunctional as to be really sick. I have concluded, I am sorry to say, that my nation is both stupid and sick, possibly even terminally so. It is complicated as the sickness is at once both the beginning and the end, and in both cases is related to stupidity. Where to begin?

The initial problem has to do with a kind of mental illness that, if found in an individual, would be considered “Delusions of grandeur.” This manifests itself most obviously in the claim of “American exceptionalism,” a grandiose claim that somehow the U.S. is a special case, far better than others, and thus entitled to do things other nations would not be entitled to do. As far as I know this claim must have to do with our military power rather than any other consideration. Unfortunately, this belief in exceptionalism, itself an extreme example of ethnocentrism, is also linked to a kind of missionary zeal that leads us to believe it is our duty to spread our way of life (political/economic system) to all others, whether they want it or not. We profess to hold this belief so strongly we believe we can actually force others at gunpoint to agree to do what we promote. Ignore for the moment we have other more compelling motives for “doing our duty,” such as wanting to exploit the resources of others for our benefit. In any case, our obsession with promoting our way of life onto all others, has led us to create a kind of unspoken “empire” with outposts all over the globe. As this is terribly expensive it has led us inevitably to not attend to pressing issues we have at home, like employment, health care, education, infrastructure, and so forth.

Our inattention to these kinds of social problems has over time resulted in what might fairly be described as a “sick society,” as from a national point of view they are suicidal in the extreme. For example, what nation on earth can afford to cripple and abandon an entire generation of citizens, the young people that hold the future of our well-being in their hands? Where we should have provided free, or at least relatively inexpensive educational experiences for our young people, we have allowed a system to exist that binds them to poverty for the rest of their lives. Having to borrow heavily for their education, and then not be provided employment to allow them to pay off their loans, means they are no better off than the sharecroppers and others that were bound year after year to “The Company Store.” From the standpoint of our nation’s health and future competitiveness this can only be described as “sick.” Similarly, it should clearly be in the interest of a strong, powerful, and competitive nation to have a healthy population, one not burdened by a high percentage of sick and damaged citizens, one that provides adequate health care for all, something virtually all other highly industrialized nations realize, but we, uniquely, do not. And along those lines, surely no sane society would attack the health of their female population, the source of the population necessary for ay nation to survive and continue to thrive. Also, no self-respecting nation would allow its infrastructure to deteriorate so badly it would interfere with their basic ability to manufacture goods and transport them efficiently. More importantly, a sane nation, faced with the single most threatening possibility to their existence would take action to do something about it. Global warming is a fact and human behavior has something to do with it, and if left unchecked might potentially make life for humans on the planet impossible. As a nation we are doing next to nothing about this unprecedented potential disaster. And finally, for the moment at least, no decent society would allow large numbers of its citizens to go hungry, to go without even the most basic kinds of human services, essentially just throwing them on the scrapheap of history when their resources have been exhausted. If an individual were to allow him or herself to deteriorate so markedly, or would be so callous, we would assume some form of clinical depression or perhaps even worse, an inability to care for themselves or a form of criminal negligence, even a psychopathic c or sociopathic affliction.

The one feature of our culture more responsible than any other for the sickness we are witnessing has to do, I believe, with the elevation of “profit” to a level so unhealthy we now regard it as more important than human life itself. It is the obsession with profit that has led to the impoverishment of our young people, and it is clearly the profit motive that makes our healthcare system such that the insurance companies make their profits from the suffering and deaths of our citizens. It is profit that is now potentially going to destroy our educational system as it becomes increasingly “privatized,” and the same thing is true of our prisons. When institutions are run to produce a profit rather than care for other basic needs of society everyone suffers, except, of course, for those who are reaping the profits. When even basic necessities of human life are denied because they do not generate a profit, like clean air and water, and even our energy supply, the result is entirely predictable. This obsession with profit and privatization is absolutely incompatible with healthy human life and the kind of government necessary for people to thrive and plan for the future. The idea that a large number of humans can exist together without well intentioned and well enforced rules and regulations is anathema to reality.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

From Sixteen Tons, Tennessee Ernie Ford

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