I am, by nature, a very optimistic person … even in the face of challenge or adversity. And I am not much of a political person in that I believe strongly in personal accountability and responsibility to take charge of ones affairs, while taking every reasonable opportunity to serve my fellow man. A government has never been good at teaching or modeling those attributes; it was the job of my parents to raise me in a way that enabled me to have these values and abilities. And I have learned that discussing politics only divides or inflames, and never results in the participants being edified. I have also witnessed that the business world, religious institutions, academia, and philanthropic organizations have produced most of the leadership in society. Conversely, politicians, at least to me, have appeared to be mostly vassals for their largest funding supporters, and/or for their own self-serving agendas – even if they sometimes began more altruistically. And so, my views have been that our country has functioned just fine this past century or so, through a population of generally good people, despite the influences, policies or whims of whatever political party is currently leading the city, state or country. In other words, for the average person, there has seldom been a real impact to their lives of one particular party being in power versus another, and we have been without a true leader for the country for some years. And neither of the two main candidates for president in 2012 will, in my opinion, change that trend, especially as you ponder the two major national issues I will propose later.
That is very unfortunate, as times have drastically changed and I am now more concerned for us and our country, then I have been at any other point in my life. Unfortunately I do not see either of the two main political parties addressing the real issues we are facing, despite the fact we now need a strong national leader to help drive the needed solution, to inspire and model the individual mandates. Therefore, I write this not as a political essay (since politicians will not be the solution) but as a personal missive for you the reader. Our most serious issues are not the result of our government, but of our overall culture change as a nation, of which our government has become a reflection. Before getting to what I see as the crux of the problem, allow me to at least confirm the lesser issues on which I see us fixated today.
Although this partial list will surprise you because I label them as “minor” issues, you will later see why I propose them as such. And this is not an attempt to understate their severity. They are indeed serious issues, but not as critical as what I see as the two major elements of our national crisis, which need to be solved in order to solve the following smaller issues.
First, we have a massive national debt to which we are adding almost $1.4 trillion every year (the annual deficit between what we continue to spend (increasing) and tax revenues we bring in (staying about steady)). Our debt to GDP ratio now exceeds 70% and climbing. Europe’s is almost 90% and you can see the impact on the daily news (several individual countries have ratios over 100%). Our overall economy is languishing and the high unemployment rate is not abating. We are engaged in costly wars with no plans to win. Despite ever rising fuel prices, we continue to consume more energy per capita than any other country in the world, while politically limiting our ability to tap domestic reserves. We have abdicated our manufacturing edge, our leadership in technology training and development, and our preeminence in healthcare. We continue to poison our soil, water and air, and Homeland Security still has oversight for borders that remain more porous than a tennis racket; throwing away our shampoo bottles and removing our shoes at airport security has not changed this. Our education system continues its downward movement on the worldwide ranking scales (India graduates more high tech people every year than we graduate total students), and our investment in the emerging sciences, such as nanotechnology and stem cell research, has been curtailed due to budget or social pressures. Additionally, our nation has one of the world’s most unhealthy populations, with more than 80% of the current generation expected to die of either heart disease or cancer – mostly due to life style choices. The jobless rate is increasing along with personal debt, which is now at the highest level it has been since the start of the great depression. There are many more issues, but these are the main ones getting the press these days.
But I see these as merely symptomatic of the larger two issues, both of which are cultural. The two biggest hindrances to our historic greatness, and our future viability, are increasing personal entitlement, and deceasing personal responsibility. While each on its own is serious, together these two have been the biggest contributors to our current situation – most of the above “minor” issues we are facing. Working together, these two issues are mostly manifested in the overall national cultural change towards apathy, mediocrity, and even negativity. Without addressing both these major issues, the others will be impossible to fully address. To date, we are making insignificant, almost comical (if it was not so serious) attempts to address these minor issues in the political realm, with mostly knee jerk reactions simply instituted in opposition to the other political party’s actions, or policy edicts to politically placate the masses.
Let’s first look at personal entitlement, or to use “less nice” words, greed, selfishness, hubris or pride. It is the overall thinking that the US is by far the greatest country on earth and therefore entitles us as individuals to have a high standard of living with no suffering, no sacrifices, and no concessions. We deserve it all, we deserve it now, and we deserve only the best without reasonable limits. This was the major factor in the recent housing and mortgage crisis which in turn resulted in the credit and banking crisis – these institutions were compelled to placate our entitlement. Culturally, entitlement causes a focus on “me” versus “them”, extreme arrogance, a lowering of personal integrity (justify actions to get what we want), protection of “my personal property” at any cost, and extreme suspicion of any other entity which might appear to threaten my livelihood, my possessions or the status quo of my lifestyle. Therefore, we find it easier to believe there is no real crisis, and we just need to hunker down, work harder and protect ourselves and our stuff. Entitlement keeps us from a solution to the minor issues above, because the solutions will definitely involve sacrifice, restraint, humble submission to authority and a great unifying cause, and concern for others – opposing our culture of entitlement.
The second major crisis, acting in devastating concert with the first, is the significant decrease in personal responsibility. As entitlement increases, so too does our perceived stature, which has tended to immune us from responsibility. One need only watch television commercials to see this issue magnified and reinforced. Are you over weight? It’s not your fault – it’s a chemical in your body, or the environment, or other such nonsense which can be fixed with drugs or surgery. Time magazine recently did a study that showed more than 90% of major heart attack survivors do not subsequently change their lifestyle habits, despite their doctor assuring them of almost certain death otherwise. If you are pregnant and don’t want a baby right now? An abortion can take care of that so your lifestyle is not compromised. Are your kids not doing well in school, or following orders? It’s not your fault – it must be ADHD which we can help alleviate with drugs. Or since we are entitled to it as Americans, send your kids to a private school with private tutors and private camps so that others can raise them right, so you don’t need to be as involved. Are you in debt? It is not your fault – you can call a lawyer to declare bankruptcy or get your debts reduced. I actually had an acquaintance recently brag that he had almost $100,000 in credit card debt for which he ended up only having to pay $2600!! He could not understand my concern when I asked him who ended up paying for his debt – his new car, trips, and home remodel – and he felt no remorse or personal shame that he could not pay his obligations. To this man, he considered it not to be his fault that he could not continue to make his payments, that he deserved his purchases and credit cards, and that his debt assumption by others was simply a viable choice. Failure to accept personal responsibility has resulted in much lower morals in our country, an inability or unwillingness to submit to any authority (“they are to blame, not me”), stubbornness, a plethora of lawyers who reinforce our irresponsibility, apathy, and an overall lowering of standards of societal behavior and concern for others. And since the Bible and our founding documents have been miscommunicated or eradicated from most institutions as the foundation of truth and right or wrong, there is no longer a standard of right and wrong, only personal choice. I heard an expression recently that summarized the trend: “One generation’s sin becomes the next generation’s lifestyle choice”.
So what are we to do? Ideally our country needs a strong visionary president with strong morals, personal values, a humble love and deep concern for this country and its people, who is willing and able to tell the country exactly where we are and what is needed to address our major issues. This will take incredible courage and personal sacrifice to model the personal changes needed, as it will involve personal confession and determination. After all, practically everyone has been involved in getting our country to this point. He or she then needs to be able to spell out the plan to address the minor issues, and the courage to both tell us the truth behind each issue, how it will involve and affect each of us, and then implement the hard changes while communicating each step and milestone. We will not escape our current malaise without suffering. That is a guarantee. The current placation and delay of corrective action is only making the eventual accounting more severe.
Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, I do not see that national on the near horizon. Therefore it falls to each one of us to make our own choice; to decide to give ourselves a “wake up call” to humbly change our thinking and desires of entitlement and self-protection, to commit to being a role model and implementer of the changes needed, and thereby influence our families, friends, coworkers and other acquaintances. We have no one else to whom the buck may be passed, and no one else to blame when it inevitably returns back to our laps.