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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

What is to be done?

I agree with Berman.  America is failing--has failed.  Even by its own measure of economic growth, the financial institutions which led to the latest failure, saved by government, are still too big to fail, are wallowing in cash that provides huge bonuses to those that preside over short term profits and to expert lobbyists undermining new regulations to prevent another fall.  We know that another boom and bust will come.

I am in conflict.  I depend on the growth of my 401K to maintain my income.  I love my iPad, computer, and smartphone (although I can get along without the TV very well).  I watch my grandchildren's' brains rewire with internet games content in their virtual worlds.

Here seem to be my choices:

1) Elections. The first choice in any democracy. Canvas for and vote in the right party and the persons that present the policies that will lead to the future that I prefer. But, in my judgment, America is really a plutocracy in democratic trappings. Monied interests prevail in choice of candidates, defining issues, shaping policy. Both parties intend the same with somewhat different approaches. Both are bent on saving the economy (which again I say is not bad). Both make it the measure of all (which again I say is bad). Both confuse ethics with morality, public policy with personal polls, social justice with private (usually sexual) mores.  All with overwhelming support of the American electorate from who they come.  Berman has reason to expect no changes here.  Consumer marketing plans, litmus test issues, mass media presentations, poll tested proposals, factions listening only to themselves, popularity contests with private ballots do not a republic make or lead to a just social order.

2) Love it or Leave it. We just got back from Belize.  In the small Garifuna village of Hopkins and in the jungle Mayan villages in Cayo, we encountered laid back people who didn't know they were poor, lovely, welcoming, happy people.  We also found émigrés from US, Canada, and Europe, not trying to make their fortune, but to enjoy a different life style.  Berman moved to Mexico where "not everything works, but everything works out."  Years ago a bright classmate of mine seeing where America was heading sold all they had and moved with his wife and children to teach math in New Zealand. understand well these moves and have often contemplated following suit. But my loved ones are here and I need to be in physical touch.  Also the crisis I believe is not just America's.  Japan, Europe, Russia, Korea, China are on the same march to affluence.  This is a human crisis.

3) Tune Out.  Berman speaks of the "monastic option."  Find a space where new values can be learned and supported.  A commune, a counter culture, a congregation, a country club where you simply don't have to deal with it.  We just moved from California to Takoma Park, MD.  It has the feel (and some reality) of being a town where people know, greet, and look after one another.  Very diverse in race, income, age, and lifestyle, we have no problem paying higher taxes for our wonderful parks, our running and biking trails, our bright schools, our library, our community center, and lots of affordable housing.  We walk to the Metro and to the Co-op, shops, farmer's market, coffee shops and eateries along Carroll Avenue.  Here I could easily become a kind of hermit, read, think, avoid the hamster wheel. But I don't want to.  And is the "purity" that comes with this a kind of individualist righteousness that reflects the very religion we question?

4) Fight Back.  The Unabomber fought back as did Bin Ladin attacking the key symbols of the American Religion: military research labs, Pentagon, Trading Center.  The passion, selflessness, and dedication to a transcendent principle is admirable.  But the unconcern for persons, the lack of empathy, the disregard of people with whom we are related, the sacrifice of human existence to principle is the very objective of our loathing: the pursuit of individual riches, the worship of the invisible hand, the sapping of the ethical core of our country.  But like the prophets we can fight back nonviolently with words, alternative lifestyles, symbolic actions.  As I believe great intellectuals, artists, preachers, religious women are doing.  Berman says they are not being heard and having little effect.  Perhaps.  But they certainly have an effect on me.

5) Organize!  The problem with the American religion and the morality it sanctifies is that it makes "making it" the end-all of human existence.  Of course we need to make it, to consume, to satisfy life's basic needs, to survive and thrive.  We now as a species have the ability to feed, clothe, shelter, and provide health care and income to all humans on earth and maintain the earth itself.  Our science and technology, our ability to solve problems, to produce goods is magnificent.  But there is so much more than our ability to produce and consume things.  We also have the ability to think, speak, and act.

To be continued

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