Steps toward a saner America

The behavior of America’s leaders in this first year of the Obama administration has been less than stellar; name calling on the floor of the Senate, open mockery of the office of the President, death threats made to congressmen are just a few of the more questionable behaviors that have reared their heads in these last months.

More disturbing is that as the deadline for the potential signing of HR3590 drew closer, more vocal rhetoric and in some cases outright slander and overt racism in the case of the Tea Party and the Christian militias (which in the last year went from 180 groups to over 540 groups and growing) continued to grow and spew forth vitriolic venom both on the ground and in the airwaves.

Glen Beck’s screams of “Progressivism” and Rush Limbaugh’s continued polarization of the GOP’s base seemed to fuel a frenzy of national hatred that culminated with the final signing of the health care legislation.

The question begs to be asked: What exactly could cause such a major swing in the overall mental state of the nation that would cause social groups to abandon all sense of propriety and what was once considered to be common sense and human decency? And this transition did not happen overnight.

I can find articles describing this phenomenon years before Obama came into office.  How is it that even children can see the behavior of every adult whether they be “tea-bagger” Republican or liberal “bleeding-heart” Democrat has been a travesty worthy of school yard bullying complete with arguments about policies that no one has read in their entirety and cannot even begin to really understand the ramifications of, for years in the future; each group claiming to be more right than the other and willing to kill to prove it.

Is this what good government is supposed to look like? No wonder our children want nothing to do with the idea of government – its is a regression to the schoolyard of their youth where nothing got solved, everyone was right and no one could apologize for fear of appearing weak and losing face.

So how do we begin to make a transition from this fear-enabled, angst-filled, respect-stunted, violence-prone and civility-impaired nation of fools without the ability to hold even the most basic of conversations without resorting to ad hominem attacks about Progressivism, Socialism, Marxism, conservatism, Nazism, racism, or Communism and get back to a nation powered by ideas, fueled by innovation, guided by clear vision, charged with enthusiasm for the future, and with the idea that only as a nation of real equals do we have a chance to tackle a potentially troubling and very challenging future filled with perils aplenty – a constantly growing need for diverse and renewable energy sources, better food to feed an obese and sedentary nation, a more even educational system providing higher quality education at lower costs, handling a crumbling technological infrastructure in all of our cities, ever-rising debts in the management of said cities, mass transit systems, school systems, prison systems and local governments, a reduction of our nation’s status as the leader in technological innovation, military might, and national idealism, wars all over the globe, some of which we take part in and other we shamefully allow to take place without intervention because our assets are not yet imperiled. Do we not have enough to deal with without the people and particularly the leaders of our nation acting as if we had simply gone mad?

No need to break out your DSM IV

As much as I would like to say that this is a mental health issue, I cannot agree with that assessment. Nor will I say that this is about the Left versus the Right and which has the nation’s best interests at heart. And I will not allow people such as Limbaugh, Beck and Stern (and any other raving media lunatic) the option to say that he has had the power to move the minds of men toward madness.

I say this is a creeping condition. A hidden fungal infection, beneath the veneer of civility, something that has been with this nation since its beginning; an underlying sense of shame, a sense of entitlement, a sense of misplaced anger, and a sense of righteous indignation; stirred together, simmer over four hundred years, add some civil wars, some terrible recessions, stir together in a Dust Bowl, fold in some misplaced ideals (McCarthyism for example), sprinkle on a few pogroms, ladle in laws that denied what we now consider rights, place a few strategically fired bullets at leaders who saw a better, brighter world,  and the add a generous helping of landmines all over the world to deny people of their opportunities year after year.

Bake until there are competitors for the world’s apparently diminished resources, bring to a boil over a burning building that collapses strangely when a plane with zealots deny three thousand of their lives and couple that with the retaliation that deprives millions more of theirs and you have a recipe for a madness that encompasses the country and poisons the world, a sickness spread through the airwaves, leaping from televisions, repeated on computers, stained to newsprint and by contagion in hidden office arguments and you have one of the most virulent plagues known to humanity, a loss of hope.

Hopelessness, of a future less promising than the one your parents had made even more futile by the actions of an elite few who want for nothing except for a connection to the human billions who do without that which their  financial billions could make right. Can we doubt that this is the recipe for madness? A sense of rage that would drive men to take up arms, kill their brothers, to sacrifice, like Abraham, anyone or anything that might make the world return to the Promised Lands of their religions.

Is it any wonder that people would strap on explosives filled with nails and shards of broken glass and blow themselves to bits on the promise that the next life, which none of us could technically be sure exists, would be better than the life they were leading the day they died? Our real goal is to return people to that hope, to a future that has the potential to be better than the one they see when they look up, whether it be out of their homeless shelter or their mansion window, a future that will not improve if we cannot admit that we are wrong about the present.

So if you want to improve the future, say it with me: I was wrong.

I don’t know what it was that I was wrong about and it does not matter. Did I misinterpret what was said? Did I assume when I should have asked? Did I know what Marxism, or Socialism or Communism really meant before I said those things I said in a meeting when I might have been a bit incensed? How much do I really know about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac or the Federal Reserve or about my credit rating or how the stock exchange really relates to me or whether Windows 7 really is the operating system for my computer?

A need to be right?

Why are we so insistent that we must be right? My religion is the right one. My God told me. All other are wrong enough that I must die to prove it, unless I can kill them first. My government is the right one, because it has held power for a few days longer than the one before it, or has historically proven to be the one that raised fewer taxes or managed to make more changes that helped people or because business thrived under my government and languished under yours? That the Atkins diet is better than Weight Watchers?

STOP! Just stop!

History is great but its weakness is everyone remembers what is most convenient and important to them (relativism run amok). So when history gets people in a killing mood it is time to look toward the future and ask how what we are planning will affect the lives of people once we are gone. Yes, let’s get back to the idea of planning for a future that we will never get to see. That will make us think a little bit harder, plan a little bit better and teach our children well enough that they can have a chance to make that future happen for themselves once we are gone. Let’s go back to providing our children a legacy that will make them proud of us and still prouder of themselves for planning a better future for their children.

Enough shame to go around

You raging pundits, go home. Find something useful to do with your amazing oratory skills. Perhaps some poor neighborhoods of your choice could be inspired to greatness with those powers you currently wield without thought to their effects on the nation, on the future or most importantly on yourself. Could you live with yourself if you were to wake up in the future of your making only to find out it was the worst of all worlds, a hellish nightmare from which there was no awakening? Or are you so out of touch you would find a way to blame it on the other party, even while you were having your sandwich of Soylent Green?

You politicians, do your job. The one we hired you for. The one that, if I have my way this letter will incite people to replace you with someone who can read, who will write laws that they are not afraid to live under, who will create a responsible future that benefits everyone, not just the rich and powerful and who will consider every man woman and child under his or her constituency as precious as every drop of water is to a man lost in a desert, each drop coveted, beloved, needed and considered as important as the drop before it. Be responsible, be conscientious, be vigilant, be valiant, be leaders of men.

You media distributors, grow up. We know your secret, if it bleeds it leads. Sensationalism sells papers, video, commercials, and other advertising, continuing to make you the most powerful force for influencing the minds of men and women. We know you will do or say anything to be at the top.  But remember this too: scum floats to the top, too. We know who you are and you are wondering why no one is happy with newspapers? Less and less in newspapers matters to people anymore. You grow irrelevant to the common man and he knows this.

Continue in this pattern and you will be assured of one thing. In ten years, there will be ten newspapers for each time zone in the United States (currently there are 1,400 daily newspapers nationwide and thousands of local weeklies but that number is dropping fast). And do not think that the Internet will save you. The need for relevancy will follow you there. Find the heart of America and give it what it really needs which is hope for a future. Lead them with words that inspire as well as inform. You can let the printed word build the future or you can watch from the sidelines as “citizen journalism” replaces you with its imperfect writing styles, less than stellar grammar and polarized, biased views. But those views will be relevant to the people reading it and yours won’t be.

You elite one percent, pay attention. Your time of reckoning is at hand. This economic collapse that everyone wants to place at the feet of President Obama is not his alone. He may be in charge of the nation, but he just got here a year ago. In the seventies and eighties when lobbyists for big business and deregulation were able to convince the government that you would be more profitable if allowed to be less regulated, you were. But no one was watching you.

No one paid attention to your schemes that allowed you first to run rampant here in the States and then spread your machinations upon a vulnerable yet already scheming world trying to figure out how to get markets in America whilst you set your hungry eyes upon their wretched poor trying to figure out how you could exploit them for less than you were paying your middle class and poorer brethren here in the states.

Rich foreign investors purchased American assets and you moved your factories, your manufacturing, your services overseas and left your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers of circumstance and shared fates without resources to buy your wares. And when your wares returned from their foreign sweatshops, there was no one left here to buy them, except for you and your elite friends who lacked the purchasing power to ignite the economic engine of shame, left under-fueled by your quests for profit. I do not say that your astronomical profits were wrong, just very shortsighted; myopic, indeed.

As for the handling of the economic wealth of our nation, the dealings in land and property that allowed for some financial slight of hand to further increase your wealth and prosperity at the further expense of our brothers in arms and hunger, you suddenly experienced a moment of fear, as you watched your Brothers, Lehman struggle for life and suddenly drown in a frenzy of economic skulduggery.

Capitalists that you were, you claimed that your right to make money made you immune to the vagaries of fate and that you were too big to fail and that it was up to the government and the little people you scorned so many years before to find a way to buoy you up on their backs one more time, whilst you flew in your corporate jets to plead your case before the government for Socialist or are they Marxist handouts?

Your time has come. You will not have the option of being too big to fail. You played that card and then spit in the eyes of your saviors by paying bonuses to your elite, again. You would think you could maintain your charade of contriteness for at least a year while the sting of keeping you rich faded from the memory of the poor and disenfranchised moved out of their homes which you helped them lose, into the shelters that cities can now, not afford to pay for, while your corporate jets fly over those regions who lost their pensions and are now watching their stores, towns, villages, families, and farms shutter their doors and their histories just in time to watch Glenn Beck tell them its Progressivism that is making them poor when you know that its really you. Don’t make any more mistakes, you elite, lest people remember the expression “Eat the Rich.”

And don’t think I forgot you, Average Joe; you too have a part to play in this madness, this contagion that you are spreading with your ignorance of facts, your ignorance of governance, your apathy to your children, to your community, to your own fate. Stuffing your faces full of empty calories and fulfilling fats, you watch American Idol, waiting to see which of these nobodies will get their 15 minutes of fame, 14 of which they will use up on the show and the last no talented gasp will be that 1 minute that you remember them after they leave the show and wait for the next season of unreality television. Your consumption does not stop with bad food and bad television, you enhance it with partisan television, television that is completely under the control of people who only have one mission for you, Joe; stay stupid, stay afraid, stay at work and stay at the store. And while you are at it, drink too much, exercise too little, take these white pills for your headaches, these blue ones for your impotence and be sure to get to the pharmacy for your insulin for your television or computer-induced diabetes.

No Joe, it’s not only your fault that you are subject to these ills. Judging from the fact that most of America is morbidly obese (okay maybe not most, but more than a third), I would say that the plan to keep you fat, crippled, illiterate, and underemployed is working fine; most of your fellow Americans are in the same boat.

So I have to ask you, since you are angry about the things that you know almost nothing about, can you be angry about the things you can be sure of? If you keep eating the way you do, you will die, you will die poor, you will die soon and you will die uncomfortably. You will die leaving your family no legacy because you will spend every penny you have to live as long as you can with as low a quality of life that is possible in our “first World nation” with its inadequate health care and overpriced insurance; so Joe, angry yet?

I know you are, you have lost a job that you had for twenty years and are now being told in your fifties that you need to train for a new career and you better do it before you lose your home to foreclosure the same way you lost your pension to a corporate escapade a few years before. I feel your pain. I would be pissed too if I expected to retire in ten years and now have to work until I die, no matter how soon or how uncomfortable that is going to be. Twenty years, on your feet for eight hours a day saying “would you like fries with that” would make me mad as hell!

I am going to leave you bigots, partisan political sociopaths and religious nuts out of this particular conversation, you are simply too unreasonable to talk to and if I do my job right, no one will listen to you again, anyway.

True Freedom

No one has to be angry anymore because you are now free to be wrong. Your urges to be right have forced you to say things you did not mean, to do things you knew were wrong and take risks that were completely unnecessary. Go to your boss and tell him or her, that you have no idea of anything you said in the last meeting was actually true and that you were likely going to have to do something illegal to make the numbers that you promised. We’ll wait. Now, don’t you feel better?

A huge weight is lifted because you know you will not have to lie tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that. Lies that compound daily do not lead to a harmonious and stress free life. Lies compounded daily lead to coming to work with a couple of handguns and blowing your boss and likely yourself into the next life. It will now be okay to admit you don’t know anything about black people’s lives in America and the fact that you hate them is really based on the fact that your father hated them and his father before him. You hate them because it is the thing to do, something you know, not something you know anything about. You hate because you don’t know anything else to do.

I say America, you need a time out (I would recommend a spanking but to administer 300 million spankings would take me quite some time). You need time away from your television and those raging pundits, time away from your media and their constant urge to create a fear of everything around you. I want you to take time away from your Blackberries, your iPods, your computers, your twittering masturbation, your media frenzy. Put down your Xbox controller, your PS3, your Wii-motes, remotes, and get up from your sofa.

Stretch. Go outside. If it’s unpleasant weather, bundle up, go anyway. If you have a dog, take it out. If you have a cat, chase it out. Grab your kids, your wife, your husband, your girlfriend. Go to your nearest neighbor and introduce yourself. Then get them to go with you to your next neighbor and do the same. Do that until every house and every door that you can see from your door has a name on it. Then go home, sit with your family and marvel at their tales of their day. Savor the food on your table, if you do not have a table, remember when you did, and visualize the day that you will again.

Let go of the false divisions that the media use to keep us polarized. Those false divisions of race, creed, color, religion, political party, economic status, class, degree, and neighborhood are all created to keep us at odds. They are truly false. Turn off the lights and all people become the same. If you have a problem, close your eyes and put yourself in the place of the person who is asking you for your time, your support, your largess, your succor. You would hope he will be as helpful for you as you will be for him. Ultimately humans are herd animals, seeking shelter in the collectiveness of our cities and towns. But as herd animals if we can be divided we become prey to any unscrupulous predator that happens by. Nearly anyone who provides a major service to you can be a predator in the right light.

None of us will be free of this madness until we remember that we are all in this together. Gene Rodenberry’s fictional but highly logical race, the Vulcans, posited the IDIC – Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination, an idea that promotes that true intelligence promotes and accepts diversity to spur innovation and invention. We would be wise to consider this idea. There are no strangers, only friends we have not met yet. Once we realize that each of us is all of us, we will be able to be angry but only for a moment. The same way you are angry at your husband when he does not take out the trash, but forgive him when he remembers to help with the dishes. We will be able to realize that each of us is imperfect and yet perfect just the way that we are.

We are all bound together through that ultimate equalizer, Time; “it slays kings, ruins towns, and brings high mountains down.” We are all mortal and none of our works will last unless the least of us is as important as the best of us. We have an entire world that is looking to us to be our best. And since we are so fond of claiming that America is the best, shouldn’t we be finding new ways to prove that?

I do not fear the future. I am confident that we can overcome all of the mistakes that have led us to this fork in the road. We can continue down this road we are on, self absorbed, lost, angry, fat and apathetic or we can opt to notice that the Future is coming. Get up, put on your best, think, learn what the future requires and then build it. Grab a friend or two to help you. Hurry up; it will be here before you know it. Who has time to be mad?

Thaddeus Howze © 2010, All Rights Reserved