Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Post No. 186: Why We’re So Anxious in America, Debate the Role of Government, and Ministers Suggest God’s Pissed
© 2012, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
There are two things we do religiously, neither of which has anything to do with religion.
First, we watch Turner Classic Movies daily. By doing so, particularly those out of the 1920s through the 1950s, we re-visit many societal issues. (And you thought we were simply entertaining ourselves.)
Second, we read two books simultaneously. One is invariably a school textbook, circa 1960s or 1970s, and the other is a book which students were forced to read, and which might be termed classics from other eras, such as Don Quixote, Death of a Salesman, Wuthering Heights, Bulfinch’s Mythology, etc.
By engaging in these exercises, we’ve come to appreciate the meaning of the phrase, “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”
The textbook we've been reading here recently is Technology in Western Civilization. What we’ve taken away from our re-reading of this book is that the most powerful forces in society affecting individuals are forces over which individual citizens have the least control. Individuals respond to movements and do the best they can to survive.
The movie which caught our attention featured Barbara Stanwyck as a mail order bride. (Imagine that!) In The Purchase Price (1932), Stanwyck is on the run from her mobster boyfriend. She heads to North Dakota during the Depression to marry a struggling farmer. Months later, she visits a neighbor’s home to lend a helping hand, only to find the woman on the floor with a new born baby. Stanwyck takes charge of the situation.
The next couple of minutes dazzled us. Our former big city girl unleashes an arsenal of survival skills, and sets about wrapping up the delivery, cooking, sewing, milking, repairing, hammering, and doing anything necessary, followed by trekking home in a blinding snowstorm.
And then it hit us - why we’re so anxious, debate the role of government, and ministers daily suggest that we’ve pissed God off.
Except for our families, and perhaps fellow parishioners, we’re pretty much out here all alone. We don’t mean to suggest that government should do anything for its citizens other than defend our borders, and provide police, and maybe fire services. However, after reading Technology, we have a better appreciation of how government stepped in to assist people, long before the New Deal, after throngs left (by choice?), their rural, agrarian roots for major industrial cities during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Few of us can do the things that Barbara did. Instead, we “want to be like Mike.” We’ve reached a point where most of us are totally dependent on cash revenue from some source to pay others to do things for us. Also, we’re generally not that talented in basic survival skills (like sucking rattlesnake venom out of a wound), although we might be great computer people, electricians, ad execs, doctors, or truck drivers.
We all get compensated with cash for our services. According to Technology, currency was one of the great inventions of humankind. But it came with a price.
What we came to realize by the end of the movie is that we are far less capable, at least as individuals, of helping one another because we are not sure whether we can help ourselves. We’ve become dependent on employers, customers, clients, or worse yet, the government. Very few voluntarily chose the route of the 47%.
King Kong ain’t got nothin' on insecurity.
A half-way decent job in a manufacturing plant, enabling one to take care of one’s self and one’s family (and develop a little self-esteem along the way), was a big deal at one time. And then they shipped trinket making to cheaper real estate, and warned us [via Toffler’s Future Shock (1970), and The Third Wave (1980)] that we were transitioning to a service economy. But the provision of services and the assembly of information don’t amount to much if no one is willing to pay for those services.
As a wise man once said, “Something only has as much value as someone is willing to pay.” And connecting what one has to offer with someone willing to pay became far more difficult in the global economic expansion.
There’s little question that we are anxious, and even some are angry. And that debate about the extent government should be involved in our lives is a legitimate one, because there aren’t any other obvious options. And while it is true that families aren’t as large, connected, and based in the same field as they used to be, it’s not God doing it to us because he’s pissed off.
We’re doing it to ourselves. And only we individual citizens have the solutions.
And that’s only common sense.
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