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.


  1. Well written, Inspector. I would take issue with that assertion that "[v]ery few voluntarily chose the route of the 47%." I think many, if not most, choose it. We often accept what we perceive as our "lot in life" without fighting it because we think we can't, that we are what we are born into. Those people that went off into the frontier didn't simply accept that "destiny", they struck off on their own... to make their own destiny, to seek their own life. We call it the "pioneer spirit." I saw something of the other side of man while in the Navy, the side that stayed behind, that eschewed the risk in favor of the familiar. Guys who came from the inner city, or poverty, or a future of repetition in a factory to spend a few short years in the military for the adventure (which turned out mostly to be boredom and drudgery) only to return to the perceived safety of "home"... as sad as it was. They chose it. They saw a different road but chose not to take it. I think most of us are like that. We choose the familiar, the life we know, rather than the risk of chasing a dream or opportunity. In my blog post today, I talked a little about my fear of failure and mentioned/realized I also had a fear of success. It is those two fears which send us toward that 47% life. Well, as I see it anyway.

  2. Thank you Douglas. We're pretty much on the same page. You detected an ambivalence in our position regarding what the individual can do, and what the system or structure (factors much larger than the individual) forces us to do. It's all about how we respond.

    What we hoped to convey is that individual citizens have a choice.

    When the Institute was located in Los Angeles, we found it necessary to take many a taxi cab to conduct business efficiently. Most of our taxi drivers were Russian. We had many a discussion about the differences between the former U.S.S.R. and America.

    One cabbie summed it up this way. If you were ambitious and highly motivated, the U.S. was a better place. If you were satisfied with the basics and having your family's essential needs met, the U.S.S. R. was a better place. Every society is composed of a substantial number of people of each group. The issue is the proportion.

    Right now, we suspect that insecurity has "paralyzed" lots of people because security is safer. We've often said that it takes some sense of security to take a risk. But then again, according to one songwriter, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose...."

  3. Well ain't that the truth.

    I regularly play a game on the bus, wherein civilization is reborn via the commuters present.

    I've come to the conclusion that 24 times out of 25, we find ourselves quite unprepared.

    Enjoyed this point, Inspector. :-)


  4. I wrote a comment, and now it's gone!




  5. Pearl, why you little.... Thanks for checking us out. Starting civilization over again from this point in time would be an interesting venture.

    We know that you are very familiar with the ins and outs of public transportation. You just reminded us that we generated a couple of earlier posts where the bus was the background for the Shakespearean drama being played out. Please invite you to check out We Finally Figured Out What's Wrong with the American Education System and An Ass-Whupping Wuz 'Bout da Take Place.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Pearl, we visit her blog on a regular basis. Reading her posts always bring a smile to our faces. It is guaranteed entertainment. Check it out.

  6. That song always struck a chord (no pun intended) in me and sometimes brought about a sad thought that I might not take risks and be a success because I had something to lose... or thought I did.

  7. Interesting piece at TWKIWDBI two weeks ago.

    Me? i was a chef for 25 years. I used to say that "If I take care of the work, the money will take care of itself".
    but then I got burned out and quit being a chef and started trying to be a tile setter. I found out that this noble attitude didn't translate too well to being self-employed. Haha!
    These days I'm just a lowly clerk, and my job doesn't define me at all (when i was a chef, i thought anyone with a job that didnt define them had a major defect going), and I feel pretty good just being clean and sober and showing up every day.

  8. Thanks much as always, Bulletholes. This is the line which jumped out at us in reading your comment: "I feel pretty good just being clean and sober and showing up every day."

    That's a very powerful statement, to which many people in the workplace can relate. Individual citizens now have a very different set of expectations about what they do to generate income than they did 20 years ago. Best wishes for the New Year.


"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™