Saturday, January 7, 2012

Compassion Lost

A CEO, a tea party activist, and a union member are at a table.  A waiter brings in a tray of a dozen cookies.  The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, looks at the Tea Partier, and says "hey, watch out, that union guy wants your cookie."

Somewhere along the road, our country lost its sense of collective compassion, the belief in the common good, and the notion of working toward common goals.  It was that sense of common purpose after the Depression and World War II that made our nation great.  Yes, some people would do better than others, but everyone would, in theory, get what they needed.  One of the important lessons we learned from the Great Depression was that severe income inequality was not a sustainable economic model.

So how did we get to the point today where people cheer in a Republican debate at the prospect of a man dying because he doesn't have health insurance?  Where did this "every man for himself" attitude come from?  How did this happen?

Well, Ronald Reagan happened.  I cringe every time I hear some "conservative" wax nostalgic about such a destructive force in our nation.  Fox News happened.  Right wing radio happened.  

In a nutshell, a small number of people and corporations got to work in the 1980's.  They had a plan and a purpose.  They bought our government and its politicians.  They bought our media.  They bought our souls.

The 1% made us believe that the "every man for himself, winner takes all" mentality is what made this country great.  They made us believe that it was OK to look out for yourself, and only yourself.  It was obviously working out great for them, the real accomplishment was to make the rest of us believe it.  

The 1% worked us up into an often racist frenzy about the millions of dollars of welfare and medicaid abuses, while they siphoned trillions of dollars out of our economy via corrupt trade, tax, and banking policy.  They made us believe that the teacher or firefighter or police officer who had health insurance and a modest pension was the enemy, while they shipped jobs overseas with the full blessing of the politicians they previously purchased.  All done so they could make record profits, pad their pockets, and please their shareholders.  They made us believe that a CEO getting $200 million for getting fired was OK, because that was the "free market."  

You see, turning us into selfish, mean-spirited introverts makes it easier for them to get away with all of this. The "every man for himself" philosophy legitimizes the fact that we have the worst income inequality in the entire industrialized world.  They have rigged the system completely, yet they tell us it's our fault, or worse, our neighbor's fault, that we are struggling to survive.  

Maybe it's because most of us aren't suffering quite enough yet, or the decline has been so gradual most of us don't notice it.  As the old myth goes: if you put a frog in a pot, it will boil to death without trying to escape as long as you raise the temperature gradually enough.  We may have trouble paying our bills every month, but we have a steady supply of cable TV and cheap, high calorie food provided by our corporate masters.  Cue McDonalds jingle:  I'm lovin it(?)

Whatever the case, I feel comfortable saying that we will crumble as a nation unless we regain our sense of compassion for each other.  We will not prosper again until we become our brother's keeper.  


1 comment:

  1. I suppose the reason that there are no comments to this excellent column is that most people reading here are in complete agreement with what it has to say. For my part, I can't stop wondering what happened to the country I grew up in. Thank you for articulating a point of view that used to be common.