Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Future That We Can Live With

Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States, we need to start thinking about the future. Okay, sure, the global climate change thing is important, but the basic challenge that we urgently face right now is returning to some kind of normalcy in the realm of politics.

We’d all like to think that there is a future for American politics. A good future, I mean, a future in which we have climbed out of the hole that we are currently stuck in, a time when things are working more smoothly. You can’t just stumble along, not in life and not in politics. There needs to be a goal, that’s the “vision thing.”  But what might such a future even look like? And where is the door that we may pass through to get there? That last part might be the real stumbling block. We need to work out what kind of political future we want, but maybe seeing the future itself is easier than the process of getting there.

What about envisioning the desirable future in the first place? I have read that Mr. Nostradamus used an ancient technique to divine the future. It might work not only for seeing the actual future, but also for imaging a livable future. He carefully prepared a darkened room, hanging a large, angled mirror above eye level. Maybe he lit a feint candle; maybe there was a source of smoke. It is said that he would sit looking into the dark mirror, trying to detect the movement of the spheres. Depending on whom you ask, he had considerable success in the prediction business. Seeing where politics is leading us might be a good first step. I believe that what we saw would be so terrible that it would lead to desperate measures to avoid it.

Then there would be the getting there part. Moving forward in our present political and economic climate is going to be difficult. There are many important people today that will tell you that the system is working just fine, while even a blind donkey could see that it is not. These Champagne Charlies are raising hell and spreading ruin and insecurity, but they don’t care, because they themselves are making money.

The number of people raising hell and painting pretty pictures far outnumbers the precious few that may have a sincere wish to move America towards the good. There are probably more than a few, but it seems like only Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have the courage to stand up and speak out.

I read recently that the century between 1870 and 1970 saw the greatest advance in human living standards in all of history. I substantially agree with that assessment. Most Americans can look to their own family histories for evidence that it is true. The Industrial Revolution, unionization, the New Deal, and World War II brought Americans to a high state of prosperity and security. (Most Americans, anyway. All generalizations are, in a sense, lies.) The great part was that the prosperity and security were shared; all classes saw big upticks in living standards across the board. Maybe the century ending in the 1970s saw such progress because some of our leaders recognized that sharing as a priority. They created a strong middle class and raised the really, really poor by quite a measure as well. The rich were not apparently hurt in all of that raising up; in fact they got richer themselves. The decades since 1970 have also seen huge increases in productivity and prosperity, but all of the new prosperity has gone to the one percent, the very top class of wealthy families. Our leaders, beginning particularly around the election of Ronald Reagan and continuing to our own day, lost the vision and the will to share America’s prosperity and help people in general to lead more productive, secure lives. This is substantially true for both political parties. By now, it’s easy to see that the old prosperity has evaporated, and that the strong, secure middle class is a receding memory.

What went wrong? Now is the time on Sprockets when we make lists!

Was it the fiat money that was created in the 1960s? Workmen’s wages began to suffer immediately, and the rich started to pile it on. Was it the afore mentioned Ronald Reagan? He started the anti-Washington establishment crusade and the culture war against the poor, and he invented “trickle down” economics, which is still with us. (Not to mention all of this “personal responsibility” bullshit.) Was it Vietnam and Watergate? They certainly did hurt America’s self-confidence. Was it computers? They have allowed the financial sector to rush ahead at light speed with the process of making money from nothing. Did the John Birch Society just convince everyone that they were right? Their ideas sounded crazy to everyone in the 1960s, even to conservative politicians, but by now their ideas have become mainstream. It was something, that’s for sure.

Or maybe it was only a case of too much, too soon. Prosperity is a pendulum that swings, especially if people are not careful.  

I hope that someone is working on the problem that is our future. Working on the vision of the future that we wish for ourselves and working on a plan for getting there. Looking at the globe, however, I somehow doubt it. It’s not the fashion among today’s political elite. How many failed states are there in the world already? Huge swaths of land, which include many countries, seem to have gone spontaneously insane. The number of failed states grows by the year. 

The terrible truth of the matter is that this is happening at a time when mankind has all of the tools, and all of the money, that it would need to substantially solve every one of the world’s problems within a relatively short span of time. This could be done simply by exercising self-control and cooperating with each other. Greed, competition, revenge, corruption, religious exclusivity and war are certainly not the way to run a planet, but I don’t see anyone in authority proposing any different ways to proceed. Maybe they’ve given up.

And so, we Americans find ourselves in a country that, being in the northern hemisphere, is whirling rapidly clockwise down the drain of time. Will there be any lovely countries in the future at all? And, if so, will America be one of them? If current trends continue, I doubt if anyone will even find anything about America particularly interesting with a couple of hundred years. America may become just another failed experiment in the dustbin of history.

Although some may remember American music fondly.  

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