Right now you may be feeling outraged, frustrated, saddened, or overwhelmed by the current state of the world. I am right there with you. My goal in discussing our most polarizing issues is to analyze the history of how America got to where it is. In this manner we can get to the core of what societal hurdles face us, addressing the poison at the source rather than the outcomes it’s reaped. I aim to do this by specifically highlighting how deeply ingrained individualism and racism within the U.S. are contributing greatly to our societal inequities. These issues can never be overcome through outreach and education when Americans are increasingly isolated though. We feel extremely disconnected from each other in this country, maybe more so than any time before. Recent polls have showed that less than 40% of Americans believe their neighborhoods have good intentions. There has also been a massive rise in hateful rhetoric and distrust among all aspects of society; perhaps eroding away our individual relationships with government the most as the last 5 years have worn down even the most faithful loyalists. The rhetoric of figures such as Tucker Carlson or Trump have only served to reinforce the idea that the other side is out to get us, spurring on their audience to live shamelessly in ignorance to the actual harm being done in this country. Everything from reading Dr. Seuss to getting a vaccine that protects you against a deadly virus is a heavily politicized issue, which inevitably turns into life or death fights for who can prevail over the evil of the opposing party. The unfortunate aspect of this reality is the majority are too caught up in their own trivial personal issues, ignoring those who are actually struggling as the petty squabbles for power in an identity politics dominated wasteland never cease. America’s thought process is often who can look past the most collateral damage caused in order to get their individual agenda through. Our backs are quite literally turned to each other while we walk in opposite directions.
Life within our own echo chambers has seen people refuse to educate themselves or attempt understanding the issues which are slowly pushing America to the edge of a cliff. Climate change, racial injustice, and the myriad of other problems we face are undoubtedly complex to tackle, but rather than face them we have shrunk into our own selves further. Demanding change in an attempt to take our democracy back into the hands of the people takes assertiveness and a refusal to back down, but millions have become disillusioned by the myriad of chainsaws America is metaphorically juggling. We feel as though any contribution is futile because of the seemingly impossible amount of deadly problems being balanced, especially while we see the consequences of our environmental failures, allowance of radicalism to fester within parties, and the greed of those in power threatening to cut off a limb at any point. Many have given up on America before they even try to make a difference. The mountain of shit piled up in front of us is intimidating as hell, I won’t lie. But we are far too polarized to achieve any meaningful progress; people view the world in a binary way, creating an ethos that necessitates labelling everything either good or bad. The way that our country’s capitalist system is structured makes everyone, even the rich who seemingly have it all, exist in a constant pursuit of more with the only discernible sight at the end of their tunnel vision being giant dollar signs. We either have money or we don’t, and any action that our lives take revolves around a calculation of how much we will personally gain or lose. Money = good, anything that prevents us from having more = bad. Thus we see the world in a way that is driven by monetary forces and label anything that can endanger them bad, rather than living with the idea that actual human experiences have value. This directly feeds into zero sum thought and the idea that our fellow humans are inherently against us because they only care about themselves too, influencing a society to behave in a manner that Hobbes would be proud of. Quite simply, America does not value humanity. The structures that have been imposed on the country keep us chasing a hollow ideation of money as the end all be all to existence, preventing true fulfillment beyond however much physical wealth we have.
Bezos going to space is one of the most recent examples to show our level of capitalist and zero sum thought, watching the richest man on the planet spend billions to fly above us for a few seconds. He and the other soulless husks of people that have amassed billions of dollars are trying to blast themselves off this rock, leaving us behind to deal with the fallout of what his enterprise reaped on the planet. Do you think Bezos has good intentions in space? He is literally endeavoring on this to ensure being one of the first trillionaires after setting up mining rigs on asteroids and other planetary bodies. As the ultra wealthy toss around amounts of money that could end global poverty on their leisure projects, our political sphere rewards them for their short sightedness by providing billions in subsidies and overlooking tax or labor violations from corporate enterprises. The desire of a few to drive as much growth and profit possible out of finite resources on Earth is rapidly contributing to a future where we will see billions of climate migrants fleeing their destroyed homes. Refusal to address issues such as these is partially a fault of our society’s culture at the present; demanding that we pay attention in a 12 hour news cycle which moves on to the next major story before we even have time to process the last. In this vein we often overlook deeper implications that stem from events such as an apartment building collapsing or another murder by the police. In an example like the Surfside condo tragedy, there wasn’t much mainstream discussion of how this sort of event is going to become commonplace as rising water levels and other climate change erode away the ground beneath our infrastructure. Instead, our media turned it into a politicized issue that revolved around free markets and how an oversight such as this went unreported to the proper authorities. In the case of the massive protests against police brutality that swept over America last year, virtually no tangible action was done to hold police accountable. We have seen dozens of murders since George Floyd, and will unfortunately only see hundreds more as tools like excited delirium that are used by police to justify killings go unaddressed. (Trust me, I will discuss these things in time.) As horrible as the event may be, America doesn’t take action to prevent future harm from being done and resorts to reactionary arguments within our polarized political culture.
Our animosity towards fellow citizens and ignorance of the implications from the path America is heading down has been directed by a political sphere that wants to push us to anger and vehement arguments. Division among the population serves their monetary interests and lust for power. Policies have been crafted at the behest of corporations to keep us in direct financial obligation to the upper class while destroying the environment and our democracy. Politicians tap into our selfish viewpoints and appeal to radical propaganda points that will keep us questioning truth while sowing distrust among communities. The current agenda of the parties is to ram through legislation that represents oligarchical interests and policy points that will enrich corporate benefactors. When action is taken, it is usually one sided and aimed at helping a specific population rather than the entire community, or even country on a federal level. For example, laws enacting higher fuel taxes based on emissions have been passed to combat climate change in states like California. This makes sense for the urban dominated parts of the state that rely on commuting and as a result contribute more pollution. The problem is that we haven’t drafted plans which take into consideration other major chunks of the population, and many policies that get passed in America are generalized to the point of nullifying their benefits for people. In the case of California’s gas taxes, it has hurt rural communities that rely on their vehicles and don’t commute, yet lack the income to keep up with higher rates outside the city. Instead of working towards actual solutions to problems like this though, California’s urban centers have ignored the small population affected and moved their focus elsewhere. This has led to a sizable (definitely not laughable,) amount of Californians wanting to secede and form their own state; something that is fairly common amongst other rural populations dominated politically by large urban centers. This is partially attributed to flaws in our governmental system that don’t allow for smaller voices to be heard without funding or political clout, let alone our majority takes all system that has led to many conflicts within our institutions. (Again, I will address these things more specifically in subsequent posts, and what the better alternatives could be.) Our dismissal of other communities’ problems has also been shaped by the American idea of rugged individualism, that everyone should live their life a certain way to succeed within the confines of our reality because the American dream is achievable if you approach it correctly. Yet I’m sure many readers feel that this notion is impossible, and the line that we’ve been fed since children is a lie. I will help piece together the full picture of America’s disenfranchisement to validate those who do feel this way, because you are not wrong. And for those who do believe that the American dream is alive and well, I will challenge you to place yourself in the shoes of others and envision pulling yourself up by the bootstraps in a country that has no value of human life.
Individualist capital driven thought gained massive amounts of personal wealth for a few in the last 150 years, but along with that success we have forgotten about millions of small guys and their needs. In our current societal ethos, the country ignores about 99% of its populations’ best interests. We have evolved as a society and economy to become the leader in technology and services in the developed world, no longer relying on the industrial sector as much. The individuals at the top have been able to secure enough wealth to live luxuriously for generations to come, laughing down on us from space. It’s time that we enable the rest of our country to truly live the American dream. Instead of looking at GDP growth or stock prices, we need to measure the success of our country by how many of our citizens have their basic needs met. The ability to grow monetarily has limits, and always leaves you unfulfilled and wanting something more to get to the next level. Ergo Bezos and Branson going to space, and I guarantee they still won’t be satisfied. I would argue that the ability to grow in terms of empathy and providing a baseline quality of life for people has infinite growth potential, with realistic goals that will help establish a better future for our children. The country can meet a certain threshold of well being for its entire population rather than the massive inequality and disenfranchisement we live within currently. Growth can then continue with other goals such as mitigating and reversing our climate impact, helping other nations create a baseline of health, and so on. Rather than glorifying the surface level lifestyle our current system provides for a few at the top of the chain, we should be focusing on the overall well being of Americans, and our democracy as a whole. Seeing life as more than a constant pursuit of numbers will open the opportunities for everyone to have access to healthcare, a stable income that aligns with the costs of living, and the ability to grow their wealth for future generations as America has always promised. It would also entail legislation that is tailored to the population it is serving, instead of a blanket law that could harm people who rely upon, yet have inherently small impacts from regulated activity. I have master plan in bringing this specific topic up first.
Discussing the potential of changing our metrics of growth to be centered around empathy is all part of priming you for more collective thought. It is also to help readers understand where I’m coming from when I make certain statements, which in my upcoming writings may seem radical, but when viewed from a perspective outside of individual tunnel vision it becomes clear that action needs to be taken to save certain communities (and subsequently the country,) from collapse. Whew, a mouthful. With so much out of our control and injustices throughout the world overwhelming us, we can turn internally to change the way we view a “post normal” world. Instead of expending energy to get back to the status quo, “make it great again,” or monetarily grow; we can look at our own values and how our actions impact others. We can choose to engage the world empathetically, and if enough individuals start to buy into this it can effect a larger societal shift to value life over money within our capitalist structures. Value must be placed on our peers and human experiences, while at the same time striving for individual fulfillment. This can be as simple as tipping a waiter a couple dollars for their efforts to serve you, or evaluating the impact you have in relationships with family or friends. Why needlessly harm others with your actions when you can personally prosper and help at the same time? With the events of the last few years our country, and the world, is never going to be normal again. Changes are coming with an ever expanding population, environmental meltdown, and a radicalized political sphere that is drawing ever closer to fatal conflict. Not to mention a global pandemic that uprooted millions of lives. One can choose to fight against the needs of our collective while hiding in isolation, or we can demand our government adapt to the consequences of our savage capitalist pursuit and create a better standard of life for all. Regardless of how we will go about demanding this change, the first step begins by trying to view our growth more empathetically and outside of a purely personal bubble.