The statistics coming in are generally aligned one way, they point down. We’ve had a rough ride so far and it’s going to get worse. The governments of the world are just reacting to the crisis and have no real concept of what to do. The United States government led by Barack Obama appears to have a vague idea that an economic stimulus might be a good idea. However, that same government has had no appetite for bold action and is unlikely to develop any.
We float between two eras. The line between the two time periods will be marked at the banking crisis of 2007-2009 (and the continuing economic crisis left in its wake) and the environmental disaster of 2010. There will be a different United States after these two crisis play themselves out.
Currently we are locked in a battle of ideas. I break them into two kinds. One set of ideas say that there are unchanging and permanent solutions to the economic and social problems we face. The other says that solutions differ with time, place and circumstance. I side for the most part with the second group.
I teach business law and business ethics at the college level. I try to explain to my students that there is no glorious past where everyone was good and obeyed the law, etc. The only promised land is the one we build ourselves. Currently the only promise we seem to feel of any importance is the promise of making money.
You see, if there is a glorious past in which everyone goes to church and everyone obeys the law and in which the nation is a “city on a hill,” then it follows that there are a set of beliefs that all we have to do is emulate. We duplicate the virtues and rules of these paragons of virtue and righteousness, and we become great.
One problem, there is no such time. American history is messy. A lot of people die, often for very little reason. A lot of people wind up suffering terrible discrimination for very little reason. And a lot of people are made to lives lives of pain because they believe something other than common beliefs, and very often, those unfashionable beliefs are the exact beliefs held by the majority now.
However, since there is a loud and vocal part in this country who believe virtue resides in a past America, history will just have to be rewritten. I went to Barnes and Noble on Saturday, and there they were, books explaining that the history of the United States was everything you’d want it to be, that is, if you believe in a kind of Disneyland/Hollywood view of the nation’s history. There is good money in “Disneylanding” history. I don’t want any of it myself. Reality is disgustingly painful, but I will do my best to live there.
If you don’t live in a world hoping for a return to an earlier American, you know, “Take America Back” style people, then you have to deal with current circumstances. The way forward is obscure and difficult. You can’t be sure what’s going to happen and what will work. It gives those advocating a return to the promised land an enormous advantage. They have certainty.
We live in a terrible time. It would be nice if things were simple. They are not. It would be nice if things were certain. They are not.
I do believe in ethics, right and wrong. There are definitely some eternal verities in ethical beliefs. However, the great nostrums I hear are seldom based on ethical principle. When “free market” economics takes on the trappings of religion, it is no more ethical an idea than it was before. When you discover that the founding fathers were all evangelicals and thus, America was based on the Christian religion, you aren’t ethical; you’re lying. When you say that killing, torture, stealing and lying are wrong, and that they always will be, you speak based on ethical principles and we are brothers and sisters under the skin.
I don’t know what is going to come. There is a lot of pain ahead. I believe current levels of unemployment, the highest in American history since the Great Depression, will continue through 2014. I do not believe our government is willing to deal with the challenges facing this country and that if they did, that they are not in any way competent to do so.
We are betwixt and between. Societies under these conditions change or shatter.
I think that what this web site is all about is doing the right thing. I firmly believe that if Americans try to do the right thing, not the greedy thing, the power thing or any thing other than just a sheer dogged devotion to acting as if our only end was what kind of world we would want to have after us, then we will get through this and have the kind of society that the righteous deserve. You get to live in the “City on the Hill” when you deserve it, not because you are supposed to have it.