The Demise of the United States

A lot has been made lately of “homegrown” terrorists, U.S. citizens who want to take down our country. But if they can just wait a while we may do it for them. How? By continuing to act on these five axioms.

 #1 -  “Good enough is good enough.”  There’s a tendency to settle for less than the best, to cut corners [anyone every hear of BP?] My parents always bought the second cheapest furniture and clothing items at Montgomery Wards and the least expensive foods at the local A&P. Many people still function that way [anyone ever hear of Wal-Mart?]

A church I know did a major renovation of its worship space and got along beautifully with the architect until he found the exact shade of Persian blue carpeting to fit the color scheme he’d chosen for the nave. That set off the only major battle, which ended when the committee chose a commercial short pile carpet at $21/sq. yard instead of the $46/yd. deep plush pile in the exact shade and texture the architect wanted. Why? As one person on the committee said about the less expensive sample: “What’s wrong with this stuff? Good enough is good enough.”

The old axiom ‘you get what you pay for’ is still true, and more and more it seems our citizens are settling for less and less quality, efficiency, and durability. Buy cheap and toss it later is a way of life now. And by the way, this applies to far more than just what we purchase. Such thinking also affects our ideologies and our social attitudes.

#2 -  “Money is the bottom line.”  Many businesses function this way. Two hospital systems in our area have glowing corporate statements of purpose, but ask any employee or patient about the actual focus of those health care deliverers (or be a little ‘mouse’ at a staff meeting) and the real truth comes out: money – earn as much as possible, spend as little as possible.

One of those hospital systems requires that an employee work a 1,000 hours in a calendar year in order to receive payments in a vested retirement program, but new part-time employees are told there are no retirement monies contributed for them (not true) and then doesn’t publicize the 1,000 hour rule. Result? Many staff members don’t even know they’re covered or don’t work enough hours in a year to earn their rightful contributions, so that money is forfeited. And who gets to keep those thousands of dollars? Right . . . the health care system.

Another other local hospital ‘fires’ higher paid employees and then graciously offers to hire them back . . . at a lower wage. Want to guess whether money or quality health care is the real goal? 

#3 - “Ban intelligent thought.”  Denigrate education and book learning. Call such things “elitist” or “east coast snobbishness” or “professorial” and then champion the ‘little people’ (unless you’re BP, of course!). Brag about “real Americans” who live in certain states and don’t care much for “book learnin’ “ but know a lot from the “school of hard knocks.” Support “intelligent design” and portray real science as “only theoretical.” Join the Texas crowd that votes to enshrine revisionist history and recast our Founding Fathers and Mothers as ‘Jesus people’ even though Deism was the ‘group-think’ of the 18th century, or wear tea bags on your hat to look like you’re “in the know” or join up with Arizona legislators who think they can somehow determine who’s an illegal alien without profiling re: skin color, accent or clothing. Then move on to axiom #4.

#4 - “Aim for the lowest common denominator.”  Attempt to do what President Abraham Lincoln said was impossible: pleasing all of the people all of the time. Take the majority position, even when it’s wrong. Support your position by saying “Lots of people think that . . . “ Love polls, especially ones that feature leading questions, questions that link several points of view, or questions that include vague terms like “legitimate” (BP again!).

The best example of this axiom I’ve come across appeared in ads for a particular mega-church that bragged, “We only sing songs written by people who are still alive.” In this ‘modern’ age, most churches have moved to “praise” worship that downplays scripture, avoids religious symbols in buildings, features sermons on ‘hot’ topics of the day, and uses music that’s repetitious and simplistic (both in theology and in wording). As evidence, think back about thirty years when fundamentalist churches were holding rallies at which rock and roll records were being burned (because dancing to such rhythms was supposedly suggestive and led to promiscuous sexual behavior) and then ask yourself how many church musical groups don’t play loud rhythmic music today. Only the lyrics have changed; if the words speak of love or Jesus, then somehow rhythm is safe and okay. 

The goal of this axiom is to appeal to the largest number of people while expecting the least from them. Don’t help them grow or – heaven forbid! - think for themselves. Spoon-feed them trivia and popular pabulum and, if you do it all just right, the numbers will speak for themselves. Success = popularity.

#5 -  “Love the problem, avoid solutions.” Writer/counselor Carolyn Myss has a term for this one: “wound-ology.” Some people celebrate problems (their own or ones belonging to others) but refuse to look and work for solutions. A woman came out of a church service one Sunday morning and complained to the pastor, “That organ is too damn loud!” When he responded, “The organist is still at the console. Why don’t you go up and tell him?’ the woman looked offended, said “Well! Somebody ought to do something!” and then stomped out of the building. 

Erik Berne, founder of Transactional Analysis described this as a psychosocial game he called “Let’s you and him fight!” It’s a game that’s played across our nation every single day – from television anchors who always pose issues as conflicted (“Oil Spill: End of the Gulf?”), to politicians who champion the negative but offer no positive alternatives, to magazines and tabloids that prosper from other people’s crimes and affairs (preferably celebrity-based), to talk shows that thrive on shouting matches and guests talking over each other. 

What this country desperately needs right now is a majority of its people working together to seek solutions, but what we have instead is chaotic wrangling and 18th c. Enlightenment thinking (where issues and positions are always presented as “either-or” propositions).

It’s high time that we seek a better quality of life, values that move beyond money, intelligent thinking and discussion, actions and ideas that encourage a higher common level of experience, and real solutions to real problems.

This article is a plea for each and every reader to do your part to achieve those goals. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire (and admittedly that work has its shortcomings) but if citizens of the U.S. don’t move to higher ground in our aims and objectives as a nation we’ll play right into the hands of people like the NY Times Square bomber . . . and self-destruct.  

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