The Coming American (R)Evolution

Part One of a Planned Multi-Part Series…

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


-William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”

The time has come to tackle a subject which many pundits, opinion-makers, and ideologues across the political spectrum have been speaking of with increasing vitriol and divisiveness, which is the fracturing of the veil of prosperity and upward mobility which has been the hallmark of the American Dream for generations, forged in the fires of our Founding Revolution gaining independence from Great Britain.

We’re in trouble, folks, and pretending otherwise is foolish and will only postpone the inevitable. The United States has become a massive debtor nation, and an increasingly large percentage of the population in what is the “richest, most powerful nation on earth” are living lives of increasing desperation, at least so far as our traditional American standards and expectations have defined. While politicians dither and in many cases, cynically manipulate the system out of personal interest and beholden to those that control their purse strings, the physical and educational infrastructure of this country crumbles, executives with little concern beyond the next quarter’s bottom line make decisions with implications that impact the lives of millions, our population grows even more anaesthetized and disengaged as it gorges on a diet of 24/7 “info-tainment” and mindless lowest common denominator “reality” fare, and meanwhile, we engage in conflicts which on many levels may be necessary, but with a tiny fraction of the population bearing the actual burden of the fighting.

Like all civilizations before us, we have reached a crossroads and the choices (difficult as they may be) which we make now will define us for eternity. Even if we do nothing, which is what many in positions of power seem compelled or resigned to do, we have made a choice, and the repercussions of our inaction will echo throughout time as we slide into the chasm which has engulfed other once great peoples. If recorded history teaches us one thing, it is that human nature does not change, and throughout the world lie hints that contrary to the widely accepted view that mankind has technologically evolved over time, save for periods of “back-sliding,” we operate under no assurance that this is a constant or that we are somehow immune to the pressures and choices which have destroyed empires and nations that had cohesively endured far longer than our 234 year run thus far.

REVOLUTION OR EVOLUTION? WHICH WILL IT BE?

As I see it, we face very stark choices right now, which will likely become more restricted as time goes on and we slip deeper into the quagmire we’ve created for ourselves. The United States as a whole can seek to evolve, to apply the enormous potential of our creative and business minds to adjust our course, to make certain sacrifices which may be unpleasant in the short-term, but which are far more preferable to what we could face in the mid or long-term if we do not take such action. Or we can continue to allow the fear, hopelessness and steadily building anger which is permeating many sectors of our population to build, until it finds release in revolution, which even in its non-violent expression leads to fractures and rifts in which the rights of dissenters to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – as well as the rule of law – may be compromised as passions inflame action and desperation yields to extreme agitation.

Before I get too much farther, I should clearly state for the record that the thought of our present circumstances leading to violence, organized or not, is deeply troubling and not a course that I wish to see inflicted upon this nation. Yet I cannot help but observe that circumstances are staging themselves nicely for the emergence of demagogues on either extreme of the political spectrum, and I do not deceive myself into believing that right-wing or left-wing extremism cannot take hold in the United States. I believe it is the duty of the vast majority of us who occupy positions somewhere in the amorphous and not easily defined “middle,” that understand that we can find solutions if we bravely face and acknowledge reality, to try to prevent a schism which would destroy the very promise and noble ideals that America was founded upon.

OUTLINING THE STAKES – THREATS FACING THE STABILITY OF THESE UNITED STATES

In order to present solutions to any problem, it is first necessary to acknowledge that the problem exists, to understand what the repercussions are if the problem is not addressed, and to seek to find solutions that will eliminate the problem as an ongoing concern or at the very least, minimize the impact that the problem will have on the future.

Unlike many op-ed writers in many “papers of record,” at the very least I feel compelled to try to offer possible solutions to these problems in upcoming postings. Rather than be yet another “doom and gloom” naysayer crying that the sky is falling, I believe it is incumbent to try to motivate others to seek solutions while we still have palatable options, or before we are backed into a corner individually and collectively and the only choices remaining are poor or unthinkable.  I can’t promise that my answers are the best ones available, but I hope that they are better than silence or the monumental and borderline criminal obfuscation and collusion with special interests engaged in by the majority of our current crop of politicians.

As I see it, there are seven vital issues facing us right now, some of which are interlinked, which must be addressed in a coherent and forward-looking manner:

  • Unemployment and Underemployment – Why the U6 Number Matters
  • Crumbling Physical and Technological Infrastructure Heading Towards Obsolescence
  • Energy Dependence on Foreign Oil
  • Geo-Politics and Global Security – Why Radical Interpretations of Islam are a Threat
  • Spiraling Healthcare Costs and Government Entitlements – There is No Free Lunch
  • Underfunded Pension Liabilities – The Nasty Surprise Awaiting Many Future Retirees
  • Education and Lifelong Learning – Ignorance is a Choice with Serious Consequences

Each of these issues is of significant scope and pressing need to present formidable challenges on their own; the fact that we are facing these in a confluence of bad timing due to years of inaction, recklessness and lack of political will to deal with these before they escalated to pending or current crisis status is most unfortunate.

WHY FREEDOM IS PREFERABLE TO SLAVERY IN ANY FORM

Many Americans would do well to remember Gerald Ford’s admonition that, “The government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you have.” I do not believe that more government is the answer to the problems facing us – our government is bloated and inefficient as it is, and while government can work in partnership with the private sector to help facilitate solutions, with rare exception has government ever proven to operate more efficiently or productively than profit-motivated private industry. It’s not that Capitalism as a concept is fatally flawed or outdated; however, unbridled and unregulated capitalism does concentrate wealth, and correspondingly, power, in the hands of a few and if we rely on a sense of benevolence or noblesse oblige from some of today’s oligarchs (little better than the 19th Century’s Robber Barons) raised with little sense of a moral compass or civic responsibility greater than themselves, we are really in trouble.

While it may be true that it’s hard in modern society to be completely self-reliant and to one degree or another, as individuals and nations we are all inter-connected, this does not mean that we cannot strive to do better. For all the pessimism and bad news that the 24/7 news cycle seems to feed upon, every day witnesses all too often unheralded acts of kindness, compassion and heroism from ordinary people that are willing to put their money, principles and sometimes even their lives on the line to help others.

Freedom is a scary proposition, because freedom entails risk, but ultimately, we can only trade our freedom for the illusion of security while voluntarily and cowardly slipping on the shackles and fetters that enable us to become little more than serfs to the minority in power at any given time or place in history.

In my next posting I’ll delve deeper into the employment situation in America, taxation and our faltering primary and secondary educational system…

Jonathan S. Ross is the founder of Black Rock Consulting and the blog “Tao of the Zentropist.” In the interest of full disclosure, he is a political independent that deeply admires President Teddy Roosevelt and believes in the principles of limited government by, of, and for the people; increased personal responsibility and accountability to society;, and enlightened regulation of free market economies to safeguard the financial interests and livelihood of the majority. He believes that the Bill of Rights enumerates individual rights and that it’s specious and self-serving to selectively claim that any (e.g. The Second Amendment) are meant collectively only. He feels that people’s personal lives ought to remain personal and that what goes on between consenting adults, so long as no one else is getting hurt, is neither the business of the state nor of anyone else. While he believes in international cooperation and free and fair trade, he also believes that nation-states and their populations have the right to sovereign and secure borders and the right to self-defense, which extends to the individual level as well. And finally, he believes that as flawed as it may be at times, representative democracy is the best means of governance yet devised by Man and those that threaten it are a clear and present danger to peace, freedom and any hope of global stability now or in the future.

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6 thoughts on “The Coming American (R)Evolution

  1. Hi Mr. Ross,
    I agree with all you have to say. I can address the educational aspect from the point of view of a university professor dealing with the “dumbing of America”. At the private “for profit” university where I teach, the key word is “retention”. Retain the student at any cost of appeasement or allowing them to pass regardless of the work they turn in (or fail to turn in). There was an email on the school website from the president of the university stating that “Our primary business is retention”. Needless to say, the memo stayed on the web site for only a day or two.

    When I began teaching at this particular institution, my supervisor said that my role was one of “info-tainmen”, meaning entertainment was “the name of the game”. This has been reinforced at faculty meetings by the VP of Academic Affairs.

    In a recent midterm exam of thirty-six students, I have graded over half of the papers and at this point no one has passed the exam, even though all the material was covered several times. Students come to class with no pens or pencils, paper, notebooks, not even the text book. They sit and laugh and talk in spite of sanctions. Thursday I was showing a very pertinent video, and I had to shut it off half way through because only three or four students were even paying attention. Yet come final grading day they come to me and say “I want an A”

    The attitude of the school has been to accept all papers and assignments right up until the students turn in their final exam, no matter when they were due. I have stopped accepting late papers, inspite of the school policy, however, this means a large percentage of failures which the school looks poorly on for my evaluaion. A new rule this term for next term registration is for each professor to have his students line up in single file fashion and escort them personally to the education office to make sure they receive their registration packet (prepared for them by the education office!)The school also selects what courses the student will take. Tuition here is over twenty thusand dollars a term (five terms per year) and students are recuited from the lower income sector of society. Thre are many brght students among the whole core of students but they (and society) are being cheated by the base standards of the school with the focus on “retention” and the fiscal factor of making a profit.

    Incidently I hold an adjunct position carrying the same teaching load as a “full-time” instructor but getting paid nearly four hundred dollars less per course than the full timers- this come out to nearly fifteen thousand dollar a year!. I was sick with pneumonia and missed five days of work and my pay was docked a correspondingly amount even though I got out of the sick bed and wrote and emailed in my midterm exams wheich were being held that week. A full time teacher is out with a medical operation, her classes are covered and she receives regular pay because she is a full-time teacher.

    “…No man can profit except by the loss of others…If every man examines his own conscience, he will find that our innermost desires are nourished for the most part and bred in us by the loss and hurt of others…an undertaker profits only when people die…the practice of religious ministers rely upon our death and vices…the lawyer by lawsuits and controversies between men…” – Michael De Montaigne (1533-1592)

    I could also go on about business failures – a trip along Lincoln Blvd and other streets in the Santa Monica area will attest to this – then we have the consolidation of banks and other entities killing competition and limiting supplies — all very socialistic.

    Dale

  2. I think your post is well thought out and reasoned, and I agree with most of what you’ve written. I do take exception with the comment that “with rare exception has government ever proven to operate more efficiently or productively than profit-motivated private industry.” In matters relevant to the public, private sector profit motives are often contrary to delivery of quality service (healthcare is the obvious example, but that subject has been beaten to death lately).

    Government agencies do not spend nearly as much on executive compensation, marketing, lobbying, legal fees, etc., as the private sector. The U.S. Postal Service takes a lot of criticism, but they are remarkably efficient for the amount of mail they handle. Attempts to privative parts of U.S. military operations in Iraq resulted in extraordinary waste, by paying contractors for services they never provided, and by paying Blackwater security forces much more than we would have paid by simply offering better compensation and benefits to the men and women of our armed forces. Imagine if the public library system were privatized.

    These are only a few examples. Despite how it sometimes seems, government agencies are more accountable to the public than private sector interests. Even many publicly traded companies have lavished their executives as they diminished shareholder value. The private sector might offer cheaper prices, but cheaper is not always better.

    Again, I agree with much of what you’ve said, but I think the idea that government is inherently inefficient is a stereotype that is not really accurate.

    1. Scott,

      I appreciate your response and comments on government service and productivity, and I concede that if we generalize too broadly, we may paint an unfair or unflattering picture.

      That being said, while it’s true that salaries for those in government service, when compared to their counterparts in the private sector, may be less rich, this is often more than made up for in very generous benefits and retirement packages when help make the overall compensation far greater. Furthermore, with many agencies, once a worker is past a probationary point it is very difficult to terminate them unless they do something so egregious or blatantly illegal that it cannot be ignored; in today’s private sector, with at-will employment and the increasing use of independent contractors, there is very little job security. Private companies terminate as they see fit, as often as not to protect the bottom line and sometimes to serve the financial interests of those higher up in the food chain that receive bonuses based on quarterly or annual financial reports which may not actually paint a realistic portrayal of the company’s health. Numerous sources report that morale in the private sector workforce is at or near historic lows, in part due to the stress from the ever looking threat of losing one’s job or being expected to carry the weight of former employees that have been released.

      Large bureaucracies, whether belonging to government or private corporations, tend to develop an inertia and “group-think” which in my opinion, often stifles creativity, healthy dissent (e.g. looking at different ways of doing things), and tend to protect the “deadwood” that are interested in only doing as little work as possible while watching the clock.

      I do have close relatives in government service, and while I realize this is anecdotal, they have witnessed the negative side of bloated and inefficient bureaucracy and lack of initiative first-hand.

      I also do want to make it clear that I do believe that in the quest for profits, some companies do abdicate their responsibility and accountability, and that’s why I do not believe in a completely unregulated system — this becomes too prone to abuse if left unchecked. I believe that senior-level executives need to be held more accountable for what happens on their watch, and we must eliminate the ability for executives (at least in publicly held companies) to be handsomely rewarded via golden parachutes if and when they fail to perform their jobs satisfactorily. In these scenarios, there really is no downside — they collect lavish bonuses if the company does well (regardless of whether the executive directly played a role in that performance), and the only loss when things go south is perhaps a slightly tarnished reputation when they “leave to pursue other interests.”

      At any rate, I again appreciate your thoughts and the time you took to comment.

      Regards,

      Jonathan

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