On This Sacred Day – September 11 – Writing a Better History

By October 24th, 2015

Blog No. 61

September 11, 2015

On This Sacred Day – Writing a Better History

(Originally Post September 11, 2015)

By Mack W. Borgen

Santa Barbara, California

University of California at Berkeley (Honors, Economics); Harvard Law School; Author, The Relevance of Reason – Business and Politics (Vol 1) and – Society and Culture (Vol 2) – As Advertised in The New York Review of Books and Recipient of Four National Book Awards

All Rights Reserved. (2015)

 

Preamble

             Our American democracy is neither young nor innocent, but like all aging celebrities, we still think of ourselves as vibrant and energetic — with a deep reserve of hard-earned wisdom.  

             Some still see America as the only real and deserving world power. Some still see America as cresting in its greatness. But this may not be accurate. People talk. Actions matter. Headlines accumulate. The years don’t lie. And the people, the actions, the headlines, and the years all take a toll. 

             Our democracy is more than 225 years old. America is now the longest surviving, constitutional democracy in the world. That is both a hard fact and a noble accomplishment.  

             Our nation has survived and flourished for many reasons – the breadth of our hopes; the aspirations of our equalities; the brilliance of the 4,543 words of our Constitution; the energy of our people, the bounty of our resources; and maybe because, for better or worse, our citizens have historically been more inclined to action than reflection. But regardless of the many reasons, America is now in rarefied company. America has lasted nearly half of the duration length of The Roman Empire itself.

         But we remain stuck at a crossroads. We have choices to make. We have work to do.  

         We can stay our current course and remain a strained admixture of contentment and cantankerousness. Or we can choose to do better.            

         We can accept the force-of-history inevitability of our own version of Gibbons’ Decline and Fall. Or we can write a better history for our nation.            

         This essay will be presented in several parts over the forthcoming weeks. This first section is merely this Preface, the Introduction, and Part 1.   

(Author’s Note: It is not a coincidence that the first part of this essay is posted today, on 9/11 – Modern America’s sad day of infamy. And with our thoughts and prayers and memories close at hand, this essay is offered as a humble encouragement that we make some changes; that we write that better history.)

 Introduction

As I spoke about in my first book, The Relevance of Reason (2013), I never met my uncle; my mother’s brother; my grandmother’s son. He died in the World War II. He died young. He died a long way from his Montana home while carrying a machine gun up the lonely, rocky hill in Monte Cassino, Italy.

For reasons I cannot easily explain, I miss him; a man whom I never met. Like thousands of others who lost a father or son or uncle or mother or friend in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Lebanon, Desert Storm, or more recently Iraq or Afghanistan — I sense that my life would have been different had he lived; had we met. Many years ago in a small town in Montana, my grandmother gave me his Purple Heart and a scrapbook which he had kept for him as a young boy. And now, so many years later, I still feel his presence. I remain indebted to his sacrifice.

Possibly because I too am a veteran; possibly because I too have watched our young soldiers die or our wounded warriors come home — injured, scared, and in pain, I feel we owe it to them and to ourselves to understand the state of our country and the confusion and anger of our people. We need to reflect upon the state of our ethics. We need an adamant re-assertion of our principles.

We need to address the millions of Americans who live in poverty; who are broken by despair; who are hobbled by fear. We can no longer ignore the fact that the proportion of children living in poverty is higher in the United States in than in any other developed country (excepting Romania). Madrick, J., nybooks.com, May 10, 2015 citing data from UNICEF 2012 Study of 35 developed countries. Our children should not be destined to accept fates which are undeserved and, worse yet, unnecessary.

Nobody needs preachy, and I will use great caution. But even though there are millions of good and decent Americans, something bad has been amiss in our society for decades now.

Part 1

The Curiously Good News

– The Place to Begin Is Everywhere –

Many of us were raised amidst generational mores in which judgments were rarely made. For better or worse, ethics were situational and morals were relative. Our sense of national exceptionalism was conveniently blended with attitudes of centrism and even narcissism. We claimed our own “space” as a birthright entitlement, and individualism was not just tolerated, it was exalted.

But over the last three decades there has been an infusion of something new — a witch’s brew of hostility, aggressiveness, indifference, and Darwinism into our political, economic, and social communities. And as so often happens, the disease is ahead of the cure.

Social mobility and economic mobility have been diminished. The very concept of what constitutes a community has become clouded. And in addition, our culture and our politics have simultaneously become both more intertwined and more monetized. The words of FDR — that “heedless self-interest was bad morals” — have long been displaced by a more Darwinistic model alluded to above.

Now we fight for what we want. We take what we can get. And in the comforting guise of economic theory, sharing has been displaced by survival.

Especially in our business dealings and our legislative actions, the broad constraints of ethics have been displaced by the narrow strictures of legality. Politicians, many of whom already compromised by the very process of their own elections, are tasked to serve the demands of the wealthy. Distracting harangues about “class warfare,” shut down honest debates about the “fair share” allocations of our country’s burdens and riches. As if “fair share” could ever really be agreed upon; as if to pay more than one’s “fair share” is a fate worth than death, the politicized promise — “not to pay one penny more than is due” is seen by some as a display of intelligence; as a badge of courage.

There is a consequential disconnect between those who argue their causes and those who ignore their pleadings. Those who speak for the poor and the lesser privileged fail to accept one of the hard realities of modern America – namely, that the political and economic mis-directions of this country are not a failure of the rich and powerful to know the facts or to understand the situation. It is necessary to go slowly at this juncture because it is a difficult concept to comprehend – but just because “they” don’t care, doesn’t mean “they” don’t understand. In other words, it isn’t a problem of facts. It isn’t a shortage of data. It’s a reluctance of too many people to place their bets on the national community. Too many believe that duty is for others and that money should be kept close to home. “First me; then us” is not said out loud; it is just done out loud.

But it’s not fair to merely blame our condition upon the greed or myopia of the wealthy. Indeed, consumers have done their part as well. Our consumerism is universal and conspicuous. Our toys and bling are displayed as the material rewards of success. Narcissism in all of its many variants is everywhere.

My apologies to you and to Dr. Phil, but how has all that that been working for us? I respectfully suggest that all that has not been working all that well.  

But the curiously good news is that the place to begin is everywhere.

Keep Your Eye Out for My Next Forthcoming Blogs

“We Can’t Fix Stupid” and “Try Telling That to the Coach at Half-Time “

 

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