Monday, August 18, 2008

Something Insightful Someone Else Said

"The pursuit of freedom, as defined in an age of consumerism, has induced a condition of dependence on imported goods, on imported oil, and on credit. The chief desire of the American people is that nothing should disrupt their access to these goods, that oil, and that credit. The chief aim of the U.S. government is to satisfy that desire, which it does in part of through the distribution of largesse here at home, and in part through the pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad," -Andrew Bacevich, in his new book, "The Limits Of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."

I've had several conversations with friends about this lately; it's becoming increasingly obvious that maintaining our lifestyles at our current level of consumption is the driving force behind both our domestic and foreign policy decisions of late, and there are few indications that this will change at all in the near future. This sense of perpetual entitlement has now become ingrained within our culture over several generations; as a people we Americans are disturbingly self-absorbed, only taking the time to learn about world events or political goings on when they directly affect our wallets or prevent us from living above our means. And our engagement on the domestic front is similarly narcissistic; what do we care about education or energy policy or the environment, so long as we can drive our gas guzzlers, drink our grande lattes and download Internet porn? (granted, the porn is a necessity)

Neither of our major political parties is blameless as to this situation either. The "distribution of largesse" Bacevich writes about is self-evident in the Democrats' promises of universal health care (which I do support in some of it's incarnations) and wide ranging social programs that tend to put a band-aid on a hemorrhaging wound rather than effectively addressing and treating it's causes; the Republican party is similarly identified through their "pursuit of imperial ambitions abroad", a clear reference to the Neoconservative drive to perpetuate the business of war and the ravenous harvesting of the world's resources while abandoning any semblance of fiscal conservatism or societal accountability. As a result, I personally do not support or contribute to either of these parties, both of which I consider to be guilty of the same counterproductive, back scratching and business-as-usual, merely with different names. My personal outspoken support for Barack Obama is based solely on the man, his message and what good I think he can do for this country; I certainly don't consider him a savior or saint but he is definitely better than John McCain and most of the other choices provided by each of their respective parties. However I digress.

The Bush administration is also not free of some peripheral blame in this matter. The president may consider himself the "decider" but he's also supposed to be a leader, choosing the correct path for the country to follow during the best and worst of circumstances; the average American should be able to look to him for strength and wisdom in troubled times and as an example of competence and patriotism when the country is flush. And yet seven years ago in a speech delivered one week after a literally earth-shattering attack against our nation, amidst all of the tough guy rhetoric and inspirational loin-girding speechifying, what critical message did our Commander-in-Chief make sure to innocuously but definitely include? Go shopping. Keep spending. He blatantly asked the American public for our cooperation to assure the world at large of our "continued participation and confidence in the American economy".

And that is our obvious weakness as a people: we're materialistic junkies, addicted to that sweet, sweet money and all of it's pecuniary trappings. George W. Bush didn't create our addiction, he's just exploited it over the course of his two terms to generate profits for all of his wealthy friends, or "his base" as he calls them. Neither did our enemies create it, they're simply biding their time as a significant portion of our oil and consumer dollars are filtered out to various terrorist organizations around the world through the many nefarious, human rights violating regimes we force ourselves to befriend in order to feed our habit; many of these same regimes incidentally are holding the bank notes on our heretofore unimaginable debt while at the same time buying up vast swathes of the United States right out from under us.

And don't expect either of the presumptive presidential candidates to do anything aside from trying to appeal to the basest urgings of our acquisitive natures; they know what we're jonesing for and are each proudly promoting budget busting spending plans intended to keep us both blissful and restrained once they're in office. One of the most important political debates of the modern era is over the unfortunate yet necessary trade off between the increased safety and security of our nation versus the abdication of the personal privacy and constitutionally guaranteed civil rights of it's people, yet the depressing truth is that we seem to be quite content to relinquish both of these important ideals in order to maintain our materialistic culture and lavish lifestyles. There is an Italian proverb that says, "Wealth conquered Rome after Rome had conquered the world". That civilization fell into decline as a result of it's decadence, avarice and complacency; one of my great fears is that our own hold on empire is becoming increasingly tenuous as well, and that we're just too frightened and weak-willed to admit it.


Anonymous said...

My college roommate has thought for years that we're headed for the same fate as Rome.

I don't know about you, but I bought a house because gWb told me to. That jerk better turn this thing around before he leaves!

Doug"e" said...

JBW how sobering indeed. Can the "pursuit of happiness" and the "American Dream" ever coincide?
P.S. Very well expressed, kudos to your college English prof.

JBW said...

I've heard you say this before one I bill and I agree. Doug E, thanks for the literary props. My college English profs were pretty sharp cookies.