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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Are We Too Prosperity-Whipped To Demand Real Democracy?

Our families spent part of the 4th of July at Virginia Beach. Not being a beach person myself, I walked the streets near the beach and observed people as they were celebrating our nation's Independence Day. It seemed to me that the first concern of the patriotic revelers was to do what babies and toddlers must learn to do when their parents ignore their cries for attention: that is to self-soothe. We must, because either we are entitled by our nationality or we are addicted to the feeling regardless of the facts on the ground, feel good about ourselves. 

How do we pump ourselves up? We do it through a combination of  constructing myths and consumerism. We use myths to tell ourselves that we are special and thus we deserve the best while forgetting that claiming to be special is normal. Our myths are based more on ignorance or a careful selection of historical facts than false information though the latter does play a significant role. The myths of our early history do contain an admission of some faults, after all, nobody is perfect, but our current state more than makes up for the past. Thus, the fact that millions of people have been killed because of our national sins neither brings emotional distress nor makes us doubt that we are the greatest  shows we have a significant disconnect with our real past.

But myths do not have the starring role in our Independence Day celebrations, prosperity does. For regardless of the credibility of our myths, our satisfaction with the rights and wrongs from either the past or the present really depends on how much we can buy and consume  today. We are told that we are the most prosperous country in the history of the world, and there is no reason to doubt that. However, such a belief is also said with an assumption of its permanence. So as long our lifestyle consists of enough pleasures and distractions, distractions being the successes and lifestyle of society's idols, we will be content with the status quo.

This pride in our level of prosperity, however, ignores the fact that many empires were the wealthiest in history in their day. Why we are the history's reigning champions is simply because our powerful empire is the most recent one. There is no reason why the empires that replace ours could not possibly exceed us in wealth. This reveling in our prosperity also reveals something about us as a nation. It reveals our bottom line and that bottom line is our prosperity, not our principles.

So we should ask ourselves whether we would be content with both our past and present if we did not live in such abundance. Would we continue to tolerate our current bipolar, two party political system if far more people were suffering from poverty and hunger? And are we willing to ask ourselves if we could no longer afford to do what the Hebrews did in Moses's day, which was to eat and drink and stand up to play, would we ignore all of the questionable and immoral actions of our government such as its surveillance of innocent people, its incarceration rate of minorities, its persecution of whistleblowers, and all of its illegal wars? 

We need to ask and answer these questions because regardless of both the rate of dissatisfaction the public has with its government and the newest revelation of government wrongdoing, the American people, as whole, seem to be too apathetic to even remotely follow the example that people from other countries like Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Brazil as they have been effectively expressing their grievances to their respective governments. In other words, the people from these countries are practicing democracy better than we are. And this democratic disparity that exists between us and them in challenging our respective governments begs us to ask if America is still "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Should we consider if Egypt deserves the above title? After all, despite significant government repression by totalitarian leaders, Egyptians have defiantly filled the streets in the millions to overthrow two autocratic leaders. And though things are still a mess there, regardless who is in charge, Egyptians have already achieved a level of independence from rulers gone bad and they have done this despite the price that some have had to pay. 

How do Americans compare with Egyptians? Despite millions of Americans losing their homes, the revelations about our war crimes, the news about our government's surveillance of its citizens, and the persecution and sometimes torturous treatment of its whistleblowers, we either passively or actively act to maintain the status quo rather than demand change. Why? Because we are content with what we have and do not wish to rock the boat and risk further loss. Thus, we have learned to put up with more and more infringements on our own rights and more abuse of others. 

We have become prisoners of our prosperity. And this is the natural consequence of putting materialism on the highest pedestal. And this is not just the fault of  those who are well off, many of us who have less live vicariously through the lifestyles of our rich heros. We have become like the Hebrews of Exodus 32 to the extent that both societies have carved images of the same kind of animal to worship where both figures represent wealth and that we spend so much time playing. And because we wish not to lose what we have, we give up our freedoms and rights so we can continue to be kept people. 

There are uprisings throughout the world where people are demanding a greater degree of morality and rights for themselves and others. And some of those participating do so at great risk and hardship. And if we, who call ourselves Americans, continue to procrastinate participating in an uprising our own because more have not suffered, then we would have shown ourselves to be a people who are too cowardly to care about morality and others because we are afraid to lose the mammon that both we cling to and enslaves us.

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