Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A culture of neglect and narcissistic gratification poisoning our shared future

As one who has railed against the growing disparity in income equality, I am beginning to wonder if that gap is more than a sign that money has trumped all other human acquisitions (not achievements!). Are we perhaps not looking at the evidence of a continuing disparity in education, learning, and consequently in world views?
As we watch the 'west' and Putin compete for the Ukraine with money, and the political campaigns in all countries with free elections devolve into spending pits of mammoth proportions, and university grads flock to Wall Street for big bucks in law and finance, and Zukerberg et all flaunt their new-found affluence, and Facebook purchases WhatsApp for $19 Billion, and the numbers of millionaires grows as an index of the success of the economy, and the numbers living at or below the poverty level grow too quickly to be absorbed into the budgets of many towns, provinces and nations...is there not something "wrong with this picture"?....
There is little doubt that the economic crisis of 2008-9 disclosed a level of greed, narcissism and personal ambition that placed the world's economic 'system' and the people in all countries in a precarious position. We all know that the American culture is focused almost exclusively on money as the currency not only of business transactions, but of identity. One's "fiscal capacity" (to borrow a phrase that public discourse uses to measure a nation's, or a state or provinces', or even a municipalities "stability") plays by far the largest role in determining one's social status, one's acceptability into a social system, one's access into the worlds in which people of all professional categories work, live and play. It regulates the area of town in which one purchases a home, the dealer from whom one acquires a vehicle, the shoppes from which one acquires ones wardrobe, and even the boutiques from which one acquires one's accessories, not to mention the regions of the world one visits. And, of course, while we have all read stories about how "the clothes do not make the man" (or the woman), we are all susceptible to the glitz and the glamour and the accompanying lifestyle of the "rich and famous" as a former television show demonstrated.
One adolescent co-ed, in a news piece about the impact of high tech devices on adolescent attitudes said last evening on a national newscast, "Who does not want to be famous?"
We have collectively generated a culture in which our children have "bought in" (notice the profound depth of the penetration of the transactional metaphor into so many aspects of our lives) to the picture of success that is so dramatically and resplendently displayed by Nick Carraway in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. And the implications of our collective, willful and somewhat somnambulant slide into the picture we have all "sold" to those who follow in our footsteps are currently, and will for decades if not centuries, plague us all, as the fruits of our myopic, narcissistic and terminal hubris.
We run like lemmings from any thought, and especially from any "talk," of our vulnerability, our weaknesses, our limitations and our lack of compassion, while at the same time we rush headlong into the best shoppes, into the best restaurants, into the most prestigious jewellery stores, into the most exclusive country and golf clubs, and join the credit cards with the best travel provisions
as if such a massive movement signals our "success" as a culture. And when leaders like Yanukovich take the public funds for his own personal palace and estate, and that opulence is captured on live television for the world to see, following the resplendent and applauded $52 billion spread over a small area on the coast of the Black Sea, for the Sochi Olympics, into which we have all permitted and even celebrated the entry of billionaire athletes from both the NHL and the NBA (in the summer games), we are unwilling to call ourselves out on our insatiable appetite for emulation of those who "have" as millions, if not billions of people (the numbers grow exponentially daily) who will only glimpse such affluence and opulence through their television and computer screens.
Our advertising agencies dig into our fears of being excluded, of not fitting in, of not achieving on a monetary scale, of impeding our path to the "brass ring" (or is it now the "gold ring"?) and, as sycophants to their corporate masters, generate our poetry in the service of the collective monster whose claws are grabbing us by the throat and by the pocketbook, by the perpetuated angst of "failure" and by the inculcated contempt for the other, especially if that other has not "pulled him/herself up to achieve what the most wealthy hold out as the "good life".
We can see that viscious grasp of a phoney "ideal" wrapped in such mellifluous and seductive phrases as "personal values"....just driving past a local church on the weekend, we noticed a large sign that read, "Jesus was pierced long before it was cool!" as if to say to anyone passing, 'we are hip and we are cool and Jesus is one of us'....in another attempt to use advertising as an instrument of prosletyzing.
And when the churches are deep into the slime of the swamp of corporatism and the drive for both money and butts in the pews, what hope is there for the culture that has already slid into the sewer of our own perfect image.
And then, when it comes to political power, once again, we rely on benchmarks of how the money is allocated exclusively, as if it has become the holy grail, the litmus test of trust and reliability and good governance. As the sham of the most recent government initiative in Ontario, whereby restaurants will more than twenty outlets in the province will have to post "caloric counts" on all their menu selections, demonstrates, comparing a soft drink's calories to a smoothies' calories will not prove which is a more "healthy" drink...the smoothie will have more calories but will be much more nourishing and healthy. When there is only a single number involved in our attempt to address a social issue like childhood obesity, we will naturally fail in our attempt to address it. Similarly, when we posit the acquisition of money as our defining goal for our society, through our schools, through our family kitchen table conversations, through our television and film presentations (even though we occasionally ridicule ourselves as in movies like Wall Street and The Lion on Wall Street) we are still promoting a rich lifestyle that even outstanding actors like Liam Neeson succumb to, in signing contracts for merely action flicks, in order to pursue a million-dollar career, when compared to the kind of role of which he is really capable.
We all know that the majority of the members of the U.S. Congress have become millionaires, leaving them completely cut off from the ordinary lives of the people for whom they are responsible and for whom they write and pass legislation (when and if that ever happens). And as the rich lifestyle is promulgated throughout the world, simplifying life and success and our mutually shared responsibilities for each other, and for the systems that we all requires just to sustain a physical life, never mind achieving riches, more and more people will find illicit paths, short-cuts if you like, to the big bank account, increasing our need for crime detection, for social safety nets, for an already bulging legal system, for decreased collaboration among and between nations and provinces and states, as each little pocket of power seeks to enhance its own position by protecting itself from invasion (political and intellectual, if not military and subversive in the criminal sense) in order to enhance the lifestyle of those currently holding power.
And we all, as both sycophants and little magnets drawn to the large and very powerful magnet of personal wealth, contribute our votes and our public debates and our dollars to a perpetuation of a political system that is as eroded and dangerous as the roads in all of our cities are filled with potholes from the decades of patching that are now giving way to potential sinkholes.
How long will it be before even developed and so-called stable economies succumb to the ravages of neglect of ordinary and obvious needs, neglect based on a collectively if silent 'contract' that has bound us all to instant gratification and disdain both for our less fortunate others and for the future of the planet?

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