“The current generation now sees everything clearly, it marvels at the errors, it laughs at the folly of its ancestors, not seeing that this chronicle is all overscored by divine fire, that every letter of it cries out, that from everywhere the piercing finger is pointed at it, at this current generation; but the current generation laughs and presumptuously, proudly begins a series of new errors, at which their descendants will also laugh afterwards.” ― Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls
“A base nation crucifies or poisons its wise men, and lets its fools rave and rot in its streets. A wise nation obeys the one, restrains the other, and cherishes all.” – John Ruskin
On occasion I like to remind everyone that we are not in unique times .. well … okay … not as unique as we like to make it out to be.
Remind everyone that the issues we face today … we have faced before.
And while we know that issues are recurring … they still naturally ebb and flow across generations so that as they arise … recurring from some inexperienced point in the past … they seem new to us now.
I could select gobs <that is more than a few but less than a gaggle> but let me highlight 3:
Issue 1: Government.
What about governments yesterday?
“I weep for the liberty of my country when I see at this early day of its successful experiment that corruption has been imputed to many members of the House of Representatives, and the rights of the people have been bartered for promises of office.” – Andrew Jackson
We experience the uncoordinated actions of a seemingly corrupted entity which we desire to be a well-oiled uncorrupted athlete.
Andrew Jackson in the early 1800’s weeps over the corruption of congress. Concerned by how holding the position in office often meant not holding the rights of the people first and foremost.
Government is always in a tricky position.
They are elected by the people to not always the people insure they get what they want … but rather get what they need. We elect, and select, leaders to make decisions with regard to the ‘best interest’ of us. And, yet, nowadays politicians seek to gain the elected position simply by promising to the people voting … what they want.
I could argue that our political system claims to be a democracy when in fact it is closer to what Schumpeter suggested was an Elite democracy <pessimists may call it a version of oligarchy> but I will not. We have a democracy … flawed … American … and ours.
We currently appear to have a congress where it appears that most of the elected representatives do not serve the best interest of the people but rather to themselves and their political directives <and support … which inevitably leads to some type of corruption>.
This has happened before.
There is getting votes. And then there is getting respect. And respect always comes down to actions … the deeds of those who have been elected by the people.
Today, yesterday … tomorrow. Doesn’t matter.
Corruption will always tempt those who seek leadership positions.
Power will always tempt those who seek leadership positions.
Some will succumb to temptation.
Some will not.
There has been some relatively recent research done to show a trend in many of the largest First World democracies of the growing mistrust of the government <and PewResearch has ongoing surveys to support aspects of the trend>.
While in the 1950’s ¾ ‘s of American would say that they trust in their government to do the right things that number declined to just about 40% by 2004 (Wilson/DiIulio 2007) and interestingly <to make a point> it hovers around that number in 2013.
This research showed an ongoing belief of American citizens that the political system is unlikely to respond to their needs and beliefs. This is also sometimes referred to as political efficacy.
Political scientists measure this political efficacy where political efficacy consists of two parts:
– internal efficacy – the belief that to be able to understand and take part in politics
– external efficacy – the belief that the system will respond to the citizens
While most studies show now significant change in Internal efficacy in the United States, external efficacy has been steadily declining since the mid-1960’s (Wilson/Dilulio 2007).
All that said.
This is a recurring issue. Most likely no worse nor no better than it has been at certain points in the past. I say this just to suggest governmental Armageddon is not upon us. It may be frustrating. It may be aggravating. And it is certainly not good for the citizens who want shit to not only get done … but get done correctly. But it is an ongoing issue.
In the end governments will always be a recurring issue because … well … it is about a group of people <not some intangible concept called ‘government’>.
And while recurring … we <the people> can always do something to make it less worse if we elect to <pun intended>.
Separately so as to insure I am not suggesting this next topic is associated with the politician thought I just shared … people and greed.
Issue 2: Greed.
I could have called this ‘the desire for “more.”
More money … or the accumulation of more … however you define wealth.
“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” – John Steinbeck
“A man is usually more careful of his money than he is of his principles.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
What an issue.
I will begin by saying … “quod satis est” <what is enough>.
Greed is more likely an ongoing societal distinction between indulgence versus overindulgence, indulging or decadence or “quod satis est” <what is enough> … in the end … it doesn’t really matter because it is simply a discussion on what is pure decadence – or greed – and what do we actually deserve as people.
I imagine it is also a discussion on what Horace <who discussed ‘what is enough’> or what has also been suggested as ‘the hollowness of unparalleled prosperity where we need to recognize the unacceptable limits <on prosperity> and finding some sanity in enough.’
Schumpeter suggested <among some things I don’t agree with> that “moral poverty lurks within capitalism.”
I do like this thought.
It isn’t that capitalism IS moral poverty but that within capitalism LURKS the possibility of moral poverty.
What that suggests is that there is a constant battle between prosperity and morals.
And I agree with that suggestion.
I believe that is the battle we face day in and day out.
We face it today … we faced it yesterday … and we will face it <as a group of humans interacting> tomorrow.
So with that said … I state unequivocally that ‘greed’ does not rule <despite the fact I see a shitload of people suggesting that greed is leading to all the issues we face>.
Greed, among the few … a minority, will always be in constant battle with the majority who is constantly fighting against moral poverty.
That is life.
That is economy.
That is society.
That is our salvation as a society and groups of people interacting … this ongoing conflict.
I read somewhere <I apologize to the original source> that this ongoing conflict can be captured in two key aspects:
– 1. Perversion of capitalism
Capitalism is a living breathing organism. One in which some microbes fight with corrupted intent to pervert the overall organism. The organism also has other microbes which are healthy and can sometimes even attack and destroy the other bad microbes. Corruption should not, probably cannot, kill capitalism. For capitalism itself can kill corruption.
This is kind of my poor medical organism version of Schumpeter’s thought on creative destruction.
– 2. Cynicism of external factors
Perversion of the system aside … if our perception is that the system is rigged by the few perverted … we become cynical. We lose optimism. We maybe even get angry at the perverts <sorry … couldn’t resist>.
I am certainly not suggesting the American ideals are not solid and intent unequivocally sound … or that all Americans are wasteful and perverted <morally> or that every shred of what made America great is gone. At its core America remains a place of possibility and hope. I say that despite the fact people have become quite cynical. Cynical not only about the system but also about their hopes on whether they can succeed and prosper within the system. This has become a deep and increasingly entrenched cynicism. At its worst this cynicism translates into an overall cynical with regard to what it is to be America <which includes, but is not solely, capitalism> and an American <interestingly … I actually could say this about many countries and their citizens as I scan the map today>.
This deep cynicism is important and relevant because it affects <either directly or indirectly> our day to day behavior coinciding with, or against, our virtues <moral compass … ethics>.
And that matters because non-virtuous behavior, or vice, leads to an overall ideology of “putting profits before people.”
This can be manifested in a variety of ways: by taking imprudent and excessive risks with other people’s money; by selling products and services that harm consumers, families, and society; and by engaging in outright fraud. Today, of course, we are suffering from all of the above.
We have experienced this before. There was certainly an overall decay of moral integrity that proceeded both the current recession as well as the Great Depression. Remember that the 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Depression was precipitated by a decade called ‘the roaring ’20s’ … a prosperous decade marked by materialism and lack of moral discipline. It was certainly a period in business where leaders and organizations certainly ignored legal restraint and had little, or no, regard for accepted rules or standards.
What is currently glibly being called ‘greed’ is actually a combination of vice, virtue and materialism all in a battle against moral poverty. These are all recurring aspects and dynamics of civilization itself.
Without getting too theoretical on the dynamics of civilizations and culture … suffice it to say that today we are a society of indulgers and accumulators.
A significant population … while feeling stretched or challenged economically … is actually rich beyond belief in terms of what is available to all of us 24 hours a day. We are seemingly continuously seduced by the urge to acquire … and acquire more … and indulge <when the opportunity arises>.
I don’t have anything against it. And I certainly understand the psychology of ‘once you have something not only do you not want to not have it anymore … but you want more’ <or the next step up>. You may stop and think a little about why it is we can’t stop wanting more or why there’s never enough stuff … but don’t invest the energy … it is simply part of human nature.
Money leads to lifestyle upgrades. But, once again, that is fraught with conflict. Psychologists call it ‘hedonistic adaptation.’
Once you achieve the income you desired … well … you go back to desiring more.
In the end on this topic.
I would suggest that the recurring issue is not really greed <albeit that is an easy target for us> but rather ‘hedonistic adaptation.’
Our natural adaptation to having more … is to wanting more <and invariably expecting that the ‘more’ we currently have is what we deserve>.
Hedonistic sounds horrible.
That makes it a recurring issue … some people … despite innate human behavior patterns … just don’t want to think and do horrible things. Therein lies the ongoing conflict.
Issue 3: education
Yes. Even education is a recurring issue.
Aristotle said … “the education of the citizens in the spirit of their constitution. Sadly, one which nowadays is generally neglected.”
I believe I could simply stop here by making the point that if Aristotle was bitching about education back in his day & age … this may be the ultimate recurring issue.
The proper education of our youth is a tangled discussion with multiple paths to the same good destination <what is best for our youth>.
Suffice it to say the discussion most often revolves around preparing someone for a profession <contributing economically rather than societally> versus preparing someone for Life & contributing to society not just economy <and the practical balance between the two>.
Skew it toward profession and we end up with technically qualified people less enlightened in social responsibility.
Skew it toward Life and we end up with socially enlightened people not qualified to actually do anything.
Education of the young is always about challenging and growing the mind so that they can be productive … in Life and within the economy. We want adults to be balanced so we need to educate kids from a balanced perspective.
Now. The web has changed some aspects of education from a balance standpoint.
While many people are pushing education toward a more pragmatic/practical direction <specifically preparing young for professional practical jobs> the web is actually challenging education to become more societally knowledgeable.
In the not too distant past world view of the majority in a community was measured in mere miles. Opinions and views were driven from a local if not regional purview.
Today? Opinions and views are measured from a global perspective. The kid down the street can know as much about what is happening across the ocean as they do in the street off the next road. This means local opinions & views are being challenged more and more <which creates some different issues for older generations but that is a different post>.
That said … the role of social consciousness, and capitalism <or the professional aspects> within an education system has been debated for centuries. Even good ole Al Einstein weighed in:
“Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals. This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.” – Albert Einstein
Well. Capitalism shouldn’t cripple individuals. And it doesn’t. In and within itself it can be motivating and positive to the growth of individuals <and society> and it is part of our growing up education to understand this.
Balance is the key.
Education creates the foundation for good productive citizens. Citizens part of a whole. To be whole is to be part.
Education will always be a recurring issue because we will always debate balance <and people are involved>.
So those are the big 3 recurring issues I see … or rather the three I decided to focus on out of the gobs I could have.
And we maybe should note that these issues are eternal.
Not because they are issues of systems and processes and programs <albeit we act like they are because they are tangible> they are issues of people and minds and thinking. Therefore they are recurring sources of conflict amongst people.
We may elect to focus on government.
Or on businesses.
Or on the education system.
Inevitably we are debating ideology.
And … well … the future.
And why is it all so important?
Heck. Mostly because we are talking about our kids and future generations. We may couch it all in “what I want” and “what is best for me” and “what is fair for me” but inevitably, deep down, we recognize that these discussions lead to outcomes that affect far beyond ourselves.
It affects <in a big picture way> the viability of our countries <regardless where you live> but more importantly it affects the little people <children>.
In the end.
It was philosopher Leszek Kolakowski that said “civilizations cannot live in despair.”
Recurring issues rarely, if ever, become Armageddon issues because inevitably we people seek to find an optimistic interpretation in the despair itself.
Something good comes from the bad.
Learning from the failures of the system.
We seek to NOT live in despair.
No matter what country you are living in as you read this I would suggest that we seek a wise nation obeys the wise, restrains the fools, and cherishes all who make up the nation.