History has long recorded humanity’s dabbling in the elaboration of the latest “ism”. Rarely do we recognize the demise of one “ism” in the midst of the emergence of its replacement. While America debates the Obama administration’s stimulus plan, we seem reticent to discuss the merits of capital “ism”. Doing so could be an important step towards embracing the underlying humanism we frequently ignore.
Commentary By: Daniel DiRito
In Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot”, time is both passed and suspended in anticipation of arrival. Neither the passage of time or the thoughtless suspension of its value is a worthwhile endeavor…yet so much of the human condition is spent accordingly.
Fortunately, the ebb and flow of life frequently compensates for this miscalculation and we are rarely forced to face the futility of our allegiance to being unaware.
At the same time, history, in retrospect, has meticulously recorded such periods of ambiguous angst with the application and affirmation of a seemingly all-encompassing “ism” of merit. Sadly, we humans rarely understand our migration from one “ism” to the next…at the moment it transpires…frequently leaving us in the same suspect and suspended scenario as those waiting for the transformational Godot to arrive.
America, in its quaint yet quixotic commitment to the courtesan we call capital “ism”, is being confronted with such a stretch of meaningless moments…waiting anxiously and aimlessly for the arrival of someone or something to remove the paralysis that permeates our propensity to participate in the chain letter economics that powers our Ponzi scheme psyche…even though we “share” in the ironic experience of watching our pyramid collapse under the weight of its own egocentric and ignoble ideations.
Two events provide perspective on our predicament – one a calamity and the other a harbinger of hope. The former, 9/11, brought us together long enough to offer consolation and condolences before scurrying out the door with our credit cards and the cash created by our homage to home equity high jinks…in hopes of perpetuating perceptions rather than recognizing realities.
The latter, the safe landing of an aircraft on the Hudson river and the preservation of every single passenger’s life, allowed us to reconnect with the principals and perseverance associated with the mythical America and the essence of the collective spirit that had come to define it…all of which evaporated so quickly following 9/11.
Here’s the problem. Today, Captain Sullenberger’s landing on the Hudson is no longer just a job well done or an act of American stick-to-itiveness; rather it must be morphed into an extraordinary act of unexpected hero “ism”…a deed beyond the pale…an act of selflessness in a society all about the self. In America, tragedy is synonymous with litigation and triumph with accolades…both of which have material enrichment as their expected outcome. Hence American decency is but a function of fault or fame…not an intrinsic component of character.
As such, in this dark hour of economic uncertainty, the core constructs of capital “ism” still trump our actual ability to embrace the noble identity that gave it life. Like spectators at a Gladiator match, we sit on the sidelines of our “Super Bowl” society admiring the exceptional athlete or the precise pilot…ever focused on the means and methods to our own nascent notoriety…never mindful of the inevitable intersection of motivation and moral maturity.
Let me be clear, when I mention moral maturity, I am not invoking an absolutist ideology or an adherence to religion; rather I’m imploring us to understand the essence of our shared humanity. Moral maturity is not the means to superiority…it is the simple act of enabling and embracing equality in lieu of cachet and celebrity. In fact, doing so not only fosters an appreciation of altruism over the accumulation of assets, it disarms the drive for deification by substituting the satisfaction of service for the seemingly endless search for the satiation of selfishness.
Should there be any doubt as to the dubious nature of our situation, and therefore our ever expanding and suspect sense of entitlement, look no further than the latest Gallup Poll on the merits of the President’s stimulus plan. Only 38% of respondents believe the stimulus plan should be passed as proposed by Barack Obama. Another 37% are in favor of a stimulus plan but they believe it must include major changes.
While the majority of Americans favor Congress’ passing some type of stimulus plan, there is remarkably little confidence on the part of the public that the plan would have an immediately positive impact on the U.S. economy. Americans are also pessimistic about the plan’s potential positive impact on their own families’ financial situations.
There’s only one way to interpret these numbers. Self-interest is the primary motivation that drives debate in America. Confronted with the worst economy since the Depression, and an uncertain future, most Americans cannot view the stimulus plan absent the bias of the status quo…and most of our elected officials must be included in this group. The shortsightedness is astounding.
A comparison may help explain my concerns as well as my contention that capital “ism”, in its current form, is no longer viable. Let’s start by assuming that our economic situation is dire. If so, then one should be able to construct a scenario to evidence the gravity of this moment as well as the complacency that has grown out of our commitment to the tenets of capital “ism” as they have existed since the Watergate years.
For this exercise, let’s assume that NASA has identified an asteroid heading towards earth in ten years and that its trajectory puts the U.S. at great risk. Now suppose that in response, our government decides to establish safe shelters in all major metropolitan areas. Logically, one should be able to presume that Americans will get behind the effort and pitch in to insure that the country is prepared for the worst. One should also be able to expect that individuals will put self-serving objectives aside in hopes of achieving maximum safety and survival. In other words, while some people might feel slighted by the placement of shelters…or other aspects of any response plan…the gravity of the situation undoubtedly dictates that such concern is set aside in order to work towards a collective solution to an anticipated crisis.
Notwithstanding, I’m of the opinion that our adherence to a “me first” mentality may well preclude our ability to react effectively to this or any other plausible threat. Therein lies the inability to visualize the risks of maintaining our seemingly insolent and intransigent mindsets. You see; the instincts we momentarily demonstrated in the aftermath of 9/11 still exist. Unfortunately, the fact that we so easily slipped back into more of the same doesn’t portend well for addressing the current economic crisis…a crisis that is more than a glitch in the U.S. economy…a crisis that won’t be solved by imploring Americans to go shopping…a crisis that is the leading edge of a reordering of the world and the manner in which we humans serve as stewards of this earth…and therefore whether we will be purposeful proponents for the ongoing existence of humankind.
The fact that so many of us latched onto the “Miracle on the Hudson” as a tangible measure of the enduring human spirit serves to illustrate the paradox we seem so unwilling to acknowledge. On the one hand, we marvel at the fact that a trained pilot was able to land an airplane on water…yet we forget that absent years of training…a concern by the flight crew for the safety of their fellow man…and finally…the presence of wings…it not only couldn’t have successfully landed on the water…it would have been unable to support and sustain the 155 individuals who stood upon those wings while waiting (and believing) that kind and compassionate passers-by would come to their aid.
America is a plane in trouble…but our fate need not be dependent upon the heroic acts of a select few. At the same time, we must be wise enough to listen to those who may have more insight. This plane of ours will never achieve a safe landing if each of its passengers demands their turn in the cockpit…regardless of ability. The role of being a good citizen is also an act of hero “ism”…even if it means sitting quietly in coach while the pilot brings us to safety or helping an elderly passenger make their way onto the wing once the plane has landed.
America can no longer wait for our Godot to arrive. We needn’t a savior or a heroin…we needn’t aspire to the adulation we believe accompanies a seat atop the pyramid…we needn’t support or negate our leaders based upon political ideology…Godot is every man and every woman…Godot is merely a belief in each other predicated upon the notion that we grant the humanity we seek…Godot need not come if he is already here…Godot does not exist if we need him…humanity does not exist if we betray it.
If we humans are too survive, it’s time for us to wing it…which is nothing more than believing that the service of humanity floats all boats…as well as the plane in which we are all passengers. Fighting over the stimulus plan while the plane is crashing is absurd. Human “ism” may lack the glitter and glamour of capital “ism”…and it may mean less in a few pockets but more in most…but it may well be the only remaining “ism” of consequence.
Its merits will never be fully known if its value is never fully affirmed…yet it has always been there for us to accept. If it isn’t adopted in the here and now, history will fail to recognize and record it. You see, in the absence of humanity, there is no future. If there is no future, there will be no history. In the end, all “isms” lead to the same destination. We can travel willingly or we can jeopardize our very existence. The waiting must end…the wings exist. There’s room for everyone.
Cross posted at Thought Theater