The good life was once a cozy, warm and safe existence. It stood against harsh words, mean acts, manipulation and violence. It was a world of benevolence where acts of fairness, compassion and love were incubated then birthed. But does it exist anymore? Is it in our day nothing but naïve blather; a way for losers to live?
Most of us want a good life for our children. In preparation for that we want to guard them against the cruelties of life, against dishonesty and exploitation, against the jeers of the hateful and the trickery of the evil, against being hoaxed and suckered; to insulate them from heartlessness, brutality, mockery and spite. We want to teach them to live above this and be respectable citizens.
But for some odious reason it seems that over and again that is a naïve approach to life for our children and for ourselves. The reality, we’re told, is to learn to fight, to mistrust people, to see through the lies that are always out there, to learn the ways of getting around the rules, to never be afraid to take from others even if it doesn’t feel right even if it’s not right, to discount conscience and that inner sense of morality and operate instead on the baser instincts of selfish urges, dominance, control, force.
The real purpose of life is not service but self-indulgence, not building a better world but using the world for your own pleasure and profit, not getting involved in the needs of others but focused instead on meeting only your own needs.
That, we’re told in society, and it’s being demonstrated every day, is the way to succeed. That’s how we survive in life. It’s not, we are told, a pitiful, sheltered, good life we need; it’s a life of hard boiled aggression, the stamina of a well fed ego, and fearlessly pushing our way around others in order to get ahead. That’s the winning life.
In the movie, “The Big Short,” based on Michael Lewis’s stunning book by the same title, the global financial crisis of 2008 is jarringly exposed and explained. The U.S. and other large economies were quivering on a rickety foundation of subprime mortgages and that foundation was about to collapse. In the movie, we see based on real facts, that the risk to financial peril worldwide was discovered not by bank executives or Treasury officials or even government regulators but by a handful of savvy, cunning Wall Street financiers who saw the danger coming and bet against what was being hyped as perfectly safe transactions. Though they knew what they were doing was unethical and illegal, they did it anyway and made fortunes for themselves. One of the characters, a hedge fund founder actually agonizing over what was going on says at one point in all the chaos, “We live in an era of fraud in America. Not just in banking, but in government, education, religion, food, even baseball. What bothers me isn’t that fraud is not nice. Or that fraud is mean. For fifteen thousand years, fraud and short sighted thinking have never, ever worked. Not once. Eventually, you get caught, things go south. When the hell did we forget all that? I thought we were better than that?”
It is a lesson we seem to ignore and never learn.
Today’s political climate fosters this attitude of impudence, this cocky approach to life that is so full of itself, so grossly predatory, so barren of gentleness, elegance, principles, tenderness and love. Those things are scoffed at in the arena of unyielding appetite and consumption.
What kind of a country do we really want? That seems lost on most of us. We are so consumed with winning, with making sure our side claims the White House that we have stopped caring about what these candidates are actually offering.
The current Congress has failed us. Thoroughly and completely. The Republican members decided the day President Obama stepped in the Oval Office that they would not cooperate with him on anything. It was not a matter of conscience or a demand for high standards that motivated them. It was unvarnished racism. It was cold revenge for having been beaten by Democrats. It was calculated sabotage meant to deny the president any kind of meaningful legacy.
That is an approach to life that is deadening. It destroys the unity of a nation. It pits one group against another and creates hostile merciless disputes and clashes. It opens old wounds of prejudice and rancor and leaves people weakened and unsound.
Will our next president have the character and the will to demonstrate a better way? Or will the next president just continue the same old conflicts keeping us mired in all of this toxic unwholesomeness?
Must we be burdened with having to wait for a final dooming accounting? Will nothing change until our leaders like those guys in “The Big Short,” filthy with cash, hate themselves for the beasts they had become, conspirators in the crushing of so many lives? Or will we as a people demand a president and Congress who are in possession of a healthy intellect, the courage of conscience, an engaging sense of humor, an honest respect for diversity, an actual respect for people, and the ability to work with one another for the good of all Americans as competent human beings ought to do?
© 2016 Timothy Moody