A Trembling World – Part Six

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

A TREMBLING WORLD

PART SIX


And now for the silver lining to tough times.

Every once in a while, a dear friend of mine, author and Archbishop Robert Wise, and I get together for lunch and talk History of Ideas, strategize, and just let our minds soar.  The last couple of lunch-discussions, we discussed the fiscal plight our nation and the world are experiencing.

Well, after coming to some rather grim conclusions: subjects such as the disintegration of the modern family, the decline of literacy and parallel dumbing-down of society and polarization brought about by myopic thinking, the increasing likelihood that societies that devalue centrists will turn to dictators for leadership, the breakdown of governmental medical assistance and retirement benefits, the obesity/diabetes epidemic, the substance abuse epidemic, the continual trashing of Christians by a generally unchurched media, the lost generation of boys into men who have opted out of advanced education (locking themselves and their mates into minimum wage subsistence), the gradual disappearance of our middle class, skyrocketing joblessness, the epidemic of foreclosures and bankruptcies, etc—Dr. Wise leaned back, with a thoughtful look on his face, and said,

“But we must not leave out the one factor that could reverse all this—God.  Down throughout history, God has again and again stepped in with men and women who made a seismic difference:

•    St. Francis, whose counter-revolution within Christianity reverberates still;
•    Monasticism, which almost single-handedly preserved civilization by their hand-copying of fragile manuscripts;
•    Martin Luther, who brought about Protestantism;
•    The Wesley brothers, who almost single-handedly rebuilt the English family and saved Britain from a bloody revolution such as France’s; and
•    Other luminaries such as St. Patrick, Dwight Moody, Abraham Lincoln, Billy Graham, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.”

These were, more often than not, obscure individuals who came onto the scene when things appeared bleakest, and by the power of their words and examples, turned their world around.

Perhaps it is long past time for us to adjust to new realities: A house is not an ATM, a credit card is not money, government without a vibrant economy cannot long survive, avoiding education and mental growth is almost certain to lead to minimum wage substandard living, a society that has lost its moral bearings will inevitably self-destruct, a society that ridicules marriage and lifetime commitment can not long endure, living on dole is no substitute to earning your own living, leisure without work is insipid and depressing.

If this current global recession wakes us up in time to our true condition, it will be possible for America to regain its position as the world’s most admired and coveted society.  If we do not, we will disintegrate just as surely as did the Roman Empire almost two-thousand years ago.

The choice, each of us must make.

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A Trembling World – Part 5

A TREMBLING WORLD
Part Five

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

For four weeks we have spelled out a litany of woes and bad news; now it’s time to search for both silver-linings and solutions, for doom and gloom alone will merely lead to paralysis and despair.  So it’s time for us to approach the issue from a different perspective.

For three-quarters of a century, we have been born into, lived, and died, within the parameters of the Great Society template.  In short: the promise of cradle-to-the-grave care promised and delivered by generation after generation of politicians.  Now we are discovering that those old assumptions that worked so well for so long are no longer valid.

Let’s quickly look at what we lost during that 75-year period: First, the very backbone of a great civilization—a moral code by which that society lives and acts.  In our case, before the so-called “Great Society,” Americans by and large believed in God and the biblical injunctions about good and evil, right and wrong. For close to a century, our almost universal sources of allusions were three: The Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the McGuffy Readers (or counterparts).  We as a society firmly believed in two things: God and country.  When we swore by the Bible that something was unquestionably true, or declared on the witness stand that our testimony would be true, “So help me God,” it meant something.  It was the bedrock of our entire civilization. Today, both religion and patriotism have been under unrelenting attack by a predominantly unchurched and amoral media that seeks to so undermine and discredit the values Christians live by that they will crumble and cease to matter.  Christians have, by and large, supinely accepted such characterizations as perhaps true, and impossible to refute.  In short, in this respect, we have all but lost the battle.  But now, as the Great Society cracks at its seams, we are all given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reaffirm these values.

Second, we have all but lost the home, family—the very bedrock of a great civilization; when it has crumbled, historians tell us that it will only be a matter of time before the civilization itself collapses as well.  When America was assaulted by the Great Depression of the 1930s, America’s families were strong enough to together (intergenerationally, with all three generations circling their wagons) somehow muddle through to the light (paradoxically World War II, fifteen years after the Crash of 1929).  Today; with single-parent households being the norm for the first time in our history, with out-of-wedlock births skyrocketing from one-third towards half (close to 80% in Black families), there is no such familial safety net to fall back on.  If the government can no longer afford to take care of us, and if the family (What family?  What with the discrediting of marriage, ubiquitous live-ins, multiple sex-partners, divorce after divorce, with children tossed back and forth as human frisbees) —where are the children (the adult children too) going to find a life-line?

Recently, a dear friend of mine (an erstwhile millionaire) lost everything: his six-figure position, his wife’s executive job, his home (appraised for a million and a quarter that several  years later dropped so far below its original “value” that it was foreclosed on for a little over $400,000 .  By that time, my friend had been forced into bankruptcy.  Poignantly, he told me, “Because my credit is in such shambles, I couldn’t even buy a junker of a car.  I can only purchase things (including food) with what cash we have.  Belatedly, I have come to realize that in this life, we can count on only three things: God, family (one that still loves and respects us), and health.  With these three, we can make it.”  So it is that now, in an economy that appears unable to find any kind of bedrock, perhaps again we Americans may rediscover the value of marriage, commitment, and family.

Third, 75 years ago, we once had a work ethic that was the envy of the world.  Because the Great Society taught us that we no longer had to give an honest day’s effort for an honest day’s pay (indeed that we were entitled to pay even when we were out of work, providing few incentives to return to work for all too many who abuse the system), there has been an increasing reluctance to work at all.  We refuse, by and large, to accept “menial” work.  We no longer teach industrial arts in our schools and colleges or honor those who keep the machinery of our society in working order.  Work that our text-messaging media-junkies could be doing is now being down by untold thousands—indeed millions—of migrant workers who are delighted to have a job at all.  In offices across the land, rather than contributing to the firm’s bottom line by conscientious work, it is said that untold thousands dither through their days, playing word games with each other, watching Internet porn, text-messaging their friends—and then they wonder why their companies fold!  There appears to be a real disconnect with what it takes to produce enough product to warrant steady pay-checks.  No small thanks to these rampant abuses, pundits are telling us that offices as we know them will, sooner than we think, begin to disappear.  Contract-work (far easier to monitor) will replace nine-to-five jobs in glass and steel boxes.  And that may not be such a bad thing.

Next Wednesday we will continue to search for solutions.

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part 4

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part 4

It is a very sobering picture, isn’t it (the last three blogs)?  It is indeed.  Yet, even so, I promised last week that we’d now turn to the up-side, affirmation, hope, solutions.

It is time.

A DIFFERENT WORLD

You will remember that, several times in recent months I have referred to my earlier prediction that, historically speaking, the other side of the zeros (100-year-turn, 500-year-turn, 1000-year-turn) invariably turns out to be radically different from all that came before—and that this one, being all three (100, 500, and 1000) would inevitably prove to be the most seismic since the years 1500 and 1000.  We are only now beginning to realize that the ebbtide of the old order is taking place before our very eyes.  What we don’t know yet is what kind of incoming tide will replace the receding one.  We can only guess.

What we can predict with a high degree of accuracy is that the pace of life and change will continue to increase in speed as the world continues to constrict into nanotechnology.  So when did all this begin to accelerate?  Only three-hundred years ago: when the zeros of 1800 replaced the zeros of the 1700’s.  Up until that crucial watershed (turning point), for millennia, the pace of life had remained relatively unchanged: the fastest land-speed being a galloping horse and the fastest sea-speed being a sailing-ship.  Because neither of these optimum speeds could be long sustained (obstacles on land and becalming on water), there was no need for clocks; sundials worked well enough, until the industrial revolution of the 1800’s when steam-power replaced sail-power.  Only when ever faster locomotives made it imperative that we divide the nation into time zones, did accurate time become relevant, for before the invention of mechanical engines, no one could possibly know for sure when either a land-vehicle or a sea-vessel would arrive at a given destination.

Every year since 1800, the pace of life has continued to accelerate.  Sometimes at such a rate that the juxtaposition of two opposites proved to be ridiculous (such as during World War I, fought with both cavalry horses and armored tanks; fought with both drifting balloons and power-driven airplanes).

Nostalgically, my thoughts drift back in time a half-century to a musical play my high school students put on during the mid 1960s.  Our theme song was “Far Away Places,” and the play began and ended with a dreaming teenager in her home bedroom, and the lyrics had to do with “those far away places with strange-sounding names.”  The music that followed came from all over the world.  Places that seemed strangely exotic to us back before jet travel replaced prop-engine travel. The world seemed so vast to us back then!

I remember when I first heard the phrase: “The world is a vast web, and you can’t touch any part of it without it affecting the lives of everyone else.”  That seemed so far-fetched back then, really too much of a stretch to take seriously.  So what if rainforests in far away Brazil or Papua New Guinea were being cut down at an ever-increasing rate?  It surely couldn’t affect me!  Far-fetched then because I’d never been to either place, and with the pace of travel back then, it seemed unlikely I ever would.  But that’s not true today when I can doze off in one continent and wake up next morning in another, thousands of miles away.  When astronauts can return to earth after having actually walked on the moon!

But the flip-side of speed is nanotechnology: being able to reduce all life and technology to such infinitesimal proportions that the naked eye cannot see it at all.  And thanks to this new  technology, sports victories can now be accurately calibrated down to a hundredth of a second—even a thousandth!

Not surprisingly, national boundaries are increasingly viewed as both indefensible and outdated, and dictatorships are toppling like rows of dominos thanks to the worldwide web of the Internet.  Not even the strongest walls in the world can keep the Pentagon’s innermost secrets from being hacked.  Corporations can set up shop in the loosy-goosiest countries (regulation-wise) on the planet; and jobs can be out-sourced to wherever in the world the hourly pay is the cheapest.  No longer does someone in the most powerful country in the world have the edge over someone in the poorest country, given that access to a computer so levels the playing field that Thomas Friedman can justifiably announce that “The World is Flat.”

* * * * *

So now comes this global slowdown that dramatically changes every aspect of life for every person on this planet—not just ours here in the U.S.  Everything was working so well—as late as only three years ago.  Then Bam!  Bam!  Bam! —one after another, the bludgeon blows continue, with no apparent end in sight.  No one appears to have the answers.  In the words of that timeless baseball skit: “Nobody’s on first.”  Nobody.  Not here in the U.S.  Not anywhere else in the world either.  All even the most powerful leaders in the world know is this: the old order, the old template that enabled all the markets in the world to peacefully coexist and churn out prosperity for the majority of the world’s industrial powers, is broken, and there isn’t a mechanic in the world who knows how to fix it.

That’s just it: it is unfixable.  The answer nobody wants to hear is this: A new template, evolved from scratch, must be created from our new realities.  It is anything but a quick fix, and it is almost certain to take a long time to develop.  And we have to face the likelihood that when we do finally get it up and running again, so that the world’s markets once again purr their satisfaction, even that template will be foredoomed to a short shelf life, because change in future years will be near continuous.

The good news is that these are exciting times in which to live.  We have been long overdue for a course-correction; unfortunately, we waited so long that this one is likely to be the mother of all lulus.

Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss silver-linings.

A TREMBLING WORLD – Part Three

A TREMBLING WORLD

Part Three

Wednesdays with Dr. Joe

About twelve years ago, a high-ranking Colorado state representative spoke to our local Kiwanis Club.  He was uncharacteristically somber, as he put on his prophetic hat.  In so many words, he predicted that within about ten years—even if relatively flush times continued—Colorado would begin running out of money: “We are coming to the end of an era, Friends.  Social Security, born in the depths of the Great Depression when life expectancy was around 45 to 50, was feasible and possible for our nation to continue; but FDR had no way of knowing that life-expectancy would move up and up and up until today it is nearing 80, with many Americans living on retirement for a longer period of time than their career years (many into their 90s, and even 100s), placing an insupportable burden on a retirement system based on 65.”

He continued, “Mark my words, we are fast reaching the time when Social Security and guaranteed medical assistance will have to be curtailed.  You will no longer be able to assume the state will cover Mom’s late life medical expenses; we will once again, as Americans did up until the Great Depression, face a world where families took care of their own, where all three generations lived in proximity to each other—they had to.”

So it is likely that Obama’s dream that all Americans will henceforth be guaranteed cradle-to-the-grave healthcare may very well be the swan song of Social Security as we once knew it; now we are discovering that the money just isn’t there for such a utopian concept.  Exacerbating our fiscal plight no little is the double whammy of America’s continued substance abuse  (drugs/tobacco, alcohol) and out-of-control eating, together, through diseases such as lung cancer and diabetes, killing close to a million of us a year..

Metaphorically, it’s like America is waking up after a sixty-year binge (made possible by credit cards and houses used as glorified ATMs).  In Christmas in My Heart 13, my wife Connie tells of a Christmas during the early 1950s when en route from California’s Monterey Peninsula to her home in Fortuna (near Eureka), a major storm blew in, the Eel River flooded and washed out Highway 101 in places; so Connie and others were stranded in Garberville.  The lady who was driving them home hadn’t banked on a flood, having just enough money to cover the gas costs to get them home.  Not for motels and extra food.  So what did they do?  They agreed to do the motel’s laundry, make up the bedrooms, etc., in return for having a room to sleep in.  For since the motel manager didn’t take checks and credit cards didn’t exist yet, you either had money or you didn’t.

As our son Greg said recently, “Dad, for 50 years we’ve been spending money we didn’t have.’  Up until three years ago, at least twice a month we’d get calls asking us if we didn’t want to take out another loan on our house.  Those days will most likely never come back, at least in our lifetimes.

More and more of us today are either using only debit cards or charging only what we can pay off at the end of the month.  We do this because many of us live in perpetual fear that we will join those who owe more than their homes are worth, so that, if we lose our jobs, we too will be forced to declare bankruptcy and be evicted from our own homes.

Across the nation today, our grown children, unable to even get a job, are forced to remain at home with Mom and Dad.  Those who predict the economy has rounded the corner and heading up are proven wrong again and again. The world’s leading economists are grave, warning that it might be years—even decades—before we regain what we had three years ago.

Just as was true with the Great Depression of the 1930s, this one is global too, so there is nowhere to escape to.  Also, just as was true when Teddy Roosevelt became President close to 110 years ago, never has the gap between the rich and the poor been as great.  Even while the banks and corporations are failing, unbelievably they continue to pay their CEOs millions a year.  Same for sports stars, landing contracts in the hundreds of millions while schools, libraries, parks, post offices, etc., are being forced to lay off employees or close.  Misplaced priorities are all around us.

However, if a crash does come—it won’t be all bad.

More on that next Wednesday