On American Society; Why We’re No Longer Number One.

I’ve written on a number of topics in the past, for everyday readers and also for Mensa International in their online Forum. I think it’s time I extended one of those topics to American Society. I have been influenced in this decision by Mr. Fareed Zakaria’s writings in Time and by his on-air comments that he airs on CNN.

Time’s edition of the week of March 5 2011 has some of his writing and also a counter argument from another writer; both are well worth reading.

But I have argued in the past that there are three things that American Schools and American Society fail to teach, and the lack of this teaching is what really hampers student progress. After listening to Mr. Zakaria, I realized that the same three characteristics are what is hampering American Society. And if we ever plan on turning society around, we need to start with these three things. A good place to start would be in the education system, although that has now been so compromised by politics that I don’t expect to see any improvement in my lifetime.

There are people in our society who have acquired these qualities. At the same time, there are millions who have not done so.

But to the three lacks:
The first of these is discipline. Discipline may be defined for the purpose of this writing as willing cooperation with the aims of society. Discipline allows an individual to pursue goals without becoming distracted. While there are disciplined individuals, I think it is fair to say that American Society has become undisciplined. Along with this lack of discipline, there is found the second great lack: we no longer have the quality of self-responsibility. It’s far too easy to expect that someone else will provide for our well being or care for us when we haven’t made provisions to care for ourselves. And the third lack is a sense of ethics.

There is little doubt that ‘recreational’ drugs are an evil. And yet, millions of persons will, despite the best efforts of educators and leaders and law enforcement entities, use drugs each year. It’s well known that these drugs are addictive, but this won’t deter new users. There is no sense of discipline, no responsibility, no ethics that will prevent this.

American Society is at least overweight, at worst obese. We tend to blame restaurants for serving too much, or vendors of prepared foods for using too much fat or salt or preparing high-calorie foods, or advertisers who constantly urge us to buy more, consume more, eat more prepared foods. But in the end it comes down to choice; we make bad choices through a lack of discipline and then blame our bad choices on others because we lack self-responsibility.

We as a society want everything, and we want it now. There isn’t the discipline to wait until we’ve earned those things or to say “no!” to the relentless barrage of advertising. We want the newest iPad or a new, expensive car, or smartphone, or a lifestyle that our own efforts can’t buy. There’s always plastic; so we in our undisciplined rush to have it all turn to credit and buy-buy-buy. And rather than call it undisciplined, we call it a disease. In this way we can push responsibility onto someone or something else. There are indeed personalities that are prone to addiction; but they all start somewhere, and it’s a lack of discipline and a lack of self-responsibility that enables that first small step that leads to addiction. But there’s always rehab; blame someone else, then expect someone else to get you out of the trouble that your own behavior has gotten you into.

I’ve spent less time discussing ethics in this paper, but the lack of ethics underlies many problems of society. It’s not ethical to push people to consume more, to make choices that are known to be bad by the person who urges us to make those choices, and yet this is done. It’s not ethical to urge bad choices on financial markets, and then, via hedge funds, bet against those choices…but it happens. It’s not ethical to use the mechanism of government to enrich one’s private accounts, but that happens all the time. It’s not ethical to take money from a contributor for a political campaign and then repay the contributor with public money or political favors; and it isn’t ethical to contribute money in expectation that public funds or favors will be forthcoming. And yet, these are the ways that we select our public servants. It’s not ethical to make bad business decisions and it’s not self-reliant to expect government to bail us out…but that’s what has happened.

So…number one? I don’t think so. We’re dependent on a remnant of a society where discipline, self-reliance, and ethics built something that was the envy of the world. But we’ve squandered most of our capital and little by little we’re losing what that earlier society built. The evidence is all about us. Virtually all our political leaders are corrupt to one extent or another. We follow the antics of ‘celebrities’ while realizing that these persons have little or nothing to contribute to society that’s more beneficial than short-term gratification. Who are our entrepreneurs or scientists or educators or physicians? But of course, we know all about sports figures or entertainers, if only because we’re horrified by their behavior.

Nations rise, and then they fall. I think we’re seeing the early stages of that fall. We have, in the past, responded well to challenges. I just don’t see the ability remaining in American Society to respond to the challenges we’re seeing now.

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