Today (March 2) was a snow day, but busy. So I’ll ramble a bit for my blog entry. I’m putting final touches on a revised Political Science major, thanked my wife for this great turntable by cooking stuffed manicotti (feta cheese, mozzarella, spinach, mushroom and onion) topped with a chunky tomato sauce, did four loads of laundry, shoveled and graded. The shoveling is getting more difficult, the snow is stacked up as tall as me. Ryan is thrillled, it means a longer ski season.
And, of course, I saw the stockmarket continue its slide as the news continues to be very bad. Meanwhile I made my first two CDs of my four decades old 45 RPMs. Some of the songs from back then resonate. In the 1969-72 period the Vietnam war was still going on, RFK and Martin Luther King had recently been assassinated, and protests and even riots were common. People thought America was falling apart. Ray Stevens’ “America Communicate with Me,” the Temptations “Ball of Confusion,” Gladstone’s “A Piece of Paper,” or to be Iraq related, Edwin Starr’s “War” all feel like they could apply today.
Sure, it was different then. The economy wasn’t drifting into Great Depression territory. (By the way, will we start talking about Depression I and Depression II the way the “Great War” became WWI?) Things now seen as common and accepted were still radical back then — in terms of social issues this country has liberalized dramatically in the last forty years. Charlie Daniels, though, seems to have become more conservative (“Uneasy Rider” is one of my 45’s — where he’s a pot toking peacenik hippy).
So, getting into this mood of being in the early seventies, which I discussed yesterday, I find myself looking at the problems we face in a slightly different light. America is good at getting through crises. And the people instinctively resent the kind of “left vs. right” attitude from politics, looking instead for pragmatic problem solving. That’s the American way, not to cling to some set of ideals. We’re compromisers and problem solvers, that’s who we are. We’re also very optimistic, as a people. Optimism ultimately is what saves us. If you’re optimistic, you don’t go into a shell, refuse to try because it seems hopeless, or create dark self-fulfilling prophecies.
Reflecting, then, on where this going, I’m starting to feel positive. I don’t think we’ll avoid tough times. Given the high budget and current accounts deficits of the last 20 years, we’re probably going to contract the economy by 10% before we rebalance. And since we’ve contaminated world credit markets, creating an America contagion infecting Europe and Asia, this could still feed on itself and become even worse — before we rebalance we may become unbalanced the otherway, worse than we should be. But the world economy will rebalance.
Moreover, we do seem to get leadership that rises to the occasion when things get rough. Obama’s making all the right moves. Sure, the stimulus is a gamble that risks inflation and a devalued dollar — but the alternative is to fall deeper into the pit. We’re starting to realize our limits, there is talk of a kind of “global new deal,” and the US is willing, apparently, to give up on an unnecessary missile shield against Russia in favor of Russia’s help dealing with Iran and threats in the Mideast.
We will not become some kind of socialist government controlled unfree land, nor will we drift to right wing authoritarianism. We’ll avoid the extremes of “taxation is theft” or “property is theft.” We’ll keep our freedoms, and to avoid paying hefty taxes we’ll cut our foreign policy commitments and our misguided hegemonic foreign policy. Thinking about the songs from the sixties and the conditions now, I can’t help but feel that this is all part of our American learning curve. There was a time when slavery was normal, and folks in the deep south fought efforts to treat blacks equally. Now we have President Obama. There was a time when women couldn’t vote and were seen as primarily housewives, not to be in the work place. Now we have women near the top of government, and the idea a woman should stay home rather than work seems out of place. It used to be that gays were kept in the closet, and it would be dangerous to jobs or careers to let anyone know. Now gay marriage is becoming more common, and public views on homosexuality have progressed dramatically.
We’re still learning how to deal with the world. We don’t know how to handle power or prosperity. We push too hard on the world stage, believing we are the best state ever, we borrow and spend, believing that money is simply there for the having, “something for nothing.” Those two errors are yielding tough consequences, with real suffering. Yet we pull together. We make it through. We emerge stronger, but more important wiser, and perhaps a bit more humble, recognizing our limits and reigning in our arrogance. Hopefully we’ll also be less materialist, and recognize that spirituality doesn’t require organized religion, and science doesn’t mean giving up faith. Maybe we’ll rediscover the importance of time with friends, family, and nature. Given the excesses of the last quarter century, what we’re going through was inevitable.
But make no mistake: this has been caused by cultural excesses and mistaken values. Some of us are suffering far more than others. Yet we share the blame for what’s happening and can’t pretend that those who are suffering are somehow getting what they deserve. Just as wealthy speculators of the 90s didn’t really deserve their riches, many hard working folk around the world don’t deserve what’s happening. We’re in this together. It’s “we,” not “I.”
Back to my turntable: I just recorded the Who’s “The Seeker,” and now am playing an intriguing bit by Les Crane that came out in 1970, “The Desiderata,” a inspirational poem by Max Ehrmann, written before WWII about how to seek happiness in life. “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” OK, enough rambling for tonight!