Child of Vision

“You tried to be a hero, commit the perfect crime
but the dollar got you dancing and you’re running out of time.
You’re messin’ up the water, You’re rolling in the wine
You’re poisoning your body, You’re poisoning your mind
You gave me coca-cola, You said it tasted good
You watch the television, It tells you that you should.

How can you live in this way?  You must have something to say.
There must be more to this life.  It’s time we did something right.
Child of Vision, won’t you listen?
Find yourself a new ambition.”

(From “Child of Vision,” Supertramp LP “Breakfast in America”)

I’m in the process of reading All the Devil Are Here by McLean and Nocera, giving a detailed story of the financial crisis 30 years in the making.   They don’t cover all our problems, obviously — the housing bubble and mortgage backed securities fiasco was only part of the debt driven hyper-consumption societal imbalance we experienced, or perhaps are still experiencing.   But it details the unholy link between big money and big government, and how neither political party can blame the other for situations they each championed.

I also watched the documentary Food, Inc. last night.  It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, but it clarified the way in which big agri-business is creating an inhumane food chain that mass produces unhealthy and potentially unsafe food, while generating huge profits.   The farmers who produce the food are not the romantic farmers of my great grandparent’s years, but workers treated more like fast food or even sweat shop employees than individuals of value.    Companies like Monsanto and ADM achieved their dominance the same way Goldman Sachs and Fannie Mae did – government connections and the brute power of massive financial resources.   If you can lobby Congress, sue critics, and buy off competitors, you can control the market.   Their power is near dictatorial, yet they claim it’s just success in a free market.

And, of course, in both cases ideological capitalists, blind to the poisonous power of such mega-conglomerates, defend business and call any effort to regulate and break up such massive empires “socialist.”   Many on the right have been fooled by ideological bait and switch — it’s either big government or big business, if you don’t like socialism then champion those businesses that claim free market principles.   In reality the two are lock step together, and it’s big money that calls the shots.   If government weakens, big money strengthens.   We’re in a country where large corporations shape our life style through advertising, lobbying, governmental influence, and power over the market place.   From the WTO to the Chamber of Commerce, big money cynically claims free market principles while doing everything they can to use their power to stack the deck in their favor.   Fooled by the “fair and balanced you decide” dualist mentality of US pundits (it’s either business or government, you gotta choose one!), Americans harmed by this abuse of power laud and defend these companies.   Neither party stands up to them.

I was doing my morning step machine work out, listening to Supertramp, and had these issues in mind as I pondered the final song of on the Breakfast in America LP, penned by Roger Hodgson.   America is a child of vision.  The founders had in mind a democratic country, “conceived in liberty and dedicated the proposition that all men are created equal.”  Respecting each others inalienable rights, we were to build a new society, a “shining city on a hill” where the benefits of  liberty would call others to join us.

We were still shaped by the European biases that would lead to the slaughter of native tribes.   We had to work to overcome the inequalities suffered by blacks, who were slaves for nearly 80 years after the country was founded, and women, who couldn’t vote for the first 130 years.  Yet even as the past is full of  moral failure, the vision is pure.   As Anne Marie Slaughter put it in her book The Idea that is America, the values of liberty, equality, justice, tolerance, humility, democracy and faith have guided the building of the US.   America is an aspiration more than a place.   We’ve worked hard to try to get closer to those ideals and we have a long way to go, but the only failure would be to lose sight of that vision.

Yet perhaps we are.   Perhaps we’ve met one challenge that is hard to overcome, and which can lead us to stray from our values: prosperity.   Prosperity seems to be a good thing, every politician wants to promise it, and right now the public is demanding that politicians “fix” the economy so we can go back to the hyper-consumption of a few years ago.  Yet we are “poisoning our body” with mass produced and engineered food, which has led to an obesity epidemic and unbelievable growth of diabetes cases.  We’re “poisoning our mind” as advertisers and propagandists manipulate through emotion, leading to a belief that consumption creates meaning, and success in life is based on what we own.   Political pundits manipulate emotion to create a left vs. right jihadist mentality, in which the real issues and problems take a backseat to the desire to see one “team” beat the other.

By “rolling in the wine,” we become blind to the damage being done.  We’re high on consumption, and become addicted to “something for nothing,” available through cheap credit and get rich quick schemes like stock bubbles and flipping real estate.   Meanwhile we are poisoning our water, and our planet, setting up environmental disasters for the future.  But of course the same big money that shoots down critics of agri-business or financial institutions obfuscates on the environment, accuses scientists of being too “political” and manages to manipulate the debate and use ideology to prevent action from being taken.   Profit today, who cares about tomorrow?   We consume because advertisers tell us that we should, consumption has become the measure of who we are, our identity.

But the dollar got you dancing, and you’re running out of time…

The current recession is real and deep.  There are threats to our environment, and as noted yesterday, the days of cheap oil may be nearing an end.   As a society we’re becoming unhealthy, eating poorly, and driving up medical costs.  Psychologically the consumerist mentality eats away at our sense of well being and contentment; it induces stress, anxiety and depression.   We are running out of time.

How can you live in this way?  You must have something to say.
There must be more to this life.  It’s time we did something right.
Child of Vision, won’t you listen?
Find yourself a new ambition.

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