What Is Happening in Our Country?

Our nation is going through a period of conflict and unhappiness, resulting largely from economic globalization, growing wealth inequality, and increased exposure to more of our fellow citizens through the internet.

The rest of the world is catching up to us economically, partly through globalization of business and trade which has led to greater specialization in products produced and a resulting loss of jobs here related to the products that are now more cheaply produced in other countries.  This trend toward equalization of wealth among countries is almost inevitable if we have a global economy, as the wealthier nations have already used most of their ideas about growth and don’t work quite as hard at it as they used to, and the less wealthy nations imitate the more wealthy nations’ approaches and work harder to get what the more wealthy have.  It will take several decades more for labor costs to equalize around the world.

On average our citizens are doing better economically, but this is an average of both more rich people, more poor people, and many failing to progress in our country, and many believe that there is now no way for them to rise in society, since wealth controls so much opportunity, and the wealthy have so much power and so many advantages.  As a result, more people are disheartened and angry about the fading of the “American dream,” which has led to more protests and more riots, and has enhanced the “sovereignty movement” (“my property is a sovereign state, and your laws don’t apply here”) and the formation of groups with intent to harm the nation (including local militias).  Businesses have responded to global competition by reducing benefits, slashing retirement plans, and forgetting any sense of loyalty to workers, which leaves workers feeling abandoned, angry, and hopeless.

While we have lost manufacturing jobs, we now have many more jobs related to information technology and automation (more white collar jobs), but unfortunately those without jobs are not capable of performing these new jobs, and automation aims directly at reducing the number of manufacturing jobs even further.  The supposedly crucial nimbleness of businesses in a global economy results in moving jobs around much more, for even marginally lower costs, and citizens, who are by and large emotionally attached to their hometowns, are reluctant to be always moving to keep up with the job movements.

With the even greater spread of income and wealth, those toward the lower end are made to feel even worse about themselves, which threatens are basic democratic assumptions about the basic equality of all citizens and causes some people to seek a powerful leader who can turn back the clock or “take from the rich and give to the poor.”  Capitalism leads inevitably to more wealth at the top, and we have not adjusted to this (e.g, by increasing taxes on the rich) to preserve our sense of all being “in the same boat” and all being equally politically.  There has been remarkably little violence over these economic changes so far, but more will come if we do not give citizens at the lower end of the economic spectrum more hope for the future.

As society has become more complex (supposedly to solve more problems), more things are being taken care of by specialists, and people have naturally felt less secure in general (since we now have to trust others whom we do not know).  We have turned over our survival to others (much more than we did a hundred years ago) and would not know how to survive at our current level if left to our own devices.  Average people have no knowledge about how to build a house or run a power plant, manufacture plastics, create medicines, program cell phones, or grow crops.  Our greater insecurity stems from knowing that we couldn’t maintain our lives on our own and knowing that since these things are being done by other human beings, mistakes will be made which will affect us (viz., the Texas winter power issues of two years ago).  Also, greater complexity has created more opportunities for criminality (the internet, greater anonymity).  This has led to greater need for monitoring the behavior of everyone (like red-light cameras and drones) so that we can catch criminals, but this intrudes on our “privacy,” and we feel less secure since our own peccadillos and law-breaking will now be seen and our behavior may be misinterpreted.  Since we believe in rugged individualism, we care not for the needs of fellow citizens and see the only solution to lawbreaking to be greater punishment, rather than efforts to give lawbreakers opportunity to shift their values and join productive society while in prison.

People in our country are less happy now than they used to be (see the World Happiness Project), since many people feel more stress about keeping their jobs and less hope about their futures.  Americans are working more hours than Europeans for roughly the same quality of life that Europeans have, with the gains from this going largely to our wealthier citizens.  The information revolution has made many workers vulnerable to being used during their off-time by bosses who can and feel free to contact them at home and on vacation.  Employees comply out of fear of losing their job. 

Greater exposure to the views of others through the internet has led to more open and visible “culture war,” so that many citizens now fear other citizens or see them as enemies and not just people with whom they have differences.  The warlike nature of these expressions on all sides demonstrates one of my main concerns—that we in this country don’t know how to understand each other or to find best compromises for our joint problems.  We are all aiming at “winning” and forcing the other side to live as we think everyone should live.  This is anti-democratic, as two of the bedrock principles of a democracy are that the voices of each and every one of us are essentially equal in weight in government and that as long as we are not harming others, we have freedom to live as we want.  Differences should lead to informative discussion (to ensure that there is a minimum of ignorance and to acquaint everyone with the creative ideas on all sides) and then to seeking the best possible compromise for the current time (which could become the rule or law on the matter).  We need leadership and education toward making these principles (equal weight and compromise) the universally understood way to solve problems.

A number of well-meaning citizens have focused on enhancing the self-esteem of minorities and disadvantaged groups by lauding their status(s)—being Black, being female, being an immigrant, being “queer,” etc.  This has become known as “identity politics,” although the basic issue (how people feel about themselves) is not political.  Seeing this praise for these groups, other citizens have reacted angrily (or with hurt feelings actually) because they feel that this pushes them down the status ladder even further.  We should all be able to feel good about ourselves, and some people and groups need more help with this than others, but emphasizing differences–even as value points—also creates more division among the citizenry.  I believe that we would do better to focus on everyone feeling better (Blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, women, Christian Nationalists, Proud Boys, and everyone else).  Equality is the answer—not fighting for status.

We have trained our citizens to feel good mostly about consuming (having more), so they don’t know how to be satisfied with what they have (which in most cases is more than most other people around the world have), and they also don’t know how to decide for themselves what is enough.  They don’t know how to actively entertain themselves (by greater participation in group activities and perhaps even by reading and thinking!), because distraction and fantasy feel-goods fill up our lives under the more acceptable title of “entertainment” and cause us to withdraw personally from singing, dancing, sports, etc., since we would not be “good enough” compared to the best. 

Changes in our economy together with our very human drive to eliminate pain and discomfort whenever possible has led to drug and alcohol abuse and medication misuse sufficient to cause dysfunction and even death for too many (which is also one indication that we have a lot of unhappy and hopeless people in our country). 

The internet has provided vastly increased opportunities for communication, but it has also exposed our penchant for lying and seeing only our own viewpoints, as well as the sorry self-esteem of so many, which they try to improve through collecting “likes” as well as attacking and competing with others or presenting false identities on social media.  My platform will also begin to address some of these attitudinal issues!