The problem is American Greed. Not the penny-ante variety presented on the TV series, but the serious, multibillion dollar kind which can buy and sell senators and congressman with what the mega-rich think of as walking-around money. Looking at them more closely (not easy, they’re pretty covert), we see that the rich have a tragic flaw – tragic for us, the other 98%. Most of them can’t think about anything but money. This wasn’t so true back in the mid-20th Century, but the general ignorance produced by island mentality has been insidious. (Island Mentality: means we totally control the space. Canada will not invade and Mexico seems content to supply cheap labor and drugs.)
These realities, combined with Henry Ford’s wonderfully ignorant insight (‘History is Bunk’) have allowed us to be relatively culture-free in any serious sense. The Japanese revere their tradition, the hateful French are even worse, fighting to protect their language with a quaint academy, and the Germans seem finally to have learned that even with Wagner they can’t quite take over the world. Civilized, stable ‘western democracies’ have this history thing, and not being islanders, they have neighbors to remind them when they’re being ridiculous. We don’t have that corrective; we have runaway capitalism pumping our money offshore because our laws allow it. What else could we expect when our highest court gives corporations the rights of citizens?
A nasty fellow named Yvor Winters observed that America had managed to move from primitivism to decadence without an intervening civilization. The razing of great buildings (New York’s old Penn Station, good example) and the general debauching of a beautiful land to make room for malls and strip-mining state the case without words. Invariably it’s about money, which leads to our dirty little secret: we can talk about all sorts of elevated notions that make us feel good, but we can’t think (for example) about the general good of this nation. (No multinational would, obviously; it has no nationality) God knows, we can afford it more than any other nation, or could have until we lowered taxes and unbalanced the budget to start the millennium. But we don’t. This common good thing sounds damn close to socialism, and demands unthinkable sacrifices that would cost money. The notion of a national culture worth saving just doesn’t square with Mr. Ford’s tech-head remark. Culture is essentially the carrying forward what is worth having that is not money. And what on earth would that be?! Whatever it is, it is of no interest to your Tasmania-based multinational, which, with the aid of the best lawyers money can buy, controls all sorts of supposedly national companies and activities and politicians, etc.
To which we must add that corporations, like Josef Goebbels, understand thought-control very well, but do it more indirectly. They just go out and buy some more media when the natives get restless. It’s a win-win because that media promotes ideas that facilitate the accumulation of wealth by the wealthy. (Shoot, man – get real, what else is there a man can count on? Maybe the wife, definitely not the kids, they won’t even talk to ya. The Superbowl, okay, the Superbowl.)
Thinking about something other than money is very hard when greed is a kind of religion and you’ve got a real bad addiction and there’s a great fix right there. This damn-close-to-a-chateau place for example, that you can almost afford now that you’ve got your money and labor offshore. That piece of real estate, buddy, would let you hold your head up as one of the anointed. Then, alas, the next fix…
How to help the rich? Not easy dealing with addicts, they’ll do anything. And they’re not stupid, just lack imagination. Saving the rich from themselves is a daunting task, like a Christmas gift for the man who has everything. Pitchfork Revolution is doing well in the mid-east, but it won’t work here. Brainwash them Gitmo/Abu Ghraib style? Appealing but not possible, can’t get at them. But they need help. We need help. They’re not just eating the scenery, they’re eating everything.
In that 98% to which most of us belong, there must be some ideas. Other than joining them, which is very unlikely, since we’re about 5th among western democracies in terms of upward mobility.