19 December 2009

Surviving (this version of) America

Next fall will mark the 10-year anniversary of a still-popular "reality" TV series. And 10 months into the reign of our ostensible Deliverer, America remains, I believe, very much a "Survivor" society. Just think of it: we still haven't figured out how to treat each other on a desert island! That is, you and I may work together decently enough (for the time being) to ensure that somebody else's loss is our eventual gain. But in the final count - and I'm told this happens in offices and boardrooms no less than on TV shows - my gain must require some substantial and irrecoverable loss on your part. At the same time, apparently it's not enough that so many of us should find ourselves living the drama five or more days a week; it must also be ours for the viewing. Having both given and received our own quota of stress and humiliation for the day, we must now sit down to relax and enjoy somebody else's.

So. And meanwhile, this is also the Nation - I'm told - whose big banks and Federal Government are suddenly going to listen to the needs not just of large, but of medium- and small-sized businesses. And whose medium- and small-business owners are suddenly going to listen to the needs, not just of their technical and corporate, but of their human components and clientele. Or at least enough to engineer some semblance of a long-term recovery. But how, pray tell?

One more question. Is this the society whose random passers-by are somehow going to wrench ears and eyes away from cell phones and BlackBerries, or at least long enough to re-discover (try not to laugh too hard) each other? Whose everyday folks-you-meet-on-the-street are suddenly going to re-learn how to recognize, and accept, each other's common humanity - each other's residual creaturely goodness, if nothing else? Or at least enough to close ranks against an unprecedented enemy? An enemy, might I add, whose peculiar methods of keeping (his) God unoffended may demand - at any time, in any place - the slaughter of any number of innocent, defenseless men, women and children?

Somehow I don't think so. Those of us who've lived in the US for more than two generations have probably lived in several distinct Americas over the course of one lifetime. I can't say which if any of these previous versions of my country would have been up to the job of our present challenges. But definitely not this version. All evidence to date suggests our "Survivor" society constitutes neither an effective army nor an effective weapon in the real war - the ideological and spiritual war - against Holy Terror. Indeed, if anything, our present, ever-so-productive ways of looking and living past each other may yet prove the ultimate self-sabotage.

I get the feeling we don't know the first thing about survival either. Much less prosperity.

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