Trigger Points

In the United States, you generally cannot cast aspersions on anyone unless they are contestants on American Idol, or just plain ol’ politicians. But simple empirical observation suggests that there are, in fact, things--institutions, and people--deserving of such discourtesies, beyond the usual iconic targets. Something is rotten in the state of the union, and has been for quite some time. Let me suggest that it is high time to change our paradigm of social and personal protectionism, and to pull the trigger on our own propensity for self-satisfaction. Over securing ourselves in a veil of politically correct postures that defer and deflect our problem-solving potential serves nothing and no one but the ephemeral vapors of illusion, and we’ve seen how well that works out in the numbers game that our fanciful financiers have been playing for decades.

Ironically, one positive outcome of such chicanery can be found in the currently simmering AIG scandal. Here we seem to have witnessed the establishment of a definitive point of demarcation for the American people, at least when it comes to money and morality. Unfortunately, as modern history has demonstrated time and again, such trigger points always come way too late to cover the damages. From the Depression to the holocausts of World War II, to the warnings about deeper involvement in Vietnam, to the environmental admonitions as far back as the 1960's, to the imperial greed and premature euphoria that enabled our mission in Iraq to be declared ‘accomplished,’ to the financial meltdowns of the 21st century, we are a people, like most of this world, who allow ourselves to get carried away by what we want to believe, rather than what we see happening right in front of our eyes. But this tyranny of eternal optimism eludes the reality of our own fragilities, often in the name of religion and ‘god’s will,’ and sometimes simply in the name of secular exaltation and ‘mental health.’

From the 18th century Scottish essayist Alexander Pope’s homily: "whatever is, is right," to the contemporary evangelists who justify the mess we’re in by invoking hocus pocus prophecies about the ‘end times,’ the human proclivity to ‘stay positive’ somehow sets us up for a deadly ontological imbalance. The existential precariousness of our very existence is demonstrated time and again right in our very midst. The actress Natasha Richardson’s uncanny death following a seemingly harmless fall is probably the most immediate and brutal example that comes to mind. But the mosaic of self-induced threats to our very being as a sustainable civilization goes way beyond an incidental fall on a ski slope.

Tragically, and all too often, it seems to take a dramatic, ‘in your face’ insult to our intelligence for us to heed the burdensome realities that subsume our fate. The AIG scandal really only involves a fraction of the capital that went down the proverbial drain along with the jobs and homes of so many Americans. But the theft was such a blatant testimony to avarice and greed that the public had to react en masse, and with acerbic indignation...not so much to the $165 million of taxpayer money out the door, but to the conspicuous disrespect to our moral intelligence. One can only wonder where our heads were years before we got shafted down the poop chute. People must have been aware of the obscene discrepancies of income that have characterized the free market for years.

Even our less literate population is privy to the fact that Hollywood shells out $20 million to its primo stars on a regular basis, just for one film, regardless of how they perform, or whether their movies break even at the box office. We all know that many professional athletes in major American sports are inordinately compensated just for showing up...syringes and all. Still, very little outrage or moral revulsion over these allocations of capital seems to gain any traction. Certainly the recipients of these insults to the principle of economic justice have little to say about it all.

The fact that the supposed fiscal wizards at AIG, and other institutions, have pummeled our American Dream and then were rewarded for it, finally has tipped our complacent sensibilities into bona fide rage. Jeepers.... what a patient, tolerant people we are! Unfortunately, that patience, once again, has come back to bite us in our butts. For in the final analysis, we are inebriated with the sense of possibility that is the credo of that American Dream. After all, anyone can make it to the silver screen, hit drug-enhanced home runs, or invest in the ‘au courant’ technology and reap the cockamamie rewards that we bestow upon our heroes.

Perhaps we should just keep our mouths shut, roll the dice and hope that Ed McMahon knocks on our door with a Publishers’ Clearing House check. Of course, had we spoken out loudly and clearly early on about the abuses of common sense and economic ethics that we are now bemoaning, the money in that check might be worth something....that is, if we can find a bank with the resources to cash it!

Marc Twang


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