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Archive for September, 2008

Was not the whole point of free-market capitalism that the market, allegedly, regulates itself? We stop buying Chinese toys when too many of them contain lead or other toxic materials? If too many jets from the same airline, crash, then I’m done flying with that airline. The risk of losing business is the only incentive powerful corporations have to do right by the consumer. It’s the same for toys that poison our kids as it is for planes that malfunction and, as it should be, for financial expertise that turns out to be sucky advice. The “freedom to succeed” fosters a more efficient and productive society. That’s the anti-regulation rationale that props up capitalism while condemning socialism. And, at the risk of angering fuzzy mainstream liberals, I tend to agree with it. But only if the same reasoning gets applied uniformly. Which it won’t be if this Wall Street Bailout, or any subsequent version of it, is passed.

Just as businesses should be “allowed” to succeed, they also must be free to fail. Currently, only the masses are free to do that. Only when our failure trickles up finally to economic elites do any of them consider changing how they do business (and even then, not out of any altruistic concern for the greater good, but because they understand we won’t be buying their products anymore if everyone’s broke from chronic overconsumption). The risks that are said to balance the free market and naturally compel people to responsibly self-regulate are only useful if they constrain all of us equally. This bailout sets a new precedent, whereby some are powerful enough to warrant their own safety net. We the people can no longer take the risk of our risks applying to them; so the rich get their very own mulligan as long as their mistakes endanger the rest of us as well.

If those who lend money to hardworking Americans are incompetent and/or corrupt, then they deserve the same fate as Chinese toymakers. That’s freedom, no? If a “free market” government can’t be bothered to intervene on behalf of the common man, then shouldn’t the common man be “free” to gradually inform himself? And if an informed citizenry means people will self-regulate more and start to live within our means, then maybe The Market deserves this hangover. But rather than learn from our mistakes, 2/3 of House Democrats and 1/3 of their opponents advocate borrowing our way out of them, to the detriment of future generations. The result will be an entire society that doesn’t understand the value of a dollar; where in essence we tax the poor and give to the rich.

Why give us more reasons to try to keep up with the Jones’es? Now is the time to laugh at the Jones’es, as they’ve been laughing at us for some time now.

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Countless times we’ve been reminded that “the world changed on 9/11.”

In both parties’ National Conventions, we heard it again.

Everything changed.

This durable one-liner isn’t just a limp platitude anymore. Nowadays, it’s the alibi when politicians tinker with democracy, and the rationale when citizens lower their standards of what it means to be American and Free.

Tragedy and fear have ushered in a new politics—a blueprint for how to be corrupt without appearing evil. Usually “the change” is mentioned in order to legitimize some aspect of the shady shift that’s now occurring—whether in business, politics, ideology, world policy, military strategy, civil liberties, or the advent of barefaced media propaganda.

Everything changed; thus, we govern in a new way now—for your safety.

With crooked leaders come docile followers who believe it’s patriotic to be scared and vulnerable but not to participate in democracy. In time new catchphrases emerge, and are even more effective.

The Republicans put “Country First.”

The Democrats are all about “Securing America’s Future.”

A population trusts and complies, convinced that things have fundamentally changed and must change again, ASAP.

While surface references to things changing are ample, clarity about what exactly changed (and why it had to) is hard to pin down.

Concretely, many things did change on September 11th, 2001. Jumbo jets disappeared into towers; towers toppled like tiny wooden blocks in a “Jenga” game. Thousands of Americans never came home, and thousands more will never come home the same.

But while airplanes vaporize on impact, empires disintegrate gradually, over time. The lasting casualty of that fateful morning may be the loss of a great nation, one that remains unable to function as it did in its glory. Great nations do not collapse violently, as do great buildings made of steel, but softly, a little more each day, one parcel at time.

Nations die lingering deaths.

If ours crumbles, it will do so in slow-motion, with no loud explosions to mark the moment when at last we finish our fall. This second, slower death will be the enduring legacy of 9/11, the important ending heard not with the bang but only inside the relative whimper that follows.

The changes history shall remember aren’t necessarily about the people who died on 9/11. It may be that our most profound changes have yet to occur.

This newly updated, wounded America is one the victims never knew. It belongs now to the three-hundred-million of us who weren’t murdered that morning–Americans from other regions of the country; New Yorkers who worked in other parts of Manhattan; WTC employees who called in sick or were running late that morning; those who raced out of the buildings moments before they fell.

We are the survivors, and 9/11’s ramifications matter to us.

Yes, our hearts are with the victims. But must our minds fixate solely on the dead as we ask what should come next in life?

“Everything changed” is one version of 9/11, the favored myth in our national monologue and, for some, a therapeutic way to cope with loss. But change is not fait accompli; it is just one possibility among many from which to choose.   That is a choice that we as citizens were never given, and one that’s still rightfully ours to make, together.

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