The United States of Delusion
…That government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19th, 1863)
On July 4th, 1776, 56 men changed the course of history with a stroke of their pens when they signed the Declaration of Independence. The men pledged “For support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” These were not just words on a page. Five of our brave founding fathers died while enduring torture for treason. Another nine died fighting in the Revolutionary War, and many of the remaining few were stripped of their homes and livelihoods by invading British troops only to die homeless and in poverty.
These men were political radicals fighting against their own government, but they were also lawyers, farmers and educated men of means. They had comfortable lives, wives and children, yet they risked it all for a cause they believed in. Rest assured, the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence did not accept as gospel truth the propaganda of the ruling British government. They recognized it for what it was - an attempt to wield power over and economically exploit the resources of the North American frontier and her people. Our forefathers educated themselves, recognized the need for change and had the courage to effect that change.
The United States of America is a great nation founded on unparalleled ideals, but we have strayed dangerously from our country’s founding principles. These principles are not etched in stone like a monument that cannot be toppled. They are ideals that we must constantly and diligently fight to maintain. Modern ammunition against the forces of propaganda and manipulation need not include bullets and mortars. Armed with education and information, our government established by those fearless founding fathers over 230 years ago cannot pull the wool over our eyes. It is time for contemporary Americans to step up to the responsibilities of their heritage.
Entitlement and Responsibility
The American Psychiatric Association defines excessive feelings of entitlement as pathology. Individuals who believe strongly that they deserve great material wealth, special treatment and other perks simply by virtue of their existence are considered mentally ill. Unfortunately, as Americans we are suffering from a massive delusion of entitlement. Henry Ford’s words almost a century ago guaranteeing a car in every garage and a chicken in every pot still resonate today as true for most Americans.
Why do we feel entitled to a particular way and quality of life simply because we have been blessed enough to receive it? Many fundamentalist evangelicals believe that America is the New Jerusalem and that we are God’s chosen people and therefore deserving of all the wealth He has bestowed upon us. But, as Hurricane Katrina showed us, there is another, dark side to our New Jerusalem. There are cracks in the glossy veneer of the American dream. Apparently, only some Americans are entitled, and the rest of our society is relegated to living a third world life in the most prosperous nation on earth.
Just what are we entitled to? Are we entitled to a fast food diet that involves tons of toxic chemicals and millions of hectares of deforested rainforest and prairie land to grow beef? Are we entitled to consume 26% of the world’s resources when we only have 5% of the world’s population? Are we entitled to create and consume vast quantities of plastic bags, bottles, cardboard boxes, etc. to use them once and then throw them away? Are we entitled to carelessly use up, contaminate and exploit natural resources without replenishing or reclaiming them? Are we entitled to deprive the other creatures of the earth of habitat, health and ultimately their very existence in order to fuel our careless consumption? For some reason, anybody who draws into question the American cultural feelings of entitlement is labeled as unpatriotic, communist or worse. Why can’t Americans collectively embrace values of responsibility instead of entitlement?
As Americans we are very fortunate that our government provides us with several services such as education, paved roads, highways, police and fire services, penal systems, etc. Each of these services has a monetary cost. In many cases, the price we allocate for such things as education and police directly correlates to the quality of the service we receive. There is no free lunch.
Most people would like to have their government provide them with other or better services. Our educational system is inadequate making it very difficult for our children to compete in the new globalized world. The price of a college education either puts a student into debt for the rest of his life or prevents him from getting a degree altogether. Our private healthcare system is obviously broken, and most people believe healthcare should be a right rather than a privilege. Our roads and bridges are crumbling and literally falling down due to neglect. Our prisons are getting bigger and bigger, housing more and more criminals, but our streets are more dangerous. New Orleans and Galveston are still devastated cities long after the hurricanes that ruined them have passed.
Yet, a popular political war cry is to reduce the size of government and cut taxes. Most of us would love to pay less money in taxes, but we do get what we pay for. We can’t have it both ways. The Bush era proved that simply cutting taxes won’t make our lives any better. In fact, the opposite has been true. There are few that would argue we are better off today than we were before the Bush tax cuts. By depriving the federal government of much needed revenues, the Bush Administration neglected infrastructure, underfunded education and sank millions of Americans into poverty.
In order to change the status quo, we must exchange our feelings of entitlement for feelings of reverence and gratitude. We must become accountable for our actions and the goods we consume. Like spoiled children, we must learn how to clean up our messes, share our resources with the rest of humanity and other creatures of the earth and realize that in fact, the earth does not exist to serve us. It’s time to grow up.
On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the gulf coast of Louisiana and Mississippi becoming the single worst natural disaster in American history. At least 1,836 lives were lost, thousands of homes and entire neighborhoods were destroyed and to this day, New Orleans remains a devastated city .
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees (George W. Bush on Good Morning America, September 1, 2005).”
The sad reality is that the disaster was anticipated by many people and for many years prior to the tragic events of August 29th. As a nation, we chose to ignore the warnings. Unfortunately, ignoring warning signs seems to be a national pastime. We are an obese, asthmatic, depressed and diabetic nation choking itself on its own excess and drowning in the waste, and all our consumption is certainly not making us happy. Our bodies and the earth are shouting at us. Why aren’t we listening? Do we need to wait until the waters come flooding over the tops of the levees again before we take action?
Our founding fathers risked everything to create our beloved nation. They would not approve of our collective feelings of entitlement and complacency towards the country they fought so hard to create. It is time for a modern revolution. Let us overthrow the delusions of entitlement and greed and instead embrace a collective responsibility to better the treasure we have inherited.
1- Summation of the Declaration of Independence.