Peter Berger’s recent commentary on the subject of violence in this country touched briefly on the changes in our society that have coincided with the rise in these occurrences. I believe this country needs to have a serious discussion on the subject of culture.
We have a culture of greed and aggression that is at the root of our problems. Sixty or so years ago, the economy was experiencing tremendous growth, there was optimism that the future was going to be better, an entire generation had experienced the Great Depression and the terrors of World War II, and we weren’t sending our military around the world to prop up one despot or another to favor American business interests.
Since that time, things have changed. America is a money-centric society that glorifies and idolizes extreme wealth, selfishness and the violence our government unleashes on the rest of the world via war. People place too much emphasis on money, the accumulation of material goods, the ownership of expensive cars and large homes, and look down on those who work some jobs versus others, and scorn those with less money. Even the working poor who work long hours at perhaps multiple jobs are talked about by some as being “lazy” and deserving of their current misery.
There is a myth that anyone can rise to be wealthy in this country and it is used successfully to maintain support for a legal and economic environment that favors the interests of the wealthy over the majority of the population among those actually harmed by the status quo. Research, such as that by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in 2017, shows there is limited and declining social mobility in America. Meanwhile, a small percent of the population continues to control an ever-increasing share of the nation’s money, real estate and other resources.
Americans, on average, work longer hours, take less vacation time, have limited access to health care, have less of a safety net, and have fewer protections against abuses by employers than those in other developed nations. I have read many surveys and polls that show Americans are not happy about their current financial situation, do not like their jobs, wish they had more vacation time to enjoy life, have little hope for the future being better and, of course, are one major health problem away from being bankrupted. It’s not hard to see why a nation of people so stressed out and largely unhappy in various ways, with a culture that emphasizes selfishness and materialism, as well as glorifying the violence of war, is plagued with such problems.
Guns don’t turn healthy and stable people into killers. Something else has made so many Americans hate each other to the point of becoming violent. The source of our problems is going ignored, unsolved, and will surely lead to worse problems in the future. Jimmy Carter warned in his famous Crisis of Confidence speech in 1979 that “There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility.”
He was more correct than I’m sure he ever realized at the time yet, just as at that time, America seems unwilling to have a conversation about the cultural disease we have as a nation. Such a conversation surely won’t come from our current president.
Casey Jennings is a Rutland resident.