Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why Is Everyone Angry?

You can't watch CNN or the evening news without seeing a segment on "voter anger" with a poll and frequently interviews with disgruntled citizens. A great deal of focus has been given to the Tea Party movement which seems to be a festering, seething mass of pissed off people over various issues.

Certainly a lot of the anger stems from how many peoples' circumstances changed dramatically in the financial meltdown of 2008. Suddenly many families were under the gun, losing homes and jobs, through no fault of their own—but through the apparent greed and market manipulations of Wall Street speculators and the real estate bubble.

When emergency measures were taken to stem the economic collapse, anger focused on the massive debt that has been incurred nationally – and this has fueled the Tea Party in particular.

To me, the underlying thread to all of this distrust and anger is one central theme – loss of control.

I believe it really started with 9-11, when people suddenly realized that there were hostile forces that threatened them—we were the target of predators.

This survival wakeup call triggered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which gutted our economy in many ways and made the financial meltdown worse than it was.

Combine this with natural disasters like Katrina and the many floods, and our inability to marshal all of the resources normally available to deal with such situations, and people became fearful.

Through the economic collapse and these disasters one heard and read of many families who had counted on our institutions and insurance companies to come through—and in so many cases they were thwarted and disappointed – so fear turned to anger.

On a deeper level, before 9-11 and through the economic prosperity of the 80's people felt secure and relatively safe economically and socially. Things seemed to work. Now suddenly it seems to many people that matters are beyond the capability of institutions and leaders to address.

Nowhere is this more dramatically brought out than in the oil spill in the Gulf. All of the worst aspects of the previous problems are coming to the surface in this situation: a multi-national corporation that cut costs for safety and lost eleven people through its negligence; an inadequate government and institutional response; and the suffering of millions of innocent people.

It is becoming apparent that BP was able to circumvent regulation of its activities due to its lobbying and connections in government, just as the coal industry was able to overlook safety standards in favor of profit.

In addition, on a daily basis, citizens are up against banks, credit card companies, and bureaucracies of all kinds that take advantage of their power to make profits at human expense. Medical insurance companies that throw older or unhealthy individuals off their books are just one example – we all know of many more.

Worse, cynicism abounds. As you watch television you see the advertising of many of these companies that promise so much, and how they care for you and you're like family; they have wonderful mission statements but then when you have a problem or need them to address a human concern, their procedures and bureaucracy is strategically designed to avoid communication and beat you down.

So is wholesale anger against corporations justified?

A conservative web site that I read, written by a friend, attackmachine.com, takes the position that corporations are responsible for much that is good in our country:

  • corporations are owned by free citizens, and are just a way we organize ourselves economically in the modern world
  • corporations provide the bulk of our employment
  • corporations produce the wealth that makes our lives easy: the plentiful food, the cars, the drugs and medical innovations that allow our longevity, the amusements that enrich us etc.

And that is what makes it complicated – we all want the benefits, but there is a suspicion that these behemoth entities, many of them multinational, are now running amok.

At the same time, many of us participate in an economy and use social media, for example, build our own brands and support the brands of corporations we use and even admire.

My father was born in 1900 and saw the entire 20th century for better and for worse; he fled what was then Czechoslovakia in 1949 to escape from the Communists who stifled free enterprise and wanted to control all aspects of the economy and personal lives.

This is the anathema that the Tea Party folks are afraid of as government tries to fix health care and regulate Wall Street—they see government as threatening as others see multinational corporations.

Still, my father saw that the pendulum had swung in the opposite direction by the time he died in 1986; where corporations that had no loyalty to any nation or true ideal were plundering the planet.

The problem is that both extreme positions – that corporations are evil and the opposite, that free markets can be allowed to self regulate have been shown to be fraught with peril; as the pendulum swings between these extremes ordinary people find themselves tyrannized either by government or by corporations.

In a land where citizens pride themselves on self reliance and independence, our media trumpets all kinds of "freedoms" but we assume fewer and fewer responsibilities.

At this point, if you see things clearly, you must come to the conclusion that one's prime responsibility is to hold oneself and leadership accountable for the circumstances under which we live.

Unfortunately there is a lot that is beyond our control – nature imposes its will regularly. But at the same time we need to remain conscious of our reactions to the circumstances that affect us day to day.

Simply being angry is not a solution. Venting that anger in large venomous groups can become dangerous, as Germany discovered in the last century.

I believe we need to use the technology afforded us by corporations in particular to raise the consciousness of the consuming public – not just consumers of products but also of ideas and information – so that the powerful corporate entities must finally address human needs, even occasionally at the expense of profit.

Just as animals evolved from simple predators to what we now consider ourselves to be – more conscious thinking beings – we need to use the power of critical thinking to make our institutions more responsive to human needs—and also the needs of the planet.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Gulf of Mexico. What we all sense is that life and livelihoods are threatened because an entity that is out of control has had its way for only one purpose – profit.

If you remember, BP ran many commercials "branding" itself as an environmentally conscious oil company.

If the tragedy in the Gulf is good for anything, it must be that our corporations and institutions will need to evolve – with the technology of the Internet and our active participation – into structures that serve human needs and not just generate paper profits for a few of our most powerful people.

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