• Posted: Aug 11, 2011 12:43:57
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There has been much discussion during the past few days about anxiety. Anxiety is reputed to be the cause of stock market falls, corporate hoarding of cash, bank reluctance to grant loans, slow hiring, and drops in consumer confidence. One might also throw in a rise in domestic violence, more frequent dubious visits to the emergency room, and greater alcohol and drug consumption. The term "anxiety" is used as a catch-all term to describe feelings of inadequacy in the face of perceived or imagined peril. Many wonder at the causes for such feelings. Everyone worries at the unpredictability of behaviors it provokes. But is there an antidote?
According to Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve, the cure for financial anxiety is a steady hand. Per his prescription, interest rates will remain low for at least until mid 2013. Downbeat though that assessment might seem, it does provide a distinct measure of certainty to the investment climate for nearly two years. Given how short-sighted businesses are, that could amount to an eternity.
It's an interesting lesson to ponder. One wonders if there may be bigger applications.
Recent criticism of Barak Obama has suggested he needs to spin a clearer narrative as to who we are as a nation and who the "villains" are we face. Laughable. George W. Bush tried that and just look where we are today, trillions deeper in debt, hundreds of thousands of perfectly good people dead, and a U.S. citizenry at each other's throats. But the idea of a narrative we can all get behind isn't such a bad one.
Why not take the lesson Ben Bernanke has given us and try it on a grander scale? Why not develop a narrative for our entire country that is both calming and focusing, instead of agitating? Why not give us a plan that is sustaining and inspiring, clearly desirable, inclusive, easy to understand, inviting of innovation, and unlikely to need revision for at least a decade or two? We might even pay for it with tax breaks for those who get on board, and a bigger tax bill to everyone who doesn't.
Just as a for instance, consider the theme "provide for a sustainable future for each and every child". Imagine what that agenda entails. First, it would require focusing on consequences for someone else, instead of just for one's self. Second, it would force everyone to consider what sustainable is, and what it is not: for the planet, for the nation, for the community of individuals that will eventually take our place. Third, it asks that we give the highest priority to creating a society in which each and every child might find a meaningful fulfilling place for themselves. Fourth, such a plan may even result in people learning to respect the contributions of others in pursuit of their common goals and purposes. Class and occupational antagonisms could, in the process, become things of the past.
The current conservative agenda advocates less government, more state, corporate, and individual freedoms, and less deviance from doctrine. It's the perfect agenda for a disease or for rival colonies of ants at a picnic: take no prisoners, be damned with the consequences, fittest takes all. By contrast, a plan such as "providing for a sustainable future for each and every child" provides reason to cooperate, opportunity to innovate, opportunity to prosper in a socially and ecologically responsible manner, and is potentially inclusive of every level of talent and ability. It would also be self-regulating. That is, each individual inspired to participate might easily look to what others are doing and see if they are in deed contributing to the cause, or not. If clearly not, a frown and a big tax bill might encourage outliers to get with the program, the rock solid, clear as a bell, individual valuing, community inspiring program. That's the ideal type of agenda a thoughtful species like our own needs if it ever hopes to establish a long-term symbiotic equilibrium with its sustaining environment.
The thing about certainty is that there almost is none, not even for rocks. But something interesting happens when people have a comparatively solid underlying structure to adhere to, a structure they share in common. They begin to play. Observe what happens with children on a playground. Listen to what happens when musicians get together. In both instances, a common structure is adopted and agreed to, then cooperative innovation begins. With kids, a fantasy. With musicians, a jam session.
People are only kids all grown up. At base, they crave the reliability of an underlying structure within which they can build and innovate and make satisfying contributions. An inspiring common narrative would serve that purpose. And it needn't involve a "villain" or partitioning the world into classes of "good guys" and "bad". It need merely provide a compelling vision of something potentially satisfying beyond grim survival, hollow materialism, and grinding strife.
If President Obama doesn't succeed in establishing such an inspiring national agenda for us to come play within, may at least somebody succeed in doing just that. And soon, please. Growing, building, erupting anxiety is not going to land us any place we want to be.
Thursday, June 30th, 2011
84.6 mm 401 mm