Saturday, July 2, 2011

What has happened to our national priorities?

It's becoming very clear to me that we as a nation have allowed ourselves to be bamboozled by those presuming to be our "leaders" (religious, political, media-based, etc.) into becoming obsessive about a number of issues that are pretty much irrelevant.

Our nation faces a number of really important problems that will have devastating consequences in the future:
  • anthropogenic global climate change,
  • a hemorrhaging balance of payments,
  • an economic meltdown, especially for the middle and lower classes,
  • massive unemployment
  • corporate plundering to which the government seems uninterested in any meaningful response
  • skyrocketing medical care costs,
  • a public education system that has lost its focus on education,
  • foreign wars that are economically disastrous and which are costing American lives as well as leaving many of our warfighters with debilitating physical and psychological trauma,
  • aging physical infrastructure (roads, buildings, bridges, etc.),
  • growing vulnerability to natural hazards,
  • an inability to respond to astrophysical hazards such as asteroids,
  • drug dependency and the crimes it produces,
  • erosion of our Constitutional rights in the name of security,
  • the imminent energy crisis as a result of the inevitable disappearance of cheap oil,
  • rapid widening of the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots",
and so on. What we're now experiencing in the face of all these important problems is a national political standoff by the two dominant political parties, resulting in social paralysis caused by ceaseless political posturing rather than political compromise to find real solutions. The political parties may call attention to any of these aforementioned problems, usually to blame the other political party for what's going on, but our nation just can't seem to make any headway toward solving these problems.

Even more worrisome, we find our attention called to issues that are divisive, inciting passionate reactions, but which are diversions from what ails us as a nation. I find religion to be one of the most egregious of these diversions. Discussions about the separation of church and state are pointless -- it's the law of the land -- until we collectively choose to become a theocracy (of one flavor or another). Should we choose to become a theocracy, we will have repudiated the intentions of the nation's founders, embracing in the process another form of tyranny (which includes fascism and communism, as well as other despotic governmental forms) that our founders hoped desperately to avoid. Any discussion of this topic serves only to generate entropy (i.e., a disordered state) and waste our time. I consider the topic of "separation of church and state" to include all such related controversies as prayers in public schools, abortion rights, stem cell research, creationism versus evolution in public schools, religious icons on governmental property, and so on. Why would political "leaders" choose to involve themselves in this useless discussion that is outside the framework of the government created by the Constitution? The only plausible explanation I can think of is that it serves to position them for political power gain. Religion has become a litmus test for political candidates, despite the clear evidence in the Constitution forbidding such tests. Everyone in this nation (as it stands) is entitled to their religious beliefs (including to be free of any religious beliefs) - live and let live - let's move on to something useful.

In the name of responding to terrorism, we've embarked on pointless foreign wars that are bankrupting us, even as their pursuit leads to the loss of constitutional rights for American citizens. This is a political act right out of Orwell's 1984 - foreign wars to divert the attention of the public from more meaningful problems inside our nation. The number of Americans killed by terrorists now is considerably smaller than the number of Americans killed fighting in wars ostensibly intended to fight terrorism. Does this make any sense at all? The mistakes of Vietnam are being made again - having our warfighters as an occupying force on foreign soil without any clear military objective is a familiar formula that has inevitable failure written into its core.

And in the name of responding to the important national problem of drug dependency (and the crime it fosters), we've undertaken yet another unwinnable war - the national "war on drugs" - comparable to the absurd effort of national alcohol prohibition from 1920-1933. We've criminalized many Americans for a victimless crime - the use of drugs - warehousing many thousands of them in prisons and destroying their lives. We should be seeking to understand and do something about the reasons for why so many people become drug-dependent. Sending drug users to prison doesn't prevent other people from using drugs, clearly. As with national Prohibition, this "war" encourages the growth of massively organized crime. Going after the drug dealers just creates new opportunities for aspiring drug dealers. Going after the supply side doesn't stop people from becoming drug-dependent, and new suppliers will always step in to meet the demand, replacing those sent to prison for drug dealing. The same goes for other "wars" on other vices. Legislating morality by criminalizing various victimless acts is pointless and never works.

Our public education system, from elementary school right on through to universities, is in deep financial trouble. Federal, state, and local governments seek to "control" the educational content rather than letting educators do their jobs - to challenge students to learn how to think for themselves and to learn the concepts they'll need in an ever more complicated world. Governments exercise this control in various ways, including budget cuts, persecution of unorthodox educators, and mandates regarding standardized tests that are diluting the kind of things that can be taught. They apparently see public schools as indoctrination centers rather than educational institutions. At a time in our history when the demands on our citizens to learn about and understand the issues confronting us are becoming critically important, our public education is losing its ability to inform the electorate. A tragic "dumbing down" is underway, leading to increased vulnerability to demagoguery.

We as a nation seem obsessed by the private sexual choices made by some of our citizens. Do we really have the luxury of vast amounts of spare time to concern ourselves with such things? Can't we find more productive ways to use that time than to worry about what other people are doing behind closed doors? Many right-wing religious folks seem to be convinced that the failure to persecute homosexuals somehow will lead to the downfall of all sorts of things, including all of American society. I just don't see how homosexuality matters much in the scheme of things. It's been some part of all human societies for all time, but our nation has been whipped up into a frenzy over this issue, at a time when I believe we need to use our time to begin acting upon really important issues (see above).

I could go on - I'm under no illusion that writing a blog will change the world, but I wanted to make my position clear about what I see as real problems versus those problems manufactured by various "leaders" who I see as only leading our nation astray.