Monday, August 6, 2012

Priorities - a brutally honest mirror

Years ago, I first heard what has become an often-used aphorism for me:  "What you say speaks so loudly, I can't hear what you're saying!"  Of course, this is simply a re-statement of an older aphorism:  "Actions speak louder than words."

The media, including the print media, broadcast media, and the Internet, have flooded us with a tsunami of words.  This very blog contributes, albeit modestly, to that overwhelming flood, so I don't want to come off here as somehow above all that.  The words on this page do not, by themselves, testify to the substance of what I'm about to say here.  Only by my actions can you reach a meaningful judgment of my words.  If you think there's a huge discrepancy between my words and my deeds, then you can brand me a hypocrite with justification, wherever such discrepancies might exist.  As my friend, RJ Evans says, "The hypocrisy always reveals the lie."  The existence of a disconnect between my talk and my actions is an obvious indicator of a falsehood.  The hypocrite says one thing and does the opposite.  The hypocrite says, "Do as I say, not as I do."

But this blog isn't about hypocrisy.  Rather, it's about the statement we make by our actions and priorities.  I'm not talking about individuals here, but rather our collectively-owned, beloved United States of America.  Yes, I truly love the USA, for many reasons.  Which is why I find it painful to find so many disconnects between our ideals and what we actually are doing.  You are free to disagree, naturally.

About $40 billion annually is spent in "the Americas" on cosmetics.  It seems likely the majority of that is in North America, and particularly the USA.  The four major sports in the USA (NFL football, major league baseball, the NBA, and the NHL), according to Wikipedia, generate about $25 billion annually in revenues - most other sports are relatively small by comparison, except perhaps college football, which generates $1.6 billion in TV revenues alone.  The music industry in the USA accounts for about $11.5 billion annually.  TV advertising revenues (excluding political ads and the Olympics) are at about $170 billion annually.  USA consumer electronics revenues are approaching $200 billion annually.

We in the USA account for a rapidly declining proportion of world manufacturing, as we "outsource" our manufacturing to China and elsewhere to reduce labor costs.  Individual state support of education is declining, and universities have become more like businesses than education institutions in order to make up the shortfalls.  Federal support for science has been declining in the face of budget pressure.

Agriculture is no longer dominated by individual farming families, as the land is increasingly owned by absentee owners, including large agricultural corporations.  As the family farm disappears, the small towns that grew up to support those families are dying for lack of revenue.  The infrastructure that supports our whole society (roads, bridges, dams, buildings, etc.) is falling into disrepair owing to a lack of maintenance that is, in turn, attributed to governmental budget shortfalls.  I could go on and on.  We have a lot of issues to deal with, and it seems we can't afford to do them all, so many of them are simply not being addressed anymore.  Our military "superpower" status has inflicted a high price on us since the end of World War II.   No one in the world comes close to what we spend on "defense".

Where we spend our money, and where we choose to cut back our budgets (as individuals and as governmental entities) to deal with financial downturns, says a lot about us.  But that isn't the only issue that concerns me.

We've revealed, time and time again, that our notion of human rights is, to say the least, rather more flexible than the Constitution says it should be.  In times of perceived "emergencies", we've suspended habeas corpus, the right to a speedy trial, and even the right to legal representation.  We love to crow about our freedoms, but the 4th Amendment to the Constitution has been trampled into near non-existence.  We call ourselves the world's guardians of freedom, even as we invade nations simply because we don't like their leadership.  We see ourselves as a shining beacon of hope for equality of opportunity, even as we discriminate against minorities within and impose state-sponsored icons and doctrines of our majority religion (christianity) on everyone.  And we're dumbfounded when we learn that many people around the world despise us.  We're blind to our own failings at living up to our ideals, preferring instead the notion of American "exceptionalism" - the notion of "Noblesse oblige" comes to mind.  It pains me to see those failings, because at our best, we are what we think we are - at our best.  At our worst, well ...

Our priorities, as revealed by our actions, are not where we think they are in our self-deluded state, bombarded with meaningless slogans and empty rhetoric from all sides.  Those priorities are a necessarily accurate mirror of who we really are, and many of us find the image in that mirror to be profoundly discomforting.

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