Falling Into the Cold, Dark Well

By Charles Bishop

How does a civilization fall into darkness? What brings a society to its knees? Sometimes the threat is external. Rome fell to the barbarians. The Persian Empire fell to the Greeks. And the mythical city of Atlantis fell into the sea. But what about internal threats, the insidious ones where no one identifies the danger until it’s too late? What made Atlantis’ foundations weak and Rome’s outer defenses ultimately inadequate? Which intangibles, inherent in every society, can be identified as potential seeds of self-destruction? In the United States today, we need look no further than the various Tea Party organizations cornerstone philosophy of hubris. Hubris (translate: arrogance due to excessive pride) expresses so much with just six tiny letters, for as the Bible says, “Pride goeth before the fall”.

So many in this country have come to resent the needy and see them as an obstacle to contentment, because so many have decided the most important thing in life, the thing that really counts, is “more.” “More” is an outsized word, and like the concept of infinity, has no limits. No matter how rich a person becomes, no matter where they rank within the pecking order of wealth, they can always strive for “more”. But since our world is a pie with only so many slices, when one person gets “more”, another gets less.

This is where the needy come in. They hamper the pursuit of “more” because they siphon off precious resources, making “more” a little less. How dare they! Why can’t they pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Don’t they see what a burden they’ve become? Forget them!

Forget them? Really?! Is that what Jesus would do? Will St. Peter open the Pearly Gates for those whose “Happiness Strategy” incorporates the tactic of forget them? Are today’s Tea Party followers, who bristle with self-reliant indignation, actually channeling the Founding Fathers’ spirits while elevating political discourse to Heaven itself? Or are these people, so proud of whatever success they’ve achieved, arrogantly suggesting the needy deserve their lot. And are they afraid they will be left behind in a changing world where the pie is sliced differently?

Most people against health care reform already have health care. Most people against subsidized school lunches already have food. And most people against government helping those who can’t help themselves magically think they’re not vulnerable to a reversal of fortune. But I have a once rich friend who recently experienced the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” It still amazes me how quickly her attitude towards “government handouts and entitlements” changed once the money dried up. Her story goes something like this…

Once upon a time there was a petite, attractive lady who lived in a small mansion and occasionally gave lavish parties where well-to-do’s pleasantly mingled, their hands filled with cocktails and tiny bits of seafood. She was thrilled she’d come so far and although she enjoyed her status, she had little sympathy for those in need, and no use at all for government programs that gave things away, thereby diminishing the potential for “more”.

One day, for reasons outside her control and too personal to expose here, she basically lost everything. Her husband left, and with him went the money. Her teenaged children got into trouble. Not the usual kinds, but the kinds that are every parent’s worst nightmare. And there were health issues, but because there was no money, there was no healthcare.

Distraught and overwhelmed, she began to experience a fundamental shift in her thinking. Homeless scum started to look more like human beings fallen on hard times, and some of the food pantry moochers reminded her of responsible parents wanting their children to have proper nutrition. And why oh why would a country she loved so much stand by and watch her drown. Hadn’t she played by the rules? Didn’t she deserve better? My god … the children were going under, too! They were all falling into a cold, dark well.

I don’t know if my friend can recover from her fall, but if she does, will she remember what it felt like underwater? Or will she climb back atop her lofty perch and once again see those beneath her as … well … beneath her? As this nation’s economic prospects improve and the 2012 elections approach, will the tattered survivors of this latest financial crisis mark their ballots for civilization and humanity, or will they climb up on whatever perch they can find, grab their muskets, and cast another vote for “more”?

Charles Bishop is a writer in St. Louis, Mo.

From The Progressive Populist, April 1, 2011


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