It is very much an attribute of human nature to become angry when what we have believed to be true does not turn out to be true forever.  For example: the inevitability of progress; an ever expanding economic pie; opportunity for all; equality of opportunity; having it all; God rewarding the righteous materially; market self-correction; our military superiority; our children doing better than we did; a house for everyone; and so on.

Virtually all of these accepted truths have, in a relatively short time, turned out not to be true after all.  Someone must be to blame.  It has to be those “politicians.”  Or maybe those corporations.  Or maybe the misleading media.  Or maybe a gang of behind-the-scene puppet masters led by Henry Kissinger.  It has to be someone else.  It couldn’t be each of us.

There is nothing wrong with high ambitions, expectations, and dreams.  Americans lead the world in all of these, and for much of our history with good reason.  But almost nothing in this world is guaranteed, including our superiority and inevitable success.  Nations and empires rise and fall.  Leaders come and go.  Sometimes we’re up, and sometimes we are down.  History is a sobering teacher.  About the only thing that is inevitable is human folly.

Are our dreams permanently shattered?  Are we in a sharp decline?  Is our hour over?  No, I don’t think so.  A certain kind of way of life may be coming to an end, one marked by excessive consumption, waste, and inefficiency.  And if you have defined your life or your nation’s life by those standards, it does look gloomy.  But what really is wrong with smaller cars and more efficient homes and deferred gratification and saving for a rainy day?

 This approach toward what might be called a new realism doesn’t assume high unemployment forever, homelessness and hopelessness, or leaving a third of our fellow Americans behind.  It does assume more honest and affordable expectations, investing in the future–even beyond our own lives, and corralling the excessive ambitions of some of our neo-whatevers.

Most of all, it assumes a collective national soul-searching about what really is important in life and what really are the eternal truths.

14 Responses to “The Collapse of Basic Assumptions and Conventional Wisdom”

  1. Gary Hart: The Collapse of Basic Assumptions and Conventional Wisdom | Says:

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  2. M.G. Stevens Says:

    A fine bit of reasonable logic, but even though I believe you to be voicing the majority view, there is a terrible, ignorant minority that seem to have the media spotlight in America.

    There seems a total and utter failure of people in positions of great responsibility to feature moderate voices of opposition in equal measure to the crackpots – who have most people outside of America truly fearing for the future of civil discourse (and worse.) Seems the bulk of media gives more time and weight to the shrill fringe of American society than to reasonable voices, who are, in effect, marginalized as “elites” while complete ignoramuses seem to rule the sound-bite airwaves with their narrow-minded, profoundly misinformed view of the world at large and their own society.

    That they are encouraged to believe this “we’re the greatest” bunkum is bad enough. When it goes to parroting the large corporate view – a view that victimizes them and everyone they love – and then the wildly ironic position of one belief-based religion demonizing another surely speaks of a world without mirrors – or self-governance. Still, Mr. Hart, you are fighting the good fight, so keep on punching.

  3. femtobeam Says:

    Gary Hart wrote: “A certain kind of way of life may be coming to an end, one marked by excessive consumption, waste, and inefficiency.”

    With the disappearance of Government records and accounting, the DoD has never had to account for one dime of the 2.3 Trillion dollars missing that Rumsfeld spoke about (that was only for one year)! This way of life is continuing unabated by the Military Industrial Complex now in control of the United States and completely untouched by it’s Constitutional laws.

    In any event, while China has all it needs to fuel it’s rise to power, conserving at home only decreases profits for oil, raising the costs for everyone else. They will just control prices by controlling supply, as has been done for decades. Whether one pays for high priced fuel or electricity for their new expensive little car, the prices will go up as people are required to pay the bill for “conserving”. Those new cars will most likely not benefit an American worker one bit. Quality of life for unemployed and low wage earners means cheap consumption at Walmart and cheap Chinese labor.

    In my opinion, what we are witnessing is the decline of the American Empire at the expense of Big Business in partnership with low wages wherever they can find them. Eventually, even they will be replaced by robotics. What is the future with no new industry, no growth of economy and no real value of money? Worthless.

    More than any other thing, computers and the Internet must be available and secure.

    I think you try valiantly to give some glimmer of hope by warning people they must get used to having less, but if the trees bear no fruit, there is no fruit.

    It might be better to promote a mass transit system, net neutrality, free Internet access, and
    secure computers and phones, so a person can work from home or wherever they are. Saving seeds might be of more value than the dollar bill in the not-too distant-future.

    We must never give up on the American Dream!

  4. Bette S Baysinger, B.S. Says:

    Dear Mr. Hart,

    It may be fear interpreted as anger in some people’s reaction to seeing for themselves many belief systems they had, based on false assumptions and metaphors, are not real, but it does not have to be that way. We do not need to be blaming others either, because we really create our own reality. We are able to think for ourselves once we realize how we have been controlled as humans all throughout history by belief systems. We can be responsible for pulling our own strings rather than having them pulled for us by those in control that use our fear of appearing stupid, of standing out, or of being uncertain AND comfortable. I call it growing up.

    There is nothing wrong with equality, and fairness in society. Of honoring each human as worthy of a way to earn their living that they have some interest in doing, and their special skills and talents being recognized as useful to society. Everyone should have a place to live, clothes, food, and health care, and there is nothing wrong with believing that, or even helping to make that a reality. Single payer health care, dump the for profit health care insurance industry, is needed so employers can get busy thinking about employing people rather than how to use the loop holes to get out of providing health care.

    We can put a bunch of those cubical workers we save from having to deal death by delay or denial of services for their living into their own businesses, or providing actual health care. There is a need for people to be in home support service workers for the disabled and elderly; there are jobs there although the money is not. That 30% saved that went to for profit health care insurance CEOs could go to pay for that though, and provide jobs that give back to society. People like doing job that do that, people that like that do anyways. We are becoming less selfish and more aware of other. We love efficiency and that is why the government is so not loved. We as humans are evolving, not corporations as people as that needs to change too. Can you change that corporation as people thing so We The People may have a chance politically here, please? Thank you.
    Bette S Baysinger, B.S.

  5. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    Bravo Mr. Hart! Well said and thought provoking. Except there’s a problem with this. You’re basing this on a rational, thoughtful populace. Well, sadly we’re NOT anymore. Just think about it. The Tea Party wants this Country back. NOW! But they want the country that you describe here back. Look at their candidate profiles. They are literally deranged. So how can we get from here (where we are) to where we need to be? People don’t want to be told they have to live with less (smaller cars, homes efficient though they may be). For the greater good? Sir, when was the last time you have heard someone say that? Except President Obama. You may be aware of when our leaders try and tell us this. Jimmy Carter? And YES Barack Obama too! Bill Clinton not so much, he really didn’t have to go that route. He ‘felt our pain’. And that worked. But struggle, denial? I agree with you whole heartedly. What I’m saying is that the nation as a whole using E.J. Dionne’s phrase is a bunch of ‘spoiled brats’. Very accurate terminology too. Look at the ‘temper tantrums’ of the Tea Party. For that is exactly what they are. I’ve not seen anything like it since my daughter was 2 (twenty years ago!). And I thought SHE had the market cornered. Boy was I wrong! There you go. I fear that this is going to be the way it is until our backs are literally up against a wall. Too bad, really.

  6. C carter Says:

    Thank you for summarizing the fundamental issues we face as a nation. An additional challenge facing us is the apparent inability to acknowledge that we are responsible for our actions, not someone else. We are capable of independent thought, not sheeplike acceptance of what others present as the truth.

  7. Forest Book Says:

    “A competitive culture endures by tearing people down.” Jules Henry > As the state of competitive culture evolves to cooperation, and mutual aid culture: your missive, the state of our nation today, may very well be the path of change that we must see through.

  8. Bill Tobelman Says:

    Think this posting is rather common thinking. Being responsible beings, we tend to blame ourselves for our problems.
    This would all be well and good and reasonable if we were all given a fair shake in life, but this isn’t really the case.
    Read an article yesterday which explains why we’re not getting the chances that the prior generation had. It’s time to place blame where it truly rests.

    Here’s a link to the article.

  9. TThreadgill Says:

    Nicely said Mr Hart. We have been on an out of control roller coaster of our our making for some time, so an adjustment to our expectations was not only in order but inevitable. For the last 30 years we have spent without regard to tomorrow. Our corporation have been guided my next weeks economic data, not the next decades. The economic crunch has been quite a wake up call but many are still in slumber, unaware of what’s really afoot. Thanks for being part of the ringing alarm clock needed to wake us all up.

  10. Laura Perlmer Says:

    The ideas enunciated in this article are fine, but what is missing is any
    suggestion as to how, politically or socially, to support Obama’s efforts
    and to keep further damage from occurring….I suspect that if the people
    were presented with avenues of action, to influence our nation’s policies
    they would rally….our symbolic voting system, obviously, doesn’t make
    for a democratic or even rational government/future management of deeply
    complex problems.

  11. Neal Taslitz, Esq. Says:

    I believe it was Abraham Maslow who said: “When man has no bread he lives by bread alone.” Maslow’s heirarchy of needs examined five tiers of needs that were pursued by humans. The final tier, “self-actualization” could only be achieved once the other needs were met.

    On a macro level, Maslow’s analysis can help explain the political behavior we are now witnessing in America. Unfortunately, too many of us have come to expect instant gratification of our needs or simply think that we can indulge our needs without limitations.

    The fact that 60 percent of Americans are overweight is a glaring example of the problem we have learning how to satisfy our basic needs and then move on to the next level of needs. Unfortunately, shelter and security are needs that also tend to become an obsession as bigger homes and more weapons are certainly not in our long term interest.

    Young people tend to be obsessed with peer status, and often equate material posessions and celebrity status with success and happiness.

    Respect and civility are too often viewed as “old fashioned” beliefs by young people rather than important needs that lead to self-actualzation.

    I believe when we allowed a congressman to interupt President Obama’s televised address and call him a liar without having him removed from the chambers for violating the decorum, we helped ignite an explosion of disgusting antics that have and will continue to distract our nation from working on solutions to our serious problems.

    As you and other Statesmen have said before, there are lines that should not be crossed. We need to reward civility and maturity and behave like the nation we once were, or we risk sinking further into the quicksand of folly.

  12. Liz Says:

    Mr. Hart, in true elitist fashion you have just told the middle class to sit down and shutup. I think we have been told that enough in our lives and we are tired of it.

    If you would come down of your high horse and truly see the middle class, we already drive smaller cars and have made our homes as energy efficient as we can. We cannot afford anything else! And the powers that be don’t want us saving, but we are.

    The middle class has always known where they stand in life and try to achieve beyond that. I for one believe that it is the government and all the elites in this country that have caused its woes. You are the great consumers with no limits on excesses, with the government taking more than they should from the workers of this country and giving to the nonworkers.

    The only way for this country to recover from this is for the people to start taking responsibility for their actions. Families should be taking care of their own as I and many others are doing.

    The government and the elites should stay out of our way and out of our business.

  13. Gary Hart Says:

    May I respond to Liz in this fashion: calling someone with whom you might disagree an “elitist” is not an argument, especially in my case when anyone who knows me knows, among the many things I might be, an elitist is not one of them. Equally, I’m not on any “high horse”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I come from working class people, live in small town Colorado (not Washington), and drive a hybrid car and live in a passive solar house (two bedroom, in case that tempers your judgmentalism). I assume the government you think that has caused our country’s woes is the same one that created Social Security, Medicare, the interstate highway system, the US Army, food and drug protection, clean air and water laws, public safety, a public education system, ets. Lots of people seem to be on high horses these days.

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