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US national priorities are really screwed up

(I apologize for the rant, but I'm disgusted with my country. The problems continue to mount, with no leadership in sight. These issues have come to a head locally and personally, and I want to say something about it. I understand you may disagree. I'll return to the usual productivity writing next week. Note: I care about this country; that's why I'm pissed.)

Mark Forster, in his book Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management, talks about the reactive vs. the rational mind. The reactive is the lower-level animal one with shorter-term priorities. The rational is the thinking part that plans and makes us do what's best, even when it means sacrificing immediate gratification. The trouble is, when we're stressed or afraid, guess which gets priority? This arrangement makes sense in the wild, but it doesn't build civilizations. With apologies to Mark, I think we can use this analogy for countries as well. Sadly, the United States - apparently with the blessing of many of my countrymen - is solidly in the reactive camp, as evidenced by our national priorities. A few examples.

1) Culture of violence. We're a gun-worshipping, violence-glorifying country. Just look at the TV, cable, and films that we produce and watch [1]. Then notice how much more violence we have than civilized countries with gun control laws. The recent shootings should convince anybody operating with a full deck that we have a problem. And no, arming everyone to the teeth ("Welcome to third grade. Here's your class schedule, books, and .38. Enjoy.") is not a solution. And if we limited guns, would these nuts just kill anyway? Sure - I can see the news now: "Maniac kills 38 people using salt shaker." Right. We've prioritized the right to own a gun over the right to be safe.

2) Military vs. schools. Around the country you'll see local school systems in real trouble. Crumbling buildings, teachers being laid off, programs being cut, etc. This results in increasing class sizes and more poorly educated kids. Even where I live - a relatively wealthy community - the schools have been hit hard. Why? Mostly it's because the federal contribution to educating our children has dried up. This while we're spending $10B a month just in Iraq [2]. We've prioritized occupation and military adventures over our future citizens.

3) Health insurance. I recently quit a job that provided great benefits at a really good price. Now that I'm self employed, I've really come to understand how screwed up this country's priorities are. We've got tens of millions of people without insurance (including lots of kids), and the choices for people who work on their own are pathetic. Group insurance is invasive, expensive, and the coverage is fair to poor, in some cases non-existent. On top of that, if you've got any medical concerns whatsoever (and isn't addressing them the whole point?) you're really in trouble. We've prioritized commercialized health insurance over being having access to health care.

4) Energy policy. Guess what - Peak oil is real, and the planet's supply is on the decline. Oil is very special stuff, and we've a) pretty much squandered our terrestrial allotment, and b) we refuse to believe it or work on solving it. Picture James Kunstler's image of a fully-loaded SUV, with one driver, accelerating into the bricked-up dead end road of suburbia. That's us. No trains worth mentioning, and third-world bus options. We've prioritized a car-based, high-consumption culture over a pragmatic preparation for the decline.

5) Environmental policy. Finally, hand-in-hand with our transportation choices, we've really messed up our climate. Even if all the leading scientists are wrong, is it worth taking a chance? We've prioritized sticking our heads in the sand over addressing a real - and difficult - problem.

These priorities are not sane, and are not mine, and they're just a few of the choices we've made as a country. Sadly, in making them we've squandered an amount of wealth that has been unheard of in the ~10,000 years of human civilization. But that's not the worst news. The worst thing is that we're doing nothing to correct these priorities; in fact, we're doing the opposite. If it was just me, I'd be upset. But as a parent whose child's health, education, and overall welfare are all threatened, it really stinks.

  • [1] Don't believe our culture worships guns? Try this simple check, what I call the "Gun Test" - Go to your neighborhood video store (if you still have one - I'll leave corporate take-overs of small towns for another time) and look at the video covers. Try to find any that have no guns on the front or back. It turns out it's really hard to find any. I use this test when I rent, because I don't want to pollute my head with filmmakers who glamorize violence. There's no question it's unhealthy for adults, and especially children. (We limit our 6 YO to 30 minutes of controlled viewing per day, and no cable.)
  • [2] See for example Estimated Costs of an Iraq War According to CBO or Iraq War, Inflation and War Finance.

Reader Comments (31)

I appreciate the rant. If I'm not interested I can skip it, but in this case you have generated a lot of thoughtful responses. By getting various viewpoints I feel it helps me to grow as a person. I don't agree with everything I read, but that shouldn't keep me from reading. By adding new flavors to the stew of life I can keep it fresh and not rot in a cocoon of my own juices.
One thing...The reference from the Grist brought this out...Most Christians aren't against stem-cell research - They are against collecting stem cells by destroying embryos.
Pardon if I start another rant...

April 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBuz

I appreciate the rant. - Much appreciated, Buz.

If I'm not interested I can skip it, but in this case you have generated a lot of thoughtful responses. - Best interpretation possible - and why I love my readers.

Most Christians aren't against stem-cell research - They are against collecting stem cells by destroying embryos. - Thanks for the clarification.

April 24, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hey Matt, did you see this about [ blogs and resumes? | http://www.darowski.com/tracesofinspiration/2007/03/06/the-blog-is-the-new-resume/ ]

Just curious...after those last few comments.

April 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

Thanks you, Stephen - great pointer.

April 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Hi Matt,

"... notice how much more violence we have than civilized countries with gun control laws."

I just came across an interesting article that relates to this thought and wanted to share it with you. Normally, I don't share these articles, but I really think you care. I'll move on now. :)


Does the main-stream-media report this?

April 27, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterdon

don, thanks for the pointer. I admit it took me a minute to figure out the author's using sarcasm. Speaking from experience, I think he'd be better served with a direct treatment. I appreciate the point, though - thank you for sharing it.

April 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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