Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Our Deadly Society

Mahatma Gandhi famously said there are seven things that will destroy us: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice and politics without principle. He called them the seven deadly sins.

Gandhi's words weren't directed at America. At least I don't think they were. He was addressing an Indian audience. But when we apply Gandhi's measure to life in the U.S. today, the result is unsettling to say the least.

1. Wealth without work. There has been a massive redistribution of wealth in the U.S. over the last 30 years. The poor are getting poorer. Racial minorities and young people, in particular, are falling behind economically. The middle class is stuck in a rut, spinning its wheels. It's the rich and super-rich who have been getting ahead in America and it's not their labor that is making them ever richer. They are making money off their money. And it's not just the Bernie Madoffs of the world running pyramid schemes who are getting spectacularly wealthy without working for it. The hedge fund dealers and securities traders and market speculators and finance mavens are doing the same thing.

2. Pleasure without conscience. Call it what you will. Conspicuous consumption. Ostentatious display. Affluenza. Living the good life while others suffer is no stranger here.

3. Knowledge without character. Six words. The Smartest Guys in the Room.

4. Commerce without morality. Enron qualifies here too. But there are countless other examples, from the lengths Wal-Mart goes to be able to sell a polo shirt for $8.63 to the geniuses who invented derivatives or credit default swaps or whatever other names they came up with for larceny on Wall Street. See Inside Job. Or google "Massey Coal" or "Don Blankenship."

5. Science without humanity. Never forget Tuskegee. Can't forget the Manhattan Project either. Or what's done to animals, not to cure cancer or some other dread disease, but to come up with a better shampoo or hairspray.

6. Worship without sacrifice. Service to others and the social justice ethic have grown increasingly hard to locate in much of organized religion in America. The separation of church and sacrifice is central to the creed of the religious right, the latest manifestation of dominionism and prosperity theology. Let's just say Matthew 22:39 and 25:40 are not top of mind in the modern American church.

7. Politics without principle. We have pay-per-view congressmen when they're back home who become pay-to-say congressmen when they are on Capitol Hill. And Washington isn't the only place such grotesquely unprincipled politics are found. It's endemic to Wisconsin now too. If you need convincing, just take a tour of our website, especially here and here. Enough said.

We are on thin ice by Gandhi's standards.

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