Re: The Cliff
Mon, 17 Jun 1996 12:51:42 -0400

Regarding Eide's post:

> If Ted is convinced that the system is still "careening >toward a cliff"
please flesh out and articulate what the cliff >is -- describe it.

Since Eide quoted Morgan who was quoting me, I would like to reply to that
challenge. The gravity of our current crisis has been building for over two
centuries and has been recognized in stages. The initial warnings were
dismissed as extreme and paranoid, with an occasional condescending nod of
"thought provoking." When a relatively large segment of our society, the
counterculture, embraced this view, they were vilified so thoroughly that
they remain serviceable scapegoats to this day. Yet, the concern over the
direction of our society has continued to deepen and spread, making it no
longer practicable to demonize everyone who expresses deep apprehension about
the future. We're presently in a phase where we dance around the fear,
recognizing that good, solid people are becoming increasingly disturbed about
the direction of our society, superficially acknowledging these fears but
assuring ourselves, or trying to, that they're exagerrated. Yet, such views
have became so predominant that Al Gore described our entire civilization as
being "dysfunctional" and became Vice-President the next year. This rather
shocking observation caused nary a stir in the 1992 elections, so universal
had such beliefs become.

Almost without our becoming aware of it, we've lost our greatest treasure,
our faith in the future. To be sure, most people retain hope for their
personal destiny. Praising the potential of the individual has become the
premier moral imperative of recent times. Yet this charge that we be
optimistic about our personal destiny has had to labor against a powerful
opposing force. We have increasingly lost our faith in our common future,
the future of ourselves as a nation, as a people, as a world. We might hold
fast to the dream of a wonderful life for ourselves, but we have had to do it
without that energizing belief that life will gradually, yet surely, get
better for everyone.

In a single generation our expectations of the future have changed from one
of boundless hope to brooding fear. Three decades ago we envisioned the
future to be a marvelous, wonderful place full of sensational technological
accomplishments that would abolish poverty, ease our workload and allow
everyone to follow their life's vision. Now, we simply hope that scientific
breakthroughs might save us from the growing danger to our environment and
economy. Once nearly everyone took it for granted that the quality of life
for each succeeding generation would continue to improve. Not only do few
assume that today, many consider it boldly optimistic to hope that our
society will decline relatively slowly. Most people don't even want to think
about the future, an attitude that has not gone unnoticed by our children.
Eight years ago, when my daughter's sixth grade teacher told her class that
"they were the future of the world," the kids laughed at him. Today's young
have no memory of our former confidence; they have been raised in the shadow
of its loss. When suburban sixth graders laugh at the promise of a better
world, it's time to awaken and realize just how late it is.

But what, precisely, are we to awaken to? For one thing, the wages of 80% of
the population has stagnated in the last quarter century and their prospects
are not improviing. Added to the intractable trade deficit and vast increase
of public and private debt is the growing realization that we have a mind
boggling pension problem brewing with most boomers heading for retirement
insufficiently protected. The suggested cure would wreck an even greater
nightmare. The hope is that the rest of the world would become prosperous
enough to buy whatever it is we still sell. Yet, we already have a
population of 5.7 billion that doubles every forty years. Our ecological
balance is strained to the snapping point as it is, how can this dual
increase of population and consumption possibly continue?

Yet, as disturbing as our economic and ecological problems are, neither is
the primary cause of our current angst. Our real concern is not the tangible
problems themselves, but the fear that we lack the will, and the character,
to do anything about them. Our loss of faith in the future is directly
related to a loss of faith in ourselves, most particularly, our communal
selves, in our ability to make the sacrifices that the future will inevitably
require. We know what needs to be done, and that it is doable, we simply
don't believe that we will do it. Our growing disquietude comes from the
growing realization that our social cohesion is deteriorating at the very
moment it's most needed.

While different people tend to focus on different problems, they invariably
revolve around the same thing, the deterioration in the way we treat one
another. For some, it is the annoying growth of gratuitous hostility, for
another it is the noticeable decrease in personal honesty, for yet another it
is the loss of any sense of loyalty. Some regret the decrease in
friendliness and courtesy while others lambast the "decade of greed." Many
complain of the terror created by a high level of violent crime -- despite
the fact that we incarcerate a higher percentage of our population than any
other county on Earth -- while others notice the extraordinary number of
people who are living alone and the widespread sense that so many are
unhappy. Others wonder how the richest country in the world manages to have
so many of their people living in the streets. Nearly everyone is disturbed
by the persistence of racism and sexism. Others lament that our democratic
process has been seriously undermined by the high cost of campaigning while
the politicians reply that everyone wants to see sacrifices made, but no one
wants to make any themselves. Finally, who hasn't wondered how it came to be
that in our modern, "labor saving" age, we are so frenetically busy and short
of time?

We see ourselves changing, more and more rapidly, often in ways we detest,
yet we feel powerless to do anything about it. There is this vague sense
that we are hurtling toward a harsh and unkind destiny that we should be
trying to avoid. Yet we can't confront and overcome something that we cannot
identify, much less understand. Since it is hopelessly depressing to worry
about a problem we cannot comprehend, most people try to ignore these fears.
But the evidence is too apparent to block out entirely. Increasingly,
people are left with the feeling that something is seriously wrong and that
whatever it is, it is not getting any better. Many people are coming to
realize that the danger that stalks us today is no longer lurking out there
some place. If we keep looking for an external source, we will never find
it. We are the problem, or to put it more precisely, the way we think is the

The fundamental understanding of the counterculture was that our mentality
was no longer appropriate in the changed conditions of a modern technological
society. They were right. Martin