Divided, Distracted, Downtrodden: The Social and Political Reality in America Today

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W.J. Astore

The American people are being kept divided, distracted, and downtrodden.  Divisions are usually based on race and class. Racial tensions and discrimination exist, of course, but they are also exploited to divide people.  Just look at the current debate on the Confederate flag flying in Charleston, South Carolina, with Republican presidential candidates refusing to take a stand against it as a way of appeasing their (White) radical activist base.  Class divisions are constantly exploited to turn the middle class, or those who fancy themselves to be in the middle class, against the working poor.  The intent is to blame the “greedy” poor (especially those on welfare or food stamps), rather than the greedy rich, for America’s problems.  That American CEOs of top companies earn 300 times more than ordinary workers scarcely draws comment, since the rich supposedly “deserve” their money.  Indeed, in the prosperity Gospel favored by some Christians, lots of money is seen as a sign of God’s favor.

As people are kept divided by race, class, and other “hot button” issues (abortion and guns, for example), they are kept distracted by insatiable consumerism and incessant entertainment.  People are told they can have it all, that they “deserve it” (a new car, a bigger home, and so on), that they should indulge their wants.  On HGTV and similar channels, people go shopping for new homes, carrying a long list of “must haves” with them.  I “must have” a three-car garage, a pool, a media room, surround sound, and so on.  Just tell me what mortgage I can afford, even if it puts me deeply in debt.  As consumerism runs rampant, people are kept further distracted by a mainstream media that provides info-tainment rather than news. Ultimately, the media exists to sell product; indeed, it is product itself.  No news is aired that will disturb the financial bottom line, that will threaten the corporations that run the media networks, that will undermine the privileged and the powerful.

The people, kept divided and distracted, are further rendered powerless by being kept downtrodden.  Education is often of poor quality and focused on reciting rote answers to standardized tests.  Various forms of debt (student loan debt, credit card debt, debt from health care and prescription drugs costs, and so on) work to keep the people downtrodden.  Even workers with good jobs and decent benefits are worried.  Worried that if they lose their jobs, they lose their health care. So much of personal status and identity, as well as your ability to navigate American society, is based on your position.  For many it’s lose your job, lose your life, as you’re consumed by debt you can’t repay.

Divided, distracted, and downtrodden: It’s a recipe for the end of democracy in America.  But it also serves as a roadmap to recovery.  To reinvigorate our democracy, we must fight against divisiveness, we must put distractions behind us, and we must organize to fight for the rights of the people, rights like a better education for all, less debt (a college education that’s largely free, better health care for everyone, and far less emphasis on consumerism as a sign of personal and societal health and wealth), and improved benefits for the workers of America, who form the backbone of our nation.

We can’t wait for the politicians.  Most of them are already co-opted by the moneyed interests.  Meaningful change will have to come from us.  That is, after all, the way democracy is supposed to work.

Avoiding Egocentrism and Hyper-Competitiveness

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One of my favorite quotations comes from the Jamaican bobsled coach.  Remember how the Jamaican bobsled team captured the world’s fancy?  A bobsled team from the Caribbean … how crazy is that?  They weren’t very good, but so what?  They gave it their all.

Anyway, here’s the quotation:

“If you’re not enough before the gold medal, you won’t be enough with it.”

As soon as I read it, I recognized the wisdom and truth of those words.

Medals, trophies, awards, titles: they won’t fill the emptiness inside.  Oh, they’ll make you feel good for a few hours or a few days, but the feeling soon wears out.

We live in a hyper-competitive society in which it’s all about “winning,” whatever that means.  So focused are we on winning — which is usually both short-term and ephemeral — that we forget what’s really important in life.  Family, friends, health, a life of meaning and service, stuff like that.  Stuff that you may not win a gold medal for, but the stuff that truly matters.

A society based on competition and consumerism always pressures us to associate winning with acquisition.  I need that gold medal for affirmation!  And if I can’t get that, at least I can buy that Lexus SUV, that Kate Spade bag, or some other shiny object that feeds my ego.

Forget about medals and ribbons and titles.  Living a life of meaning is its own reward.

W.J. Astore

Favorite Contrarian Quotations (1)

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Occasionally we here at The Contrary Perspective will publish quotations that have special meaning for contrarians and free-thinkers.  One of my favorite quotations comes from the Norwegian author, Arne Garborg.  

For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge, but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money.

In these days when money is equated with success or even with “elect” status among some Christians (the so-called prosperity gospel), Garborg reminds us that the kernel of life is something that defies being bought.

Americans are constantly being pressured to keep up with the Joneses.  To spend, spend, spend, for happiness.  Garborg tells us that true happiness is to be sought elsewhere.

Keep on seeking, contrarians!

W.J. Astore