It’s time to get radical | AspenTimes.com

It’s time to get radical

Dear Editor:

Long before humans invented time, the universe has been changing and evolving. Now, in the year we refer to as 2011, we observe human life forms fighting over ideals, values and resources. Empires come and go; it appears our empire is about to bite the dust.

Commander-in-Chief Obama is at the helm of our ship of state and everyone is waiting in great anticipation for what may happen next. Many among us, especially those who defend the status quo to protect themselves from change, are quoting Revolutionary War heroes:

• “I have not yet begun to fight.” – John Paul Jones.

• “Give me liberty or give me death.” – Patrick Henry

• “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” – Nathan Hale

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The tea party clique, now asserting its influence on the entire Republican party and our country, revels by parroting such cliches.

The Wall Street financiers are lowering the value of everything, betting you will panic. Don’t abandon ship, there are no life rafts to save you. Modern-day conquistadors determined to defeat the middle-class, dressed in their expensive power suits, will buy everything. Then, these self-appointed masters of the universe will raise the prices, make another killing and dump it all in favor of precious metals. Even the University of Texas just shifted $1 billion of its endowment into gold.

At last year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Harvard’s Niall Ferguson said we only have two years before the American “empire” collapses due to rising debt level; servicing our debt is now a larger expenditure than the cost of the defense budget. Ferguson offers a sobering view of the demise of Western predominance in the world. Our system is built on capitalism.

No doubt about it, capital drives the industrial growth society. However, the industrial growth economy is placing all life on Earth at risk. Ferguson points out that power is more than economic or military dominance, we have lost our “legitimacy” – the financial crisis has undermined the credibility of the American Way – “liberal capitalist democracy” and the so-called free market is no longer a compelling system to emulate. Will the concentration of financial wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people be a better world to live in? It is time to wake up.

Are we going to get it right? It is no secret that corporate interests manipulate our politicians and all of our regulatory agencies, for the sake of ever-increasing quarterly profits and the concentration of wealth in ever smaller percentages of our population. This command-control system is anti-nature and will surely deplete the Earth’s capacity to support a life worth living. Nothing in nature experiences nonstop linear growth. It is time to design an economic system that honors human happiness – living local economies that honor vibrant communities, where people recognize we are all in this together.

Apparently, simple human contentment is not easy to achieve, especially for captains of industry driven by the attitude that all their accumulated power, wealth and influence is never enough. Humility is especially difficult for those who have proudly become too big for their britches. Fear combined with a restless human heart may well be the root cause of greed. Excessive materialism represents the epitome of a pathologically imbalanced, self-absorbed personality. Self-indulgent consumption reveals an unhealthy emptiness in the human psyche. A perception of separation from self and others that leads to isolation with negative consequences for the whole community. The notion of the “triumphant individual” celebrating the great entrepreneurs of our age perpetuates a culture of “self expansion.”

Is it time to shed our identity as “consumers” and step up to the privilege and responsibility of being citizens? At this year’s Aspen Ideas Festival, David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times and PBS commentator advanced his “Modesty Manifesto” as an important contribution to move us beyond the self-centered social, political and financial problems we are facing.

Remember one lesson from the Titanic: The poor and the rich ended up at the bottom of the sea together with all their worldly treasures. King Tut’s wealth did not leave the Earth.

Can we create a world of haves without have-nots, as the late Mortimer Adler pondered during many an Aspen Institute seminar? Can we consolidate all the wealth in America at the same time we reduce our waste and pay off our debt? Of course we can, the question is: Will we? After all, all of these institutions and financial instruments are human constructs – they can be deconstructed and remade.

Our revolutionary forefathers were radicals; these times are calling for radical collaboration and cooperation on a scale never before imagined. Perhaps it is time to create the dream we’ve always known and shared. Let’s find fulfillment together by living a simpler, more peaceful life. Ask the question what the world needs and surrender to the awareness that it’s not about you. Find your purpose and serve that with humility.

Hinton Harrison

Aspen

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