Paul Andersen: Surplus wealth brings a spiritual deficit
The national mood dipped as stock markets “adjusted” last week. The promise of endless financial gain may be the biggest fake news event of the century as a year’s worth of gains was erased in two days.
“How are your 401(k)s?” asks the president during economic upticks, taking credit for the entitlements of prosperity that have propagated a national cornucopian myth that’s handily converted into political power and global influence.
The zig-zag graph of the Dow Jones average is akin to a cardio chart reflecting the pulse of the nation. The doctors of finance push the chart ever upward, desperate to keep the country on life support no matter how many defibrillations it takes to shock the economy into compliance. Meanwhile, the spiritual health of the patient is imperiled.
With every economic uptick there is a commensurate drop in the health of the biosphere. Federal protections for wetlands and riparian waterways rescinded last week by the Trump administration were seen as a bothersome obstacle to development.
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Now builders and industry can run unbridled while degrading drinking water and undermining the health of flora and fauna. It’s the same with the president’s recalcitrance over climate change. Carbon is just another impediment to the heedless burning of dirty coal and countless other carbon-spewing business activities that produce hallowed profits.
The yardstick used to measure wealth in America and much of the world is flawed. It recognizes only economic barometers. It celebrates the conversion of wealth into the accumulated material stuff we collect like packrats eager for the next bright and shining thing to adorn our nests.
How about considering a different equation, one where material wealth is a means for attaining the enrichment of culture, community and spirit. Judging by national trends, the more wealth accrued, the greater the appetites for more. Never mind aspiring to a less materialistic life goal and holding aspirations for a higher spiritual plane.
Black Friday saw record spending as billions of dollars were transacted with the tap tap of cellphone users whose idea of a gift is a gadget or gizmo wrapped in pretty holiday paper and stashed under a fake tree. Big-screen TVs are among the most popular items which, in turn, encourage passive entertainment that mainlines viewers with yet more commercial come-ons.
There is no yardstick for spiritual wealth because spirit is not a daily concern in the ceaseless rush for the stuff that defines prosperity for the most entitled people in the world. Americans declare ourselves exempt from sensible limits because of the divine mandate of providence, and that includes sensible limits to the outrageous working lives many lead to pay for all the stuff.
Any yardstick is too small for measuring the eternal and the infinite, for inspiring the philosophical ponderings that lead more enlightened cultures to cultivate the true wealth of social capital, holistic health, unifying relationships and respect for the living world. Commensurate with these values is a higher degree of national security against war, suicide, racism, pollution and opioid addiction.
We hear the chant of “peace on Earth, goodwill toward men” only a few weeks each year as a temporary prod of conscience amid the insatiable quest for capital. Is Santa Claus a capitalist?
To measure the life of the spirit we would need a tape measure that could circumference the cosmos, and even that’s too small. Spirit is the infinite and ethereal essence that cannot be measured, weighed, graphed or priced. That’s why we fail to value spirit or even to understand it.
Spirit is heart-sent and heart-given, and when spirit is in remission, a darker mood settles over whole societies. Spirit cannot be wrapped and boxed and set under the tree for eager hands to grasp. It is communed.
By paying obeisance to stock indexes and quarterly corporate earnings, our collective spirit is diminished and undervalued. What are the values of a culture that celebrates conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste as strengths of the American character?
Spiritual wealth implies moral aspirations for higher values, but even the holidays seem unable to fully awaken the dormant spirit that slumbers in a national mood of complacency.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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