Sorry about yesterday, friends. I woke in the morning and made a vow of twenty-four abstinence from cyberspace. It was Sunday. A day of rest, ordained by at least one Almighty--although why another Almighty chose Saturday is a mystery. But I managed pretty well--aside from one lapse, in the afternoon, when I felt impelled to check the email and respond to some of it. It's not easy, is it, for an addict?
Anyway, here we go, today, Monday, and the question is: Who are we? It’s the question Michael Moore comes to, after ninety minutes or so spent examining the American health care system—and finding it lacking. We saw his film, “Sicko” at the end of last week. I don’t like the title: it’s too flip for the serious work he has undertaken here—a soul-searching that turns out to be about much more than the health system. It probes deep into the national culture and the national character. Is this what we have become, he asks? A nation of people who surrender without a second thought to those who exploit the mental lethargy they have induced in us?
Is it any accident, I wonder, that we have accepted the odd notion of “The American Dream” as our ideal? Are we not all rather suffering through what Henry Miller called "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare"? Are we all so permanently lulled by the sleep of ovine contentment that we don’t notice how the values that once inspired this nation have been perverted? When do we all wake up? That’s the fundamental question. The “dream” has been mythologized into a complacent belief in a benign, love-thy-neighbor, faith-based, friendly giant America where the values of individual freedom and personal responsibility flourish, and where each of our citizens enjoys an equal opportunity to enjoy his or her own vision of happiness.
What nonsense. If we’re both clear-sighted and honest, we’ll recognize this myth for what it is: a commonly shared delusion of grandeur. So when do we all wake up to the truth that we are living in a country that has slipped—unconsciously, perhaps—into the belief that money is the ultimate value and that its pursuit excuses virtually any behavior, any excess, no matter how ruthless or inhuman? That we have chosen for ourselves a president and a congress of representatives who capitulate to those whose power is gained by wealth, and who allow their policies to be dictated by those who have bought their services? That what we are pleased to call a “democracy” is nothing more than an oligarchy in which we sleepers surrender our minds and our lives to corporate control?
When do we wake up, as Michael Moore would have us do, to the fact that the health care system in this, the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet, exists not primarily to provide for the health and welfare of our citizens but for the profit of our health insurers and providers? That millions of our fellow citizens either go without health protection because it’s unaffordable, or are commonly forced to leap through labyrinthine hoops to benefit from the insurance that they pay for? That HMO’s and insurance companies strive mightly to find reasons for the denial of benefits, which turns out to be a not-uncommon cause of death? That despite the high cost of health insurance, we rank miserably in the delivery of services when compared with other nations? That our relative infant mortality rate, for example, is a national disgrace?
We have been persuaded to swallow whole the negative myth of “socialized medicine” and to buy instead into a system designed to minimize service in favor of maximizing profits. If we were not asleep, or willfully ignorant, or deaf to reason, how could we have allowed this to happen? How can we allow it to continue? Tragically, how can we now do otherwise, with lawmakers bought and paid for by the profiteers?
And while the health care system is clearly now in crisis, it’s far from the only mess created by our collective surrender to corporate greed. What else is driving this war in which we are disastrously engaged? What else drives our international and national policies? Our significant contribution to the impending ecological disaster that threatens the planet derives from our reluctance to put bottom-line corporate profits at risk. We have elected, and continue despite all reason and intelligence to elect people who kow-tow to the gods of business and are willing to sacrifice our vulnerable and inestimably precious natural environment on the altar of progress and economic growth.
Is it not time we ripped the mask from the American Dream and revealed it for what it secretly promotes—the me-first greed that denies social responsibility for those less fortunate than ourselves? That panders abjectly to those who promise to cut our taxes and fails to mention the social programs that must also be cut in order to fulfill those empty promises? That willingly steps on the misfortune of our fellow beings in order to promote our own needs and interests?
So who are we, Michael Moore rightly asks? What have we allowed ourselves to become? What happened to that benign, generous, immigrant-embracing America of which the world once stood in envy and respect? How is it that violence in our homes and on our streets have become as "American" as the warfare we export?
These are questions those of us who seek to find serenity in our lives and to promote it amongst those who share this planet with us must seriously ask ourselves. We sit, we meditate, we send out metta into the world to the best of our ability. Well and good. But I, for one, am tormented by the sense of responsibility to do more--and the recognition of my relative impotence. I find it hard to be satisfied with doing only what is in my power, when my power seems so negligible in the face of such an imponderable and pressing need to change.