Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I'm OK, you're to blame

Bill Moyers has a new PBS show that examines the financial crash.  It is well done and persuasive.  Moyers and the Left have concluded that the financial collapse was caused by greedy capitalists in the financial industry.  And they are right, as far as they go with the question.  

Someone named Charlie Campbell (I was unaware of him) writes in an article labeled "The thrill of blaming others" in Salon.com:

In 2007, the world entered the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It had been caused by the bursting of the American housing bubble, leading to the spectacular collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. The fallout was global, and saw plenty of scapegoats targeted – from rich bankers and their bonuses, to short-selling hedge fund managers thought to have profited from the downturn, and chief executives whose self-interested, rash decisions led to this calamity.

A lot of what the financial industry did should have been illegal, it certainly was unethical.  But it is no surprise that Moyers and the Left blames Capitalism and Big Business for the Great Recession.  

Blaming the financial institutions is easy to do, and there is a lot of behavior that was disgusting.  But do we do it to let ourselves off the hook?  Campbell continues:

How much easier it is to attribute responsibility to them, rather than face the truth of our own involvement. The notion of collective responsibility is one that we prefer not to engage with. Only those who were financially very prudent can exempt themselves from blame. The rest of us were happy to run up more debt than could be sustained for long by a banking system that depends, like so much of institutional life and commerce, on public confidence. 

You know, what caused the financial catastrophe was us, the common folks, the vast millions of the masses, so many of whom went on a debt binge - credit cards and mortgages, any way possible to live beyond our means.  The bubble was us.  The Government mandated lower mortgage standards in order to get more people into homes; the mortgage companies eventually lowered the standards to ludicrous lows in order to make millions for themselves; the financial companies created super-complex financial instruments out of them in order to make billions for themselves.  But, it was us, the people, who lost our bearings and decided that so many of us had to live beyond our means, on credit, on the bubble, until it collapsed.

The real solution isn't just stronger banking regulations or breaking up the too big to fail financial institutions (although I support that).  Or to put a leash on the exuberance of the government trying to use government powers for social engineering purposes which always ends up with unintended consequences (although I support that too).  

The real solution is for us, the people, to find ourselves anew, and find that our value is not in our money or possessions or expensive adventures, or outside of ourselves in any way.  To find out that the true wealth of life is in discovering the eternal virtues within ourselves that give life meaning and can never be found in the bottom of our wallets.  This is not something that the government can mandate, it is a cultural and spiritual shift that I think we are in the process making.

Mr Campbell is actually writing about the psychological urge to blame and scapegoat others to avoid looking at our own culpabilities and failings.  It is bad enough that we duck our own responsibilities when we scapegoat others. But, more disturbing yet, is what happens to ourselves when we do so:

Ultimately, we make scapegoats out of those we have come to believe are incapable of suffering – we dehumanize them, making them easier to hate. We create the idea that these other people are inferior to us. That develops into the idea that they therefore deserve their treatment. We deny them the same capacities for thought, emotion and values as us, and treat them accordingly. We can do this consciously or unconsciously, but the results are the same.

We stop seeing them as human beings so that we can blame them and find a way to think of ourselves as good and right and blameless and not really responsible for ... whatever we need to avoid thinking about and being responsible for.  

And so we arrive, once again, at our political system, where those on the extremes of the political spectrum see the world in very comforting terms:  each side see themselves as human, and see the ones they scapegoat and blame as less human, incapable of suffering, and deserving of attack and destruction.  If only THOSE people would all disappear, no... would all be destroyed!!! then life would be soooooo goooooood.  Say amen! And click the "contribution" button to the candidate of your choice.  Isn't it funny, but THOSE people just never seem to go away, no matter how often we have elections.  

I think real change in our world comes through individual growth and change which spreads through example rather than the ballot box.