Answering Alisa

[I wrote this more than three years ago, in 2009. Looking for something else, I reread this and feel that it is still valid today.]

A dear friend has asked that I comment on the letter by Alisa, one who is ‘outraged’ by the changing American cultural landscape. I fear she asked for my comments just because she knows I like to rant, but I am happy to oblige.


In your initial assessment of America today, Alisa, you decry our moral and ethical decline. In this I must agree. America has never been so riddled with people who feel lying to one another is acceptable. Students cheat on tests. Taxpayers hide, inflate or create figures on tax returns. Does anyone tell the truth to the police? Even as a firefighter, I’ve been lied to. I’d think that when someone has arrived to save your life, the least you could do is be truthful. Turn on the television, and the bulk of the 500+ channels of programming depict murder and mayhem, lying and cheating spouses or children, or people willing to do anything, eat anything, for a few moments in the spotlight of some obscure network.


A more useful question Alisa, is, “Why the decline in morals in America?”

I point to greed and delusion, not necessarily in that order. What is the ‘American Dream’, Alisa? To own your own home, right? You did what you felt was correct, buying only the house you could afford as you say, but did you hope that it’s value would rise and that you would have wealth beyond what you had invested in that home? And sure, when you were purchasing the rules were different, you probably had to provide a large down payment, to properly document your resources and demonstrate your ability to act financially responsible. But that was because that was how the system was functioning at that particular time. Was the process of acquiring a home different for your parents? Yes. And will it be different for your grandchildren? No doubt. I agree, Alisa, that everyone is responsible, ultimately, for his or her actions. I encourage everyone to understand the risks they undertake when they commit large portions of their personal resources to home purchases, to educate themselves about what they are promising to do, including the danger that the future may not be as rosy as it is today. But to fault the homebuyer and the homebuyer alone, for the current wave of foreclosures, is shallow at best. The system that rewards the arrangers of the mortgage loans allowed greed to overcome good judgment. The creation of creative ways to fund and to disburse loans fed on the greed of those with the money required to issue these loans. The laws were in place to protect both the borrowers and the lenders, but somewhere along the way the regulators also turned a blind eye, or possibly lacked the funding and resources to properly police the lending industry. There are many at fault, not just the borrowers.


And why, Alisa, might there be funding issues with agencies charged with protecting the ‘American traditions’ you are so fond of? Could it be that too much of the national treasure, both money and lives, are poured into destruction? Whether you examine the military budget, with it’s black operations funded with money hidden from public view and huge expenditures on equipment designed to kill effectively while protecting the more sacred American lives from harm; or the tens of billions of dollars flowing out the US and into the coffers of Muslim, oil-producing nations, in order to allow the American tradition of driving huge gas-guzzling, inefficient polluting vehicles three blocks to the market everyday; America has become a culture that believes it’s own myth. Americans believe they are the best race and culture the Earth has ever seen. America believes it has title to the entire Earth’s resources, by virtue of that delusion of supremacy. If invading an oil-rich Muslim country is necessary to suppress the price of the gas for your 15 mpg SUV, then so be it, because after all, these same Muslims dare to enter the US and then ask for their own religious holidays as time off from work! Don’t they get it? Once you immigrate to America, only Christian holidays are allowed!


Alisa, when your relatives entered America, they came here to become part of the ‘Great Melting Pot’. What they celebrated was the chance to come to a country that believed in free speech, personal responsibility, and diversity: that there is something to be learned from every culture and belief system, something that can then be blended into the American lifestyle of the benefit of all. Language reflects a culture and it’s values. While I agree that a person should be willing to learn the language of their chosen country, many of those same immigrants, perhaps even yours, continued to honor their own traditions by speaking a second language at home. A better question for you to ask yourself is why the diversity in languages offends you? I wonder, because it seems apparent that you want to have nothing to do with immigrants yourself, and I fail to see why the language they speak affects you in any way.


Besides destroying America’s treasure through military efforts around the world, destroying the environment with thoughtless and careless use of oil, and destroying diversity be insisting on a decades-old monoculture, our lifestyle consumes a share of the planet’s finite resources at a level that far exceeds our ‘fair share’. Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, Alisa? Note that recycle is the last, least preferred position in the phrase. So you use energy efficient air conditioning and you recycle. Why do you assume that there is no further pressure on you to reduce your resource consumption, why are you then ‘allowed’ to use a petroleum-based bag one time, and then throw it away forever? And throw it….. where, exactly? Do you have a trash heap in your backyard? I imagine not. You would be even more outraged than you already appear to be if your local government were to decide that the next urgently needed landfill would be within shouting distance of your home. No, that has to go next to someone else, not you. Like nearly everyone in America today, you buy and discard with relative impunity. What’s so difficult about taking a reusable bag to the store, Alisa? To paraphrase Julia Butterfly Hill, if you heard a chain saw every time you used a paper towel, to remind you that paper comes from trees, you might find something else to use to dry your hands. If efficient A/C and setting a few bottles on the curb are the extent of your ‘green efforts’, then you are sadly still the bigger part of the problem.


We agree on one American tradition, or so I thought. That tradition is free speech. My ability to respond to you, and your ability to begin this rant, is rooted in the concept that each voice can be (and should be) heard. Why then do you shut the door on dialog with those who don’t agree with you, i.e. the leadership of countries that believe differently than you, Alisa? You would choose ‘destroy Iran’s nuclear program’ rather than discussion. You would kill rather than talk. You would enforce the American version of right and wrong on Iran without asking why they believe as they do, or even what they are trying to accomplish with their actions. You don’t believe they have an equal right to raise their children with adequate food and education, or to love their family, neighborhood and country as you do yours. You believe that as an American, you can decide what Iran is ‘allowed’ to do within it’s own borders and economy. How did you acquire that right, Alisa? When you fail to converse with others, you remain ignorant of what’s happening around you, and why. Dialogue is understanding, not appeasement.


Alisa, please begin to look inside your heart and search for what is important to you. Ask yourself, “Where is there an opportunity to bring more love into my life? Where can I find my passion to help others to be stronger, more responsible, and more generous? How can I grasp that it’s not about me, it’s about giving love to others who touch my life?” As you find answers to these questions, you can begin to improve the moral and ethical climate in this country by raising your own level of ethics and morals. Personal responsibility is truly about taking care that your own actions are moral and true. You can’t force others to be ethical, but you can be a shining example of the behavior you want to see in others. Please shine for us all, Alisa.

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