Last evening was Wednesday, March 18. The game show, Jeopardy was midway into the quarter-finals of its annual "Tournament of Champions"-, where the best of the past season's best contestants square off. One of the questions, or as they are presented on the program, answers to which the contestants must supply the questions, demanded the number of articles in the United States Constitution. (Remember, these were the best of the best of a generally well-informed and bright group to begin with.)I thought the question, or answer as it may be, was well beneath Jeopardy or any American--especially the TOC--standards. It should have been an easy knock-off for any American, with the truly heavy emphasis on "should have been . . . "
Although the champion for the evening ran an entire category devoted to movie cartoon characters, including this fellow, not a one of the three "best of the best of a generally well-informed and bright group"- got it. (The correct answer is at the very end of this effort.)
In the summer of 2007, I was part of a senior discussion group in Reno. Only two rules were steadfastly adhered to. One, no notes or other ancillary information that might tend to support an opinion was to be brought into the room. And two, ignorance was über alles.
One of the wilder-eyed participants responded like a parrot any time someone suggested an alternative to our current healthcare delivery system, "That's socialized medicine."-
Parenthetically, yet without the parentheses, if you ran a widget factory, and if your widgets cost twice as much to produce as your competition, but had a lifespan that was 21st behind every other manufacturer, and that had a quality rating no better than 39th, you'd immediately begin looking for a different business model. That's exactly the circumstance the American system finds itself in.
But this isn't about socialized medicine. It's more basic, and much more consequential.
I've not made a study asking folks general questions about facts relating to current television network programs--then others that related to the fundamentals of our economic system and government. I'm going to guess that overwhelmingly they'd be much more familiar with the level of dancing skills of the various contestants on Dancing with the Stars (their individual life stories, who they had dated, or married, or divorced) than on any aspect of the latter subject. You can replace Dancing with the Stars with America's Biggest Loser, or Scrubs, or CSI, or virtually any other program.
This country is in dire straits. I need to tell that to almost no one. However the adjective modifying the noun pertains not only to our economical situation. It goes much deeper; much, much deeper. That I don't really believe many Americans are genuinely interested in our democratic republic system of governance is bolstered by the ease with which Americans accept their level of ignorance about both our country and the economic model under which we operate. "Oh, but that's so b-o-r-i-n-g!"- translates into "I need to be entertained; if you can do that, and still give me a job that will let me buy entertaining stuff, I don't care about the rest--It's like I said: so b-o-r-i-n-g!"-
Let's say you estimate you'll be living for 80 years. That's a total of 2,522,880,000 seconds, and not the smallest part of one of those seconds will be improved or impoverished by what you know about any one of the television programs I mentioned, or others that are similar to them. But your entire world and that of your progeny hang for their very survival on the impacts to our economic model and system of government.
Putting aside civics for today, I want to concentrate on the basic structure of our economic system.
To the best of our knowledge the human species has never existed in a pure state of nature. Some form of society has always been present, and with that there has always been some way of allocating tasks and benefits amongst the members of the society. The only valid test of a system is how well it meets the survival needs of its host society.
While we may be to one degree or another familiar with the terms communism, socialism, fascism, and capitalism, none have ever been either pure or absolutely one. Elements of all could and can be found in all. And none of them enjoy sacrosanct ordination as either absolutely necessary or unchangeable. Nor do any flow naturally as a natural method to meeting the test just noted.
Realizing and remembering this is critical. Those on the far-Right argue strenuously, with religious zeal, there is something inherently essential to our capitalist system. The truth is: they are wrong, they know they are wrong, they are flat-out lying when they orate their assertions, and that capitalism just happens to be the system we happened upon rather recently.
Capitalism? Okay, you have decided you will manufacture and sell widgets, this time being careful to manufacture and sell a better quality, more competitive product. You begin in your garage. With you as your sole employee, your overhead is low. You work hard, do a good job, and sell quite a few. The sum of your gross sales, minus the sum of your manufacturing/operating costs is your gross profit. You crimp on your lifestyle, putting almost everything back into the business. You expand, moving into a facility and hiring employees that will enable you to continue to grow. Now you also have some built-up equity that you can--before this current mess became predominant--borrow against, to further expand.
And you do. You now have sufficient funds and clout to begin buying other widget manufacturers until you at first only dominate the widget market, but then corner it completely. In addition to getting wealthier and wealthier, you also grow increasingly greedy and arrogant and powerful--so powerful that no one can actually afford to enter the market against you. Finally the impulse to cut corners, and to engage dishonest practices becomes impossible for you to ignore. You buy off the society's rule makers and justice officials, all of whom curry favor with you.
It's all a lie--that those devotees to the capitalist model welcome competition. They don't welcome it, they fear it, they loathe it, and they work as hard as possible to eliminate it! All humans are like that, in so many venues. The old saying, "I feel like the only rooster in the hen house"- goes to the very core of what's the natural inclination; in business (Think Microsoft.) and in politics and in human sexual relations.