Kristof in the New York Times relates the loss of a childhood friend, and Kristof accuses a MOOD: the lack of empathy. This story is highly evocative of the general mood in the USA (and its significant difference with the ‘welfare’, institutionalized empathy in Europe).
This sort of story points at importance of systems of moods. Those are off the radar of conventional sociology and philosophy.
“YAMHILL, Ore. – THE funeral for my high school buddy Kevin Green is Saturday, near this town where we both grew up. The doctors say he died at age 54 of multiple organ failure, but in a deeper sense he died of inequality and a lack of good jobs.
Lots of Americans would have seen Kevin – obese with a huge gray beard, surviving on disability and food stamps – as a moocher. They would have been harshly judgmental: Why don’t you look after your health? Why did you father two kids outside of marriage?
That acerbic condescension reflects one of this country’s fundamental problems: an empathy gap. It reflects the delusion on the part of many affluent Americans that those like Kevin are lazy or living cushy lives. A poll released this month by the Pew Research Center found that wealthy Americans mostly agree that “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.””
But, says Kristof, the problem with people like Kevin (of which there are tens of millions in the USA), is not that they are lazy, but that there are no decent, well-paying jobs:
“Lazy? Easy? Kevin used to set out with his bicycle and a little trailer to collect cans by the roadside. He would make about $20 a day.”
Resident Reagan had the following idiotic retort: there are no despicable jobs. All are equally honorable.
However, a country is only as rich as the sum of all the added value of the products its jobs provide with. If a country, such as Saudi Arabia, Australia, or the USA has immense mineral wealth, it can be rich, or at least not dirt poor (Venezuela, Russia) with few people working.
Right now the USA is rich for quite a few reasons that are unique, thanks to its geography, and its history (dollar as reserve currency, and the buying of complicit elites in tens of countries, worldwide).
“Kevin’s dad had only a third-grade education and couldn’t read. But he had a good union job as a cement finisher, paying far above the minimum wage, and he worked hard and made sure his kids did, too. He had no trouble with the law.
Kevin and his big sister, Cindy – one of the sweetest girls in school – both earned high school diplomas. Kevin was sunny, cheerful and astonishingly helpful: Any hint that something needed fixing, and he was there with a wrench. But then the dream began to disintegrate.
The local glove factory and feed store closed, and other blue-collar employers cut back. Good union jobs became hard to find.”
[Kevin became a] “manager making trailer homes. He fell in love and had twin boys that he doted on. But because he and his girlfriend struggled financially, they never married.
Then, about 15 years ago, Kevin hurt his back and was laid off. Soon afterward, his girlfriend moved out, took the kids and asked for child support.. [Kevin] was far behind in child support and was punished by losing his driver’s license – which made it pretty much impossible to get a job in a rural area. ”
And so on: poor nutrition, 350 pounds, diabetes, heart attack, death.
Loss of hope. Loss of faith in a society drifting towards ignobility.
The mood, in the USA, as in all countries, is organized by the ruling elite. The USA is turning away from the equal opportunity society (for the whites) post World War Two. (Or the one that existed for centuries prior, by just going west!)
Instead, democracy is slowly strangled by plutocracy. So the mood is all about the Law of the Jungle being the normal law of the land. Thus lack of empathy is part of the system. Only the “philanthropists” (another name for the plutocrats) are supposed to have empathy. Others can get lost.
Universities make millions each from “college sports”. Players are basically not paid. However, they get good grades, although they don’t need to attend classes (or then purely formally, occasionally!) Professors are supposed to be part of the plot (and better be, if they want their departments to keep on existing!)
To justify the superiority of those who have it all, and often inherited it all, one has to be able to punish those who are not playing the game. The more those who look as if they deserved to be low lives, suffer, the better. So the society is actually organized to create misery, and punish it. Losers are sinners. Thus winners are philanthropists.
By not taking care of those who deserve empathy, resources are freed to protect and expand the empire of those who have it all, and want more. The resulting might insure the success of the USA as the greatest nation on Earth.
It may be all very perverse, but it sure works very well. As a blossoming plutocracy. Watch the GDP expanding at a 5% rate. Of course, mostly because wealth is expanding at an even higher rate.
However, common people work hard in the USA. Harder than in most other places. Why? Because there is a lack of empathy. Common citizens know that, if they fail, not only will they be punished, but they will be viewed as sinners.
Google earns 50 billion dollars a month. And pays no significant tax. When crime gets big enough, it is divine: this is a mood the Bible and the Qur’an imparts.
Meanwhile, in Germany one German out of ten never heard of Auschwitz. I saw a group of full grown high school students facing a panel with names. None seemed to know what it was. When the instructor of the Jewish Museum asked if a name told them something, there was giggling. Ravensbruck, Dachau, Auschwitz. None knew a single name of extermination camps.
Let Germany not get in a mood of forgetfulness. German orderliness, and discipline are wonderful moods, in the service of goodness, but not in the service of forgetfulness.
Moods are deeper and more pervasive than systems of thought.
That is why religions cannot be separated from society, let alone civilization. Only secular humanism is compatible with today’s civilization. But humanism has always been about having sufficient empathy.
The USA is riding high on fracking at this point, and similar plots. And Germany used to ride high enough to feel optimistic about attacking the world. But only sustainable moods are wise.
In a superiorly intelligent species, intelligence can only born from empathy. So empathy, not profit, is at the center of civilization. Let Greece show the way!