MAIN STREET: Widespread fallout  from culture of ‘more’

<p>Rich Wandschneider</p>

In the course of those exciting 1960s – the time of my own youth and coming of age – economic conservatives decided that they had had enough of government and wanted untrammeled access to a “free market,” while people on the left were having enough of a government that got us into a nasty war in Vietnam that was killing and maiming young men from America and the men and women and boys and girls of Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos. Barry Goldwater was not elected president on the libertarian economic platform in 1964, in part because we feared he would escalate a war that was still undeclared and in its infancy. Lyndon Johnson won the election, prosecuted the war, didn’t even run for re-election, and war casualties grew into the millions.

Quietly – or not so quietly depending on one’s age and status at the time – the birth control pill hit our world in 1961 and worked its way across conservative, liberal, apolitical and un-political populations. And people began doing their own things – sexually, economically, pharmaceutically, technologically, educationally, artistically, and any other ways we could find. An era of radical individualism crept and then speeded into the American mainstream.

Some amazing things happened out of the courage and drive of strong individuals of the ‘60s and ‘70s – music and film and computer technology born in basements and garages, and radical shifts in racial politics and women’s status in America made forever changes. There were explosive fights – cities burned, campuses exploded, buildings and the Island of Alcatraz were occupied, public figures were assassinated and ordinary people trying to effect change were killed in their causes. Heiress Patty Hearst became Tanya the radical with the Symbionese Liberation Army, was captured, jailed, pled brainwashing, married her jailer, and found her way back to suburbia. What can say more about those turbulent times!

Reaction was inevitable – the dizzying pace and broad scope of public action and private experimentation could not be maintained without crumbling into some kind of chaos. But it now seems to me that the slide away from turbulence and radicalism has become a slide into a culture of more.

Freed from large families – or any family at all – by the pill, individuals struck out first in new directions looking for adventure and “better,” but with all standards altered or struck down, have gradually replaced better with “more.” Kenneth Lay and his cronies wanted more profit and more houses and more celebrity; preachers want more fealty and bigger audiences; CEOs and academic deans at major institutions claim more and bigger degrees than they have earned; and even everyday Joe and Jane America have strived for bigger houses, more cars, more toys, more and more competitive education for their one-child two-children families.

It’s dizzying in a different way than coming home to news reports of Patty “Tanya” Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army dizzied me 40 years ago. It’s cars and games and phones that change so fast that children teach parents how to use them. It’s stress over how many times annual income one should have “put away” for retirement. It’s obese children and overweight parents, tattoos and piercings run amuck, educational debt astronomic, and international competitions for Olympic Games 12 years hence.

It’s a world of winners and losers, from your street or apartment complex in anytown or somecity, U.S.A. to the neighborhoods of Aleppo in Syria where Christians, Jews, Sunni and Alawi Moslems, Arabs and Kurds lived side by side in the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world when I visited them 40 years ago, and now shoot and kill each other, or wait for the tanks and planes from Damascus to do the same.

More is not working folks. Somehow we need to redirect, need to start talking “better,” and not just for ourselves, but for our streets and communities and countries. With the miracles of technology, we can now have our own video production companies, but we can’t each have our own roads, police, schools, bridges, planes, airports, beaches, forests, and rivers, herds of elk and schools of fish.

It is kind of crazy, but as I write this what comes to mind is that old golden rule. If Kenneth Lay and the energy traders had started there, he might still be alive. If Ayn Rand, the author of The Fountainhead and hero of the economic freedom and more crowd, had exhibited some humility and applied the golden rule within her circle of admirers, they might not have been torn apart and she might not have died alone and unhappy.

Was it my mother who said “more is not better”?

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