First of all, I must apologize. Almost two months into 2012, and this is my first post of the year. It's not like there has been a lack of subject matter. Quite the opposite. Therein lies my problem. As hard as it was to keep up with the hatefulness, the insanity, the religious fanaticism, the racism, and the criminal lack of foresight that is displayed by conservatives on a daily basis, I still felt it necessary to call them on all of it. Keeping silent felt too much like complicity. Then one day, shortly after Christmas, the enormity of what we're facing as a nation and a people became clear. It scared the hell out of me. It was a personal fear, because I realized that the world that those like Santorum, Romney, Palin, Bachmann, and Limbaugh are trying to make will target me, and those like me, and, for that matter, many who aren't remotely like me. (They also hate diversity).
I became, for lack of a better word, soulsick. It's a word that, as an atheist, I'm not particularly comfortable using, but it's a little more poetic than depression.
So, I took a break, and tried to regain some perspective (and maybe some hope). I hope I succeed. On to the subject at hand:
In the beginning, one of the things that made the U.S. different from other nations - what made us exceptional - was a relatively mild social stigma attached to failure. Perhaps because it happened so often. Marching off into the wilderness, into the unknown, often took a curious combination of courage and desperation. Americans became famous for taking risks. The inherent danger of taking a risk, is failure. It was worth doing, not only because of the great rewards for success, but because the very act of taking a risk symbolized many things that we as a people venerated. Faith in ourselves. Faith in each other. Hope.
One could start a business, and have it fail, and still be free to try again. In most other countries, the same failure would have meant years in a debtors prison. For that matter, if one made a mistake and committed a crime, he would have gone to prison, just like anywhere else. But afterward, provided he learned from his failure, he would have been free to choose another path. To re-invent himself.
Those days are long over. For a number of reasons. One is simple supply and demand.
In the days of sailing ships, if one of the crew were found guilty of some transgression, the punishment was usually swift and severe. But it rarely resulted in death. Once his forty lashes were done with, he was once again a part of the crew. Why? A ship required men to sail it, and killing an able bodied seaman put everyone else at risk. There are more of us now. So many, in fact, that even the best and brightest of us are considered by the public and private sector to be inherently expendable.
Another reason is a lack of anonymity, or even basic privacy. Years ago, before the internet, I read that every every person in this country had an average of 15 other people in both the public and private sector who, for whatever reason, had access to information considered private. Since the internet, we've lost the ability to even measure how many people have access to information not only considered private, but to the smallest aspects of a person's life. It's hard to re-invent oneself when the details of their life are open to quite literally everyone. Especially when a significant percentage of those people are all too willing to use that information for reasons one can't even imagine.
Which brings me to the last reason. As a people, we've become less patient, less tolerant. We live in a society where almost every human endeavor carries with it some sort of zero-tolerance policy. Where stepping out of line, even a little, can mean sanctions that last a lifetime. Nothing is forgotten. Nothing is forgiven. And your debt to society never gets paid. A country where the loss of liberty for one, means financial gain for another, is destined to be a place where even the concept of freedom itself is somehow cheapened. Just another commodity someone would buy at Wal-Mart.
Someday, the consequences of failure - any failure at all - will be so great, that people will cease taking risks altogether. If you look, you can already see the initial signs of our slide into mediocrity and irrelevance. And if left unchecked, it could eventually even mean our extinction.