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July 20, 2009
America Embraces Jenga and Meat Loaf? If Only!
The voice is deep and reassuring. It carries with it the weight of depth
and reassurance. Attached to the voice is an actor, Dennis Haysbert, who
appears and feels nearly presidential. And why not? A few years back, he
portrayed the president on a popular television show.
says to an America laboring through a recession that last year we
learned Jenga and meat loaf were better than box seats and reservations.
The size of your television isn’t as important as those huddled around
it for entertainment. It is a moment of connection, where an insurance
company is hoping to get across to potential customers that it feels
their pain. It is empathy at work, something that is apparently supposed
to be a bad trait for a judge, but is good as a marketing gimmick.
The question isn’t whether this particular display of empathy is phony.
As a marketing gimmick, it almost certainly is. The question is whether
it has staying power in connecting with the American people. That is,
did the American people really learn last year that Jenga and meat loaf
are better than reservations and box seats?
The answer to that should be a raised, dubious eyebrow. It would be hard
to believe that a single event that happened nearly nine months ago
would prompt lasting change. We were told that September 11 changed
everything. Soon after, conservative columnist George Will noted that
neckties had returned to the workplace and casual Fridays were a thing
of the past. The years have faded the pain. Casual Fridays have
The near collapse of global finance should have sent us a message that
it is time for a closer look at our way of life. Our economy, which has
become a thing that moves from bubble to bubble to bubble, is a symptom
of what has gone awry. It speaks volumes toward a lack of discipline and
long-term thinking, and toward a glut of short-term opportunism that
sells short the future.
What has been masked as building a better life is nothing more than
naked, luxury-based consumerism. It is the idea that you make for your
children a better world by removing physical discomfort. Past
generations built roads, brought electricity to rural America, connected
the world through the telephone. Today, our greatest achievement is
manufacturing video games that realistically depict a zombie holocaust.
The American media obsessed over the death of a pop star not terribly
relevant for 20 years, while ignoring at the same time a substantial
effort to reform American health care.
is not controversial to call it unsustainable, either. We have done very
well exporting one thing – the American dream. Everyone wants to live
like an American. The problem is that, at the rate we consume resources,
we’d need several planets to do it.
is apparent that there is a complete lack of political leadership. In
Washington, the same crooks who last year nearly cratered global finance
not only got bailed out with billions of dollars, but their position has
become stronger. The general drift appears to be that the sooner things
get back to “normalcy,” the better for everyone.
Yet, it isn’t just banking that has failed. We see failure in a great
many systems – education, infrastructure, energy, environment, health
care. Many of those failures have the same symptoms, but dots go
unconnected. The bigger picture is ignored, and rather than treating
symptoms to treat the disease, we hope to inflame the symptoms thinking
that this will cure us.
is an opportunity missed to learn from past mistakes. Returning to
“normalcy” means returning to a horribly out-of-balance way of life. It
means once again mindlessly lurching toward exhausted natural resources
and pain for future generations in the name of luxury today. It means a
pursuit of box seats and reservations at the expense of Jenga and meat
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