Much human behavior is genetic When we smile, the corners of the mouth turn up, never down. Much other behavior is genetic but even more is cultural. The Knights of the Round Table had a culture of chivalry, the Samurai, a warrior culture of Bushido, the US Marines have a culture of honor. One admires such cultures.
But the Mafia has “omerta,” a code of silence, and in Greece, evading taxes is cultural. Stavros Lambrinidis, Minister of Foreign Affairs, says it goes from billionaires who claim pleasure yachts as business expenses, to wage workers who simply don’t file. In the Bronx, NYC police routinely “fix” tickets. Sixteen officers, arraigned after a 3-year investigation, were cheered by hundreds of fellow officers (see photo above, and article, NY Times, Oct 20, 2011, Page One). Their police sub-culture places them above the law.
Do these behaviors reveal anything about the greater culture of which we are all a part? As one who has been watching for more than eight decades, I can’t help but feel that something has been eating at the foundations of America for decades, and that it ballooned under President Ronald Reagan, now being proposed for sainthood by those battening on the tax breaks begun in his reign which started the deadly drain of national wealth from middle classes to the very rich.
The middle classes, feeling cheated and exploited, they are striking back, some rationally (Occupy), and some irrationally (Tea Party.) The rich and very rich, stifling both conscience and common sense, ignore the destruction, and some revel in it. In the same NY Times issue, columnist Joe Nocera writes about a mortgage foreclosure mill—the law firm of Steven J. Baum—which mocked those they evicted, dressing for a costume Halloween party in rags and tatters, carrying whiskey bottles.
As Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas said to bullying NYC police officers, “How do you sleep at night? There’s no honor in it. None!” Are his words only blowing in the wind? The Founding Fathers who built our American Democracy could not have imagined this abyss. President Barack Obama has made repeated attempts to bridge it, to be repeatedly rebuffed.
There’s a saying, “In the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” but in The Country of the Blind, a story by H.G Wells, a sighted man comes upon a valley where all are blind and who refuse to believe in “sight.” They decide he is mad, and that the cause are his eyes, and promise to cure him by removing them.
In this story, the gulf between blind and sighted is unbridgeable. If the same is true for our two major political parties, can American Democracy survive?