Optimism Without Reality Won't Save America

by | Dec 8, 2010

Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post, writing of how the national debt could soon reach 90 percent of the gross national product, stated the following: “Pending catastrophe is not an easy notion to entertain, much less sustain. Americans moreover have a low tolerance for doom and gloom. We are the nation of optimism, after all. […]

Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post, writing of how the national debt could soon reach 90 percent of the gross national product, stated the following:

“Pending catastrophe is not an easy notion to entertain, much less sustain. Americans moreover have a low tolerance for doom and gloom. We are the nation of optimism, after all. We elect leaders who promise hope and change. We are the shining city on a hill. But what happens when the lights go out? Can’t happen. Won’t. We’re America. The most powerful nation on earth. The land of plenty and opportunity. The place all others want to live. We are the dream. But. But. What if . . . they do? As they say, denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”

She nailed it. The fiscal Titanic has sprung a leak, and yet the band of Washington politicians plays on. Already, Republican Senators have supported a “deficit reduction” measure that largely freezes in place Obama’s spending levels while raising taxes. (I’m referring to the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Reduction Commission’s recommendations, not the extension of the Bush tax cuts). In other words: Hamper the economy even more with tax hikes, while keeping spending as it is, with superficial cuts at most. Under Republicrats, we can always be certain that while taxes will probably go up, spending will definitely go up.

What happens when and if the national debt starts to exceed the gross national product? Nobody is asking this question because … well, it’s just not going to happen!

In an otherwise rational and productive society, such profound evasion and insanity must have a cause. Parker hit on a core part of it. The United States is an unprecedented place. It has survived two world wars, numerous lesser but still painful wars, various recessions, one Great Depression and, who knows, perhaps another one on its way. Survival tends to give an individual, or a society, a sense of personal strength — a good thing. But survival sometimes gives an individual, or a society, a false sense of invincibility — not a good thing. Invincibility implies infallibility: The incapability of making an error. This is a dangerous mindset, and one that Americans must correct if they are to survive (and the world along with it).

It’s not enough to say, “Oh, I know that it’s possible to make mistakes.” If you acknowledge this rational point, but proceed on an emotion that implies exactly the opposite, you’re headed on a train towards disaster. You’re letting your emotions and feelings get the better of you. “It’ll be fine. Not to worry.” It’s true that worry over things you cannot control is largely a senseless and unhealthy thing. But what about refusing to worry about — and therefore change — something you’re doing wrong?

Anxiety can be rational or irrational — that is, reality-based, or not. When it’s not, we call it neurotic and unhealthy. Worrying about what others will think of you, or whether it will rain on your party date … that’s irrational. Worrying about a car hitting you before you walk across a busy highway … that’s rational. In fact, refusing to look out for cars before crossing a busy highway is irrational indeed. No individual would ever do it, unless he desired to die. Yet Americans, as a society, are doing that very thing by refusing to stop the insanity of government spending, government wealth redistribution and government hampering of the economy as we know it. Otherwise, how could a party who just won in an anti-spending, anti-Big Government landslide even consider supporting a bill that will keep government on its bankrupt path to powerlessness for us all?

There may or may not be a course reversal in the United States. I cannot predict the future. But what we can know for sure is that so long as most Americans believe America cannot fail, no matter what, then we will not ever do what’s required to save ourselves.

In psychotherapy, a person must often confront difficult facts. “I want to do A. But I want to do B as well. I recognize I can’t do both; it’s logically impossible. I have been trying to do both, and it’s making me miserable. I have to choose.” Once an individual endures the anxiety and pain associated with confronting a contradiction, the course is now set for correction and change. Unfortunately, the longer and more damaging the error — the hopeless attempt to pursue a contradiction — the longer and more difficult the process of gaining eventual relief. But what other choice is there? To keep pursuing a contradiction until … death or disaster strikes?

Consider what an alcoholic must confront, in order to stop drinking. He has to give up pleasurable activity that gives him a sense of temporary relief from problems created, in large part, by the drinking itself. Who wants to be the one to tell the alcoholic: “You’re not going to feel better until you stop doing the thing that makes you feel better.” Most won’t say it, but reality eventually conveys this message to the alcoholic, even if nobody around him will. The same applies to anyone involved in any self-destructive or self-defeating behavior, whether it’s drug abuse, compulsive spending, negative thinking, trying to please everyone at the expense of self-esteem, or whatever the particular problem is. Our politicians in the White House and Congress (both parties) are quite literally — not metaphorically, but literally — compulsive spenders on a life-destroying/economy-destroying rampage.

Parker nailed what the American neurosis — the American cancer, as I increasingly call it — would say, if it could speak. Allow me to identify the alternative message: “We’re killing ourselves. It doesn’t have to be so. We’re a nation that was founded on hope and change. We once were the shining city on the hill. The lights are going out, but it’s not too late to turn them back on. We have to recharge the battery and go back to a Constitution that provided liberty for the individual, and nothing more. We have to phase out our Big Government welfare state, and be prepared to even cut billions of dollars in programs immediately, and billions more after that. We must pay off our debt, revalue our currency and start over. There’s no other way. A free country made this society the greatest place to live in all of human history. Freedom is always an option, and it’s time to restore freedom. It will work even better the next time.”

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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