Thursday, April 20, 2006

On the Nature of Personal Sacrifice

Americans have it easy. Make no mistake about it; Americans are better off than the rest of the world. The problem is: they know it. Even worse, they expect it. Americans have grown complicit in their own comfort and prosperity, almost to the point of apathy. There appears to be a belief, evident from the President downwards, that whatever fixes need to be made to our society (which are plenty), they will come easy. “Not to worry, everything is still status quo here. The problem will almost rectify itself as long as we keep to our normal patters of recreation and consumption. Miraculously, the solution is already present and it will come to the forefront of its own accord.”

However, you cannot solve deeply entrenched problems like that. Some of the issues America is facing – like a sluggish economy, energy uncertainty, a war on both terror and Iraq – need more than a smile and a sound bite. They require sacrifice. Sacrifice on the part of the American people. These problems we face are not easy, nor do they possess simple solutions. They are solvable, and in order to attain resolution, require that we as a people alter our own traditional behaviors.

Energy: Every time a poll comes around, people complain more and more about the rising costs of fuel in this country. Yet the prices keep going up, and the American citizenry refuses to do anything about it. They are content to sit back and bitch about how much it costs to fill up their Ford Excursion while letting the problem escalate.

One of the largest issues that are facing America right now is our energy usage and dependence. Simply put: we use too much oil. It places us into uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations with unstable regions of the world. And at first glance, this would luckily have a simple solution: use less oil. But it doesn't quite work like that. The technology to reduce our usage of oil is vast in variety and mostly developed. Hybrid vehicles, biodiesel, ethanol, all of these exist and are in limited implantation across the country. Fuel cells are along the way. Most of these only need a better distribution network to be truly accepted alternatives. But Americans balk at the idea of being made to give up something in exchange for a modicum of energy independence. It would require that they not purchase their beloved SUVs or pick-ups, as they are the worst class of fuel economy vehicles. It requires their demanding of the auto and oil industry that alternatives be made at a nominal cost to them. But this is too much. Americans are resolute in their adherence to the consumption lifestyle they have produced for themselves. They are all in favor of the idea of fuel economy, but when it comes to their own personal situation, they'd prefer to pass the buck onto someone else. They take no personal responsibility to rectify the problem at the source: themselves.

Obesity: Again, this is seemingly a simple problem facing America. YouÂ’re too fat. You eat too much junk food, you do not exercise enough, therefore you are growing larger and are going to shorten your life and cause a great number of health costs to be generated due to your condition. Obese Americans will cost the health care system $117 billion this year, according to a new estimate. Also, there exists a deceptively simple solution: eat less and exercise more. But again, Americans refuse to take a hand in their own salvation. Give up the greasy, fatty foods we love to consume? Think again. Better to find a cure for the diabetes we're inflicting upon ourselves, or find some lower calorie substitute so we can still drink coke and eat all the sweets we want. That is not progress; that is laziness. That is not sacrifice; that is social suicide.

War on Terror: This myopia on the part of this country – of which the above cases are two small examples – can be perhaps best exemplified in the situation immediately following the September 11. We had just gone to war. Everyone believed that we were entering a war period of a new type, one without a foreseeable end (and also an extremely nebulous enemy). And, as was demonstrated through our previous engagements, war requires sacrifices. Yet, in spite of the gearing up for this new pan-continental conflict, the populace was encouraged to shop. "America is open for business" was the slogan for the latter part of that year. Why worry about conserving resources, minimizing consumption, as long as you can still buy that plastic toy you've had your eye on? The war won't affect you as long as you can still have what you want, when you want it. It was with this cavalier attitude that we went to war, and this is the wrong way to go about it.

I do not know where we got this attitude. As I mentioned earlier, we have gone to wars before and made immense sacrifices in our civilian lives in order to support that war. In WWII people collected tin foil and bottle caps to re-process into weaponry and armor. In WWI it was corsets. Some have pronounced that our smooth and painless defeat of the USSR in the 80s made us complacent in our approach to global conflicts. Perhaps that is part of it. Maybe it is just that we won. Maybe it has nothing to do with Communism and the USSR at all. The point is that we now possess this nonchalant attitude until it becomes overbearing, and then we decide we need the government to step in aid us in our time of distress. So the government has a long history of legislation, tax implementation, and other means designed to get Americans to do what they should do in the first place of their own volition and sense of social responsibility. It also plays into personal responsibility as well, but that can expand into a topic beyond the scope of what weÂ’re here to discuss today. Relying on the government to mandate fixes to our problems is a problem in and of itself, not a solution.

We live in a complex society, one that possesses complex problems. And to solve these, it will not be in the form of a quick fix or an instant, overreaching miracle. It takes hard work. It takes dedication. All of these issues we have facing us as a country, as a society, can be solved. But only if we are mature enough to make the sacrifices necessary to stay the course and see it through to its resolution. Mature enough means that to find a solution our citizens first must become aware and then actively involving themselves in the process to achieve that goal. Even if it means a bit of discomfort, some sacrifice on their part to purge this country of another of its evil facets. That is something to be proud of your country about. That is what sacrifice is about.


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Amber said...

hmm...a series of comments... :)

Energy: I was complaining recently at how high gas prices were, and said the amount I paid for filling up. And everyone wanted to know where I found a price that low. Not a good sign...

And SUVs..."light trucks" my ass. They need to reclassify them as cars and make them hit with that tax. It could do some good in disuading people from buying them.

Speaking of energy I'd like to quote The Onion (American Voices):

"Bush Promotes Hydrogen As Alternative Fuel Source"

"President Bush gave an Earth Day address in California reaffirming his commitment to hydrogen as the alternative fuel of the future. What do you think?"

"Jackie Kennedy,
Computer Repair Tech
"If Bush is trying to save the environment, we must be in worse shape than I thought.""

When W. is promoting alternative energy's a bad sign.

"Yet, in spite of the gearing up for this new pan-continental conflict, the populace was encouraged to shop. "America is open for business" was the slogan for the latter part of that year."

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, but I belive that was a campaign to try to keep the economy strong, which would help the country, in theory. While conserving resources is important maybe it is more an issue of how we're increasing consumption? Where we are directing our dollars?

And in terms of being willing to give stuff up in a time of war, I think that a lot of the population does not agree with what Bush is doing (all time low numbers, woo!), and doesn't really feel the war is something they want to support. I mean, they shouldn't waste resources or anything, but I can understand the reluctance to make sacrifices when you don't agree with what they'd support.

Josh Kellogg said...

That is true, if they don't support the war then they would be more reluctant. However, we are in wars of various natures, wars against our consumption, wars against global warming, wars against energy dependence.

The direction in which we are using our consumption is a powerful point. We have the great ability to "vote with dollars" and use our consumption to shape the patterns of our economy and our resource allocation. Look at organic food; when Wal-Mart is considering adding organic food sections to their stores, you know that a movement is afoot. And that started in grass-roots people starting and buying what they thought was best. It just took off from there.

The American people have a lot of economic power to shove around, should they chose to do so and be organized about it. I wish they'd wake up that fact.