Like Glenn Beck, I worry about America. Unlike Mr. Beck, I deal with this worry without theatrics. As the pundits and experts have argued, America is facing serious economic and political challenges. For example, a hot talking point these days is that the government is broken.
As I see it, it is not the political machinery that is broken. While I am not slavishly devoted to the works of the founders, they did construct an impressive political machine. Of course, having a good machine is not enough-the operators also matter a great deal.
In the case of America, our state machine is operated directly by the politicians and indirectly by the rest of us. To stay at the wheels of the machine, the politicians have to pander to us and generally give us what we want. Unfortunately, what we generally want is not the best for us. Part of the problem is that our vices tend to overwhelm our virtues.
To steal a bit from Aristotle, it is easy to spend money, it is easy to get angry, and it is easy to get fat. It is hard to spend money wisely, it is hard to know when to be angry and at what, and it is hard to stay fit. Unfortunately, we all too often take the easy way.
While people often cry out for wise spending, the folks in congress know that they cannot touch our entitlements without risking putting their political heads on the chopping block. Interestingly, even the folks who are against the government say absurd and foolish things such as demanding that the government keep its hands off their medicare. This nicely illustrates a common irrationality: people want the government to cut spending but to do so without reducing any of their entitlements. However, if we are going to deal with our deficit and massive spending, we will need to do what is hard: curb our entitlements. If we have the collective will, the public virtue to give up some of our private good for the general good, then we can do this. If not, well history tells us what happens to empires that open up the treasury for bread and circuses.
Following Aristotle, there are things that deserve our anger. However, we are often quick to anger at little provocation and not prone to ask if the anger is directed at the right people, at the right time, to the right degree and for the right reasons. A pundit drives us into a rage and we assume that because we are angry we must have a perfectly good reason for that anger. In some cases, people take this anger to extremes and, for example, crash a plane into a building. To be ruled by this irrational anger is to fall victim to a terrible vice. While we should not deaden our ability to feel righteous outrage, we need to work on controlling our anger or it will surely control us.
While being obese might seem to have nothing to do with politics, there is a connection. While some folks have physiological problems that make weight control difficult, this is not true of the vast majority of people. It is a simple matter of physics and biology: if energy intake exceeds energy expenditure in a human, that human will start building fat. As has been trumpeted out across the nation, Americans are a fat people. The average weight of Americans has increased dramatically over the years even though we reached a state of abundance quite some time ago. As such, the difference is most likely behavioral: people are consuming more and expending less energy. This is, of course, intuitively supported by the fact that we are now an internet culture whose leisure activities are physically passive. There are, of course, many other contributing factors but the fact is that we are fat.
While I would never claim that fat people are being morally bad, fatness does seem to be a mark of vice: either the vice of over consumption or the vice of sloth (or both). Our vices (and virtues) tend to be a general part of our character rather than existing in compartments. As such, one who is prone to sloth and overindulgence in one area will tend to have that behavior as a general trait (there are, of course, exceptions). An examination of our spending habits and the behavior that got us into the financial mess seem to involve these vices. Though we are consistent, this consistency is not a desirable one.
I will not claim that physical fitness will help cure our economic and political woes. However, I do contend that we need to work on developing the virtues that oppose the vices of over consumption and sloth. While doing this will not suffice by itself to save the economy, it would help a great deal.
The beauty of democracy is that it gives us the government we deserve and reflects who we are. If our government is wasteful, bloated and undisciplined this is because we are as well. If we want the government to change, we need to change ourselves. Good government, to steal a bit from Aquinas and Aristotle, requires good people. We can be those people, if we have the will to try.
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- When raw anger at government turns violent (seattletimes.nwsource.com)