They’re Not Buying What You’re Selling

Every type of authority, whether over a nation or over an institution, works within a set of constraints. Once people lose the confidence of others, their freedom of action becomes limited, and it becomes impossible for them to do what they think needs to be done without causing massive and serious problems. Whether a government is democratic or not, it is constrained by its realities, by the support it requires to function, by whatever body of people have the money and power to induce action on the part of others and who make up the body politic of a given institution. We ought to be sympathetic to these constraints, and to recognize that our free will is often bounded by our circumstances, both those within us (our habits and proclivities, our character and temperament, our experiences and our interpretations) as well outside of us (our resources, our relationships, our reputation). Whether we like these constraints or not, they are real and not merely figments of our imagination.

One of the striking constraints I find particularly worrisome in this day and age is the striking refusal of the ordinary citizenry of nations around the world to accept austerity. No one likes shortages or scarcity, but in life it is often necessary to be willing to pay dues and go without for a while to ensure long-term success. For the well-being of a society as a whole, there must be some people willing to endure suffering and privation, for a little while. Some sort of sacrifice is necessary for a society or institution to endure difficult times. Once sacrifice becomes necessary for anyone, though, an institution or society has to ask itself some serious questions as to its purposes and methods, and what behavior it did that has made such a sacrifice necessary in the first place, and do what it takes to avoid a recurrence of such issues.

It is hard to overestimate the hostility of institutions and common people for soul-searching, repentance, and austerity. We are not a generation that takes suffering lightly, that patiently endures hardship for the benefit of others, that examines our own actions to see how we helped in some small way to create horrible situations and disasters far beyond our control. This is not to say that any such situations are entirely the fault of anyone, but rather that we usually at least contribute to them through our own actions or inaction, and therefore none of us are entirely innocent victims. It is a bit puzzling to me why we are so hostile to this soul-searching. Do we feel that any admission of specific shortcoming on our parts will negate the good points we have to make about the shortcomings of others? On the contrary, we establish credibility to point out the errors of others by openly admitting our own mistaken judgments and interpretations, our own contribution to a problem or disaster through our own behavior. By admitting our own flaws we are able to clearly point out the flaws and responsibility of others, having accepted our own proper and partial share of the blame.

The rioters in Spain [1] and Greece [2] are little different from the rest of us, only more open in their hostility to self-examination and austerity. The rest of us may not (at least not yet) riot in the streets and cause chaos in our petulant refusal to accept a more difficult short-term existence in the hope that we might find some way of life and behavior that may endure. Present suffering, especially when it is unjust and unfair, can only be endured with the expectation of a better future. It is a vision of future glory and success that makes it possible to go without here and now. Without that vision, every suffering, no matter how small, is not worth enduring, because it has no purpose or meaning. And if we must endure suffering, and it appears increasingly likely that no nation or institution will long be able to endure without austerity in these times, we need to be able to imbue meaning to our suffering, so that it can be endured, and so that we might be made better people for what we have to overcome, rather than suffering without improvement or without growth. For if we must have austerity, we need to make sure that we get something out of it that will allow us to endure the better future that we all seek.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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