Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

On the Subject of a Moral Compass…

Julia Baird of Newsweek brings us a thoughtful page on a possible silver lining to our current economic woes.

Crossposted to The Suicidal Cactus Hour


The current state of the economy does leave us with many “teachable moments.”  She cites Jon Stewart asking Jim Cramer, “Any time you sell people the idea that, sit back and you’ll get 10 to 20 percent on your money, don’t you always know that that’s going to be a lie? When are we going to realize in this country that our wealth is work?”

Ultimately, we are looking at what could be seen by many as a vindication of the flaws in our system, and of our national myopia in promotion of an economic system seen as morality.   Baird asks the important question, Will the recession change us?  Well, her, and author and Reverend, Jim Wallis.

Not everyone is asking that question.  Rather, they are looking to our system as flawed, rather than the ultimate question if we, as a nation and collective people went a bit awry in our expectations and our own behavior and, yes, if we let our own moral compass slide.   We can look at our economic fortune as a curse, or since I’m a Buddhist, as a consequence of base causality.  Actions have beget reaction.  A loss of many touching base, or even passing knowledge, of business or personal ethics  led us to the straits we find ourselves in.  Not just with the Gordon Gecko sort of “Greed is good” mentality–which was supposed to be a warning, as opposed to a t-shirt logo–but the shallow sort of selfishness that we can dispense with such things like regulation and ethics, because they tear us from Dame Fortune’s lap.

We have, for some time, had a reckoning coming.  Less, I think from a divine sort of retribution, as much as direct causality from actions that we could predict, but many refused to see, because the lessons hadn’t been inculcated, and the consequences had long been insulated against.  Our regulatory structure that began as folks took a hard look at the Boom/Bust cycle that dominated the American economy for most of our history, after the Great Depression damn near killed us economically, and certainly, put a severe beat down on the populace worked well.  Well enough, that economists and many others had never seen first hand the very real consequences of the kind of under regulated, or even totally unregulated markets that they had theorized would be a brilliant way to make a ton of cash, and without consequence.

Baird posits, with reference to Wallis, that we have an opportunity to steer ourselves from the destructive memes that have dominated, not just our economy, but also our national discourse, and many of the woes that plague our communities and nation.  Not just to chastise the greedy and reckless, and incompetent, but to remember why we installed a social safety net in the first place.  Why we put regulation into place. Why we pulled together as a nation when so many suffered.  Why we should value wisdom over glibness.

The fly in the ointment, so to speak, come from reactionaries who see our economy and domestic policy as ideology, as opposed to actual platforms for regulation and legislation.  Fear, perhaps, that the “Hopey-changey stuff” will muscle in on their own ideological message, and resentment, if not outright envy that a message of hope comes from ANOTHER party.  That Palin mocked the idea of hope, while herself trying to campaign on change herself shows that fear.

And the Religious Right has some reason to be fearful.  Clinton did a number on the GOP when he co-opted the center and dragged the Democrats into that center-right position, and it forced the Republicans to take a harder right stance.  It is a lesson that few in the GOP will ever underestimate again–which is why the centerist President Obama is attacked over and over and over again as a Leftist.  In order to take back the center, they have to paint the opposition as being out of touch, and too far from good old fashioned values.

Even if that means attacking those same values. Which the NYTimes derided our President for trying to keep.

We are in a time, when we are near through the looking glass, with the sort of Neo-Calvinists who support the wealthy as being ordained by God, and more so, with our economic woes, as signs that those who retained wealth weren’t just lucky, but blessed, throwing their support and trying to tear down anyone has any sort of similar success, but the wrong ideology.  It is an oddly selective sort of moral compass that we find ourselves staring at.  Between the Evangelical Right, the Family, and others who are looking to use a failure of foresight, or responsibility to advance an agenda that has some odd fellow travelers on it.

As Baird and Wallis point out, we have an opportunity to regain a moral compass, but we also have a lodestone that threatens to skew that compass as well.  


  1. Yes it will change us, and yes for the better.

    Not just to chastise the greedy and reckless, and incompetent, but to remember why we installed a social safety net in the first place.  Why we put regulation into place. Why we pulled together as a nation when so many suffered.  Why we should value wisdom over glibness.

    And also: “Why we embody capitalism in our culture.”

    I gladly take a lot of crap in demographics like that of Mooseville for my stand on capitalism.  Just because other aspects of our culture – as you point out – have gotten sidewise does not by any stretch prove them unworthy of support.  Similarly, the personal and economic benefits of capitalism are not negated by examples of abuses.

    It is my opinion that a bit of suffering is good for a person, and for a culture.  There will imo be a lot of benefits that unroll for decades from this tough period.  The Millenials have learned a number of lessons – many of which will sink in slowly – including the rude awakening that the parent’s basement isn’t a safe hideaway from the vagaries of life.  They – and we all, imho – just learned a lesson about the value of doing right as opposed to simply doing well.

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