America’s “Kodak Moment”

One of the quickest ways for a business to fail is to ignore change.  The most recent—and dramatic—example of this was the recent bankruptcy of Eastman Kodak, a company once so completely ensconced in America’s consciousness that it was synonymous with the photographic image.

And now it has slid into oblivion, a mere shell of its former self.

It’s not all that different for governments.  Watching our nation’s leaders attempt to legislate fixes to our many problems—most of which have been either caused or exacerbated by previous government actions—is like watching dogs chasing a car down a street: there is a lot of yelping, barking, and growling to no great effect.  Meanwhile, we are still drowning in red ink, good jobs with decent wages are not easy to find, and the default solution to every pressing issue seems to be a new bureaucracy.

Perhaps it is best to finally leave behind the idea that government can be our daddy, mommy, rich uncle, and BFF (Best Friend Forever).  Entrenched and privileged bureaucracies, their public relations protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, consider the needs of the average citizen to be a petty irritant, and their walls of rules, regulations, and secrecy are set up to protect the bureaucrats instead of the citizens they are supposed to serve—as anyone who has ever pleaded for their rights or the rights of their child to be protected can readily attest.

We can do better, but it will require us to be pests to those in power by asking inconvenient questions and refusing to accept the received wisdom of those now in charge. If we instead stand tall, straighten our shoulders, and start insisting that we can make better decisions about how to live our lives than someone who wrote their dissertation about how foolish and helpless we are, we cannot be doing any worse than we are right now—broke, confused, and angry.

The “Kodak Moments” of the past, those daily efforts to remember the best of ourselves so that they might help to guide our lives and values, were ingrained in our national character, and they provided a daily document of our families, communities, and nation.  What, however, would we want to remember about today?  Pervasive government surveillance?  The sad bankruptcy of Detroit?  The meat grinder of unending warfare in the Middle East and elsewhere?  Record low approvals of virtually every facet of our democratic process?  “Too big to fail”?  “Too big to jail”?  Government shutdowns?

Or will the true record of our age be the billions of selfies we snap on our phones, the photographic evidence of our narcissism and insularity?  Do we want these to be our nation’s “Kodak Moment”, a record of our singular obsession with celebrating ourselves?

Although every age can lay claim to its fair share of woe, rarely has so much of it been our own fault as during this period in our nation’s history.  We can’t blame complete strangers and outside enemies anymore for our debt and dysfunction, so rather than continuing to believe there is some magical government program that will allow us to avoid the consequences of our profligacy, self-involvement, and failures to take ownership of our own lives, it might be better to resolve to stop taking selfies and look toward one another so we can create a new national album of shared purpose and respect that will contrast with the last half century of selfishness and self-righteousness that has accelerated our descent into animosities riven by race, religion, and region.

Solutions to most of our problems are dependent on our own efforts—not some policy paper written in a think tank run by those who firmly believe we are too stupid to manage our own lives.  We can—and must—both embrace and control the changes we want in our lives; if we do not, our national photo album will be one we will not want to see.  The fault, to expansively (and perhaps wrongly) paraphrase Shakespeare, is not that we have yet to devise the correct mix of expensive and inefficient government programs necessary to create our illusive utopia—the fault is in our passive wish to have someone else solve our most urgent and perplexing problems for us without our involvement and effort.

Until we resolve that we are the true experts at managing our affairs and running our nation, we deserve nothing better than the bloated and unresponsive government we have today.

Also published in The News-Gazette ( January 4, 2015

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