Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out

To give the 1960’s countercultural guru and drug enthusiast Dr. Timothy Leary his due, he claimed his most famous saying—from which this commentary takes its title—was not meant to advocate a life of addled indolence. There is, however, little doubt that some variation of his advice has taken hold in a great many corners of American society, and even Cheech and Chong would be shocked at where we are today.

A recent article in the Washington Post contained these terrifying statistics about America’s current disastrous epidemic of drug abuse:

“In 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures, heroin deaths alone surpassed gun homicides for the first time. More than 33,000 people died of opioid overdose, with another 20,000 dying from other drugs. A recent federal study found that prescription painkillers are now more widely used than tobacco.”

The article goes on to note that prescription overdose deaths have been rising since 2000 despite state and federal efforts to crack down on the abuse of these drugs.

It would, of course, be impossible to not point a finger at the pharmaceutical industry. Their aggressive marketing of all manner of drugs to cure every side effect of living our normal daily lives has been disingenuous at best—and outright quackery at worst. Although improvements in medications have made many diseases and maladies more bearable and even provided cures for some which were previously a death sentence, we have also been sold the notion that annoying or inconvenient variations in human behavior or function are now problems worthy of a visit to the doctor—and more and more of our lives are now wrapped up in gulping pills to cure more and more newly discovered “illnesses”.

Is your child is too rambunctious? We’ve got a pill for that! Are you shy around strangers? We’ve got a medication to cure you! Need to pep up? We’ve got you covered! Need to wind down? We’ve got something for that too! Sweaty? Yep! Not sweaty enough? Sure thing! Too hairy? You betcha! Not hairy enough? Step right up!

The predations of the pharmaceutical industry—now free to advertise their wares to a credulous and yearning public—are successful because they take advantage of two signal human weaknesses: our attraction to easy solutions and our desire—born of our insecurities—to “perfect” ourselves and our lives.

Just as we have a fantasy belief that eating fat-free foods will make us thin without the bother of exercise or that purchasing an expensive new laptop computer for our academically struggling child will guarantee future admission to an Ivy League college, so do we easily delude ourselves into believing that health, happiness, and success is available if we can find the right pill to swallow. The shamans of the tribal past would find the pill-sized hopes hidden inside our medicine cabinets, gym bags, bedside tables, and purses to be entirely unsurprising.

Of course, our routine use—and shocking abuse—of powerful and highly addictive opioid painkillers is another step beyond. If we knew how many of our friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues are gulping Norco, Percocet, and OxyContin—or perhaps even shooting heroin or snorting cocaine—in daily dosages sufficient to stun a cow, we would likely be shaken to the core. This is obviously an issue that puts all manner of medical practitioners on the front lines of any solution, but it also speaks to something deeper, darker, and more disturbing happening in towns and cities across America where the desire for the numbing escape these drugs provide for many has nothing to do with a physical pain.

It would be foolish to deny that many people like to get high, but most somehow manage to get through their freshman year of college only slightly worse for the wear, a few brain cells short yet ready for the productive lives lying ahead. There have, of course, always been a few who never really grow beyond their partying phase of life, and these men and women have always spent their lives dealing with the chaos and health problems that have resulted.

However, we need to ask what has so changed within ourselves that we are now landing in emergency rooms, rehab centers, or the morgue in such astonishing numbers—lives ruined, families destroyed, and communities devastated.

Many are wondering why Americans are now so often using these potent painkillers, but I ask a different question: Given the grim and aimless lives so many are now forced to live, why would you not turn to narcotics for relief from the emotional and spiritual hurts that somehow must be endured—day after day after day. If you look back over the span of human existence during the past several thousand years, we have counted on three facets of our lives for the purpose and pleasure that helps us deal with the daily rigors and challenges we all must face: our families, our faiths, and our work. Unfortunately, all three are under siege by societal, economic, and political forces that are eroding the foundations of much of American life.

Soaring divorce rates, single parent households, out-of-wedlock births, and lonely latchkey kids: All of this and more is grinding down families across our nation. Organized religion—now often derided as the last refuge of the ignorant and bigoted by the intelligentsia—is in full retreat from the onslaught of our ever more permissive society. Work that offers dignity and pride of craft has been often replaced by “McJobs” that offer little beyond a meager paycheck, and more workers are daily told that their livelihoods are being shipped abroad—or being replaced by a robot or piece of computer software. Taken individually, these trends are profoundly disturbing; all three together are an assault upon everything that many of us hold dear.

Those who wonder why so many voters are revolting against the status quo fail to understand that many Americans blame our national leaders for their blithe lack of concern with the agony that so many feel today. We don’t want another pointless regulatory commission, another ossified agency, or another clock-watching bureaucrat explaining just how wonderful the latest round of new and improved government policies will make our lives—long after our bones have already been picked clean. Until our elected and appointed officials get it through their thick skulls that our country and its people expect leadership that supports families, respects faith, and empowers American workers, they can expect little beyond our cold contempt and volcanic rage.

Until this happens, don’t be surprised if many Americans turn to a narcotic haze to provide some respite from the empty charade that so many of our lives have become. This might not be a great long term plan, and it certainly carries along its own measure of misery. However, for many who are desperately lonely, spiritually bereft, and physically exhausted, a little drug-induced escape makes more sense than not.

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America’s “Affordability” Problem

If one were to make a list of the three spending categories that bedevil the average person’s budget, the list would read as follows: healthcare, housing, and education.

Now make a list of the spending categories where federal and state policies have most actively attempted to improve affordability, and three race right to the top: healthcare, housing, and education.

Quite a coincidence, isn’t it?

When I entered college in 1976, the following were true:

• Annual cost of healthcare per person: approximately $690
• Median home value: approximately $44,000
• Average annual cost of a four-year private college:          approximately $10,700
• Average annual cost of a four-year public college: approximately $1,200
• Average annual salary: approximately $9225

It was, therefore, quite possible—if one was careful with money—for the average person to obtain healthcare, find somewhere to live, and obtain an education at a public college or university. Purchasing housing and funding an education did, of course, require some borrowing and some hard choices about where and how to spend, but a comfortable life with reasonable aspirations was available for individuals who were willing to work hard and make sacrifices in pursuit of their goals.

Nothing was easy, nothing was guaranteed, and nothing was free; however, everything was possible for those with initiative and perseverance. Obviously, this is no longer the case. Although local conditions and circumstances vary somewhat, the aspirations of average American are being crushed by the onerous costs of healthcare, housing, and higher education—the expenses associated with these essentials having far surpassed both the CPI and personal incomes. What happened between 1976 and today, and what role did government play in advancing—or impeding—our dreams?

The short answer is that government “helped” you—but not in the manner you expected. Instead of improving affordability by allowing transparency and market-based efficiencies in these three critical areas of the economy, heavy-handed and clumsy government interventions have completely obliterated honest and open markets driven by basic value and sensible pricing. Healthcare, housing, and education are now almost wholly controlled by rules and regulations that are written and interpreted by unelected bureaucrats at the behest of elected officials who are beholden to their campaign contributors. Given how disconnected from economic reality our healthcare, housing, and education markets have become over the past few decades of government interference, any attempt to allow them to operate independent of supervision and—more importantly—the overt and hidden price supports now baked into the system will surely lead to startling price deflation across these three sectors that will rattle the very foundations of our economy, financial systems, and society.

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The explosive growth of the cost of healthcare is obviously affected by the simple fact that the average American is older than 40 years ago—therefore, requiring more healthcare. However, it is also a fact that Americans pay far more for exactly the same procedures, medications, and services than any other developed nation in the world; an aging population does not, therefore, tell the whole story. We should instead look at the manner in which governmental policies have disastrously skewed the health insurance market by promoting fee-for-service reimbursement (which perpetuates endless medical “churn” to drive up provider incomes), poor internal controls to identify fraud, and virtually non-existent efforts to control costs—producing an almost perfect mechanism for driving up healthcare costs for everyone.

Moreover, the politicization of healthcare through government interventions—Obamacare being the most recent and visible example—causes what should be a free market to be captured by special interests and lobbyists whose sole concern is making certain that the gravy train keeps rolling so that profits can endlessly rise. This fatally flawed public marketplace, of course, affects the private healthcare sector in turn because all the rules and regulations written by state and federal legislators affect both—and focus almost exclusively on expanding access with almost no concern for costs.

As a result, whether it comes out of our own pockets or is “free” healthcare paid through taxes and government borrowing, every aspect of American healthcare costs more and more—yet our health outcomes compared to the rest of the world lag further and further behind because the system is driven by a quest for profits rather than outcomes. A system that benefits itself by paying for a heart transplant instead of a health club membership is not serving the public’s interest, and the glacial movement towards reimbursement models that incentivize patient outcomes and pay a flat annual amount per patient rather than allowing every separate service to be endlessly billed through a fee-for-service model are wonderful, but their growth is held in check by the political capture of the healthcare market by powerful corporations and interest groups that buy the legislative process with their campaign contributions.

Not surprisingly, decades of “reforms” have seemed to do little to help the actual patient—but they always line the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry, big hospital conglomerates, specialty care providers, and durable medical equipment manufacturers. Today healthcare costs absorb 18% of our nation’s entire Gross Domestic Product and cost over $10,000 per person, which is twice the average for other developed countries.

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The catastrophe of government efforts to improve housing “affordability” would require an entire bookshelf to detail, but we can easily see the broad outlines of the problems that have been created in three areas.

Public housing—the signature effort of government to help provide homes for the poor—has obviously contributed to urban blight, crime, and a host of social pathologies while trapping generations of Americans in conditions that are little better than prisons. This all has, of course, been facilitated by a political process that rewards insiders and campaign contributors with lucrative contracts, politicians who are happy to cut ribbons yet are be nowhere to found when roofs leak and furnaces malfunction due to shoddy construction and maintenance, and the sheer magnitude of government incompetence—quite a toxic brew.

In addition, government lending programs have for decades encouraged the more affluent to flee their poor neighbors by creating swathes of new housing stock that lock out the unfortunate and actively discourage any attempt to create mixed-income neighborhoods. The result of decades of these programs and incentives has been the creation of suburban and urban mono-cultural monstrosities that allow developers to turn a nice profit yet contribute to cruel segregation driven by income levels that serve to only more thoroughly isolate the most vulnerable families based on their credit scores. The endless sprawl that results also drives the building of expensive and expansive infrastructure to support this insanity—legacy costs we pay for through escalating property and state taxes that many can ill afford on top of their mortgages.

Finally, the ruthless suppression of mortgage rates to improve “affordability” has encouraged ruinous speculation through “house flipping” that has enriched a few but further ratcheted up prices and inflated a series of housing bubbles that have resulted in real estate crashes that always seem to lead to taxpayer bailouts of lenders stuck with a fistful of non-performing mortgages. Government policies that turn basic shelter into a crazed casino of greed serve some well but cause widespread damage to the social fabric of our nation. Today the median price of a home in the United States has hit $345,000—which places an unconscionable strain on families struggling just to get by.

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Education is, sadly, perhaps the most pungent example of the harm government efforts to “help” can cause. Briefly, the federal government decided decades ago that the best way to help students to afford education was to facilitate their transformation into debt slaves. Between the mid-1970’s and today, the aggregate subsidized loan limit for the Stafford Student Loan program jumped from $10,000 to $65,000, thus allowing colleges and universities to dramatically and unconcernedly raise tuition, room, and board prices because students could, after all, simply borrow more to cover the increased costs.

However, just in case students want to go all in on that Art History degree and graduate school, students can now blithely sign away their futures with additional unsubsidized loans up to a total of roughly $138,000 in borrowing. In addition, let’s not forget those lovely Parent PLUS loans that help college and universities to destroy the golden years of mom and dad by allowing them to accrue their own crippling debts to help pay for the salaries of an army of Assistant Deans and the whirlpool tubs in the new Student Center. It seems little wonder that college enrollments are dropping nationwide. All this “affordable” education is destroying the financial futures of generations of Americans by impoverishing both the young and the old—a disaster that has led to a terrifying total of over $1.4 trillion of student loan debt.

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In short, decades of government efforts to make healthcare, housing, and education more affordable have been a costly and damaging constellation of failures that have enriched a few and emptied the pockets of everybody else. Given the inherent unsustainably of these markets absent increasingly intrusive and expensive government programs, one can easily foresee a point in the future when they can no longer be propped up.

There is an old saying: Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked. As government debt and voter frustration grow, the chances that we will be forced to reckon with long-hidden price realities in healthcare, housing, and education looms ever larger. This will be an unpleasant and unwelcome wake up call for many who were led to believe in values that were artificially created and expensively maintained, but it is likely to soon become an unavoidable reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should You Hate Those Who Disagree With You?

I often feel that those who see racism and sexism (and other “-isms” too numerous to count) all around us share much in common with those who use the teleological argument to demonstrate that God exists. Just as some argue that the appearance of order and rationality in nature absolutely proves the existence of a purposeful creator, so do others contend that all forms of inequality are clearly the outcomes of embedded hatreds and deliberate discrimination. The use of such obviously circular—or at least specious—logic to prove that America is still an openly discriminatory nation chock full of bigots and haters should give one pause. Moreover, one has to also wonder whether such beliefs about America and Americans create their own issues—and explain a good deal of our troubled contemporary political culture.

Although there are certainly bigots to be found in our nation, one would be somewhat hard pressed to demonstrate that discrimination is still a driving cultural force in America. Indeed, when one looks at our prevalent commitment to multiculturalism throughout the public and private spheres of our society, the immense and broad-based popularity of diverse entertainers, sports stars, politicians, and public figures across our nation, and our increasingly multiracial and multicultural population, we see clear evidence of a country less and less concerned with anything other than our shared humanity.

Nonetheless, our nation’s liberals still routinely describe our country in terms that make it sound as if ignorant bigots still rule across the land. One CNN commentator memorably described the election of Donald Trump as a “white-lash” in response to the two Obama presidencies, and the progressive press is regularly filled with dire predictions about the future of the United States that suggest conspiracy and malign intent abounds around us.

To presume that all negative life outcomes and experiences are the results of discrimination is an incredibly reductive—and damaging—assumption that both provides a facile excuse for personal failures and insults the vast majority of Americans who treat their friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers with the utmost respect and consideration. I increasingly find myself wondering whether the liberal obsession with “micro-aggressions” has become so extreme because there truly is not much overt bigotry in American society today. A lack of cultural sensitivity and knowledge, which is certainly unacceptably neglectful today, is very different from hatreds based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender—and those relatively rare situations where such attitudes are now ever expressed are roundly condemned. A nation such as ours where currently 1 of every 6 marriages is racially mixed just doesn’t appear able to support the level of hatred that many insist still exists throughout our nation.

Unfortunately for progressives, acknowledging the many successes of our diverse nation disables the overarching political narrative of the Democratic Party—the need for Big Government to protect us from all those horrible bigots out there—which might explain some portion of their inability to move voters in the Presidential election last year. To continue to assert that discrimination explains everything means nothing to voters who might, for example, go to a female doctor, report to an African-American supervisor, have a lesbian sister, and attend a night class taught by a Chinese-American professor. There are, of course, many areas of the United States where the population is less heterogeneous and the understanding of our very diverse nation is perhaps less sophisticated, but these folks are still at least exposed to a much broader reality through their voracious consumption of mass culture. Even the kids in Topeka are grooving to Beyoncé these days, and the bad old days of regional insularity and parochialism are probably gone for good.

Many voters are increasingly annoyed by those who insist on blaming their own failures and problems on discrimination when it seems obvious that a more multifaceted understanding of persistent inequities might be more reasonable. For example, if your local community has a difficult time attracting small businesses because of crime, are those business owners who are keeping their distance bigoted—or smart? If your child is flunking in high school, are the teachers failing to provide a nurturing environment—or should you be taking away your kid’s cell phone and insisting on some study time? If you are not hired for a job because you cannot pass a police background check, whom do you blame for your misfortune—yourself or a “hate-filled” world that kept arresting you for breaking the law? Although it is now common to dismiss discussions about personal responsibility and real life consequences as “victim blaming” or something worse, perhaps these dialogues are necessary—and even helpful.

We have problems—all societies and nations do—but active discrimination might be slipping down the hierarchy of concerns faster than many realize. Healthcare, affordable housing, quality schools for our children, income inequality, reliable infrastructure, taxes, secure retirements, crime, and a host of other pressing issues likely preoccupy more Americans than the random cuckoos who justify their awful behavior and attitudes with cock-eyed theories about humanity. Given this, the liberal insistence on pushing identity politics to the forefront of every discussion eventually turns off voters who are looking for practical and affordable solutions for their concerns rather than virtue signaling and sanctimonious lectures.

The crux of the issue—and likely one that has motivated the increasing rejection of Democratic candidates on a national level over the past decade—is a frustration many voters feel about being labeled as bigots because they don’t support or believe the progressive political agenda, and this is a discussion that the Democratic Party needs to have if they hope to regain their electoral footing in the years ahead. To continue to argue that any judgments about behavior, values, or morality are hatred and bigotry in disguise will not be a winning strategy with voters who take pride in their accomplishments derived from self-sacrifice, hard work, and personal integrity. Although some Democrats disparage “values voters” for their supposed lack of intelligence and worldliness, it might be worth remembering those very same voters are often the bedrock members of communities across our nation—and to refuse to honor their lives or hear their concerns is both wrong and wrong-headed.

Moreover, to persist in branding all those who disagree with your values or assumptions as bigots likely causes its own set of difficulties by closing ears, heads, and hearts to any reasoned conversation while embittering rather than enlightening. An electoral strategy predicated on convincing your supporters that their fellow citizens are “deplorables” is a prescription for a nation that is fragmented, fearful, and frustrated—which seems to be right about where we find ourselves at the moment. Perhaps it is time to stop and consider the damage these defamatory characterizations inflict on both individuals and our country.

Further proof that we need to stop demonizing others is the shocking and cowardly shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise—by someone who obviously thought he was stopping a bigot or something worse because of what he read and heard. This tragedy is a harsh reminder of how encouraging the hatred of those with different views or values can have tragic consequences. It’s time to grow up and work together for the good of our nation. If we can start listening and stop attacking, there is much we can accomplish.

Some level of bigotry will always exist in any society because we cannot outlaw individual stupidity, but to presume that everyone is a bigot and hatreds run rampant causes its own—and, in some cases, worse—problems by putting everyone in the position of walking around with their fists up. No nation can survive living in a state of constant suspicion and anger, and we condemn ourselves to a prison built from our own fears if we live our lives always presuming the worst of one another.

As much as so many dislike politics and politicians, we must recognize that they will play a key role in whatever healing is possible. Just as the Democratic Party must rethink their approach by listening more, the Republican Party must contribute to the healing that is necessary by speaking more softly and carefully in order to avoid their own brand of inflammatory rhetoric. President Trump might have ideas worthy of consideration, but he harms our nation when he continually presents his thoughts in the most combative manner possible. Leadership requires toughness at times, but more often it requires a respectful tone that soothes rather than scars.

Fixing America’s “Perspective” Problems

Our political landscape sometimes seems like one big, bad, broken relationship crashing upon the rocks—and those on both ends of the political spectrum are instantly (and sadly) prepared to ascribe the most noxious intentions to the actions of those who hold an opinion contrary to their own. This is unfortunate—but certainly understandable. The political ground shifted beneath the feet of many last November, and the resulting feelings of fear and insecurity have made people lash out. Unfortunately, however human these kinds of reactions might be, they do little to facilitate the national consensus necessary to fix the many pressing problems facing our nation.

These anxious and emotionally-driven responses from those in the political arena who were stunned by the November election results have become so twisted and out of proportion that it has become impossible to understand what either side actually supports or rejects—consistency is no longer a part of the of the equation. For example, regarding the ongoing conflict in Syria, those on the left have moved from “Trump is in Putin’s pocket” to “Trump is waging war on Putin” since the  Presidential campaign last fall. Even worse, when the need to reform our broken healthcare system is discussed, those on the right have moved from “Repeal and Replace” to “Never Mind” just since the Inauguration in January! The revolving door of opinion certainly makes one’s head spin, but it is the extraordinary degree of distrust exhibited by all regarding almost every issue that is startling—and profoundly worrisome.

We must move beyond our paranoid preconceptions of one another’s motives because—although this might make for wonderfully “tweet-able” bits of schoolyard-style maliciousness—it contributes little to the real world of discussion, negotiation, and compromise. Sadly, no matter what our political opponents might say or write these days—and how thoughtfully they try to explain it to a listener or reader—they are often perceived to be engaging in subterfuge designed to crush our nation and its people in a shortsighted attempt to impose a personal agenda on an unwilling and/or vulnerable public. I could keep adding more adjectives and adverbs, but this is pretty much the state of our political discourse these days.

The problem we now face as a result is one born of the inevitable collision between overheated rhetoric and quotidian reality: Despite the vehemence with which we now commonly express our opinions and beliefs, we still need to find a way to occupy a common land mass and live under a common set of laws and norms. Short of outright secession—which some are foolish enough to actually advocate—we must figure out some way to make our many interconnecting relationships work for the benefit of America as a whole. Even if we can’t agree on every issue, perhaps we can agree on a few basic principles that might keep us from flinging the household crockery at one another day after day and help us to regain some much-needed perspective that will cool down our flaming rhetoric.

The world is not fair, but we can still strive to make it as fair as possible—within reason.

No matter what regulations, systems, and laws we put in place, we cannot create a nation where all opportunities are equalized, all disparities are eliminated, and all conflicts are erased. As much as this might grate on some, we must accept this in order to avoid unnecessarily restricting the basic freedoms we are fortunate to enjoy as Americans. The desire of many to change this harsh fact of human existence springs from a well-meaning place, but the resulting actions generally do nothing but suck us all into an intrusive and expensive bureaucratic vortex of blather and bother that simply produces its own set winners and losers when government officials pass out the goodies. Short of a genetically engineered “utopia” where we all come off an assembly line with the depressing sameness of Styrofoam blocks, our lives, those of our children, and the lives of the billions upon billions of people around the globe who are total strangers to us are going to be battles of brains, brawn, and beauty that will produce winners, losers, and every variation in between.

Moreover, although it might not seem so when you read the hourly attacks on one another that reverberate through our media outlets and the blogosphere, we actually do live in a blessedly calm nation—although it is still sitting astride a messy, noisy, and scary planet where the list of factors we cannot control is far longer than the meager list of those we can. Some rules and boundaries are obviously needed to manage any nation; however, it could certainly be argued that the most important lesson to be learned from the past half-century of politics is that micromanaging everyone’s lives often produces nothing more than a new set of problems. The proper role of government in creating a world that is more fair for all is certainly a matter for discussion, but we must always remember that perspectives different from our own should be granted equal space and consideration—and nothing will be accomplished by engaging in continual in-fighting and name-calling.

We need to return to appropriate levels of personal privacy in order to keep politics from intruding into—and overwhelming—our daily lives.

We live in a “Too Much Information” society that has sadly erased the boundary between what is acceptable to share and that which should be kept to ourselves. The problems caused by documenting and sharing every aspect of our lives might not seem obvious to those who are voyeurs and exhibitionists, but there is a clear line between someone who wishes to share their personal story out of a desire to inspire or instruct versus those many individuals who are seeking personal validation—or perhaps even retribution—via social media.

If you count on the crowd for your sense of self-worth, you can count on a signal truth: Somebody will disapprove of you. Unfortunately, social media now allows that disapproval to be broadcast to a worldwide audience who will further amplify—and likely garble—that initial disapproval with the aid of their own doubts, anger, and frustration. The result of this is a spiral of rage, defensiveness—and yet more insecurity—that improves nothing and no one. If our political discussions are reduced to the 21st century technological equivalent of spray painting 140 character slogans on a wall and making derogatory comments about those who disagree with our positions or values, we are going to keep shouting right past one another and never build the bridges between one another that are necessary to manage our nation and provide for our people.

Some believe that hashtag activism and virtue-signaling via social media creates a stronger nation. However, although a society where we all walk around naked with billboards on our heads broadcasting our thoughts would, of course, be utterly transparent, it would also destroy the space that should be reserved for dreams, hopes, and desires that are ours alone—which seems to be exactly what has happened. I believe much of the pervasive anxiety of our modern age can be attributed to the societal pressures that now drive us to overshare our lives to a point of sheer absurdity. The well-documented link between the time we spend pecking away on Facebook pages and diagnoses of depression should tell us all something about the innate human need for boundaries and personal space that we seem to have forgotten as we have coasted into the 21st century digital age, and our politics cannot easily heal under such circumstances.

The personal may, as some feminists have claimed, be political, but we still need to maintain our personal lives and sense of what should be kept private in the process. We are not worthwhile individuals just because every aspect of our lives is shared with everyone, and we damage ourselves and others if we lose all touch with our inner existence. Reasoned perspective that is born of quiet and personal contemplation—not mob action resulting from a Tweetstorm—is exactly what is needed to improve our national dialogue right now.

Keep the courage of your convictions without closing your mind to learning from the lives and experiences of others.

I am sometimes complimented by others regarding my calm and patience, which I believe is a helpful attribute to possess no matter what your life’s endeavors might be. I believe this peace springs from two practices I strive to always keep at their forefront of my daily activities: Live according to a set of principles while also respecting the principles of others. If we are smart, we are humble enough to realize there is a great deal about the world and the lives of others that we neither know nor understand. Rather than fear and reject contrary viewpoints or ideas, we maintain balance and emotional health by listening—and hopefully learning.

We can change or modify our own values as we see fit based on what we learn from the lives and experiences of those outside our circle of friends or family, but more importantly we develop the ability to empathize with those with whom we disagree rather than simply shower them with our smug scorn. That, by itself, might be the first essential step toward healing the angry divisions in our nation. It may be distressing to listen to others explain why they believe we are wrong, but it is certainly a valuable part of our political educations and allows us to broaden our perspectives regarding the people and world around us.

I am sorry, America. National divorce or separation are not options even remotely available—and isolating yourself from your neighbors or “un-friending” those with whom you disagree will do nothing but produce yet more grief for us all. Therefore, let’s all resolve to work together while respecting the reasons of others and rediscovering our perhaps frayed sense of personal privacy. You may consider it “couples therapy” if you wish—but please consider it, nonetheless.

Is America Heading For A Wile E. Coyote Moment?

Most of us are familiar with the scenario repeated again and again in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons directed by Chuck Jones: the famished coyote (sometimes aided by products he has purchased from the Acme Corporation) races to catch the apparently tasty and nutritious road runner. Sadly, at some point the chase downshifts to disaster, and poor Mr. Coyote goes flying off an exceedingly high cliff, sailing blithely through the whistling winds until he looks down, realizes his predicament, and begins his long fall toward a painful impact with the ground below.

Keep in mind that, as the gag goes, he does not begins his fall until he recognizes that he is standing on thin air. Horrified comprehension must, it seems, precede the sad descent.

Given the multiple meltdowns that seem a staple of our daily news, I wonder whether we are now coasting through the ether toward a collective perception of our own doom—right before the terrible splat of finality. Just consider the many upheavals of the past year—you can take your pick of so very, very many here—and cap it off with whatever juicy political scandal or rumor suits your fancy. I half expect to next read that a top-hatted man with a sinister mustache has tied a struggling damsel to a railroad track. It would make as much sense as anything else happening these days. When satire is virtually indistinguishable from fact, you know something is seriously awry with the world.

However, we seem to have avoided the panicked look downward—for now. The Dow Jones Average is still sailing along, the many levels of our government continue to busily borrow and spend, and home buyers seem once again convinced that the laws of gravity have been repealed. What could possibly go wrong?

Just for a start, a stock market that has fantastically decoupled itself from all standard measures of corporate and economic health seems ripe for an Enron-style swan dive. In addition, piling on more and more public debt serves to only further cripple our futures. Finally, given that housing markets can crash—and once more drag our entire banking system down with them—when the spigot of easy bank credit is finally shut off, just a wee bit of rational fear might be justified. This is just a smidgen of a list. There is so much more lurking in the shadows—and right out in the open—to bedevil us, but wasn’t that a great Super Bowl?

We have not yet looked down—but the breeze should be tickling our ears right about now.

All nations face problems on a regular basis, but the size and scope of some of those at our doorstep must give even the most sanguine among us a bit of a nervous chill. Our broken political process—which seems more volatile, more divided, and more frustrating by the hour—does not bode well for our successful navigation of the many issues that beset us.

It sometimes seems like half of our country is not on speaking terms with the other half, so the search for common ground and common purpose is more elusive than ever. As unrealistic as it might be to actually implement, it is worrisome that California may soon have an advisory question on its ballot regarding whether or not to secede from the United States. It is not quite Fort Sumter, but it is a clear sign that many are losing interest in the inherent give and take of the democratic process and care little for values other than their own. This perhaps indicates that, like that ancient Roman army, we have crossed the Rubicon—and there is no longer a chance to turn back—but others believe that those who suggest caution are merely alarmist. After all, why would you want to ruin the wonderful party?

So let’s all try not to look down, my fellow coyotes, and hope for the best….