June 4, 2010

Harmon: Are the lies we believe nearly at critical mass?

The problem with living at such great odds with reality is that eventually it calls in its chips.

By M.D. Harmon mharmon@mainetoday.com
Editorial Writer

It's painfully obvious that many of us have lived for a long time in the grip of some powerful ideas that aren't true.

That wasn't a major problem as long as the ideas weren't either overwhelmingly numerous or crucial to our national well-being. But now that we have lived with some of them for many, many years, their effects are becoming crippling.

Then, in recent years we added substantially to our collection of misapprehensions about reality, constructing a fairly elaborate house of cards that now is in danger of collapsing around our ears.

And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

While there isn't room here to list them all, let's at least hit the major ones, so that when the sky is blackened with chickens flying home to roost, we can see why they hatched.

Going from closer issues to more distant ones, here are some of the principal ways we have lied to ourselves in believing that:

We can turn our backs on human nature, which our radicals tell us is not God-given but infinitely malleable.

Thus we conduct experiments with the family, the basic unit of human civilization, and pretend that we can alter its essential nature at no harm to ourselves or our children.

In fact, we are teaching them not only that sterility (before and after conception, or in "alternative" relationships) enhances a wide variety of chosen "lifestyles." And then we tell them you can live a satisfactory life without either faith or a productive occupation.

No culture has ever survived without some transcendent vision, and it is not really possible that we will be the first.

The United States has so far avoided the demographic collapse that soon will turn Russia, Japan and most of Europe into either vacant lots or the homes of other cultures that do have children. As Mark Steyn, the author of "America Alone," has noted, "The future belongs to those who live in it."

But how long will it be before our birth rate, too, dips below replacement levels, and all our expectations for a return to prosperity wither away into empty cribs and shuttered nurseries created by our focus on present pleasures rather than future plans?

We can borrow our way to prosperity. Across the lines of party doctrine or any governing philosophy, we have told ourselves that obligating the future for what we want now is an "investment," when it is instead simply debt.

With an economy larger than any other, we have been able to put off the reckoning for this for longer than most of us have been alive, but all the while the debt has been accumulating. And it is set to swell by the trillions over the next few years.

Historically, nations have resolved such situations in only one of two ways, by either printing money and inflating their way out of the debt (robbing its value from those who financed it), or much more rarely, openly refusing to pay it via "repudiation."

Either way can lead to the collapse of a nation's economy, so you can't exactly call them viable options. But they may be the only choices we have.

You can hear the voices: "No, let's just raise taxes enough to bring the debt down to a manageable level."

Sure, we could raise taxes. But since we have let our obligations grow so much -- including broad-based social programs such as Social Security and Medicare, both the next thing to being broke, even as the Baby Boomer wave is breaking over them -- raising them enough to make a difference would bring such things as the auto and housing markets -- and savings rates -- to a screeching halt as disposable income plummeted.

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