I recently read a  remarkable article that answered one of my burning questions:

Why Are Americans Passive as Millions Lose Their Homes, Jobs, Families and the American Dream?

I want to discuss it here but it’s tricky—these are not my original ideas and the author, Harriet Fraad, deserves full credit.  It made me think and it made me realize how my own life experiences validate her theory.  I couldn’t help but to try to summarize it and share it with you.

In her cover article in Tikkun Magazine, Harriet Fraad states that an economic and psychological disaster has struck America. “Five contributors, each interacting with and shaping the others, have devastated the American moral, economic, psychological, and social landscape. Each is fed by related streams, but each contributes its own force to the disaster. The American dream in which each generation surpassed the previous generation in real wages has all but disappeared, along with dreams of an intact family, a steady job, a home, and an honest supportive community,” she writes.

We  on PlanetPOV and at other blogs have discussed the fact that Americans seem so apathetic, so docile. I know I have for a long time been lamenting the Left’s lack of a leader who could mobilize us. We have discussed the contrast between the American public and our European counterparts, who we see taking to the streets in protest, carrying out national strikes that temporarily paralyze their countries and getting serious attention. There are historical and social circumstances which explain the differences between us and the Europeans, but still—why are we so passive?

“What happened is a result of at least five major, interrelated forces. One is a transformation of American morality, and with it the loss of belief that the social and political realms could be shaped by morality, ethics, and secular spirituality. Another is an economic depression. A third is a transformation of the family, which has been the foundation of American emotional life. A fourth is the decimation of Americans’ social participation in all areas, from bridge clubs and PTAs to political parties. A fifth is the tranquilizing and numbing of the American population with psychotropic medications.”

I will do my best to summarize her, to my mind, brilliant ideas.

1. The Crisis in Morality and Social Ethics

In the 1960s it was common to believe that morality and spirituality included a concern for all human beings, rich and poor alike. The Age of Aquarius. Last Friday night here on the Planet, we played the music from those halcyon (and hallucinogenic) 60’s. I remember that time through a daze of youth and exuberance, and I remember that despite all the innocence was a realization that the world was cruel and that the government wasn’t listening to us; that it was “the Man.” And man, did we protest: Civil Rights, Viet Nam, the sit-ins, the teach-ins, the Marches on Washington!

By the 70’s we settled down to careers and work and starting families, and we quieted down too. Then came Reagan’s presidency in 1981, and with that the conservative push- back against those social ethics we thought we had re-energized.  It got worse in Reagan’s second term and was reinforced by each president until the nadir presidency of George W. Bush.

Reagan’s ideology was that people are poor because they lack incentives. He claimed that poor people’s noble drive to get rich is eroded by social programs that permit them to survive or, in his term, “freeload.”  Black welfare queens—and the government which created them –were the problem. The problem wasn’t poverty in America, it was the Americans who were poor! Just, WOW.  In Reagan’s venal mind, income tax cuts increased the incentive to work and get rich, so we would all benefit from them. In 1980 the highest incomes were taxed at 73 percent; in  2009 those same high incomes were taxed at half that rate, 35 percent.

Reagan cut social programs while increasing military spending and claiming that government was too big. That pattern has been repeated ever since, which is how, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States went from being the most egalitarian western industrialized society in 1970 to the least egalitarian in 2009. We regressed into an Old World class-based society. Remember Nancy, with her expensive new White House china, her socialite friends like Alfred and Betsy Bloomingdale, her Oscar de le Renta gowns? Ah, the opulence! “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” became a popular TV show too.

In addition, the Soviet model of socialism failed. It did not provide the kind and ethical societies that are part of a socialist vision, and in fact, was not authentic communism. This only made capitalism seem like it was decidedly superior. And the more unbridled, the better.

While the Moral Majority rose, our county’s morality and ethics declined. We were, in reality, never the moral beacon we said we were, but at least we aspired to be that. Where our morality once required the United States to embody our ethics in the world and empower all citizens, it  shifted so that our morality now consists of requiring conservative personal and sexual behavior. Fraad says, “Within that morality Clinton committed an impeachable crime by lying about having sex with an intern, while Bush and Cheney did not commit impeachable crimes by lying about the threat from Iraq and thus causing the deaths of over four thousand U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, or by torturing prisoners.” It is not considered immoral to spend between six billion and twelve billion dollars a week on the war in Iraq while cutting school and social programs for needy families because “there is not enough money.” The secular morality that made America a proudly democratic and egalitarian nation has deteriorated. I agree the author when she avers that we are experiencing a national moral, ethical, and spiritual crisis.

2. The Dying of the Economic Dream

A second contributor to American passivity is the economic crisis we are suffering. For 150 years, from 1820-1970, U.S. salaries rose as did worker productivity. For 150 years, each generation was able to afford a better standard of living than the generation that preceded it. That was the American dream. It was a phenomenon and it became expected, as a given.

American labor fought for an increasing amount of income that would permit workers to consume more goods and services, a system in which each generation could climb the corporate ladder. Blue-collar workers’ children could become white-collar, and white-collar children could become professionals in the next generation. U.S. growth permitted ever-increasing real wages and possibilities for consumption. Even in the Great Depression from 1929-1939, real wages, the amount that one could buy with one’s wages, were able to rise because prices fell even faster than wages.

That all stopped in 1970. Computers, better telecommunications and other efficiencies enabled jobs to be outsourced to lower-paid workers overseas. Competing factories in Europe and Japan, which had been decimated by World War II, were now vying for U.S. markets. When I was a kid in the 1950’s, products from Japan were considered inferior. The label “Made in Japan” was hidden; some Japanese manufacturers went so far as to invent a fictional city called Usa, so that they could honestly label their products as “MADE IN USA.” That all changed fairly quickly and Japanese products became prestigious. Our first really good stereo system had the now-proud name AIWA. Then China emerged as a manufacturing giant.

The outsourcing of American jobs to cheaper labor markets was not stopped by the weakened unions. Unlike our European counterparts, we did not enjoy working-class solidarity with other workers. Europeans organized their working unions along political lines. They fought for better conditions as part of the ideology of long-term communist and socialist struggles for ownership and control of their workplaces. Americans have been taught to reject—indeed, to fear—those ideologies. And St. Ronnie– “Daddy”– was the President that busted the unions. Our closest friend in those days was in the PATCO union and overnight went from being an air traffic controller to operating a forklift in a factory. At the time, Reagan told the media that the air traffic controllers were greedy and were striking for higher salaries, when their true bottom line issue was air traffic safety. How hypocritical is that—that the spokesman for Greed-is-Good busted a “greedy” union?

Fraad states, “Americans’ sense of self worth was in large part dependent on their net worth. They became increasingly depressed. Their sense of personal value was cut with their salaries. This happened as the advertising industry burgeoned. Advertising continuously and relentlessly sells consumption as the path to happiness. Consumption was undermined and with it stability, prosperity, and a sense of personal success.”

3. The Crisis in Personal and Family Life

Before the 1970s, most white American women worked only when they were single, divorced or needed to work for a variety of reasons. In 1970, 40 percent of U.S. women were in the labor force, mostly part time. By the year 2008, 75 percent of U.S. women were in the labor force, mostly full time. Many women  (myself included) enjoyed the greater autonomy, variation, and creativity that jobs could provide, but there was little governmental assistence for day care, after-school programs, or elder care. Nor any corporate supports. Americans love to claim their devotion to “family values” while doing very little to actually help families.

Women’s work outside of the home helped to improve the standard of living for most families, but it did not compensate families for lost white male wages. Women’s wage work (which is still unequal) imposes not only the obvious expenses of additional clothing and transportation, but also the costs of purchasing some of the goods and services that women previously produced at home, such as cooking, mending, cleaning, shopping, and child care. When I was married in 1974, it was taken for granted that I would work, even though my husband was a decently paid white-collar worker. I cannot imagine being a stay-at-home mom, but during that period I often felt I was working just to pay for child care and the occasional cleaning service. Working is expensive. The latest figures from Salary.com indicate that if a stay-at-home mother in the United States were replaced by paid domestic products and services, the cost would be $122,732 a year. Even with women flooding into the labor force, families are still financially hurting. More money has been accumulating at the top while the mass of Americans suffer from frozen wages.

The corporate class then vigorously “promoted the credit card to lend to Americans the money that they formerly would have earned in growing wages. Families became dependent on credit card debt. Since the interest rate on credit cards ranges from 15 percent to 25 percent, Americans descended into debt at record-breaking levels,” writes Fraad.

The living standard of Americans deteriorated psychologically as well. Say what you will, but when I was a young wife and mother in the 80’s, women were usually the ones who arranged the kids’ social lives and activities, from play dates to dental appointments. Women were (and still are?) usually the directors of adult social life as well. In American culture, women provide most of the emotional effort to make home a warm and comfortable place for men and children. Maybe this is a generational attitude on my part, but I believe it to be mostly true. Says Fraad, “The more women work outside of the home without social support in the form of child care programs and domestic help, the more stressed, overworked, and emotionally unavailable they become. Overwhelmed women have less energy for the roles of social director and organizer, as well as emotional and physical caregiver.” Households are hurting emotionally. When Bush took office in 2000, he cut many of the already hobbled social programs that allowed families to survive. Families are in trouble.

Women are really not able—or willing– to work outside of the home, do the lion’s share of the domestic work, and simultaneously take care of their children’s and husbands’ physical and emotional needs largely unaided either by their husbands or by social programs.  For the first time in American history, the majority of women are abandoning marriage. Women now initiate two-thirds of divorces. Half of first marriages and 60 percent of second marriages end in legal separation or divorce.

These changes in households and family life are a third tributary to America’s deluge of disaster. Americans have lost both the dream of ever-increasing prosperity and the dream of a stable and connected family life. I would add to that the pressures of the sandwich generation, where not only most people work and raise children, but must often care for elderly parents as well. People are stretched to breaking—or to shutting down.

4. Americans’ Increasing Isolation from One Another

A fourth disaster is closely related. “Beginning once again in the 1970s,”  writes Fraad, “ nearly all social connections between Americans declined. The decay in U.S. social life was an almost total phenomenon. It extended from inviting friends to dinner, to joining bridge clubs or bowling leagues, to volunteering for noncontroversial activities such as the PTA or Red Cross blood drives, to participating in more controversial activities such as working for a cause or a political candidate.”

There are a few theories as to why Americans have dropped out of U.S. social life and civic life.The most obvious reason would seem that we are just too busy, but seriously, hasn’t every generation been just as busy in their own ways?  Again, when I was in my twenties and thirties, working and married and raising our son, I was busy. Yet I was active in my community, joined professional associations and we had an active social life.

Plus, the average American watches four hours of television a day, which would be difficult to manage with an intensely busy schedule. Extensive television viewing may be a culprit since more people relate to their television sets than to each other, and the heaviest viewing correlates to the least social participation. Television is intensely PASSIVE though. This feels more like a symptom than a cause of the problems that isolate Americans. People say it as an addiction that compels without satisfying. Like any addiction, people use television for the purpose of distraction or entertainment, as an escape.

Perhaps the greatest reason we are isolated is that Americans are psychologically and physically exhausted. We have fewer vacations and longer workweeks than any of our Western European counterparts. Activity in society, including political activism, has become a luxury good for those fortunate few who have extra time and energy. “The Left’s natural constituency, the mass of Americans, is exhausted, disillusioned, and in despair. To add to their despair, the tremendous wealth at the top of society has been used to fund right-wing media outlets like Fox News, to name just one example. At the same time, the skewed distribution of wealth allows vast sums to be given to politicians who advance the fortunes of those who pay their way. Immense wealth is invested in weakening the regulations against enormous giving at the top. These developments increase the conviction that ordinary people make no difference in politics. They have no voice. The force of the Left is further weakened.” I can’t argue with that.

There is, however, a surprising (to me) growth in four social groups: Evangelical religious groups; GLBT groups; internet groups; and self-help groups. More about that in a minute.

5. The Drugging of America

The fifth tributary that helped to create our deluge of disaster is another cause and effect of America’s social breakdown. This is the numbing of Americans with psychotropic drugs. In 2006, Americans consumed 66 percent of the world’s supply of antidepressants. In 2002, more than 13 percent of Americans were taking Prozac alone. Prozac is one of thirty available antidepressants. Anti-anxiety drugs, such as Zoloft, are so widely prescribed that in the year 2005, the $3.1 billion sales of Zoloft exceeded the sales for Tide detergent. Brain-washing exceeds clothes washing!

Many of these drugs are diagnosed for loneliness, sadness, life transitions, or to help us concentrate. Antidepressants have become acceptable through extensive direct-to-consumer advertising and marketing to doctors. The United States is the only Western nation that permits direct-to-consumer drug advertising. We are also the only nation without price controls on drugs. Psychiatric drugs have helped make the pharmaceutical industry the most profitable industry in America, and antidepressants are their most profitable products. Soma of “Brave New World” anyone?

What Can We Do?

The current disaster did not just happen with the recent burst of the stock market and housing bubbles. Even before the economic collapse, we have known on some level that we could not pay our credit card bills or our mortgages. We responded with denial, withdrawal, depression, and dissociation accomplished with the aid of extensive “reality” television viewing and preoccupation with scandals and celebrities.

Each of the five tributaries flowed together to drown the mass of Americans in debt, family dissolution, isolation, and drug-induced apathy. Americans – or at least 57% or more of us—are now be looking for change. We elected a president who promised change. That change has not yet happened, and it might not happen. Where else can we look?

Capitalism needs and breeds consumerism. We are surrounded by advertisements for products. And it has a toxic side effect. Capitalist consumerism coveys the message that relationships happen through products.  Scenes of connection with a group of friends include Budweiser beer. The devoted mother uses Swiffer (an ecological nightmare, BTW) and kills every last germ along with any healthy microbe with anti-bacterial solutions. The sexy woman, whom men want and women want to be, seems to come with new cars. Ads appear whenever we turn on our computers, read newspapers or magazines, watch TV and see a movie. Our streets and transit and stadiums and even out national parks are littered with advertising directed to all ages. Go to Europe and while there is advertising, it is nowhere near as ubiquitous, and Europeans neither have nor seem to need as much stuff. Harriet Fraad writes, “We need more images of people who enjoy their connection and work through the difficult times involved in creating close, mutual, nurturing relationships. How do we manage to effect change within this environment? Where are the contradictions that create openings?”

A Time When Noncommercial Values Are Attractive

“One opportunity for change has emerged due to the recent capitalist collapse, which has intensified American suffering. People can no longer afford the brand-name products seen on TV. Their economic woes reveal the relentless hustling of now unaffordable consumer products. They try generics, unknown brands, and less consumption, and often find them just as good. This presents us with an opening to question. New, noncommercial values can form,” claims the author.

Since Americans are hooked on the mass media, and the media loves anything new, the Left can create media-attracting new actions. The anarchist group that formed around a book called The Coming Insurrection got the media’s attention when a well-publicized group jumped on stage at Barnes & Noble in New York for a spontaneous reading that began, “Everyone agrees it’s about to explode.” The action was widely covered for its novelty. As we here on PlanetPOV have discussed, Javaz’s political action proposal could provide us with the opportunity to create something like this.

Self-Help Groups

The largest self-help groups are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Alcohol and drugs have proved to be a personal and social disaster for millions of Americans. In the face of that disaster, millions join together in small groups where they share their pain and suffering within a supportive, nonjudgmental collective that operates without salaries, advertisements, or financial charges. “These twelve-step groups give the Left a window of possibility,” Fraad says. “We can add a thirteenth step to their twelve-step programs. We can add a step to organize against big pharmaceutical and liquor advertising, which profits on false promises. The Left desperately needs to address people’s despair and give them support. We can learn to incorporate nonjudgmental personal and political support, as well as psychological and political dimensions, to Left groups where both nonjudgmental attitudes and psychological support have been sadly lacking. The Left has tried too hard to focus on being correct and not enough effort on reaching people where they are hurting. We need to listen to people without judgment as they do in twelve-step programs.”

The GLBT Movement

We can also study the contradictions that helped to produce GLBT organizations. Advertising creates images of happiness achieved though products that make us sexually attractive. The sexy woman rides in the man’s sleek new car. The virile man drives a big truck and drinks Absolut. Multibillion-dollar industries such as the diet, cosmetic, and fashion industries promote products to enhance sexual attractiveness. Popular culture celebrates heterosexual coupling and family as ultimate happiness while avoiding mention of collective joys or homosexuality.

“The GLBT movement works to include those in their identity group who are excluded from the grand celebration of personal couple happiness built around sexual pairing. The very pressure to channel complex desires into heterosexual coupling helped lead GLBT people to, as a group, articulate collective visions of resistance and envision new possibilities.”

Since most families and relationships are breaking down, people desperately need connection. Organizing creates connection. Collective dreams have a chance to replace the individualistic desires cultivated in capitalist America.

What We Can Learn From Evangelicals’ Failures … and Successes

Conservative evangelical groups create a collective vision and connection while celebrating capitalist success as God’s blessing. They provide some of what people desperately need and the Left ignores, such as communal support for important work in the home. Conservative evangelicals  manage to accomplish this while sex- role stereotyping, as well as opposing every form of non-church-based support that actually allows families to stay afloat. They oppose single-payer health plans, Head Start for all, sex education (unless abstinence-based), family planning, maternity and paternity benefits, minimum wage hikes, etc. In the end they cannot deliver the support that families need. The savior they pray to has not saved them from financial and personal desperation and divorce.

The evangelical groups can, however show us part of what we are missing. There is now an opportunity for the wider community, with Left-leaning evangelicals connected to Sojourners, who see political activity as an expression of morality taken into the world. The failure of evangelical morality, which excludes social, economic, and political morality, may create an opening for a much-needed Left-wing program of social, political, economic, and personal ethics for which many hunger. I have to say, although it has been several years since I was involved, my greatest sense of connectedness was found when I was a member of a religious-based community. While I know this is not for everybody, I feel so strongly that belonging to some group or other is vital to our well-being. We are really, truly all connected, and we can’t see that when we are on a mountaintop or in our homes. Our personal work, as well as our societal work, is most effectively done in community. We are social beings.

Internet Organizing

There are explicitly political possibilities made possible by the net. MoveOn.org and other political groups organize and mobilize through the Web. In Iran, members of the opposition evaded censors, communicated with each other, and aroused national and international support through Twitter and Facebook. The Facebook account of Neda Soltani’s murder focused Iran and the world on the violent repression of Mousavi’s supporters. That possibility exists here—and I mean HERE, on the Planet.

The four social growth groups springing up in America’s desert of political opposition point out possible avenues for a Left that desperately needs direction. Let’s return to the original question:

Why are Americans passive as millions lose their homes, their jobs, their families, and the American dream?

Why do Americans remain at home, disorganized, while their European counterparts flood into the streets in militant, organized protests? How did this happen? What forces are responsible? We can see that the cycles of capitalism with its relentless need for consumer spending and capital accumulation at the top have devastated America. We can also see that unbridled capitalism has created mass suffering and then turned the rage of those who suffer against all who need governmental assistance and against additional scapegoats such as homosexuals, feminists, liberals, socialists, minorities and immigrants. Asks Fraad, “We can create new roads to reclaim this nation by organizing and activating the mass of Americans who know that the ostensible “recovery” will never return what they have lost. We dared to elect a president who championed change verbally, who campaigned on unity and respect for all, and who preserves the structures that destroyed our lives. En masse, we have turned to self-help groups, evangelists, psycho-pharmaceutical drugs, and sexual identity politics, which do not solve the multifaceted crisis in which we are drowning. America needs another way. Perhaps we can provide it?”

And I say: Yes we can! And you know what? We have begun to do that right here, on PlanetPOV. While the internet can isolate us, it can also bring us together. We have created a small virtual community here and I think it will grow. We care about each other here; we get involved in political and social action here; we support each other and learn from each other here. And we do all that on a non-commercial site. If we are going to overcome the passivity and depression that America has enabled, we need to use whatever tools we have to shake ourselves out of our torpor. “Walk it off,” as my dad used to tell us, and we can virtually do that.

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Cher, I’ve had to think about your thought provoking article for a few days before actually replying, because there’s so much in it and so much in the comments following that well, I think I might disagree with portions.

I think I understand what you mean about Americans being more isolated, but I wonder if that’s really true.

I wonder if it’s simply because we are older, and if staying home and watching the tube is actually normal for people our age.

I know that my parents never went out to eat without us kids, and even as a family, going out to McDonalds or KFC – and back in them days, KFCs were a lot nicer and more like a restaurant – and that was a big whoopty-do for us, and KFC was a real treat.

My father would take us to the SS Kresge’s before we went to one of them KFCs, and we’d buy our soft drinks from there as it was cheaper, and then go and eat fried chicken.

Oh, and we’d buy our drinks separately, as back then there wasn’t a sales tax for under 12 cents, and back then, we could get a small drink for a dime.
Had we bought them as a family, we would have had to pay tax.

We would carry our drinks into the place, and yes, my parents, especially my father was very frugal.
Money was tight.

I think if I tried hard enough that I could actually count the number of times as a kid that my parents took us out to eat, and I bet it wouldn’t total more than a dozen.

Growing up, the only socializing my parents did was with family.
We’d have family picnics, aunts and uncles coming over, or we’d go to their houses, and us kids would play Monopoly or croquet, while the adults played pinochle.

When I got my driver’s license, and I’d already had a job since I started working at 15 – and yes, my parents had to sign a consent thing for that – I gained freedom.

Like everyone else, when you’re younger, you socialize a whole lot more.

Then your friends start getting married and having kids, and life slows way down in the socializing department.

I do understand that today there are many of us with access to the Internet, and kids have the twitter and Blackberries, and well, families don’t talk to each other, even at dinnertime.

But before the technology set in, wasn’t it like that already?

Maybe we read books or scanned magazines or read the newspaper or watched TV at dinnertime.

When it comes to the American Dream, I disagree that we were sold a bill of goods and somehow brainwashed in that we could have the American Dream using credit cards.

The American Dream is still alive and well, believe it or not.

I do agree that credit card companies sent out applications, and it seemed like they sent them out to kids when they were barely out of high school, and the CC’s never checked if a kid or an adult for that matter, even had a job.

They did mortgages the same way.

I remember hearing stories on PBS about that before the crash, and pundits were warning about people getting a mortgage and all they had to show was a library card.

The loaning folks are to blame, oh yes they are, but those who signed on the dotted line are to blame, too.

I understand what people mean when they say they were sold the American Dream, and how people would have mortgage lenders telling them that they could afford to buy a house when they really couldn’t, but ultimately, it is the responsibility of the person who signed on the dotted line.

They don’t teach economics in schools – high schools – meaning that kids don’t know how to balance a checkbook, or what it means to have a credit card, as far as I know.

That’s up to parents to teach their kids, imho, and parents should teach their kids the value of a dollar.

addendum – Oh God, I sound just like my father, but you know what?
My father was right and very wise.

Pepe Lepew

Great post, Cher.

I agree on the isolationism in today’s society … and people drugging themselves up. Have you ever seen “Children of Men?” Everyone in the movie has to take anti-depressants because the world is too awful.


I think that one of the most important causes of all is not mentioned in the article, in fact, I think I’ll do a visual essay on it because it relates somewhat to what I already wrote about the body. It is the “corporate” relationship that so many Americans have to food. Fast food, and then drive-through, were invented in America. What does that suggest? That to us, food is “fuel” that we tank up on. People driving or walking through airport terminals while munching on something or other wrapped up in paper. What disrespect this shows for the body and its needs! To say nothing of the contents of the “food” itself.
In Japan, food is almost a religion. It’s changing (as in so many ways that the Japanese Soul is being replaced by the Corporate Mindset) but not nearly as bad as in the US, and hopefully that will never happen. So you don’t see obesity here to anything approaching what you see in America. Food becomes US, it becomes What we ARE, and if we just toss it down our gullets without a second thought, no WONDER it shows up as flab, and deadens our minds.
Europeans, who eat ungodly concoctions like shnitzel, still have better figures than Americans, and not because the wine helps the digestion. It is because they LOVE the food as they place it in their mouths. They delight in every moment of tasting it. They are loving that which will soon become THEMSELVES! I think that goes a significant way toward explaining what is happening in modern day America.


There is nothing wrong with schnitzel! Take it back!

Otherwise, good points wts.


Okay, okay, I take it back. I like deep fried, buttered, cream-ladled stuff as much as the next guy.


You just saved yourself the wrath of another schnitzel-lover. It is not ungodly, but strudel is divine!


Great piece Cher, it gives me alot to think about and obviously alot to ponder here in the comments. I like your idea of the one woman show at the federal building, but you should probably try to find a partner like CL said, to have your back. If I were in SoCAl, i would join you.


Let me suggest, in addition to “The Tipping Point” that everyone read “Blessed Unrest” by Paul Hawken (and NO it’s got nothing to do with religion!) He documents the movements, largely in developing or very undeveloped nations, but also in embattled communities in the US that are not only challenging corporate hegemony but finding new and really creative ways to see their communities and economic activities function. He has a web site, too, so take a look. He says there are over a million social movement organizations all looking at innovative ways to take back their lives. It’s an amazing book! VERY hopeful.


Have you read “Why The Religious Right is Wrong?” by Dr. Robin Meyers? If not, grab a copy. It is an excellent book as well.


When you say: “Television is intensely PASSIVE though. This feels more like a symptom than a cause of the problems that isolate Americans”.
I would disagree. It is both the cause and the symptom. I think, more the cause.

I think television and the other forms of staring-at-the-screen media are hypnotizing, opiating, numbing, and are the new splintered hearths within families. People become dissociated, living in an alternate world, dreaming of the characters they see, the situations they wish to find themselves in, the stars and the famous they wish to emulate.

It allows them to inhabit a multiplicity of existences and realities. Too many realities. Which one should one choose?

We are also consumers of realities.

What an excellent article and topic to confront! It’s what we’re all wondering, but talking too little about.


Hi Cher – I love this post, think the points are, in the main, quite remarkably on the money.

Let me tell you why I have problems with Tikkun and Rabbi Lerner.

The issue for the progressives, and that includes the faith community, is that we are not immune from ego and empire building. I was present at Lerner’s conference in Berkeley four (I think) years ago when Lerner used Tikkun as the springboard to political power and headed up the formation of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. He had Jim Wallis there, another ego-driven “progressive” (anti-gay, anti-choice that he is), and it was clear the two men, the Rabbi and the Evangelical, were boon companions.

But the majority of us who were there were muzzled. I attended the workshops on economic alternatives, and it simply sucked. The people in charge had not a clue what was needed to build an alternative universe, but they sure did not want to hear from any of us. they already HAD a plan. The Rabbi had determined that through moral persuasion, he could get ALL American corporations to consider issues such as the environment, fair pay, compasion for communities in the Third World, etc., etc., etc. He developed a plan called “The New Corporate Bottom Line” and would entertain NO thoughts to the contrary.

I taught corporate power for 15 years for Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations Program. I know what the legal and political foundations of American corporate power are. What the Rabbi would NOT understand is that C corporations (the vast majority and all the Wall Street traded ones) have gotten laws changed over the years so that they are FORBIDDEN to consider anything but making money for stockholders, and they may consider that as a secondary issue to their own management salaries and incomes.

Needless to say, Lerner has succeeded not at all in getting corporations to sign onto his ‘new bottom line’. They cannot legally do so.

He also would not remotely entertain the idea of worker ownership and management, of community ownership of things such as their own supermarkets, of having communities affected by development have a SAY in what happened to their neighborhoods. No – HE was the Economic Messiah who would lead us all out of bondage. He knew it all. We were just to be his followers doing his bidding.

So in building the Network, he refused to heed any of the rest of us who are “out here” doing this work. He won’t unite with us in our work, wanting us to support only HIS work – which is bogus.

Back when Z magazine was founded, the first couple of issues were consumed with articles about “reunions” of 60s radicals, and then with letters about how so and so was not invited to said reunion. Ego was everything. Work on justice gave way to sniffy hurt feelings and domination of one group over the other. If you know Gulliver’s Travels, you’ll remember that Lilliput had a civil war over which end of the egg to open first – the little end or big end. That’s how ridiculous these disputes have become.

Well, there is another way to look at it all. My husband was the editor of the student paper at SF State under the Hayakawa administration. It was he who refused to shut down during the 1968 student strike over establishing Black Studies as a legitimate course of study. He stood his ground, got arrested and did fairly serious jail time, all for free speech. In 2008 the reunion did not even contact him much less invite him to speak. And you know what – he was just sad. He did not get on his high horse in high dudgeon. He stil works for social justice for people who are not himself – and he has no skin in their game, but he does have heart there.

That is what we’ve lost – if we ever had it.

But the energy that people now expend on “you dissed me!” “No – YOu dissed ME” is part of what has dissipated our energies.

Much of the 60s was manifest narcissism. How many people would have marched against the war had there been no draft? Look at the lack, overall, of protest against the war in Iraq – because no one had anyting at risk. How many “activists” really were looking for a way out of their boring lives and, when things finally ended, went right back into the corporate world? We said it was growing up, but it was really partly a lack of serious commitment and only a commitment to fun, pushing our parents’ nose into our politics, and hanging out doing our Thang.

I find commitment to issues has not been a part of post WWII action for most people, even when they appear to care. If your ox is not being gored, where are people to fight for what is right? The people who did NOT have skin in the game for civil rights (we white folks), Vietnam (women, the exempt), economic justice for workers (we college educated well employed) who stuck with issues because they were RIGHT and JUST – we are few upon the ground. I’ve already ranted about the capture of environment by the Neo Cons who call themselves “Crunch Cons”, and all the “Me Too” indifferent liberals – they who care nothing for the people who produce our food or the impact on people of color for soaring prices, they do want to make sure that THEY have all the good stuff, all the organic clean stuff, and if the poor don’t, well, tough.

Into this comes Rabbi Lerner. He and I are in the same rought Boomer generation (he’s older but not a lot). His driving force behind Tikkun is making himself the voice for “social justice” – except he has not got a clue what that is, really. It is what HE says it is, and you damned well better conform.

My organization lobbies, and we invite the Network of Spiritual Progressives and similar groups to join us on health care reform, lobbying for budget reforms to assure that the poor don’t literally wind up dumped in the gutter (Arnold’s only plan), etc., etc., and you cannot get them to work with us because they are so busy building their empires.

At the foundation of why there is no movement in America lies that. So many have bought into the “get ahead by any means” rhetoric of Reagan that even the most leftie person I know will stab activists in the back so they don’t grab the limelight or, worse, make the armchair dilettantes look bad.

I know about back stabbing. I have a full Ginzu midnight special sticking out of mine.

Am I pissed?? You bet. Do I quit? Not yet.

What impresses me no end are the Planateers. I see differences of opinion, different lives, geographies, age, race, whatever – but I see a unification of heart. There are kajillions of us here and in the world – we just don’t know it. We find one another by chance most of the time. We are the ones doing the work. We are the ones serving those in need, tending the sick, raising thoughtful kids, working hard, paying bills, and still finding time to raise our voices for change. I AM paid for what I do, but the pay is pretty marginal. But we keep on keepin’ on because we all know there is a way to a better world.

We have trusted the other people, the self styled leaders way to long. Bob Edgar, now CEO of Common Cause, was the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches before he moved over to Common Cause. He is a Mthodist minister and was a Congressman for a time. He wrote recently, “We are the leaders we have been waiting for.” If that sounds Obama-esque, well, that’s where it started, with Bob.

We ARE the leaders we have been waiting for. And our move to build something new, something dynamic, something HONEST and committed to real good – that’s what needs to happen. It’s not empires, not fiefdoms, not inflexible parties with lots of rules. It’s this community we have forged on the Planet.

And for all of you for whom religion makes you cringe at best, gag at worst – take this with the heart I deliver it. In all of the world, I’ve never met more moral, kind, spiritual people than here. Never. Religion is idiotic, false, and corrupting, but faithful spirituality lives supreme in all of you, theists and a-theists alike. It matters not what you believe about that – the brilliance of compassion for others and the world shine through each one of you, and that is where the real change must begin and is beginning here.

So we can be the change we want in the world. We are a small band (for the moment) of dedicated people. But I think people will gravitate to the core of what we always discuss – kindness. We want a kinder world. And we are willing to work for it. And that will help undo all the reasons why nothing seems very different. We represent real transformation. That is very worth the doing.


How many


Thank you, Khirad! That means a great deal to me. I hope your Dad is still around because anyone who “got” the 60s that clearly is someone of great insight. Glad he brought you up!


I think there was a real difference of feeling re purpose and commitment among people of color. It’s so true that we all live in very different realities.


Nellie – you are SO right about that! And look at the difference even today! I work with immigrant rights people, and with people working for racial equity, and they STILL “get it”. They have fire in the belly and a real sense of purpose. I love them! That was and is the core – the commitment breathes vitality when you have a reason. Too many of us are too comfortable, and too many won’t risk anything for justice because they want to be sure they have iPods first. It’s the “first” priority of comfort that has done us in. Thank you for making this really, REALLY clear.


Based on your statements about the 60’s and what I now know about the right, I would believe alot of the stirring of the pot against the draft more than likely came from conservatives who did not want to fight themselves? They are hawkish about war but when it comes to them serving, they always have a “medical issue” to keep themselves at home. On the othe hand I am sure there were alot of purebreds who were truly against the war, just as most of us have been all our lives. It would be curious to reinstate the draft and see what happens……………..

I must say, though, this article and the comments have given me further insight into where we have gone “off the rails”. I can remember back in the 70’s that if my husband and I found ourselves home on a Friday or Saturday night instead of out socializing, we felt very deprived. We got together to play cards, go dancing, have an impromptu party, go to the movies, bowling and on and on. As we moved in to the 80’s and 90’s that social life dwindled. Our careers became more demanding, the kids and their social life became more time consuming, the school activities etc. I know I traveled quite extensively sometimes gone for a week at a time during my career, but we were making money. We told ourselves it was to better ourselves, but it was really consumerism, two cars(always late models), a house, the best clothes, exotic vcations, all the trappings of suburbia. One thing I did have was a husband who was very involved in all aspects of the kids lives which made it much easier for me to build a career. The last home I lived in where the neighbors actually came out in the evening and shared their day and companionship was in 1980 and we were all barely scraping by with new house payments, child care etc. It seems, though, that right about that time, or maybe later into the 80’s our streets became less safe for our children as well. Kidnappings, children being snatched from their front yards, gangs forming in the cities then spreading the “glamourous” lifestyle to the suburbs. The world, it seems, got just a little more dangerous, which could also account for the marked change in socializing or letting your children play outside to all hours.

All I know is that I want to see change and do believe we are the change we want to see. This site has been an inspiration to me with all the thoughful and truly concerned posters and I truly believe we will do something great in our aspirations to form this activist group.


Wonderful article, Cher!

I thought you might also be interested in a very similar take from Bruce Levine, in Counterpunch.

The whole article is here:


Just a small excerpt:

“Can people become so broken that truths of how they are being screwed do not


One more related news update:

Democratic jobs bill advances past GOP filibuster

By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer Andrew Taylor, Associated Press Writer


Great news, AdLib! And Scotty Brown may turn out to be not quite as malleable as the old line GOP-ers would have wished, it appears!


Talking about aggressiveness, the signatures of Senators for a public option via reconciliation is up to 22 today:

Sen. Michael Bennet CO
Sen. Barbara Boxer CA
Sen. Sherrod Brown OH
Sen. Roland Burris IL
Sen. Dianne Feinstein CA
Sen. Al Franken MN
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand NY
Sen. Tim Johnson SD
Sen. John Kerry MA
Sen. Frank Lautenberg NJ
Sen. Patrick Leahy VT
Sen. Robert Menendez NJ
Sen. Jeff Merkley OR
Sen. Barbara Mikulski MD
Sen. Jack Reed RI
Sen. Bernie Sanders VT
Sen. Charles Schumer NY
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen NH
Sen. Arlen Specter PA
Sen. Debbie Stabenow MI
Sen. Tom Udall NM
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse RI

If you don’t see both of your Senators on this list, call and email them!

Blues Tiger
Blues Tiger



BT, They didn’t list the R’s. I already got Kyl an McGrump to sign!! Beat ya!! 😆 Some woman might beat McCain in the primaries. (j’vaz’s post in OT) javaz says:
02/22/2010 at 12:55 PM (Edit)

Check this out for a laugh –

UN:F [1.8.2_1042]




Is that not the absolute BEST thing ever? LOVE it!


Blues Tiger – you are a brave human being! but yes, telling the troglodytes that you, a citizen of their fair state, wants a GOOD health reform plan (WITH a government-run public option) will do a great deal to destabilize their hair spray.

The more we raise our voices, the more they get the jitters. We, the people, are really pretty clear on these thing. They can hide behind the tea canisters, but they cannot count on all of us supporting their 19th=Century Gilded Age ways of thinking.

GO for it!

KQµårk 死神

Rockefeller who is a big public option supporter said he probably won’t vote for it through reconciliation. The reason is simple. He’s satisfied with the very popular federal employee plan that has a not for profit insurance plan already that will be expanded based on the Senate bill.

Like I said unless you are fighting for a public option for all at Medicare rates policy wise it’s hardly worth the effort.


KQ, while a very aggressive and open PO would be the best thing. I think we may agree that there are other parts of the the bill that do similar things. Today the MSM are drumming up the same Public option meme. if it’s not there, the libs lose. If it is there the libs win. They make it seem as if the PO is the all to be all. There are many different important aspects of the bill. We must have a foot in the door for any progress, and I feel that if this bill passes we will.

KQµårk 死神

bito I agree. The aggressive PO was gone last Spring for policy wonks like me when they said it would not be available to everyone. Right now the way the PO is formed the not for profit option is very close.

The media is also drumming up that any HCR is a long shot which may be true but they want to kill any momentum for the president’s plan. The media relies on huge ad money from profitcare and they know any reform would make private insurance cut down their advertising budgets.

The only way we lose is with no bill or a bill that does not have the generous subsidies for the middle class. I read all 11 pages of the president’s bill and it’s a good middle ground between both bills. With the addition of hard controls on rate heights and the new proposal that blew up the big PHRMA agreement the white house sweetened the deal quite a bit.

I also don’t get the objection against taxing private insurers for Cadillac plans which now has a high minimum of over $2,300/month. There’s exemptions for high risk professions like police, fire fighters and other first responders so I think it’s safe to say the vast majority of middle class families don’t have plans that cost near that much. To me it’s inconsistent to rail against rate increases and then reward private healthcare insurance with tax free high cost plans.

I hope you’re feeling OK.


I think that all of the various bills have become muddled. What Obama has cannot pass through reconciliation and go onto the House since it won’t be passed there. This is the ‘talking points’ bill to give the Reeps as little reason for heart attacks as possible, then showing America they won’t support even this. It is my belief from Congressional staff, that the REAL bills are “behind the curtain” and will come out when the various Dems in both houses are ready to act, swiftly. I know Rockefeller said he won’t vote for something, but I think it’s this bill, not the real one. You know – the one that is still “behind the curtain”.



Wonderful article and I too agree with your accolades for Fraad.

Potent discussion points that need to be hammered into the minds of Americans:

a. Because you are paid less than you should be, credit cards and debt have been pushed on you to live the American Dream most Americans can no longer afford. Then you are trapped as a virtual serf, working every day, year after year the rest of your life just to pay banks back the mortgages and credit debt you owe them. And your children will have it worse than you.

b. It is mainly corporations who are making government fail and not serve the citizens, not individual politicians. It is party related since they have essentially bought and paid for the GOP. To fix government, corporations must be “fixed” from controlling government or it will be a meaningless game of musical chairs with no improvements.

c. Americans are addicted to consumption and quick fixes. Consumption is a trap laid by corporations which buries you in inescapable debt, buying things you don’t need but just want. Sacrificing long term financial stability for a Snuggie today. And if you feel depressed or sad, that’s a symptom of being human and recognizing that things aren’t great in this country. It’s not a disease that needs a brain numbing cure, it is what you need to feel to eventually get upset enough to demand and work for change.

I’ve got a few more but those are at the top of my list.


This is interesting Cher and covers the conversation you and I have had here several times in the last few weeks, a thing that has had me puzzled and I admit frustrated since the Teabaggers demonstration in Washington last September but also in as far back as 08 on HP.

After that bedraggled show of “force” of a group of people shouting anti-government, anti-HCR, anti-Obama rants, I expected the counter-attack from a combined group of Dems, Liberals and Progressives, it seemed like the right time to show up this group of social misfits by gathering peacefully to show support for the long awaited changes in health care affecting millions, killing over a 100 people each day, a bill that wouldn’t be perfect but could be amended in the future. It seemed the perfect time to show your support for your President, a man you had elected, a man you all knew was fighting an unending wall of opposition to keep his campaign promises for change in Washington. I waited and waited but heard only silence.

You suggested that it wouldn’t have been covered by your media, I said so what, someone could have brought video cameras and posted them on youtube or other outlets on the net, sooner or later people would have known that you opposed the stone walling of a minority trying to take away the right of every American to have access to health care, it would have shown unity, it would have shown that someone cared. I was and am very disillusioned that an issue so important, an issue meaning life and death to millions could be left solely in the hands of politicians, some of who only had their own agendas to fulfill and consequently voted against what was good for their country, good for it’s citizens. No one took to the streets, I know that many people care and cared but for the rest of the people you hoped to reach, the sound wasn’t loud enough, the opposition to the opposition was weak and people as people tend to do, lost interest.

The advantage of protests in the streets is that politicians do hear about it and it scares them. The fact that a group of people can actually organize themselves into a fairly large group and protest without violence for a cause is much more powerful and lasting in the long run than a bunch or rowdy, racist, ignorant Teabaggers with their misspelt signs, their disgusting depiction of photos of your President and their lack of ability to show why they are there or even answer the simplest questions from reporters covering the event.

It’s not easy I know, but most demonstrations in Europe are just groups of like thinking people, concerned about events or policy in their own country or injustices in other countries, the exception being for pay disputes which will be organized by the unions.

My heart is heavy because of the missed opportunities to show as much force as a disorganized Becky group, even if not covered by major networks because of lack of fairness or lack of conscience, it would have reached the ears of the people who vote on issues and would have shown that you will fight to the end for what you believe is right and not fall like a stack of cards every time the Republicans say boo.

I understand that 8 years of the Bush/Cheney “regime” numbed and dulled the spirit and maybe the minds of the majority of the American people but you voted for change and as most people learn, making this happen requires effort, every journey begins with a first step and if that means protesting in public, fighting the opposition every step of the way by fighting every lie they have ever uttered or by taking to the streets, then I think that the time has come to do just that, a keyboard “revolution” just hasn’t proven to be enough to reach the people who could through sheer numbers, make a difference.

Threatening to not vote for a certain Dem Senator or Rep in your own district is all well and good if there is a viable candidate you could vote for instead, but if it’s just out of anger at someone’s incompetence, then it would just be like biting your own hand or cutting off you nose to spite your face.

I think that breakdown in social communication often starts in the breakdown of families being able to or having the time to talk enough as a group to understand the feelings or pov of each member. If no one listens to what you have to say at home, then often as children reach adulthood, they carry this stigma with them once they leave home. The inability to listen to other people is a contributing factor to many social ills, which in turn produces disinterest in other people.

This has been a huge problem over the years here in Japan, with children not feeling secure enough to confide in their parents and husbands and wives no longer discussing important issues about family issues causing a sometimes irreparable disconnect in the most important threads which hold families together during a crisis.

A good example would be the “latch-key” kids left to their own devices because both parents have to work to make ends meet. I think that every country needs to think again about the effects of almost non-communication with their children because they have become too busy or too tired for that all important talk with their kids or their spouses, I know for a fact that it really helps.


You said a mouthful, K! I agree completely with each point you so eloquently put forth.


TY wts, even though it’s early in the morning, I just had to get it out before my case of “verbal diarrhea” was lost in the bustling of the always distracting noise of a Tokyo morning, I know that you know what I mean.

I hope I didn’t offend anyone and was using the general “you.” I only have one thing in my favour, and that is being far enough away to see situations in America from a different angle, producing a different pov from those who are in the middle of the fray.

Oh btw, I’m waiting for my long sleeved t-shirts from PlanetGear and will be proud to be wearing your wonderful “Dr. Suits” drawing on my chest in the near future. 😆


Hey, great! Let me know if the colors run! 🙂


😆 I will, but If the MB mugs are anything to go by, they will be well made. Now if you could only spare an afternoon to help me to lift my full to the brim MB mug to drink my tea, I would be ever so pleased. 🙂


Of course!
I’ll be in touch! February has been as busy as it has been cold, but let’s do that soon!

KQµårk 死神

Kalima spot on analysis. Right most Americans are just a bunch of whiners that refuse to “take it to the street”. We like to talk allot but grass roots activism stops between elections because it’s much more fun to complain about the establishment.

The Moveon.org “Virtual March for Health Care” shows how impotent the movement is on the left. Virtual marches will only get us virtually nothing.

Americans are conformist for the most part too. Watching the Olympics now compared to when I was young I can’t remember when all American athletes started putting their hands over their hearts during the nation anthem. I saw tape from the 1980 US Olympic hockey team and they didn’t put their hands over their hearts. We must look like bleeding Nazis to the rest of the world.


This is a great read, so thought provoking!

A social “contract” has clearly been broken, a one sided love affair has disintegrated. The vast corporate empire that is the current true government had swept the American people off its feet with the assurance that things would keep getting better, generation after generation, that we were the greatest country on earth, and it was the power, and BUYING power, of our two hundred million strong or so middle class that made that possible.

A seductive and irresistible line that the nation’s workers fell for. All along, the Lover, The suave corporate Daddy with Madison Avenue manufactured come ons, had a wandering eye. Hmmmm…it noticed, if Americans can be convinced to buy all these things they don’t need in order to make me rich, just imagine if the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, Russians and Indonesians would do the same? So, in the eyes of the Corporate Lover, the middle class is a moveable feast, not a bedrock foundation. It can be used, and shifted. Build it up in one place,and then use all that accrues to do it somewhere else. Start by using cheaper workers overseas, then outsource your own companies’ business as much as you can and make most of your money through investments and financial gadgets, not actual products. Pretty soon you’ve got people all over the world who can afford and have been trained to want what you produce. You’ve got a new “trophy wife” – and she’s Chinese! Meanwhile, the dowdy old ex-wife wakes up, briefly, to realize she has been totally taken in and snookered, and you add insult to injury, you sell her Prozac.

Wake up, China and India, before it’s too late. Your charming suitor is using you.