Wow. What a year!
Coronavirus. Public protests. Racial unrest. Record stock market and unemployment. Polarization. Election results denial. Police drama. Social distancing and lots of time for reflection.
Many of us have struggled with depression, anxiety, loneliness, fear, and even the loss of loved ones. To each of you, I am with you and sending a socially distanced hug.
I used to write an annual letter documenting observations and accomplishments from the year. I am reviving the tradition again, now with this essay on timely and existential issues in America.
Traditionally, the holiday season is a time for giving and receiving. As we age, giving becomes more important than receiving. Because, for many of us, the karmic reward for giving is greater than that of receiving. According to Christianity, the birth of Christ, celebrated on Christmas Day, is the gift of redemption for our sins. Jesus Christ was born to teach us that we can be forgiven if we accept him as our lord and savior. He is The Gift and why Christians give each other presents on this day—so they can celebrate the gift God gave to us through his only son. This is their belief and followed by billions of people on earth.
Speaking of Christianity, some say that we are a Christian nation. I disagree without malice. We are not a Christian nation. We live in a democracy made up of laws that specifically provide for a separation of church and state. That said, our country is filled with many Christian people…and, also people with other religious faiths.
However, there are many other religions that do not believe in Christ and, instead, celebrate the “holiday season” instead of Christmas. I was baptized as a Catholic and support many of the teachings of Christ but have concerns with the human interpretation and application of the bible. I dive into that in an essay in my book on religion.
Quickly and quietly gaining ground on Christianity is a nontheistic “religion” in the United States called Humanism. Humanist religions worship humanity instead of a God. Humanists are organically predisposed toward capitalism.
Social humanism says that human beings have a unique and separate nature, which is the most fundamentally different from all other living things. They say that the supreme good is what is best for all human beings.
In America, as capitalist liberal humanists, we combine social humanism with a belief in American Exceptionalism. We also believe that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—for all.
Combined, these factors have altered how we celebrate Christmas and “the holiday season.” The focus has moved from religious celebration to consumption of commercial products to satiate ourselves as a diversion from the original, authentic celebration.
In short, we are in a cultural, moral, and existential tug of war between capitalism and religion.
This consumer consumption is driven by a combination of individual desire and consumer product businesses. They are both sustained by consumption and growth. The products and services are hyped in media and object-oriented people are conditioned to buy and consume more in the attempt to find illusory happiness through consumption. Media perpetuates both the desire and availability to help consumers achieve “happiness.” I also wrote about these specific topics with essays in the first edition of my book: Deep Dive – Existential Essays for Personal Transformation.
So, here we are, dealing with contradictions as mostly humanists, giving gifts during the holiday season in the year of a global pandemic, in a capitalistic democracy that was formed by Christians.
Most people think of capitalism as a good thing. It does many good things. The inherent competition creates better, more efficient products and services for consumers. Consumers have more choices and better prices.
However, capitalism in our democracy is flawed because it lacks authentic meritocracy. Our capitalism provides more advantages to who you know, much more than what you know, and is predisposed to preexisting wealth and social class inherited by previous generations.
The byproduct of a system that rewards winners and punishes losers is a growing gap between the two. The gap is a division that leads to envy from losers and disdain from winners. This leads to the denigration of the other and, in extreme, hatred.
Meritocracy, on the other hand, is a fair and balanced capitalism rewarding talent, effort, and achievement. Collectively, we give lip service to meritocracy, but if we honestly look at causes for racial wealth disparity, we can easily see that minorities are not beneficiaries of the greatest mechanism for wealth creation: stock market investments.
There are three major drivers of wealth creation: real estate investment, stock market investment, and inheritance.
Minorities’ under-participation in wealth creation is driven by several factors: lack of available capital for investment and lack of trust in a system set up and run by white, male patriarchy.
This wealth disparity is also increased generationally because there is much less wealth transferred through inheritance by minorities than by white people.
The disparity in the wealth gap is increased generationally through the inheritance differences by races.
I, as an educated, white male, am a beneficiary of this flawed system based on my skin color, education, and upbringing. While I inherited no wealth, I was encouraged to invest in the stock market and real estate. Both significantly increased my wealth.
The mechanism for simultaneous equality and prosperity emanates from fair legislation and taxation. Laws and enforcement of the laws are required to protect everyone and maintain a functional system of governance.
Unregulated capitalism is not the panacea to problems in society because lacking balanced taxation and enforcement leads to an extreme gap between the rich and poor.
When capitalists feel that too many laws impede their ability to earn unlimited income, they accuse legislators of socialist tendencies knowing that the accusation of socialism is a scarlet letter that brands the accused as someone who doesn’t love America.
While many on the left are branded as socialists or having socialist leanings, I believe that is an unfair accusation if we understand that socialism endorses government-owned businesses. Wanting equality and opportunity under the law does not mean that they want everything to be government-owned and run.
In our current environment within our existing political structure, our challenge is that our legislators are divided by political parties who demonize the other as evil and divide the electorate (us) by accusing each other of extremism by using generalizations to attack opposing views. An example is how the right uses the “socialist” attack to erroneously label those on the left as anti-American.
To further illustrate this gap, we can just look at these contrasting statistics:
- There are 600+ billionaires who are getting wealthier each day during a pandemic, who have the means and incentives to avoid paying taxes.
- There are more than 38 million people living below the poverty line in the USA.
Should extremes be moderated? If so, how?
Is legislating greater equality considered socialism?
Or is it creating balance by moderating capitalism to best serve the interest of fairness for all Americans?
Despite the identified flaws in our society, it is important to acknowledge that our society is undertaking the most unique and noble challenge that has ever been attempted in the history of mankind:
We are attempting to blend capitalism and democracy in a vast, ethnically diverse country.
A great man who had a dream and aspirational views once said:
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Let’s hope he was prescient and not just a dreamer.
I am a dreamer.
I dream of opportunity for all based on competence rather than ethnicity.
I dream of justice for all through fair taxation and unbiased law enforcement.
I dream of the celebration of our diversity and treating each other with respect.
I dream that we see each other as unique individuals, not winners and losers.
I dream of building bridges instead of fences.
I dream of love over hate.
So, however you celebrate this holiday season, do it from a place of love, with love.