The Magician’s Bargain in 2019 America

Beneath the surface of the obvious turmoil in American lies a fissure deeper than our differences. More than just a fissure. A seismic shift in the ground that has traditionally held the nation together, as suggested by this adaptation of L. Robert Kohl’s “The Values Americans Live By”:

Traditional American Cultural Values

1. PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE ENVIRONMENT
People can/should control nature, their own environment and destiny. The future is not left to fate.
Result: An energetic, goal-oriented society.

2. CHANGE / MOBILITY
Change is seen as positive and good. This means progress, improvement and growth.
Result: An established transient society geographically, economically and socially.

3. TIME AND ITS IMPORTANCE
Time is valuable - achievement of goals depends on the productive use of time.
Result: An efficient and progressive society often at the expense of interpersonal relationships.

4. EQUALITY / EGALITARIANISM
People have equal opportunities; people are important as individuals, for who they are, not from which family they come.
Result: A society where little deference is shown or status is acknowledged.

5. INDIVIDUALISM, INDEPENDENCE AND PRIVACY
People are seen as separate individuals (not group members) with individual needs. People need time to be alone and to be themselves.
Result: Americans may be seen as self-centered and sometimes isolated and lonely.

6. SELF-HELP
Americans take pride in their own accomplishments.
Result: Americans give respect for self achievements not achievements based on rights of birth.

7. COMPETITION AND FREE ENTERPRISE
Americans believe competition brings out the best in people and free enterprise leads to progress and produces success
Result: Competition is emphasized over cooperation.

8. FUTURE ORIENTATION / OPTIMISM
Americans believe that, regardless of past or present, the future will be better and happier.
Result: Americans place less value on past events and constantly look ahead to tomorrow.

9. ACTION AND WORK ORIENTATION
Americans believe that work is morally right; that it is immoral to waste time.
Result: There is more emphasis on "doing" rather than "being". This is a no-nonsense attitude toward life.

10. INFORMALITY
Americans believe that formality is "un-American" and a show of arrogance and superiority.
Result: A casual, egalitarian attitude between people is more accepted.

11. DIRECTNESS / OPENNESS / HONESTY
One can only trust people who "look you in the eye" and "tell it like it is". Truth is a function of reality not of circumstance.
Result: People tend to tell the "truth" and not worry about saving the other person's "face" or "honor".

12. PRACTICALITY / EFFICIENCY
Practicality is usually the most important consideration when decisions are to be made.
Result: Americans place less emphasis on the subjective, aesthetic, emotional or consensual decisions.

13. MATERIALISM / ACQUISITIVENESS
Material goods are seen as the just rewards of hard-work, the evidence of "God's favor."
Result: Americans are seen as caring more for things than people or relationships.

Adapted from http://“The Values Americans Live By”, L. Robert Kohls

Thoughtful people may quibble with Robert Kohl’s list. But few would erase the 11th valuehonesty/trustworthiness –as bedrock to the American experiment in democracy. 

The Magician’s Bargain

Looking each other in the eye and “telling it like it is” has been chipped away, replaced by the twists of tongue and cunning to get and hold power. In our time, truth has been reduced to a function of circumstance in the road to power. We live with the consequences of what C.S. Lewis called the magician’s bargain.

It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

The surrender of soul in return for power is the seismic shift in the America of 2019. Honesty/openness/directness have never been a fact of our common life. The 11th traditional value is aspirational. There have been and always will be lies. But never in my lifetime has truth-telling been less valued than it is today in the highest places of government. To the chagrin and sadness of George Will and other principled traditional conservatives, it is the children of Jerry Falwell‘s Moral Majority who engage the moral magician’s bargain.

The Irony of the American Magician’s Bargain

Michael Cohen testified last week before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. The minority members of the Committee attacked the credibility of the convicted criminal who had served for 10 years as the president’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and chose to ignore the hard evidence the president’s “rat” had placed before them.

The only difference between Michael Cohen and those who refused to exercise their duty to uphold the Constitution was that Michael had confessed.

Do we feel the rumbling of the common ground beneath the partisan divide?

How deep is the loss! How much greater the challenge. Ben Franklin would have a cow!

“We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 2, 2019.

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