I learned a few interesting facts about the United States yesterday. The first fact I owe to Andrea Elliott’s recent series in the New York Times called “Invisible Child.” Ms. Elliott noted that: “One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.” From the same section came the second new fact of the day, that there are: “more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.” Staggering numbers, really.
The third new fact of the day came from the Associated Press, and stands in stark contrast to the first two: “Fully 20 percent of U.S. adults become rich for parts of their lives, wielding extensive influence over America’s economy and politics, according to new survey data…The new rich have household income of $250,000 or more at some point during their working lives, putting them — if sometimes temporarily — in the top 2 percent of earners.” These new rich are apparently notable for their sense of “economic fragility” and fiscal conservativeness. They’re temporarily king of a very muddy hill.
The America I was taught about in school was the “land of the free,” “home of the brave” and a “melting pot”. The America I’ve come to know as an adult is more known for its polarization than its diversity, more for its leaders’ gridlock than for their integrative vision. The more homogenized its retail landscape becomes and the more its citizens become connected virtually by means of the internet, the more disconnected and isolated everyone seems to feel. On top of that, (here is my fourth new fact of the day), 1 in 10 Americans aged 12 and over now takes antidepressant medication and the rate of antidepressant use by all Americans in the United States from 1998-2008 surged nearly 400%.[ref]CDC, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db76.htm, accessed 12/9/2013.[/ref].
What are we missing?
We are certainly not wanting for intelligent people in this country. Neither are we wanting for resources in this country. We live in a time of unprecedented material abundance. We have more information, more data at our fingertips than any society has ever had in the recorded history of mankind. So what is it? What are we missing?
These are not new problems and the wealth gap has long been a point of contention and concern in human society. I believe that much of the problem is rooted in the notion that we must compromise not just on this point, but on everything.
Rather than finding a common orientation in truth, we fight incessantly to prove the superiority of one set of opinions over another. We resign ourselves to compromise, after fixating on what is on the table, rather than taking the extra step of envisioning what is possible. Like 3 year olds in a sandbox, we fight over toys rather than seeing the other possibilities which lie beyond the wooden frame which defines their space.
It’s time that we start thinking about what is possible, not just to dream vain dreams, but to lift the debate off of the floor and make common cause with truth.