Although we appear to live in the same city and are probably around the same age, I do not know Gene Miller. I am not familiar with his writing, or his career.

Gene Miller’s bio line says he is

A founder of Open Space and Monday Magazine, and is currently promoting ASH, an affordable housing concept and, with others, has initiated the New Economy Network.

Recently, a friend familiar with my obsession with things political south of the border, sent me an article by Gene Miller from Victoria’s “Focus Magazine”. Based on this slight familiarity with Mr Miller, he may be a person who possesses an even slightly less sunny disposition than that with which I find myself blessed.

Mr. Miller’s piece “All onus, no bonus” which should be read in its entirety here http://focusonline.ca/node/1126, presents a gloomy apocalyptic vision of the United States of America. Miller warns,

There’s something doom-y, fourth-act-y in the air south of us. The case for a social climax is ripening. The pressure’s up and the social particles are moving faster, orbiting eccentrically and drifting toward collision.

And, in case we Canadians find ourselves feeling smug and complacent, Miller cautions,

It would be foolish to believe that the trends noted in this column will be contained by US national borders. The economic and social tectonics ripple out far beyond the American geography. These aren’t things we’ll be simply reading about in the “Elsewhere” section over morning coffee.

The current political scene in the US is Miller suggests not really about Donald Trump. The Republican nominee for president is, merely

a “ludicrous outrider of the apocalypse.”

So what is going on down south?

In a phrase that makes the whole article worthwhile even if his piece were not so powerful in its entirety, Gene Miller suggests that the American social experiment is crashing into

a long-developing imbalance between appetite and obligation.

Perhaps this “imbalance” is the inevitable trajectory of a consumer society which defines meaning as the ability to acquire more. toys“Appetite” unfettered by any sense of “obligation” or responsibility for the greater good becomes a dangerous serpent coiled at the heart of consumer culture that always demands more in the futile quest to satisfy its insatiable appetite.

The problem with more is that, by definition, there is always more. There is no end to more. More lies always just beyond the next horizon. More is omnivorous.

And, to make matters worse, there will always be someone who has more than I have and whose life, therefore apparently is more valuable and meaningful than my life. If greed is the engine of consumerism, envy is the gas that keeps the engine running.

The problem with more becomes acute in a country in which, as Miller points out,

the top 1 percent of American income earners captured 20.1 percent of all the US income in 2013 and took home 85.1 percent of total income growth.

Nearly 3,000 years ago, in a society that was on the verge of its own apocalyptic moment, the prophet Jeremiah, in a voice that resonates with Mr. Miller, accused the people of his community of having

committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)

Consumerism is a “cracked cistern that can hold no water” to which there is no political solution. Certainly neither Donald Trump nor Hilary Clinton can solve the problem of the discontent fomented by the voracious unsatisfied appetite that is the inevitable outcome of the unfettered materialism that shapes so much of our cultural reality at present.

We must seek to hear other voices, voices like the Kentucky farmer, poet, and profound social critic Wendell Berry who summed up the malaise of our day in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”. Berry describes those who live in thrall to the siren call of more as people who,

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything ready-made.

This materialist focus makes its disciples,

afraid to know your neighbors and to die.

Consequently their minds are

punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.

But there may be another way. Berry suggests instead of allowing our lives to be circumscribed by the grubby little trinkets we are able to acquire in life, we might

every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

This is the only way forward in the face of Miller’s chilling dystopian vision. It is not a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green path.  It is the path of all ancient spiritual wisdom.

Find contentment in what is now. Embrace the limitations of reality. Know that no human life is contained, or can ever be satisfied by this material timebound plane. Open to the possibility of a transcendent realm of meaning and purpose in the glory and wonder of this present moment.

Herein lies the path to a more compassionate, open and gentle society.

Perhaps the moment of crisis confronting the US in its current election cycle may hold the possibility that people will open more deeply to the reality of a “fountain of living water” that has the capacity to refresh and nurture the human spirit regardless of how much or how little we may possess.

Advertisements