"We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill.
A few weeks ago, a letter to the editor in one of the newspapers we read caught my attention. The writer lamented, "The recent actions on the fiscal cliff were … to punish the successful and reward the non-performers.” In his own words, he repeated the same old mantra that ultra-conservatives, deploring any tax increase, spew regularly. Such views are very discouraging and depressing to read (or hear) again because it reminds us that there are many people in this country who are so arrogant and narcissistic that they completely lack empathy and compassion. They seem to believe they are God's chosen and those who do not "perform” deserve absolutely nothing from them. I would never use the word "successful,” to describe such people. They are not successful as human beings no matter how much money and influence they may obtain.
This obviously aggravated letter writer apparently suffers from what John W. Dean describes in his book, "Conservatives Without Conscience.” He writes, "Conservatives without conscience do not have horns and tails; if they did they'd be easier to identify. Many of them can be quite pleasant, but at heart they are tough, cold-blooded, ruthless authoritarian. They are limited in their ability to see the world from any point of view but their own, and they are narrow in their outlook.”
So, what is being "successful?” Is it grabbing everything you can for yourself so that you can impress yourself and others? Is it obtaining a position of power so you can influence others to believe the way you do and/or carry on in your authoritarian ways? Is it believing that you are one who made it on his own and those who do not make it in this world are inferior beings who don't deserve any better? Or is it the person who, even though he doesn't have a lot, is willing to share what he has with those less fortunate — those "non-performers?” Or maybe it's someone who had a really rough childhood and youth who has become an asset to the community because he is honest, decent, compassionate and responsible. And what about some of those with wealth, like Warren Buffet, who give generously to good causes?
You'd think that by now we would have realized our cultural definition of success and achieving the "Great American Dream” is very distorted. Gurus have warned us for centuries that success isn't in how much wealth we accumulate or how much power we have, but in attaining peace of mind, sharing with others and enjoying rewarding relationships. You wonder if we, as a culture, will ever learn that gaining power and wealth at the expense of others is despicable, that wealth without integrity and compassion is immoral, and that self-indulgence and hedonism do not lead to true contentment or peace of mind. Authoritarian conservatives are often religious fundamentalists, yet they don't seem to have absorbed the message: "There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I know I've gone on about this before, but there's nothing that gets my dander up more than people who have such a grossly inflated view of themselves that they are unable to feel empathy and compassion and are indifferent to the suffering of others as they cling tenaciously to their assets. From the shenanigans that have surrounded the "fiscal cliff” boondoggle, we got a good idea of who these types are in Washington.
When you combine the generally accepted definition of the American Dream with lack of conscience and empathy, you come up with those authoritarian conservatives who Dean describes. He warns us: "Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal.” Think "Tea Party.”
If we want our democratic society to thrive, we need to focus on recreating the American Dream so everyone has a chance at a better life and the gap between the rich and poor narrows considerably. We must downplay the adulation of the wealthy and powerful and disavow the mantra: "You are what you have.”
If only those conservatives who are having such a hard time parting with a few extra tax dollars and disrupting our governmental processes with their inability to soften their hearts and open their minds a bit, could absorb the following: "It is a worried life in which people pursue a success that forever eludes them. Their goal is an undefined material success, to be provided by the largest returns in the shortest amount of time. These are unquiet souls; their way of life is unrelenting.” — Alexis de Tocqueville.
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 650 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is email@example.com.