The Cashbox and the Spirit of Christmas


Asheville Citizen-Times, Dec. 14, 2005 

Last month on CBS Sunday Morning, Nevada State Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie complained that television advertisers lost interest in her the day she turned fifty. Link "I think I do feel somewhat invisible," she said, "and I hear it gets worse the older that you get." Interview clips with media executives and analysts confirmed Ms. Leslie's fears. In the United States, if we're over fifty, most TV programmers have no positive interest in us.

I don't know where this new terror of aging ranks alongside the sagging body, gingivitis, and bladder control issues, but it is symptomatic of a cultural shift worth examining.

In an 8/3/05 opinion piece, syndicated columnist Walter Williams made a Lockean case that civil rights, human rights, and property rights are indistinguishable. "In a free society, each person is his own private property; I own myself and you own yourself. That's why it's immoral to rape or murder. It violates a person's property rights." Here Williams, an African-American, comes perilously close to endorsing the basis of the chattel system that may have enslaved his ancestors too.

Profits have replaced patients on drug company bottom lines. Where human response still matters to policy decisions, a metric called the SUD, Subjective Unit of Distress, enables the bloodless calculation of cost-benefit ratios.

On the arts front, people may wonder why so many celebrities are publishing books. The answer is marketability. Contemporary publishing houses may never read, let alone edit, the books they bring to market. What they do care about is the author's "platform", by which is meant built-in audience. If an author isn't well known or her subject isn't culturally hot, why take a chance? This change of attitude prompted popular novelist Anne Tyler to recently tell an interviewer, "If I were an unpublished young writer right now, I might very well have to stay unpublished."

But wait, there's more. Free-market gurus never tire of reminding us that governments are drags on prosperity. They should shrink (except for security-related functions), divest themselves of public utilities and public lands, and turn more public services over to the private sector. It's all about the market. Conventional stocks, bonds, and options aren't enough these days. Pollution tax credits have even made dirtying our environment a market-based activity.

How are we faring this Christmas season? Stay with us here at Fox or CNN. We'll hear from experts with their fingers on the pulse of Wal-Mart. And Congress is searching for the nerve to enact some Christmas presents of its own. These include a $50 billion cut in Medicaid, student loans, food stamps, and other social programs. Wealthier Americans stand to receive $70 billion worth of extended tax breaks.

Restaurant servers will either learn to raise their kids without food stamps and Medicaid or take the glib advice of the economic wiseguys and get better paying work. Let us sling our own hash. Those who lose manufacturing jobs can always apply at the new Wal-Mart. There, with half a wage, they can buy what they used to make at half-price.

I'm not against buying or selling or making a living. But it doesn't take much spiritual sensitivity to detect Ebenezer Scrooge moving to corner the market on our national psyche. For him, everything of value is quantifiable in his ledger. Other than a side effect of indigestion, what could such a nebulous thing as spirit or even the spirit of the law mean to him? The power to acquire and disburse determines his quality of life.

I accept the possibility that some among us may be incapable of experiencing soul, atman, heart-based connection, or whatever we choose to call it. Why not? Colorblind people don't "get" red or green. Most of us however, including Scrooge himself as it turned out, do have the capacity, buried though it may be under decades of accommodation to the ledger book mentality.
We who recognize spirit may disagree, sometimes vehemently, on what it means and how it extends in the world around us. But while we contest the one true path and the politics of religious symbology, bean counter equations continue to crunch the spirit out of us, often unawares and seldom opposed.

There's a fundamental similarity in the messages of many winter religious observances. New light and hope is coming to awaken and nurture the spirit. In these dark days of mercantile mentality, might receptiveness to that light and hope serve us better than another battle over whether the cards we send should read Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?
—Michael Hopping
copyright 2005 all rights reserved



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