VI. 2. Boosting Investment, Reversing Decline
Life-affirming death awareness can contribute to a desire to invest in our future, a necessary precondition for halting our present national decline
Denial of death powerfully contributes to long-term societal decline. Living as if we will never die leads to a neglect of our descendants and future, particularly in a society's latter stages when it is consuming more than it invests, national savings dwindle, and massive debt begins to mount.
But, if this is true, developing a life-affirming death awareness leads naturally to feeling a greater concern for perpetuating and investing in life. Feeling our pain about our eventual death, we feel more deeply about investing in the lives that will follow us.
History is largely the story of the rise and fall of powerful societies --the Greeks, Romans, Chinese, Mongolians Muslims, British, French, Belgian, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Soviet Union.
Each of these stories is very different in particulars, but similar in one basic respect: the role of investment. When societies are on the rise they mobilize massive investments in their future,- building great cities, roads, educational institutions, healthcare facilities and temples. As they decline they consume more and invest less, eventually accumulating huge debts which they cannot repay without dramatically reducing consumption.
This perspective is a chilling one for the United States today, as well as a world that has a stake in the success of American values and democratic practices. Not only are U.S. national savings and investment at historic lows, but public and private debt is at an all-time high. And the U.S. is exhibiting many other symptoms of societal decline as well:
-- the lack of identifiable and real engines of economic growth, and an erosion in educational performance compared to other nations;
-- a growing division between rich and poor, eroding the social compact necessary in any healthy society;
-- the over-extension of the military, its inability to triumph in even a local war like Iraq, and low rates of enlistment and re-enlistment by both soldiers and the mid-level officers needed to run the military of the future;
-- a politics that relies on propaganda not evidence, in which politicians sell themselves to the largest bidders, and campaign finance reform becomes a joke;
-- a culture that thus lacks genuine heroes, leading to the rise of a "bread and circuses"-type entertainment culture and veneration of entertainers;
-- decay within all major institutions: religious institutions ignore sexual abuse and the humanity of gays, and bring their non-reality based beliefs into the political arena; the media entertains rather than informs; giant corporations increasingly lack elemental ethics, loyalty to the larger society, or even the sense to pursue policies which serve their own long-term interest.
But while the U.S. is not the first dominant power to decline, it is the first to do so in a nuclear, globally interdependent and globalizing age, in which the biosphere is deteriorating and non-state organizations can cause so much destruction. Even many of the most ardent enemies of America may not find its decline to their liking.
It is difficult at this point to imagine any realistic scenario which can prevent the decline of America - and thus the decline of democracy at a time when it is more needed than ever. But if America is able to halt its decline, a life-affirming death awareness could contribute to national renewal:
-- If facing death brings about a greater concern for the future, it could lead to greater investment and saving, more willingness to save and reduce debt, and a greater willingness to massively invest in our human capital in education, job-training and re-training;
-- If death-awareness creates greater concern for our descendants, requiring that we try to save the biosphere we are bequeathing them, it could contribute to a national focus on energy efficiency, boost economic productivity and create new renewable resource industries which could be engines of real economic growth;
-- If life-affirming death-awareness were to produce greater empathy for our fellow human beings who share our same sad fate, it could increase our willingness to create a new, cooperative global world order, and reduce our willingness to fight "wars of choice" and otherwise inflict violence other than in clear cases of self-defense. This could strengthen the military, and allow it to be used in ways that benefit America and the world.
-- Such empathy could also lead to a greater concern for investing in those in need and strengthening the social compact.
-- If life-affirming death awareness led to mass support for politicians and movements with the courage to call for national sacrifice to save the biosphere, help those in need, reform our political system, and end genocide, it could create a new culture with real heroes and less need for the kind of entertainment that substitutes for real life and feelings.
-- If our culture were to become more serious about life and sought less to be distracted from death, there might be greater demand for a media that informs rather than entertains.
-- Life-affirming death awareness could encourage the kind of spirituality that enlivens ( When Spirituality Enlivens ), revitalizing and humanizing our spiritual institutions.
-- A national rebirth that kindles a new national life-force could generate the kind of public support needed to reform the corporate sector, as well as reaching corporate leaders themselves.