Archive for the Modern American Risk-Aversion Category

The promise of America is that nobody is born to lose, but who has never wondered, “Am I wasting my life?” We imagine escaping the mad scramble yet kick ourselves for lacking drive. Low ambition offends Americans even more than low achievement…. Failure conjures such vivid pictures of lost souls that it is hard to imagine a time, before the Civil War, when the word meant “breaking in business” — going broke. How did it become a name for a deficient self, an identity in the red? Why do we manage identity the way we run our businesses - by investment, risk, profit, and loss?
Scott A. Sandage, Born Losers: A History of Failure in America (2006)

In American culture, the market is worshiped increasingly as an ideology rather than being seen for what it is—a natural product of human social evolution and a set of valuable tools through which we may shape a healthful and equitable society. It is under the spell of this ideology—this new religion—the we have fallen into complacency. Personal profit is no longer the means to an end but has become the end in itself. America’s traditional immigrant values of resourcefulness, thrift, prudence, and an abiding concern for family and community have been hijacked by a commercially driven, all-consuming self-interest that is rapidly making us sick.
– Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., American Mania: When More Is Not Enough (2005)


(Regarding what fed the Internet bubble that burst in the early 2000s): “You had a lot of novice investors who got into the market looking for easy money, without any regard to the fundamentals. These stocks were running on fumes.”
– Bernie Madoff, Washington Post, Jan 2, 2001.

Been distracted with late-summer shenanigans lately — so posts have been relatively scarce on CAFA. I did manage to post a piece earlier this week on The Thousandth Word.

It’s a rant – called “We Choose to Go to the Moon” – about how whimpily risk-averse we’ve become in this country and about how we need to go back to the age of John F. Kennedy. (These were thoughts that popped in my head after stumbling on a public art piece in Brackett Park in Mpls.)

Here’s a sample:

Certainly, the Brackett rocket offered an important object-lesson to any kid who managed to climb into the exalted, rarified nose cone: If you overcame your fears and dared to make the climb, then you were rewarded — especially if you lived to tell the tale. I wonder if the same could be said today about a country too long pampered and protected, about privileged citizens living ever-cushier lifestyles, about politicians who fear administering any sort of necessary, but vote-draining, pills — have we simply grown afraid to face the numerous challenges of the future? Does anyone other than me wonder how John F. Kennedy might have suggested we deal with any of our sundry contemporary dilemmas: Unaffordable housing and health-care, a devaluing currency and ever-ballooning trade deficit, a looming energy crisis, rising ocean levels and increasingly environmental stress, loss of industry and job, increasing inflation, a growing divide between haves and have-nots, and on and on?

What’s great about this new incarnation of the Brackett rocket is that the sculpture has the power to evoke the spirit of a bygone era and point out every important difference between then and now. It hints at a better version of ourselves — the nation of risk-takers and achievers who made, despite the great dangers surrounding the country, “know how” and “can do” everyday expressions, and an everyday approach to living life.