Friday, July 15, 2016

More Dimensions of Mythology

(This is a continuation of a series of postings beginning on July 8.  It would be best to start reading at that point.)

Last time I gave examples of how the personal mythology can lead us astray within the dimension of economic understanding.  Now, we move on to discipline.

Discipline is the dessert dimension.  It focuses on delaying gratification and doing the hard work necessary to reap rewards.  So what if I don’t study, the test isn’t until next week.  So what if I spend all my money as I earn it, retirement is a long way off.  So what if I smoke cigarettes, I can always quit before it gets too serious.  So what if I have a drinking problem, I’ll sober up in time for work.  So what if I don’t finish high school, it’s boring and there are more exciting ways to spend my time.  And so it goes.  The consequences are remote, and people think they can afford to not take them seriously.

There is some mythology at work here, some story people are telling themselves to justify the action, to make themselves the heroes of their life stories.  It’s not cool to diet or save up for a large expenditure or practice moderation or, in some cases, abstain.  That’s hard work, and besides it’s not cool to worry about the future.  Live for today!

These bad habits don’t happen in isolation.  When millions of people buy more house than they can afford, the economy crashes.  When two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, it has ramifications in health costs for us all.  When people reach retirement age with no savings, they look to the government, that is the rest of the taxpayers, to bail them out.  When people haven’t acquired the skills and education to get more than a minimum wage job, they expect us to help them raise their families, through artificially high pay or government support.  All these supportive actions that count in some mythologies as compassion are, in many cases, crutches for people with self-inflicted wounds.  But those who take this tough-love view are condemned as uncaring.

Responsibility follows discipline because when people fail in discipline, a natural response is to try to blame someone else.  To remain the hero of their personal mythology, they can’t admit weakness or failure, so they claim victimhood.  "It wasn’t something I did; it just happened to me."  This stance makes it easy for others, who also want to be the heroes of their own story, to step in, riding to the rescue with funds, programs, legal defense or new laws. 

Government agencies, private advocates and various programs are a natural spin-off of these pleas for help.  But what many don’t understand is that when we don’t take responsibility, we give up some freedom.  These programs and agencies don’t go away.  They have a mission.  In many cases the irresponsibility of a few results in restrictions on everyone.  When someone is careless and then claims to be a victim, passing on the (financial) liability, it affects all of society.  Every school, club, and organization in the country cannot function today without insurance and hold-harmless agreements signed in advance.  The number and sheer silliness of some product warning labels are not just a source of amusement, but a serious symptom of society gone wrong.

Some consumer protection is needed and the FTC does a good job of catching and prosecuting companies for false advertisements, but we as consumers have a responsibility to research and make reasonable decisions about our own spending and our lives in general.

This whole idea of research and reasonable decisions leads to critical thinking, which is where I’ll pick it up next time.

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