A Cultural Cause of Imperial Implosion?
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
Cultural causes of imbalance are a new exogenous variable in current discussions about the financial implosion of 2008 and its impact on American exceptionalism. Trend lines link baby boomer consumption mania, based on “commodifying personal identity,” with a twenty year spike in debt.
An interesting chart on credit market debt as a percentage of GNP (at http://www.cauxroundtable.org/ ) suggests in the words of Stephen B. Young, Global Executive Director, Caux Round Table, http://www.cauxroundtable.org “a ra,dical shift in the country’s overall tolerance for debt that needs an explanation more profound that just politics. ... Starting in 1980 the Baby Boomers with their culture of me first and everybody else second were coming into political, cultural, and economic prominence. Their preference for ‘having it all right now’ became the new American way of life, a culture of commodifying personal identity with purchases and paying for those enjoyments with credit cards. Savings and delayed gratification did not get much respect from Baby Boomers.”
Can this trend be countered by restricting the Fed to asset-backed money, and can this be tied to interest-free finance, and can this, in turn, be linked to expanding capital ownership in order to narrow the wealth gap and promote political democracy? These three goals of “structural change” form the core of Islamic economics, but is such a new paradigm of thought possible in an era of “Americanized” globalization? Do we really have a choice between owning as free human beings or being owned as wage slaves?
Perhaps Rabbi Michael Lerner is both profound and prophetic in focusing on the real issue, namely, not merely institutional transformation based on either ending or “fixing the fed” but personal transformation based on a new bottom line of spiritual awareness and balance. This awareness, known in the Qur’an as taqwa, forms the core of Islamic economics and of human rights in all world religions. At a personal level, is each person’s real identity what God created one to be, or is it the artificial faux front that each person is free to create as a substitute? Are we turning all these faux fronts into millions of new false gods to populate the most polytheistic era in human history?
Since this week marks the beginning of the Hajj in the Year 1429 A.H., we should remember the universal wisdom of the Caux Roundtable, which originated in its predecessor organization, Moral Rearmament, decades ago when I was a member and a writer for its magazine. Its message for Muslims, based on its fourfold call for honesty, purity, selflessness, and love, was condensed in its issue of June, 1983, in my article entitled simply “A New Leadership,” which addresses the cultural cause of imperial implosion and is reproduced in http://www.theamericanmuslim.org as a companion to the present article.
The message of this wisdom in The Hajj was summarized in the section entitled “The Pillars of the Faith” in my book, Shaping the Future: Challenge and Response, Tapestry Press, Acton, Massachusetts, 1997, 159 pages, as follows: “The great movement from Makkah to ‘Arafat and back in the second half of the hajj is designed to teach us our social obligations revealed in he later Medinan surahs. Its purpose is to strengthen each one of us as a mujahid in the eternal jihad of mankind against the arrogance of nifaq, taghut, sheqaq, and kufr, that is, dishonesty, impurity, selfishness, and hatred of the truth. The purpose is to teach us the opposite of this, namely, honesty, purity, selflessness, and love, and to consolidate our commitment to social, economic, and political justice based on the Islamic principle of mizan or balance, so that His will not ours will be done.”