Too Broke to Pay Attention

When my son was struggling in his late 20s, I’d ask him how he was doing. “Too broke to pay attention,” was his quip.

Are we?

Cumulative student debt in the US is $1.2 trillion, by far the highest in total and per student of any country in the world. Students graduate broke and stay that way.

The US military budget is so massive that entire pallets of cash just go missing in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and the Pentagon cannot account for it, nor does Congress worry about it. The Pentagon, Congress, and the war profiteers would like you to believe the usual lowball figures—which still have the US outspending everyone on Earth on military operations—but those figures ignore huge military budget segments that get buried in Department of Energy (the nuclear arsenal), State Department, Veterans Affairs, NASA, and so forth.

Even the minimalist is maximalist. Take the US Department of Defense budget—listed as $581 billion this year—and subtract the Russian, Chinese, Saudi Arabian, British, French, German, Japanese, Indian, and South Korean military budgets. You’d still have $15 billion left to blow on playing Blue Estate or Dark Souls II, virulently violent video games. Oh—sorry, that’s another $15 billion you, the American taxpayer, must pay in this year. Wrong way math.

But what are the stories with legs, with bounce? Deflategate. Tom Brady. Sports and celebrities and rah-rah irrelevancies. Wedge issues like gay marriage and sad Kentucky officials. And these are stories from the “thinking person’s” media, God help us. Fox and many other outlets are beyond cringeworthy. Yet that is what we pay attention to.

Is our system too broke? Is our media too broke? Is our democracy too broke? Some think so. They either go apathetic or want to “burn it down.”

Neither is appropriate, adaptive, or functional. We have agency, both as individuals and in concert with each other. Understanding this produces a positive feedback loop with excellent consequences; failing to understand this produces positive feedback loop with negative outcomes.

When we refuse to commit violence, we do not add to the level of violence in the world.

When we reuse, recycle, and repurpose we do not add to the level of toxics and garbage plaguing our planet.

Pay more attention to your local independent media than to megacorporate media. Join with others to question poor priorities that not only cause us to be fiscally broke but bring the societal systems to a state of brokenness.

When we meet and organize and get involved in public policy questions with growing numbers of our neighbors, we begin to create the shift in societal practice that we need to save this beautiful blue and green planet and all who live here. We can enrich our lives and fix our lives so that we are never again too broke to pay attention.

Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice