“I’ve been thinking …” – Our lost sense of common truth

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By Jim Heffernan
Once upon a time, in a country that now seems so far away, there existed a nation that was distinguished by the achievement and integrity of its populace.
They were a mixture of nationalities, races, and political views. Yet they shared together a firm sense of what the truth was. They had respect for their government and for each other. Courtesy and consideration were commonplace virtues. They were far more interested in building things than in tearing them down. In a word, that country was “great”. That nation was the United States of America.

I am grateful that I am old enough to remember those days. I am very afraid that unless we turn back from the path we are on, that “great” country will be lost forever.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I believe that if we could just regain our shared sense of truth, we could begin the long journey to an America we can again look at and be proud.

I suppose this is the point where I should reveal my solution to our current problems. I would if I could. I think there are many, many factors that have caused our moral decline.

I boast that I am old enough to remember when America was “great”. Maybe if I rewind my memory tape, some reasons for our decline might reveal themselves. I think the summer of 1969 might be a good place to hit play and see what happens.

I was still in the Air Force, stationed in Colorado Springs, 23 years old with a high-school sweetheart wife and two children aged 4 and 1. The average income in Colorado was $650 a month and mine was about $500. BX privileges probably boosted my income to about average.

Thank to a VA (Veterans Administration) loan, I was able to put down $99 and purchase a 931 sq, ft. house for $14,500. That left me with house payments of $145 per month. I think without the VA, I would have had to come up with about $1,450 to get that mortgage.

Today, that very same house now has an expected price of $295,513. The average income has increased to $3154 per month. Wages up by a factor of 4.8, house price up by a factor of`20.4.

College was a very different proposition in those days also. In 1971, I decided maybe I would try to become a psychologist. I applied for VA assistance and with a wife and two children, I was eligible for $233 a month. That $233 was enough to pay my tuition and buy used textbooks. $233 was the equivalent of a minimum wage job.

Back then, the states generously supported education with tax revenue and students got a break.

Today, tuition at the same college for a semester is $5,364 and the average cost of books is $620 for a semester. I don’t believe the quality of education has improved to justify the added cost, I just think our love of tax cuts fools us into thinking it’s all right to pile these costs on our youth. Income up by a factor of 4.8, college cost up by a factor of 25.6.

I’m not sure if either of these financial travesties contribute directly to our lost sense of common truth, but I do believe they strain the fabric of our society and make us vulnerable to deception. Under strain, it becomes very easy for us to become resentful and untrusting. Under strain, it becomes very easy for us to separate ourselves into “us” and “them” groups. Once separated, it becomes very easy for us to accept outlandish lies as comforting truths.