The alternative to government-led, coercive shared sacrifice in order to reduce the national debt, is voluntary shared sacrifice. Given the limitations and frailties of human nature, such altruism is rare even in the best of times. Another factor is that the national debt is impersonal– it’s hard for you and me to directly experience, let alone imagine, both its cost, and the benefit resulting from its reduction. It’s a little bit like global warming: I don’t know about you, but on this raw November day, I’m feeling a little chilly. Global warming? Right now I’m more interested in being close to the wood stove.
It’s hard, in general, for us to imagine there’s a problem when we don’t have the immediate experience of it. If it’s difficult to imagine there’s a problem, all the more difficult, then, to move toward a solution (why move toward a solution if the problem can’t be imagined?)– and all the more difficult still, if that solution calls for sacrifice.
As an anxious society operates increasingly in survival mode, voluntary shared sacrifice becomes less of an option. Voluntary shared sacrifice requires capacities of reflection and deferred pleasure– adaptive responses to a challenging environment. Survival mode is non-reflective and immediate, with little choice and no creativity: fight, flight, or freeze. When we’re reacting rather than responding, shared sacrifice is impossible.
The most pressing religious questions of our age have to do with anxiety, and how we will manage that anxiety– both privately and publicly.