We live in a mass society. 300 million in America alone. And the days when most people were more-or-less self-reliant are long gone -- centuries gone. We have stumbled into a sort of social agreement. Leaders make the choices for us: what work shall there be, who gets to do what, who can live where, will there be education or health care or entertainment.
These leaders have a powerful responsibility. Should there be a social breakdown, restoring order can be difficult, and take decades. What we're living through now is a failure of monumental proportions. Of course, the leaders of our society have been failing in various ways forever -- world poverty stands as a pretty powerful rebuke, for example. And failing to build a society that is sustainable, that provides more and more opportunity for more and more people, that delivers a kind of social justice -- that is the crime which has been committed.
We are coming to realize that we need to re-think our society from the ground-up. Of course, doing so is a wonderful opportunity to avoid past mistakes (and make all new mistakes!). But the fact that we must do so in an environment of crisis is to be regretted, as it was avoidable.
There's nothing natural, or inevitable, or "inherent in the system" about our current woes. On the contrary, many leaders have failed, time and again, to take the right path. While we all bear some blame for suffering our leaders, at the end of the day the leaders themselves must bear the brunt of the responsibility.
I fear that our society has not yet figured out that the people who led us to this point are still hanging around trying to save their skins. We can get better leadership by demanding it, of course. But one of the things that the new leaders must handle is getting rid of the ideas of the old leaders. In these times, it seems, that includes getting rid of the notion that we need to return to a consumer-ist society where "shopping" is a primary activity, where borrowing is "necessary" for consumers to live a good life-style, or that failed businesses must be given new leases on life to redeem their failures.