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Are We Trying to Cure the Infection or the Fever?

09/14/2012 11:03 am ET | Updated Nov 14, 2012

During the week of the Democratic National Convention, which was held in Charlotte, NC, I saw a story running on the Huffington Post announcing the DNC Jobs Panel discussion featuring HuffPost's Arianna Huffington, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Black Eyed Peas member and education advocate Will.i.am, LinkedIn cofounder Allen Blue and Delaware Governor Jack Markell, among others. The event was moderated by Tom Brokaw.

As a philosopher and writer, I have long suspected that our problems following the latest economic crash (2008) run much deeper than a lack of jobs and a slow economy. However many of the experts from academia, business, government, media, policy institutes and our politicians think otherwise. As they see it, our basic problem is getting some 12.5 million Americans back to work while jumpstarting our stalled economy.

It's been four years and close to $1 trillion has been injected into our economy in the form of new government spending courtesy of two stimulus bills signed into law, in 2008 and again in 2009, and little has changed. How long will we stay on this course? What if the experts are all wrong, then what? We've spent a lot of borrowed money and wasted several years only to fall way short of finding the cure.

After 23 years of living a spiritual life while being clean and sober, I would argue that we're facing a spiritual crisis, on an individual, family, institutional, organizational and a societal level, which can be reflected in all the dysfunction on display across America and the scandalous behavior broadcasted every day and night on TV, radio, the Internet and in print. Qualities like discipline, frugality, hard work, taking personal responsibility, sacrifice, saving money over spending... that forged a starving and struggling generation during the Great Depression unknowingly prepared them for a greater challenge, years later -- the Second World War. Following their victory (1945), they went on to build America into an economic, military and political superpower.

Today, many in our country are suffering in this recession or "depression." We've lost wealth in the stock market and equity in our homes while running up personal debt. We've had widespread bankruptcies and home foreclosures to go along with the high unemployment. However, a similar set of personal values related to moral character and integrity isn't being instilled in us this time around. What should be occurring naturally to all of us facing this crisis, facing reality head-on in the form of growing pains is instead being anesthetized by our drugs of choice.

Our habits are going unchanged as if nothing significant is happening to any of us. We're not growing up, we're not growing at all. We're no wiser after years of living dishonesty, foolishly, irresponsibly and the problems that this created for all of us. On every level, the individual, family, institution and our society, we refuse to admit that we've made any poor choices or that we've any regrets for our past sins while, now, being caught up in lots of internal and external turmoil. Thus, our arrogance and our denials makes us unwilling to change the course that we're walking in as we inch closer to the edge of an emotional, financial, mental, physical, sexual and a spiritual cliff. Maybe the reason for the attitude is because we've already gone over it.

Following Prohibition in the United States (1920-33) and in the grips of the Great Depression, in 1935, two men suffering from the same affliction, alcoholism, came together, in Akron, OH. Bill Wilson was a stockbroker from New York and Bob Smith was a physician from Akron. Their meeting was to last only 15 minutes, at Dr. Bob's insistence, but instead it lasted for several hours.

Upon Dr. Bob taking his last drink later that same year, he and Bill formed Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). At the center piece of this fellowship of men and women are The 12 Steps, a spiritual way of living life on a daily basis. Today, AA meetings are held in cities and towns across the U.S. and in over 150 countries. Worldwide membership totals two million, of which one million live in the United States.

In 1989, at the age of 18, I walked into my first AA meeting, in desperation, after four years of heavy drinking. I spent the next twenty-two years attending meetings and applying this spiritual program to solve life's problems to the best of my ability. AA saved my life while slowly showing me how to live, in the NOW, by forcing me to grow up, to mature and to become a wiser man. Getting sober was the best thing that I've ever done and I'm not alone in that opinion.

An internationally renowned inspirational speaker and author, Father Richard Rohr had this to say about AA's program, "The 12-Step Wisdom is, without doubt, a work of the Holy Spirit, and will go down in the history of spirituality as the specifically American contribution to spirituality." The steps and the traditions, developed in AA, have been adapted to address some thirty-four other personal issues ranging from codependency, debts, emotions, gambling, narcotics, overeating, sex, work....

The drugs of choice of the past -- alcohol, drugs, sex, work -- now include entertainment (including sports), food, gambling, internet pornography, materialism and consumption, overeating and under-eating, politics, religion among others. Some vices are socially acceptable while others aren't. All drug use is simply an attempt to dull one's pain (be it emotional, spiritual, mental, physical, financial and/or sexual). Americans are doing anything and everything to avoid reality and our empty lives. We've become a nation of "drug" addicts, governed by addicts (who seek fame, fortune, power, sex...). Our nation is in desperate need of a 12-Step program.

Much has happened to America in the past 12 years since the controversial 2000 presidential election, the attacks on 9/11, the dot-com bubble, the collapse of Enron, WorldCom, two wars -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- the creation of DHS (homeland security and TSA), Hurricane Katrina, the rise and fall of real estate and stocks values, the 2008 stock market crash, the bank bailout, a $16 trillion national debt. There's been absolutely no interest by our political leaders in Washington, by corporate America, by Wall Street bankers or by the American people to pause and reflect on the many storms that we've just been through. There's been little or no interest to rethink our priorities, our values and consider taking America in a whole new direction.

Even the mass shootings and overall violence hasn't stopped us in our tracks. We get mad, we get sad and we may even cry a little bit, but then we keep on, keepin' on because we're America. We're the captains and crew riding high on some unsinkable ship, so we think. We're crazy, we're lunatics. Given this bigger picture, how can unemployment, or the economy, be anything like the root cause of our troubles? What if it's just another symptom? Are we trying to cure the infection or the fever?

America is a sinking ship without an experienced captain or crew. We're a dying patient on the operating table without the trusted hands of a skilled surgeon. How can this be happening before our eyes and right under our nose?