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America: Closed for Repairs:

There will likely be more than enough blame to go around for the Minneapolis bridge collapse once the investigations begin turning up condemning evidence pointing in any number of directions. The tragic event has already become a symbol for America’s growing infrastructure problems, although if we needed a wake-up call the levee in New Orleans should have been a siren.

Still, a litany of structure failures, no matter how carefully assembled to stir us, may only work at the level of proper indignation meant to be converted into new “programs” and spending. There is a framework of time involved with decaying structures – things break down and need to be rebuilt and replaced – that may not apply to a larger ongoing problem within ourselves rather than in our concrete and steel.

Recently this column wondered aloud about our growing acceptance of death, killing as a tool political and otherwise, and the cartoon glorification of violence. I readily concede that all that tends to feel like default opinion-piece fodder, and yet we’re obligated to continually review those things. Specifically, we have to examine any link between the horrors of modern life and things about us that may be calcifying or somehow attaching themselves to what we might call our social DNA.

So I’m asking: Are we getting careless and caring less about being careless? And if so, can we repair that?

If we borrow even slightly from the events of recent weeks we have… NASA and its various breakdowns, the possibly concealed fratricide of Pat Tillman, lead in paint on toys for children, food recalls, drugs that do more harm than good but were pushed forward for sale anyhow, a steam pipe exploding in the middle of Manhattan, a professional baseball player that broke a record using steroids, young DUI offenders back on the road and chasing people with their cars and haggling about whether we should act sooner rather than later to save American lives by pulling out of Iraq.

There may be nothing of a technical nature that links any two of these events together. But if you were looking for some sign that we are increasingly not doing our job as adult guardians of our systems and constructions and agencies and children, would you consider this list and wonder if conscientious caring was being replaced by something else?

Before the division of the planet into – borrowing from author Benjamin Barber – Jihad and McWorld, there was an attempt to focus on global development by defining certain countries as “Third World.” Unfortunately the term was sometimes bent and distorted by those who would denigrate. Inside some of that were implications that systems and constructions and agencies in the Third World often had less than conscientious supervision that was sometimes the result of corruption and negligence. At least, as they compared to America.

But maybe that implication can’t be made any more. And far from just another hand- wringing over things going wrong and being bad, I’m asking if it’s possible we are changing. In many of the examples I cited, one could easily posit that there’s still a greed hangover from the 1980s. But more often now, it feels as though somebody knew (Tillman’s story is changed for propaganda purposes), or we all knew (Bonds isn’t fired because we like winners) or we didn’t care (Mattel makes toys in China because its cheaper and doesn’t feel compelled to supervise the lead content of the paint.)

Roads and bridges can be rebuilt and be better than they were because of new technology. Administrations can be voted out, professional sports can be cleaned up and bad astronauts can be kept off the shuttles. But human striving can’t be legislated or constructed with new taxes. It comes from inside, based on what we believe those around us expect or demand or maybe now… hope for. In the meantime, I’m going to call Avis and see if there’s any way they can provide a “We try harder” button for anybody who wants to wear one.

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