This article was previously published in Sword & Spade Magazine.
Gregory Matthews, corporate lawyer, is concerned that versions of the American dream are leading some to a nightmare.
Our communities are being torn apart today by a host of divisive agendas that are seemingly promoted by all of our cultural institutions, from the classroom to the boardroom and beyond. It is often the most prominent and respected of these institutions that push these agendas most aggressively.
We may try to convince ourselves that these are merely passing fads of cultural confusion, but it is becoming more difficult to avoid the conclusion that they are part of an unrelenting march away from objective truth and into direct conflict with the faith. Left unchecked, these trends are likely to continue to tear us apart and seriously limit, if not preclude, the ability to live out the Catholic Faith. Perhaps most concerning of all is the nagging realization that our pursuit of the modern American dream is likely helping create the nightmare in which we find ourselves.
This is a bitter pill to swallow, as many of us have been fully invested in achieving this “dream” for some time now: pursuing degrees from the best schools, earning top grades, working for the biggest and best companies, and then saving and investing our earnings, in hopes of some day retiring in some level of material comfort. And indeed, many in past generations have followed this formula and achieved a reasonable amount of success.
Now, however, particularly as we stare down the financial and societal consequences from lockdowns, the unprecedented amount of money issued by governments purportedly to offset the impact of those measures, and the resulting tectonic shifts in economic and institutional power that have resulted from the global response to Covid-19, it’s becoming apparent that our participation in this “system” likely shares more culpability in helping perpetuate our current circumstances than we would like to admit. Many — myself included — are seeing how our professional efforts strengthen the very leviathan powers that are harming traditional and Catholic ways of life.
While we cannot advocate total surrender, it does seem that for many it is time to stop concerning ourselves with navigating the halls of corporate America and instead focus on planning our escape in hopes of salvaging and rebuilding more traditional and Catholic ways of life. I’m not as sure as I once was that we have a choice any longer.
Of Bosses and Labor
Those of us in larger businesses and institutions often find ourselves wading through minefields of moral uncertainty. Sometimes it is obvious when a business or job creates a problematic moral dilemma — a Catholic does not need a silent retreat to figure out they shouldn’t work for Planned Parenthood. The moral license of performing other jobs, however, is often more obscure. Yes, bank profits are driven by usury, pharmaceutical companies cause untold harm to those they claim to protect, and defense contractors profit from war, but other jobs involve discrete tasks, and we aren’t often the ones making key policy decisions. Indeed, Catholic moral theology provides some allowance for the remote cooperation with evil under certain circumstances, and that may provide some comfort to us. Today, however, more cards than ever are on the table and we’re realizing how much evil we may be helping to facilitate or at least passively permitting.
But challenging current trends can pose great difficulty to fathers. With families to feed and mortgages to pay, many of us keep our heads down and offer no resistance. We sit quietly through “ally” training days, “diversity and inclusion” seminars, and other such tripe; we don’t stand up against those who advocate for the segregation or disparate treatment of others who question the conventional narrative. Our passivity, while likely embraced in the name of prudence, may even actively embolden the advocates of those values to push their agendas further yet. Pushing back is even more difficult, as we realize these programs are not the result of rogue human resource departments but rather descend directly from corporate boards and c-suite leaders, those who reap the largest rewards from our daily efforts and have the most leverage over our professional fates. We also know the profits our efforts generate are heavily leveraged to support “charitable” organizations that push those same agendas in our local communities, schools, and throughout society. If these are the leaders and organizations to which we commit our working lives, are we not at least complicit in the results they help to produce?
Let us not cast that stone too easily, as we too benefit from the success of these institutions. But how much longer can we ignore this increasingly intolerable dissonance as we accept the rewards of a system we decry in private? How much longer can we continue bowing ever lower to these base agendas in order to climb the ladder of success?
Invest the Leftovers
It’s not only the jobs we do or the businesses for which we do them where our efforts can have consequences repugnant to our values. Our support for the system continues as we invest the fruits of our labor in ways promoted by the system.
The American dream that told us to work hard and get a good job also extols the virtue of saving and investing our income in the form of retirement savings, typically in the form of 401K accounts. When our savings are invested through those accounts in products such as mutual or exchange traded funds, we are handing vast discretion over our financial resources to professional management firms, such as BlackRock, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs and the like. Most of us would likely recognize that these managers are not known for championing Christian values, their names routinely splashed across the financial press after being caught engaging in some nefarious behavior. In those pages, we often learn how they can walk away from meaningful repercussions due to their vast financial and political power. We also see how they wield that power to advance many of the divisive agendas of the day. It is rarely discussed, however, that they obtain that power, in large part, through the use of the financial resources we entrust to them.
We should not ignore the fact that, when our savings are invested through money managers, we relinquish our voting rights in the companies in which they invest our savings. Instead, our money managers determine how those rights are used. These voting rights give stockholders an important say in the makeup of a company’s board of directors, corporate policies, and many other key decisions of those companies. As a result, money managers have enormous power over the management and policies of the companies in which they invest our savings. It is a cumbersome task to track and exercise these rights ourselves, so we often blindly leave those decisions to the experts. So should it come as any surprise when those managers use that power to advance agendas contrary to our morality?
Planting Flags in Approximate Soil
It can seem like we are entirely dependent on these systems. To challenge them or change course seems impossible or dangerous; it could mean losing a job or being unprepared for future financial needs.
Examine this more closely, though. “Investing” ourselves in something other than the globalizing and homogenizing corporate world is a matter of basic resilience and sanity. What I hope this article is articulating is that we need to acknowledge that going with the flow may not be an option in the fast-approaching future. The simplest move in most cases is to consider reconnecting in a localized mode of economy and life. We men formed in the American dream, invested in larger institutions and companies, may have a deficit of imagination in these matters. Or, simply put, old habits die hard.
Other issues of S&S have addressed some of the philosophical and practical aspects of a more locally based economic outlook, but we should come to terms with a few things before we are prepared to change our way of life.
First, the standard of living we seek may simply be unrealistic in the long run, particularly in light of circumstances created by the Covid phenomenon. It may border on sinfully indulgent. Changing jobs or our career path may decrease our income, but we should acknowledge the good this can do for our souls —very often doing something good is hard precisely because it is so good.
Second, changing a career path is not necessarily a matter of rejecting all we’ve come to know and do. For example, self-directed IRAs can be harnessed to invest in local real estate or businesses of our choosing. Focusing on local economy and trade does not mean discarding our years of effort acquiring our skills, as there are many places where corporate skills can bring great value, likely without the required seminars on promoting the newest and most exciting genders available.
Third, keeping our talents and treasures from the globalist crowd and bringing them to bear on the solid earth of our community is not just a practical matter; it can advance the profound good of genuine communal (i.e. authentically human) living, a good that can be enjoyed today and passed on to our progeny.
Finally, many of us traditionally minded men have felt the epidemic of loneliness that plagues modern lines of work.
We’re successful and well-networked but at the same time isolated and unfulfilled. This likely results from being forced to operate in a world of work that is completely detached and unrelated to our home, excepting the income, and working in a corporate culture that we will never embrace and remain in only for utilitarian reasons.
Engage your imagination and you may realize there is little to lose and a great deal to gain.
ALFRED LORD TENNYSON
Beautiful city, the centre and crater of European confusion,
O you with your passionate shriek for the rights of an equal humanity,
How often your Re-volution has proven but E-volution
Roll’d again back on itself in the tides of a civic insanity!