Reflecting on America’s present state, I could not help but think of a metaphor that I had used some years ago in my book, Return to Order. I had likened the economy to that of a cruise ship on a never-ending cruise. On its multiple decks, the bands were playing, the theaters were full, the restaurants crowded, and the boutiques well stocked. Everywhere there was fun and laughter. There was always one more joke or one more dance to keep the party going.
That picture accurately described our economy over the last years of exuberant growth. However, when using this metaphor, I criticized our cruise ship economy, saying it was fueled by massive debt, bad government policy and what I called frenetic intemperance. I warned that life could not be a never-ending party of feverish excitement. At some point, the party will end.
The World Has Changed
Well, the time of reckoning has come in a way I could never have imagined. So much has changed since the spring. The COVID crisis and the riots entered our lives, and now we grapple with the election. Everything is so radically altered. The lockdown mania continues to damage the economy severely.
It seems the cruise is over, and the metaphor can be retired. However, it still holds, although in a different way.
Empty Ships Docked
I recently read an article that reported on the sad state of the cruise ship industry. Before COVID, the industry was booming with ever bigger and better ships being built. Record numbers signed up for cruises. There seemed to be no end to the happy days ahead.
COVID changed everything. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a simple “No Sail Order” suspending operations. Most ships are now docked and lie ominously empty. The bands are not playing, the theaters are not full, the restaurants are not crowded and boutiques well stocked. Gone is the fun and laughter.
The empty cruise ship remains a metaphor for what is happening in much of our society and economy today. The same economic infrastructure is in place as before, but it cannot be used. Huge facilities are available, but restrictions limited them to a fraction of capacity. People cannot associate as they once did. Many things are a sliver of what they were on New Year’s Day.
Ships Dismantled and Sold for Scrap
The article went one step further and reported that some companies could no longer afford to maintain their ships without passengers. Several cruise lines have sent their vessels to shipyards to have them dismantled and sold for recycling. Ships that can cost as much as $1 billion to build will be worth a mere $4 million when transformed into scrap.
The surreal pictures of once-bustling ships now appear with their amusement facilities in pieces. These ships will soon be reduced to heaps of twisted metal.
Again, the cruise ship metaphor survives, since major sectors of our economy are going out of business forever. They will be stripped down to almost nothing. Yet worse, we still do not know what the future holds for our economy. It could get very ugly.
However, we can say that the cruise ship economy is in trouble. The party is almost over.
How to Fix a Cruise Ship Economy?
Someone might ask what can be done to fix the economy and get the cruise ships back up and running. I would call that the wrong question.
A cruise ship economy is a wrong model to follow. It is not a valid life model. Living on a never-ending cruise will always end in disaster. America had the wrong model. It needs to find another that is better for three reasons.
A Surreal Atmosphere of Fantasy and Unrestraint
The first reason is that the cruise ship’s sole purpose is to produce a surreal atmosphere of fantasy, unrestraint and delight. A never-ending cruise is an illusion detached from reality. It is always maintained by artificial means. Real life always has periods of trial and suffering.
When we apply the cruise ship mentality to society and the economy, we enter into denial by insisting on a life of entitlements, fleeing tragedy and drama. We lose opportunities for learning and character-building if we seek only after pleasures. When this carefree model dominates, our nation’s enemies are freer to plot our destruction. The never-ending cruise promises happiness but eventually delivers disappointments.
Unleashing the Passions
The second reason why our model is wrong is that the never-ending cruise leads people to gratify their passions and self-indulgence. Once unbridled, the passions are never satisfied. They enslave people and lead them to lives of misery.
When the passions dominate society, people enter into the frenetic intemperance of living lives where they must have everything instantly and effortlessly. Society becomes riddled with debt and super-consumption. Like addicts, people ruin their lives to appease their passions and enjoy a Facebook happiness of appearing happy. This model destroys families, communities and economies.
A Spiritual Wasteland
Finally, the never-ending cruise represents a materialistic life that has no higher meaning and purpose. We are composite beings with a perishable body and an immortal soul. When our spiritual needs are abandoned, this state inevitably causes a profound void inside the soul expressed by frustration, loneliness and desolation that many have termed a spiritual wasteland.
When we start thinking beyond ourselves, we can find great joy in our connection with those God-given institutions of family, community and faith that feed our spiritual needs and provide meaning and purpose to life and its inevitable sufferings. We can experience the joys of supernatural life as we seek our final end: union with God. This ordered and Christian mentality creates different criteria for economic growth and development.
As the world’s cruise ships are sold for scrap, it is time to abandon the erroneous economic model that brought so much harm to the nation and the world. It is time to chart a new course. It is time to confront the dangers of the enormous storms looming on the horizon.
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