Ron Kaye: Making an effort to connect

Nobody was ever delusional enough to think Arnold Schwarzenegger was some kind of saint, but the disclosure of his love child with his housekeeper and how she remained part of the family household for a decade shatters what little was left of his public image after the pathetic end of his political career.

Incredibly, there are people who thought of Osama bin Laden as some kind of holy man, an apostle of moral righteousness, and not the fanatical murderer he was. It turns out he not only was shacked up in secluded luxury with three wives, but the owner of a vast collection of pornography — fuhsha in Arabic — to keep things lively.

Then, there’s the case of wealthy financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the International Monetary Fund and favorite to be the next French president who is under house arrest on charges of attempting to rape a maid in a luxury hotel in Manhattan.

It’s a crazy time we live in, like no other in my lifetime.

The wretched excesses of the rich and famous barrage our minds from every direction: the press, TV, radio, magazines, the Internet, the buzz among our friends and co-workers.

Does it really mean anything to us that Ashton Kutcher has taken over the lead on TV’s top sitcom from the bombed-out Charlie Sheen?

Surely, it fills some void in our lives when news that General Electric manipulating Congress so it pays no tax on $23 billion in profit barely creates a ripple, when the Big Oil companies reap tens of billions in windfall profits and fight with all their might to preserve $2 billion in tax breaks.

The stock market has fully recovered from the economic meltdown caused by the greed of Wall Street and the bankers, yet they are richer than ever, and millions of people are still unemployed and you can’t sell your house for 60 cents on the dollar.

Arabs are dying in the fight for freedom from Libya to Syria, yet it’s rare when more than one in six voters right here bother to cast ballots in local elections where critical decisions are being made that directly affect the quality of our lives, the value of our property, our jobs, our businesses, our personal safety.

Maybe it’s just me and the effects of old age. But a few days of serenity celebrating my 70th birthday on Catalina Island has done nothing to change my mind that powerful forces are in collision, and the world we live in is changing forever.

Catalina Island is only 22 miles off the mainland, but it seems like another planet far removed from a world gone mad. Islanders all seem to know one another and share a sense of all being in it together, pulling together to preserve the quality of their lives.

There’s a sense of community so much richer than anything I’ve known in a long time, a reminder of what I believe has gone wrong in America.

In Los Angeles, more than anywhere in the country, we live in a post-cultural society. Family, clan, religion, conventional morality — they are all weak forces. We connect through subcultures and networks and embrace myths of unlimited freedom where anything goes, where anyone can be a star, rich and famous, where you can have anything you want if you want it bad enough.

Many react against the liberationist culture and try to preserve a past that is gone. There is no going back. We can fight about abortion and gay marriage for another 50 years, and behavior won’t change. The genie of freedom is out of the bottle.

The challenge is to rediscover the sources of community, the sense of all being in this together, where there’s a balance between selfishness and altruism, where the restraints on behavior do not come from fear and social control but from mutual respect.

I don’t know how to break this to you, but the old normal isn’t coming back — not economically, not culturally, not politically, not in any way you can think of.

We have crossed the line into the 21st century’s post-modern world, a world that is linked up. Somehow, we have to connect better with one another so we can move forward and figure out how we can live in greater peace and prosperity for ever greater numbers.

As far as I’m concerned, that is as true here in the comforts of Burbank and Glendale as it is in faraway places with much greater challenges.

RON KAYE can be reached at Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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