You can tell a person’s priorities by the choices they make. If the job is more important than the relationship, their choices will reflect in their lives, for example. Likewise, you can tell a society’s or a nation’s priorities by the choices they make or condone. These choices, if we’re honest, have little or nothing to do with party or even ideology. They come down to just two things: Life and Death.
A culture or society that nourishes Life and keeps Life as its priority will show this by looking out for its citizens’ well-being and happiness. Its choices will value and support children, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the disabled. It will seek to provide a healthy environment for its people by mitigating the pollution that modernity has brought. (Sweden has practically eliminated garbage, for example, and Germany’s solar program is enviable.) The air, waters, and soil of a Life-affirming nation will be as healthy and clean as possible.
The means and opportunity to provide for families and earn a living are of course a priority for those who value Life. Such nations would seek to reduce income inequality and provide opportunities up and down the latter, with the understanding that when everyone contributes and is active in the economy, the stronger the economy is. (Henry Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford his cars, after all.) Looking out for the poor and lower income people is not an act of charity in a Life-supporting society; it is an act of self-preservation and stability for the whole.
Happiness matters, too, if you value Life. Music, art, leisure, and just being able to have fun are all important. A sense of community matters, as does a sense of respect for differences within that community. Homogeneity is not required for a Life-affirming nation, but tolerance and appreciation are.
And of course, all societies who prioritize Life would also prioritize Peace to the extent that it remains possible. Diplomacy, understanding, and dialogue are always the first attempts.
Sometimes, unfortunately, societies choose to prioritize Death. History is full of examples of nations who have done so. These societies build up their military, frequently at the expense of their citizens and their most vulnerable. Their worldview is more insecure, more fearful. Authoritarianism is a natural outgrowth of Death cultures. It is the ultimate attempt to control that which cannot be controlled: the world around them.
Death cultures are restrictive and reductive: everything is reduced to a singular value within the ordered system. Citizens either further the state or threaten it. Something is useful or not useful. Anything that is deemed to be a threat, unusable, or defective loses its value in the system and is destroyed. Death is punishment, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Annihilation is acceptable.
Art is not needed in a Death culture, because it is either a threat or provides no value for the chosen priorities, which are strength, obedience, and control. The health of citizens and the environment are irrelevant, except for the elite who run the system. The death of a river, the soil, a person does not matter because Death is not the enemy. Death is the choice.
Death cultures fear creative minds. Thoughts that are in disagreement with the Death culture must be extinguished, because the culture fears its own Death. Different opinions and ideas create instability, which makes Death feel like it’s not in control. And it isn’t.
Death cultures support the idea that not everyone will make it, that some people must inevitably fail and die. People in Death cultures understand that they must succeed by any means necessary, even if others suffer. There is no sense of shared good or of the beneficence and plenty of Life. It is a rat race, a struggle until the end, with only a handful of victors on top. Everything is a war, and wars come easily and often, because that’s how Death does things.
Life supports the spirit; Death destroys it.
We always have a choice, every day. As an individual. As a society. As a culture. As a nation. When will we ever learn?