Saturday, May 9, 2009
People who grew up in the 1950's have a certain -- perhaps unreasonable -- expectation of life. Kind of the flip side of Old Soviet pensioners: they expected a certain level of accommodation, even regard, for their contributions to Post War Soviet recovery and achievement, whereas Americans expected "progress," unbounded progress, and the perfection of American ideals.
Events did not meet expectations.
Old Soviet pensioners have been in dire shape for years, since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Empire; many simply expired, died off from various untreated ailments, alcoholism, poverty, starvation, exposure to the elements, etc. It's called "thinning the herd." The ones I've talked to who emigrated to the United States have a certain far-away look in their eye, remembering what it was supposed to be like, horrified and disgusted at what it became, blaming the Communists, and blaming "others" (named and unnamed) in equal measure for the failures that led to their exile from the Motherland and to the tragedy of living there now.
Young people from the former Soviet Union don't seem to have that sense of loss and longing the old folks do. While they may not be Happy Americans (yet), they never seemed to key into the Soviet system, were always skeptical of it, and when it failed, they said "Good Riddance." Russia today is for the young, not the old, I guess.
In this country, the 1950's were a shiny, glittery time for most Americans, a time when consumerism and conformity took over common sense, and whatever was "new" was seized on with near-worshipful glee.
The need for conformity came with the promise of Progress, and consumerism was necessary to the perpetuation of the New. I always thought that the conformity that characterized the 1950's was primarily a consquence of the nation's collective experience during the Depression and its overwhelming militarization during World War II. So many people experienced life in the military, for example, and the Victory of WWII that they quite naturally translated the concepts of military life into the civilian sector, with a focus on suppressing independence of thought and deed and conforming to norms and expectations of Society. From their own experience, that's what was necessary.
They had given up so much material well-being during the Depression and World War II that it was not surprising at all that they would turn to rampant consumerism after the War. Finally they could afford modest luxuries like teevees, and finally there were products available they could buy.
Of course there were critics who decried this "decline" in the American Way of Life. What happened to Rugged Individuality? Where were the creators and inventors and enterpreneurs who had characterized American Life through most of its history? Why did everyone want to be the same? What was the good of that?
Conformity was the first to go, rejected by college students in the early 1960's, completely overthrown as an American Value by the end of the '60's. Americans have mostly not returned to Conformity -- and would have a very hard time doing so in any case under the current highly polarized political framework.
Consumerism has waxed and waned. Once everybody had their suburban houses and their teevees and their high-finned new cars every couple of years, it became harder and harder to sell to an already saturated market.
There was only so much you could reasonably "consume," only so much you needed, and as conformity was rejected, consumerism fell into disfavor as well.
Yet few Boomers expected to see what we do today, a return (almost) to conditions that prevailed in the 1930's, and the serious possibility of falling so deep into economic depression, the majority of people may never see recovery.
As Boomers age, they're told -- like Soviet Pensioners -- they'll have to make do with less and less, and if it is too little to get by on, oh well. Tough luck, suckers. Sweep the streets and sell your trinkets. Just shut up.
Social Darwinism once more rears its ugly head. The American Empire, now almost completely consolidated as a political reality, has no use for excess baggage and has no compunction about torturing and exterminating whomever stands in its way. We witness with a kind of shocked horror what's been going on overseas, what is still going on overseas despite our new Good Emperor's many assurances, and some of us react with disgust and despair as we realize those practices now so commonly applied overseas -- like the drones flown over Pakistan firing at will, piloted by pimple-faced 20 year-olds at Groom Lake, Nevada, "Area 51," no less! -- can be dispatched domestically in a twinkling. Have any thoughts of rising up? Think again. Blackwater is still a chief government contractor.
The government patiently assures us that unemployment will continue to increase at least through 2010, and that many of the millions and millions of jobs that have so far been lost are never coming back. We are experiencing as thorogoing an economic restructuring as has ever happened in this country, and what has been lost is for many people gone forever.
Foreclosed and overbuilt homes are being demolished while the ranks of the homeless increase. Communities and whole cities are economically devastated and very little -- or in some cases nothing -- is done; recovery programs are limited and strictly confined to certain favored sectors of the population. There is no intention to reemploy people thrown out of work quickly, and in many cases there's no intention to reemploy them at all.
And through all of the restructuring going on around us, the constant refrain is and has been "Entitlement Reform," which means cutting and reducing and restricting and eliminating what very little is left of the social safety net so laboriously constructed by previous generations.
De-Entitling the masses is the key to understanding the Future as envisioned by the Powers That Be.
And don't ever think those Powers will lose their Entitlements. Not on a bet.
With all this swirling instability around us, the economic and political opportunists -- the Randians, the Objectivists, the Libertarians, and so on -- see plenty of hay to be made, offering bogus Individualist "answers" to the masses to the fear and the uncertainty of Modern Times.
It was happening in the '30's as well, but most people could see that the Randian Individualist response to despair and destitution might be something to think about or enjoy as an observer, but there was no chance for Individuals entirely on their own.
Nevertheless, the call is out there to shuck off the bonds of Government per se, live free, go your own way, forget about the uselessness of a corrupt and decadent Central Government, grow your own food, build your own place, live off the grid, and protect yourself with abundant armaments. That's the future.
What a concept.