The Master Meme
The gentlemen and ladies of the meme-o-sphere, where collective notions are birthed like sleet from clouds, have decided lately that the USA has entered a full-on broad-based bull market - a condition of general happiness and prosperity as far advanced beyond mere "recovery" as a wedge of triple-cream Saint-Andre cheese is advanced over a Cheez Doodle. It has become the master fantasy of the moment, following the birth of some junior memes such as... we have a hundred years of shale gas and the "housing sector" (i.e. the suburban sprawl-building industry) is "bouncing back." What a sad-sack nation of credulous twits we have become.
You can be sure that when a nation is led by the reality-deficient, unhappy outcomes are a sure thing. They will systematically destroy trust in the way things actually work and beat a fast path to either tyranny (where reality doesn't matter) or anarchy (where reality cannot be managed at all). This is what happens when nations go mad. Even when they are led by people later-determined to be "evil" (Hitler, Lenin) this sad process is allowed to happen because it just seems like a good idea at the time - which is the central political tragedy of human history. To the beaten-down Russians, Bolshevism seemed like a good-idea at the time. To the bankrupt, hopeless Germans, Naziism seemed like a good idea.
I'm not even sure what to call the current disposition of unreality in the USA, though it is clearly tinged with different colors of grandiosity ranging from the plain dopey idea of "American exceptionalism" to the wishful claim that we're about to become "energy independent," to the lame assertion so popular in presidential addresses that "together we can do anything." Speaking of the inaugural, in all the Second-Coming-of-Lincoln-Meets-MLK hoopla of the grand day, with the national mall lined by gigantic flat screen TVs (an Orwellian nightmare), and the heartwarming displays of ethnic diversity, and the stridently inoffensive songs and poem, there was the genial Mr. Obama at the epicenter of the huge ceremony delivering a bouquet of platitudes so stale and trite that it could have been composed in a first-year Harvard Law School ethics skull session at a back table of Wagamama. Despite all the blather about his graying hair, and the wisdom of age, and the supposed music of his rhetoric, I couldn't detect a single idea in Mr. Obama's inaugural address that wasn't either self-evident, or devised to flatter some "identity" bloc, or an imitation of old tropes out of the "Great Speeches" book.
What's obvious to me is what I have been fearing about this country for some time now: that all the disorders of our time would prompt a campaign to defend the status quo at all costs and to sustain the unsustainable. That is really the master wish behind all the political hijinks of the day, especially the pervasive accounting fraud in all high-order money matters. We see the comforts and conveniences of modernity slipping away and we'll do anything to try to hang onto them, including lying to ourselves to such an immersive degree about what is really happening that we suppose we can manufacture a happy counter-reality. That's at the heart of zero interest rate policies, and Federal Reserve manipulation of markets, and statistical misreporting from all the national agencies charged with adding things up. So, the Fed pumps its $90 billion-a-month and the Standard & Poor's index inflates like an old tire while ten thousand more families get added to the food stamp rolls, and the banks sit on enough foreclosed property to fill the state of Indiana, and another 25-year-old college loan debt serf ODs on vodka and Xanax because he finally understands that even bankruptcy will not save him from perpetual penury.
Apparently, there are moments in history when nations just get lost. I maintain that things would go a whole lot better for us if we acknowledge what is actually going on, namely: a major shift of direction into economic contraction after 200-plus thrilling years of expanding energy resources and easy-to-get material riches. It's in the nature of this world that things cycle and pulse, and we have entered a certain phase of the cycle that demands certain responses. We have to make the scale of human activities smaller, finer, simpler, and more rooted to the local particulars of place. We have to let go of WalMart and globalism and driving cars incessantly and attempting to manage the affairs of people half a world a way... and we just can't imagine engaging with this endeavor. That is true poverty of imagination.