Over twenty years ago, Reagan swept the White House and the country into a new era of speculative capitalism, from what I can tell. I’m of a younger generation that was growing up under the influence of such a super-abundant, neo-liberal (I don’t think the policies of Reagan and the Bushes can be called conservative in any meaningful way), money-happy and financially optimistic–yet morally bankrupt–time and culture. Jimmy Carter was a passing phenomenon during my toddler years and Reagan is the first president I really remember. My parents dressed me in Coca-Cola tee shirts and later I wore hypercolor clothing of my own free will. My childhood and adolescence were shaped not by family and relationships, but by popular music, television, video games, movies, comic books, and other artifacts of a grossly stylized popular culture. Marshall McLuhan would probably have some interesting comments about the media that shaped my mind and psyche and the minds and psyche of my generation. He would be googly-eyed and overstimulated with possible theories about the youth that are growing up under the military-industrial-entertainment complex of information overload in these opening years of the 21st century.
And now, in 2008, after years of blue blood and white-boy-collar money in the very White House, we have an opportunity to put a black man–an intelligent, thoughtful black man–into the white house. This is an important moment. Sure, I don’t completely trust Obama, him being a politician and all, but I am excited about the possibilities of an Obama presidency. He’s interested in engaging in foreign policy and dialouging with so-called "enemies" like Iran and Cuba, which is HUGE. He’s talking about revising and revitalizing transportation infrastructure
, including rail transportation, which is HUGE. His campaign has been funded largely not by special interests and lobbyists, but by a grassroots network of small donors and regional/local organizers (see How Obama Did It
by Karen Tumulty in Time Magazine).
Could Dubya hatch a sinister strike on Iran in the remaining five months before the November elections? I suppose anything is possible, but I have a hard time believing that given the climate of the country at this point in time that even an Idiot Hitler like Bush could succeed in another fear-stoking media campaign to start a third war before he leaves office. Do I believe he has thought about it, has plans? No doubt he’s thought about it. But Dumb America is beginning to shake off the Bush virus, I think. But maybe I’ve been infected by Obama-era "Hope," and am just being a pushover.
Of course there’s peak oil. I see this not as the apocalyptic catastrophe that some people are making it out to be, but as an exhausted sigh of relief. We need to slow down. The pace of industrial oil-rich life has been pummeling me since 1980, when I first began to form some sort of wishy-washy identity for myself. All my life I’ve been running on a gasoline-powered treadmill, trying to keep up with an educational and occupational system that makes no sense and has no soul. I welcome a breather and a slowing down of pace.
People say food and gas are going to be real expensive? I say they should be. Good. Jack ’em up. People spend way too much time and money on non-essential trivialities anyway. Let’s all get back to the land together and sweat to grow food, even hunt. Let’s indeed cut down on oil consumption before it all expires in one last popping oily bubble belch of desperation. There are other sources of energy, after all–none of which, I am aware, are as cheap and convenent as the demon oil–but again, I think that is a good thing.
Remember that crisis is always opportunity. It doesn’t have to be a catastrophe or disaster. Yes, we have population problems; however, the flip side of that is that we also have a larger population of intelligent, savvy engineers, developers, and other people who love challenges and tweaking with polymers, chemicals, fuels, and other wacky chemically transformed crap that I’d rather not even think about. As peak oil becomes a more prominent topic in mainstream culture and news, the economy will shift to focus on the demand for new forms of energy–not necessarily just coal or nuclear power.
Same thing with food production. When it becomes such a problem that not even the beer-guzzling, NASCAR-watching yokels getting their sound-bite news from Fox News can ignore it, the stupid economy will begin to bend to the necessities. Until then, intelligent, compassionate people can work towards positive change in whatever way suits them best.
On an individual level, we all choose how we respond to the situations we find ourselves in. To some extent, we can even pick those situations. Personally, I live within my means, which are quite impoverished by the standard American standard. I don’t really want for anything, though, except to someday actually own a piece of land and a small house. Yes, the tanking of financial markets and the ongoing corruption in American politics makes that even more difficult, especially given my aversion to playing the American Dream Game. But who knows? It’s a modest goal, really, and not unachievable. More important to me are my relationships with people and animals, and even more important than that is finding a personal balance within a seemingly insane political and cultural climate, then using that balance and whatever leverage I find at hand to shift the world in a more positive direction. Being aware of corruption and the shit-stains of politics-as-usual as well at the militarization and policing of everyday "freedom" in America is important, but if I let it overwhelm me, I know that will just bring me down, which lowers my productivity and my chances for affecting the kind of change I want to see/be in the world.
Post-script post-it-note: Many thanks to my online pen-pal Jeff Barton for dialouging with me about the craptastic state of the union. His doubts and incisive criticism of the American Presidency and institutions of government gave rise to this essay.