Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The dispelling of the American Dream
The new world reality is asserting itself. Look around. Gas prices going through the roof, massive floods along the Mississippi river destroying millions of acres of grain, local businesses suddenly boarding up. The American dream of a secure, wealthy existence, secluded from the troubles of the world, is toast. Kaput. Over and done.
Yet another indication of the looming end of the old paradigm came yesterday, when a press release announced that my employer is the target of a hostile takeover attempt by a leading competitor. The initial bid was rejected, but the issue remains in doubt and will be resolved in the coming months.
Whenever something like this happens, of course, people start to worry about the prospect of discontinued employment. It was pitiful to listen to some of the panicky whispers that breezed through the hallways as worried employees speculated about the future of their jobs. Many of these people have been employed at this company for 10, 15, 20, or 25 years. And, although they might protest otherwise, their identities, their measures of self-worth, their security, and their lifestyles are inextricably tied to their employer. Suddenly, all those obscene, gas-guzzling SUVs and extravagant resort vacations, all those massive pseudo-manses built on the graves of harvested Douglas fir trees, all those material goods bought on credit, all are at risk.
There is a certain smug satisfaction, a smidgen of schadenfreude, that I experience when I listen to the whining of certain among my coworkers who, only a few years previous, were touting the "genius of capitalism" and the unerring justice of Adam Smith's invisible hand. Now, these same people are hoping and praying that Federal anti-trust regulations will help stave off the acquisition attempt. I suppose for these people, laissez-faire is great so long as they're on the handle end of the economic ax.
The connection between this event and the larger global economic picture is not, perhaps, readily apparent. But among people right here at my place of employment, the dawning realization that their insulated lifestyles are coming to an end marks a turning point.
The sooner one realizes that the old life of live-for-today consumption is over, the more likely one is to minimize the agony that one experiences in the current transition. But, like it or not, the transition is underway. No one can know what the world will look like in 10 years, but there is no evidence or reason to believe that the compounded and continuing catastrophes humanity is currently enduring are merely symptoms of a short-term crisis. There can be no return to the "good ol' days."
The world our children inherit from us will be very different from the world into which we were born. That is not to say that it won't be a better world. If we can collectively act, if we can forge a new civic consciousness that prioritizes social responsibility, that emphasizes our common humanity, that recognizes the need for economic justice, we can come through this alright. Not just alright, we can come out of it better.