The following entry was written while staying at the Backpackers' Hostel in Bozeman. I was able to have some quiet time to sit, read, and reflect after my Badlands experiences. The reflection that follows is just one example of thoughts surging into a collected, cohesive set of thoughts that I felt compelled to jot down. I wrote the wave of thoughts and the moment they began to slow/recede, I stopped writing. I wanted to leave these intact so as to stimulate thought later on (for myself and others) instead of turning into some kind of lengthy essay or argument. Starbursts of thought for you (&me) to chew on. I encourage you to leave a comment of your own!
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We are living in a time that is showing the decline of the American empire. The industrial-military complex machine is bursting at its seams from overreaching its influence and resources across the globe. The blind faith in a rational system that depends on irrational human beings to make it run has proven to be disastrous and the resulting economic climate has punctured holes in the consumerism culture's ego balloon. Americans are finding themselves feeling more vulnerable than ever. The slow motion collapse occurring before us of the social, political, and economic structures is leading us to a final, difficult realization about ourselves more devastating than the collapse itself: Our country is morally and spiritually bankrupt (the aptly ironic term to use here).
We are living in a time in which Americans feel they can no longer rely on the social institutions for the means and meaning of their lives. Where do they turn now? These institutions and structures have been inextricably tied to the core of what it means to American. The American Dream has come to be an embodiment of consumerism and economic upward mobility. Americans have been told since their birth and their parents' births, that this Dream was for all to attain, if only they worked hard enough for it. For many, this was always enough to make a life out of, or at least the struggle to do so. While the impoverished have been too close to the truth to completely buy into this and have continued to rely heavily on their spirituality and family for meaning in day to day life, the middle class has for all intents and purposes come to more heavily rely on the principles of the American Dream for grounding their existence and governing meaning in day to day lives. Americans are being forced to confront the deep-seated anxieties that characterize human existence. It will be interesting to exist in these times, experience them myself, as well as witness the reactions of others. This country is in the midst of significant, permanent changes (regardless of any politician or economist telling you otherwise). Yes, the "markets" may bounce back eventually, but there will be humanistic effects to all of this and our culture will be shaped by this period.
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Added on 10/18
"I think we've had it very easy materially for a long time and we've gotten very little help in understanding things that are important besides being comfortable. And I don't think anybody knows how we will react if things get really hard here. And the fact that we're strong militarily and economically is a good thing, but it's also a frightening thing." David Foster Wallace, 2003 shown in interview here
We have grown into a culture of consumerism basing value solely on comfort and expediency of desires being met. We neglected cultivating humanistic values and constructing our own meaningful lives in exchange for a ready made paradigm loosely known as the "American Dream". This illusive concept drove people for decades in the quest for a better job, better possessions, and better social status marked by materialistic wealth. But the illusion of the American Dream and the false notion of "upward mobility" were all predicated on a growing economy, low unemployment, a contented middle class. If these things fail, the illusion will be exposed and the people will see that "the emperor has no clothes".
That is where we are now...the current economic, social, and political climate is demonstrative of people not knowing what to do or how to act in the face of existential terror brought about by the crumbling of our institutions. It's because they don't know themselves. The self-image and identity is based on the social institutions! The American is going through an existential identity crisis.
Who am I if I am not my career/job? What is in store for me if my carefully planned future (RETIREMENT) is now in jeopardy or no longer even there? What happened to the life I carefully built and what will I do if it collapses? What happened to this country and what will I do if it collapses? What does my life mean now?
I suspect these are just a few of the startling questions many people are consciously or unconsciously asking themselves. The insinuated point Wallace was making, and one I have continued to espouse, is that these are questions the American people (and all humans) should have been asking themselves all along.