Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Problem With Life in the 21st Century

In a nutshell, the problem with life in the 21st Century is that many people aren’t living in it, we’re living in a vacuum or denial, but we’re not here in the now. Others are totally living in the now – but with no sense of history, even of the recent past. The combination of folks who can’t cope with the present and those who won’t cope with the past doesn’t bode well for the future – politically, economically, socially, personally, collectively – pick whatever context you like; we’re screwed.

Let’s start with politics. The Republicans and Conservatives are among those living in denial; they will not recognize that the present is not the past and that the future is in peril. Accordingly, they’re pursuing their old-school agenda of no taxes, slash spending, protect the rich and fuck the poor. They’ve allowed themselves to be completely co-opted by the right-wing-extremist fringe of their party, thereby aligning themselves with ignorance, hate, rejection of science and common sense, and engaging in more than a little misogyny, racism, homophobia and xenophobia, none of which have a place in the present or the future. They’re behaving as if we’re still living in the “greed is good” 1980s, and that they can continue the Reagan schema as if nothing’s changed. This is not smart. It’s stupid and dangerous and, ironically, the attitudes that will rob them of the things they hold most dear (power and money) much sooner than later.

For their part, the Democrats are hardly living, barely breathing. They won’t behave like Democrats in the traditional, progressive sense of the word, because they’re riddled with fear, confusion and self-service. The Republicans are dangerous, but they’re united in the crap they believe in. The Democrats don’t seem to believe in anything, except telling the American People that our best days are still ahead of us – which is patently false. The 20th Century was the American Century. What the 21st Century will be is still to be determined. But nobody – including the Democrats – is willing to recognize that we as a nation need a whole new perspective because our demographics, economy, environment, available resources, and the global power structure, have changed. This is not smart. It reveals an extraordinary lack of imagination, vision and flexibility, which will endanger us all, much sooner than later.

Politics aside, our society – and that of the other developed nations – has allowed technology to replace humanity in too many quarters – including jobs; remember when, in the 60s, workers feared automation? This is it! Forget for a minute that I’m personally a Luddite. I recognize that much of the information and communication technology that has come to define our lives is in many ways useful, whether I personally like it or not. However, since I’m not entranced by it, it’s easier for me to recognize that we’re paying a very high price for these new powers. We’re degrading language. We’re ceasing to have intimate, in-person human contact. We’re damaging our brains in unknown ways (besides the threat of cancer, we are destroying our attention spans and our sensitivity to real-life experience). And because we’re constantly in overload while moving at top speed, we’re overwhelmed by the serious issues that define our time.

As a result, we’ve become preoccupied with minor things – things we think we can change, or that distract us – because the major things that we feel we can’t change are terribly daunting. We can’t think about global political upheaval, the prospect of international financial collapse, shortages of water and energy, overpopulation, human rights, civil rights, the urgent need for campaign reform, dilapidated infrastructure, the horrific state of education at every level, the crippled state of health care at every level, inflated food prices and food shortages, the rise of possible new plagues and the lack of solutions for existing ones, the new nature of war and terrorism, homelessness, hunger, predatory banks & foreclosures, veterans in need, children in need, the death of print, the dangers of cyber-terrorism, blah, blah, blah.

So, instead, we worry about obesity and smoking and whether or not we should be vegetarian and if our age lines are showing. And we amuse ourselves into a stupor with reality TV and celebrity gossip and entertainment that gives new meaning to the words banal and mediocre. However, just as our government can’t afford to be oblivious to change and big issues and the need for right action, we cannot betray the responsibilities of citizenship, as well as being righteous human beings: good people, people with real values, not the Norman Rockwell nostalgic shit that some people define as values. But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, we’re as polarized as our politicians and quite judgmental and uncaring of others. This is the problem with life in the 21st Century.

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