Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ids and Dust

Every generation thinks something essential has been lost from the previous. And, indeed, it always has been. Progress is destructive. Even shifting status quo is destructive. Time itself, really, is destructive.

What's destroyed is usually cultural, though. Languages die, bits of knowledge are lost, nobody appreciates a swinging rhythm section anymore ever since those four British kids with the funny haircuts started selling all them records. Styles change, but the essential qualities of human nature never vary.

Or do they? I've been watching Ken Burns' The Dustbowl (currently on PBS, and great), which included this quote from an Oklahoma resident at the height of the catastrophe:
"We are trying to hope that the worst is over, Yet today, after we thought the drought had been effectively broken, we had another terrible day of violent wind, drifting clouds of dust, and russian thistles racing like mad across the plains and piling up in head-high impassible banks. We feel as if the administration is really making a sincere effort to improve general conditions, but they have a tremendous task."
That strikes me as a communication received from another galaxy. I recall widespread bitter outrage at the government's failure to foresee and prevent a few guys from hijacking airplanes with box cutters. I see Hurricane Sandy victims who ignored evacuation orders venting righteous fury at the government for its lagging efforts to rescue them. I see a nation of pure, raging, childish id.

Iddy Americans demand omniscient omnipresence from their government, while demanding lower taxes. We didn't pass Obama's jobs bill - composed almost entirely of Republican proposals - and while unemployment has improved nonetheless, we scream bloody hell about how he - personally! - hasn't improved the situation fast enough. It comes down to this: where's my damned job?

We want, and we want right now, and extenuating circumstances are just not our problem. Romney was right about "takers", but he was wrong about that 47% figure. It's closer to 100%. And the fact that he himself apparently paid no tax at all for years, yet muttered about freeloaders who pay no taxes, is just the perfect icing on my argument.

Hypocrisy is the effect, not the cause. What's happening is the extreme endgame of unbridled, imperious, screaming/grabbing id. And it wasn't always thus. The more I think about it, the more it stupefies me: Starving Oklahoma farmers, walking around with heads wrapped in wet cloths, their babies dying, the dust up to their barn roofs, their crops and livestock dead, acknowledging that the government's doing its best, but, hey, this is a really tough problem. Can you imagine such a reasonable statement being made - even in situations far less dire - in this century?


Seth Godin said...

I fear, Jeff, that you're forgetting about the role of the media here. Amplified thoughts aren't necessarily mass thoughts.

The media is now on the lookout for Id. It makes for better ratings.

Happy thanksgiving!

Jim Leff said...

Yeah, Seth, it goes without saying that the media amplifies this. But I don't think they created the trend, in this case. I think affluence did.

America has grown tremendously affluent, and imperiousness always accompanies affluence. I've even seen that in myself.

One year AFTER I sold Chowhound, I moved into a tiny fourth floor walk-up (there were reasons, surreal and bitter, but it's a long story). I found I couldn't fit all my furniture in the apartment. I had to leave a couch and a chair on the sidewalk.

I was beside myself (the whole situation was fraught and stressful....again, it's a long story). I kept staring at the couch and the chair sitting so discordantly that sidewalk, and what I felt wasn't so much helplessness but a sort of offended outrage. This couldn't be happening to ME. I'M not someone who should ever be in this situation!

I swear to you, Seth, I very nearly took out my wallet and started offering handfuls of twenties to passersby to friggin' FIX this untenable situation. Make it go away! This ISN'T happening! Where's the helicopter? (strangers walked away with both pieces that night, of course).

I never once had even a twinge of that sort of reaction back in my starving trombonist days And I'm still the furthest thing from an entitled blowhard. But, still. My id's undeniably far closer to the surface since I had some money in the bank.


Jim Leff said...

To anticipate the question of why I didn't just put the stuff into storage somewhere, my movers had to go to another job. They could have returned the next day, but I knew my stuff would be gone by then (it was a sketchy neighborhood).

I could have tried to hire new movers on an hours notice, and wrangle up storage, but the cost of all that would have exceeded the value of the furniture. Plus it was one of the busiest weeks of my life. There was no time.

The only thing to do was leave the stuff on the sidewalk. It didn't compute, and, again, I just felt....huffy. Very unfamiliar feeling. Didn't like myself much.

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