As Americans, we suffer from a vast disillusionment with our nation and ourselves. We still adhere, through appearance and hearsay, to ideals and mental strictures that we have lost faith in, yet won’t admit it to ourselves or each other, whether through fear or through clinging to these lost fragments like a drowning ship passenger to a piece of wood siding. We look back at the countercultural backlashes of the 60s as if they were mere adolescent throes of desire and drug use. The 50s still lives on, ironically, in simulacrum, in our repressive mentalities and jaded TV shows. Racism still thrives everywhere, although so cunning and interwoven that it no longer is simply black and white, but whiteblack and blackblack, cultural and psychological. The American Dream that never really existed now quietly plans for its retirement, with investment portfolios and hopeful bets hedged in to an economy whose tenuous reality folds in continuously, although we keep forgetting, so busy in speculating on stillborn futures. As if the monopoly game of real estate would simply keep expanding into some endless horizon, into the invisible properties of Atlantis. As if roads can simply keep on being built, widened, overpassed. As if nothing would ever run out. As if lakes would never run dry. As if Manifest Destiny continues on into outer space.
We all know that the fantasy is over. That the United States can no longer even remotely pretend to be a representative of freedom and democracy. That building bigger and higher tech weaponry does not promote peace. That police and military only protect the interests of those with money. That privatizing public health, or public anything, does not produce savings for the consumer. That the rich getting richer does not eventually pull up hard working folks from poverty.
And yet we find ourselves unable to say these things in everyday discourse without confronting some kind of religious zeal of denial. There are people out there, and they are a majority, who will quite happily go down with the ship, taking their lawns and SUVs along with them. Forget the children, they say. Forget the future. Let them fend for themselves while supporting us as we grow old and are kept alive by drugs in hospitals.
Is it simply that we Americans, as a culture and a nation, have become so enamored of our exported ideals, so regimented by our supermarket pitches of complacency and freedom of purchase, so wrapped up in the structures that are sucking our souls dry, that we are unable to step free of its wreckage? That we are so guilty, so intimately involved in what we know at some level to be false, that we are nearly incapable of the psychological ability to look at ourselves in full honesty?
It is depressing though, people. It’s depressing because the prisons are still getting built and overfilled daily with men whose only crime was to not fit the profile of what we think we are. Because weapons are still getting made and shipped overseas and sold to the highest bidder. Because our waste stream is still a direct, flooding line straight to the sea. Because even all this talk of global warming only has us talking about how to find new sources of energy we can waste, rather than reexamining our very lifestyles, our very economic systems, our very outlook upon life.
It is this reexamination we need. Openly, critically, honestly, and as publicly as possible. Democracy can be recreated. Capitalism can be reinvented. The United States can be something other than a representative of false hope and denied dreams. But as long as we keep holding onto our fallen images, then nothing will change, and we will continue to be the bitches of advertising campaigns hinged on our complacency and political campaigns dependent on our lethargy.