The dates are getting closer. The date for the election, The date for the 2012 doomsday that will be known afterwards as the 2012 let down. The date for Burning Man (seriously, I will buy a ticket off anyone, please!). And even the date I touch down in LA. Surprisingly this is shaping up to be a year of do-or-die mentalities, where the comfort of time is smashed on the hard slabs of history, much like in any century. Pretty soon people will be staring at two candidates, putting aside all their trash talk about politicians, forced into a sobering moment of clarity, where they must choose the country’s future, along with those parents, who are probably already filling out admission forms for schools for their beautiful toddlers, still unsure if they should send their bundle of joy to public or private school, all the while, possibly on the same day, I’m left standing at a conveyer belt for luggage, the day I arrive, watching my fellow flyers leave with their suitcases, leaving me, one by one, until I am alone, no suitcase, and the conveyer belt suddenly halting, echoing in the airport, quickly followed by a loud “FUCK!” These things are called ‘Decisions’. And once upon a time, the world was full of them.
The biggest decision someone could have made not too long ago wasn’t if they would have a Grande caramel macchiato with soy based creamer, or if they felt like a sci-fi or a comedy that Friday night, or condom on or off, but was rather ‘What will I be? What will I make of myself?’ And I don’t mean that in the “Fame” or “Glee” sort of ‘Reach for the stars’ kind of way of aspiration, but rather a serious question of human development. Once upon a time, you were the person you crafted. And very rarely did the world not shake with the might of such decisions. America is what it is because immigrants, who left their over populated countries for a chance to run a shop, or invest in plantations, America pilgrims, who swept across the vast land, seeing a chance to produce cattle ranches and mine for minerals, and even people who migrated to California due to the Tech-Boom in the 80’s and 90’s, or the major Liberal migration to places like San Francisco in the 60’s resulting in a largely gay accepting atmosphere. These decisions were so prominent and world changing that America soon gained a nick-name on the world stage; “The Land of Opportunity”.
Fast forward to the present, and we’re struck with a sudden case of shyness. A fraction of Americans have a passport. Families have become so stationary in their states (let alone their cities) that claiming residency not just by years, but in terms of generations, is seen as a positive mark of honor. People are attending vague intellectual college courses as if they were sewing circles for old ladies; time consuming, pointless, and trivial justification for when you fall asleep covered in piss, with some high school teenager half-heartedly helping you up before they take a couple of bucks from your pocket.
Beautiful, white picket fence houses that should have sweet innocent children playing out in the garden with new puppies. Sparkling eyed parents watching from the porch. Father smoking his wipe, and wearing his sweater vest. Mother sipping on a porcelain cup of green tea. All of this is left for ruin, halfway built before the money was even asked for, let alone agreed upon. The house once imagined now lays covered with needles and rats. The faint chant of black plastic bags chirp from the hollowed out windows. The kid has no puppy. The father stands in line, looking for work. His mother’s in a hotel room getting money for that day’s lunch. The puppy could only feed so many for so long.
And who will be the savior of these people? Why, it’s the guys who laid them off, of course. The guy who made sure there were no smaller competitive companies to deal with. The Job Creators. The same people who created the automobile, the modern computer, and Wrigley’s chewing gum. Wait… the automobile was invented by a loner in his garage, the modern computer was perfected by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates when they were college drop outs and worked entirely from their parents’ garages, and Mr. Wrigley was a guy selling gum on the side of the road with only a dollar to his name (if only he was selling gum out of his garage too, I would dare say I’m seeing a pattern here). But maybe I’m wrong, maybe there is a pattern. Three separate accounts of people who get up and do. And they’re not alone. Many tycoons today like Murdoch and Trump were just regular guys who had an idea. Mark Zuckerberg saw a niche in social media; not bad for a middle class kid who flunked out of Harvard. Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, Simon Cowell, Joanna Angel, Charlie Chaplain; the list continues. But what is it about these ‘pull-yourself-by-your-boot-straps’ people that differ from their fellow peers, especially those even better off than them and with more resources to succeed? Maybe… and this is just a theory (which I will delightfully explain in a minute), but maybe, we’re possibly living in one of the worst mind sets for individualism the world has ever known.
The most over used expression in the last number of years in relation to the economy has been ‘surprise’. Surprise that the factory they’ve worked at all those years suddenly closed, surprise that taking out loans or using credit cards for a second car was a bad idea, and even surprise that getting a college course in historic studies doesn’t assure a career afterwards. People don’t live with the same sense of exploration or discovery that they used to. People are too used to being told the script to follow. You’re born, you go to school, so you can be prepared to go to high school, which is to prepare you for college, which is to prepare you for a career, which is how you obtain a living, which allows you to get food, shelter, and a mate, so you can reproduce, until you are too old to do so, at which point the instructions start to get a little vague and nonexistent if you’re put into a retirement home. It reads like children’s book doesn’t it? “See John. See John run. See John gain an average yet high enough grade to proceed to the next grade. Run John, Run”. Every step a promise made prematurely that they’ll be something afterwards.
Sir Ken Robinson, the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award winner for his work on education and creativity research, best described the situation we’re in by drawing a parallel between factory and schools; both date their products by their year, both more concerned with shipping their product out as soon as possible, regular work hours during week days, a series of bells for breaks, when to begin and finish work, and separated into different “departments” or subjects. He claims this was based on the interests of industrialism and in its image as well (which makes sense when you consider the fact that the idea of the taxed paid public schools emerged from intellectual enlightenment during the industrial age. He remarks that this layout crushes the potential for “divergent thinking”; the application of creative thought into problem solving to obtain multiple answers instead of just one. In our case, the ability to see a common problem, brainstorm solutions, and act on those best solutions to solve the problem.
It’s almost as if it’s just one big Pavlovian mind fuck. We have alarms and bells for waking us up, telling us when to start work, start a class, call the emergency services, and when to jump up and down because we won the million dollar question on a game-show. There’s an extreme disdain for not having instructions, rules, and regulations, as if life is something that needs to be monitored and reported on, like an asylum inmate or lab rats, viewed from a distance by a godly microscope. And this is terrifying. This idea that not only are people unequipped to deal with sudden random events, but also are fearful of chaos as well, not realizing the growth and potential in every act of kindness or malice, not taking the reins of that moment where you have a gun to your head, turning it into a chance to save the life of the person on the other end with reason and empathy, if not simply punching them in the face and chasing them away, leaving them unaware that their hands are clean because of you. Why don’t we like surprises?
Maybe it has to do with fear? Fear that we’re doing things wrong. That we’re living wrong. That we’re too different from each other. That maybe that great business plan in your head is just for you alone since everyone else will hate it and ridicule it. It’s the old Freudian pathology explanation of Sex & Death, the two primary factors in life. You get good grades because of a fear of dying as a dropout, or you have an office job because of a fear of dying from starvation from a lack of money. Why risk your life to open that small coffee shop you’ve always dreamed about, or tinkering away in your basement on that clever invention of yours. Why risk it? Like I said, there’s a lovely college degree waiting for you, a lovely career and family to come home to. Why not be adequate? No fear in doing just enough. No risk. No one will do just enough better than you.
Why should you do more than just enough? You’re only living aren’t you? And that’s the problem; there is no drive or want for something more. Happiness and memories are natural, but only art, philosophy, science, perfection, and humanism are things that truly need to be worked and struggled for. I’m not saying putting stickers on boxes isn’t meaningful, but be honest, when you go home do you do things, like learn an instrument, write a poem, or even ponder the world… or do you get occupied. Do you sit there waiting for the plate to stop dancing ballet in the microwave? Do you jerk yourself awake and forget why you’re sitting there watching your “favorite” TV show? When you’re in the middle of something, do you not ever think “Why am I not doing something”? Is it because you’re scared, or is it because you’re tired? If you’re scared, let me just ask; of what? Who the fuck gives two flying fucks! Pick up a guitar, be crap at it, smash it. Ask for a loan from a bank, get laughed at, piss outside the door one drunk night. Take a night class, go once, bone one of the other students, and never go again because you’re worried they’ll be there next time. Scared of what? There are rapists, murderers, terrorists, and children in the world, all waiting to kill you, and you’re scared about making an ass out of yourself by trying something. And if you’re not scared, and you’re just tired, what does that say about you if you’re living a life stopping you from truly living.
Another factor in the lack of opportunist spirit in America is… well… because it’s AMERICA! We killed Nazis! We fought the British for democracy! We fought the Japanese for freedom! We killed Bin Laden! We are bad-ass mother-fuckers! America has such a rich and vibrant mythology (there is no way in hell you can argue its history without a great deal of myth telling involved). Especially in the short span of life it has had on the world’s stage, it’s easy to forget these Greek Gods, carved into the very mountains and land of America like Mount Rushmore, or the marble making up the statues of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., and Thomas Jefferson, were once just everyday people, who saw something that needed to be changed and did it. They saw an opportunity. But when these figures are looked at, there is no great detail going into the trial and tribulations they faced, and how they overcame, or any great discussion of their methodology and outlook on life. People are told not to aspire to be like these figures, but rather see them as hyper-sigil archetypes of the embodiment of America, a force that’s not just greater than them, but a force that will have them accused of blasphemy and treason if they were a small child claiming “when I grow up, I’m going be better than George Bush”.
You can already see the effect of this in China, Japan, Ireland, and again in America in regards to the arts. These countries are all rich in artistic culture and growth, but have an amazingly bad habit of teaching generations to emulate and border-line copy previous generations. In China it’s the “Fifth Generation”, the 1980’s avant-garde movement that broke away from convention so much that they are now the new convention. In Japan it’s the over-expressional, highly sexualized, overtly absurd anime and manga styles that is so set in stone that more recent anime and manga “mock” it by being even more over-expressional, more highly sexualized, and more overtly absurd. In Ireland it’s the over indulgence in the country’s literary heritage prior to the 1950’s and it’s self-proclaimed film board. While in America it’s the obsession of genre, category, and box ticking with as much mass-market appeal as possible, even at the cost of the integrity of the actually art form itself. You may think I’m clutching at straws here, but you have to admit that the glorification of American history to a near religious status does create an element of distance and dehumanizes it to the point where it’s something to be looked at but never attempted, like people who have paintings in their house but have never themselves picked up a paint brush.
A driving factor in this is a possibly a strange trend that has sprung about in the past decade or two, that is this nullifying of aspiration, but a heightening awareness for celebrity status and fame. Once, while doing a college project, I was walking around with a noticeable camera (i.e. since I’m so short, you could notice it). Something very strange happened. People literally flung themselves out of my way, many actually covering their faces and remarking they didn’t want to be filmed. Even a friend of mine (who at the time was trying to convince me to join a band with him) refused to be filmed, his voice cracking from slight fear. This is a very common occurrence for many people reading this, I’m sure, but think about that. How many people do you know who remark how famous they’ll be some day, or gush over a celebrity in a magazine, idolizing them, even devaluing their own life compared to this icon of theirs. Again, this is a distancing of the self and the aspiration, the conscious and the abstract, not realizing that the two not only have much in common, but that the aspiration is a by-product of the conscience, and therefore attainable within the confines of the person’s perception; mind over matter.
But unfortunately, the mind is highly susceptible to media. Media isn’t entirely bad, but when an average American sees as much media as they do, with the large bulk of it being very passive aggressive to what the viewer is “lacking”, they can’t help but go about their day, carefree and maybe even happy, not realizing they are closet case psychological anorexics. We have “followers” and “subscribers” and “viewers” on our Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube accounts. We have Macs to prove how intellectual and creative we all are. We have shows about being turned into stars, despite the parading around of the petty lie that true musicians, models, actors, and the like have a simple career journey that can be captured in 13 half an hour long episodes on a weekly bases. It’s like being sedated willingly, as if the high is worth the price of never making those dreams come true. Skeptics mock the “you can do anything you set your mind to” mentality, which is understandable. But at least it’s not as bad as fantasizing about the life you could have.
“Fear and Loathing in Gonzovision”, a 1978 BBC documentary on the creator and archetype of Gonzo journalism, Hunter S. Thompson, had a short quip near the end in contrast to a paraphrasing of Thomas Jefferson remarks about American Opportunistic Instinct;
“America could have been a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race. Instead, we just moved in here and destroyed the place from coast to coast like killer snails. Everyone wants power over a country that has had its day. I think we’re finished.”
Well I don’t. And neither does a young Nigerian woman walking around New York city right now, saving up money to start her own bakery, or the Mexican student doing night shifts at a 7/11 to pay for a night course in hospitality management, or any of the thousands of opportunists leaving their homes, their families, their friends, for a better life. Maybe in Australia. Maybe in Canada. But not one of us can deny the light on the horizon that still is America. The only sad news is, those that don’t welcome this movement, will be quickly swept away. Can you truly say “Immigrants are taking our jobs” when they are the ones creating the jobs, putting in the sweat and tears that keeps your fat fucking lazy ass watching Simon fucking Cowell get paid millions so you can laugh while slowly choking on your “Big Slurp” coke drinks dripping down your slobbering chins and into your Ritalin stuffed afterbirth you call a child? I still believe that many Americans are hardworking people, ready to take charge and lead. But I have no respect for people who are their own biggest problem. People who whine and moan and complain and take from society, while claiming their social security money is somehow their own and they don’t want to pay taxes, despite the short sighted blurred diabetes induced vision that stops you from seeing taxes paying for roads, police departments, parks, and SUR-FUCKING-PRISE, tax incentives for start-up businesses that we need for jobs and the economy.
…Looking forward to coming to America.
Conor Matthews can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and at Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/conorelmo. He’s also the author of other articles posted at DDA, such as: Who framed Capitalism? and Should homosexuality be a choice? and The dumbing down of smarting up