Monday, December 20, 2010

dreams of the present

In high school I took a Civics class that started each morning with a round of current events. The intention was to get the students in the class pay more attention to the news and to share what they were learning at the beginning of class each day. At the time however I was too terrified to participate because of the special relationship I had with my alarm clock. It was an ordinary sort of alarm clock, the kind that obediently woke me up each morning in time to get ready for school but before I really wanted to get up. It would perform its service daily by switching on a local radio station at the time I had designated. The particular station to which the alarm clock was tuned played primarily classic rock but offered news at the top of the hour right at about the time my alarm would begin to beep. The result was that most mornings I woke up to the voice of an announcer describing the news of the day.

The trouble with this situation was that I was often still dreaming and my fantasies there in tended to blend with the news producing fanciful reports. I would find myself in Civics class fairly certain that dragons had indeed not participated in the original Gulf War invasion despite my remembrance. I was afraid to raise my hand though and offer any of the other items I knew/thought to be part of the day’s news sure that what I might offer would be a mix of dreams and reality based on my early morning hours of radio-enhanced dreaming.

Now it's happening again.

I don't wake up to the radio any more. I set an alarm that beeps but I have had trouble sleeping lately. I’ve been waking up regularly, at least for brief periods each night, between the hours of 2 and 4am. It is during these early morning hours- either as I wake up or as I try to get back to sleep- that my dreams have again tended to mix with reality. I arrive at work in the morning, not considering the use of dragons in US military strategy, but slightly unable to remember just whether or not the state of the world is as I remember it, my thoughts on the future mixing with current events of the present.

This time though my confusion is magnified because of the reality we’re experiencing. Times are just weird.

I have recently read several essays decrying the US as a third world nation or at least well on our way to that destination, which probably sounds utterly ridiculous to anyone who has a well-paying job and lives within the gates of a suburban neighborhood. A quick trip to Wal-Mart however ( will strengthen the argument. I'm not so much picking on people who live in third world countries as I am criticizing the fact that an alarming number of Americans now shop at Wal-Mart in their pajamas. That’s right, it’s increasingly difficult for many US citizens to even bother with the task of getting dressed before going out in public.
Television offers more proof of the decline of our culture.

The popularity of “Reality Television” is just creepy. Instead of watching fictional dramas play out on the TV screen Americans now watch real people doing real things; as if they themselves are too tired or out of shape or too dull to do anything real themselves. Plus doing so would require getting dressed. As a citizenry we have become unreal, not actually interacting with world but simply observing it.

This detachment plays out on a range of other screens as well where real human beings “interact” with other human beings by poking them on Facebook or texting them with their phones. This isn’t real interaction of course but some sort of cheap substitute for a sit down conversation which is increasingly impossible because of how busy we are racing around from one place to another; usually by ourselves, often in our cars.

So to recap, here in America we currently spend a lot of time physically alone in our cars, our offices or our homes, sending each other transcribed messages or watching other people actually do stuff on TV and when we do bother to go out and buy shit from China- shit we don’t even bother to make for ourselves anymore- we wear our jammies. It is happening again. Reality is mixing with my perception of reality and the result is an untrustworthy perception of what is really going on.

Joe Bageant calls it the hologram, the current state of the United States as perceived by most of its citizens. For me there is currently a huge disconnect between what the media talks about and the actual reality of our situation. I am having a difficult time talking with others about current events. Isn’t it obvious I tell myself? Resource depletion, energy descent and the financial implosion of growth-based capitalism means its increasing difficulty to sustain our current lifestyle. Are other people in fact visiting the real world places and seeing and smelling the situation I can sense? Are they concerned about out future? Or are they living in an alternate reality as seen on TV where everything is and will be fine? Just a little turbulence here, nothing structurally wrong. It's as if there are two United States, one described by people in positions of authority- experienced by those who continue to believe them- and the real one lived in by the rest of us facing a frightening future.

And I know all this academically but now these two realities are commingling in my brain in the early hours of the morning and the result is that I’m not quite sure “where we’re at” to borrow an expression used regularly in my region. I know we’re facing the decline of our empire. I can read it in the facts of our situation, I can see it in the tattoos of our times and I can feel it like a cold wind blowing in a winter storm. But I also experience the faux reality- the white bread and paper circus of our time. It’s a cheap substitute for the richness of culture in which people care about things; about other people, about the way they treat themselves and the way they take care to perform tasks in a thoughtful manner.

There is no going back though. Perhaps as the facade of prosperity falls away, more attention will be paid to those aspects that make up a society worth living in. Maybe over time we will be transformed into a people who care; or maybe at least pockets of such a mindset will develop. I guess some of them already have. But as the artifice is revealed, for those fully engaged in the fiction of prosperity it will become increasingly hard to hold fast to their sanity. That aspect of our situation is likely to only get stranger, making the disconnect between what we’re facing and what we’re told even greater.



Leon said...

When thoughts like these bring me down, this quote tends to help: "Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book." — Marcus Tullius Cicero. Kinda puts things in a perspective, doesn't it? :)

Seriously though, like any eco-system, our society is governed by the laws similar to laws of evolution and succession and, if I may borrow an analogy form the field succession theory, IMHO we're entering the established forest stage by now. So what you observe (reduced productivity, diversity and resilience of the system) is pretty normal and to be expected.

Would I rather see one the earlier, more dynamic and productive stages? Probably (although I'm sure there were many problems there as well). Can a part of an eco-system choose which stage the system around it is in? Absolutely not, the only thing it can do is to do the best under the existing conditions. And to remember that the sum of actions of all parts is what determines speed and direction, in which the system develops :)

P.S. Don't think I ever posted here before but I've been a reader for many years. Thanks much for your blog - lots of information and insight.

The Original Wombman said...

Perhaps as the facade of prosperity falls away, more attention will be paid to those aspects that make up a society worth living in.

This is my sincere hope as well. I feel exactly like you do in this post. I sometimes wonder if I'm the one who's not seeing quite right.