Friday, June 26, 2015

My Job Made Me Racist

There's a common assumption in our culture that immigration is always good. It is usually cast in a flattering light in the mainstream media and generally regarded as a boon to the economy as well as the culture. While I'd say the cultural effects of immigration are largely beneficial, the economic effects are often damaging. The problem is, in order to address these issues, one must first confront taboos central to our society.

In its currently popular neo-liberal Capitalist conception, the economy is believed to have the potential for infinite growth. The only obstacle to economic expansion is government regulation, according to this view. Ergo, immigration should have no effect on employment or wages, since the economy can always expand to provide everyone with good-paying jobs. Unfortunately, this belief no longer conforms with reality.

In reality, the U.S. economy has been shrinking for about a decade, and the discretionary income of most Americans has been in decline for four decades. Since the 70's, economic growth has been slowing. But government regulation has been almost completely captured by Big Business. The reason for our economic malaise is the depletion of natural resources, fossil fuels foremost among them.

This is an extremely difficult idea for most Westerners to wrap their head around. We've been trained to believe that Science and Technology can overcome any physical limits. But this is a fossil-fueled delusion. Coal, oil and natural gas provided us with a bonanza of energy that allowed us to think we had conquered Nature.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the U.S. economy grew by leaps and bounds, providing enough labor and wealth to keep Americans and the millions of immigrants pouring into the country each year employed and well-paid. This spectacular growth was subsidized by our prodigious deposits of hydrocarbons. Our technologies merely harnessed this one-time jackpot.

But, as fossil fuel reserves have dwindled, the price of those fuels has skyrocketed, and the pace of economic growth has slowed and, now, reversed. As a result, population growth and immigration are dividing a shrinking pie into smaller and smaller pieces. We of the middle and working classes are left to fight over scraps while the rich (thanks to government bailouts) get richer.

This has led many Americans to lash out against immigrants, demonizing the ethnic groups most closely associated with immigration. I fell victim to this impulse at my last corporate job. My employer brought in dozens (maybe hundreds) of people from India to work at their headquarters in downtown Minneapolis. I even shared a cubicle with an Indian guy. He was really nice, which was a good thing, because if he hadn't been I might've borne a monstrous grudge against him.

Even with our congenial daily interactions, I often resented the Indians' presence. The jobs they were doing were jobs that millions of unemployed Americans could've easily and happily done.

So why did the company contract with a foreign (presumably, Indian) company to bring in people from halfway across the world to perform tasks that hundreds, if not thousands of people in the Twin Cities could've done just as well? Because the employer can pay the Indians much less than they could pay Americans and treat them a lot worse. The Indians looked so happy to be there that I'm sure they would've put up with almost anything to keep those jobs and stay in the U.S.

Early on, my Indian cube-mate was regularly berated by his American boss. It wasn't vicious, but it's not something that the American employees would've tolerated. In fact, the two Americans in the cube across the aisle from us were bothered by his treatment. They mentioned bringing it up with their boss, and they may have, because his supervisor lightened up thereafter.

My cube-mate told me that he lived with the other Indian workers in a complex of apartment buildings in a nearby suburb. The accommodations sounded somewhat austere, but that's just conjecture (like most of this essay). His wife, child and mother eventually joined him, and his wife gave birth to a second child. He seemed quite happy, but even the life of an overworked, underpaid corporate drone in the U.S. must've been a big improvement over his life back home.

He was seeking U.S. citizenship, and I didn't begrudge him that, but I still resent the company's decision to bring in workers from abroad to do jobs for which there are, literally, millions of qualified, unemployed Americans. That's just greed, pure and simple, and it's not benefiting anyone but the company's executives (and, apparently, the Indians). The Americans who, in a previous era, would've done those jobs are either unemployed or working worse jobs for less money.

Sadly, raising any objections to immigration is a sure way to invite opprobrium from academia and the mainstream. South Park has featured stereotypically stupid redneck characters who insist with vehemence that immigrants are "takin' our jobs," their charge becoming angrier, louder and less coherent with each repetition. This is the main counter-argument, that any opposition to immigration must arise from xenophobia, racism and bigotry.

That's a difficult stumbling-block to overcome. It effectively ends any attempt at debate. Accusing Americans of racism is a sure way to piss us off. The discussions that follow such an accusation rarely rise above the level of name-calling.

The truth is that, so far, it's been easy for the middle class to dismiss the working class's objections to immigration on the grounds that "they're takin' our jobs." That's because the immigrants were only taking blue-collar jobs before. Now they're taking white-collar jobs, and I doubt the middle class will find as much humor in the rednecks' status anxiety as South Park did.

So what's the answer? Send all the immigrants home? No, but I would eliminate the economic policies that make job-offshoring and worker-importation attractive to American companies. How about withholding public subsidies for corporations that engage in these practices? We could actively penalize those firms, but, given our likely resource-constrained future, I favor a conservative approach.

There are many trade policies that could be altered or repealed to level the labor playing field. For instance, we could demand that corporations importing products to the U.S. meet the same labor and environmental standards to which we hold corporations operating within our borders. That would repatriate millions of jobs overnight.

These are the same policies that have impoverished the Third World, shipping their wealth to the First World for our enjoyment. It's only now that many of us formerly affluent Westerners are being adversely affected by those policies. By hiding the rationale behind "free trade" deals, the elite has mostly succeeded in pitting workers from different countries against each other.

But we workers are all on the same team. To paraphrase Marx, we need to unite and reform the system that has indentured us. I say "reform" in the hope that there's still time to save the system. Things may seem bad now, but a true revolution usually makes things much worse.* For historical examples, see the French and Russian Revolutions.

(*I don't consider the American Revolution a true revolution. I'd call it an evolution.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015


I think my true education began when my formal education ended. Ever since then it seems like I've been unlearning, peeling off the layers of prejudice, conventional wisdom and preconceptions draped over me by my upbringing, school and the mass media that fill the void where our culture used to be. I often feel I would've been better off left to my own devices and the common sense God (or the Universe) gave me.

I can't escape the feeling of having been duped. I jumped through all the academic hoops and was slotted into a corporate dead end. Success in school is predicated on uncritically accepting the views of your teachers. I integrated their opinions into my paradigm with little revision or examination. I usually took their words at face value. Their beliefs and the curriculum were nearly gospel to me. I'd been raised, consciously or not, to believe in the infallibility of the public school curriculum.

Questions didn't arise until I had my bachelor's degree, and, after 5 years of working as a corporate clerk, I still couldn't get the rewarding job I'd been led to believe was waiting at the end of the academic rainbow.

So much education is directed toward overturning common sense in the interest of the oligarchy. As our common culture has faded, this propaganda has become more effective. The middle class is thoroughly brainwashed, having forgotten our working-class roots and the struggle against the elite that was required for us to become bourgeois.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Life as a Statistic

I've always thought of myself as a very smart, capable person with all the advantages that growing up upper-middle-class confers. The idea that I could fall through the cracks and become an economic statistic was anathema. I was the master of my fate, the captain of my soul and all that. Those of lesser abilities and means might become casualties of the economy, but not I.

When I graduated from college and found only clerical temp jobs to pay the bills, I blamed myself. The pain of that failure was so strong that I repressed it. This delayed my recognition of the external forces that contributed greatly to my situation. Instead of dealing with the pain, I kept blaming myself, consciously and unconsciously, and ignoring the economic and social factors involved.

It may seem easy to blame the System for one's failures, but I actually found it quite difficult to lay my failures at its feet. Blaming my parents and other individuals was easy; I could easily link them to their actions. The Establishment, however, is a specter lurking in the shadows. It guides the actions of billions with invisible strings.

There's also the problem of free will and the significant amount of freedom we still enjoy in these United States. No one held a gun to my head and forced me to go to an expensive liberal-arts college, major in English and work in the corporate world. But I was funneled into that path, and choosing a different path would've required a rare combination of intelligence, confidence and independence.

When I graduated from high school, there was nothing stopping me from moving to a commune and living in harmony with all God's creatures... except nearly all the messages I'd imbibed from television, movies and other media for hours a day since I was little, not to mention the far-more-tangible reinforcement of those messages by my family, peers, teachers, neighbors and society in general.

I could've chosen the road less traveled, but such a choice requires nearly superhuman will and self-reliance. We downplay our reliance on community, but we remain at least as reliant on it as our ancestors. The idea of relocating to a commune in the country is still pretty terrifying for me, and I think I know why: Because it's basically the opposite of the life I've been programmed for.

I was raised to "follow my dreams," specifically, the American Dream of material wealth and a sedentary job that would allow me to realize my "full potential," i.e. working as a high-level bureaucrat. Manual labor should be reserved for physical fitness, home improvement or yardwork; as a career, it's a dead end. Expensive possessions are markers of professional success, and, as everyone knows, professional success equals happiness.

Only now, as I try to break out of that rut, do I recognize the power of its spell. I came to rely on the American Dream emotionally the way I used to rely on my parents, until the adolescent trauma of middle school broke our bond. With our relationship on the mend, the demons that haunted my fantasies of escape from the mainstream are fading. I no longer need to stay in the mainstream to maintain my sense of self-worth.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my vulnerability to social and economic forces.  That's a depressing thought and not at all flattering. We middle-class Americans like to think of ourselves as rugged individualists, islands that may be buffeted by hurricanes but will never be moved or altered by them.

We live in the post-historical period, according to Francis Fukuyama, when the individual, esp. the American or First-Worlder, has been liberated from the shackles of external forces like tradition, economic restrictions or social taboos. Technology has freed us from the vicissitudes of history, the plagues, famines and droughts that complicated our ancestors' lives. Communism has been vanquished, and there remain only Terrorists, barbaric dead-enders whose inhumanity frees us from the laws of conventional warfare.

But, really, we're more vulnerable to external forces than ever before. Capitalism has dissolved many of the social bonds that gave us the resilience to resist (mainly, economic) pressures originating outside our families, neighborhoods, cities, regions or even countries. Families, unions, churches, fraternal organizations and other local institutions had the power to shield us from the worst predations of the Market and Government.

Faith in the power of the individual has encouraged us to go it alone and abandon any group that doesn't meet our exacting standards of wish-fulfillment. Individuals like Rosa Parks are rightly exalted for their courage, but the groups that gave them the strength to stand up to the System are left out of the history books. Every successful social justice movement has required massive organization, cooperation and coordination.

Society tells us that, if we're strong, self-reliant individuals, we don't need other people. We can make our dreams come true all by ourselves. Other people may be statistics, subject to forces beyond their control, but I'm too smart and strong to use those excuses.

The truth is nobody makes it alone, and we need other people to give our dreams meaning. What would be the point of making it on your own? With whom would you share your success? What joy would your success bring you if you had no one to share it with?

Rather than buy the Capitalist propaganda about the supremacy of the individual, we need to see how this spiel has been used to weaken community and leave us vulnerable to the machinations of the elite. Only re-knitting community will give us the strength to preserve our value as human beings.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Duel of the Death Cults

(Author’s Note: I’m trying to integrate more of my sense of humor into the blog, so this essay may sound more like James Howard Kunstler than John Michael Greer.)

ISIS (or “ISIL” or “The So-Called Islamic State” or “The Pseudo-Islamic Terrorist Jamboree”) is the answer to the Military-Industrial Complex’s prayers. They even come with their own scary name that makes them sound like an evil organization bent on world domination in the James Bond-iverse. (Maybe they got the idea from Archer.) 

How could anyone be opposed to bombing a group that beheads aid workers and indiscriminately slaughters women and children? They’re clearly beyond reason. Diplomacy loses the little viability the U.S. government is still willing to give it, leaving the military option as the only one left on the table. When you have the world’s biggest hammer, how could you pass up a nail as big and juicy as this one?

By now, it should come as no surprise that each new U.S. military intervention in the Middle East spawns an even more diabolical, fiendish, Hitler-y group than the last. Since at least World War 2, we’ve provided extremely generous support for their cartoonishly evil dictators and, when those get overthrown or disobedient, military interventions that have an irritating habit of killing millions of the people we’re supposed to be liberating. When the only options you give Arabs are tyranny or death, is it any wonder they keep producing death cults? 

And it’s not like we’ve been setting a great example for these “barbaric,” “backwards” people who are supposed to be stuck in the 12th century. Our foreign policy has hardly been a paragon of virtue where they’re concerned. Despite our best intentions, we keep killing a lot of the people we’re trying to save. Of course, we’re using military means to achieve peace and justice, an approach with a terrible track record. You’d think that, if we really wanted to bestow our gifts of Democracy and Capitalism on this poor, benighted region, we’d try something else.

It’s almost like we don’t care about these people. It’s almost like we just wanna get their oil and use it to keep ruling the world. But that can’t be true! We’ve all heard our leaders explain their desire for freedom for all of God’s creatures. Maybe a few million people have gotten hurt by our attempts to help them, but that’s to be expected when our enemies are cowardly enough to disguise themselves as civilians. When the other side won’t fight fair, what choice do we have? 

If our leaders bothered to crack a history book from outside the approved canon, they might discover that American violence has the same properties as most other brands of violence. That is, it has the tendency to beget more violence. The military is only suited to reproduce itself, like some geopolitical Easter Bunny, sowing the seeds of terrorism with each bomb, airstrike and boot on the ground. They crave enemies and need to keep creating progressively more monstrous “terrorists” to justify their titanic (connotation intended) budget and the continuing support of the American public.

They also need this domestic support for intervention because their Middle Eastern clients aren’t as enthused about U.S. “assistance” as they used to be. The Gulf States’ wealth has freed them from American dependence, and now they’ve taken the wheel. But, instead of abandoning the U.S.-approved path of oppression, they’ve put the pedal to the metal and are taking that road all the way to medieval times (and I’m not talkin’ about the theme restaurant!). The “Arab street” isn’t that crazy about returning to the 12th century, but the elite seem to have a fetish for it.

There’s an abundance of like-minded rulers in the region for the Pentagon to work with, plenty o’ potentates who can’t wait to unleash holy hell on the other side’s devils. Ironically, the mounting failures of our campaign in the Middle East are encouraging the continuation of this moronic, militaristic policy. It makes me wonder how many Americans remember what happened yesterday, much less anything from those heady early days of The Global War on Terror, lo, these 13 years ago. 

As long as we remain in a state of geopolitical amnesia, the Powers That Be in the USA will keep dragging us back into the Middle East’s Vortex of Death. The fact that they’ve done the most to create it has been downplayed by the MSM (Mainstream Media). But now the status and composition of our alliances can only be determined through the interpretation of tea leaves. The absurdity of our foreign policy is becoming undeniable, even in the credulous corridors of corporate news. 

We may be approaching a moment when sunshine will burst through the fog of propaganda and reveal even more truth than that which flooded the streets of New Orleans and Ferguson. Of course, the elite will work quickly to cobble the fa├žade of normalcy back together. But, with preparation and organization, we could squeeze some significant changes into the status quo before they slap it back together.

"The Archdruid Report" Study Group

I set up a group on Meetup for people in the Twin Cities metro area. The first meeting is this Easter Sunday, April 5th at 3pm in Bob's Java Hut, which is located in Uptown Minneapolis at 2651 Lyndale Ave S. Hope to see ya there!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Twin Cities Archdruid Report Study Group

If anyone in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is interested, I'd like to start a weekly "Archdruid Report" study group. I've been reading the blog religiously for years, so I figure I might as well get together with some like-minded folks and talk about it. Having JMG respond to my comments every now and then is all well and good, but it'd be nice to discuss the themes face-to-face in real time with people on the physical plane of existence.

I frequent the coffee shops of Uptown, so that would be my first choice of meeting location. Sunday afternoon is my preferred meeting time, but that's also flexible. If yer keen, comment on this post.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Dustbin of History

"History is more or less bunk. It's tradition. We don't want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker's damn is the history that we make today." –Henry Ford, 1916 

Aldous Huxley mocked the quote above in Brave New World, and it has come in for a fair amount of ridicule in many quarters. But, in the century since Ford made his pronouncement, our culture has largely agreed with him. We think our situation is unprecedented and that the future will be even more unprecedented. According to the myth of Progress, Technology has freed us from the earthly concerns that complicated and, usually, immiserated our ancestors’ lives. We have, in effect, slipped the surly bonds of History and are on our way to touch the face of God. 

This may be why history is possibly the most neglected subject in our schools, which is saying something, given their overall piss-poor state. But this historical blindness also serves the interests of Empire. We don’t want our children to know how we really came by all this wealth and power. In most cases, we don’t even want to know ourselves. Such inconsequential matters are best left in the Dustbin of History. We’d rather believe that our good fortune is the result of our predecessors’ heroism.

But, as the Empire declines, the level of self-delusion and ignorance required to preserve this fiction grows. For instance, during the Cold War, the U.S. was able to control the Middle East’s oil through client regimes: the Shah in Iran, Egypt’s military dictatorship and the Saudi royal family. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve needed direct military intervention to keep a firm grip on the region, with rapidly diminishing returns and growing blowback. It’s more difficult to maintain the facade of imperial benevolence at home when Americans are killing and dying abroad in conflicts that have an increasingly tenuous connection to national security.

Another factor is the continuing impoverishment of the American middle and working classes. Our loyalty to the imperial project has essentially been bought with its proceeds, but now more of that wealth is being diverted to the rich. As our share in the imperial bonanza shrinks, we’re less willing to go along with the program and more willing to see the evil in it. We, the “internal proletariat,” see our own circumstances reflected in the plight of the “external proletariat,” those who have been exploited for our enrichment. Throughout history, these groups have made common cause to topple empires and will likely do so again to bring down the U.S. version. 

But good luck finding anyone in power aware of this probability. The Memory Hole is now so big in elite American circles that it threatens to swallow our past whole. Each day’s newspaper is printed on a blank canvas, nearly free of context, as if the world were born yesterday. The media strip our world of its historical baggage, erasing imperial crimes and restoring the Empire to a state of Edenic grace. There is some history, but it has been refreshed, revised and edited to fit the current imperial agenda. The fall of the Soviet Union may have saved us from the overt social control of Orwell’s 1984, but it didn’t kill the propaganda machine that still shapes our reality and, thus, our behavior. 

The interests of Empire and Progress thereby dovetail. They both need us to ignore the past. “Don’t look over your shoulder,” they warn. “Something may be gaining on you.” For Progress, the shadows stalking our steps are Death, Decay and Decline. Progress tries to ease our fear of mortality by promising that our legacies will be carried on forever through the immortality of our society. History is the enemy of this faith, littered as it is with the ruins of civilizations that asserted their own invincibility with similarly unshakable certainty.

For Empire, the chimera nipping at our heels is the ghost of our victims: the Native Americans we steamrolled in fulfilling our Manifest Destiny, the Southeast Asians we carpet-bombed to defeat the Domino Theory, the Middle Easterners we assassinate via drone in the oxymoronic (and officially abandoned) Global War on Terror. Our imperial guilt must be continually repressed by assurances of our good intentions. This requires a thorough whitewashing of history, a process that is renewed each day in the mainstream media and chased with a flood of mind-numbing entertainment to drown any lingering doubts.

The Empire’s days are already numbered when it’s forced to shift from diplomacy to military action as its primary means of retaining power. This renders its propaganda transparent, inducing a crisis of faith among the imperial citizens and convincing many of them to withdraw their moral support from the imperial project. Very few will remove their material support, due to their dependence on the imperial system, but their moral objections are enough to create a “brain drain.” Having become disillusioned with the Empire, many of its most gifted citizens will therefore avoid careers in politics or civil service, leaving the ship of state to be steered by people whose loyalty outstrips their intellect. (Insert your own George W. Bush joke here.)

Luckily, the elite are chockfull of people with little interest in or knowledge of History. It’s a subject that seems to have no effect on their lives. Like the Too-Big-To-Fail banks, they’ve been protected from the consequences of their actions by the transfer of those costs onto the rest of society. They prefer the official imperial history, the sanitized version that glorifies their greed and flatters their vanity. The truth is considered rude conversation in polite society and is gratefully forgotten or swept under the rug.

Thus the Empire descends into anti-intellectualism. Leadership becomes a matter of following your “gut instincts” and ignoring the cowardly, four-eyed naysayers. The mainstream no longer has anything but contempt for “eggheads” who question the wisdom of its leaders with facts. Special scorn is reserved for those who suggest that the Empire is treading a well-worn path of self-destruction. History, showing as it does the folly of the elite, must be wrong. At this point, only the obedient and dim-witted are allowed into the inner sanctum to sing the Empire’s praises.

By losing any patience with dissent, the Empire and Progress seal their fate. To understand how the process plays out with Progress, all that is needed is to change “political elite” to “scientific elite” and change “four-eyed” and “egghead” to “wild-eyed” and “loose cannon.” The open debate that once ensured a rigorous formulation of policy (or theory) is replaced with an echo chamber in which the mistakes of the past are repeated and reinforced in a positive feedback loop. Proving George Santayana right yet again, the elite are doomed by their ignorance of History to take their place in its Dustbin.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Endless Frontier

At the Archdruid’s suggestion, I’ve been reading Overshoot by the recently deceased William Catton. I can see why JMG was so inspired by the book. It’s beautifully written and extremely enlightening, even though I’ve already encountered many of the same principles in The Archdruid Report.

Catton talks about how Europeans found a seemingly limitless bonanza when they subjugated the peoples of the Americas, Africa and Asia and exploited their labor and natural resources. This was the foundation of JMG’s “civil religion of progress.” It appeared to them that, with the right technologies, they could grow their economies forever and, ultimately, conquer time and space.

In a sense, the USA was founded on the idea of our infinite bounty. It subsidized “the land of the free” by endowing us with the material basis of independence. This Horn of Plenty promised freedom from tyrannical governments. We didn’t need to grovel to a king or the local baron for our daily bread. The land was too big to be fenced in by enclosures. It was an Elysian field of dreams that could liberate us from the constraints of the Old World. 

We no longer had to be herded into cities or villages with the rest of the unwashed masses. Instead of staying in the crowded settlements along the Eastern Seaboard, Americans could move west to the Frontier and escape the social and physical demands of living in community with people of different religions, ethnicities and philosophies. 

The New World offered us the space to be free of our neighbors’ rights and beliefs. It negated the need for compromise. Our suburbs, towns and homesteads are spread far and wide across the landscape to provide us privacy and “breathing room.” We’re basically trying to escape each other. In this atomized society, consensus is an elusive goal. 

In the past century, the physical space has largely been replaced by cyberspace and “safe spaces” offered by the intellectual ghettos of fundamentalist religion, dogmatic academia and special-interest websites. We protect our theories from challenge and refuse to contribute to the mainstream, denying our gifts to the larger community. Our contributions have been rejected before, and the pain of that rejection has discouraged us from speaking up in the public square.

The endless frontier also freed us from concern over scarcity. We could formulate any grand scheme we wanted without worrying about exhausting our resources. If it failed, we would always have the resources to dismantle it and replace it with something grander. It isn’t hard to see how this indulgent attitude has led to intellectual laziness. If there are no consequences for failure, there’s no need to be rigorous. The Archdruid has noted our tendency not to think in terms of whole systems. I would also call it a failure to think holistically.

The myth of limitlessness has had profound aesthetic consequences. Our country is littered with them. They are the physical relics of the belief in our omnipotence. We thought we could throw up any huge, plastic monstrosity of a building we wanted. If it didn’t work out, we could just tear it down and replace it with something better, bigger or, at least, less offensive. Or, if our displeasure with the edifice is not shared by the rest of the community and it remains standing, we can withdraw into our Fortresses of Solitude, losing ourselves in the virtual realities of TV and the internet, perhaps lobbing verbal grenades at the monstrosity’s creators from the safe distance of online forums.

But the endlessly rapacious consumerist ethic reaches its fullest expression in our personal appearance. Ironically, we try to conserve our physical strength and emotional stress-load by maintaining a casual attitude and appearance, even in public. We lazily throw on any old thing before we leave the house, sparing ourselves the effort of dressing to the nines. We’re notorious for “letting ourselves go,” indulging in food and sedentary lifestyles until we’re obese, often morbidly so. 

Like the fabled grasshopper, we indulge our impulses and mortgage our future in favor of instant gratification. If we think about the future at all, we assume there will always be an infrastructure to support us if we’re unable to care for ourselves. We also assume that we’ll have the financial resources to afford this personal care, whether it’s provided by human attendants or machines.

It reminds me of an excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s article in Rolling Stone about the Tea Party’s hypocrisy. He attends a speech by a Tea Party politician in Kentucky who is addressing senior citizens, many of whom are in personal scooters that Medicare paid for. They’re unaware that Medicare is a government program. They have no inkling of their dependence on the government and fellow taxpayers. 

They thought they could treat their bodies like a garbage dump by stuffing their faces with junk food, filling their lungs with cigarette smoke or lying on the couch all evening watching TV after staring at a computer screen all day. It never occurs to them that they may need their fellow Americans’ assistance, financially or physically, when the consequences of those choices take their predictable toll.

We also expect society to adjust to us emotionally, failing to show empathy for our fellow citizens, who are under the same stresses we are. We assume there’s a bottomless pit into which we can throw our anger, resentment, bitterness, sadness. We don’t know or care that all these slings and arrows eventually find their mark in someone. Usually, it’s the person who expressed the negative feeling who’s wounded, but we all suffer, even when the victim suffers alone. 

We seem to have come to the end of the spatial frontier. Much to our chagrin, we’ve found our (relative) freedom from physical limits and other people to be as empty as the Americas our ancestors found. But really it’s the closing of the psychological frontier that scares us. We hate the idea of being stuck in the same headspace with our co-workers and neighbors. We hate the idea of having to compromise with them. We assume there will always be a way to escape our present community and the limits it imposes on us. Unfortunately, the digital frontier is proving just as hollow as its physical precursors. 

Last year, I took a cruise with my parents on the Rhine and Mosel rivers. Despite the assertions of our Amero-centric media, the discipline of limits has produced great beauty and vibrant, healthy cultures in the Old World. The ignorance of limits in the New World has produced a lazy, wasteful, ugly culture that continues to dehumanize and alienate its inhabitants. Surely, we’ve been given enough signals in the past few decades to know that we’re on the wrong path.

There are endless frontiers, but not the physical ones we’ve been taught to believe in. There will always be unknown territories of the mind, body and soul, not just our own but those belonging to others. We need to find meaning in the exploration of those undiscovered countries and stop relying on material signposts to tell us when we’re pushing the boundaries of experience and perception, in other words, “living.” We must reclaim the Personal Realm or, as Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons describes it, “Human contact: the final frontier.”