Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Great Frustration

It seems that every generation or so, some form of life altering event or calamity comes along to define the time and people that experience it.

Fire. The wheel. The Printing Press. Democracy. The Big One. The Great Depression. The Industrial Revolution. Generation X. Paris Hilton...

I've been thinking about the state of the world lately. All of us have to some degree I suppose, and when I asked myself how history might describe this time, I had a great deal of trouble coming up with a catchy phrase. You might say 9-11, and you might be right, but that doesn't feel accurate enough to me. It doesn't encompass everything.

No, my question is simply this: What one thing touches on all the issues of this current generation?

Other generations are easy to identify. During World War Two, the whole world stopped what it was doing and focused on ONE thing. Regardless of what side you were on, what your beliefs were or what you did for a living, EVERYONE stopped and focused on the war. Women went to work for the war effort. Businesses stopped chasing money for the war effort (at least at first). Children STOPPED EATING CANDY for the war effort. The war changed everything, and as such, it defined the entire world for a generation.

Right now, there is no one thing that defines us. Some would say this was a good thing, some wouldn't, some don't give a shit. I myself have to wonder. What is the talking point that future historians will use to pigeon hole us into our place in history? What will be remembered as? I think I have an idea what it might be.

You see, I don't think it's any one event, person or place. I don't think its a disease or a war. I think that for the first time in history an entire generation is going to be categorized by a feeling. Not a good feeling either.

As I go through a random day, I see people who hate their jobs but are afraid to leave them. I see employers send their jobs overseas to save money, not realizing that the very people who buy their products won't have the money to do so since they no longer have jobs. I see young people unable to get ahead because their educations are becoming more and more substandard, and yet those very same educations are being whittled away with constant budget cuts. I see billions of dollars spent to rebuild countries no one here cares about because we bombed them into the stone age for no reason anyone understands. I see men and women in uniform dying over obsolete technology. I see corporations in control. I see vague fears producing detailed consequences, writ large by a news service that must make a profit at the cost of the truth. I see the results of twenty years of "The customer is always right". I see society hell bent on denying accountability, ducking responsibility, and shifting blame. I see us turning on each other, and not understanding why.

I see the era of The Great Frustration.

Frustration with the government. Frustration with our economy. Frustration with our educations, sexuality, and our religions. Frustration with our lives, our jobs, ourselves. Frustration abounds.

It wasn't always like this, and that's the problem. We as a society are still telling ourselves that we are living the dream. That a man's word is his bond, that a person can make something of themselves if they chose to work hard for it, that we are free to be... well, free. What we've forgotten is the price tag. What we've neglected to address is that freedom requires that we reserve freedom for everyone. What we have overlooked is that while we were busy living the good life, someone came along and put chains on us.

The chains are insidious because they are chains that none of us want to admit to having. Ignorance. Apathy. Hate. Fear. Debt. No one wants to admit that they DON'T KNOW something. No one wants to admit that they are afraid. Debt? Debt is the new gorilla in the corner. We all have it. We all know that everyone else has it. Yet no one wants to admit to it for the shame that it implies. Why? Why is there shame in any of these things? Why does no one want to talk about the things that are holding us back as a nation? Why haven't we addressed these issues and solved them? Why are we so separated from one another?

Ignorance and apathy, that's why. To me, this combination is the most dangerous threat we have ever faced. This sense of ignorant apathy that has descended on our country is something that is both targeted and voluntary. Me, me, me. That's all that matters anymore, and that is what will ultimately kill this country. There are many reasons for this environment to have come about, this self serving drive that defines us at the cost of all others, but for simplicities sake I'll limit myself to one example of this me vs. you mentality.

Taxes. HUUUUUUGE issue right? Too big to discuss here, but here's just one little piece of it. Property taxes. Anyone who owns a home hates property taxes. They are the taxes imposed on them by their local communities for things like schools, roads, and social services. Sounds fair and equitable right? I mean, no one likes taxes, but these things sound like reasonable uses for your tax dollars. The problem here though, is that not everyone who enjoys these services is required to pay for them. People who rent for example, don't pay property tax.

Sure you could argue that they pay for them through their rents to the landlord, who in turn pays the property tax, but in this as in all things, meanings and intent tend to get lost in the shuffle. The main issue here is why the disparity? Why should only part of the society, pay for the society? It's because of questions just like this that you have something called polarization. Basically it's the splitting of the populace over an issue. You have homeowners on one side who don't want to pay more than their fair share, and you have everyone else demonizing them for not wanting to pay for social services like shelters, cops, and hospitals. Both sides are right in being upset, both sides are frustrated, and both sides are caught in an argument that can have no winner - so long as they are polarized on the issue.

My question is why is there an issue at all? What is it that is causing the issue? One bad law. That's it. One law is all that stands between these two groups, and yet no one in the last thirty or so years has seen fit to address it? Granted I'm simplifying the hell out of a very complex issue, but seriously, why hasn't this been fixed yet?

It's because we feel powerless. The problems we as a society have, have grown so large and all encompassing, that no one feels that they are solvable anymore. The education system is linked to the tax system, that's linked to the economy, that's linked to foriegn affairs, etc.etc. etc. It's become so convoluted and inter-dependent that we are now at a place where a bug lands on a banana in Chile and suddenly the world market collapses. We no longer know how to fix it all, and this is where the underlying sense of frustration that seems to permeate every fiber of our society comes from. Just like a person who's been poisoned, our society has become so inundated with this malaise that slapping band aids on the various boo boos won't work. We must treat the underlying cause in order to affect change. Treat the disease and not the symptoms.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Wolf the Quarrelsome. He was not a politically powerful man, and he didn't set the course of a nation on a daily basis. He was a soldier. A grunt. In fact, he was an Irish Champion. Champion in the old sense of the word, meaning that in his entire army, HE was the one they all chose to represent them in single combat. He was an Irishman back in the days when to be Irish was to be fighting. In his book "Badass", Ben Thompson tells Wolf's rather short story much like a drunk in a bar would. "He only shows up in history twice, and both times he's kicking someone's ass."

I love this story. I love how this nobody who had no taste for politics at all would only show up when someone needed to have his outlook adjusted. (His brother was Brian Boru, the man who was credited with uniting Ireland. Also, for all you drinkers out there - it's his harp that's on the label for Guiness Beer). Wolf would simply show up, "Shoe someone in the nuts...", and then disappear again. He didn't do it for fame or fortune, he did it because someone had pissed on his idea of what was right and what was wrong. That's it. He didn't need more reason than that. You did him wrong, he fixed you for it.

Where did this mentality go? Sure, Wolf was a barbarian and this is a civilized time, but even now we know the difference between right and wrong. We know that we are getting screwed on a near constant basis, yet where is the ass kicker? Where is the person who stands up and says "Stop!"?

At some point acting civilized is a crutch for us to not have to get up and do something about what we see as wrong in the world. It's that simple. You see, there are too many problems now for a single Wolf to be enough to do the job that needs doing. It's going to require all of us with a sense of outraged propriety to effect change. I don't even care what your cause is, because I know that it is somehow related to what I find abhorrent in society.

Now isn't THAT a scary idea? You and I, in this together, saving the world for each other. That's right, it doesn't matter who or what you are, I'm saying that if you're frustrated by your place in the world, your problems are my problems because they feed each other. Somehow, somewhere, they are connected and that means so are we.

Find out what frustrates you. Sit down and think about it, identify it, study it's root causes. Who advocates your pain? Who is behind it? Now, ask yourself if you are their victim, or the victim of a bad law? A misconception? A lie? An omission? Are you really enemies in this, or are you possible allies? Polarization is a terrible thing, make sure you are aware of it, because we are all connected in the end.

Basically all I'm saying is this:

Stop being frustrated and do something about it. Even if you never see it firsthand, you'll be helping more than just yourself.