Sooner or Later Our Children Will Ask: "How Did This Happen?"

“Sweetheart, I Guess We Just Forgot”

That it hasn't happened yet, continues to amaze me. But sooner or later it will. Sooner or later our children, saddled with our debts, our endless wars and the ever more onerous demands of a predatory "national security state", will turn to us in large numbers and ask how it happened. They will want to know how the many millions of us who were lucky enough to grow up in the American middle class of the 1960s and 1970s, let it come to this. They will want to know why we who enjoyed personal freedoms and opportunities to "find our bliss", opportunities that they can only dream of, decided to leave them with a world structured, most of all, by fear and dread.

The smooth talkers among us--and there are many--will no doubt start by explaining just how complicated life really is, how processes over which we "have no control" such as globalization and terrorism, have chipped away at our good life and left them holding the bag. They will repeat over and again, and in one form or another, that these were "natural" and/or "unforeseen" developments that simply overwhelmed the ability our existing institutions. In other words, as they sit in the 4,000 square foot house they did not really need, a house that, in fact, no one really needs, they will paint themselves as victims of history.

They will of course being lying, to their children, and more importantly, for the umpteenth time, to themselves.

If they were really interested in have a profitable dialogue with their children, something that might actually begin the process of delivering us to a better place, they would start with something simple like: "Sweetheart (or Buddy), I guess we just forgot".

I guess we just forgot:

  • That globalization didn't just happen, but was rather carefully planned by US and to some extent, European political leaders during the last three decades (take a look at the genesis of GATT, NAFTA and a whole host of other trade deals) as a means of guaranteeing that our countries' economic elites would continue exert control over grotesquely inordinate amount of the world's valuable resources and pecuniary wealth.
  • That the relatively impressive middle class freedoms and security we enjoyed as kids didn't just come about by accident. Rather, they were the result of people like your grandparents making sacrifices, and yes, sometimes even saying no to things that might have benefited them personally because they knew that doing so would have a deleterious effect on the broader progress of the community.
  • That being entertained is no the same as being engaged. I like ESPN as much as the next guy. But it is no substitute for the careful following of public events. Only a cadre of citizens engaged citizens able, and willing, to pitilessly call out, and yes, embarrass, elected officials on the basis of policy details andtheir counterproductive effects is, sadly enough, the only thing that garners their respect, and therefore the possibility of fundamental change.
  • That "journalists" unable or unwilling to identify with these same engaged citizens and who prefer instead to shy away from conflict in the name of guaranteeing their continuing "access" to power are not part of the solution but rather, a big part of the problem.
  • That working within the system, or as our generation loves to say, "getting a place at the table in order to effect change" is a technique that has well-known limits, one that leads much more often than we have wanted to admit to the co-optation of good intentions by very powerful and ruthless forces.
  • That when it comes to the creation of "public-private partnerships" the private part of the equation almost always gets more of what it wants or needs than does a broad swathe of the public.
  • That just because Soviet-style Communism collapsed under the weight of its bastardized decrepitude, that didn't mean that the problem of social class and the tendency of society's economic elites to want to endlessly maximize their power over us has became a non-issue.
  • That in America, the primary function of the government has never, ever, as the last two presidents like to endlessly tell us, been to "protect the nation from external attack". No nation, especially one that maintains a world-wide empire and that arrogates to itself the "right" to engage in torture, kidnapping, extra-judicial killing and the unprovoked invasion of countries can, or should, be immune from the slightest suggestion of blowback. To suggest otherwise is to spin infantilizing fantasies that, in the end, lead only to the curtailment of our own liberties.
  • That a society that allows laws to be portrayed (and used) not as the blueprint of universal hopes and desires across time, but rather as the plaything of the rich and powerful, condemns itself to a downward spiral of seething internecine conflict, or, alternatively, to the ever-greater imposition, by those same rich and powerful people, of repressive measure designed to keep that seething sense of injustice from threatening their interests.
  • That being enduringly happy on the individual level is, more than anything else, about learning to know and govern your fears and anxieties in such a way that other things and, more importantly still, other people are allowed to become something more than a screen upon which to play out your personal needs, desires and impulses.
  • That, as Phil Rockstroh reminded us the other day in this same space, the libido is much more than what our media culture, with its desire to make us believe that all is ultimately saleable and thus controllable tells us it is. Yes, the libido is about sex. But, more fundamentally, it is about freedom and creativity. It is the force that impels us to do things against our better judgment, to talk to the person we "shouldn't" talk to, to take up the leisure or vocational pursuit "we have no business" taking up, to express the thoughts that no prudent person one "in his or right mind" should ever utter in public.
  • That constantly putting your moist finger up in the air to see which way the wind is blowing (and building a political system around this "principle") is not only quite boring, but ultimately quite is assuming, in the face of all historical evidence to the contrary, that the rules and pressures that govern you life today (including the vaunted two party system) more or less eternal and that, in the light of this "reality", you're best off, trying to cut the best deal you can with the parade of false and unsavory characters around see around you.

Yes, Sweetheart, we have forgotten a lot of things. And this is just the beginning of the list.

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