Have we as Americans crossed an undetectable cultural finish line without noticing it? Many earlier civilizations did and petered out. It’s not a question we can really answer, but there do seem to be a lot of Americans who aren’t engaged in the system we live in.
If we are declining as a culture, will we change it, manage it, or at least cushion the decline? In times of catastrophes people generally behave better toward each other than they do living isolated and insulated lives in our commercialized, wealthier part of the world. Hopefully, a catastrophe, like a massive earthquake, isn’t necessary to reset our culture and bring people together and it can be done in a more orderly way.
Maybe there’ll be a technological breakthrough in energy production. For decades, energy was so plentiful and easy that we crossed the street without looking. Now we’re being born down on by climate change and pollution.
Maybe we can come together to forge a more equitable and navigable future. It seems to me that the quality of a society is more important than your place in it. It’s better being a small fish in a clean pond than a big fish in a polluted one. America is better as an “us” place rather than just a “me” place.
Here’s an excerpt about Detroit from Swedish author Karl Ove Knausgaard who was hired by the NYT Magazine to write about driving across America.
“I’d seen poverty before, of course… But I’d never seen anything like this. If what I had seen tonight – house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster – if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within.”
Have we crossed some finish line without knowing we were heading towards it? Are more lives being lived without meaning than before? Is the rust on the blade accumulating faster than it can gotten rid of? Short-cuts we’ve taken typically means pushing costs into the future and that future feels close. It depends on who you speak to, but there seem to be more pessimists than just twenty years ago.