For many Americans a tooth can make the difference between security and destitution. That’s right: lose a tooth in the United States and you lose your chance to live the dream. Poverty and emotional desolation follow soon upon the unfortunate loss. For in the land of veneers and gratuitous orthodontia, “untouchable” status is a shed bicuspid away.
An essay of mine appears at The New Inquiry, an upstart journal out of New York City that’s well worth checking out and sticking in your rss-feed reader. The essay discusses the massive earthquake one kooky geologist, Dr. Iben Browning, predicted would demolish most of western Illinois and eastern Missouri, including my then-hometown of St. Louis.
Voltaire once wrote that if God didn’t exist, He would have to be invented. Apparently the same can be said for bureaucracy — and for the rent-seekers who manipulate its levers. You need only loosen up your conception of bureaucracy. The “take a number and we’ll be right with you, but first make sure you have completed the following forms” model of bureaucracy? That’s so “old economy.” In the world to come, bureaucracy, like everything else under the sun, will be miniaturized and digitized, so you can take it with you wherever you go. Now that’s convenience.
The fact that graduate school seemed to me a cult probably says more about me and my inability to view education as anything other than “self-actualization” and personal growth. I wasn’t always discouraged from this view, but neither did I have it forced upon me. I never abstracted myself from the schooling process and would not accept it as simply a program of professionalization and preferential networking. I chose to cling instead to an impression of the university as a place obscurely designed specifically to aggrandize my ego. I was thus made uncomfortable when any larger mission would come into view.
Even Mr. End-of-History himself, Francis Fukuyama, admits (albeit in a cautious, highly qualified manner) that the great political experiment our founding fathers set in motion has essentially devolved into a plutocracy. This means goodbye social mobility, liberty, sovereignty, and just about everything else Idaho militia men find so sexy about the constitution. Money obeys only one imperative: to make more of itself. On its way to doing so it will trample everything you and I hold dear.
The seasonability of reading certain books is certainly a curious notion. But when you consider it closely, it makes sense. This doesn’t simply owe to your being insufficiently advance in terms of language skills (though this may be a factor), so much as it does to your being insufficiently mature, sophisticated, or experienced. Incubated in the bulb-forcing hothouse of the American education system, we tend to lose sight of the fact that some subjects of study demand that we be prepared to engage them, and not simply in the conventional manner of having satisfied a curriculum’s prerequisites.
There’s something undeniably appealing about American conservatism, like a sweater that, though comfortable and cozy, doesn’t really look all that flattering. I’m sure it’s great, the urge socially and culturally to circle the wagons and gather the brood around the kitchen table to dispense lessons on young earth and the divine origins of the second amendment. It offers certainty in spades, something altogether in short supply in these days of global financial upheaval.
Consumerism can make you happy. It has rectified the age-old problem of the self’s division from the world. For in consumerism’s simulated world, in the constant stream of advertisements whose narratives have become as familiar and comforting as bedtime stories, the gap between life and essence is closed. This gives some of us a peace of mind that hasn’t been enjoyed since antiquity when, as theorist Georg Lukács writes, “the fire that burns in the soul is of the same essential nature of the stars.” The world created by consumerism is a world where meaning is once again immanent, and the devoted consumer need never wonder how in purchasing a certain item she can make reality conform to her desires and her desires conform to that reality.
Exceptionalism tends to be a way station on the path to full-blown paranoia, as the poem of the United States of America gets rewritten as The Road to Serfdom. There must be a better way than this to imagine a utopia.
Crowdsourced reviews ensure we don’t get duped. They thus provide a modicum of regulation in a far too laissez-faire milieu. But they also confine our lives to the wan pleasures of the predictable, to the safe wagers we’re sure to receive a return from, rather than allowing us to tempt fate or bet the house.