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.
Middle-class comfort, so long anathema to the “tenured radicals” of the academy (who, of course, hurl their invective from the bourgeois redoubt of the easy chair), although agonizingly, fitfully slow in doing so, has finally died. Yet from its corpse no revolutionary class has mushroomed forth. Rather we’re left with atomized biota terrified of losing everything it holds dear, too terrified to think even of reform, let alone of revolution. Cognitive laborer and day laborer find themselves equal members of an all-consuming new class category: the precariat.
Unemployment in Desert City hovers at nine percent. What jobs exist are mostly temporary and lacking benefits. Some 11,000 houses huddle empty, having been foreclosed or never occupied. Vast portions of the population sit idle. They have given up on the very idea of employment. The state legislature, its carving knives sharp and poised, stands ready to scrape the bones of already spavined public sector.
Not to be outdone by the boys, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, The Jersey Shore‘s sample-sized sexpot renowned for bitch slaps given and received, has gone decidedly more highbrow than Pauly or Sitch, penning A Shore Thing, a roman à clef detailing the Jersey shore’s many sweaty pleasures. Author Snooki’s protagonist is one Gia Spumante, a café au lait party girl on the prowl for “gorilla juiceheads” and good times.
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.
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.
Whether the crisis is one of hyperinflation or intractably deep recession, the result is the same. You need only recall the words of Überbanker Andrew Mellon: “In a depression assets return to their rightful owners.” He certainly wasn’t talking about the poor schmucks manning the teller windows.
Walkable cities radiate an organic vibrancy. They have dense roots in neighborhoods of storied provenance, have complex zones of eclectic social and economic activity. City planners are beginning to see the virtues of these version–1.0 cities, metropolises that have more in common with the Paris of the Second Republic (minus the smog and the hordes of irredeemable poor) than the indifferent, anomic settlements of the American West.
Though Facebook’s “Like” button may be good news for big business, it’s dreary stuff for people who actually … well … like things, because watered-down liking has changed our relationship to the world in the way that marketing, a few decades earlier, changed our relationship to consumer items. With marketing’s advent, the world suddenly fell in love with the idea rather than the utility of things; with a stroke of the ad-man’s magic pen, an automobile, that greasy machine with four wheels intended to get man (or woman) from point A to B, turned into a means of orgiastic celebration, and a carton of orange juice, the sweet fluid of squashed citrus pulp, magically transmogrified into an elixir capable of curing everything from cancer to crabs.
Americans young and old have sold their souls for a bill of dubious goods — and services. But at least the baby boomers were alive and kicking during decades that saw real revolutionary spirit in play; many of them got to participate in protests that were more than just excuses to don organic-fiber keffiyehs and declare a universal right to equity realization (all while shaking ineffectual fists at Wall Street). That’s got to count for something, right? That’s fodder for man’s (or woman’s) search of meaning, yes?