Grieving for the America of my youth
Things are not going well in these United States, and it has nothing to do with the number of guns, the color of the people who live here, or which political party is in the White House. It’s not going well because we – the beneficiaries of this 250 year experiment in individual freedom – have lost all perspective. And in our distraction, we are being taken advantage of by opportunists (in both the public and private sectors) who seek to increase their own importance, power, and bank accounts at our expense.
Have you recently found yourself looking at the societal insanity around you – this culture of the offended, the divisive and divided, the entitled, and the irresponsible – and thought, is anyone else seeing this shit?
Yes. Yes, we are. And my question as an official representative of American society is this: what the hell happened?
I was born at the tail end of the 1960s to a father just back from the Viet Nam war and a mother who had graduated from high school in San Francisco right into the Summer of Love. When I was young we moved to the suburbs, to a house that looked like every other house on our wide street, and I spent the afternoons cruising the neighborhood on my banana-seat bike; usually with a group of friends in tow. I can remember lying on the cool, green grass in the front yard, dreaming of an amazing future as I watched clouds grow and change as they moved across the impossibly blue California sky.
My father was a staunch conservative from Missouri who had found San Francisco – and my mother – while on leave from the military, and she was a young liberal who wanted to be a poet; still apparently enchanted with the hippies who she had spent her teen years with. They were both very patriotic though, I remember that. Back then you could apparently still be liberal and love the traditional America of the baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet and under God fame. They knew all of the neighbors, worked in the front yard on Saturdays, had well-attended barbecues on Sundays, and both worked full-time jobs. Influenced in certain ways by each parent, I grew up respecting others, respecting the rule of law, respecting the complicated history of my country, respecting hard work, and respecting the opportunities I had because I had been born in the United States of America.
For those of you who care about such things; I am a man, I believe in a God, I am Caucasian (that means “white” for you younger readers), I know that human beings are unique among all animals, and that we are more valuable than anything else on this planet. I don’t feel guilty for any of that, and if you think I should you can fuck off. As for being judgmental, I don’t make decisions about people based on their appearance, color, financial standing, sex or sexual preference, religion, neighborhood, political affiliation, drug use, or the type of music they listen to. I make decisions about individuals based on their character; the way they treat others, their behavior, and what they choose to stand for. I learned that from people like Martin Luther King, Jr. – who is probably fighting to get out of his grave right now so he can personally strangle Jesse Jackson and slap the shit out of the current race movement.
Incidentally, I also believe that it’s wrong to tell people that if they possess certain characteristics or appearances, they need society’s help in order to succeed – in jobs, school, or life. It’s incredibly insulting and damaging to the people receiving that extra assistance (even if they themselves don’t realize it), and it’s incredibly insulting and damaging to those forced to support that preferential treatment for others. The reality is that life is fucking hard for everybody, regardless of background, genetics, finances, parenting, or education. Life demands equal payment from all of us; the pain, uncertainty, grief, loss, failures, and frustrations that I have experienced in life are no worse or better than yours – just perhaps different.
And to those always looking to place blame so they can somehow feel better about their station in life, feel free to keep pointing fingers at whoever or whatever you want. Just know that every time you do, you are pointing three fingers back at yourself. Your life is ultimately up to you and the choices you make. If it has all turned to shit, you should probably start evaluating where you might have gone wrong. And if you don’t seem to have the ability for that level of self-reflection, it’s only because you are choosing not to. Your outcomes can always be traced back to you. Painful, I know, but that’s the human condition; it’s a universal truth. (Again, for those younger readers, a truth is something that is real and factual regardless of whether you choose to believe it. Examples of truth are; gravity, the chemical composition of water, and the fact that socialism always deteriorates into division, violence, and ultimate failure when applied to human society.)
Okay, back to me lying on the green grass in the summers of my youth. By the time I reached adulthood, America was supposed to be a futuristic society filled with advanced thinkers, domesticated robots, and aerial highways thick with hovering vehicles. Instead, we’ve spent the past forty-plus years growing our government ever larger and subsequently devolving into a society of highly isolated shut-ins; unwilling to think critically, constantly distracted by mindless bullshit, and splintered among volatile but invented categories like race, income, gender, sexual preference, religion, and sociopolitical philosophy. We are a populace that careens between anger, depression, apathy, selfishness, and intentional ignorance (or, to call it what it really is, passive aggression). As a result, we are now governed by a mass of manipulative predators who are more than happy to exploit our disorganized weakness for their own egos, power, and gain. Trust in the U.S. government is at an all-time low – meaning we know that they are taking advantage of us – yet oddly, we do nothing.
Wait, who made you a spokesman for America?
Actually, Leon Borensztein did.
Back in the late 1970s, a Polish immigrant to America named Leon Borensztein took a job selling portrait packages door-to-door. He traveled the nation shooting traditional family portraits for money, while also switching out cameras to take candid photos of what he considered to be the seminal images that represented the reality of the American Dream. Borensztein titled the above photo Father with Two Sons. That’s little MIT there on the left. This photo has since been displayed in countless art museums around the world, as well as in a multitude of magazines and newspapers as part of the photographer’s American Portraits 1979-1989 collection.
I actually knew nothing of Borensztein or his well-loved American Portraits until thirty years after I stood for this photo. I had been casually flipping through a random magazine while waiting for the dentist, and came face-to-face with the picture of my own little dysfunctional family. The article’s author was comparing its depth and power to that of August Sander’s 1914 German photograph simply (and tragically) titled Widower:
I’m not sure about all that, but it definitely has that same feel of despair, right? There’s a reason for that. Anyway, I called my father after the dentist appointment to see if he was aware that we were apparently icons of Americana. He was living in Florida at the time, on permanent disability from the Department of Corrections after being struck by lightning and blown off of his gun tower at a prison. He had suffered some significant injuries, and developed tinnitus as well as a subsequent dependence on government checks. And, of course, Oxycontin. He claimed no knowledge of the photo, and mused about seeking payment from the photographer before drifting off to a snoring sleep while still on the phone with me. Sigh.
Incidentally, a year later he dropped dead in the shower, after telling his third (or fourth?) wife to call an ambulance for his chest pain once he finished bathing. I sometimes wonder how long she sat in the living room watching TV and waiting for him to shut the water off, surrounded by her full ashtrays, cheesy paintings, and little ceramic figurines.
Anyway, per Borensztein, I am apparently a unique representative of America, circa 1979. Which gives me as much right to speak for our nation as anyone else – so it is my obligation to do so. As such, I can definitively say that we are appalled at how America has stumbled and fallen flat while under the influence of modern culture. Our response to all of the intentional destruction of everything traditionally American makes me think that we are suffering from some massive societal form of Stockholm Syndrome; we get beat, abused, insulted, and in some cases killed – only to step back up as a community and say, “Thank you sir, may I have another?”
Immaturity and blatant jealousy – once characteristics to be abandoned around the same time that we stopped wearing short pants and Keds – are now not only accepted in adult behavior, but promoted as virtues; especially among college students and professors, “community organizers”, and socialist-leaning asshats – I may have repeated myself three times there. Generation by generation, we have become either a population of selfish children walking around in adult bodies, demanding that we be valued and receive equal outcomes for just existing, or we are so frustrated with our inability to affect change in the world around us that we simply resign; refusing further participation. Either way, we have stopped taking full responsibility for our own future, instead, finding it far too easy to just complain, argue, and whine.
I am not immune to this modern American weakness. I definitely have my moments of jealousy, passive aggression, and surrender – I mean, damn, why don’t I get to blame the government, or the police, or “institutionalized” isms, or my crappy parents, or genetics, or evil businesses whenever I make a bad decision or fail at something? Most likely because my generation is not quite as adept at the whole victim mentality as the more recent ones are; I grew up with this odd core belief that if something goes wrong in my life or in my sphere of influence, I need to assess how my own decisions, actions, and motivations may have led to it. Which really puts a fucking kink in my occasional desire to feel entitled…or to see any benefit in our ever-growing government.
The Big Government effect
Despite all of the “positives” of a bigger government (I only used quotes there because I have yet to meet anyone who can actually identify any real positives that weren’t already covered in the framing of the Constitution), I believe that having a large and intrusive central government actually deteriorates society in two primary ways; citizens either get regulated into submission (which congeals into apathy), or they lose any sense of responsibility for their own lives and become totally dependent. Either way, the entire population is being oppressed by the government – some of them just don’t realize it. Those freedom-loving, rugged individualists – the personality types that founded and built this nation – are beaten down and eventually become bitter, passive, assholes, while the dependent ones just stand around, ever-alert for the next perceived offense, instruction, handout, or social media innovation.
Just the fact that so many Americans were rabidly supporting an avowed socialist to lead their country proves my point. Why? Because socialism is a happy, Utopian concept, that has never successfully worked in a society of human beings. If you understood history, Bernie Sanders would never have been a Presidential contender, nor would he have ever been elected to a public office to begin with. Socialism is wholly incompatible with human nature (especially within a truly free society), so proponents find themselves having to force it on a resistant population by controlling experiences, thoughts, and behaviors – and eventually by violence and fear alone. Socialism kills independence, motivation, invention, innovation, and eventually people. Every sixth grader knows that Hitler was responsible for the deaths of more than six million Jews, Christians, minorities, and homosexuals; but how many know that communism (the system that inevitably develops when socialism falters and requires forced compliance) is responsible for the deaths of more than one hundred million people? Oh, let’s hurry and steer our nation through that gateway to hell.
You wonder why Trump is faring so well, the world of The Walking Dead is so popular, or the Brexit happened? It’s because the true, freedom-loving individuals – who are the quiet, respectful, mature majority in Western society – are growing tired of being forced to carry the bloated body of European-style modern liberalism. The constant attacks on the existence of any absolute truth; the rise of class warfare, racial divides, political correctness, indignation over things we personally didn’t suffer, guilt over things we personally didn’t do, thoughts becoming crimes, revisions of history, contrary speech being silenced, and the media and the schools working to ensure that each subsequent generation is more ignorant than the previous – and where has it all gotten us? The very fabric of a strong, successful, and unified American society has broken down, and the truly progressive nation of my youth has become unrecognizable, unpalatable, and ugly. No wonder we are all so ready to just say, “Fuck it! Let’s throw a Trump into the middle of Washington DC, grab some popcorn, and see what happens.”
As for the Walking Dead connection? You love an apocalypse story because it allows you to imagine a life free of the chains hung on you by Washington DC, state and local governments, personal debt, your job, and our exceedingly weird society. No more trying to survive each day surrounded by cultural tripwires that send up flares of whiny bullshit whenever you do something that somebody, somewhere may find offensive. No more avoiding posting a conservative comment on Facebook because you fear the endless liberal backlash from your friends of friends. No more feeling like you are disappearing a little more each day, sipping cold coffee as you sit in yet another traffic jam, wondering if that pain behind your eye is a tumor. After the complete collapse of society, we would live in the present and be focused on personal survival; immaturity, hyper-sensitivity, divisiveness, and entitlement would all be met by either zombies or bullets. Folks would either produce and participate or get left behind. And the best part of the Walking Dead’s zombie apocalypse? No one had to do anything or risk taking a stand to change the world! Society just ended, right? After the apocalypse, everything became local; leadership became approachable and ultimately changeable, and everyone was judged on their behavior and what they can actually do for the community – not what they looked like, where they came from, what they believed, or how loudly they could bitch. That return to a simple life in a free community, devoid of political correctness, deaf politicians, overbearing regulation, or mindless media, is appealing.
In America, we were a nation born of people tired of being controlled and dominated; who wanted the freedom to live their own lives as they chose. They just wanted the ability to pursue happiness and success on their own terms, but not expecting any guarantees. Especially not at the expense of their neighbor. No, it wasn’t perfect; there were apparently assholes back then too. But that doesn’t negate the whole amazing concept of a society founded on individual freedoms, and it doesn’t negate the fact that we are the legal heirs to that concept. The freedom to do whatever the fuck we want with our time, our money, and our bodies is our birthright as Americans. And that has been taken away from us, piece by piece, while we were busy sitting around and watching TV.
Yes…there’s work involved
Unfortunately, with no zombie hordes on the horizon, it looks like we’re going to have to actually stand up and take action if we are ever going to reclaim that birthright. I would suggest you take the time to read the Declaration of Independence to see why our country is here, and then read the U.S. Constitution to see how it’s supposed to work; then we’ll at least a have a shared road map to show where we’re trying to get back to. Either that, or a clear reminder of what we have lost forever.
The wolves ruining our nation don’t want you to know this, but there are more than a hundred million Americans right now who are just as fed up as you are with Washington DC, the media, the taxes, the regulations, the lies, the corruption, and the constant social agitation. A hundred million individuals who just want to be left alone to live their lives, raise their families, and pursue happiness and success freely as they define it for themselves. A hundred million people just like you.
If one person can change the world, then I’m pretty fucking sure that a hundred million people should be able to rescue one country from the hands of those who would destroy it. The only challenge will be in standing up at the same time – because scattered groups of ten or twenty will get picked off quietly and reported as odd extremists. But when ten million march into the halls of Congress to personally deliver pink slips to every egotistical, self-serving bastard in there, or ten million march across the lawn of the White House to take it back from the destructive likes of the Bushs, Clintons, and Obamas – the only option for them all will be surrender. To pack up their shit and go back to their hometowns to get real jobs – probably for the first time in their lives. I’d love to watch Barack Obama try to assemble a fucking sandwich at a Subway in Chicago, wearing a green apron and a little hand-printed Barry name tag.
Of course, the political and media elites are counting on you being too lazy, selfish, ignorant, and apathetic to do anything other than complain under your breath; and believe me, the rest of the leaders around the world need for you to stay silent. Understanding personal freedom is a powerful thing, but it’s considered a disease by those whose rule is maintained by force or fear. A very visible American public standing up to their oppressors might actually give others hope, and before you know it, everyone will want to be free. People all over the world will suddenly think that it’s somehow their right as a human being to spend their one life, their briefest of stays on this planet, doing whatever they want to. And people like that just can’t be effectively controlled.
But here’s the ultimate universal truth; we are all equal in value and rights. We all have the inalienable right to be who we want to be; to pursue our own happiness; to spend our time how we wish; to personally benefit from our own hard work; to not have our property taken by others, and to not submit to authority or structure unless we choose to. I am not suggesting anarchy, there are significant benefits in coming together as a society, in consolidating certain efforts for the benefit of all. But when that structure becomes oppressive, unfair, corrupt, and panders to select factions at the expense of others, it has gotten lost in the weeds and must be reset onto the path.
This is your one shot at life on Earth – and none of us are going to make it out of here alive. So be reasonable, be nice, be fair, and keep a sense of humor, but don’t take shit from the politicians, the dividers, the self-important talking heads, and the entitled whiners. And never, never give away your freedom – it’s all you really have.