Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The End of the World as We Know It

I heard this rather upbeat song, considering the words, the other day on NPR (the home of eclectic music choices in Chattanooga). It's by REM, and most have heard it. After repeating that line three times to a bumpy, driving tune, the vocalist says, "And I feel fine." I assume it's all supposed to be ironic; I never know what to take as sincere or at face value anymore.

But the phrase has got me thinking. I've been reading editorials about "the end of the decade" and "what should be call this decade" (the "ohs"? the "uh-ohs"?) and all the bad things that have happened in the first ten years of the new millennium (without anyone really noticing that the millennium is based on the medieval notion of when Christ was born and is really wrong and arbitrary anyway, and also no one noticing that the decade doesn't really end until Dec. 31, 2010.

We've had a disputed election, 9/11, two wars, the tsunami, Katrina, an economic "collapse" that really wasn't but that should have shown everyone our vulnerability, and then the normal tragedies (great name for a Rock band): all kinds of political crackdowns, diseases, squabbles, and of course some good--breakthroughs, triumphs, and even though I'm not an Obama fan, proof that America is not the horrid racist haven reactionaries would make it out to be.

I was listening to a tape of Bill Hybels talking about the economic collapse and how it had affected his church (the tape was being played on WMBW). He said what I've been thinking for quite a while now, "The old normal has left the building." This was his clever, Hybelian way of saying, "forget about returning to life the way it was, financially speaking." All the news I read about the economy says the same thing, that there won't be a return to the number of jobs pre-2007 until almost 2020, that housing prices will continue to be much lower than they were, etc.

Now, I am not an economist, nor have I lost my job, but I have lived long enough to remember how people used to live and I am wondering why this is so bad. People, even in America, have lived on much less, and we were no less blessed and no less American and no less free. We have for too long associated affluence with liberty, for one thing. There is an indirect connection, but not such a close one as we are led to believe, especially, I am afraid to say, by so-called conservatives. Our expectations of the American dream kept getting higher and higher until they are absolutely unsustainable. I saw this long ago, and don't know why others have not.

This meltdown was not as bad as the great Depression in terms of how it has affected the average person. There was 25% unemployment then, 10% now. And the economy was a different animal then: far fewer women in the workplace, more industrial than knowledge-based, almost no public sector jobs in comparison to today, etc. No unemployment insurance, worker's comp, all that. But that Depression made people realize that sacrifice and frugality were normal ways of living. It was not unusual to have a garden; it wasn't unusual to reuse things, to share children's clothes with others, to eat leftovers rather than throwing them out. We became wasteful beyond imagining in the years since the 50s, in terms of energy, food, entertainment dollars, just plain junk. All that cheap crap from China only helped fuel our delusions of ever expanding consumer goods and instant gratification.

My fear--no, my prediction--is that the American people just aren't going to get out of this economic recession, or struggle, or whatever we want to call it, what we should; we won't learn our lessons. Because the government programs have buffered so many of us from the real deprivation we could have experienced, we are just waiting for Obama or Congress or whoever to get us back to "normal" where we can have SUVs and cheap vacations and eat out three times a week and McMansions and far more in one year than a person needs in ten. We are in a stupor, like drunks being forced to dry out but knowing we will get a drink as soon as we get out of rehab; we are like children waiting for Santa Claus to bring us new toys when the house is already full of things we don't play with. We have lost the ability to enjoy anything because we think we have to enjoy everything.

If we don't put away the credit cards and stop using them every chance we get; if we don't start buying energy efficient cars; if we don't start recycling, reusing, and reducing; if we don't start making hard decisions about money; if don't stop thinking we should be in a four-bedroom, three-car garage house when we only have one or two children; if we don't start tithing (whether to charity or to the LORD, I will not assume all are believers here) and saving ten percent (I preach at myself here); if not, we will be back here in five years, if we ever get out. And above all, we should demand that the federal government stop this unconscionable pork-driven, drunken-sailor-like spending. Every single one of these irresponsible representatives should be thrown out, as they are jeopardizing our future.

We should accept that the "uh-ohs" are the end of the world as we have known it, and get over whether we feel fine about it or not.


Paul Martin said...


Thanks for listening to WMBW. I was brought here by this post, but have enjoyed browsing through your blog. I think it may be the end of health care as we know it and I don't feel too fine about that. But, as you wrote in another post, it's not really about us anyway.

Paul Martin
paul {dot} martin [at] moody {dot} edu

Barbara said...

I agree about the health care, although I'm conflicted. The government has no business getting involved in delivering health care, funding abortions, or demanding we have health insurance. Unfortunately, too many American people have come to expect too much of the government, as well as the president's power. It wasn't in the constitution. I think health care will become more and more complicated, for one thing.

Anonymous said...

I kinda have been expecting this in a way...
But I reali dun think da world is going to end...start a new era maybe but the world is not ending.
That's not gonna happen till a thousand years later! Ok, I'm not sure bout that either but that's not the point! The world's not gonna end! Full stop!
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Barbara said...

Thank you! I will soon be posting again.

Mindset, Passion, and Learning Revisited: Why Not To Follow Your "passion"