Did this “hard-ass” period of cultural history creep up on us, or did we naively pave the way for its slippery arrival? And while there is no absolute or indisputable answer, pondering the question may have some value. It may actually provide some clues about things we don’t spend a significant amount of time cogitating.
Example: our “silver bullet” approach to every ache and pain, to every social and political confrontation renders each of us both an implicit and an explicit target, as well as a “ready-fire-aim-think” shooter. We have weaponized our irritations, our insults, our affronts and our indecencies, and even our dis-courtesies. Being “pissed off” is no longer an exception to our day; it has become a “normal” occurrence because we have allowed it to become normalized. And in the process, we have assumed the mantel of the critical parent, in situations over which we have no parental interest, never mind duty or responsibility.
In terms of our looking after our health, we have devised, distributed, marketed and sold, and of course, bought a “thing” for whatever happens to be ailing us. Different kinds of headache, different kinds of skin rashes, different kinds of abdominal discomfort, different kind of foot pain and a variety of eye fatigues depending on the time spent peering into the new tech devices. In the latest DSM, we have morphed grief and loss into a psychiatric illness and while listing the symptoms we have also listed approaches to “treatment”.
Linked to the silver bullet, especially metaphorically, is our “nano-second” time frame for our concentration, for our need for a “high,” for need for a “thrill,” for a special effect and thereby generated a series of new “industries” like extreme sports, extreme movie adventures and thrillers, extreme “super-heroes,” and “stars” of all kinds who can populate our personal world creating the illusion that we are part of their lives, at least digitally.
Linked to this “nano-second” universe, we have ditched any hint of time for reflection, as if that were so boring that it belongs only to a generation long since buried. And we have replaced that “reflection” with action: e.g. how many times are we asked, during an appointment or a conversation in a business, “What plans do you have for the weekend?” This conversation was once considered a reasonable inquiry to and from friends, neighbours and even co-workers. Now, it has become part of the “paint-by-number” approach to customer/client relations, as if we might expect the person asking to give a rat’s ass what we had planned for the weekend. If we are not “doing” something, we are instantly bored, and likely verging on some mild form of anxiety, depression or worse.
Our chores are micro-managed into numbers of minutes, kilometers, kilograms, while our weather reports are now graphically displayed on our personal “radar” the laptop or tablet. Our nerves send us to our cell phones, (according to recent research in the UK) every twelve minutes, and the same report reveals a weekly time total on digital media of twelve hours. We also have a “prescription” from our employers about how to do every task in our job description, the primary purpose of such “oversight” being to minimize the insurance and legal bills to the accounting departments. Lists have become the “vernacular” of commerce, because if we do not “have” and adhere to a list, we are not being productive, or worse, we are not “easily” managed and supervised.
We have removed the expression of affect from the “professional” workplace, presumably on the assumption that emotion distracts from our capacity to work, to think clearly, to avoid entanglements and to prevent unwanted personnel problems like human relationships in the workplace. Another sanitary aspect of this approach is that it vacuums out any hint of anger, frustration, disagreement and disillusion, thereby assuring management that superficiality, efficiency and productivity reign supreme. And after all, what is business about if not time and money, and the obsessive pursuit of saving in both categories.
Along with his sanitization, and sacralising of efficiency, objectivity, productivity and “calm” goes the reduction or even elimination of the need for middle managers to have to deal with complex and ambiguous and multi-layered situations. That premise also reduces and even eliminates the need to train those managers (used to be leaders) in the complexity of human relations, thereby rendering the whole process one of mere numbers, without faces, personalities or characters.
Five and six second loops garner millions of views on U-tube; animals have become spokes-“persons” (referring agents) for products or services, generating a lucrative business for operators dependent on maximizing those u-tube “views” and “likes”. Stars are also born of a U-tube upload of a single piece of music, or a single video of some unique and captivating mini-loop. And even a single tweet now has the impact of generating a volcanic diplomatic upheaval, witness the Saudi-Canadian uproar over “the immediate release” phrase interfering in the internal affairs of the Saudi’s.
The short-term, instant gratification mind-set also has serious implications for the planet. If each of us grabs whatever we can, moment by moment, without a thought or care about the long-term impact of our individual actions, how can we expect the profit-driven behemoth corporations to give a “fig” about how they are poisoning the atmosphere, the land and the oceans and lakes? After all, they are merely operating in the same manner, with the same modus operandi, as individuals fixated on self-interest.
And when these micro-managing, nano-second-parametered, narcissism-generated actions are aggregated, we have what we have, a angry, immature, self-gratifying, tyrannical monster “leading” the way in endorsing, nurturing, modelling and signalling his approbation of this manner of being….applied to what used to be the most admired nation on the planet.
Hammering away at how we got here does little, if anything, to map a path out of the swamp of our own making. It does, however, paint a picture of some of the most obvious, most simple and most clear evidence of a culture that has replaced “the social good” for “what I want now”!
A recent conversation about a grievance expressed by the forty-fifty generation about the public pension of a retired teacher demonstrates some of my meaning. Time was when those planning public schools, hospitals, libraries, and civil service bureaucracies deemed it both reasonable and foresighted to build into the benefit package a reasonable pension plan, to which both employer and employee would contribute. Even large companies adopted the strategy, as a way of expressing confidence in, appreciation for, and honour in their workers. It was, agreed, at a time after the Second War, when productivity was trending upwards, disposable income was rising, the housing market was growing and hope and optimism were in the air.
And out of the perspective of that optimism and hope came a number of long-range, lift-all-boats, “brother’s-keeper” notions that said unequivocally that “we are all in this together”….Social cohesion, stability, trust and mutual interdependence were hallmarks of the period of history in which many of us grew up. Sharing, collaboration, mutual support and balancing disparate needs were some of the light-houses guiding the ship of state through the night and the inevitable storms.
Contrary to many, that was not a “nanny state” but rather a considerate, compassionate and caring state, whose leaders accepted a fair share of social responsibility, for their workers, and for the culture generally. And when things changed, and economic forecasts became less predictable and less secure, then those with power and money jumped on the bandwagon to argue that such “largesse” was no longer “affordable”.
Labour unions, which had waged long battles for fair wages, safe workplaces, week-end breaks from the job, health benefits and company pensions, all of them reasonable, affordable and within the range of “feasible” and moderate, began to be gutted by new regulations and rules.. that have so withered the vine of labour membership, even the word “union” is now a blasphemy to most.
A return to such times is neither likely nor necessary. However, the current income disparity, levels of poverty, economic divide that taken together confront towns and cities, provinces and states, nations and even the world community is neither sustainable nor desireable. Roads destroy private vehicles, as well as those purchased by public dollars; patients rest in corridors in urban and rural hospitals; nursing staffs are depleted, as are long-term care facility’s staffs, schools are in disrepair, public confidence in both private corporations and in public institutions has flat-lined and the income gap between rich and poor (whose numbers grow exponentially everywhere) widens by the hour, right before our eyes.
Have we gone blind to our own reality?
Or, are we so conscious of how desperate our situation is that we have lost hope in our ability and power to make the changes needed?
“A buck-a-beer” may be a good slogan for a cynical politician like Doug Ford, newly elected premier of Ontario, along with a 10-cent lowering in the price of a litre of gas. Neither qualify as steps in the direction of long-term, sustainable and responsible governance. In fact, both are analogous to the “bread and circuses” offered by the Roman Senate to the masses, after they had surrendered to the lowest common denominator of the society: entertainment at the cheapest cost possible. The only purpose served by such simplistic political “tricks” is to seduce the voting public into supporting this government, because he knows us and cares for us…right now!!!
And right now all we are interested in because who knows what the future holds!
Enabling simple-minded, goal-focused and egocentric politicians to develop policy around such simple “objectives” in a short-sighted manner makes us all responsible for what kind of menu we are offered. We have already established cash as the prime requisite for political campaigns, and as policy emerges from the vortex of the forces of reductionism, we are all victim to that vortex, in which creation we have all participated.
This is not an argument against social programs, real social programs, that will help those in need, like affordable rental housing, pharmacare, dentacare, and pre-natal orientation. Cheaper gas and cheaper beer really do not qualify as legitimate social programs, especially as reasonable people seek to save the planet.