Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Eliot's Wasteland more appropriate than Orwell's 1984 as portrait of NOW


Two recent conversations have left me puzzled, as if I am not puzzled by many, if not most, things I witness these days.

The first exchange happened as I was searching for dried cranberries in the local supermarket. I asked a young grocery clerk, reminiscent of my own summer adolescence in the local grocery chain, if he (and it was a “he”!) could help me find the missing item. “It might be on those shelves or maybe in aisle 3,” he muttered without making a single move to point it out, and then he walked into the backroom of the store. A more unequivocal and resounding incarnation of contemptuous, careless, unprofessional and negatively unforgettable conduct I have never experienced in all my more than seven decades of shopping. I had never met this young twerp, and my inclination to return to the store in which he works has significantly declined.

The second exchange occurred when I mentioned the little epigraph above to a senior manager in a busy pharmaceutical supermarket. She shook her head, and said that it was her perception that this ‘kid’ could not care less, that his ‘head’ was not in his work and then she continued, after my question, “What is happening to young people these days?”

“Well,” she replied, “these kids are being raised in homes where they have a sword hanging over the heads of their parents; if the parent attempts to discipline them, they hold out the threat that they will call ‘child’s services’ and complain about how they are being treated by their parents!” Her nearby husband interjected, “The only thing these especially unnecessarily privileged kids are ‘into’ is their devices,” as he pointed to the cell phone sitting on the adjacent window ledge.

I offered the observation that I had recently ‘surfed’ the job ads on a local job site, noting the large number of sales/service jobs in retail sales, delivery, hospitality and digital service going unfilled. “I guess that it must be very hard to fill these jobs,” I offered, given the attitude of that young man and the difficulty employers must have in training such applicants.

“In our business, we are trained to physically take the customer who is searching for an item right to the specific item, before leaving them!” the supervisor-wife stated, “but it is also  true that, if after three days of training, if they can’t operate the cash, they are ‘out’! If they can operate a computer, then they should be able to operate the case; it is just another computer.”

Of course, I am just a “grumpy old guy” whose eyes and ears are taking in sights, sounds and implications I never could have either imagined for the first half-dozen decades on the planet. Things like broken and abandoned nuclear treaties, abandoned climate accords, trade wars and unjustified and unjustifiable tariffs, bully-acts of bombs, mass killings, and political discourse that oscillates between the picayune and pedantic on the one hand and the threatening and character assassinating of the pre-adolescent school yard…taken together demonstrate both a degree of hopelessness and despair, and a level of contempt for the “public good” that surpasses (negatively) much of what passed for history in the last half of the twentieth century.

The neophyte grocery clerk’s “cultural greenhouse” seems devoid of supportive oxygen, in spite of the perfectionistic protection he and his peers claim as threats to his obviously disempowered and confused parents. Of course, no one seeks to return to a “belt” out behind the shed, when discipline is required, as was the case in our grandparents’ lives. And no one wishes a child to be “harmed” through physical, emotional or sexual abuse as thousands have been. And yet, one has to wonder if we have not “thrown the baby (common sense) out with the bathwater (responsible authority and effective, nurturing, honest and loving discipline).

It is not rocket science to postulate that anxiety, fear, personal insecurity, cultural and political deception (fake news, lies, mis-representations, projections of blame, failure to take responsibility, refusal to apologize) are hardly the stuff of gardening a flourishing flora and/or fauna…not to mention a health populace.

A sign on a local church I drove past earlier today read, “This church is not closing, that was fake news!” In the UK, some churches have taken to installing mini-putts, and child adventure rides inside the sanctuary, as a way of bringing people inside their walls, in the hope that something about the art, the architecture, the history or perhaps even the spiritual atmosphere of the place will bring them back. Is it gimmickry? Of course, but gimmickry and headlines that shoot verbal bullets of extreme “special effects” (a new segment of the digital arts explosion) are apparently what it takes to attract attention.

If that apprentice grocery clerk suffering, like so many of his peers, from a psychological/cultural lead weight attached to his neck and shoulders (metaphorically) screaming “you are not good enough” or  “you have to be heroic” if you want to be accepted, revered, honoured and successful? We have even generated a new “app” that emits sounds of falling rain, in an attempt to help individuals find a moment of peace and solace in the midst of their turbulent, frenetic, and obviously “productive” days.

Morphing our definition of human identity into a productive unit that ultimately generates profit (wages, dividends, stock options, bigger and bigger offices, promotions and retirement packages) at least for those still on the inside track of the “gig-economy” is just another way to illustrate, and thereby prove definitely, that only one’s capacity, willingness, and total surrender to the demands, the exigencies, the expectations and the discipline of the “organization” (family, school, church, employer) will satisfy the inherently insistent gold ring of social, cultural and political success.

He will never hear me say it but I am sincerely worried and sorry that that adolescent boy is growing up in a world in which the road maps (life patterns) have been reduced to digital pixels, the support systems have become dark shadows of their own authentic potential, and the “north stars” of one’s dreams have been clouded over with the greed, the narcissism and the selfishness of his adult mentors.

And when he looks around at the wider world, there is little reason for his optimism, his hope and his aspiration to find sustenance, support and guidance. And global warming and climate change are only one symptom of the malaise confronting him and his generation.
-----------------

“My nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me.
“Speak to me. Why do you never speak. Speak.
“What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?
“I never know what you are thinking. Think.”

I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.

“What is that noise?”
The wind under the door.
“What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?”


Nothing again nothing.

“Do you know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember
“Nothing?”


From T.S. Eliot's, The Wasteland.

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