What is the 21st century?
What is the 21st century? It is a loss of the happy medium. It is an oscillation between extremes. It is a flight to irrationality. The 21st century bears little resemblance to the 1960s tv show of the same name.
|20th century||21st century|
|The middle||The ends|
|Jetsons, Star Trek, Sleeper||End times; global warming; wealth disparity|
|Small, unlooked-for acts of kindness||Deliberate acts of hostility; random shootings|
|Admiration||Tearing down, destroying|
|Some things are driven by money||All things should be thought of as economic; religion, education, culture|
|Recovering from WW2||Anticipating the next war|
|Integrative actions||Dis-integrative actions|
|Blend of consumer and producer||Consumer; all is consumer|
|The long view||The short view|
|Faith in science||No faith in anything|
Boulding said: “there is a great deal of historical evidence to suggest that a society which loses its identity with posterity, and which loses a positive image of the future, loses also its capacity to deal with present problems and soon falls apart.”
How soon is soon? This seems to have been happening for a long time. Is a generation too soon? Is it now? Or are these warnings of a slow-motion destruction that may still be reversible.
This see-saw between extremes is now evident everywhere. In a discount bookstore chain, one sees a ridiculous bounty of trivial and meaningless toys based on hollow, half-thought fantasy games and cultural kitch. One can now buy a battery-powered LED toy that resembles the lampshade-on-woman’s leg joke from the 1950s. Or buy a dozen – doesn’t matter. And with no trace of irony whatsoever.
There is a sort of forced smile to all this, a sense of gun-to-the-head consumerism that shrilly announces itself during commercials. One is almost shamed into buying stuff, buy new stuff, buy anything, but buy it.
This ridiculous bounty seems to lampoon our social trends. While billionaires resculpt the earth with impunity for their huge gigamansions, minimum-wage workers go without schoolbooks for their children.
It’s probably true that the vast majority of entrepreneurs responsible for all this meaningless stuff end up losing money on their ideas. The mere existence of them, however, feels like an acceleration.
When the economy recovers from a recession there’s always a period of buyers who want to satisfy pent-up demand for things. Forget austerity, let’s splurge. But there is still austerity at many levels of the economy. The splurging is happening at the very top.
But those at the very top are not walking into discount bookstores to browse the titles. When “splurge” displays are at this level, it contradicts the reality that most of us still face. And when the average person, still struggling with low wages, is cajoled into a “splurge” mindset by the presentation of this kind of stuff, it is temporary escapism. One is beckoned into a short-cycle binge.
This could be nothing, or it could be a tiny symptom of a larger issue. Billionaire splurging is no different; a new yacht or a second mcmansion is not necessary but is wanted; it comes into being because, well, it can. And the desire to make it so is borne out of the exact same “binge” feeling, translated up a few levels.
This feeling usually arises from a premonition that the party could be over soon, so drink up. And thus it seems to point to a short-cycling: instead of grand, decade-long cycles of recession and prosperity, the cycles seem to be getting shorter. Already we experienced a mild short-cycle in 2009 and then again in 2012. Whether political parties can induce this, or it is out of any one group’s control is difficult to tell. What we clearly lack anymore is a certainty about the future.
Thus, our sense of “get mine while I still can” and a loss of identity with posterity. We won’t have flying cars like the Jetsons, or even self-driving cars like in Sleeper, and we certainly won’t have a society where the good of the many outweighs the good of the few. At least not in the myopic society we have at present.