In this post-recessional celebratory-illusory-prosperity period, we seem endlessly surprised and delighted with economic favors showered upon ourselves, and indulge like happy children jumping in autumn leaves raked into piles in the yard. Jobs again – yaay! Let’s all celebrate! Interest rates – low! Yay! Let’s buy big stuff! And now gas prices – they start with the number 1 again! Whoopee! Let’s all take trips! While we’re all celebrating our seemingly newfound economic freedom, it may be, as Shakespeare I believe once said, that “a modest amount of doubt is a beacon to the wise.” These autumn leaves, so fun to jump into, may signal a coming winter of political oppression.
What, you say? But this is America! We’re a democracy and we’re free! How could the two be possibly intertwined? Recall the Tienanmen Square generation in China, who wanted political freedom. The authoritarian government, after mulling it over (mid 1990s), instead offered the people some much-needed economic freedom instead. Starved for consumer goods and upward mobility, they said yes.
And so look upon China today: economically prosperous, bicycles traded for cars, cities booming and more and more getting built. Yet the shadow of political oppression lurks even longer, with corrupt party officials tightening their grip on the country, a clampdown on communication, and a complete inability of the people to gather in protest. Reform appears far, far away.
They say that, over a long struggle, you come to resemble your enemy. Could America be coming to resemble China in any of these ways? No, of course not…yet the insidious strengthening of our espionage institutions – the NSA, the CIA – seems to be dismissed. Those drones could just as easily be turned on ourselves as on some terrorist somewhere. We text-complain about ads pushing products we mention, and note how eerie it is they can read our thoughts and our minds.
Is the algorithm completed just yet? Are our thoughts revealed by the way we use Facebook and Twitter and all the other little ways we behave?
However, this early 21st century period may still resemble the postwar euphoria, but it is still hard to find. One of the places I’ve been looking, without much success, is in postwar fiction. Naturally I’ve read all the major works – Mailer, Salinger, Heller, Ginsburg, Kerouac. I’m now into Goodman and Bowles. I’ll let you know what I find.