So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

22 November, 2008

Glitter and Gold

In a discussion elsewhere, a friend commented, "Is it just me, or is America in particular, fond of swathing things in happy gas rather than looking at change straight on?"

I commented in response that it struck me as a combination of wealth and fear.

I want to chew on that thought a little.

The culture of the US is one that is very wealth-driven in many ways. There is aspiring to it, having it, making the possession thereof into celebrity in and of itself; there is this perspective that resources are infinite (driven by having this huge sweep of continent to occupy rather than the packed-in border-rubbing of Europe) and effort will bring one riches.

At the same time, though, that wealth is a cliffside walk. This is an almost inescapable knowledge; too many people are bankrupted by a health crisis, emotionally battered by an assault, worry that if they don't work that extra few hours of overtime they'll lose their jobs, or whatever else makes that sense of abundance precarious and transitory.

So the illusion gets cultivated: it can't happen to me.

I don't need health coverage, because I'm immortal; I won't get into an accident, I won't come down with a debilitating condition, I won't have to worry about expensive treatments. I'm immune to sexual assault and robbery because I don't go into those places or wear those clothes; my magic talisman sensible shoes will protect me. I really love my job, that's why I work late all the time.

And there are people who profit by that fear. Not just the employers who can get more hours out of their workers with the suggestion that those who aren't performing over standards might not be worth keeping on in tough economic times; not just profiteering off keeping up with the Joneses fearfulness of personal worth equated with notable consumerism. But making people driven to fear over their children's educations, or freaking out about some subset of issues and ignoring bullying as trivial, or any of a number of things that actually matter. As long as people can be kept running around in circles and insecure, then the things that actually cause the insecurity can remain a point of leverage.

Real security, real wealth, provides protection from fear rather than a point to lever it from.


Anonymous said...

Excellent points. America is all about the glitter. Someone really does need to billboard that old saw "All that glitters is NOT gold."

Graydon said...

And advertising is all about finding, creating, and amplifying fear.

Cassandra Says said...

It does seem to me like one of the primary purposes of American society is to keep people on edge most of the time. Edgy people are nice and malleable, just what a consumerist society needs.