The biggest social issue that humanity faces is our diminishing ability or stubborn refusal to connect with those outside our immediate circle. Okay, there is a strong whiff of self-satisfied young adult and hyperbole mixed on the rocks in that sentence but I will stand by it. The American dream has proven to be the most persistent of myths in the modern world. It has evolved from a desire to better ourselves into fortunes for the brave before morphing into this ugly ‘greed is good’ world of the 1% hoarding their riches in their oversized condos without giving more than an obligatory ‘philanthropic’ nod of the hat to a charity or two from time to time. Whilst we are taught that ‘all animals are equal’ during our childhood, the Orwellian notion that ‘some are more equal than others’ is more accurate than ever. So where did it all go so wrong?
It is easy to point the finger at sub-sections of society, and to be fair I already have, however, we must all be accountable in our responsibilities and forthright in how we turn back the tide. I could sit here in my ivory tower and throw rotten fruit on the paupers who refuse to adhere to my suggested reading for the disconnected but I would hardly have the opportunity to feel more like a hypocrite. I enjoy shutting myself off for lengthy periods and I am lucky enough to often have that opportunity in the comfort of a house in upper-middle class suburbia, however it constantly irks me when I sit back (with a glass of schnapps, of course) and consider that with all of 7 billion people on this magnificent planet, I only managed to connect with one, myself, and I’m pretty sure connection between your hand and your genitalia is rarely considered much more than a gratuitous connection anyhow. Have we developed this aversion to social connection from a young age or is this an innate ‘quality’ that is so far gone we cannot shake the remnants of it?
The ‘American dream’ ideology is not simply a ‘Born in the USA’ idea, and to be honest I do not claim to know the origins of our wanton desire to gain capital and become prosperous, but I presume it would have been sparked pretty early on in humanity. Status is a decidedly important thing, that’s no secret, and it will continue to prove so until the end of humanity, however at what point did it override community ties, cohesiveness and the wonderful notion of equality despite one’s status? Maybe people just got so sick of having to deal with the problems of others that they started to lock themselves away into a space where their own problems were the only ones they had to deal with.
My travels to the USA have been eye-opening in many ways, none more so than the poverty issue. Whether self-inflicted via drug use and bad decisions or genuine hardship, homelessness has left a major stench that wafts over the high and mighty moral high ground that we view the stereotypical Mustang driving, beer swigging, bigger than Texas, American of having. Obviously many of my misconceptions of the USA have proven to be ignorant upon coming here. There are many wonderful things about this country; from the hospitality of Texas to the grand festivals of New Orleans to the sheer enormity and diversity of California so the before-mentioned and subsequent criticism some may view as having an ‘Anti-American’ feel is not completely intended. My main argument in regard to the USA is that as they have expanded astronomically in size and until recently, wealth, they lost something that people truly want. An attachment to something bigger than a bunch of chain fast-food restaurants and supermarkets.
It could be argued that I’m still a little misty-eyed from the nostalgic-filled sets of John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band and Arcade Fire at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Nonetheless, my frustration melds with my optimism as I’ve seen as much of the great as I have the very worrying whilst here as I just mentioned. Can the tide be turned back? For a place that claims to be the greatest democracy in the world yet is basically proudly divided in every possible way, minus their own citizenship, straight down the middle, I would argue no. So vast and so diverse, how do you connect 300 million people to something other than their presence within some imaginary borders protected by a most fearsome group of armed forces? McDonald’s? Walmart? Convenience? The myth of the American Dream? These particulars have proven vulnerable in they face of mass critique and certainly don’t tie anyone to an allegiance minus their ode to cholesterol and sugar
I know many individuals who lauded ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ as the greatest film they have seen. 20-something young men with visions of naked women, long debaucherous yacht rides, gargantuan loads of cocaine and pills and lots and lots of the greenback. I must say that I enjoyed aspects of the sheer immorality of the film as most hot-blooded young men would, however I was a little disturbed by how little the effects of white-collar crime have on regular, excuse the Labor (Australian political party) rhetoric, working families who, depending on your view point, don’t have as much to play with, are not as obsessed with the attainment of ridiculous amounts of wealth, are too naive to understand the system or simply have never had the opportunity to become a high-flying, martini-swigging, dick-swinging CEO. A bit of a contrast from the bigger than Texas stereotype that I was parading around earlier.
Turning back the Titanic is not an easy thing to do. Giving things up is a lot harder than we all expect. This piece isn’t a crusade for people to make small sacrifices that simply don’t work. If anything, it makes people feel more repressed and controlled by an entity that is seemingly bigger than humanity. What I’m angling at is a simple reconnection. A mere investment in society. I understand that many of us have had our faith in the system destroyed by deviants, bigots and those who just want to see the world burn (isn’t that just the most useable quote in modern society? Thank you Batman) but there is a lot of power that we hold in our own person. A voice, a viewpoint, a moral compass. We all have our dirty little secrets but I still think the majority of humanity is innately… Good. Am I so naive as to believe that? I’m not sure internal monologue, I’m not really sure. I do still have my faith and I hope it never wanes. As the great Bruce Springsteen sang on Saturday afternoon, ‘Hold tight to your anger, and don’t fall to your fears’ even after we realise that ‘all our little victories and glories have turned into parking lots’.
It’s hard to stay optimistic and care about the plight of others when we’ve all individually got a list of endless worries and obligations already fixed to our fridge on a couple of post-it notes but if we don’t take others into consideration what hope do we have if it all comes burning down before our eyes? I’m a flawed man, probably more than the majority. I don’t deny that a life in the ivory tower is a rather attractive notion with a bookshelf full of first editions, a vinyl collection Michael Gudinski would envy, a career that sends me round the world three times over and a sex life that forces hotel managers to be on high alert whenever I check in but I also want to help preserve something bigger than that. The arts, our academic pursuits, lively and energised debate, our connection with nature, our need for something more than money and our innate, delicate connection with our fellow beings. Sometimes we wonder why we bother at all, sometimes we are too busy, sometimes we are just sick of being asked to lay down our dollars for something we don’t need. But gosh darn it, it doesn’t make these principles any less important.
Having said all this, humanity has a wonderful way of surprising you if you look at it from a certain angle… Sometimes it feels like you have to stand in your head, do a 180, stick out your tongue and pull down your pants but it is worth it. A man told me today in cab drive to the New Orleans Greyhound station that he was so thankful that I would come to his great city and enjoy it. Maybe he just wanted a nice tip (he had the wrong client if he wanted such a thing) but I’d prefer to view the conversation with less cynicism for once. He showed a part of his soul, a vulnerable and dangerous thing to do in these harsh times and I thank him for that. We will probably never see each other again but we had a connection over our love for a city that also holds such a sincere and honest soul.
I’ll finish the piece with another tip of the hat to Mr Springsteen. From one of his greatest songs, Thunder Road, ‘Well the night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere. We’ve got one last chance to make it real, to trade in these wings for some wheels.’ Sure, he was singing about two lovers hitting the open road to a potentially mythical place but he was willing to open his mind for a small chance of grasping something real in a world becoming obsessed by fads and unwilling participants.
Fuck it, reach out and touch somebody.