I awoke Friday morning with a vague dream that is still echoing in my head. I don't remember exactly what I was doing in the dream, what it was about.
I get strange dreams when I read some kinds of books. Lately I've been reading, "The Trial of Socrates" by I.F. Stone. In it Socrates and the events surrounding his life don't seem like a distant memory, but a story of contemporaries, even if Stone seems to go over the top in his praise for Athenian democracy. I guess its no wonder it would start trigger subconscious nocturnal processing.
In the dream a young boy walked into view and told me something like, "Jack listen up, this is important. All civilizations need a myth, a story, a common theme from which follows their past, their present and gives them a guide to the future. Do you understand me?"
Well, since, I've thought it was an interesting thought. According to Stone, myths and stories, especially the stories of Homer played a part in determining Athenian law. As if stories were invented as part of legal argument to clear up a point of logic, ethics or debate. Those telling the stories and those hearing them, knew they were inventions. But I think its safe to assume that actual religious beliefs were liberally mixed into the process also. A few of Socrates peers seem to have gotten into hot water for mocking people's religious beliefs in a way that Stone doesn't make clear.
So Athens had a backstory, the current plot, and a means to keep extending the story into the future.
If I look back in the history of various modern nations, I see the common theme of past present and future. When I compare this to nations today, I don't see the same pattern. I see it in religious groups. There's a few prominent ones that believe that the world will end in a horrible tragedy, and then some religious leader or god will clean it all up, pat our bottoms with talcum powder, and put the good humans back to doing good works on the planet again.
These groups seem to be the only folks that can hold together a coherent vision of the future. But in their view the planet will be destroyed and we're all going to become extinct. Its not exactly a message of hope, except when the maid comes and cleans our room after we've trashed it.
The United States of America used to have visions of the future. Westward Expansion and Manifest Destiny were the mantras of everlasting growth. When that came to an end, the wave that rolled West, rolled back and gave us the Civil War.
In the 1950s, we had the fear of the bomb, and then we took that and turned into a positive step with a dream of making space our next home. That lasted a time, but for most was snuffed out by the Vietnam war.
Now we live in a time when the United States has no vision of the future. We have no common mythos or dreams to look ahead to. Our President tells us that our purpose is to 'Go Shopping', as he understands that we are 'consumers', which is essentially a nice word for 'eaters'. We serve no other purpose in the corporate view.
For corporate growth, and corporate business, that is enough. The future is rarely measured more than ninety days out. You don't need a back story or a myth to guide you on such short journeys. You only need sales projections, media blitzes and to give it one hundred and ten percent.
This is what drives our economy and our purpose as living beings is to grow the economy. There's no profit potential in a common dream, vision or myth. There's no profit potential in a long term plan. Especially if that plan requires short term sacrifices. Consider the paradox that an economy needs long term planning, but corporations die from short term sacrifices. One little setback can cause a corporation to spiral into the toilet.
Our nation's real achievements were accomplished not by 'Free Market' policies but by subscribing to a common belief or myth and by the nation getting behind that dream. There was no short term market advantage to be gained by anyone in marketing these ideals. They came about out of need, out inspiration, or both.
Our President has no dream. He has no inspiration. His goal is to keep us consuming, and promising to us that we'll continue to consume, safely. He tells us that his job is to keep us safe from those that would harm America. He tells us that he's doing what is necessary to help us stay safe. He tells us that when he trashes the US Constitution that its his job to destroy it, to keep us safe. Keep us consuming. That we shouldn't worry, just 'Go Shopping'.
But when he pledged his 'Oath of Office' his pledge was to uphold and safeguard the 'Constitution of the United States of America'. He didn't pledge to keep consumers safely consuming. His one and only job isn't to protect consumerism anymore than a husband's primary and only responsibility, is to take the garbage to the curb twice a week.
Our corporations, and the corporate media that they pay to broadcast their messages of consumerism to, don't need a message of the future. They only need messages of today. Of today's gratification, of today's wants and needs. Our government's role is help corporations gain maximum profits and to help shake us down for more income. Our prospective leaders have their campaigns financed in accordance with their abilities to show loyalty to their corporate benefactors. They have to lie to the corporations or lie to us if they want to get financed and elected. If they lie to the corporations, they are unlikely to be elected twice.
Out of all of this, a plan or dream for the future is by necessity, strangled before it is born. The result is that we can't even have wars of conquest with a clear strategy or objectives. You can't build an empire based on ninety day business cycles. Our leaders overreach out of a belief that the world can be completely operated as a machine. The US can because it evolved into a machine culture. But this came about as part of dream that was partially fulfilled. Now we can look back in nostalgia at what we once nearly were, and the media can tell us that its still within our grasp, if only we'll 'Go Shopping'.
Its too late to imbue the people of Iraq with the American dream. You can't make an honest promise to make a people's dreams come true after you've killed their relatives.
Corporate culture today is mostly stick and promise of a carrot that never comes. Its our hope that the American Dream can be revived, if we only believe. We are a nation of Peter Pans.
For Peak Oil, Global Warming, Trade Imbalances etc..., I don't see how we can dream a new dream, until we abandon the 'Dream of Consumerism'. Our current dream in which we see ourselves as consumers or eaters, and not much else, is digging us deeper into a hole that is going to be hard to get out of. Through short term thinking, we are creating horrible long term problems.
I'd like to wrap this up and say that I have a new plan. But as I understand things right now, unless its going to create more wealth for the wealthy in the short term, it won't make it much past my blog.
As for now, think globally, act locally. What can you do, for you, yourself and yours, to prepare for the downturn?