I finished a book last night.
It was Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. Did you know banks can loan ten times the amount of cash they physically possess? Our economy is a lie!!
Actually, the thread that tied the whole book together (at least for me) was the potential benefit of such “lies,” or myths. Harari explores how fictions – usually manifest as cultural abstracts like national ethos, law, and money – provide us with motivation and unity. Without these artifices, we would be unable (according to Harari and his research) to sustain functioning organizations larger than about one hundred humans, nor would we want to. They essentially supply us with interdependence.
And let me tell you, I got into this book at a gosh damn serendipitous time.
The idea of “The American Dream” has been swirling around in my head for some weeks now, basically in this format: “What the FUCK is the American Dream?” Or this other reliable approach: “Who fucking dreamt it up, anyway?”
I’m quite eloquent when I talk to myself.
But yea, like seriously. What is it? Who came up with it? When I think of it, am I thinking of the same thing you are? Does it matter?
Well, what I was beginning to clumsily grasp at, and what Mr. Harari seems to have confirmed, is yes. Yes, it does matter.
I started toying with this American Dream business as a byproduct of finally allowing myself the torment of wading into discussions/projectile-word-vomit sessions about the presidential election. Unfortunately for me, I had conceded to the social mandate I had long held at bay – that one must participate in the political process. I didn’t disagree that I should, but I couldn’t logically answer why I would.
My experience thus far had shown me that politics among citizens plays out like this:
Person exclaims total confidence in one candidate.
I offer a counterpoint, which includes my main issues with specified candidate, as well as points on which I actually agree.
Person berates me for being a communist or a terrorist or a tree-hugging, liberal faggot.
Discussion ends with all parties being now significantly dumber.
So with this always in mind, I tended to respond to any political points of conversation with non-comittal chuckles and sweeping disinterest.
I let this change because, like many people, I’m convinced things could be much better. I won’t say things are terrible (and truthfully, I have no right to), but the political scene in this country feels stagnant as kiln-fired shit, and about as personal as a stadium urinal.(A rhyme AND back-to-back references to feces and urine! Bonus points!)
Change is hard-won over long periods of time, and our representatives seem more attentive to things with “Inc.” as their last name than actual living humans.
My thinking then proceeded to something like, “If I don’t like what’s going on, or even if I’m just not sure what’s going on, because I feel not really included in what is supposed to be a democratic process, then I should get involved, rather than wait to be included.”
This was put into action by freely voicing political views and engaging in debates on Facebook. Really got my hands dirty.
I also got my soul dirty. God, what a mess it all is.
I honestly wouldn’t have felt more disparaged if I gathered all my acquaintances into a gym and we threw crusty lumps of crap at each other. (Poop again. Count it!)
You get into political discussions and everyone not only has an opinion, but everyone has a way of slyly reshaping that opinion in order to “win.” As if winning these types of comically rote debates between individuals means anything at all. As if there is a win in this context. But there is no win, because there is no shared purpose toward which both sides strive. It’s a skirmish of intellects, morals, and egos for the prize of biggest douche in the room.
And this led to a semi-solid (could be about poop again…) conclusion: Most of us don’t really know what we want a government to look like. We just engage the process as a way of being part of a team. We take a side and now we have something to use our energy on. We have an enemy (Those fascist Republicans! Those whiny Democrats!) and thus, a purpose.
We know that we, as individuals, want to pay fewer taxes and have roads and get educations and have military resources available to protect our freedom to drool all over our Facebook walls, but we don’t have any idea how the entity that would secure these things for us will also secure those things for 320 million other people at the same time. Nor do we know how that entity is supposed to function efficiently when it is staffed by stumblefucks as clueless and narrow-minded as ourselves (I’m calling myself a stumblefuck here too. Don’t be offended, government employees. Or do. I don’t care.).
Our unifying myth – the American Dream – is crumbling, or has already crumbled. This is a predicament.
The second part of my semi-solid conclusion was that if we could come to a consensus on even the MOST basic government application, shit might just run a hell of a lot better than it does now.
Better still, we agree on one basic life goal that would then contribute to an organic restructuring of our political process.
Not everyone sees the point in making billions of dollars. Not everyone wants to eat vegan and go to raves. Not everyone likes farming or fishing or video games or gay sex or straight sex or church or puppies (sadly true)… but there must be something. There must be some prescription for living a valuable life that we can agree on, even if it’s as generic as “Everyone should laugh once a day.”
And yea, I realize this is basically what anyone with self-consciousness has been pondering since Grandma Australopithecus birthed a mutant freak baby named homo sapiens, but I’m not saying we have to solve the riddle of life. I’m saying we have to solve the riddle of living in the United States of America right now and, as a hopeful bonus, for the next couple hundred years.
We may have already come to this consensus, even if subconsciously. Maybe it’s the American Dream. Maybe it’s the free pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But we better be damn sure we know what that means, because I have the feeling that we either live together or we collapse into warring tribes of one hundred or less people and probably die together.
One of the last one-line bombshells in Sapiens is a question: “What do we want to want?”
I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the fuck that means, but there are some tangential questions that I’ll offer up before leaving you to deal with you own mental implosion…
How do we know what we want is what we want?
Do we want things for the right reasons, personal or otherwise?
Are our wants totally organic – do they spring unbidden from within?
Does the all-too-common tragedy of wanting what isn’t (or can’t be) had indicate that our wants are faulty?
WHAT IS THE AMERICAN DREAM AND HOW DO WE JUST DO IT ALREADY?