So I have been thinking about fear. I realized that fear is a backdrop in this country more than many other places I have been. The individualist bent that underpins our society has a concurrent theme that means if we screw up, unless we are lucky enough to have family or friends with means to help us we are totally screwed. I was told by a financial planner that the number of people who worry they will end up homeless is kind of surprising.
That is a product of no (or very little) safety net. In some ways I can agree that it does often spur a different level of innovation and a higher level of drive than many other places because no one will do it for you, and the quality and tenor of ones life is totally self-motivated.
The problem that exacerbates this ideology though, and can take it to a very different place, is the hyper capitalism of the early 21st century. The underlying message of almost all commercial interactions is that we should be afraid. We are different, or not enough, or could be better (which pretty much all means the same thing) and if we purchased x, y, or z, product we could be safer by fitting in, being more efficient, getting to the place we ‘should’ be. That ‘should’ place is the dangerous element. Because in reality it can never exist. If we all actually got to the place of having everything right we would all relax, because we would have achieved what ever it is we thought we needed to do. So it is in fact an impossibility to achieve that place. We can run as hard as we want, we may even appear to get closer, but there will always be another brass ring to grasp, another lap to go, another person to pass.
These dual dynamics exist in our collective unconscious, driving us all, creating amazing progress in technology, communication and potential. The tragedy of history (as W Benjamin says) is that somehow all of the progress improves our material positions, but never gives us the peace of mind that we really desire.
Is a child perfect if they can fulfill everyones’ extrinsic goals for him, but can’t decide what he wants with a blue sky horizon? That he is only capable of choosing between options? That he can’t challenge the options themselves?
And what of his brother, who sees the falsity of the choices he is offered, but doesn’t have the language or power to point out how unfulfilling those choices have been for his parents?
The irony of all of it, is that in the end we are the only ones capable of soothing the self, but we can only really do that when we try to let go of the markers we are supposed to be achieving