I took an opportunity afforded to me by a heavy workload followed by a hectic “vacation” to Ireland to do something I’ve never done before: cut myself off from the news. Even while I lived in the African bush I was plugged in to the world through shortwave, following the Kobe Earthquake in Japan from the initial death toll of 200 that doubled every hour until the BBC and Voice of America reporters gave up at thousands dead. But the preparation for the trip and the heavy workload at my job consumed me in the days before the trip so I had little time to check news sites or blogs, and in Ireland I was more concerned about getting the most out of my brief stay there than wasting time on the news.
Some things managed to seep through of course. Ireland’s failure to secure more bailout funds from Berlin was a palpable embarrassment after Prime Minister Kenney went to Germany “cap in hand” as the way the headlines put it. The Irish are a rightly proud people, and to see them having to go “cap in hand” to anyone bothers me. Then there was the concern over a possible Romney win voiced by the pleasant waitress at the Galway hotel we stayed at, a place dating from the 16th century. I didn’t go to Ireland to lecture the Irish about the disaster the Obama administration has been; the issue is much too complex to communicate through light and brief conversation even by a person as partisan as I am. Nor did I assure her by saying that whoever won Ireland’s future would be secure. Ireland’s future is far from it, but it has less to do with who occupies the White House in Washington DC than it does who rules the Reichstag in Berlin. Ireland has nearly all of its history buffeted by larger nations that were beyond its control, the Vikings, Normans, English or as of today the Germans. Can I say without a doubt that a Romney administration would be better for the Irish than an Obama second term? Of course not.
In the silence that came from my self-enforced “news blackout” I realized just how deeply unhappy I am with the state of affairs in the world right now. It is nothing new; it has popped up here and there in this blog since its creation 11 years ago. For most of my life I have been an optimist, which looking back on it doesn’t make sense. I’ve always had a keen sense of History, and History doesn’t particularly relish happy endings. Things rarely turn out well for anyone, so why I remained an optimist for so long mystifies me. Well the optimism is gone, replaced by a darkness bordering on despair that I could have only dreamed of decades ago when I actually celebrated such things as a self-described “Goth.” Perhaps what underpinned the optimism was faith in America, or particularly the American people. Sure they could be misdirected for awhile by one fancy or another, but eventually they would return to the path of hard work, building a better future for their children and a better society for everyone.
That faith is completely gone.
In its place I see a shallow, self-obsessed, entitled people who can’t think beyond the next commercial let alone the next generation. I have a teenager who is inheriting a $180,000 debt, a payment to the current generation stolen from the future. The debt is so large that it has left the realm of conceivability, so it is unlikely that whomever wins the November election either this year or in four years will be able – let alone willing – to do anything about it. Just because the debt is inconceivable doesn’t make it any less real as he and his generation are about to find out. Just hope that they don’t read Logan’s Run; it shouldn’t be a problem because our current generation of teachers has failed to teach them how to read.
The American imagination has failed at a critical time. Progressives can’t move beyond their expensive socialist utopias that have failed to materialize after generations of progressive rule in New York, Illinois and California. Conservatives chant “small government” like some kind of monk schooled in the texts of Ayn Rand and Jack Kemp instead of the Buddha without offering solid, concrete ideas on how to make government work efficiently so that less was needed instead of just lopping off bone and sinew along with the fat. I’d brush off my Chinese textbooks if it wasn’t for the fact that things in China aren’t doing much better even as it becomes the world’s Beacon of Capitalism.
At the heart of my lost faith is an anger that I’m still struggling to quantify. I am angry at myself for taking the easy road and subjecting my child to the American Public School System that has systematically beaten any curiosity and interest in the world out of him, replacing it with a narcissism where “He is a winner!” thanks to the efforts of his self-esteem coordinator (a real title I shite thee not). I am angry that I sacrificed to put the Wife through medical school only to have her treated like she’s working behind the counter at a fast food restaurant, with Medicaid patients demanding “I need an MRI with a side of Vicodin,” and complaining to the hospital when they don’t get what they want. I am angry that I live in a country that is willing to consider re-electing an amateur golfer to the Oval Office, and an opposing party that couldn’t come up with a better, more inspiring leader than Mitt Romney after four years of thinking about it. I am even angry at the cheap tasteless food that I buy in grocery stores here. I had forgotten what real food tasted like until I left the country and found that while the prices are much higher, the quality is much better. I have a pound of strawberries rotting in the fridge that I paid the same as 2 oz of strawberries in a shop in Galway Ireland. They are tasteless while the Irish berries were fresh and sweet. Why?
At this point I’d like nothing more than to run away and raise sheep in Connaught near where my ancestors once did, but Ireland’s problems are even worse than ours in some respects, and in our globalized world there is simply no escape from them. So instead I’ll plug back in, bite my tongue where possible, let it slip when it’s not and try to make my corner of the world a bit better.