Thursday, November 20, 2008

Modern America

I was talking with someone the other day about how amazing it must be for old people to see the changes that sweep through our world. Even in my 24 years, the times have become irrevocably different. The world has integrated beyond what anyone could have imagined, and with the Internet we've had a front-row seat to it all.

My generation, the computer-savvy, globally connected generation, has grown up in a post-WWII era where prosperity has been the operating paradigm, spoon-fed to us since we were born. As a result, the virtue of thriftiness is rarely found in our country, a dire symptom of our materialism shown even more clearly by recent turmoil in the financial markets.

The root of all these problems, the insidious foundation we build our culture of consumerism upon, is a lie. At its core, it's the idea that like winning the lottery, we can get something for nothing.

America tells my generation that it can build a house with no money down and "own" a car with a list of bad credit that runs longer than the buyer's morning commute. America tells my generation that health care is a right, that Uncle Sam will look after us because we can't take care of ourselves. America tell us that inefficiency will be rewarded with government support, while success will be indirectly and unfairly punished and discouraged.

America used to be the nation of innovation, where hard work and know-how came together to solve problems and to create the most competitive workforce in the world. We're still good at a lot of things, but unfortunately we've become too proficient at living the lie discussed above.

It must be hard for those who hoarded potatoes and scrounged to survive during the Depression to imagine this generation as destitute as they once were. We're nowhere near that point. Neither are we - even with these money crises - even remotely approaching heartfelt appreciation for the ease with which many of us have waltzed through life.

In our world, everything's in a can. Food gets tossed into our car from windows as we roll by the restaurant. We are the fast food nation, and that culture attaches itself to every segment of our society. It's a leech that sucks out our ability to recognize what's truly valuable - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom does not mean government-subsidized ease. It means freedom, and that is enough.

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