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Home arrow News/Essays arrow Six Decades of Leisurely Deterioration for the U.S. Masses in a Mess
Six Decades of Leisurely Deterioration for the U.S. Masses in a Mess PDF Print E-mail
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by Jan Lundberg   
02 September 2011
Greetings from Oklahoma City, where I came to speak at the University of Oklahoma on "Natural Gas: a Bridge to Nowhere?" More on that in a later post.

My reflection this evening is on the transformation of USAmericans into a leisure society of individuals. It began in the 1950s and flowered in the '60s and early '70s. It developed into guitar playing rebels, surfers -- "Baw dip da dip dip" -- and, above all, television watchers, as prominent types among the new affluent generation. Institutions such as school and church weren't offering much cohesion. So the new generation of young people were distinguished sharply from their parents who had experienced the Great Depression, worked rather hard, endured World War II, and had witnessed their own parents' having more skills and tradition than they did.

The importance of this change between generations was ultimately not so much the luminescence of the Counterculture, but instead a weakening of the population. The direction of the population was not toward liberation and enlightenment or a return to more natural living (except for some hippies). Instead, as has become clear over the decades since, the population was becoming less healthy, more alienated, possessing fewer skills, controlled by the top of the pyramid, and losing knowledge of elders' traditions and sense of community.

I believe the above explains how a modern middle aged person in the U.S. today is little more than a graying replica of previous generations' resilient, wiry-strong citizens. While a factory job of yesteryear may not make more sense or be more healthful than a service-job today at a corporate chain store, the factory worker nevertheless used his hands and made something, and knew intimately of his parents' or grandparents' rural roots and simple values. One can deride the ignorance or lack of imagination of the generation of the 1920s, '30s and '40s, but minimizing the strength of that generation -- because it may not have been as technologically sophisticated or able to stop the corporatization of the nation -- as we applaud women's liberation and the slackening of church going, misses the overall change for the worse in the population during the last several decades. (Growth in population did not help anyone but the few profiting off growth, nor did reliance on ever-more-expensive, dwindling petroleum give us more than a short-term jolt of energy.)

For it is the mass denial today of our ecological plight and the increasingly obvious domination by unworthy, greedy masters that raises the question, "What accounts for the current generation's putting up with the imbalanced economy and total lack of connection to the life-giving land?" As I have a look at Oklahoma this week, I see the cloned, exacerbated sprawl development, automobile dependence, and acquiescence to ever more costly, senseless militarism. Simultaneously there is little acknowledgment of climate change when the state is experiencing the hottest summer in history. The people, as with almost USAmericans, are more dependent than ever on technology and being dictated to by government in more and more areas of daily living. Perhaps, though, the kindness and directness of the people of Oklahoma will be the biggest local resource -- beyond the vaunted petroleum industries and cattle ranching. And the famous Oklahoma Food Coop is the envy of the nation.

Where is this societal trend -- six decades of leisurely deterioration for the U.S. masses -- going? Times are tougher and tougher for more people, as the system shows itself to be failing. Eventually the number of people that the system is rewarding will be so small that they will be dealt with harshly by a hungry, landless mass of frustrated, mostly confused people who also had led soft, often empty lives. One can hope for a good outcome when things settle down, but we are running out of Mother Nature's patience.

* * * * *

Oklahoma Food Cooperative

New worker coop: okie.coop

Comments (6)Add Comment
James Howard Kunstler writes often of the young men he sees these horrid days as merely overgrown children. Baggy pants, tattoos, sideways ball caps and the pear-shape that defines most of them now. I recall fondly growing up in the 1960s being surrounded by real adults who dressed and acted like grown-ups. Now the culture panders to these perpetual children (if you don't think so, stop by a movie house now).

Of course this could keep a busload of shrinks busy as to why this is happening. It seems to me a way of checking out of an economic system that no longer needs them.
George
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"Where is this societal trend -- six decades of leisurely deterioration for the U.S. masses -- going? "

The only place it can go; straight down the tubes as far as we are concerned, fait accompli. Already it isn't pretty, as your columns so often describe. There's no plausible reason to expect that this trend will miraculously transform itself into a "Greening of America" style segue to the Age of Aquarius, no matter how much we wish it so. What were are witnessing is a sere, a natural succession of communities in the ecological sense. Those so-called tough-as-nails, conscious of their elders' traditions generations of 7 decades past giving way to the current "cloned, exacerbated sprawl development, automobile dependence, and acquiescence to ever more costly, senseless militarism". This in turn will give way to to the only world it can based on its initial state and the "corporatization of the nation", etc.. But that world is unclear to us, and I think that it is unclear because it quite probably doesn't include us. The concept of the sere involves the replacement of the current dominant population by whatever species will best inhabit the changed environment left by the previous king of the hill.
Dr. C
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Yes, Americans are alienated and over-entertained. But I don't think the USA has become a nation of "leisure". If anything, most people are working longer hours than ever. True leisure would be time to work on art, craft, sport, education, etc. Instead, most Americans are too tired from working boring, meaningless jobs and succumb to the numbing effects of the glowing screen.

I'm one of the perpetual adolescents that Kunstler and George are railing against (although I am in excellent physical shape and don't wear baseball caps or baggy pants - just t-shirts and Levis). Most of my spare time is spent distracting myself with reading or outdoor "extreme" sports. Without an extended family, a real culture, or even a hometown, what else would you expect? Should I join my friends and work long hours in cubicle hell to support the American nightmare? I certainly can't afford to buy land and start my own eco-utopia...
James
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Given what the U.S. and the American people used to be but no longer are, is it possible that all of us are being dumbed down by HAARP, chem. trails, chemicals in our food and fluoride in water supplies? I can't understand the apathy which exists...especially in the U.S. and Canada. So far it seems Europe, China, India etc. do not have the same amount of apathy. There has to be an explanation. We have not changed as a species. What is the explanation. Resocializing is only part of the answer. Someone tell me.
Puzzled
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Dear Puzzled... the most obvious explanation for the differences between American culture and the rest of the world is the hyperindividualism of the American mythos, and the 24x7 propaganda machine of consumer culture. Instead of more actual leisure time, we work to buy leisure wear.
Dave Ewoldt
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James,
I was trying to isolate the pivotal change in USAmericans from the last tough generation, my parents (I'm 59), to mine and the successive crops of young people.
I believe the leisure factor cropped up in the 1950s and hung around into the 1970s, but certainly was on the run by the 1990s. I even noticed that young people's speech became curt and clipped in the 1990s. The short updates and notes on Fakebook are evidence of lack of time for relaxation and deep communication. And where are the hand-written letters that are obsolete (or temporarily out of style)? Time is money!
Jan C. Lundberg
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