The commonplace U.S. family line passes into a pattern of hazy, thinly attached bonds as each consumerI mean, family member!is aging virtually alone in more and more instances. Security is less and less defined as living with family and being there for each other. Instead, security is attempted through accumulating money and property if possible. This may or may not work out; some people fall by the wayside and become involuntarily homeless.
Jobs often force or allow people to move away from family, and long-distance relationships then depend on plenty of money for vacations and travel. The military opportunity, taken up by the poor, is another source of family division, even if soldiers are not killed by bullets. Prisonsthat burgeoned industry increasingly called slave laborobviously separate families. (In the eyes of the family patriarch or matriarch, prison would not be so objectionable if victimless crimes were not so frequently prosecuted.)
Johnnie went off to the military and then college, got married, and started a little family away from his parents. It was a neighboring suburb, but the car was essential. Johnnie was told that he must work! Then he could buy stuff. Then save money for his children's college education. That is better than his spending his money on cocaine. But in the best of circumstances, following the formula for family relations in the U.S. and to an extent in other industrialized countries, people have become cattledehumanized. As we are further separated from nature, and everything including clean water is commodified, we are cattle (or any term you prefer for economic units to be manipulated for the profit of the few).
If you wish to object and say "No, we love each other in our separate family households and various home towns, and..." Blah blah blah. The fact is that pervasive car dependence, and lack of time to keep in good touch with family and friends, means that we are on a fast treadmill going nowhere. For some, making money is satisfying, and they take pride in offering a good home (materially). But why is hate, dysfunction, abuse, cancer, back-stabbing, etc., so rife in the U.S. family? Add toxicity and radiation as destroying not just our bodies but our minds. Our materialistic culture obviously has very little connection with healthy nature, forcing people to squeeze out a little time for meditation at best. (See Family Cohesion Threatened by Sprawl and Greed, Culture Change magazine late fall 2001, and Sustainability Starts with Family Solidarity, Culture Change e-Letter 13).
Johnnie's daughter Joan follows the common example and tries to achieve happiness and self-reliance. She works hard and probably gives up her dreams. But even if she pursues her dream, say, of becoming a great costume designer, she finds very little time to visit or get to know her fast-aging grandparents and her nieces or cousins. There is no clue offered to Joan that there's anything generally wrong, or that theres an alternative, if we consider the television shows, newspapers, and songs on the radio. Those media, all corporatized, tell us what to think. Although Joan may or may not support the latest war or police action by the U.S. government, she may or may not smoke medical pot, or make her own clothes, or have her baby born at home instead of in a hospital, she has to subscribe to the value system around her to survive materially. The effect of the culture, and the civilization's march across the last of the wildernesses, are the same almost no matter what Joan tries to do: She can love her old dad Johnnie and her mama, and be sweet to other members of the familyeven extended onesbut there's only so much time in a day, only so many days in a year, and so many years in a life. Her life slips by at great speed, rather than meditatively so as to savor many moments each day. She may sense her aloneness and the fact that her family isn't strengthening at all. Her family and the community are weaker and weaker.
Joan may thus feel depressed and confused, even if she is fit and sexy. Where is that love and support from family when she needs them? It is no wonder that eventually she may make the "hard decision" to put her mother and father in a nursing home, after they fell one too many times in their "retirement home" for-profit institution. Whether or not Joan can withstand the common pressures of divorce, job loss and career change, she is too alone and has failed to gather and pass on what her grandparents knew. She can't tell many stories to her children about the great and great-great grandparents. Our culture once was telling us that these people were "great," not just old and dead! But finding out about one's heritage in the U.S. is perhaps even more rare than stamp collecting. Elsewhere, one would not have to try to study ones ancestry because a child knew it cold before hitting puberty.
Joan is cattle, even more so than her old Dad whom she may or may not love and revere. They have in common that public schooling taught regimentation and conformity to them and 99% of the citizenry. Her feeling or sensing the real impediments to family solidarity and traditions prevents lasting relationships from forming in her life, and contributes to lack of community on the neighborhood and town level. Safe in her box-of-a-home, using her electronic (pollution) devices for communicating and relaxing, Joan is part of a society-wide problem, no matter how "nice" she is, no matter how great Johnnie was at the 100 yard dash.
Happiness as we have come to know it, in the best of terms and circumstances, is an illusion in mainstream materialist culture. The U.S. may have many happy people, but consider that their ignorance is recognized world wide. They would be more happy if they had a sense of their family being so tight in their lives that money was not something to worry about. The sham that is the consumer's lifeno matter if one voted for Bush, Gore or Naderis what sends some people into experimentations such as cohousing and living in communes. However, if those experiments are in the U.S., failure may be built in. So, another country and its tighter family structure would seem to be the ticket. But this is no solution for masses of people in the U.S., so they will first have to see their petroleum gluttony terminated before realizing that they must depend on others for daily mundane accomplishments and long-term survival.
Good luck to Joan and to what should have been her rock-solid, illustrious family and set of neighbor-friends that together, or one-on-one, should have seen each member of the community through the rough years and the tragedies, as well as rejoicing over the births and comings of age. The knowledge that there is continuity and nothing lost over many, many generations, has become an alien concept in the "Land of the free and the home of the brave." Or is it the land of the slave and the home of the shopping spree?
Today we are threatened with discontinuity on all levels, as war of terror spins out of control, and law enforcement intrudes further and further into people's lives. It never used to be this way, and it will not endure. Support your family, neighborhood and your planet, and only then the flag if it honors your values and supports spending all the time you want with your family and friends. Whose life is it, anyhow? As the Jim Page song goes, "Whose world is it?"
We must first understand the problem, with unvarnished truth. In some of our upcoming Culture Change Letters, the positive alternatives to business-as-usual, along with hopeful scenarios, will take center stage. This will temper the negative analysis of impending social and ecological upheaval that some decry as doom-and-gloom, that may usher in the transition to establishing universal sustainability.
Jan Lundberg's columns are protected by copyright; however, non-commercial use of the material is permitted as long as full attribution is given with a link to this website, and he is informed of the re-publishing: firstname.lastname@example.org