A momentary look in the rear-view mirror:
The connection between the shift and the fantasy may not be instantly obvious to all my readers, but it can be made a good deal clearer by looking more closely at what happened as the Seventies ended and our society’s thirty-year vacation from reality began. During the Seventies, a great many Americans came face to face with the hard fact that they could have the comfortable and privileged lifestyles they were used to having, or they could guarantee a livable world for their grandchildren, but they couldn't do both. The vast majority of them – or, more precisely, of us – chose the first option and closed their eyes to the consequences. That mistake was made for understandable and profoundly human reasons, but it was still a mistake, and it haunts the American imagination to this day.
The impact of that choice is perhaps easier to trace on the conservative end of America’s social and political spectrum. Forty years ago, the Republicans had at least as good a record on environmental issues as the Democrats, and the idolatry of the unrestrained free market that pervades the American right these days was a fringe ideology widely, and rightly, considered suspect by most conservatives. For that matter, creationism and speculations about the imminence of the End Times were consigned to the fringes by most American Christians, who by and large considered them irrelevant to the task of living a life centered on the teachings of the Christian gospel.
All these things changed in a hurry at the end of the Seventies. Why? Because the attitudes that replaced them – the shrill insistence that the environment doesn’t matter, that the free market will solve every problem, that the world was created in 4004 BCE with as much oil, coal, and gas as God wants us to have, and that the world will end in our lifetimes so our grandchildren won’t have to deal with the mess we’d otherwise be leaving them – are all attempts to brush aside the ugly fact that the choices made at the end of the Seventies, and repeated by most Americans at every decision point since then, have cashed in the chance of a better future for our grandchildren, and spent the proceeds on an orgy of consumption in the present.
The squirmings of the leftward end of American culture and politics are a little subtler, since the Left by and large responded to the end of the Seventies by clinging to its historic ideals, while quietly shelving any real attempt to do anything about them. It’s discomfort with this response that leads so many people on the Left to insist angrily that they've done all they can reasonably be expected to do about the environment, in the midst of pursuing a lifestyle that’s difficult to distinguish, on any basis but that of sheer fashion, from that of their Republican neighbors. It also drives the frankly delusional insistence on the part of so many people on today’s Left that everyone on Earth can aspire to a middle class American lifestyle if the evil elites already discussed would simply let it happen, and the equally, if more subtly, delusional claim that some suite of technologies currently in the vaporware stage will permit the American middle class to have its planet and eat it too.
Reminder, Part 1:
A great many of the flailings and posturings that have defined American culture from the Eighties to the present, in other words, unfolded from what Jean-Paul Sartre called “bad faith” – the unspoken awareness, however frantically denied or repressed, that the things that actually mattered were not things anyone was willing to talk about, and that the solutions everyone wanted to discuss were not actually aimed at their putative targets. The lie at the heart of that bad faith was the desperate attempt to avoid facing the implications of the plain and utterly unwelcome fact that there is no way to make a middle class American lifestyle sustainable.
Let’s repeat that, just for the sake of emphasis: there is no way to make a middle class American lifestyle sustainable.
That’s the elephant in the living room, the thing that most of a nation has been trying not to see, and not to say, for so many years. The middle class American lifestyle, to borrow and extend Jim Kunstler’s useful decription of suburbia, is an arrangement without a future; it’s utterly dependent on the rapid exploitation of irreplaceable resources, and the longer that it’s pursued, and the more people pursue it, the worse the consequences will be for children now living, and for a great many generations not yet born. It really is as simple as that.
Reminder, Part 2:
Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.
I've been part of this small village since early 2010 and have been looking for the 'choir' since that time. Please make yourself known. Not to me, but to each other. People need to hear your voices and your stories and your thoughts, fears, and hopes - but more importantly, they need to hear your solutions.
May this Earth Day mark the start of the the real change we so desperately need and thus bring each of you and yours blessings beyond your wildest dreams.