In the traditional run up to Thanksgiving, a couple articles appeared in well-known media outlets about Americans becoming more and more angry and disillusioned with the United States and why this is so.
The standard answer is economic: the economy is bad and getting worse, the Obama Administration has made a mess out of the healthcare industry, we’re working longer hours for less return, there is a feeling of helplessness among the people at this point, and, of course, there is the outright intemperate covetousness of Black Friday and all that entails that’s really present all the time at this point in American history, just magnified with the confected aura of the kick-off to the secular Christmas season.
People are now skipping Thanksgiving to camp out for bargains and deals and World Series tickets aren’t even in the offing??? WTF.
In short, the culture is out of whack.
Why this is is not something easy to pinpoint, and sociologists and anthropologists are far too interested in the sex lives of starving pygmies in New Guinea to pay much attention and analyse it, but why we are so angry might well be frustration bubbling to the surface as life gets increasingly fast with expectations high and very little downtime to think, digest, rest and recharge.
Think about it, the average American worker gets up EARLY, in some latitudes during the winter months, in the dark. We do a morning routine half asleep: make coffee, let out or walk the dog, shower (bath would take too long), grab some quick food for the road, and head out to work. By this time, there would be anywhere from 1-3 hours of traffic reports: where the accidents are, how long the back-ups are, where the stalled cars are, driver illness, water main breaks, what areas to avoid. As a result, we Americans spend on average 25 minutes just getting to work – and that’s IF there’s no accidents or other surprises along the way. And depending on the month and where one lives, this may well be done in the dark.
For those who are able to use public transportation as an alternative, additional time must be built in to make all connections and be sure to have fare. One carries all necessary items. For these people, eReaders, iPods, etc., are recommended lest one turn into a commuter zombie.
We get to “work,” hermetically sealed buildings with forced air for ventilation and windows that don’t open to at least keep the workforce from getting disoriented, where we spend the next eight hours or more sitting at a desk staring at a computer screen and/or subjected to people we may not like or have any regard for - and we can’t get away from them. (There is a special place in hell for the inventor of the cubicle farm.)
Human resources may try to mediate arguments, but when the core issues of personality conflict and grating voices are not changeable, all one wants to do is escape.
We might get to leave the building for lunch, but the reality is, the seasons change and unless a worker is of the manual labor/outdoor work variety, we don’t get to see and savor it, because when the day is done, we get back in the car, flip on the traffic report, plot our journeys home to the place that is technically owned by us, but regulated by some housing authority somewhere, to unwind, eat a meal that takes minimal time to prepare because we are starving and are worn out from resisting the urge to punch someone all day, park ourselves on the couch and turn on one of the 800+ channels available on whatever cable package we have and zone out for a few hours before crashing for the night. Repeat Monday – Friday.
There are variations on this theme: most people have to get kids out the door to school and daycare, not everyone has pets, some people head to the gym in their pajamas in the early morning hours, and on the other side, there’s supervising homework, Bunko night, choir rehearsal, a load or two of laundry…everyone has their own thing.
The cycle is dehumanizing and exhausting – and overall, it treats people like commodities. If you can’t keep up in the way the overlords think you should, a review is in order, and one either conforms more completely or is spit out by the system.
Of course, that’s not all there is to it, but it is the overarching American work paradigm – be perky and easy to get along with at all times, no mistakes allowed and it must be done yesterday.
Hey, no pressure there.
Why are we Americans so “angry”? Because we are expected to be something we aren’t. Perfect.
“Arbeit macht frei”
Those words, now so familiar, greeted the thousands of people deboarding trains at Auschwitz during the Nazi reign. Loosely translated: Work makes you free. In the United States, the paradigm is work will allow you to live a better life, with more stuff, more options for vacations, allow a family to live in a better school district, be able to spend more money on the finer things, and be able to hire help when needed, although many people opt to do it themselves anyway.
Nowhere in that message is the reality that work as we know it in this country will steal souls, preventing innate creative skills from being developed and separating us from the natural world (simply because there is no other way to make people dependent, but that’s not the point of this piece).
Nowhere does it say that watching a sunrise or sunset becomes a luxury, or that taking frequent quiet down time to remain sane is a detriment to career.
Nowhere does that message say that we will spend our “free” time doing tasks that didn’t get done during the week because we were commuting, sitting at a desk, unwinding and otherwise running around.
Nowhere stated is the reality that we spend holiday mornings feverishly cleaning the house because we are having company in the afternoon and housework is the one thing that slides in our busy lives because it can be put off. (And then we cringe when we spot the cobweb in the fireplace that we missed.)
Nowhere does it lay out the expenses involved with being part of the rat race: cars, gas, at least a week’s worth of office clothes for every season, dry cleaning, hair products, and antibiotics so as not to miss a day’s work when we get sick.
Nowhere does this paradigm expose how pressures are created that push families apart that include unrealistic expectations, exacerbated materialism, all parties stressed out and irritable, and general nastiness.
And this is the America where the solid work ethic of so many is exploited for someone else’s gain. If we’re good boys and girls, they let us keep some of the cash before putting us out to pasture.
Hey, did I sound like a liberal just then?
This is where we are as a culture when members skip out on the one holiday that is uniquely American – the day we stop to give thanks for all that we have – to wait in line for cheap stuff that we generally don’t need and are willing to punch someone else to get.
This is what happens when the prize we eye is earthly and material rather than from God.
This is what happens when humans are encouraged to think only of themselves and not other people.
This is what happens when we are separated not simply from other people by the paradigm of leaving home so early, and doing our own thing, but nature as there is very little living off the land. We also are not interested in understanding how we fit into creation or using nature to an advantage. (Saving the trees and baby whales doesn’t count.)
Why are Americans so angry? We may not know at this point, but the answer has to lie somewhere in what our culture has become. In a crisis, all of the above goes away, but aside from one week in September of 2001, we generally haven’t been forced to live under crisis conditions as a country and that has made us very self-absorbed as we try to win in a rat race that has been rigged to turn us into hamsters on a wheel.
Why are we angry? Maybe because in the 24/7 world where we live, creativity, negotiation, idea digestion and true understanding has been stifled by the immediacy of email, conference calls, next-day mail service and all the conveniences which have made the rat race faster, and human stressors more prevalent, all while asking us to conform not just to rules and regulations, but personality types.
Why are we angry? Any or all of the above.
In the United States, we work hard, and play harder. We follow a dictated paradigm of “must have a job” and “buy this to make your life better or easier”. We’ve followed “the rules” and still see people at the top who have no business being there who make our lives miserable by asking us to be what we are not. We’re encouraged to be our own selves – but only in our free time, and then there isn’t all that much of it.
It’s enough to make people scream.
Maybe that’s why we’re angry.
Either that or we all need a good, two week vacation…although the company policy may well be that we can’t blow all our vacation time at once.