Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to Socialism or regression into Barbarism.
- Rosa Luxemburg, "Junius Pamphlet" 1916

Friday, June 3, 2016

Walking away from the American Dream

I'm a millennial.  On the old side, to be sure, I was in high school when Y2K failed to end the world in fire (to my immense disappointment), but I am definitely in the line up when boomers shake their fists and complain bitterly about our entitlement and narcissism.

When you stop to think about it, the hypocrisy is staggering.  This, from the generation of Americans that turned imperialism into the national sport, launched a fleet of self-important pseudo-spiritual individualist movements, and put the finishing touches on wrecking the biosphere.

Thanks, pops.

It's probably evident already that this post is going to be heavily larded with a certain inter-generational hostility; and indeed, there's going to be a fair bit of that as this blog moves forward.  That's because my generation, and those that come immediately after, are the ones struggling most acutely with the collapse of industrial capitalism in the United States.  Obviously it's not biting exclusively along generational lines, but we're getting hit harder.

"The American Dream" is basically the narrative of how previous generations of Americans have scrambled for their cut of the booty of empire.  Land stolen from native peoples, labor value extracted from slaves, capital looted from the global south.  The United States has been able to maintain more or less constant economic growth for two centuries by riding the same fossil-fuel powered growth train the rest of the industrial world was riding, and then spring-boarding off of that by stealing most of  continent and then building a global empire.  The Dream culminated in the 20th century story that every American can and should live a lifestyle of, by global and historical standards, immense privilege and luxury, with a large home stuffed with technological marvels and a small family divorced from extended community ties, in which one could expect to live out many years of idle retirement funded by capital investments.

Profitable business, until you run out of shit to steal, and the wheels come off.

It's a lifestyle of immense opulence when compared to how the vast majority of people now, and throughout history, have lived.  The idea that an entire nation (let alone the entire world, if only they could get enough Freedom(tm)) could live this way is, and always was, farcical. 

And to our collective shame, Millenials are not increasingly rejecting the American Dream because it is gluttonous in the extreme, but because we missed our shot; the buffet is picked-over, the bill is due.  We are turning our backs on this narrative, not because it was always unsustainable, but because reality denies us our chance to participate in the delusion.

Increasingly, we see people turning to radical community as a way, not to wage class warfare, but to survive.  Small-scale social safety nets in the form of gofundme campaigns, a return of multigenerational households as NEETs return to the nest, and people not related or involved romantically living communally to reduce costs are all examples of pre-industrial social organization creeping back up in new forms like weeds growing through cracks in a sidewalk.  The atomized, alienated, nuclear-family centric mode of production and consumption that makes up the framework of the American Dream is falling apart, and in this we see opportunities for building a sustainable future, and fighting back against a repressive past.

This is another theme I'll be exploring in this here blog, whenever I'm not too busy struggling to survive, myself.

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