I've always enjoyed the irony of today's world. The human species is six point six billion strong spread across every landmass and sea. If it exists, there'll be signs that humans have been there, usually in the form of our trash. We are everywhere. The other side of that coin is our modern individualist society. The West is the most powerful and most comfortable of civilizations. In control of pretty much half the planet, Western-based nations influence everything. If not with our ideals, then with our inventions and products. We are everywhere. And yet, as individuals, if we are metaphysically separated from our civilization, we are nothing. We are simply human. We are specks in the sea of billions. And that puts the fear of Almighty God into so, so many. Including me.
The World Around Me
I have been, and probably still am, very self-centered. I know many others are like this, but I won't assume you, dear reader, are one of them, so I'll take the time to expand for the sake of argument. What I mean about self-centered is that much of what I do and think involves advancing my own interests (material, mental, emotional) over that of others. May it be simply walking faster so I can get around a slow walker at the supermarket or complexly maneuvering at work so I can get on the boss's good side. My politics had and still have a lot to do with my personal ambitions. From socialist revolution to anarchist nihilism to conservative free-market dogma, connected to my wants. My patience with people, especially those truck drivers at work who have the inability to understand directions, are mostly based on the mood I have when I walked in. If something went wrong that morning, I'd probably treat them with them a little contempt. I justify such behavior by blaming it on them and their actions. It's not my fault they can't see the stop sign or understand the other signs around the lot, so it's not my fault if I'm an asshole to them.
My daydreams are in the same realm. I've had the running theme of heroism and historical significance since I was little. The politics may have spun them to the left or the right, but overall, I'm the center of the story and I'm the awesome guy with the kung fu and the accurate shooting. I've written countless short stories and attempted first chapters of novels that usually involve my views with heroes that have my personality (or the one I wish I could have). Hell, I play video games and watch movies with the express intent of sating a fantasy land where its not the actor, but me kicking the ass of terrorists, Persians or backward CIA employees trying to knock me off. Whatever I thought or imagined, it was all about me. It's all for me. It's all fun, but it's also all fake and slightly unnerving.
I've talked a lot of talk about my future over the years to many people. I was going to be a war reporter, an author, a game designer, a movie director, and that was all in high school. In college, I was going to be an music video director, a action movie director, a TV producer, then I stopped wanting to do TV. I kept at the college courses though and moved to LA to work in the industry. There, I was going to be a Marine, but marriage and family cut that down quickly. I then decided on pursing a police career and after moving to Utah, I took a police standards test... and failed. A year later, and a year at my rent-a-cop job, I tried again. That time I passed. I was going finally be the hero.
Except that heroes aren't being hired right now. The current economy is killing every level of government in Utah. The cities and the state aren't hiring any officers. The world isn't playing my game. It's not playing fair.
The World That Is
Reality is a bitch. I'm no hero. I'm not even close. I've never been one. Probably closer to the opposite.
For as long as I can remember, I've been pretty introverted. Girls and friends were few, if any at the several schools I went to. Within the introverted personality was a selfish ass. A prime example was in grade 8. A little kid, probably a first grader, was wandering in the bus area one day. A group of girls from my class saw her, got worried about her safety among the cars and asked me if that was my sister. I shook my head and just walked on as they took her within the safety fence and started to look for her teacher. My only thought during that time was “Not my sister, not my problem.” I didn't want to get in the middle of anything. I wanted the world to stay away.
As newly minted teenagers, we were all selfish. We were all confused and emotionally immature. It's a right of passage to deal with that. But the key is to get passed that and mature to where you can deal with hiccups like a bad economy, a failed test or old dreams dying due to circumstances you yourself created. For the longest time, I couldn't. As recently as last week, I was brooding on the idea of being at my rent-a-cop job for any longer. It was supposed to be a hold over job until I could become a police officer. I've been at it for a year and a half now. It's mind numbing and, at times, so dead that a paraplegic could take my place without any dip in productivity. It put me in a mood that was less than friendly, giving me thoughts that were less than rational. My fantasy land of heroism and shit were directly conflicting with the real world where I was going to be stuck at a dead-end well past my 25th birthday. How could I be a SWAT member or an agile young super cop after 25?
The Speck and the Fear
Then, one recent night, unable to sleep even though I was dead tired, it came to me. I'm not special. Not in the slightest. No matter how many dreams I have, no matter the stories I write, the movies I watch or the games I play, I am not the character that I see. I am not the assassin, the scholar, the agent or the famous fighter. I am one of six billion people trying to carve out a section of this world for myself as best I can. And I have six billion people all wanting to do the same thing as well. In the Salt Lake Valley alone, there are over one point five million people, all jamming to have some sort of space. That's still a lot of people in an area shedding jobs.
I've never been a man with confidence in myself. It took over twenty years for me to break past the embarrassment of working out alone in public. I spent more time talking to girls on the internet than I did in real life. I faked confidence, even to to the point of making myself believe I had it. A house of cards. A cover for the insecurities I developed between birth and now. We all have insecurities, of course. Some deal with it better than me, some don't. One will never fully overcome them. They'll crop up sometime, even if for just a moment. It's the way we deal with them that shows us our real confidence and our real maturity.
I handled the realization that my dreams of grandeur would not come true quite badly. I basically whined and kicked and made a fuss that I couldn't reach heights I probably had no good reason to expect I could reach. My house of cards fell and I spent a week trying to justify it without blaming myself in anyway. The economy was the fault of bankers and government. The lack of hiring money in the Valley was because of entitlements. They're all corrupt. It's not my fault.
And in some way, it's not. I don't control the economy, but neither does Salt Lake City or the Great State of Utah. The economy of the United States is based on everyone. The economy is the collective result of millions of actions being preformed every day by Americans and others around the world. Our lives today were build by the world of yesterday, the world that consisted of billions of individual actions crashing and colluding with each other. The beautiful chaos.
For most of the past 100 years, we've based our economic lives, and our lives in general, on the fear of everything coming crashing down and stopping us from finding our dreams. Every recession is met with outlandish claims and overreactions. Every dip in employment is considered the end all of capitalism and markets. When things go bad, our confidence sinks and we panic. We fear the dream will die.
Like my house of cards, based on the fantasy of heroism, greatness and historical significance, our past century has been based on that as well. Militarily, for good or bad, ending in victory or defeat, America has done much based on high hopes and ideals. While there have been true moments of greatness, there have been plenty of disasters. Economics has been a different story. Since the Great Depression, we've been living on the idea we can stop disaster like we thought we could stop war. The Great Depression was the Great War, so we created the League of Nations called the welfare state. The post-WWII boom was the World War. Things were hell everywhere but where we were, so we prospered. The 80s and its crash was Vietnam, a dream turn to rot. And today, our decade or two of vast prosperity has been, for better or worse of an example, Iraq. We went in thinking we had it all. We had the perfect reason. We had the best idea. We had the moral high ground. And in the face of it all, after all we said and did, the confidence is collapsing. It's civil war. It's the real world vs. the fake one. It's 2006 and the country is at a crossroads.
Back to the Beginning
What does the current economic crisis have to do with my personal story of a shitty personality, egotastic fantasies and horrible self-confidence?
It's the rubble.
When the house fell all was left was the foundation.
What was the foundation?
Me. Just me. Who I really am. The man that was hiding beneath layers of neurosis, emotional cloaks and mental walls. All that I learned, all that I saw and experienced became the reason, the lessons and the rational. It may have been an accident or an act of God, but its there now.
My adult foundation.
America needs to find its foundation. It needs to find its true confidence, not build up another house of cards upon the collapsing deck that came before it. This has happened for nearly 100 years and it cannot continue.
As I could not rely on the displacement of blame onto others for my misfortunes and for just plain ol' bad luck, the world as it is today cannot just levy punishment on the crooks and liars that put us here, because it wasn't just them. It was us as well. Our fantasy dreams of easy wealth and no-risk happiness brought us to the point where we have to choose the world we made up or the world as it is.
The world we made up says we can keep trying to make everyone happy, rich, beautiful and comfortable. We can waste ourselves for utopia. We can spend the world and gain only an illusion of progress.
The world that is says we have to go back to basics. We have to start trusting ourselves to improve ourselves. We have to use our own two hands to brings ourselves beyond the primordial ooze. We have to make our dreams come true the hard way: years, probably decades, of unrelenting hard work without even the glimpse of finish line.
What I feel now and what I know now doesn't mean I won't become the immature kid again. Just because I've become grounded now doesn't mean I won't stick my head up my ass again. It's up to me, not you, not the state, not the feds and not God, to make sure I'm on the right path. It's up to me to make sure I'm not going to revert back to that new teen, watching a little kid put herself in danger and ignore it because its not my problem. Pretending it wasn't only added to the fantasy that I was going to be someone amazing. It was my problem then, it's my problem now.
Our lives are our choices. What we are is what we choose to be. The responsibility rests with no one else.
It's a hard lesson, but its a necessary one. Because basing a life on egotistical fantasies doesn't do shit for you or anyone else. You can't get out of bed purely on the will of you dreams.
What gets you out of bed is moving your body to the edge, swinging your legs to the floor and standing up.
All by yourself.
ICYMI: Jeffrey Ostler, The Lakotas and the Black Hills - At Amazon, Jeffrey Ostler, *The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground*.
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