Help! Help! The Sky Is Falling Except At The VFW

This generation’s whiz kids aren’t much different than yesterday’s, only they have ‘big data’ to buttress their dire predictions. Seers like Socrates, John of Patmos, and Nostradamus envisioned terrible calamities for humanity; and now so does George Packer in his new best-selling ‘The Unwinding of America.’ But Packer has hard data to put real muscle onto his fears.

The fears are old; the data is new. For example, today there are more smartphones than people in the world, with 90% of all their digital data being created within just the last two years. At this breakneck rate we will have more data about pending calamities than we will ever have time to do anything about them.

Maybe that’s why we spend so much time on life’s trivia rather than its travails. Movies, concerts, sports, drugs and other diversions consume more of our non-working hours than anything else. And why not? What can I do about the world going to hell? The ancients had it right — eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!

But wait a minute.

When you examine some of this big data it shows we’ve added 200,000 jobs a month, a total pf 6.8 million since the end of the Great Recession…the stock market has doubled in four years…housing prices are coming back…and inflation has remained low. America is not becoming another Greece.

So what’s Packer so worried about? Well, he has correctly identified those social and legal mores that have for so long ‘wound’ together our diverse populations. Now he sees corrosive evidence of how these mores have begun to ‘unwind’ like the baling wire on a shipment of cotton bales. Tons of unwinding cotton flying off the back of the trucks of history. A lost sense of commonality between black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural, religious and non-religious. Not a pretty sight. Not a sight we saw as much during those ‘winding together days’ of the Depression and WWII.

Here’s how I picture Packer’s trucks leaving trails of un-bound cotton bales. Whenever the truck pass an emblem of those earlier more tightly bound years — say a local Veterans of Foreign Wars center — the old guys inside at the pool tables still swap stories of when simple and imperfect social mores still held us pretty much in place: Love of family, country, teachers, cops, clergy and those Fourth of July speeches. True, we clung to those mores imperfectly and often hypocritically; but you see the thing I remember is no one thought of laughing at them.

It was something like singing the National Anthem with the crowds at Wrigley Field and feeling, if only for a little while, that the words counted.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Leave a comment