Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Thoughts for the Day

Well, this is depressing, but I suspect it's true. It's an essay by Umair Haque subtitled Why don't Americans understand how poor their lives are? It was excerpted today on Kottke quoted this bit:

In London, Paris, Berlin, I hop on the train, head to the cafe — it’s the afternoon, and nobody’s gotten to work until 9am, and even then, maybe not until 10 — order a carefully made coffee and a newly baked croissant, do some writing, pick up some fresh groceries, maybe a meal or two, head home — now it’s 6 or 7, and everyone else has already gone home around 5 — and watch something interesting, maybe a documentary by an academic, the BBC’s Blue Planet, or a Swedish crime-noir. I think back on my day and remember the people smiling and laughing at the pubs and cafes.

In New York, Washington, Philadelphia, I do the same thing, but it is not the same experience at all. I take broken down public transport to the cafe — everybody’s been at work since 6 or 7 or 8, so they already look half-dead — order coffee and a croissant, both of which are fairly tasteless, do some writing, pick up some mass-produced groceries, full of toxins and colourings and GMOs, even if they are labelled “organic” and “fresh”, all forbidden in Europe, head home — people are still at work, though it’s 7 or 8 — and watch something bland and forgettable, reality porn, decline porn, police-state TV. I think back on my day and remember how I didn’t see a single genuine smile — only hard, grim faces, set against despair, like imagine living in Soviet Leningrad.
And just in case the comparison to Leningrad didn't get the point across, Haque continues:
Everything I consume in the States is of a vastly, abysmally lower quality. Every single thing. The food, the media, little things like fashion, art, public spaces, the emotional context, the work environment, and life in general make me less sane, happy, alive. I feel a little depressed, insecure, precarious, anxious, worried, angry — just like most Americans do these day. So my quality of life — despite all my privileges — is much worse in America than it is anywhere else in the rich world.
Kottke summarizes Haque as placing the blame on our inability as a society to look outward and learn from ourselves, from history, and from the rest of the world, and then quotes this:
So just as Americans don’t get how bad their lives really are, comparatively speaking — which is to say how good they could be — so too Europeans don’t fully understand how good their lives are — and how bad, if they continue to follow in America’s footsteps, austerity by austerity, they could be. Both appear to be blind to one another’s mistakes and successes.
All of which reminds me of Michael Moore's film Where to Invade Next.

At the end of the post, Haque lists three kinds of mistakes we (as a world) are making. I found his second one most resonant:
that we cannot learn from deep history — that the whole story of human progress has been written by lifting one another up, not keeping anyone else down, and so the seductive ur-myth of the fascist, that I rise by pulling you down, right down into the abyss, is mesmerizing societies whole.
Cooperation, not competition. Again, and again, and again.

No comments: