How many of us live to be defined by our possessions? How many of us find value only in what we have achieved and won and coveted? I wrote about this nagging issue of human governance on November 22, 2006 — “Worthy of History: Only Expensive Things Survive” —
The perversion of the historical accuracy of how our ancestors lived, and how we currently live, is created by preserving only expensive possessions — tokens, icons, valuables – and in the purposeful construction of indestructible architectural monuments used by the privileged few.
History is skewed by this preservation technique because it only pretends to tell future generations how people actually lived. When we visit museums we are only seeing what the powerful majority of the culture of that time deemed important enough to save and pass down.
We only get to know what they thought was worth saving and inevitably those things are the expensive, the pretty, the unique and the tokens of the wealthy. Even pioneer and Native American museum dioramas are idealized with hardy items and the most beautiful things. The ordinary is forsaken for the power of the inherent value in the preservation of the perceived best.
I’ve been wondering quite a lot about what we value and hold true, and I think we’re so far out of skew as a nation that actual productivity and results no longer matter in a society where you win a trophy and a crown and a ribbon just for showing up to an event. Life is more about just being present. Living is about making a difference in how those around us survive.
When did we become a nation of resume-builders instead of a country dedicated to doing the right thing and becoming a proper person?
A generation ago, we used to be a “Me, Too” society — and while that was a bad enough imitation of the original American Dream to last us several lifetimes — we have now devolved even further over the last decade, into an ever-more decadent, “Me First” society.
How can we possibly accommodate everyone wanting to be the only one, the center of attention, and the final success? Someone has to be second. Many others need to finish out of the running in order to keep a community absorbed and stuck together. Do we value everyone equally, or do we just point to First Place and live with jealousy and envy and backstabbing ridicule?
Life is brief. Old people learn that. Young people know they will live forever — unless they’ve been rightly chastened by the real vulgarity of living a grasping, prehensile, life — and that great divide between personal experience and professional expectation is one that is not easily bridged or understood by the drier side of the gully.
Today, in America, equality is the great cudgel. Few young people believe anyone else is richer or smarter or more experienced — because they’re all in the “Me First” mindset where nothing else matters but the actually unsustained self.
That warping sense of non-accomplishment and non-intuitive learning doesn’t correctly lead to total destruction and immolation — it instead presses one into Twitter and Facebook and other socialized memeings that continue the grand lie that they are, indeed, special, and The Only, and the one to be followed while never following.
We are reaping fallow ravines thinking we are really harvesting the mountaintop — and we’re doing it blindly and without thought or contemplation or personified suffering. We are becoming empty shells of what it used to mean to be a person of merit and humility. We are cracked shells of ash without a molten core.
In the end, life is but a flash, and in that momentary explosion of the completion of the self, we are free to see the result of not what we have, but of what we have become — and the secret to surviving the damning fiery arc is believing we’ve all been broken from the beginning.