Aspen CO, COlorado
A man in the grocery checkout line seemed strangely out of proportion. His physical enormity was offset by an oversized T-shirt, baggy shorts down to his knees, and gym shoes. A ball cap was perched on his head.
I felt like I had stepped into the Tom Hanks movie “Big,” because towering over me was a grown man masquerading cartoonishly as a kid. I could have passed it off as fashion, but there was more to this than sartorial conformity.
What I suddenly realized is that we have become a nation of huge children. We dress like kids and often act like kids, but our adult appetites and impacts are making a mess of things. The big problem in America today is a lack of adult supervision.
When I was a kid going to birthday parties, there was always a wise, overseeing parent who limited us to one slice of birthday cake and one scoop of ice cream. We were okay with that because most of us already knew well the pitfalls of too much cake and ice cream.
As children, we were admonished to stop eating before we got sick, but there’s no one telling us that now. In America today, we eat until we are obese, and still there is no stopping us. In ancient Rome they had the Vomitorium, a regal palace of self-indulgence where you could eat, regurgitate, and eat some more. Today in America we have fast food, Alka-Seltzer and X-Lax. Over consumption has become a cultural norm, and we treat it with over-the-counter remedies.
When adults revert back into childhood, who is to demonstrate temperance? Exemplars of moderation have been out of fashion since World War II and the rise of the Baby Boomers, when growth became our national religion.
During the Boomer years, limits were thrown out. The idea was to consume for the good of the economy, and that notion stuck. Even after the tragedy of 9/11, when George Bush told us to go shopping, we dutifully obeyed. Bush became our most childlike president, a consumer with evangelical zeal who launched the War on Terrorism at the shopping mall, drafting crusading consumers as credit card-wielding shock troops.
You want a bigger house? Extend your mortgage. You want a new car? Take out a loan (leveraged on your overly-mortgaged home). You want a flat screen TV? Put it on your credit card and worry about payments later. The financial system has encouraged more and more debt, even when there is no collateral other than meaningless paper.
Our childishness goes well beyond consumption. It has dwarfed our minds into protozoan simplicity. We are entranced by vapid entertainment, influenced by dubious media, duped by opinionated commentators, misled by government, cowed by religion, dismayed by science, baffled by philosophy and lulled by luxury.
As a result, we have overspent our capital, drawn down our natural resources, and mortgaged our children’s futures. We have exploited the natural world as a sacrificial commons while being exploited ourselves by the workplace, marketers, celebrity role models, and the dictates of popular culture.
We need temperance if we are ever to take responsibility for the future. We must get over the illusion that we’ve won the karmic lottery with a winning ticket that grants us immunity from tummy aches while we gorge on cake and ice cream.
The kids’ clothing we wear is symbolic of a youth-addicted culture that is distracting us from pressing adult realities. We have populated a continent with enormous, reckless, dangerous children whose parents have turned their backs.
America needs to grow up. We need adult wisdom if we are to unravel the complexities of multiple tipping points in energy, food, water, economy and environment. If we don’t come around to rational thinking, we will stumble like infants into a perfect storm with no one there to dry our tears or to pick us up when we fall.
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