We are so blinded within our own bubbles, only concerned with personal gain or status, that the well being of our children and other’s means less than to us than being personally shielded from their actions.
I had taken a couple weeks off from posting because I needed to breathe for a bit, step back from feeling like this writing is just hollow words on a screen that nobody will listen to. As our country descends into increasingly virulent identity battles, climate crisis raging around us, millions of workers struggling to survive while Bezos makes $3.3 billion plus a week…the feeling of hopelessness or that we are doomed from our own greed and ignorance is hard to shake off. Then the shooting at Oxford High School happened and snapped me back into focus with a burning rage and renewed energy to continue writing. This essay will outline how we have become so ignorant and isolated that not even our children’ lives matter as the validity of America’s institutions implodes. As I write this, jaw clenched, I can’t help but feel like I’m screaming into the void. But if my writing can influence even one person to step outside of thinking in purely individual terms, to recognize that we must come together as a people in order to confront injustice rather than remaining hopeless and isolated, I will consider it a success.
Ignorance in America is oftentimes willful, yet conversely unintentional due to a combination of poor education, individualism, and prejudice that exists within much of our population. The ingrained pervasiveness of white supremacy is a factor in this, along with the notion of ‘exceptionalism’ for many Americans that comes with it. Thus, our populace keeps buying into fantastical claims about racism not existing or a miracle virus cure that politicians and the media make because it feeds into their confirmation bias and surface level understandings that support prejudiced viewpoints. Think about the law and order propaganda that has stuck around for decades despite police murdering thousands; white, black, left, and right. Democrats who are supposed to be champions for social improvement will still justify police brutality because they either believe racist statistics that POC and poor neighborhoods need this kind of broken windows force used against them, or they are only concerned about protecting property in true neoliberal/individualistic fashion. (See Ted Wheeler and PPB).
Our governmental policy has been tainted by these same paradoxical factors of vast misunderstanding combined with underlying white supremacist instiutions, and it has led us down a path of further binary rhetoric to justify our preconceived notions that something is good or evil. Identity politics has created an environment where citizenry and elected officials alike have no idea what the root causes of an issue are because they are too consumed in ideological crusades, so we’re left stabbing in the dark and reacting to consequences of America’s past injustices as they crop up while being wildly unprepared for the next crisis. We don’t take the time to truly understand issues, trusting party lines as guiding lights, even though politicians have entirely obfuscated the truth in protecting their own agendas for power. We are blinded as to how close an irreversible and catastrophic future is because the the constant drone of reactionaries, culture wars, and hatred distract us from supporting policies that will help America endure past 2040.
It is much easier to sit back and point fingers rather than take action, and America is thoroughly stuck in place because 1. We don’t trust anyone around us, living in isolation. 2. This isolation leaves us less educated about what is really happening. 3. Politicians or media exploit our paranoia and ingrained biases, pointing out who the ‘real’ enemy is for their audience. 4. Americans wage a crusade against whatever ideology has been labelled evil, blindly supporting policies that will keep them in conditions such as wage slavery because it ‘owns the libs’ or supports the ‘good guys.’ We live in a constant state of some horrible event happening and then reacting accordingly based on our identity based spheres, becoming a ‘me’ not ‘we’ society.
In my pursuit to research and attempt an understanding of our polarized culture, writing from Ben Rhodes has provided excellent analysis in observing the ways our reactions to tragedy have changed, thus opening the door for further analysis into why we are so quick to violently disagree. Consider how after 9/11 Americans across the country flooded into the streets, crowded around TVs in storefronts, and generally shared their grief in a collective experience, millions of us mourning an attack that left nearly 4000 of our people, American citizens, dead. In the last decade we’ve become increasingly isolated and reliant on technology, opting to follow a live tweet thread rather than seek out a group of fellow Americans to show solidarity or converse with in broadening our understanding of issues. Even worse, with the amount of tragedy and injustice we are exposed to everyday people have become numb to human suffering, seeing a headline for another school shooting or restrictive voting law and swiping it to the side with a blank face.
In an America where we are fully consumed with our own identities in trying to achieve status, be a part of the binary “good” side, or even living paycheck to paycheck with no ability to think outside meeting our own needs, externalities in the form of others suffering can’t be fully appreciated. Americans live in their bubbles and until they personally experience disenfranchisement can’t fully comprehend the costs that our white supremacy and savage capitalism have created, can’t understand the grief of losing a loved one to police, can’t understand how younger generations will never be able to retire or own a home unless they were born into the right family.
With this massive disconnect to others it is no wonder that our personal identities and desire to find some sort of place we fit into are so important to us; humans need social contact, need to feel loved, need a group, even if that comes from an online chatroom or watching revered individuals who tell us what to feel. The world is big, complex, and often times scary because we don’t know what will happen, so we make our individual worlds as small as possible so that we have some control. When we are told (from either side of the political spectrum) that the struggles we face are due to actions of an ‘other,’ the ‘bad guys,’ people want to believe that actionable solutions could be so simple as making sure the ‘other’ group remains disenfranchised.
The thing is, we as Americans have much more in common with each other than not. We watch the same shows, eat the same meals, dance to the same music, feel a desire for love and connection, experience similar highs and lows in our lives; yet our culture has become one of observing others live through a screen, not experiencing these emotions or events together as humans need to, but posting them into the ether to get a reaction out of others, desperately waiting for likes and comments that acknowledge our triumphs, fears, frustrations, or sadness. The problem is it’s much harder to step outside ourselves when we’re observing all this through a screen or listening to a reactionary spew their take. We have no concept of the obstacles someone had to overcome, the true horror and suffering of tragedy, the full persona of our idols, the necessity for changes to our system. Everything has become a performance to gain status, money, or be a part of the ‘good’ groups.
This disconnect from reality and refusal/inability to understand the experiences of others has led America down a dark path. The group that is perhaps most harmed by our identity based and isolated culture are our children, caught in the middle of our increasing polarization while bearing the brunt of consequences from older generations’ greed and ignorance. Children born after 1990 not only have zero hope of ‘living the American dream,’ nearly everything about our policy and societal structure reinforces the thought that they are worthless.
Not only is college approaching 1000% higher rates than 30 years ago and saddling 18 year olds with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, inflation is skyrocketing as jobs that pay a livable wage (above $60,000 in this country, or over $22 an hour), are virtually nonexistent, let alone for a recent college graduate. The system we are told to participate in so that we may be ‘successful’ has become no more than a predation on our hopes and aspirations, taking advantage of young generations’ drive to achieve what their parents couldn’t. Smiling and telling us that if we only comply and follow the path of taking out loans and working ourselves to the bone with 2 jobs that one day we’ll make it.
We are cogs in a machine that treats us as tools to make money for the establishment capital holding class, nothing more. America’s two party system is like heads on a hydra; they may physically look different but are both attached to the same body with the goal of feeding their donors and the wealthy. The facade that the establishment needs to maintain, one that they’ve perfected and held for decades, is one of binary thought that labels everything good or bad. By pitting Americans against each other they keep us from realizing the harm being done; we are too busy arguing about why certain groups should or shouldn’t have the right to exist and living in our isolated, sheltered bubbles of performance, blissfully unaware as to the full impact of reality, the consequences that it has, until it’s too late and a dozen more are dead.
The value of those dozen lives doesn’t register to us because we didn’t know them, we didn’t experience the tragedy as a people, only as impartial observers who immediately formed an opinion as to why they either deserved to die, why it doesn’t matter they did, or why the other side was in the wrong and allowed them to suffer through bad policies. In the end the majority doesn’t really care because they aren’t personally affected, they can continue living in their bubbles while pettily arguing instead of being forced to reckon with a change to the status quo that may shatter their vision of reality, especially since we have such black and white ideas of good or bad.
After 9/11 the American ethos shifted to be one of paranoia and fear, invisible threats that needed to be eliminated before they reached us. We lost sight of the values that were supposed to be foundational for our country, the greatest nation on earth. We fell into isolated tribes, spurred on in no small part by the media and our identity politics as those in power realized they could prey upon our fears and consolidate that power even further. As we have devolved into trivial left v. right debates over how to assuage our paranoia we lost sight of the future, of ensuring our children had the means and support to reach greater heights than their parents did.
School shootings are a prime example of this uniquely American focus on the individual that implicitly (or explicitly) shows a lack of care for what happens to the broader population. As long as the privileged ruling class or their profit isn’t being harmed, there will never be action taken to stop tragedy. This is because the establishment and our savage capitalism thrives off of fear and uncertainty. After 9/11 a perfect formula of propaganda mixed with an increasing digital life that isolated us and made the exaggerated threat of terror seem like it was lurking around every corner while simultaneously shrugging off the very real harm being done by our own citizens to each other. Gun sales have skyrocketed, insurance is a booming business, and uncertainty makes people hoard everything they can; perfect for capitalist profits.
There is no pragmatic action taken that could help American people because it would risk cutting into those establishment profits. We’re left with ‘prayer warriors’ and children’s TV networks going off air for 8 minutes to show that they support black lives or don’t like the fact that kids are being massacred in our schools. Pardon, but what the fuck does Nickelodeon going off air for 8:45 mean to the kid who saw half his class murdered, or the woman who had her son murdered by police? What does it do to further justice and prevent the same tragedy happening over and over? Insanity is doing the exact same thing and expecting different results. Yet Americans are so afraid of everything that the very concept of adjusting our status quo to help us live more protected and opportunity filled lives is taken as apocalyptic, and thus we continue with the same hollow reactions, same prayers as before, hoping that the problems will sort themselves out and not happen again. The performative actions we take are entirely separate from meaningful policy and demanding that our government recognize us as human, and our most vulnerable populations are suffering as any attempt they make to be heard or enact change falls to deaf ears that only care about dollar signs, children’s lives be damned.
The shooting at Oxford High School should never have happened, just as the dozen shootings before could have been prevented if America’s top policy makers actually cared about us. If the shooter’s parents weren’t so concerned with their identity battles, paid more attention to their son’s actions and well being, maybe they could have taken action during any of the half dozen instances presented by the school, by their kid himself. But their lack of preventative reaction and subsequent scramble to flee the country after their son did what everyone knew he was going to do says it all, and is a perfect metaphor for the vast majority of our elected officials. Not to mention the disgusting duo hired a top lawyer for themselves, but not for their murderous child. We are so blinded within our own bubbles, only concerned with personal gain or status, that the well being of our children and others’ means less than to us than being personally shielded from their crimes.
If we remain blind to the needs of our peers, if we choose to intentionally ignore indications that a horrible event will happen then only react after that preventable tragedy has occurred, then America will continue down this path of self destruction. Think of the broader analogies one can make beyond this shooting to climate change, police brutality, the very health and well being of our citizens. In a country that only cares about individual identity, people will continue to feel lost, cast out, and blindly follow whatever figure or party is offering them a feeling of superiority to the “other.” Because when we are all suffering under the same savage capitalism and white supremacy that has done exactly what it was designed to, create infinite opportunity and wealth for the upper class while keeping the majority in a cycle of wage slavery and desperation, the identities promised to us by public figures are all we have to cling on to. Identity is the only thing that makes us feel worthy, the thing we can rely on after a 12 hour shift at $14 an hour.
The New Federalist and my writing as a whole aspires to challenge this isolation within our identities. We must come together as Americans and have faith in each other rather than wariness. Our tribe is 330 million strong, not isolated spheres of left or right, and were we to look outside of ourselves and see the needs of our fellow citizens rather than come to blows over fickle moral righteousness, we could create a society that truly lets us thrive instead of survive within the system we’ve become complacent under.
Thank you for reading, have a wonderful week.