Friday, February 24, 2012
Where is Everyone? Economic Nomads and the Destruction of Community
One thing that modern American life has done is break up communities, it breaks up families, it breaks up marriages, it keeps you from your friends, and one then starts asking if life spent with people far away through screens, phones and the Internet, is even really like having a real life? Soul-less suburbs with over-worked zombies has become the norm for American life, and one reason people watch so much television, is there are more people in that little box to talk to you rather then in your regular life. What happens when someone has their roots dug up and thrown away, every 3 years, 5 years, 6 years, 7 years? Some of us are introverts and even take 5 years to make a friendship of any note.
Take it from it from me,if I had a time machine, I would tell a 20 year old, choose a small town and stay there. Some youthful moving is necessary for college, to avoid ending up in your Mom's basement, but there is a point where it has served it's usefulness. Don't get caught up in the bait and switch "American Dream", there are no geographical cures.
For the upper class economic nomad shoveling up those roots every 5 years may actually pay off, if the corporation or company offers more cash, for the price of wiping the slate of your life clean to restart somewhere. Of course even there how many tearful teens and depressed spouses or homemakers followed the careerist as they bounced around from state to state? For some when young, this may pay off, a few measured moves and finally settling somewhere to raise their young children, once a certain level is reached, and one can have a happy and stable life.
For the poor or working class moving this much often happens via poverty or need I say desperation?. The Squawker changed cities and states to avoid being behind the part-time Arby's counter for good. The Reckoner and her moved to deal with a growing pile of debt only to have it take us over in tsunami after the Reckoner had faced a year and a half of unemployment. Not easy choices, but there friends are left behind and human grief being what it is, one wonders why so much of life is influenced by faceless bureaucrats at endless desks who toss resumes and applications in the trash, and even ones with faces, that almost seem to find whimsical pleasure in snipping away livelihoods and chopping up micro-communities on a bad hair day.
But what happens when the poor or the neo-poor after another job lay-off or firing, looks at the scattered cracked vestiges of their life and realizes in middleage-hood, living somewhere where there is no roots and you have stayed a permanent stranger is just another thing to grieve? The moving didn't pay off. Escaping minimum wage for 10 dollar an hours a waste of time. The long list of stressful dead end but semi-professional jobs with endless lists of lay-offs reaching into a void of nothingness. What end to look forward to but being a stranger in nursing home being cared for by strangers and never having anyone visit?
The Squawker has reached the point where she has told The Reckoner she will not move anymore, she is done. Having left a loved community 6 years ago and just starting to make friends here, The Squawker knows all too well the ramifications of living in a place where "NO BODY KNOWS YOUR NAME" and has deemed herself too old to do THAT again. She wants to be in a place where she is known, noticed and no longer an invisible shadow in her own life. Yes that is what happens if you move too much.
One thing the Squawker would like to ask her upper-class baby-boomer parental units is why didn't any of us wonder what would happen should the younger people in the family fall down the economic ladder? Hundreds of miles in physical distance for an upper middle class person, is not a problem, a decent automobile with expendable income to fill the tank, or buy a plane ticket makes that distance nothing while for people struggling with the light bill, even the $140 dollar bus ticket to go 500 miles can be an insurmountable obstacle. Families then become strangers to one another and the economic chasm even between relatives separates into a widening void. It's kind of depressing when your grandmother dies, and you do not even have 30 bucks in your wallet and know gas alone will cost $200 without even adding in the hotel room, and you simply can't make it.
Sadly for many of us as people moved far and wide, even the notion of HOME itself is destroyed. There is no "home" to move to. No one place, where relatives and friends all live. Everyone has been scattered. When you are young and 25, this can work, everyone still meets on holidays, some relatives still even live in the same area, but as the years progress and everyone has lived far away and separated, and even illness makes travel harder, the march of time turns you into near strangers. The wealthier relatives with money to spend, eat out, large homes to share amusements in and take actual vacations visit each other, and you are left out, and over time, you are forgotten.
This is some of what people in this country have forgotten, where money, material goods, and success came first to so many. However for some of us, who entered the modern life, the pay-off was not there, while others were able to build themselves up, many got knocked off the mountain. Perhaps even most? The numbers are hard to know. I often wonder what will happen now that jobs are so few and it seems only 20% of the populace are getting jobs and lives where there is any semblance of security. Security and riches started being counted in dollar bills rather then other "riches". One's treasure needed to be built on more then chasing after endless corporate carrots on sticks, only to be snatched away in many people's cases.
People who are surrounded by nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, grandchildren, children, and other relatives and townspeople of note, are fortunate to not live the modern economic nomad life, that has left so much of the last few generations without any moorings. If you moved away but grew up with your great aunt down the street, you had a life that many today lack. Sit down and ask yourself who would come if you were dying in the hospital? If you say no one, that may be a problem you may want to fix.
One question the Squawker would like to ask, is "Did the moving really benefit any of us?" Well if one reads books like "Bowling Alone", one knows that social capital has broken down. Why has this happened? Well in my opinion ,communities of near strangers, has helped this along. The Squawker has seen the impersonality of the big city where people come and go like trains through a train station and smaller towns with more permanence. There is a big difference. In the latter people actually know each other. It is said that Americans move an average of 14 times in a lifetime. The Squawker once on a lark counted her number of addresses and hit 14 last year.
If you think about this "no loyalty to place" thing, and basically the problems with outsourcing and the corporations sending all our jobs overseas means they have no loyalty to this country, think about the bigger affects of businesses and others who have no loyalty to a town or community.
Every white-walled apartment becomes just like a long-term hotel room, and long lines of empty faces just another place to be passing through. Even if one considers the homogenization of "place" where big box stores and the same McDonald's arches, Applebee's, Bestbuy's littering the landscape makes one almost forget what city they are in,this has made things even worse. People feel a punch to the middle of their soul but can't even put a word to it. Lonely? Despondent? Missing something? How about the saying "There is no 'there' there"?
Rethink all the moving.--The Squawker