Audio version read by George Atherton
When I was 19 and full of socialist fervor, I went to the Soviet Union to see the workers’ paradise. I spent most of the year on bread lines. And flour lines. And butter lines. My disillusionment was total. The Russian army was withdrawing from a ruinous war in Afghanistan. The economy was nearing collapse. The core beliefs that had served as a foundation for the society were daily being exposed as transparent lies. Drug addiction was rampant, something I couldn’t miss, living as I did across from the city drunk tank; screams filled the Krasnodar night. Bad as it was, no one dared recognize how bad it actually was: The country would shortly cease to exist. It was 1988.
Parallels to the US of 2010 are hard to miss. Our economic system has been revealed as a teetering house of cards. We are deepening our commitment to permanent war in the same region, one known as the graveyard of empires. The nation’s debt is now so large it can never be repaid, and a sovereign default, while not imminent, is nevertheless inevitable. The obviousness of this fact panics everyone, forcing the power holders to send spooky numerologists to utter magical numbers – to the delighted gasps of an audience that thrills at the setting aside of its own rational experience. More ominous, the beliefs that for 60 years have formed the ideological basis for the society are failing to cohere. The new reality – the reality of failure – cannot be integrated into the old symbolic order. Just as the nation’s new program reveals itself as an unmythical, unmagical struggle for brute survival, its past doctrine sharpens in the rear-view mirror: expropriation of natural resources. That has been our real program. It is a game we will never win again, and in fact must lose if we are to survive.
In a Ponzi scheme, early investors reap rewards while later investors are shafted. Western economies, fueled by debt and unlimited consumption of limited resources, are Ponzi economies and will sooner or later collapse under their own weight. The victims of this scheme are the young. That this is perfectly foreseeable has not made it preventable. The collapse of the system is far outpacing the thought or work of any of the interested parties. We acknowledge on the one hand the inevitability of the fall of the current economic model, and on the other hand the apparent impossibility of collective revolutionary action. As a result of this contradiction, the main characteristic at all levels of society is confusion and an acutely felt need for unconsciousness.
Some look to electoral politics for a way forward, but there too the leadership is failing. Lost in imagery and the critique of imagery, we have failed to notice that no party has acknowledged the real threats to our security – rising seas, permanent war, depleted resources and a bankrupt central government – let alone put forward any strategy for addressing them. Politics is pretend.
We live in a state of permanent falsification, our starkest fear that we will collectively awaken to reality as it is. To speak the truth is to sound insane. George Orwell once imagined a government that would (ludicrously) claim that ignorance is strength, yet my friends and family now say this to my face.
The truth is that our leaders’ every action worsens these conditions in a mendacious, murderous betrayal of the next generation. They have suggested no end game, leaving it up to the people, specifically to the young, who have one.
When the next generation is handed the keys to a broken, bankrupt nation sinking into a fishless sea, when they realize they’ve been ripped off, when they take to the streets – and they will – they will flood society with a mess of desires that cannot be realized by the current system, and they will call for a revolution in every aspect of human life.
Skylar Fein is an artist living in New Orleans. His show Youth Manifesto was recently held at The New Orleans Museum of Art. Go to skylarfein.tumblr.com to see more of his work.