The Revolution Issue

Keys to a Broken Nation

The explosive potential of awakened youth.
Photo by Dylan Martinez / Reuters

Photo by Dylan Martinez / Reuters

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.

52 comments on the article “Keys to a Broken Nation”

Displaying 31 - 40 of 52

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Zach

In contrast, and maybe addition to, not providing what he thinks would be any solutions, I think this guy's part of the problem.

The fact that the national debt is an obvious issue we'll have to confront (as we have, be it after the civil war when, in 1860's figures, the debt was beyond $2 billion, or after 1950 when it spiked way beyond 100% of our GDP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt ). Its a matter of fiscal responsibility, something the public is increasingly demanding (not blinding themselves to, as Fein wants to claim)

Beyond the specifics, this guy is part of the same problem Glenn Beck, Fox News, or any other sensationalist media outlet is creating. Instead of trying to inform a cautious public and present the real, clear issues we need to face, they're throwing up a bunch of over-hyped, sensationalized, drama-laden doomsday scenarios that are only working to freak everyone out. Its a fact that, in the greatest part, everyday people drive the economy. Their feelings and actions, their confidence or insecurity nearly alone determine the strength of the market, the amount of resulting work or the ingenuity of innovation. A billboard in Ft. Wayne, IN illustrates this in an awesome way. It just says, "Chill. Recessions love panic." The economy is not doomed to fall, as if the irrefutable cosine-gods of the economy have decided our fate, as Fein, or other doomsday conspiracy theorists would have us believe. Nor is failure some new-to-be-conceptualized reality, as Fein clearly believes; and if politics is pretend, it is only because we haven't held the people we elect accountable.

Fein is just complaining, crying from the same astigmatic lens that plagues many extremists views. He brings in popular and generic information, and bends them to his own views. He cries foul and laments the faults of others, but refuses to come up with anything worth while for change. His opinionated, and mostly baseless rhetoric is blatant, his perspective is skewed to support for his disillusionment, and this belief in a broken nation is still just that- a belief. Our economic, political, and social culture and beyond have demonstrated throughout history that belief in ourselves is the critical factor. When it resounds, we have with fortune succeed beyond our own imaginations, and when it falters, we roll around in the mud til we finally figure ourselves out. We have the ingenuity, the manpower, the social desire and the resources (far beyond the limits of natural resources) to succeed far beyond our years. It is only if we fail to believe in ourselves that we will actually fail. That, if anything, is not the legacy of Americans.

I like the article, I think its interesting and Fein's core frustration is something I think we may, in part, all feel. But Americans historically are not the people who sit back and lament problems, they're the people who go out and confront them, attack them, and create democratic change. That's why we've worked in the past, and why, God willing, we will surge into the future. I'm with Fein wholly on one thing: I can't wait until our generation takes the reigns; because I think, and very much believe, that we are going to get some serious stuff done. Here's hopin'.

Props, Fein, for prompting the conversation.

Zach

In contrast, and maybe addition to, not providing what he thinks would be any solutions, I think this guy's part of the problem.

The fact that the national debt is an obvious issue we'll have to confront (as we have, be it after the civil war when, in 1860's figures, the debt was beyond $2 billion, or after 1950 when it spiked way beyond 100% of our GDP http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt ). Its a matter of fiscal responsibility, something the public is increasingly demanding (not blinding themselves to, as Fein wants to claim)

Beyond the specifics, this guy is part of the same problem Glenn Beck, Fox News, or any other sensationalist media outlet is creating. Instead of trying to inform a cautious public and present the real, clear issues we need to face, they're throwing up a bunch of over-hyped, sensationalized, drama-laden doomsday scenarios that are only working to freak everyone out. Its a fact that, in the greatest part, everyday people drive the economy. Their feelings and actions, their confidence or insecurity nearly alone determine the strength of the market, the amount of resulting work or the ingenuity of innovation. A billboard in Ft. Wayne, IN illustrates this in an awesome way. It just says, "Chill. Recessions love panic." The economy is not doomed to fall, as if the irrefutable cosine-gods of the economy have decided our fate, as Fein, or other doomsday conspiracy theorists would have us believe. Nor is failure some new-to-be-conceptualized reality, as Fein clearly believes; and if politics is pretend, it is only because we haven't held the people we elect accountable.

Fein is just complaining, crying from the same astigmatic lens that plagues many extremists views. He brings in popular and generic information, and bends them to his own views. He cries foul and laments the faults of others, but refuses to come up with anything worth while for change. His opinionated, and mostly baseless rhetoric is blatant, his perspective is skewed to support for his disillusionment, and this belief in a broken nation is still just that- a belief. Our economic, political, and social culture and beyond have demonstrated throughout history that belief in ourselves is the critical factor. When it resounds, we have with fortune succeed beyond our own imaginations, and when it falters, we roll around in the mud til we finally figure ourselves out. We have the ingenuity, the manpower, the social desire and the resources (far beyond the limits of natural resources) to succeed far beyond our years. It is only if we fail to believe in ourselves that we will actually fail. That, if anything, is not the legacy of Americans.

I like the article, I think its interesting and Fein's core frustration is something I think we may, in part, all feel. But Americans historically are not the people who sit back and lament problems, they're the people who go out and confront them, attack them, and create democratic change. That's why we've worked in the past, and why, God willing, we will surge into the future. I'm with Fein wholly on one thing: I can't wait until our generation takes the reigns; because I think, and very much believe, that we are going to get some serious stuff done. Here's hopin'.

Props, Fein, for prompting the conversation.

Zach

Somehow "The fact that..." accidentally snuck into the first sentence of the paragraph (there's one for not starting off the best ha); remnants of a would-be sentence I guess, lol, poor guy got cut off mid-way, and now he's just going to have to live a grammatically erred existence. ...o well. "they're more like guidelines anyway."

Zach

Somehow "The fact that..." accidentally snuck into the first sentence of the paragraph (there's one for not starting off the best ha); remnants of a would-be sentence I guess, lol, poor guy got cut off mid-way, and now he's just going to have to live a grammatically erred existence. ...o well. "they're more like guidelines anyway."

Paxton

"It is only if we fail to believe in ourselves that we will actually fail."

Fanatical belief in a flawed plan means doom. And America's plan can essentially be summarized as "GDP," even though we have clearly passed the point at which "more money = better life" a long time ago. You're correcting in stating that everyday people and their confidence are important to the economy, but lacking a more profound goal or identity than profit, we are stumbling towards a bleak future that no one wants to admit or confront. You aren't proposing a solution either (which admittedly does not alter the validity of the initial claim); rather, you "...can't wait until our generation takes the reigns..."

Great, we'll just keep on waiting, and waiting, as people become increasingly bitter, apathetic, and isolated from one another, our natural resources are expended, government becomes more corrupt, inept, and wasteful, etc etc...

Can you really say that these are not real problems? This is the kind of sensationalist BS you find on FOX news? I don't think so.

The disconnect between the immediate and long term, between social and actual, reality makes it so easy to continue supporting industrial agriculture, buying tons of unnecessary plastic, driving SUV's in the suburbs, allowing kids to be raised by TV-

"But it's OK, man, as long as it isn't illegal - you can do whatever you want! It's a free country, right?" And everything must be taken as a personal affront, of course.

Paxton

"It is only if we fail to believe in ourselves that we will actually fail."

Fanatical belief in a flawed plan means doom. And America's plan can essentially be summarized as "GDP," even though we have clearly passed the point at which "more money = better life" a long time ago. You're correcting in stating that everyday people and their confidence are important to the economy, but lacking a more profound goal or identity than profit, we are stumbling towards a bleak future that no one wants to admit or confront. You aren't proposing a solution either (which admittedly does not alter the validity of the initial claim); rather, you "...can't wait until our generation takes the reigns..."

Great, we'll just keep on waiting, and waiting, as people become increasingly bitter, apathetic, and isolated from one another, our natural resources are expended, government becomes more corrupt, inept, and wasteful, etc etc...

Can you really say that these are not real problems? This is the kind of sensationalist BS you find on FOX news? I don't think so.

The disconnect between the immediate and long term, between social and actual, reality makes it so easy to continue supporting industrial agriculture, buying tons of unnecessary plastic, driving SUV's in the suburbs, allowing kids to be raised by TV-

"But it's OK, man, as long as it isn't illegal - you can do whatever you want! It's a free country, right?" And everything must be taken as a personal affront, of course.

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