The gap in our economy is between what we have and what we think we ought to have – and that is a moral problem, not an economic one.
~ Paul Heyne
Update: This post was selected for the Best of Money Carnival 43rd Edition: Current Events and Oddballs posted at Money Crashers. Thank you!
When I wrote about 5 Financial Toxins and Antidotes, I sited our zeitgeist (spirit of the times) as one of the toxins. Our drive for “more stuff now” seems to have become a part of our culture. It’s considered normal by the majority of the population. I have a theory on how we got here and I’ll sketch it out here, leaving a lot out so that I’m not too long-winded. (I know. That would be a first. )
All Style and No Substance
The premise of my thesis is that we have become a society of too much debt, stuff, self-indulgence and superficiality, and not enough responsibility, accountability, integrity and substance. I know that there are lots of people who agree with me on this. I also know that when we talk about this stuff, we tend to sound preachy, elitist and arrogant.
That’s not the tone I want to convey. I’m just trying to understand what I see around me everyday, and I have to say that I’m not comfortable with it. Further, I hear a small but growing chorus of voices who are also, to varying degrees, “uncomfortable” with our current situation. Discomfort means change is on the horizon – at least I hope so.
Mrs. Money Longs for the Good Ol’ Days
Mrs. Money writes about saving money and green living over at the Ultimate Money Blog. I’m guessing she’s about 10 -15 years younger than I am, so check out her blog for some fresh perspective. Mrs. Money recently wrote a post that asked Where Have All the Housewives Gone? Although I said in the comments section that I might someday write about my thoughts on being a homemaker, this post isn’t about that. It’s about the general idea that things seemed simpler, easier, and generally better back then.
Many commenters mentioned that life wasn’t so great for the housewives who really didn’t want to be housewives. In fact, a lot of people came to view the ideals of the 50s as repressive. People were living by rules that seemed somewhat detached from reality. Personal needs and desires were to be subjugated to these rules, which came to be seen as hollow, empty slogans that served no purpose and choked off the human spirit.
Boomers Rebel Against the Good Ol’ Days
Along came the Hippies of the 60s to let us know that it’s not only OK to think about your own needs once in a while, but it’s actually a lot healthier. Oh, and by the way, sex isn’t so dirty, war is really bad, rock music rules, and women can do a lot more than cook and clean stuff. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I left out the drug part because I think they went off course there.
The earliest Boomers wanted a life with more fulfillment, rooted in values that stressed authenticity, integrity, and a genuine desire to both “do well” and “do good”. They felt like they could have it all. So what happened? Why doesn’t it feel like we’re there?
Excessive Authenticity Begets a New Emptiness
What did happen to all those great Hippies as they rode their hogs en route to Utopia? In short, I think they drove right by it. The idea of telling it like it is went too far. There is a point at which being authentic can cross over into simply being impolite. Trash talking has practically become an Olympic sport. The point is to beat down your opponent and the truth is beside the point.
As is so often the case with great movements, the ideals of the 60s were eventually distorted, contorted, and taken too far. It’s very healthy to be in touch with and take care of your own needs. But it’s not OK to neglect your responsibilities or disregard the needs of others as a result. In the end, it doesn’t feel so great either.
Today, women can happily choose to work full time if that’s what they want. But that choice has become a double-edged sword, for we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. And for many women, to work outside the home or not is not really a choice at all. Some are single parents, and some cannot support their families on one income.
During this period, access to and use of debt instruments like credit cards increased. Lending rules were gradually relaxed to the point where, by the beginning of the new millennium, they were nearly non-existent. It’s great for people to have access to credit – to a point.
As for sexual repression, I could personally do with a little more of it. Do we really have to see everything all the time? What ever happened to the romance of leaving a little to the imagination? I know. I know. I sound like a 75 year old prude. If I don’t like it, I don’t have to look. Got it. The problem is, it seems to be everywhere I look and it’s getting harder and harder to filter it out of my life.
Just one more point. It’s about the current state of “music”. I don’t mean to offend those who love the current hits, but I just can’t understand the popularity of this stuff. Now I love music – almost all genres. But today’s music, in my humble opinion, is a true reflection of the current state of our society. Much of it comprises a hollow, empty, bastardized reproduction of the work of past masters. I know I probably just really ticked off some of my readers as I’m pretty sure my audience demographic is younger than I. Sorry about that.
Anyway, here we are right back where we started in a society that has become so wrapped up in contorted conventions that many feel marginalized and empty. The pendulum has swung too far the other way, and it could keep going a while longer.
Hope for the Future
This concludes the ranting old lady portion of our program – on to the future. Unlike a lot of other cranky older people (I’m not actually 75 by the way), I really do have hope for the future. It’s in my children.
At least one of my sons looks like a hippie and holds many of the ideals that gave birth to that movement. (Please, please . . . just keep him away from the drug part.) Two out of the 3 are gifted musicians. Did I mention that before? No matter. It won’t be the last time. My third son has a heart of gold and a sense of caring for others that I have rarely encountered in anyone, let alone someone who’s 11.
But this isn’t about my kids in particular or my shameless motherly bragging. (They give me more than their share of trouble, believe me.) This is about cycles and balance. As sure as the pendulum has moved too far in one direction, it will move back the other way. It must. It’s law of balance and nature. If you need me, I’ll be waiting here with my Zeppelin records (more accurately, my son’s records) for that day to come.
What do you think? Have I lost it or found it?