I remember listening on the radio to the Fifth Dimension singing “Aquarius (Let The Sun Shine)” as a boy—it was about astrology, of course, but in the middle of the ‘race to the moon’ aspect of the Cold War, I had no scruple against star-gazing of any type. I loved space, and still do—and I’ve read far more than my share of Science Fiction novels. In the category ‘hard’ sci-fi, I make bold to claim I’ve read it all, from 1965 to today. That may not be literally true, but it conveys my sense of it, anyhow.
And that song was so trippy, talking about ‘Ages’ and generations and people as a whole—as if we were a big tribe, which, in that sense, we were—and are. But now I also hear in those lyrics the inclinations towards excessive trust in, and faith in, anyone with a spiel—as long as it was outwardly non-conformist, people were ready to turn to anything new—even Jones of Jonestown, and Manson of California, and cults like the Branch Davidians in Waco and the ‘Moonies’, who spread their ‘fundraising’ from coast to coast.
With the tunes taken from “Hair”, the 1967 Broadway musical, the Fifth Dimension created a medley of two songs, and their recording of “Aquarius (Let The Sun Shine)” was a number one hit in the US in 1969 for six weeks—the same year I watched on TV as Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon. Between “Hair” and Hippies, LSD and pot, astrology and space exploration, 1969 gave me a satisfying sense that life was about reaching new frontiers, going higher and faster. And while I had my age as an excuse, there were many grown-up, so-called adults who had the same nebulous sense of go, go, go—which is why we cancelled the Apollo program as soon as we realized we had neglected to plan what we would do with the Moon, or on the Moon, once we had made it there.
And from there, the whole ‘go, go, go’ thing perverted its course, from actual achievement to mere business success, which pursuit has, ever since, bred the vipers now feeding so greedily at the breast of the good ol’ USA. There are no challenges greater than becoming fat with money, power, privilege, and influence—or so we, as a society, seem to perceive it. We see news items that speak of progress in the march towards ‘eternal health’—a way to live forever—without the slightest mention of how one would spend one’s eternity of days or justify one’s place in the breadline.
And this wasn’t done to us by the government. We did this to ourselves. Every time big corporations have shaved a piece off of our workplace quality of life, our importance to that business as the engine of its goals (and our right to form Unions), or our very rights to express ourselves as individuals and maintain the same privacy we are due as taxpayers—every time we let one of these go past, we have traded our dignity for mere job security. Well, we can see where all that job security went—away, that’s where it went. Now they can make whatever draconian workplace policies they like—and slash your salary, too—without a one of us not being too scared of being unemployed to say, ‘boo’ about it.
I’ve seen it happen many times—we all have. The company starts to post notices about some new policy, like ‘clocking in and out’ or some such. Now, you don’t much care for that—seems like you’ve been trusted up until now to give the company your hard work for your salary, without being ‘time checkpoint-ed’. It’s a little insulting, really. You don’t like it—you’re pretty put out about it. Plus, everyone knows that people ask their work friends to cover for them when they need to get around a time clock, anyhow—which turns what was a natural flexibility of the workplace into a criminal conspiracy. But no one else seems to think that it’s worth quitting over (of course, if everyone acted in concert, it would only be a ‘threat of quitting’—an entirely different thing that doesn’t guarantee being fired, like standing alone would).
So, I had to ask myself every time, ‘Do I want to go job-hunting and lose my steady paycheck, just for the principle of the thing—which no one else deems worthy of being championed?’ I didn’t always give in, but sometimes I did—it’s not my responsibility to be perfectly politic when no one else wants to bother. But the unwillingness of the others to go against the established authority, even when it exceeds its rightful scope, is definitely the majority opinion of the employed. Frustratingly, that is the opposite attitude from one that could prevent such fiat-creep.
And the worst of all are the self-righteous: ‘I have to take care of my children, wife, sick mother—Nothing is more important than that.’ But that rational only justifies effort, not complacency. Putting our families first is a point of pride for us—I was not aware that it is also an acceptable excuse to be a rug for our employers to walk on.
Then they bring up the axiom, ‘never quit a job before you have a job’. That is a hard one to counter, I’ll grant you. But if one is serious about one’s dignity and self-worth—and that of others, especially one’s co-workers, as well—a way can be found to bring collective action against management. But people are too ‘sophisticated’ these days to act as a group—it’s all ‘I’ll do my thing, you do your thing’—I confess, it is a favorite of mine too. We have no defense against this war of attrition that has degraded the American workplace and the American worker.
But, now that the quality of the jobs available to Americans is little better than the quality of jobs illegal aliens hold, I expect there will be discord. It will be aimless, angry discord—and stands every chance of making things worse instead of better. But it’s only a matter of time before the number of people in the streets, cold, hungry, and desperate, will so outnumber the ten or twenty people who still live a comfortable life that those ‘one percent-ers’ will feel trapped in their own apartments. I exaggerate to illustrate my point, but you see it nonetheless, I trust.
Most people are happy being led—and those who are happy leading are only too happy to oblige. Neither group wants to hear any guff about fairness and dignity—business is business, right? Well, no, actually. ‘Business’ is a polite label for the chaos of capitalism. Nobody planned to create Microsoft. The guy who invented Google probably just woke up from a nap one day and decided to make an online search engine service available to everyone on the web. Most chemical discoveries, like x-ray photography and penicillin, were discovered by accident. Businesses use mathematics—but only when they want to—the rest of the time, they just argue among themselves. That’s what corporate lawyers and public exchanges are for—to facilitate the arguing.
These corporations appear to be made of people, but they are actually autonomous engines with greed-guidance systems that tear through the fabric of whatever humanity they come upon in their quest for the ownership of everything. The list of jobs that they are creating includes multimillion-dollar annual salaried jobs for top managers, slavery-like child labor jobs in underdeveloped countries, and humiliating, depersonalized, underpaid jobs to people who earned (and had to pay for) college degrees to prove they were smart enough to be trusted with a workstation cubicle.
And all the words spewed out of the modern media, out from our speaker systems into our ears—an unending caravan of trite, pompous, self-contradictory, spun, stretched, and sibilanced word salad as random as that heard in any psych ward, only perhaps crazier for being such a near-miss impersonation of measured wisdom.
It doesn’t take a genius to recognize a con—just a little widening of the eyes will usually suffice. And I think that’s where Roosevelt’s ‘the only thing to fear is, fear itself’ comes into play. Our world has become so anarchic, so full of blind inertias, so destructive of old ways and old things—that most of us want to just keep our heads down and carry on. But that is the wrong way to fix our problems. The best way to fix a problem is to take a good, honest look at it—and at ourselves, while we’re at it.