The Vision of Tomorrow?

Do the people of the United States have anything close to a common goal for the future of the country… or of the world?

From what I’ve observed, there is a welter of conflicting goals, and the vast majority of those goals are highly personal, and most could be reduced to two words: “more” and “celebrity.” That is, most people want more of everything, and they want to be famous… or at least become “someone.” And there is also a large contingent of people who just want to be “happy.”

Now, I’d be the last one to deny personal ambition, but I’d like to point out that the big problem with these three “goals” is that people seeking them directly will almost always fail. They’re all by-products of other acts and ambitions. Yet more and more my wife the university professor sees students with these sorts of general and vague visions and goals. When I was young, a long time ago, young people had much more specific and focused ambitions. They wanted to be doctors, professional athletes, pilots, president of the United States, or to build houses or buildings, to be the first man or woman on the moon. The focus was on accomplishments, not upon the results of accomplishments.

There are still young people with specific accomplishments as goals, but there are far fewer of them. Equally unfortunate is the fact that virtually no national politician or aspiring politician seems able to articulate a clear vision of a future for the nation except in general terms, such as “to return to the values of the past” or “to be a force for good in the world” or “to strengthen our nation and economy” or “to seek equality and fairness” and so forth.

Exactly how are we supposed to accomplish any of these, even assuming that they’re worthwhile, and I have grave doubts of that in the case of some of these general platitudes?

Any policy or goal that’s specific seems to get shot down before it can even be discussed. Rebuild our infrastructure? Too expensive. Enact measures to stop global warming? Also too expensive, and besides we couldn’t really do anything. Improve health care for those who lack it? You can see what happened there.

All of this raises a more fundamental set of questions. Do we really want leadership and challenges? Or do most Americans just want “more” ?

11 thoughts on “The Vision of Tomorrow?”

  1. Daze says:

    Have just read a lengthy analysis of why foreign policy might be a problem for Hilary Clinton’s candidacy, given her experience as Obama’s Secretary of State. The commentators quoted in that seemed to believe that there was once a time when America just had to ‘stand firm’ (without actually doing anything) and the world would fall into line, and that those days could come back with the right man (sic) in charge.

    These people, like those who think they could win their favourite reality TV show if only they could be bothered to try, write fantasies in their head in which wishing it can make it so – magical thinking way beyond the fantasies in your books. ‘Obama should have been firmer with Syria’ – and do what, exactly? Arm insurgents, like they did with al-Qaeda* in the 80s? Invade, like Iraq? Do something ‘surgical’ (but unspecified)?

    Do people really want leadership? No, they want someone to tell them that there is a simple solution, so they can stop worrying. Preferably that simple solution won’t cost them anything, nor put lives in danger (of anyone they care about – thousands of others can die without a worry). People get elected by saying things like “we just have to keep hitting these people until they stop fighting back” – despite that short of genocide this plan has never worked in the history of the world: those that were hit fight back: if they can’t steal tanks from some handy US-equipped army base, they use suicide bombs etc.

    Leaders who explain that life is complex, and the future will require sacrifice, via a chosen path or one forced on us by our inaction, don’t get elected.

    * PS: I’m well aware that ‘scholars’ claim that no weapons and money supplied to the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 80s ever got spent or fired by anyone other than the preferred clients, and and it’s a ‘folk myth’ found its way to Bin Laden’s groups. Another form of fantastical thinking. Once you release money and AK-47s into the wild, some find their own way to the hands of bad people, just as US-supplied arms for the Iraqi army have found their way into IS hands.

    1. R. Hamilton. says:

      No, do something that works – either stay out entirely, or kill until nobody is left that fights back – whatever it takes, whether massive bombing, or thousands of bulldozers in a line.

      After WWII, the losers could be rehabilitated. Does anyone really think the extremists can be rehabilitated? Avoiding the use of force without surrendering is not an option with those who themselves will never surrender as a group. We could of course have been isolationist after WWII, and produced all our own oil, and thereby postponed the time that the extremists would come looking for us (keeping in mind that they believe themselves entitled to rule the world, they would eventually). But we didn’t go that route, and leaving such a large power vacuum would probably have caused other problems.

      Reform from within might eventually eliminate the problem; but we can’t bet on waiting for that, nor is there anything we can do (clearly an apology tour just made things worse!) to aid the few willing to risk their own lives for reform.

      The will to commit any slaughter needed to win must be clearly established. Obama can barely convince people to agree to disagree; he has zero credibility for any more compelling methods of persuasion.

  2. Jeff says:

    Very prophetic!

    By the way, I was unable to “prove I was human” when trying to reply to your post from my ipad last week!

  3. Earl Tower says:

    I think it comes back to Americans have always been prone to ‘magic’ thinking. Just in the past we had to deal with it took hard work regardless of how much you wished to be ‘rich’ or powerful. Our modern societies have truly made it easier to live life on autopilot without a lot of forethought or enduring long term hardships, at least till some health issue raises its head.

  4. Plovdiv says:

    Just watched an iq2 debate discussing “the millenials don’t stand a chance”. I have to say, as a member of the millenial generation, I despair for the future and think my generation is the most self-centred, useless, morally bankrupt praise-hungry and arrogant generation of the last 100 years. The world doesn’t stand a chance with us, and I pity the following generations.

  5. Joshua says:

    One problem with American Politics is that the people who win are the ones who do not offend the hypersensitive culture we live in today. It’s difficult to express a concrete vision or propose given the need as an elected official to include everybody elses perspective.

    Also the bipartisan political environment squashes creativity and limits support for progressive ideas.

    I can say that, as an American, I enjoy reading about future societies in your books that have progressed. My favorite is the one in Adiamante. The expectation of personal responsibility resonates with me because of the lack of any personal responsibility in current American culture.

  6. joe says:

    LEM, you may be too harsh on young people. Your parents and grandparents fought the war, and wanted your generation to never suffer as badly. The zeitgeist for boomers was “oh you have your entire life in front of you, how are you going to impact the world?”.

    Young people today live in a different zeitgeist. Currently the world worships money, not accomplishments. The social state is being gutted by austerity, not enhanced to serve the “Greatest generation”. The young today are told “get a job, pay off your student load, keep your head down, and don’t get fired”.

    Best to stop blaming young people for their attitudes, and figure out what world they are adapting to. You’ll find that world was shaped by your generation.

    1. First… I’m not a baby boomer. Second, my attitudes didn’t shape anyone’s, apparently, except those of my children, all of whom share my attitude toward accomplishments.

      1. joe says:

        Fair enough, but my point still stands. Blaming the individual for the system makes as much sense as blaming the pebble for the avalanche.

        1. In one sense, you’re absolutely correct, because a single individual can usually do little, but… if that individual can persuade others to change, then the system changes, because the system is the result of collective individual actions and attitudes. And change is not likely until and unless people change their attitudes. While most people won’t respond to persuasion in conflict with their beliefs, some will, and for whatever reason, I do try to reach those individuals, futile as it sometimes seems.

  7. GummyHack says:

    Some of us, are merely seeking to get enough resources to be able to actually achieve real goals.

    When you are young, and you have nothing, you have to chase a particular goal first. Just to even have the resources to begin
    to fight for change. Heck, I think my first 30 years were spent, just getting the right receptors up regulated in my brain.

    There is still hope for our generation, you just have to know where to look. 23andme would be a good start.

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