The American Nightmare

By Richard Boughton

Last week I wrote about Indonesia’s shortcomings, and listed particular failings of the country, some amenable to change (corruption) and some (the short stature of the people) quite unpremeditated and therefore certainly no fault of the country itself.

Lest I be found prejudicial, or accused of harbouring some favouritism toward any country in particular, I will now offer words about America, the country of my birth. I am impartial, you see, merely a reporter; so it’s the facts and only the facts.

And the fact is – a sad one – I have lived in only two countries during my lifetime, which extends at this point to 57 years (another sad fact).

Oh, and Canada. I forgot about Canada. It’s easy enough to do.

There are 195 countries in the world. That leaves 192 yet to be explored. And so I am hopeful. And then after that there may be the possibility of visiting Mars – given the proper advances on the part of science, along with an incredibly long lifespan on mine.

So what do I dislike about America? I’m going to pass over the small points here – the high cost of living; the rampant incidence of violent crime; the inner-city gang wars; the soaring national deficit (now in the trillions); the collapse of the housing market; the more than 250,000 foreclosures in 2010; the political imperialism so cleverly disguised as compassionate nation building – and address instead a few points of character; or, rather, its demise.

America has become a giant corporation, a machine of meshing pistons and gears in the form of human beings. It is a single, sprawling company, and everyone is on the roster, from the chairman of the board to the janitor in the basement. It is a brand name. It is an infomercial.

Character in the vast expanse of America has been superseded by conformity, driven by an infection of political correctness. Everyone knows the same things, says the same things, covets the same clothes, the same cars, the same condos. Everyone wears the same blindfold and gag.

What is the difference nowadays between the person who lives in Los Angeles and the New Yorker, some 2,400 miles apart? Just that. Two thousand four hundred miles and odd change. It’s a matter of space, not of culture or spirit. In kinder times one could find something quaint, according to the region he happened to visit. Krispy Kreme in the south, for instance. Waffle House. Seattle’s Best in – where else? -Seattle. Oh, they are still there; make no mistake. In fact they are now everywhere, as prolific as MacDonald’s. So much for regional flavour.

It’s a franchise, folks. There is no difference to be found from Maine to Arizona. We are overtaken, suffocated, captivated by the banality of big money and name recognition, strip malls and soundbites.

The American dream is a dream of abundance, but it has become an abundance adding up to nothing more than tedium. The American dream – now more illusive than ever – has its own dependent society in a firm death grip.

“Give me land lots of land under starry skies above … Don’t fence me in.” So went the old song. Now we have the catchy commercial jingle. We sing these songs in our sleep.

In America, one can go without ever meeting his next-door neighbour other than to exchange a wave or a scowl. I cannot imagine this happening in Indonesia. You wouldn’t get two feet from your front gate without a greeting. Mau ke mana? Dari mana? Where are you going? Where have you been?

In America we try not to look at each other. In America it’s none of your business. Am I too harsh? Am I unfair? Well, my apologies then. But you know it’s true.

Filed under: Practical Paradise

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