Moving through the departure area of a European airport is among the most depressingly enlightening experiences, highlighting the relative anxiety levels of North Americans and continentals. During the 200 or 300 yard walk to the departure gate, the sedate tone of the inter-regional passengers gives way to the shrill, barely-in-control hive of sharp words and the loud voices of compatriots awaiting the transatlantic flight. There are certainly non-insidious explanations for this – bigger planes mean more people and more noise and there are there are a higher percentage of kids versus business travelers. But the tone, after two sedate weeks of vacation, is so jarringly familiar, such a reminder of the consistently higher stress levels of everyday life at home, that it is clear that other factors are at work.
We rightly view the ambition and innovation of the New World as, in aggregate, the primary catalyst for a superior standard of living to anywhere else on the planet and no sensible person is willing to risk that. It does appear, though, that this urge towards economic progress has undergone a subtle change, drifting away from a somewhat libertarian focus on allowing opportunity to an insistence that things may only proceed under specific terms. Process, in other words, must precede outcomes. Corporate success is, for many, irrelevant if an executive women and minority threshold is not met and no student-centric education reform is permissible unless it preserves the outsized, uneconomic demands of the teachers. We shovel medication at children so that they conform to the way ideal children “should” act.
The type of conformity demanded of different segments of the population varies, largely by geography and economic status, but the high degree of adherence to stipulation appears relatively consistent. No matter which group people belong to, the number of “rules” to be followed has become oppressive, conflicting, and in many ways entirely unfair. I can barely imagine the stress of the average 30-year old female executive weighing the economic benefits of 12-hour days, which also validating their feminist beliefs, against the urge to start a family.
I have no idea how we navigate increasingly important structural economic issues with every side of every argument holding on to their specific ideologies, around which they’ve oriented the majority of their lives, like grim death. The paralysis of Congress , an easy scapegoat for everyone, is in many ways just indicative of the cultural Mexican Stand-off in society at large. I’d liked to think we’re not screwed for the next 20 years, but I have yet to see anything resembling empathy across ideological lines since… I don’t know.
Hopefully, in the end, it’s like a giant Chinese finger puzzle and the solutions will begin to appear when everyone relaxes a bit, recognizing that a win for the red team is not inherently a loss for the blues, and vice versa. What is already apparent is that way, way too many people are unhappy and psychologically maxed out, both from adhering to the rules and trying to “outlive” the penitents of the other team in some ambiguous way. Until the stalemate ends, the big pharma company with the newest anti-anxiety treatment seems like a good hedge.