As the sun moves past the Equinox into autumn, the days are shorter and colder. Clouds threaten rain all day, but the water of life only falls in dribbles. This is the spooky season, the time of year when we all know what is coming. All we can do is prepare for it.
This year, we’ve had more than the prediction of weather to worry about. The social world of politics and money has also turned dark, if far less predictable.
I’ve been watching people the last few days more closely than usual because I can feel a dark change happening. It comes out as politics, a few swear words about the supposed leaders of this nation. That’s only because Minnesotans are too polite to talk about personal finances – polite and damned scared. Even strangers shaking their heads at the ground have offered their opinion of disgust and offense while waiting for the bus. Friends who know where I stand vent it more fully, seeking therapy.
None of this is surprising, of course. When I predicted that there would have to be a massive reckoning on Wall Street I knew that people would not take it well. At first I thought they would be pitchforks-and-torches angry at the whole thing, but over time I was less sure. Denial has been strong, and all of the various powers in the government, press, and business world acted as if this was utterly unthinkable for as long as they could. Would the vast Middle Class keep up the denial habit even after it was obvious?
The sense I have right now is that everyone is turning into a conspiracy theorist. The mood is one of, “Yup, here they go, I wonder what’s next?” Something like “fairness” is mentioned from time to time, but not in a way that suggests that anyone believes it even applies. The feeling isn’t one of righteous indignation, but more a lack of power to do anything, despite the desperation of the situation. What does this mean?
First of all, I think people now understand my own view of “fairness”. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but is instead a deeply cultural thing that we have to define as a people first. Without a strong sense of connection between us, we can’t have “fairness” because everyone’s idea of it will be different. That seems to be accepted.
The idea that there is a kind of conspiracy is gaining ground, and I consider that to be reasonable, too. A conspiracy is, after all, two or more people working together to advance an agenda that they keep secret. By that definition, every business and political party is a conspiracy. Some would add that there has to be something illegal going on, but when the people who write the laws are involved you have to wonder how important that is. Need a loophole to make it all work? Not a problem.
Taking all of this together, the cynicism that is closing around us like the dark clouds of autumn may yet become a movement of sorts if the anger continues to boil. But the lack of a common culture that created this situation could prevent this from being anything other than an personal lashing out in the voting booth, one person at a time. We may yet need to find a way to make a point, even if that way is violent.
What remains in front of us are two pieces of bad news beyond today’s rising unemployment and horrible new home sales figures. What we have yet to see are the retail sales and other quarterly results from the summer of $4 gas as well as figures on the net redemptions of mutual funds through this crisis. One or both of these will be bullets that can’t be dodged and will sink the stock market further – after any bailout is already in progress.
How will people react? What I hope is that the sinking cynicism that produces conspiracy theories can be turned into a conspiracy of its own. Not a plan to make money from nothing or deregulate an essential industry, but a spontaneous action to sharpen every pitchfork and prepare millions of torches. Do we have the enough of a common culture to make that happen? Let’s talk. Let’s keep talking. A few obscenities shared with a stranger at a bus stop are a good start after all.