This is just me expanding on a recent Tweet.
Everything in American culture is predicated on the assumption that the absolute pinnacle of being is to be absorbed into the culture itself, to make your very existence a thing to be monetized and compensated for simply by continuing to live, to become human capital.
Everyone is competing for this status because it’s the ideal lifestyle — once you’ve reached coasting status, you can finally live life without any monetary or social worries. Human attention is there but only if you want or need it.
You now have three generations of people fed on this propaganda, all of them believing deep down that it’s their destiny to one day achieve this status for themselves.
Meanwhile, baseline life — normal life — is a constant struggle to keep your head above the water for the vast majority of people, regardless of their identity.
Baseline life shouldn’t be this difficult. You should be able to get rich, innovate, show your talents and the people who are the best shouldn’t be hindered because they’re the best, but at the same time if you achieve that ideal you shouldn’t get to tell everyone else what to do; you shouldn’t be catered to at every turn just because you’ve proven yourself, especially if the cost of doing so becomes detrimental to everyone else. No one’s above being humbled. And no one’s so important that the preservation of their coasting status should have a negative effect on the rest of civilization.
That’s the American idea — out of touch wealthy people can’t tell the rabble what to do without accountability. You can earn your place, but if you become a shithead and stop playing by the rules, you lose it. You can argue about whether it’s been upheld, but that’s the basic premise. You play by the rules, you’ll do fine. You don’t play by the rules, and you lose, even if you’re powerful.
So the basic problem is the system. The system is why you have so many people at coasting status who didn’t earn it or who earned it through something other than merit, and the system is why baseline life is such a consumerist hell for 90 percent of people. That’s 90 percent of the people you encounter during the day who are going through this, and even the wealthy can’t really hide from it in their bubbles where they’re served by some employee at every moment, because chances are those employees are probably struggling too.
The essential problem is the system has evolved to the point where its only purpose is to preserve the status of those at coasting altitude, regardless of their usefulness or how they got there. And just like the US couldn’t go on half-slave half-free, it won’t be able to go on like this either.
Somewhat relevant note: I clipped a Wiley’s Non Sequiter out of a newspaper in the late 90s, and I’ve held onto the clipping since. It’s a vertical three panel cartoon. The top panel shows a brontosaurus and t-rex looking at a comet entering the atmosphere. It says, “Age of the Dinosaurs, Act of Cosmos”. The middle panel has a wooly mammoth and sabre-toothed tiger on melting icebergs in the middle of a sea. It says “Pleistocene Era, Act of Nature”. And the final panel shows a caveman sitting next to a giant bomb with “God is on OUR side” written on it. It says “Age of Man, Act of Stupidity”.