Does anyone know when this shift took place? The moment we as a nation went from pursuing our future to repairing our past? The standard answer will name some leader, elected or not, who made a choice, or didn’t, who desecrated some sacred code that should have been preserved. Those are how these things usually start, how the end of the world begins. Hubris is committed by Bush, or Obama, or even as far back as Reagan, and as the gods are angered they unleash the end of days. The founding fathers of the apocalypse run us down for our arrogance. It is the myth we live by, the myth that has taken over all that we are.
Have you seen a scifi movie recently? Or a TV show? They all take place after the end of our civilization. The Matrix is programed to look like the world at “the height of human society” after which the machines took the reigns. Terminator 2 takes place on judgment day, the planet of the apes is dawning. On the news each politician has their own plan for how we can avoid our end, and yet none seem to have any concept of a world that is not headed for destruction. The truth is, I don’t know what the goal is any more, what are we even doing here?
The seed of our country started with a spaniard looking for gold. After that came the puritans who sought not religious freedom, but simply the right to be religiously repressive in their own way. Those were the seeds, but they were not the foundation that the roots would eventually grow through. Those were formed when philosophers stated the idea of freedom for all, in religion and word. In creating a safe country where people could not simply live, but truly thrive, with the freedom to grow beyond anything we had ever been before. We would create a nation in which people could learn, and prosper, where we could develop ourselves as we saw fit, to become the great philosophers, the great artists, the great entrepreneurs that our founders knew we had the potential to become if given a truly free and safe environment.
As we spread west and people did bad things in the name of high ideals, believing God had destined them for this land. Though the actions were not always just, they were impassioned. They were with with all meaning and hope and glory that they wrought. And after that, after we took up space, we took on space. We honestly believed we could do it, compelled by life it’s self we believed it was important to continue upwards towards the heavens and in 1969 we landed on the moon, we walked on a world that was not our own. And the door was opened and we faced it and then said “that’s enough.”
You see I wonder now, what are we doing as a nation? What are we aiming for? What is the “American Dream” for if we’re all just sitting around counting the money that we’ve lost. Measuring our bodies that have progressed outwards from excess, rather than upwards from inspiration. Why have we stopped our growth? It was a dream to grow, because to grow meant we were alive, and to cease growth has forever meant death. If a plant stops growing it is because it is dead, or dieing, and perhaps this is why our media has been flooded with images of the end of civilization. People have begun to believe that we honestly have nothing left to accomplish, there is no longer any commonly held picture of where we might end up.
JFK came to NASA before the launch of Apollo 13. He was taking a tour of the buildings, being told how everything worked, and was amazed at every step. Finally as he was leaving the final building on the compound he saw a man mopping the floor near the door. Being ever the politician for a collection of cameras he walked over to the man and asked “And what do you here at NASA?” The man replied. “same as everyone else here Mr. President, I’m working to put a man on the moon!” can you remember the last time presidents spoke the same language as janitors?
The truth is the “American Dream” is just the vehicle that has carried us this far, but it has always needed a goal. The goal has often changed. First it was colonization, then revolution, then preservation of the union, then expansion into the unknown west, then world war, then mourning, then war again against a true evil, and then space, and the moon. And now? What fuels what we believe? I’d venture to say that right now there is nothing.
There was a brief moment after 9/11 where we came together to mourn, and for a time the American dream thrived again. Seeing this, I honestly believe the president at the time hoped to reignite a lost passion in us, and in his eyes a war in the name of the terrorist attacks was the best way to keep his people living. But it was an old spell, from a different era. It was like using potions to conjure money, but only succeeding in creating sea shells, because that’s what people used as money when the spell was invented.
Remember Star Trek? Remember this fiction built around the premise that humanity had a bright future. A future that we would all someday reach, that as a race we would someday expand across the galaxy and discover unbelievable things beyond our imagination. A future that involved the perfection of ourselves, and the advancement of technologies that furthered the ability of people to be strong, and fit, and intelligent, so that they could each contribute to the common ideal of exploration and learning. There is no concept like this today. In the stories we live by now our future always seems to take place in ruins.
As a Nation we have long been the Knights who seek adventure, who traveled the lands, and slayed the dragons. But now we have become those dragons of western mythology. Having amassed piles of gold and virgins, we sit and guard it. We have no use for either yet we guard. We guard our power, we guard our borders, we guard our government from change, we guard our airports, we guard our standard of living. We have grown to abhor risk, and so believe we have seen the end of our great rewards. Like an old billionaire with everything he could ever want, sitting and waiting to die.
So what’s to be done? I am young still. I am strong. I believe in adventure and unreasonable risk. I believe that people can come together. It’s not a matter of red and blue sharing the same flag. It is the matter of each one of use realizing that we were cut from the same dream, that we are in this nation, in this place together and that we have a pedigree to uphold, a purpose to uncover. We are a strong country, and it is time to use that strength to build something new, rather than to simply flex our muscles.
It’s time for all this name calling and finger pointing to stop, we need to face a future now, it’s time to see where we’re headed, and as one, begin that journey. It’s time for us as a nation, to create our own destiny. That is the Dream that I still believe, because that is the dream that I have found buried right below my feet.