There is no denying that we aren't the country we once were - but we continue to deny it anyway. That's because when people in denial are told they are in denial they simply deny it.
Due to this paradox, political candidates opt to tell us what we want to hear, puffing us up with hyperbole and patronizing us with patriotic rhetoric rather than risking votes by telling us what we choose to deny. If they are at all in touch with their constituents, politicians are fully aware that Americans would rather delude themselves with hubris or distract themselves with humor about denial being the world's longest river rather than to face the truth, which (like that pun) is no laughing matter.
The truth is that America has changed so fundamentally, no one wants to admit it. The recent recession is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg in a sea of change, but we choose to deny it and to listen instead to pundits who proclaim that we are out of the recession. Listening to pundits and ignoring icebergs has historically been a bad idea leading to titanic disasters, but like much of history we choose to deny that, too.
Using the official definition of a recession the pundits are correct, but even that official definition is a form of denial attempting to make the public focus on the silver lining rather than the dark cloud. The silver lining is that America is now producing as many goods as ever, that our exports are at record numbers, that corporations are achieving record profits, that the stock market has rebounded, that General Motors is once again the world's No. 1 auto maker, etc., etc.
So where is the cloud in all this good news? Well, all this wonderful recovery is being done with an unemployment rate above 8 percent and actually at a level closer to 11 percent, since most analysts believe a substantial number of the unemployed have simply stopped looking for work and are no longer being counted.
Americans must be in total denial to ignore the implications of this glaring fact: If all that recovery can take place without those workers, then the workers must not be needed. Therefore, in spite of our reluctance to accept a new paradigm, a major change has occurred: most of the jobs won't be coming back. It is a conundrum mankind has faced in the past, most notably when the industrial age brought on the Luddite movement. It is, in fact, not too much of a stretch to compare the fear and frustration of today's Occupy movement to that of the Luddites. But unlike the mechanization of Ned Lud's day, today's modernization is not moving people into different jobs in the workplace, but out of it altogether. Certainly, there are some jobs available to those who can upgrade, fix and maintain the machinery, but many of today's machines are designed to detect problems and repair themselves. And even if they weren't, only limited numbers of workers are needed to do that job.
Even people-friendly jobs like those in education are being eliminated by technology that is able to send huge amounts of information over long distances to large audiences of "students" who can either do the work from home or on their laptops, and the ripple effect of no longer needing school buildings or buses or the people to build and run them is just one good example of how many workers can be displaced along with the obvious reduction in the teaching force. Technology has removed workers from traditional jobs at exponential rates, but it has not created new jobs to match those rates. That is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge.
It is true that many of the jobs of the future have not yet been imagined, but if it is also true that necessity is the mother of invention, as Plato first posited, then how do we deal with a future workplace where humans won't be a necessity? And an even more daunting question remains: How do we deal with all those out-of-work humans?
This is a dialogue that must occur, but for now it is being avoided and will continue to be as long as we remain in denial. The very nature of politics discourages politicians from engaging in such dialogue if it turns off voters, for they have learned the best way to turn voters off is to present truths that we prefer to deny. So don't expect much truth telling in the months to come, for office-seekers are probably wary enough to know that if they showed us the future we face we would not only deny it but also deny them our votes.
Mike Ruskovich is a resident of Blanchard.