Or: How parkland pot, flying cars and John Cusack will save the world
Friday, July 31, 2009
This is the amazing thing about rabid global economic recessions combined with volatile environmental collapses combined with a tasty national identity crisis combined with a truly historic, revolutionary president combined with a gnawing sense that our species might not be long for this world after all combined with the overwhelming sense that something, somewhere, something big and meaty and interesting and maybe even profoundly and butt-shakingly unexpected, has got to give.
This is the feeling: anything can happen. Nearly every day in this New Millennium Wonderland, we are swarmed by distressing, heartbreaking tales of woe and hardship and layoff, only to spin right around and read about something positive and uplifting and innovative emerging from it all, some unanticipated, rise-from-the-ashes kind of thing that whipsaws your perspective and pinches the nipples of your worldview.
Upshot: within a few meager minutes soaking in the media whirlpool, you can travel all the way from defeatist, punch-you-in-the-face, we're-all-effing-doomed misery right on over to "hey, you know what? Maybe all is not lost and we might just survive to blow ourselves to smithereens another day." It's exactly like riding a rickety old rollercoaster in hell, but with better drinks.
Here's the really delightful part: Between those two extremes lies an even more intriguing and juicy category, stories and ideas that fall somewhere in between heartbreaking and hopeful, tales we can't quite categorize or define as good or bad, right or wrong, liberal or conservative, hard or soft, sweet or sour, sacred or profane, spit or swallow just yet.
And why? Well, partly because the ideas they contain have yet to fully sort themselves out, but mostly it's because, by and large, we as a culture have never really been here before, never in this exact spot in time and circumstance, with this particular set of traumas and dramas and apocalypse and opportunity, and therefore have no idea what many these grand social notions -- economy, health, gender, God, capitalism -- all really mean anymore.
(Not that we ever really did, I realize, but our massive, bloated, BS-happy Greatest Generation ego sure led us to believe we did. How cute we were!)
Truly, these are my favorite kinds of stories of all, so fraught with mystery and confusion and what-the-hell-does-it-all-mean. I love them not only because they serve to remind us that we can, if we so desire, rearrange ourselves and our identity far more fluidly and interestingly than we might believe, but also that we have far less control over the gyrations and contractions of the swirling hissing pulsing universe than we like to imagine. Ain't it grand?
A tiny example, signifying nothing: California state parks. They say our new, brutally slashed budget means that upwards of 100 of our beloved public pastures will just up and close. No hiking, no camping, no poison oak, no pissing in the wind. They say, furthermore, that Mexican pot cartels are already gleefully swooping into these selfsame parks and cranking up pot production to "epidemic" proportions, simply because the government can no longer afford to monitor and police them, and it's prime growin' land and, well, why the hell not?
What does this mean? Does it mean we are doomed to be flooded with crime and land abuse and skanky Mexican weed for years to come? Does it mean state lawmakers will quickly snap to attention and realize that pot is everywhere so we might as well get in there ourselves and grow it and legalize it and tax it? Does it mean if you sneak into a closed park and go camping anyway, you will be able to stroll over and cut a giant swath of prime Mary Jane and toss it on your campfire and introduce the kids to the real glories of nature?
No question, park closures are sad and awful. But what if they lead to new marijuana laws? What if we changed our lens? What if we said, you know, screw it, let's do what the Mexican cartels are smart enough to do and turn all that prime parkland into prime, controlled, American-run pot farmland, a giant, gorgeous Napa Valley of ganja. What have we got to lose? Then use some of the tax revenue to reopen the parks to the public. It's win-win-naptime!
Keep your California raisins, babydoll. Great wine, pot, avocadoes, sodomy, artichokes? Now you're talking a new state motto.
Shall we peek at the environment? Oh holy hell in a sweltering hand basket, what are we to make of it? Wicked weather shifts are upon us, food shortages and water shortages and unsustainable farming, polar ice caps melting so fast scientists can't recalculate their worst-case scenarios fast enough, low-level panic slowly setting in and no one has any real clue what the real upshot will look like.
Maybe it look something like the trailer for "2012," the Roland Emmerich epic disaster flick, out soon. Have you seen this thing? It's all kinds of ridiculous insipid dorky childish badass cartoon awesome. I mean, aircraft carriers flipping over onto a statehouse? Florida sliding into the ocean at a 30-degree angle? Tidal waves crashing over the Himalayas? If the end of the world looks like that, I just have one thing to say: Sign me up.
(Of course, right now, the ancient Mayans are all, "No no no, that's not what we meant at all. We were trying to tell you about a profound planetary alignment that will bring about a deep shift of consciousne-- wait a second. Is that John Cusack? I freakin' love John Cusack! Never mind.")
And finally, over here, the twitching, mouth-breathing auto biz, perhaps the best example of convulsive WTF capitalistic upheaval of all. You don't need me to tell you American cars are gasping for survival, but even Toyota and Honda are re-evaluating their place in the world. Massive job losses are brutal. The ground is shifting, painfully. Then again, no one anywhere doubts the industry was hugely stagnant and bloated simply could not be sustained at previous levels of arrogance and wastefulness and SUV-sucking ignorance.
It invites the delicious query, to be applied far and wide: What will the car biz look like a single short decade from now? What sort of radical re-thinking is now available? Twenty years ago you ask that question and the answer was simple: more dumb cars, maybe a little better, bigger, but not much smarter. Now the answer is: Who the hell knows?
There are, of course, roughly ten thousand more examples of open-ended change floating about, perhaps more than any other time in recent history, with new ones being born every day. Really, we as a country haven't really been this unstable, this uncertain of who we are and where we fit into the world since we first split from England to go off on our own and slaughter some Indians and invent pornography and discover Starbucks.
This much we know for sure: The ground is shaky and the ledge is slippery and bridge is rickety indeed, and I think it just might be on fire. Which only leads to one truly meaningful question: What are you going to do about it?