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Facing Mania and Admitting Defeat

July 16th, 2007 at 10:16 am

I'm reading American Mania by Peter C. Whybrow, a neuropsychiatrist at UCLA who offers an interesting hypothesis about the allele for exploration and risktaking that is predominant in immigrants to this country.

It's occurred to me I am probably more interested in comfort and security than ostentatiousness and opulence. Despite having that risk-taking and exploratory allele. And I have to remember that, if I choose to run back to the homeland with my tail between my legs ("I couldn't do it! I couldn't buy a Mountaineer and a house five times my household income! I couldn't day-trade WCOM and ENR and JNPR! I couldn't see the value in Beanie Babies and the Macarena and Martha Stewart and Tom Hanks!"), I did manage to lure a man who does not share my genetic makeup (only because a Congregationalist preacher was forced into exile 375 years ago is my man here in the New World) to go 2,000 miles from his birthplace.

I think the market is exhibiting bipolar behaviour. Witness the Dow's volatility of late. Read how fund managers and federal economists insist everything's going great as long as you don't include debt, or try to add food, energy and housing costs to the consumer price index. Or the U.S. is in some sort of manic economic phase. I also believe that revolutions come from the masses being starved and deprived into a fight-or-flight point, and at some point the war isn't going to be between the left and the right (it really isn't: check how the left have been in cahoots or capitulating to the administration -- most people who've been polled about Congress's activity as of late are aware there's no real opposition between the left and the right when it comes to corporate sponsorship of legislators) but between the old fighting for their benefits and the young fighting for their livelihood, and the rich fighting for their continued way of life and the poor fighting for the dreams they've been promised and denied. I don't know where I am here... I'm neither young nor old, and I fight for my benefits and my livelihood simultaneously; I suppose because my net worth is above $17,800 I fall on the rich side, but somehow with a six-digit debt and a lack of the outward success markers, I don't perceive myself as such. No one's smashing my windows to get at my books or my software or my Value Village clothing.

I don't want to get involved in class warfare nor age warfare, although as the fiscal squeeze is applied to the bottom 80% of us, I can see the 80% turning inwardly hostile. Remember that with the Rodney King verdict Asian communities' storefronts in Los Angeles were vandalized and torched, although it'd be tough to argue that the first-generation Asian-Americans have been at cause for 300 years of slavery and oppression for the African-American people. If landed immigrants are going to be the first scapegoats and victims, well, then that's my cue to scram, right?

I want a community lifeboat of those who live creatively and keep an eye out for looming danger. I hope that I can find it here without having to return home, and I'm giving myself 16 months to find and belong to such a lifeboat here before retreating for good to the Motherland. This country has produced Duane Elgin, Vicki Robin, Janet Luhrs and Bill McKibben -- maybe there's a growing community of people who are poised for a frugal environment and know what the markers of wealth will be (collateral for local economic trade, health, farming assets).

4 Responses to “Facing Mania and Admitting Defeat”

  1. katwoman Says:

    ....and people say I think too much.

    PG, there are things we Americans don't like about America either. I worry too, but since I've been here longer than you (born & raised) and have seen crazy ups and downs in the economy, I realise these are things out of my control. And that's that. Sooner or later things revert back toward the middle and life goes on.

    As for that wacko writing about the alleles of immigrants - my parents were immigrants who worked union jobs, saved dilligently, bought less of a home than they needed with a 30 yr mortgage (a home that they could of paid cash for) owned one car (a Chevy held for 10 years followed by another Chevy for 10 years), sent us to public school and paid for our college educations. Oh yeah, Dad bought stock at regular intervals in Mobil and ComEd (now Exxon and Excelon). And Dad never had a credit card.

    Today I benefit from their what? Risktaking? We should all be that reckless.

  2. PauletteGoddard Says:

    Hey katwoman I didn't mean to imply we immigrants are manic. I am like your parents: I saved diligently, had a union (contract) job, bought a home that was within my needs (planned a family) and income, have owned a car for nine years, and am sending my son to public school. I even buy stock in PG, WAG, GE and BNSF. I would like to not have a credit card but see it as a 30-day flotation device.

    But surely you must see some manic behaviour from consumers, economists, et cetera over the past two years. Did you see people in your worklife chanting AAPL, SUNW, ORCL daily quotes as a mantra at the tail end of the last millennium? Certainly you must see that not all of the interest-only, payment-option mortgages of the past two years have been to investors who can assess their risks, and that there are people who routinely use large vehicles for no other purpose than to drag their single-occupant selves to a sedentary office desk.

  3. LuckyRobin Says:

    I loved that comment about a bi-polar market, though I think it could be expanded to being a bi-polar country. My first thought on reading this was also "you think too much," but then again, thinking too much is what keeps you on fairly solid ground, isn't it? Keeps the wolves from the door. Plus, I agree with everything you said, so I guess that means I think too much, too.

  4. katwoman Says:

    Yes I see the manic behavior. It's similar to the behavior I remember as a kid when all the new Cadillacs were lined up along my school to pick up the kiddies. Back then regular folk would literally trade in their caddys every year. Something about it being cheaper to trade in than to own it years on end. I couldn't understand why my unsophisticated folks drove the same car year after year. Of course, now I know better.

    My point is this: times change, people don't.

    I love that you want to be a better person/human being and that you want the same for others, but let's face it, we can only lead by example and even then the rate of failure still runs high. I just wish you wouldn't take all so personally when you have so much going for you.

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