In my younger years I had the great pleasure of sitting at the feet of a wiser older man who lived in my neighborhood, who was capable of giving me a personal glimpse into a past I had only known in musty books.
He grew up in the South during the Great Depression and served in World War II, which is not remarkable in itself, but he also happened to be the son of a noted economist of the time period.
During my teenage years, when I first began to foster the love of ideas and history that has, at this point, grown into a near-obsession, he was able to not only articulate substantial anecdotal recollections but also impart to me a considerably more scholarly insight than I was able to acquire in the standard-issue textbooks I perused in my public high school.
One time I asked him if his father had any intuition about the great Wall Street Crash of 1929, if there was anything that stood out or gave any indication that, even in hindsight, would benefit those that came after.
I remember he told me a lot of things. Unfortunately, I do not remember much of the technical details, but one remark stands out to this day.
“There was a strange sinking feeling of vague unease,” he said. “Like something wasn’t quite right but he couldn’t put his finger on it.”
At the time, this remark loomed large and it still echoes in my thoughts these two decades hence: a strange sinking feeling of vague unease.
I felt this over the course of my time living in the midst of the heavily urban East Coast, seeing the first fruits of the economic slowdown and working within those most vulnerable to the ebb and flow of economic whimsy.
Returning home to East Texas in the spring of last year, I felt it also when I saw the corroded pump jacks sitting motionless in an abandoned pasture as a bloated and rangy horse looked on.
Over the summer I also felt it as I heard family and friends lament having their hours slashed and their wages reduced at their places of employment, while others struggle to find some foothold in the diminishing manufacturing landscape.
The feeling has lingered over the fallen leaves of autumn and the ashen trees of winter. Can the center still hold? Will things fall apart?
I look to the national media and am immediately beset on all sides by trivial gossip concerning celebrities or the ongoing political backbiting in a contest of rhetorical one-upmanship with no winner and a bunch of losers.
According to reports from economists across the political spectrum, the last 10 years were the worst decade for jobs since the 1940s. Between December 1999 and now, there has been no net growth job creation.
Millions are unemployed, while millions are spending themselves into a debt of more money than they will ever earn. Middle-class Americans earned more 10 years ago than they do now. Six million Americans claim food stamps as their only income. Six million.
Oh, and did I mention that this country is fighting two wars on the other side of the world?
At this point in the essay I’m supposed to take an ideological side and perhaps skew some data to demonstrate how the position that stands counter to my own is responsible for everything wrong with this country. Blame the president, current or former, and blame Congress. Blame the media. Why not blame Jerry Jones, too, he’s got to have a hand in this somewhere.
The fact of the matter is this: humanity courts disaster with every innovation, and our achievements walk hand-in-hand with our own doom.
We refuse to learn from our past, if we are even aware of it, and far more often than not, we continue to blunder headlong into error upon error.
Too many people are out of work, and the people who do work are increasingly living beyond their means.
Too many of our children know too little of what happened before they were born, and those who are not starved for wisdom are lacking a far deeper nourishment.
The rest of the world looks to the West and sees twilight coming.
While panic is certainly too premature a reaction at this point, I do confess to a strange sinking feeling of vague unease.