Monday, August 21, 2017

On Midlife Crises

It is now clear the United States is a shell of its own values. It admires freedom of speech but not tolerance. It showcases the Statue of Liberty while ignoring the inscription on her pedestal’s lower level. It blames foreign powers for election interference, a charge Mossadegh, Castro, and Chavez would find interesting. It believes globalization is responsible for at least some of its economic woes, even as it has benefited handsomely from globalized trade, especially in oil. It claims to honor freedom of religion while making it difficult to donate to Islamic charities or to build or attend mosques. Above all, it loves freedom itself, more so than any other nation’s people--while having the most student loans, incarcerated criminals, and credit card debt.

We can certainly argue about all of the points above. For instance, America is around tenth place, not first, in worldwide debt rankings if we view household debt as a percentage of its GDP. It may have the most student loans, but international students clamor to attend its universities, indicating value. It has massive debt but also considerable wealth, ranking in the top twenty-five worldwide in median wealth per adult. It houses the most criminals, but outside of St. Louis, Baltimore, New Orleans (one of my favorite cities), and Detroit, most American cities are far less violent than international counterparts. (So far, I’ve only been mugged in Paris, France, where a French police officer refused to assist me, blaming the Moroccan mafia.) On average, Muslim-Americans are more educated and make more money than average non-American Muslims, an effect we can attribute to selective immigration, but no less true.

Despite the availability of reasonable counterarguments, no reasonable person today believes America is on an upswing at this juncture in its relatively young history. One astute British journalist says America is experiencing a horrific midlife crisis and how it emerges from this period will determine its fate. I think it’s much more complicated than a midlife crisis, and I say this while arguably going through one myself.

1.  Unstable Job Markets, More Debt, and Fewer Permanent Relationships in Developed Countries are Causing Unintended Consequences

I promise I won’t generalize too much if you agree to hear me out. Prior to the age of 40, men tend to be more prone to risky behavior. In some instances, young men become calmer and less interested in risky behavior when women take an interest in them. As men age, they generally reduce risky behavior on their own, meaning a woman’s influence on a man at a young age is often immeasurable—whether positive or negative. (Note: one premise behind America’s incarceration of so many young men is to age them out of unstable behavior.) I don’t mean to imply men are total or unilateral winners in relationships, or that all relationships follow gender-based patterns. Obviously, everyone benefits if two people meet, fall in love, and have a lasting relationship.

But does the relationship last? In modern society, very few people are romantics, especially if they've read a Family Code. The world is filled with divorcees who will share fiendishly unique parables of woe and arbitrariness—and that’s before they discuss their experiences in divorce court.

In an era where almost nothing is permanent, risk management causes most people in developed countries to marry later and have children later, which requires governments and communities to find new ways to occupy people’s time. It turns out there are only so many taco trucks and outdoor music festivals one can visit before searching for something more meaningful. Indeed, almost all of the Western world’s culture wars come down to this simple fact: people are no longer busy influencing their children so they seek to influence others and society. Case in point: what sane American counter-protests neo-Nazis in a town unheard of pre-protest unless s/he genuinely believes s/he’s influencing society in a positive way?

Of course, nothing is inherently wrong with attempting to influence others and your own community, but the shrillness behind such attempts feels new. If you spent 140,000 dollars buying a law school diploma, I suppose you’d better believe you can use it to change the world in your own image, or you’re a sucker. Problematically, someone down the seating chart also spent the same money as you and thinks she can influence society too, and if her community doesn’t validate her belief system, the forecast calls for social strife or self-imposed segregation—both with a high chance of stormy weather. And that’s just within one law school, not even one community, nor an entire nation.

2.  Where Do We Go from Here?

As some of you know, I’ve been traveling since two years ago, when I sensed a disturbance in the Force. Just kidding. (For the record, I’m a Star Trek fan. Picard, not Shatner.)

In any case, I bought several one-way tickets and went around the world with no set plan. I came back to California—home to the most active hate groups in America—to vote, casting my lot with a candidate who failed to capture even 5% of the national vote—then left town again.

I’m now in Cebu, Philippines—a wonderful place—and excited to be able to visit the Middle East soon. For now, my next stop is Brunei. I’m most excited about Qatar, and it's not only because their basketball play in the recent FIBA Asia tournament reminded me of the San Antonio Spurs. By coincidence, I’ll be there during World Tourism Day—yes, that’s a thing—and I’m especially pleased to see and support Qatar when it's going through some challenging times. (If the United States is going through a midlife crisis, then Qatar, founded in 1971, has yet to reach puberty.)  No one knows what the future holds, but maybe the secret to happiness is finding a young, rebellious country and convincing it to have a lasting relationship with you. Let's make it so. 

“The day we stop looking, habib, is the day we die.” – Lt. Colonel Erfan Saad 

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