In times long past, most people lived in small farming communities. Everyone knew their neighbors, breathed clean air, ate food we’d call organic today (that’s all there was back then), and raised large families. For the most part, the villagers had the same language, religion, and culture. Artisans in town made necessary products by hand. Men tended the fields and produced the goods. Wives stayed home to raise the children. Conditions were like this since the Middle Ages, but began changing during the Industrial Revolution.
Today, that would seem like pretty much an entirely different country. Actually, most of that would be quite dreadful according to modern tastes.
The modern era
Scientific progress brought industrialization. Railways crossed the continent; cities connected by them thrived, and some others began to wither. New products became available, most of which had to be built in factories. As this came to fruition, the automobile in particular was a game-changer. In many ways, this was a big step ahead. However, there were drawbacks.
Large corporations were needed to set up these factories. This transformed the economy, and a regular boom-and-bust cycle began. Economic perturbations even affected the rural communities, and so did wild price fluctuations in agricultural commodities. By 1920, the USA’s rural population fell to 50%, and kept dropping. Gradually, they came to the cities, where work was available.
Factory conditions were dreadful—long hours, low pay, and little attention to safety. Pollution became a serious problem. Vast extremes of wealth were on the rise. The market economy, which had worked pretty well up to that point, became distorted. Business interests got immensely powerful. A century ago, the last batch of sensible leftists had made inroads into fixing some of that.
To make a very long story short, the Great Depression began because of the confluence of Wall Street gambling, fractional reserve banking, and inadequate planning. A quarter of the USA was unemployed, and this left an imprint on an entire generation. However, massive war production kick-started the economy again. This required unprecedented deficit spending, creating a permanent large national debt, but all that’s another story.
The postwar era
Europe and parts of Asia required a massive rebuilding effort, but the USA was almost completely untouched and ready to go. At last, prosperity began returning in the late 1940s. However, citizens were typically very cautious about their spending, remembering what they’d been through earlier. Planners determined that the public needed a morale boost; narratives promoting the new prosperity were made fashionable. During the 1950s, there was tremendous interest in advertising and consumer psychology. Edward Bernays was a pioneer in this, a clever fellow like his uncle Sigmund Freud.
Many in the big cities began moving to the suburbs, prompted in part by the cities getting too vibrant. The new suburbs often were filled with cookie-cutter homes—as the song goes, little houses of ticky-tacky that all look the same. Eventually, getting larger houses became a safeguard against further ethnic cleansing, though pricy real estate ate into household budgets. Urban sprawl began, and dealing with traffic was unavoidable. Small grocery stores went out of business as the big supermarkets sprung up, with their goods laid out in clever ways to maximize sales.
The suburbanites competed with each other in ostentation. If a neighbor got a new color TV, it was time to get one too! They’d go into debt for a new car if someone else got a better one. “Keeping up with the Joneses” became another factor making large families unaffordable.
The 1960s counterculture reacted against all that. The hippies typically led simple lives, unplugging from the produce-consume-discard cycle. Ecology was a major effort, and fixing the pollution problem began to be taken seriously. Sure, the hippies were a little fuzzy in the head from getting indoctrinated with some interesting academic fads in college, and picked up some new vices, but they were onto something with the “back to nature” effort. Their yearning, sometimes subconscious, was to live closer to the land as their ancestors did.
However, it was not to last; the young Boomers eventually became Yuppies. They took on many characteristics they hated about their bourgeois parents. After the Carter malaise ended, the economy was in pretty decent shape. They loved buying new toys, and the “shop-till-you-drop” days were under way. If they couldn’t afford something, no problem—that’s what credit cards are for. Broken appliances were thrown away rather than repaired. Worn clothing was replaced, rather than mended.
The New Normal
Wages were rising relative to inflation, but peaked in 1972, and it’s never been the same since. Productivity per worker kept rising, but wages began to stagnate, while corporate profits increased. Undercutting from cheap imports, enabled by globalist trade policies, started eroding manufacturing. The middle class was on the verge of a decline. A few still lived close to the land (including the very unfashionable rednecks), but their numbers continued dwindling from urbanization and corporate farming.
The economy went through some more boom-and-bust cycles. The latest bust was a decade ago, again caused by Wall Street gambling, banksters, and inadequate planning after the lessons of the past were forgotten. The corporations bounced back fairly quickly—some bailed out for being “too big to fail”. Meanwhile, the middle class was devastated.
Still, the Voodoo Economy had enough survivors to keep the produce-consume-discard cycle going. They serve as cogs in the machinery of the big corporations, keeping the deliverables moving down the pipeline. They buy the products too, and having the latest and greatest gadget is one of their few joys. Getting a bigger flat panel TV is a thrill, and upgrading their cell phone every year is a must. There’s a name for them: Bugmen.
Life in the Bug Hive
It’s a pretty hollow existence—not quite to Brave New World levels, but not far. Individualism means getting a tattoo or becoming an urban elf. They’re disconnected from their roots, yet avid participants in mass culture. Their entertainment is as much of a product as their news is. They know little of their own real culture; many even were taught that it’s evil. They care nothing for their folk, and some would even welcome their own extinction.
Still, Bugmen yearn for something missing in their lives. Some fill this void with movies and games about fantasy and adventure, also products. They get a glimpse of another world—a wilder one, filled with thrills and heroism. Even though it’s not real, it’s a welcome respite from quarterly reports and database-driven metrics. For others, their entertainment is sportsball, a vicarious whiff of something vaguely resembling the clash of arms of ancient city-states. As for relationships, there are apps for that, of course. If that’s slim pickings (which it usually is) another product is porn, an endless fountain of ersatz intimacy. All too often, family life is an afterthought.
The Bugmen are alone in crowded cities, scarcely knowing anyone, but at least there’s social media. Many have little to no use for religion; their righteousness is “social justice“. Some of the Bugmen even hope to upload their souls to the Matrix one day, a goal their CEOs enthusiastically desire too. Still, why bother? Essentially, they’re already there!