Today's meditation involves two seemingly unrelated things, leading to An Unhappy Place.
Item The First: Formerly Famous
One of the great things that I think must be very difficult - and which 99% of us are spared from - is the pain of being Formerly Famous.
I would bet that at some point in many people's lives, there is a wish - even if brief - that they were famous. It might be for different reasons - the money, the recognition, the sense of power, the sense of privilege - but there must be a flicker for most, at some point, "What would it be like if....?"
The reality, of course, is that fame for even that 1% can be fleeting.
I have often wondered after the life of those who hit their peak early in life - the TV child stars, the bands in their early teens and twenties, the movie stars that break out early - and then fade over time. Most of us are not built to handle the growth of popularity and then its gradual or sudden decline: Two or five or ten years of relevance, then fade to black.
You read about them of course: the former athlete now up on criminal charges, the music star of twenty years ago waiting tables, the former movie star on the late night advertising or being a celebrity judge on a ridiculous TV show. Or you read about them in other ways, as they try increasingly desperate measures to call attention to themselves or, somewhat sadly, end poorly.
One wonders what it must be like to wake up and realize the fans are gone, the money has fled, the former folks that would answer the phone as you called have suddenly lost your number - that your life, once seemingly "extraordinary", is now just a life like any other.
Some adapt, others do not.
Item The Second: The National Debt Clock
One of the things I wish that was more visible and paid attention to a great deal more is the US National Debt Clock. There are many different versions of them (as I found out); the link is a very simplified version.
If you have never seen one (I am assuming my readership has; Canadian friends and UK friends, I bet you have your own version), it lists the current US National Debt, The National Debt per person and per household, the Unfunded Liability National Debt, and The Unfunded Liability Debt. It is all in real time so you can see the numbers rolling up second by second.
By "debt", of course, we mean something borrowed that has to be paid back.
Would that this was the background on every news cast, every government meeting, every presidential speech, a background to put all discussions of spending and borrowing and rewards and punishments and gifts and "money we give to everyone else" into context.
Item The Third: An Unhappy Place
And how, pray tell, do these two run together?
The rule is that debts must eventually be paid - if not for the sheer moral correctness of repaying the debt, from the very real perception that those that do not pay their debts are not reliable. "Full Faith and Credit" means exactly that - but faith (and credit) are intangibles. And intangibles are as much based on perception as they are in demonstrable fact.
The simple reality is that now - today - we cannot repay our national debt. We do not have the will and we darn well do not have the actual money.
Who does this impact? Not the old. Those 70 and older will never see the end game play out unless they are one of the few that lives another 30 years.
Those in the 50's and 60's? Possibly - but this is a voting class who will fight bitterly for the benefits that they have spent 30 to 40 years paying for. And there is no better way to motivate a bloc to vote than threaten to take away what they have earned.
No, the blow will fall on the young.
Rather than be the most strident in crying out for not only a complete culling of additional spending but a huge and national effort to reduce the national debt, they often seem to cry out the loudest for more and more spending. They seem to believe that there will be no financial impact; after all, no-one ever calls in debts anymore and the dollar will be the currency of choice forever.
But of course there will be financial impacts. We are seeing them now and will continue see them going forward: the more dollars made, the less value they have. The less value they have, the more expensive everything becomes. They see the rise in gas prices, the rise in utilities, the rise in groceries and dining - and seem to make no connections.
Where it will be seen - and painfully so - is in their lives and their impact.
Theirs will be the generation that suddenly comes to the realization that they have become, in a way, the Formerly Famous.
They will find their opinion matters less - in the world, in their communities, in organizations. Living in a country that is more and more deeply indebted, they will find their time more involved in making a living - and making less of that living. The world "out there", who once cried out for their opinions and involvement, will be less interested in their opinion - after all, financially they have nothing to offer and increasingly nothing to sell - and their involvement -. because those who have no money and are struggling to survive view the getting of money as the most important thing in any relationship or conversation. Theirs will be the first generation in 100 + years that will not be a trendsetter for the world, but rather a follower of the trends set by others. Growing up as the center of their worlds and their society, they will find that they have been moved to cold outer fringes, as others appear on the world stage.
Perhaps I am wrong, that indeed this is this is precisely the way things should be and after all, this "debt" thing I am writing about matters not at all and even it if does, the world would not let us go broke. After all, we are the bright and shining beacon.
I would submit that the Formerly Famous, if asked, would often submit it was better to never have been famous in the first place.