Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pickup Truck Nation: Perspectives on the American Project

I'm alright
Don't nobody worry 'bout me
You got to gimme a fight
Why don't you just let me be

I'm alright
Nobody worry 'bout me
Why you got to gimme a fight?
Can't you just let it be?

I'm alright
I'm alright
Just let me be

-Kenny Loggins

Every once in a while you make an excuse to go attend to some business in the far reaches of the world, and a sovereign way to do that is to set out, turn off the radio and the mobile phone, and give yourself time to think about more than immediate matters. Today was one of those days. I was on my way to Harlan, Iowa for a meeting that I could have done over the phone, but quiet time is rare-even when it's inside a pickup truck and it's not very quiet.
It is fall here on the prairie, and harvest is a time for summing up where we are, what we've managed to get done, and where we're going. That is something I never did much of in Los Angeles, but it is part of the cyclical rhythym that all folks who live in rural, agricultural areas find themselves doing.

There's a super sized helping of bad news lately.

The economy's off its axis, the cost of energy is going to make this winter hell for poor folks, the dollar's in free fall, we're in the fourth year of a war which seems like it'll never end, housing and credit are in freefall, and we're on the defensive from every smart aleck euroblogger who thinks he understands what makes us tick and what it is we need to get ourselves straight-even if the place he hails from wouldn't rate a stoplight and a Casey's in this part of the world.

To add to that, there's plenty of self doubt about the rightness of our principles and what we stand for, if anything. The test of our character as people, individually or collectively, is how we resolve these matters, if at all. It's to be remembered that we're still part of the rest of the world and the human race whether we like it or not. We're remarkably ordinary folk.

The solution to the energy problem is a technical, economic and social construct. We will find other ways to produce energy, it'll cost us some money, and we'll learn to live within our means, energy wise. That's not what I'm worried about.

Adam Smith opined that the source of wealth was in the combination of labor and resources that yields production. People planted a garden on the commons, or grazed cattle, and because of their labor they gained the produce of the garden or the increase from their cattle. It stands to reason that you can either add wealth or shuffle it around or waste it.
There are limits. It seems very obvious that we can't continue to squander our substance in rioutous living as the Book said the Prodigal Son did. The wallet's empty, the checking account's overdrawn and the credit card's maxed out. Flip This House nation is not sustainable.
But learning, understanding, measuring and squaring, metalworking, building, mending, and charity-these are sustainable, and these we have.
So why am I so optimistic about this land, and why do I think that reports of our demise are greatly exaggerated? Simply that we're a serious and purposeful people, if not particularly stylish and the butt of numerous jokes. Sooner or later we'll get it.
A lot like the much lampooned pickup trucks everyone drives here. They're there for a purpose, and that purpose is to shoulder the load. Show us where the load is, and where it is to be moved to, and we will do it.
And there is only one way to see this country-and that is from the cab of a pickup truck.


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