Once Upon a Money Bubble

During money bubbles (“Gilded Ages”), there are certain sorts of “mind-sets” toward the world, and (every/any) one’s sense of future. What seems obvious or natural during such times – attitudes toward the world, judgments of what and who are the best and most successful people – flows in the direction of big power and big money being the proper ways of the world.

We are (about to enter 2009), just emerging from a money bubble. The bottom is dropping out of the economy all around the world – interlaced as we have become during the past 50 years or so. This gilded age has been enabled by the great rise in technological innovations, which have refocused much of our experienced world, and opened the entire globe to our thoughts and interactions.

Some aspects of the money bubble sort of mentality, which hover upon our thoughts:

Fame is really good! Money and power direct themselves to the precious few, while the rest of us think this is the natural way of the world as we try to play along with the world and people we see, and often admire or even adore. (I want a BMW to park in front of my mega-mansion!) The people who “run” the risen economy “deserve” all they can siphon from their merged corporations. Students go to college less for an education, more for a credential which will ensure their future success (and a BMW…maybe a Jaguar as they mature). This state is the proper/natural state of the world, and will go on and on…! We are all independent individuals – the government should stay out of our lives. I am motivated to succeed…and will…to.

Whenever a bubble bursts, its power over our very lives requires that many/most people rethink the world, and where there is to go in these so-changing times. Resentment rises, puzzles persist, as new notions of their near future resonate on the edges of their very being.

Some people respond principally from fear: e.g., many older persons who thought their worlds were fairly well set, now finding their pensions have declined dramatically. Others consider the apparent scene and await more clarity about the world, and about their own fates, and the possibilities for themselves…and their families.

Age and experience can make a great difference. My particular view is as a teacher of young, but mostly grown up persons. Seen from my world of teaching college students, I worry about them, perhaps reflecting my own family as they tried to deal with and rebound from the market crash which created the Great Depression in 1929.

People under about 25 have principally known and had their thinking shaped by this bubble mentality. The rich have gotten much richer – and this has seemed O.K., or not bad, or the direction that any really ambitious student would like to explore. Universities have become really competitive (and expensive!), and the professors with whom one might like to study and think with, have been backgrounded in relation to the bubbly idea of “star professors” who play well in the world of monied judgment. Get grants, patent your ideas, share your profits with the university.

The worlds of fame and framing the world by the “hotties” and the most “important” persons in a hierarchy-oligarchy in which the rich rule, has been the way the world “is,” all their lives…so far. Humans are basically “competitive,” the riches go to those who somehow “deserve” them. Power and money blend as we watch.

And…we wake up to note that there are many fewer jobs awaiting the about-to-graduate. What to do, how to think, adjust, readjust to the seemingly impossible idea of a bursting bubble. The bubble was “it,” the way of the world as they lived in it. The bubble mentality wasn’t about a limited moment in their history; rather, it was/is the way the world “is.” And now it “isn’t?”

The way the world “was,” was only a brief time “in history?” Come on!

The central problem of the bubble mentality as we move into new times, is that a good number of these college kids made pretty “hard” or committed decisions about their futures when they were quite young. College and career got into their thinking very early on as they competed to get into the “best” colleges and universities…or not.

And, if they had “great” ambitions – which must get rethought or rewritten as the bubble bursts – many of them will find it difficult to readjust to the idea of themselves in “different” times. They had been very good…successful…for so long (most of their lives, for they have had no other experience). This was all their experience, the way the world “is.” Very few of my students have had any awareness that they were living “in” a bubble. Life in a bubble, is the “way it is” directed toward any futures.

What to do? How to rethink? Where to go for a career or a future, perhaps now reduced to any job which they can seemingly guarantee or even bet will furnish them with the funds to live O.K.

To Live O.K. How difficult is it – how difficult it is – to rethink a world which had seemed so clear and certain, and could or would extend way out into their futures?

For some: not so bad. Life would be tough. Some wouldn’t be very ambitious or competitive. But most of those at the University were both.

So: I suggested to them (told them?) at the beginning of Fall Semester (based on all I knew, had read, observed) that we were at the beginning of “tough times.” How many of them were at aware of the impending changes? – maybe one or two out of forty!

“I’m not really worried about you, if you were “clever” enough to get here. You are smart, clever. But you may have made very firm decisions that the way the world has seemed, is “the way the world is.” I told them I was raised by a father who had gotten caught in the 1929 market collapse – and never really seemed to have gotten “beyond” the pictures of the future of a really “bright” kid whose future clearly seemed “golden.” Anger, disappointment flowed through a pretty good life, but one whose money bubble mentality arose persistently for most of his life, and affected those around him, often deeply.

The money bubble burst, apparently, not too long ago. I remind them – in this class on “Cultural Pluralism,” that different persons, and “kinds” of persons (social definitions) do well or not-very-well in various times. How to study the world, inclusively, and be able to see and rethink themselves? Come into today! There are many ways of being a good person, of succeeding, of being involved in living in a democracy.

Time to envision a democratic future, and to do what it “takes” to help ensure its future. I’m feeling pretty positive, even optimistic as the Semester is now half over, that most of these students will be open, receptive and beginning to be active in making those visions happen?

Moving out of a money bubble mentality: no simple task!