Perhaps you don’t, because our fears of each other are not in sync. In this round, I sense that your fears of me, of the world that I have insisted is right for us both, has gathered over a generation. It took time for your fears to trigger my fears, not least because at first, I never thought I needed to fear you.
I heard you but did not listen, all these years when you said that this amazing new world wasn’t amazing for you, for many of you, across the industrialized world; that the open, liquid world I relished, of people and goods and technologies flowing freely, going where they pleased, globally, was not, for you, an emancipation.
I have walked through your towns and, while looking, failed to see. I did notice in Stephenville, Texas, that the town square was dominated by one lawyer’s office after another, because of all the people rotating in and out of the prison. I did notice the barren shops in Wagner, South Dakota, and the VFW gathering hall that stood in mockery of a community’s dream to endure. I did notice at the Lancaster, Pennsylvania Wal-Mart, that far too many people in their 20s and 30s looked a decade or two from death, with patchy, flared-up skin and thinning, stringy hair and browning, ground-down teeth and a lostness in their eyes.
I did notice that the young people I encountered in Paris, in Florence, in Barcelona, had degrees but no place to take them, living on internships well into their 30s, their lives prevented from launching, because of an economy that creates wealth — just not jobs. I did notice the news about those parts of London becoming ghost quarters, where the global super-rich turn fishy money into empty apartments and price lifelong residents of a city, young couples starting out, out of their own home.
And I heard that the fabric of your life was tearing. You used to be able to count on work, and now you couldn’t. You used to be able to nourish your children, and guarantee that they would climb a little bit further in life than you had, and now you couldn’t. You used to be made to feel dignity in your work, and now you didn’t. It used to be normal for people like you to own a home, and now it wasn’t.
I now see as I didn’t before that not having the right skin or right organ is not the only varietal of disadvantage. There is a subtler, quieter disadvantage in having those privileged traits and yet feeling history to be moving away from you; that while the past was hospitable to people like you, the future will be more hospitable to others; that the world is growing less familiar, less yours day by day.
I will not concede for a moment that old privileges should not dwindle. They cannot dwindle fast enough. It is for you to learn to live in a new century in which there are no bonuses for showing up with the right skin and right organs. If and when your anger turns to hate, please know that there is no space for that in our shared home. But I will admit, fellow citizen, that I have discounted the burden of coping with the loss of status. I have forgotten that what is socially necessary can also be personally gruelling.
A similar thing happened with the economy that you and I share. Just as I cannot and don’t wish to turn back to the clock on equality and diversity, and yet must understand the sense of loss they can inspire, so, too, I refuse and could not if I wished turn back the clock on an ever more closely knit, interdependent world, and on inventions that won’t stop being invented. And yet I must understand your experience of these things.
Yet before you could finish a complaining sentence about the difficulty of living with erratic hours, volatile pay, vanishing opportunities, about the pain of dropping your children off at 24-hour day care to make your 3am shift, I shot back at you — before you could finish your sentence — my dogma, about how what you are actually experiencing was flexibility and freedom.
Language is one of the only things that we truly share, and I sometimes used this joint inheritance to obfuscate and deflect and justify myself; to re-brand what was good for me as something appearing good for us both, when I threw around terms like “the sharing economy,” and “disruption” and “global resourcing.”
I have condescended to you with the idea that you are voting against your economic interests — voting against your interests, as if I know your interests. That is just my dogmatic economism talking. I have a weakness for treating people’s economic interests as their only interest, ignoring things like belonging and pride and the desire to send a message to those who ignore you.
If this goes on, if this goes on, there may be blood. There are already hints of this blood in newspapers every day. There may be roundups, raids, deportations, camps, secessions. And no, I do not think that I exaggerate. There may be even talk of war in places that were certain they were done with it.
We can do this only if we first accept that we have neglected each other. If there is hope to summon in this ominous hour, it is this. We have, for too long, chased various shimmering dreams at the cost of attention to the foundational dream of each other, the dream of tending to each other, of unleashing each other’s wonders, of moving through history together. We could dare to commit to the dream of each other as the thing that matters before every neon thing.