As a child my grandparents gave me $25 for Hanukkah and $50 for my birthday, every year from the age of six to sixteen. Only once did I spend any of that money, $15 for a Barbie car, but every other check was deposited directly into my own savings account at the Bank. I still have the first bank card for Bank of Boston. It wasn’t me being financially prudent, I had a hard time using up any of my possession as a child. In fact my mother still has a pink plastic bin holding over forty pencils I refused to sharpen or use at all. So now she can write with a metallic prism silver pencil anytime she might need such an item. But yes I also liked the idea of accumulation, my father explained how interest worked, and I decided that saving the money was more thrilling than spending it. In the end those checks paid for part of my trip to India and so I can say with absolute certainty that my younger self made the right move.
At that time I had faith in the future. It never occurred to me that perhaps a new boombox was as good as life could get. I had faith that the world had more to offer and that my savings would accrue value. Now as an adult in 2017 that is the kind of foundational thinking that should have me building a secure financial portfolio. But that same mind looks out at the world and sees a very different terrain. I no longer have faith in the future.
And honestly I don’t know how any person can, except those with blind religious doctrine or a blindness to reading the news. Each day is one of the hottest on record and 45 pulled out of the Paris Accords, at the grocery store more and more items come sold in plastic wrapping to find their way to the island of plastic waste larger than Texas, Congress just repealed the legislation meant to corral some of the corruption of financial institutions, Black men are shot for simply breathing, the wealthy are buying land and bunkers to survive the nuclear holocaust and the president is an idiot enough to contradict himself and antagonize North Korea. Even comedians regularly make jokes that can only inspire nervous giggles, “oh that is true, a white supremacist is sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom.”
But I am no longer shocked by news of crumbling international relations, I am familiar enough with currency collapse to know it comes without warning, the wealth divide is greater than it has ever been with less access points to ever re-assign it, people are callous to the pain of anyone who looks or speaks differently than themselves, and our moral compass no longer points true north. I am not prone to fatalism or pessimism, and no one has ever told me that I am naively optimistic. I do think I am decently adept at considering a large amount of data points and making reasonable assessments. But it has become so drastically unpredictable. I cannot imagine how a retirement account, with funds available by 2050, is a better use of money than todays delicious meal or tomorrows travel. People compare current events to the past – Jim Crow era South, Wilhelm Germany, the Robber Barrons, the extinction of dinosaurs – instead of dreaming up the future. It feels like a vaccination for the apocalypse. Because what drives my fear more is that each day it becomes harder to care, each day feels more urgent and needy than any future date, like being in a rock slide grasping for a hold only rips the skin, my sense of how hard it is the keep up the fight and how tempting todays Barbie cars look when 2050 is a epidemic I’m being prepped to be immune to.