When you are over 75, you've been through recessions before. The economic experts say the market hasn't been this low since 1982. The problem is, I remember 1982, but I don't recall things being as bad or people being as apprehensive as they are today.
These experts report the numbers and then talk about "recovery," late 2009, they say, or maybe a bit longer. The market has always cycled up and down. Eventually investors will begin buying again.
Maybe so, but I'm not the only one who thinks this time there will be no "recovery." This time things are different, and even if the market rebounds, we won't return to business as usual. The concept of limitless growth is crumbling along with a lot of other postindustrial thinking, and this is actually a good thing.
We've fought more than one war to defeat communism. We now face the consequences of unchecked capitalism, and in our struggle to keep the nation's banks and other institutions afloat, we drift toward socialism. This unsettles many of us, but what really matters is not any "ism" or ideology but the welfare of the people who live within the system.
Today U.S. unemployment is more than 8 percent and rising fast.
People need jobs so they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, but mere employment isn't the answer. We can't go back to producing goods and services that are basically destructive to society as a whole. We can't go back to exploiting the earth in the name of economic expansion.
War is good for business. Addictive drugs are profitable. High-end construction and high-level financing enriches entrepreneurs, but none of this makes for a healthy society. This is why the bad news isn't all bad news. An old order has to crash before a new direction can emerge.
This is why the present economic crisis may be a blessing in disguise. In Australia, an environmental business guru contends that people are already using this recession to retool and reorient their economies. In Europe and the U.S., government stimulus packages are being passed that will, hopefully, fund alternative sources of energy.
But what do we do about the people who are hurting right now?
We help one another just as families have always done in hard times, and I use the word "family" deliberately. Our nation has always stressed individualism. When we talk about family, we usually mean the nuclear family, not the human family, but we are all linked together through years of human evolution.
Mankind is basically a cooperative animal, but historically this cooperation has operated within relatively small groups. Tribes have fought against tribes, kingdoms against kingdoms, and nations against nations.
Today we live in a global society, but individually we have not moved much beyond these basic levels of thinking and social organization. We still see things in terms of us vs. them.
To look upon some individual halfway around the world as a brother or sister is not naive idealism. Members of a tribe don't cooperate because they love one another. They do it to survive.
In today's highly technical and interconnected world, increased levels of national and international cooperation are necessary if our species is to survive, and this is going to take a radical shift in our thinking.
In the first place there are too many of us to live without rules and concessions. In the past two months, submarines have collided under the sea and satellites in space. The more crowded the world becomes, the more dangerous our miscalculations are.
No nation stays ahead militarily for long. Eventually Iran will have its nuclear bomb and others will follow. We must hope that by then we have developed better and more amicable ways of relating to foreign governments and individuals alike.
You do not eliminate an enemy by killing him. You do it by making him your friend. After that you keep him close, where you can watch him very carefully. The definition for insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
This applies to all forms of aggression: economic, social and military.
We will survive this economic collapse. We will defeat terrorism and fanaticism, but if our stone-age thinking doesn't change, we will simply play the whole sorry scenario over again.
Next time the stakes will be higher and the inevitable crash more disastrous.
Joan King lives in Sautee Nacoochee. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.