The Summer of Strange
By Will Baker
Well I dont know if you folks have ever experienced a "weirdness." I know that I have, but perhaps, before you can answer that question we should define our terms. I am referring to any moment where one feels solidly out of ones reckoning, when our senses almost seem to betray us, when, in a given situation we do not have the benefit of learned experience, when we are quite at a loss. Okay, so that is what I mean by a weirdness. And I do believe that, from time to time we must all experience them.
But why bring this up now? Well, based upon my interaction with a variety of folks, in the state of Vermont and outside its borders, it seems to me that, this summer, we may be experiencing a collective one. It is almost as if folks seem to be walking around in a funk, as if they feel let down by something, to the point of disillusionment. Have you taken notice of this oddity? It is my sincere hope that it is just I. Perhaps I am in the throes of some delusion, God knows its happened before, but on this occasion, I dont think that this is the case.
Yes, it seems to me that we are worried and anxious this summer. But is it the economy, the new administration, the weather or something else entirely? I am not certain, but I do know that something must be causing it. Economists do not often deal in the abstract, but of course there are exceptions. Take for example a statistic referred to as "consumer confidence." Typically consumers feel confident during an economic expansion and pessimistic during an economic slowdown. And this collective consumer mindset is measured and tracked. And judging from the numbers, consumers are certainly feeling more pessimistic these days. And this pessimism can also result in less consumer spending which can result in a further slowing of the economy. This increase in pessimism may also partially explain why the Fed continues to aggressively cut interest rates. And as for the stock market: well in the past, extreme pessimism has signaled major stock market bottoms.
We Americans look to the summer as a time of renewal. But perhaps worries about the economy, the blackouts in California, and high gas prices through out the country, have thrown a wet blanket over our expectations for summer time recreation. Or maybe it also has something to do with the fact that, in addition to the above, lately, the news seems to be all bad: renewed violence in the mid-east, earthquakes here, and flooding there and a new president, that at best some feel might be an intellectual lightweight, and at worst might be intentionally attempting to implement wrong and harmful policies. Maybe its the forest fires or floods, earthquakes and disease, or a combination of it all.
But could all this really explain the weirdness we are experiencing? After all, we have been there before. The economy goes up and down, forest fires burn, and sometimes we elect fools or crooks as President. So why are we out of our reckoning? It is often said that there is nothing new under the sun, and it seems to me that there is some truth in this. But I also believe that this notion of "newness" is a relative thing. It is certainly easy for me to imagine something being old hat to one individual, yet an entirely new experience for another. And it seems to me that one can easily expand upon this example to make it a collective one.
So here we go, sputtering forth into a new age, a new century. And it seems to me that there is some anxiety associated with that fact as well. We have our hopes and dreams, but as citizens of the world, I believe that we are not as innocent as our predecessors were, those who came before when other centuries turned. Yes, we have these notions of the ideal, but we have our fears also. But gentle reader, what is the point of all of this? Well it seems to me that there is good news after all. We can find it in the smile on a childs face, or in fond memory or in a lazy summer day. And we are not alone. No, truly, it seems to me that I am you and you are me and there must be some comfort in that. And fires can rage, and the earthquakes can come. The economy can turn and Presidents will come and go. But it is still summer after all.