On my drive home from the airport yesterday, and in between naps today, I’ve been thinking about Las Vegas. This was my first visit, and while I couldn’t have enjoyed myself much more, I found the city itself to be profoundly disturbing. This may take a bit of a meander, but bear with me.
America sells itself as a place for dreamers, where anyone, regardless of the factors of their birth, can be anything. I think in reality, it is a land of disillusioned dreamers. The vast majority of people in the middle class have given up their dreams for the stability of a 9 to 5 job. They work away the prime years of their youth, always looking forward to retirement, a magical time when they’ll be able to do whatever it is they’ve always wanted to do.
I’ve often thought that this represents a sort of a little brother phenomenon to the attitude many Christians hold toward life in general. I’m not sure they’re related, but it wouldn’t surprise me. The worker endures working life because he knows he will eventually be able to retire (unless he is unlucky and dies first). The Christian (not all, but many) endures this life in anticipation of the eternal reward of heaven.
Even when I was a Christian, I don’t think I ever looked at life that way. I always had the sense that life was temporary, and precious, and that I should try and make the most of it. I haven’t given up on my dreams. In second grade, I showed up for career day wearing one of my dad’s white dress shirts as a lab coat. I (maybe foolishly) still believe that I can do anything I want to. I think this makes the people who have given up their childhood aspirations feel very uncomfortable.
In my everyday interactions, I have often found myself disappointed that the first thing almost everyone asks is “what do you do for a living?”, followed immediately with “do you have any kids?” as if those two pieces of information are the defining factors of a person’s life. They get suspicious when you say that no, you don’t have any kids, and that you’re still working toward achieving your dreams.
So what does any of this have to do with Las Vegas? Well, it strikes me that, in an America full of disillusioned dreamers enduring their lives rather than living them, escapism is king. There are bars on corners in every town in this country whose very existence depends on this fact. Take every bar, and party, and beer ad, and shopping mall, and tourist trap, and golf course that serve this purpose, put them in a pot and boil them down to their concentrated essence, and there you have Las Vegas.
Las Vegas is a shrine to the temporary; an artifice of opulence built and torn down and rebuilt, over and over again to satisfy the whims of the escapist market. It is not a place where those drawn to history and permanence can feel at ease. As a person who has spent my life seeking connection to the past, tattooing ancient art on my body, relishing the feeling of touching thousand year old artifacts, delving into genealogy, I felt completely disconnected from reality. It was almost like existing outside of time, and not in a good way.
All of this was set off even more in contrast to TAM 6. I think it’s safe to say that the crowd in attendance were all in some way still holding onto their dreams, if not directly living them. I don’t think anyone asked me all weekend what I do for a living, or if I have any kids. I can’t tell you how very refreshing I found that.
I had a wonderful time and met a lot of great people. Thanks for the memories. Hopefully we can make some more next year.