Dec 5, 2013
The Mirage of Our Lives
Posted on Aug 27, 2012
By Chris Hedges
Alan, Eggers writes, did well in the old America, the one that made things and sold them, the one that paid its workers fair wages with pensions and benefits, the one that made possible a middle class. But that America is gone, destroyed when “he and others decided to have other people, ten thousand miles away, build the things they sold.” And Alan must confront in the novel the fact that he was deeply complicit in his own demise, that he “helped scout a new, non-union location for Schwinn, had met with suppliers in China and Taiwan, had contributed not insignificantly … to all that undid Schwinn and the 1,200 workers employed there.”
His “decisions were shortsighted, foolish or expedient,” he admits. “He and his peers did not know they were making decisions that would leave them, like Alan, as he now was—virtually broke, nearly unemployed, the proprietor of a one-man consulting firm run out of his home office.”
Alan’s father Ron is a World War II vet who still has shrapnel in his body and lives on a farm in New Hampshire. Ron, whose crude vitality and generous union pension intimidate his son, barks at Alan over the phone:
The hologram becomes the perfect metaphor for the insubstantial nature of the American economy. None of it is real. It is a mirage. It is held up by credit, by debt, by the printing of endless amounts of new money and by vast schemes of financial speculation and casino capitalism that evaporate as swiftly as a hologram. The development project Alan and his team are bidding on is itself a mirage. He and his team of three snotty young careerists, who look at Alan with scorn and pity, have cooked up a holographic teleconferencing system where a sales representative in London will appear before the Saudi king as a hologram in a tent in the barren wastelands of a planned city with only three buildings, including a two-story welcome center known as King Abdulla Economic City. The holographic sales representative will walk on the stage and speak in Arabic and English and then disappear for the king. And they are sure that this bit of magic will save them.
Alan and his co-workers wait 11 days for the king. “One Man’s Vision, One Nation’s Hope,” the billboard advertising the development reads. The king, when he does arrive, watches the hologram impassively and promptly gives the contract to a Chinese firm. And the bubble for Alan, as it has for most of us, bursts. He too becomes a hologram.
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