At first President Obama thought of the crises that confronted him as creative opportunities, and from asides in his books, you could tell what “crisis” meant for him—not just the problem of the environment, or poverty, or civility, but also reform, nobility, and good news are all of one piece. The place is the repair shop, and the piece is the motorcycle. The crucial lesson is that you have to get your hands on things in a skillful way. If you do, the glamorous fog of consumerism will begin to lift, and several things become clear.
The first lesson is how pervasive and subver- sive the culture of consumption has become, how from all sides and in a thousand ways it prom- ises freedom and delivers infantilism. We deplore the symptoms of consumerism—the distension of mind and body, flabbiness and distraction, overweight and underconcern. But we studiously ignore the cause of the malaise, our failure to engage tangible reality personally.