Klavan On The Culture

Our Great Age


I don’t usually comment on comments because I feel I’ve had my say, the reader ought to be able to have his without my coming back at him. But I was struck by one sneering response to a post of mine last week. “Spoken,” said the commenter with evident disdain, “like a true modern.”

I read that and I thought, “Wait, is that what we’re against? Modernity?” Are we conservatives philosophically obligated to object to the world as it is and to long to restore it to some previous state? What state, I wonder? When men were men? When hard work was a value? When women waited for marriage? When knighthood was in flower?

Because I have to tell you, dude: I don’t feel that way at all. I love the modern world! Are you kidding me? I love the internet, I love smart phones, I love cars that don’t break down all the time, I love recorded music and books I can download at three in the morning when I can’t sleep. I love medicine that actually works and scientific exploration into the deepest mysteries of matter. A guy in his fifties used to be old: I love the fact that I’m on top of my game because of better nutrition and exercise advice and a fuller understanding of the human body.

I’ll tell you what else I love:  women who can choose the direction of their lives, blacks who can use whatever freaking bathroom they want, and gays who can have the solace of romantic love like the rest of us no matter what you think of it. I love the fact that I can believe in Jesus Christ with all my heart and the guy next to me at the bar can be a nihilist and we can watch the 49ers on TV together without worrying about burning each other at the stake. I love jet planes that take you to other countries, and Skype calls that let me see people I love who are far away, and special effects in movies that make it look like New York is exploding. Truly, it’s an age of wonders.

And yes, this is a bad patch for the best of the world in a lot of ways — for the west, I mean, where the greatest human values have been forged. The economy’s weak. We have incompetent, corrupt and misguided leaders. The medieval Middle East is fraught with danger that could consume us. The modern humanist consensus has collapsed and people have ceased to understand the ideas underlying some of the finest things in life.

And I’m not sure we’ll come through it either. This could be the long farewell to all our greatness. Or for all I know, that idiot Barack what’s-his-name will fire off some useless missile next week or the week after, and Iran will attack Israel and Israel will respond and the Russians and Chinese will get involved and all those snake oil preachers on the Trinity network will turn out to have been right and it really will be the End of Days.

But maybe not. Maybe this too will pass and we’ll stumble forward. Maybe Miley Cyrus will continue on her inevitable path to rehab and young girls will nonetheless learn to be better than their idols. Maybe young men will rise up against those who would drug and bully and socialize their masculinity away and opt for manly strength and leadership and honor. Maybe some probably Jewish guy in some lab somewhere will figure out a way to land a man on Planet Shishkabob 7 in the Shmendrick galaxy and a whole new phase of human expansion will begin overnight.

But whether we choose Life or Death, the way is forward and there is no going back. It’s a shame that there are those who try to poison every innovation with destructive radicalism, it is. But the answer is not terminal nostalgia and endless complaint. There was greatness in the past and, yes, this is a moment of cultural decadence. But the page of the morning is always blank, ours to write on. The Obama administration won’t last forever. Miley Cyrus won’t even last until next Thursday. And God is not dead, not even sleeping.

If I speak like a modern (or, more accurately, like a post post-modern), it’s because I see so much around me that is so incredibly great, I don’t think I have to believe in unicorns and magic rainbows to hope for better days. Pessimism has become the lingua franca of our national conversation, but I don’t speak it. I’m old enough to remember how to talk American.