Michael Walsh asks in his book The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: how might people react if the land promised by modern cultural Pied Pipers turned out to be a hell? How if after accepting abortion, the loss of individuality, the destruction of tradition and a near utter reliance on the state the end point was not utopia but dystopia? Worse what if those two places are actually the same thing?
After more than seven years of “hope and change” not just the US but the world seems to have arrived at a strange and unexpected destination. Peggy Noonan, who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, asks her readers if they’ve looked around lately and noticed how strange the scenery is.
Have you had your 2016 Moment? I think you probably have, or will. … My Moment came a month ago. I’d recently told a friend my emotions felt too close to the surface—for months history had been going through me and I felt like a vibrating fork. …
Because my country is in trouble. Because I felt anguish at all the estrangements. Because some things that shouldn’t have changed have changed. Because too much is being lost. Because the great choice in a nation of 320 million may come down to Crazy Man versus Criminal. And yes, I know this is all personal, and not column-ish.
But that was my Moment.
You’ll feel better the next day, I promise, but you won’t be able to tell yourself that this is history as usual anymore. This is big, what we’re living through.
The man on the street may have experienced the “moment” before Noonan. The New York Times reports that “suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years … The rate rose by 2 percent a year starting in 2006, double the annual rise in the earlier period of the study. … The rate declined for just one racial group: black men. And it declined for only one age group: men and women over 75.” “The data analysis provided fresh evidence of suffering among white Americans,” said the NYT, which went on to describe the “moment” when a generation of working Americans realized the future they signed up for was not what it was cracked up to be.
Disappointed expectations of social and economic well-being among less educated white men from the baby-boom generation may also be playing a role … They grew up in an era that valued “masculinity and self-reliance” — characteristics that could get in the way of asking for help.
Author Neal Gabler’s own moment came when after years of harboring the “secret shame” at having no money he came across a 2013 Federal Reserve study showing nearly half of Americans had trouble raising $400 in unscheduled bills. “I’m one of them,” he realized, writing in the Atlantic.
So I never spoke about my financial travails, not even with my closest friends—that is, until I came to the realization that what was happening to me was also happening to millions of other Americans, and not just the poorest among us, who, by definition, struggle to make ends meet. It was, according to that Fed survey and other surveys, happening to middle-class professionals and even to those in the upper class. It was happening to the soon-to-retire as well as the soon-to-begin. It was happening to college grads as well as high-school dropouts. It was happening all across the country, including places where you might least expect to see such problems.
Everybody’s broke — well not everybody. But, as the NYT article pointed out, not only is the money gone but so too are the things sacrificed on the altar of progress. Family and pride, to name two factors which saw previous generations through the hard times, but were regarded as obstacles to recent progress, are gone too. Marriage rates have declined and divorce rates have risen with the disastrous results that critical theory would never have anticipated. The NYT article says “in 2005, unmarried middle-aged men were 3.5 times more likely than married men to die from suicide, and their female counterparts were as much as 2.8 times more likely to kill themselves.” In this age of nonstandard families, who would have thought it?
Loneliness as a cause of suicide is now suspected in even ‘advanced’ European societies. NPR’s Rebecca Hersher explains that Greenland, part of Denmark, has the highest suicide rate in the world, so bad that even the suicide hotline respondents are driven to depression. One of the hotline workers told Hersher there was a clear pattern to Greenland’s suicides. “Love, she says. Or, loss of it.”
Love, family, financial independence and self-respect are bygone virtues. Yet there is even now a grudging suspicion that a vanished masculinity may have played an important role in American society. Michael Rosenwald in the Washington Post writes that Peter Langman, a psychologist and author of two books on school shootings, has a theory that what “really motivated the Columbine massacre” was a “damaged masculinity” and he thinks “it is overlooked not just in the Columbine case but in many other mass shootings — an important observation considering that most mass shooters are male.”
How might people react if the land promised by modern cultural Pied Pipers turned out to be a hell? We now know the answer is: surprised. The significance of Peggy Noonan’s 2016 moment is not only that it so perfectly coincides with the end point of seven years of progress towards Hope and Change, but it marks the moment when the penny finally dropped for the American upper middle class. After a long and arduous march through the institutions, the progressive bus has finally arrived at its long promised paradise hotel and found it desolate, dangerous and full of roaches.
Welcome to the future and don’t forget to lock the doors.
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