The Last Generation of the West and the Thin Strand of Civilization

Civilization Seems to Be Losing

Popular culture is likewise anti-civilizational. Does anyone believe that Kanye West, Miley Cyrus, and Lady Gaga are updates to Glenn Miller, jazz, Bob Dylan and the Beatles? Even in the bimbo mode, Marilyn Monroe had an aura that Ms. Kardashian and Ms. Hilton lack. Teens wearing bobby socks and jeans have transmogrified to strange creatures in our midst with head-to -oe tattoos and piercings as if we copied Papua New Guinea rather than it us. Why the superficial skin-deep desire to revert to the premodern? When I walk in some American malls and soak in the fashion, I am reminded of National Geographic tribal photos of the 1950s.

Again the theme: the more we borrow to provide iPads to our supposedly deprived youth, the more in theory they can access in a nano-second the treasures of their culture and heritage, and in fact the more likely it is that they have no clue what Gettysburg was, who Thomas Jefferson was, or who fought whom over what in World War II. Our managers in education, terrified of confronting the causes of ignorance, believed that the faster youths could transmit nothingness, the more likely they might stumble onto somethingness.

The fourth-century Greeks at the end pasted silver over their worthless bronze coins -- “reds” being the protruding noses and hair of the portraiture that first appeared bronze-like, as the silver patina rubbed off. The bastardization of the currency fostered many books on Roman decline. More worthless money for more people was a sign of “crisis” -- analogous to our own quantitative easing and $17 trillion in debt.

Once more the theme here is not just that we are insolvent, but that we are so insolvent that it is now a thought-crime to talk of dissolution, bankruptness, and irresponsible spending -- all damned as symptoms of “callousness” to the poor, proof of “social injustice”, and “obsessions” with deficits. The medicine of austerity always becomes worse than the disease of profligacy.

What do I mean about the “thinning strand of civilization”?

A shrinking percentage of our population feeds us, finds our energy, protects us, and builds things we count on. They get up each morning to do these things, in part in quest for the good life, in part out of a sense of social obligation and basic humanity, in part because they know they will die if idle and thrive only when busy, and in part simply because “they like it.”

We can stack the deck against them with ever higher taxes, ever more regulations, ever more obligations to others, and they may well continue. But not if we also damn them as the “1%” and call them the agents of inequality and the fat cats who did not build what they built or who profited when they should not have.

You cannot expect the military to protect us, and then continually order it to reflect every aspect of postmodern American sensitivity in a risky premodern world. Filing a lawsuit to divert a river’s water to the sea during a drought is a lot easier and cleaner than welding together well-casings at sea. Last week, an off-duty armed correctional officer in Fresno intervened in a wild carjacking, shooting and killing the gang-member killer and thus limiting his carnage to one death and two woundings rather than five or six killings -- at the very moment Harvey Weinstein -- of guns-blazing Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction fame and profits -- promised to destroy the NRA. These contrasts say everything about the premodern, the postmodern and the innocent who pay the tab in-between.

Each day when I drive to work I try to look at the surrounding communities, and count how many are working and how many of the able-bodied are not. I listen to the car radio and tally up how many stories, both in their subject matter and method of presentation, seem to preserve civilization, or how many seem to tear it down. I try to assess how many drivers stay between the lines, how many weave while texting or zoom in and out of traffic at 90mph or honk and flip off drivers.

Today, as the reader can note from the tone of this apocalyptic essay, civilization seemed to be losing.

(Artwork created using multiple images.)