I report here on a conversation which took place a few days ago on an e-mail list to which I belong. It began when another member sent a link to an op-ed piece in the Wall Street journal by Peggy Noonan, who used to write speeches for Ronald Reagan among other things. Another fellow replied that the article’s first half had elated him while the second half had disgusted him. Do read it.
In passing he mentioned me, and suggested that I might be thinking, “Well, Satan is real. Evil exists. Get real.”
I thought about that before I replied. My first reaction to the “Satan is real” sentence was, “Well, Du-uh!”. Then I began to think further on what that might mean for us today, and the mess everyone but the editorial board of Playboy the CEO of large corporations thinks we are in. This has been coming on us since the end of the Second World war. The 50’s prepared us for it, a prosperous time where we as a country produced 2/3rds of the products made in the whole world. The 60’s accelerated it as we began to believe what we were telling ourselves, “We really are the best thing since sliced bread.” More-so, we could indeed have guns and butter, and no one had to work hard at anything. We could turn on, tune in and drop out…the functional equivalent of eating the forbidden fruit. The 70’s cemented us in that position, though there were danger signs and rumblings over the horizon in Vietnam, first, and then in Iran. But, we had that old dinosaur to lead us through the 80’s, Reagan, who believed and helped us believe in us. It all began to fall apart in the 90’s when Clinton proved a clever liar is more successful than an honest man; well here, at least. Now the Malls are full of fools and liars, and so are the halls of academies, corporate HQ’s, the Pentagon and Congress. The Liar in Chief inhabits the whitest house in the country, a sepulchre, the burial place of honesty and liberty.
So, yes, Satan is real, as my friend said I might say, and evil does exist; though we would rather not, like Scarlett, think of those things. However I would not add “get real.” I would add “Get over it.” “IT” being, specifically, the stupid notion that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of making the world and/or ourselves safe from or for anything. That is the seductive bait we have swallowed since Mac Arthur inked his name to the document of surrender on the fantail of the USS Missouri, and we chose to forget, ignore and be embarrassed by another old general fifteen years later on who suggested there were a few things we should be chary of getting ourselves involved in…
And, now? Now we are hooked, being reeled in.
Left to our own devices we have always screwed up. We’ve been doing it since babel. Read the Old Testament if you want to know what happens next, because next is the destruction of the temple (read that as whatever our contemporary society holds sacred…and it certainly ain’t any notion that there is a God in heaven) and our exile in some latter day Babylon. As we are being led off into captivity of one kind or another turn around and look for the “remnant”, the faithful few who did not put their trust in “other gods”.
They will not be saying, “I told you so.” They will be begging God’s mercy on all of our sorry butts.
I ended this by writing, “I give us twenty years to the end.” I had in mind a few things I’ve read lately about China, looming across the Western Sea.
The fellow who sent in the Noonan link commented that some of the stuff I wrote reminded him of the situation in that science fiction classic from the Fifties, “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. If you haven’t read it you should. If you have not read it in a while, do re-read it. You’ll like it. The author’s solution to the problem was a familiar one; right out of the Bible…flee into the wilderness. If that captures your imagination, and gets you thinking about “life, the universe and all that” so to speak you may want to continue your studies. In that case pick up an author by the name of Michael O’Brien, and begin with his first novel, Father Elijah. He paints a similar picture, but points to a different solution.
This gentle man who started off everything among us had bemoaned the fate we’d prepared for our grand-children. Our poor grand-children, and theirs, indeed. If, that is, we continue going the way we are/have been for the past fifty years at a steadily accelerating pace. We are in a cart, a coach and four to some who choose not to see, being pulled by seven horses. Can you name them?
That was the point, I think, of Noonan’s surprising essay which I finally read after coming home from the Vigil last Saturday. I say surprising because she was an acolyte for the last True Believer to occupy the position of President.
I was thinking this morning how nice it would be to hand over the reins to the Chinese, and let all of those professional worriers, perfectors of the world for humanity and hand wringers inhabiting that marble and glass slab on Manhattan’s East Side move to Peking; how nice it would be to let Germany, France, Spain, Italy and their etcs. pull their own weight; how nice it would be to let Mexico and everything south of us depend on Venezuela and Brazil; how nice it would be to let everyone in Africa make a meal on their own….even if it was each other.
It won’t happen, of course, because the guys who really run things, the foundation guys, the think tank guys and the corporate guys have “interests” all over the place, and these interests produce compelling reasons for keeping, or trying to keep, the lid on. It’s become like a tangle of fishing line, I suppose. My final thoughts were of a scene from the film “The Gladiator”; poor Marcus Aurelius up there on the Rhine trying to stem the tide. He was successful in the film, of course, but that’s Hollywood for you. We know what really happened, of course. It’s the reason we speak what we laughingly call English instead of Latin…for as long as we may have it around to speak.
There was another article sent for our amusement, a kind of follow up by an historian named Kaiser. I decided to read it after reading one of the comments posted about it. I found two things mildly interesting:
“Two centuries of the Enlightenment had convinced mankind that the application of science and reason could improve their lot.”
“The second is the destruction of the rationalist ideal in the humanities. English and history departments no longer acknowledge the existence of objective reality. Language, many professors will now tell you, cannot mirror objective reality, only the feelings and interests of individual speakers, or of their gender, race, or class. In short, they have destroyed the Tower of Babel that had been built up over the past two centuries, enabling us to use a common language to speak of the common good.”
I was very much amused by his “Tower of Babel” reference and wonder, now, if the whole thing was tongue in cheek.
Maybe it was, and maybe, also, what the fellow is saying is that we’ve become too smart for our own good? Convinced as we have been since, oh 1750 at least in the West, of our brains and sure of our purpose and destiny, our bright future, we built many versions of that tower all over the place. A lot of us have worked away inside of them for forty or so years believing all the while we were making the world safe for democracy, or serving Truth, Freedom and the American Way…or something. The fruits of our labors, and proof of our theories and beliefs was of course a chicken and two cars, along with 500 channels and one small step. What more could an honest man want?
He thinks, that we may turn around. We may do it with God’s help. But, He only helps those who ask for it. I do not see anyone seriously thinking of doing that, aside from a little fellow in a white cape.
As someone might say, “It’s not the economy, stupid”; nor is it rationalist ideals.
Never has been.
Now comes a new thing. Two fellows deep in the Pentagon have written an essay calling for us to to re-think what we’ve been up to all over the place for the past nearly seven decades. They appeared on an NPR talk show yesterday called On Point and spoke about their thesis that we need to get less muscular and more subtle. I particularly liked what was said at the end by one of the men. He spoke about being a newcomer to DC and what he’s seen and heard there. According to him almost every article of the Constitution is discussed by people interested in the rights attached to it/them. He continued by saying he has never heard anyone mention the Preamble, though, the bit which articulates the reason for it, and the reason why there is an Untied States of America…oops did I say UNTIED? I mean United States of America. Then he said he specifically never heard anyone pay any attention to the last phrase of the preamble. You know the one which goes “…and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity”.
As a certain old Yankee catcher might say, “It’s deja vu all over again.”