This is thanks to Paul Krugman, who keeps an eye on things—like Bureau of Labor Statistics observations—that I can’t bring myself to look at.
“Das wird immer einer der besten Witze der Demokratie bleiben, dass sie ihren Todfeinden die Mittel stellte, durch die sie vernichtet wurde.”
“This will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes, that it provided its mortal enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.”Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, 1935
Yeah, probably ain’t gonna happen here. Almost everybody says so. No harm considering what it’s gonna take to stay out of the cattle cars if it does, though.
Once upon a time in California, I was late getting getting home from work on election day, and had just enough time to grab my sample ballot and leg it to my local polling place two blocks away before it closed. As I hustled past a lifted Ram pickup with a chrome bull bar idling menacingly in the mouth of my local gas station driveway, the driver, a young man in a ten gallon Stetson and sunglasses, flashed the lights at me, stuck his arm out of the driver’s side window and slapped the outside of the door.
“¡Andale Viejo!” he belted out. “¡Que te vaya bien!“ I gave him a perfunctory thumbs up and kept on trucking.
¿Viejo? I grumbled to myself. I’m forty-one, for fuck’s sake!
He was right, though. I’ve been old since I was ten, but now I’m eighty, and still hobbling along just fine. Go figure. Maybe that cowboy benediction had something to do with it. I’d certainly like to think so….
In my seventies, dreams have seized me.
Uncompromising, but not unkind,
Of more significance, now it’s come to this,
Than the judgments of my peers.
I embrace this purgatory of dreaming,
Consider it generous, a blessing even,
To be granted a good look at the bill
Before it comes due
When I was twenty
If I got this far
Would gruel in the morning
And a beer at sundown
There was a guy here
A couple of years ago
Musta thought he was
I wonder what happened
“Will you tell me the truth?”
“Almost never. The truth is complex, far more complex than my intention. The truth that I will tell you, that I can tell you, is that between human beings intention is everything, and that my intention is to tell you only as much of the truth as I think likely to leave you undamaged.
That’s why you mustn’t trust me. Good intentions are inevitably tainted with both ignorance and condescension. Never mind what Nietzsche said, no one ever gets beyond good and evil. The nature of reality forbids it.”
Another half-awake visitation:
The text is brief. “Leave now. Do not pack. Kids already in transit.” As I pass reception, an upturned face. “Madam Secretary…?”
“Out. Go Now. Everyone. Move.”
Three minutes forty-two seconds later a flash in the rearview mirror, followed by a sharp jolt transmitted through the suspension. A glance upward shows a column of dark smoke already rising where we all used to be.
Once I’m back under, I send a text of my own. “The warning was timely. Your attempt was not. My representatives will be with you shortly. If you’d rather not wait up for them, I’ll understand.”
After that, a drink. Then once more unto the breach, for now, as before, what we do is who we are. No more, no less.
Our grandchildren aren’t stupid. Their mental equipment isn’t inferior to ours. They just live in a different world, one which no longer belongs to us even though we helped create it. It’s theirs now, and whatever we imagine, we’re no longer in any position to judge them. Likely they’ll be fine, but if they turn out not to be fine, it’s going to be very hard to show how listening to us would have made the slightest bit of difference.
In the U.S., the Republicans’ sad entourage of the desperate, demented, and enraged are tearing at the Constitution’s exposed achilles tendons. In Russia the gangsters of Prigozhin are battling the siloviki of Putin for control of the spoils of a twice-failed totalitarian state. In India, Hindutva pursues a scorched-earth battle against Islam. In Germany the AfD tidal wave has engulfed the SPD, broken the CDU, and arrived at last in Bavaria, intent on washing away once and for all what little is still left of the CSU’s liberal democratic pretensions.
In Italy a fascist consumerism has sprung full-grown from the brow of Meloni. The trains now run on time, and foreign investors are once again reassured. In Finland and Sweden, the local populists have decided that white people are the only real people after all. In Israel, Syria, Hungary, Belarus, and Turkey, the warlord grifters have outlasted everyone. In Saudi Arabia and the gulf states, the kings, emirs, sultans and satraps of one kind or another are now completely convinced that having more money than Allah the Merciful means not having to apologize to anyone ever.
In Iran, a cabal of wizened religious fanatics calling themselves the Islamic Republic have yet to see any reason to deny themselves the perverse pleasure of beating and imprisoning women at random, and of shooting their own children whenever the kids act like they might be the coming thing. In China, a suspiciously but undeniably prosperous Communist (sic) Party oligarchy has decided that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nothing more than a confession of the failures and arrogance of so-called Western civilization.
I don’t think Web 3.0 is going to be a lot of help in preserving what’s left of the secular humanism that evolved over four centuries in Europe, and was sealed with the French and American revolutions. Neither will eleven aircraft carrier battle groups or a triad of delivery systems for nuclear weapons, given that both have long been controlled by people who bear no allegiance whatsoever to secular humanism either as a creed or a philosophy of government.
I’m not one to cry O tempora, o mores! every time someone in Washington does something stupid, but I do think that if the last sad road show of the Enlightenment comes to your town, you should go and listen to what was once promised us, and what very shortly we’ll all be missing.