Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beck: The Hinge Generations

Billy Beck thinks there is no America left. He may be right. If he is I hope that somewhere enough of what he has written over the years survives so that whichever future historian gets to write the definitive story of The Decline and Fall of America, will have a chronicle from someone who understands what happened, why it happened and can write about in clear, unambiguous prose.

The America that almost was deserves much better but may have to have to settle for nothing more than an honest assessment of why we Americans failed it.

The Hinge Generations

McPhillips:
The Left worked through academentia, through its media salons, through its sniffs and conceits, through its exhausted disdain for Americans themselves, through deep liars like Chomsky and cracker-barrel Marxists like Zinn."
It's pretty simple for a whole paragraph: just one sentence and not especially complex, although one must know the players, an awareness present in far, far too few Americans now. Not much to it, really, except for fact and truth, which is all one ever really needs.

No; what I find compelling in it is the past tense. Last night, I was driving up the road and thinking about some fairly large-scale writing. I conceived a section-lead that went like this:
The long train of human history had been filled with endless revolutions, evolutions and chance transmissions of arbitrary power. People had grown habitual to the ridiculous and endlessly horrible idea that some could presume the power -- not the right -- of life and death over countless others, and this idea had rolled across centuries without principled question, gathering priceless and unique individuals as the grease under its wheels. In all the annals, however, an America had never fallen."
This is my working concept, now: that it's over, and that all that's left are the particular details of collapse. That will be a rich story in itself, for sure, but we are living a truly unparalleled tragedy. It is unparalleled in that this was the first country in history founded on rational ideals of individualism (even accounting for the original sin of black slavery), and it is a tragedy in that it has been destroyed from within.

It is interesting to note that there are those alive today who are living a uniquely notable experience because they are now still alive to see the end of America, but old enough to have lived its peak. The past century or so has seen the seeding and cultivation of ideas only now coming to terrible yield. However, the enormous impetus of America's original conception, coming together as it did with the Industrial Age, managed to carry various aspects of this country's culture (material, intellectual, aesthetic, etc.) to heights which were the apple of the world's eye through most of the twentieth century, and for good reasons. Even to this day, one can easily find anywhere in the world some benighted peasant who still longs for The Great Feast of Ostentatious Consumption that America represents to most people who haven't been studied by critical sociology. Of course, that poor bastard never got to blast gas through a Chevy 454 SS at three gallons (or more) for a dollar, never had the quality of information delivered to his door that we once had, and his country never celebrated life on the scale that ours did before everybody really started hating themselves and then -- of course -- everything else, and their arts showed it.

There was a time, within the lives of people alive today, when American life was a celebration. God's curse of rot upon all those who took it in heart and mind to cast some as outlaws by way of race, but we were producing our way out of that. By the time rock & roll came along, all that rot was on its way to the grave, even if the best days of Dr. King's life had to be burned down in that cause. Naturally, the blight of racism will never be completely gone because you can't do a damned thing about stoopidness. However, there were also generations in this country seeing each other across racial lines and the laws were being beaten into shape. No more Bull Connors cracking attack dogs on black people in the street in broad photographic daylight: now, everybody can get their door kicked-in in the middle of the night when the SWAT-Fifes don't have their poop in a group.

There are many alive today who satisfy themselves as "Americans" even as they remain ignorant of things that were being lost before they were born -- "free spirits" who were tattooed with federal numbers on traditional paperwork and who have never worked a day in their lives without accounting their very existence in dollars to the law. Their grandfathers could build houses if and where they wanted to once they had accrued the moral authority (that's "money", kids) to do it: these people can barely un-flatpack a bookshelf, but at least they wouldn't have to beg zoning permits for that.

Even as it slides, though...
("Won't be nothin'
Nothin' you can measure anymore"

-- Leonard Cohen, "The Future")
...they will notice the cold bite of the state. These are special generations -- the earliest of them just passing now and the last of them alive in albums with long hair and bell-bottoms -- who can see it all freezing right in front of their eyes. Their children are groomed to the cold from birth now. All the time, they know less and less about the sheer gaiety of life that once was this country, and what it took to produce that. They take for metaphysically-granted political (and their consequent cultural) structures emergent right in front of them that were once the stuff of "fevered McCarthyism". The worst part of that is the complicity of their parents, who should know better because they actually lived a great deal of what's been lost, now.

This is my working concept: there is no America anymore.

This is because it's not really about geography, although there just can't be an America anywhere else; not after all the history-blazing mind, body, heart and soul that countless heroes have stamped upon this land. It's not about some stumbling homunculus of a land, however, propped upright on stilts of pious nonsense. There is an idea to it -- a mind to drive the machine, which is what it takes to keep the whole species in out of the cold and happy and thriving. It is one of the great, great things monumental to history that nobody grasped technology the ways that Americans did, and for all the whining and crying from brainless snots through much of the last half of the twentieth century, it must be said that they lived beyond the reach of kings only few generations before them because of the ways that tools multiply the power of the human mind and body.

And only free people do this. That's why we were what we were, and why we won't be soon enough for these people to live that, too

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