February 26, 2013


A couple of decades ago, when I was living Dayton Ohio, I began to notice a strange phenomenon. Every now and then I would see a car stopped in traffic, blocking a lane and apparently disabled, the driver sitting behind the wheel doing nothing. These were always young people, no older than their twenties, apparently with no idea what to do. This was before the era when cell phones were universal, when you could not ask Siri or hastily Google “car stopped in traffic.” I was always astonished to see this, and, I suppose tellingly, never kind enough to stop and help. I always imagined the sentence being played inside the driver’s head was: “If I sit here long enough, someone will come to fix the problem.” I suppose someone always did come along, a police officer if no one else.

We all have cell phones now, so many peoples’ lives are one continuous conversation, interrupted now and then by sleep. They now do have Siri and Google, as well as an unbreakable umbilical cord to mom and dad. When mom and dad are dead, I suppose the new adults of this brave new world will still have Siri and Google, and the gentle hand of government to tuck them in at night. The world will be “idiot proofed,” in theory at least, or at least unburdened by any expectation that one should ever need to completely grow up. I find this both infuriating and heartbreaking. I am pretty sure that most people neither mind nor notice. It is normal to them. The time in which I was born, in which a higher degree of competence and self-reliance was expected, must seem like a dark age to most young people.

Fairly often now, I see grown-ups out in public in pajamas. When I was a child, such behavior would have gotten you a mandatory psychiatric evaluation. Now, no one notices. What difference does it make? People waddle into Walmart from the parking lot and plop themselves onto the nearest available scooter. I believe these were originally provided for the genuinely handicapped, but now they are the accepted convenience of the fat and apathetic – people who don’t really fear the loss of their mobility through the atrophy of their legs because they are intuitively confident that there is no minimum requirement for their survival anymore. The more helpless you are, the more help you will receive. I still notice these things – they just no longer astonish me.

I know all too many instances in which children are being raised by their grandparents. Parenting is an impossible task for people who are not really responsible adults themselves, and the grandparents are there doing nothing anyway, so – why not? But what is going to happen when the last competent member of a particular family passes away? Who will raise the children then? This predicament happens already, of course, in the caring nation of America, where we are smarter and more capable than any people on the planet have ever been.

This country is ruled by a political elite, regardless of which party is in office. If you think the people rule – you just aren’t paying attention. A fair fraction of the public are unfit to dress or feed themselves, let alone participate intelligently in the democratic process. The elites treat the public with a thinly veiled contempt, lying to us in ways that aren’t even subtle any more. While this does anger me, it should not and does not surprise me. If I were in the government’s massive shoes, I doubt I’d think much better of the public than they do, frankly. A morbidly obese man, sitting on a scooter in Walmart in his pajamas, poking through a pile of discount movies, is not the sort of being which inspires much respect. He is not the sort of creature that his grandparents were, or that de Tocqueville encountered in our brave new republic, once upon a time. I used to think that, though our TV shows were popular around the world, they must have convinced the rest of the world that Americans were idiots. It was less obvious to me that TV (and its modern descendents) was actually helping to make us idiots. We do not discuss now, or explain – we tweet. What could be worth saying over 140 characters anyway? It did not occur to me until recently that TV (and its modern descendents) had convinced our own leaders that we are idiots. I often suspect that this is also a factor in our failure to produce an immigration policy. So what if Mexicans do not speak English? Quite a few Americans don’t really speak English either. For the elite, I think, all varieties of tweeting animals look alike. Who cares where a particular bird happens to come from? What difference does it make?

Fortunately, I know quite a few men and women who still have more-or-less functioning brains and bodies, and substantial and even admirable characters. There are even some young ones, here and there. One ought to love such people, and encourage them. They are the light of humanity. One must also seek them out in unexpected places. When there is so much rot, one must look hard to find the good. One must be honest about what one finds – but still maintain an open mind.

The unconscious hand of evolution will not be stayed. Nature does not make very inspiring animals when she leaves them in environments in which they cannot fail. The dodo was a stupid, slow, and ugly creature that became extinct as soon as more robust animals set foot on its island. I do not believe in anyone’s utopian ideal – not merely because I don’t believe that any group of human beings is collectively bright enough to devise such a thing, but because I believe that taking the rigor out of life diminishes us rather than enriches us. This is evident among all classes. The person who struggles to amass a great fortune is almost always a better specimen than the person who inherits one and lives idly on its fruits. The impoverished person who ekes out a living has more dignity – and more worth – than one who lives a lifetime on the dole. It is effort which makes us. A utopia of self-indulgent, incapable, overgrown children whose only competition is for the highest state of victimhood is not a utopia that any decent human being would want to live in. It is, in fact, no utopia at all.

(see: Decline II )

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