Contrary to those who claim to know the arc of history or declare themselves on the right side of history, it is more wise than foolish to acknowledge the ambiguities of the present in these troubled times. If the study of the past teaches us anything, it’s that ideas and movements wax and wane, twist and turn. Predicting the future is as dubious as it is interesting. While certain trends seem set, the future, simply put, is wide-open and progress is as common as regression (leaving aside the lofty standards by which we judge such things).
Two poems highlight this dual reality of trends and surprises.
Last night a group of friends and I quite unintentionally stumbled into the Churchill Tavern and proceeded to drink pints of Fuller’s London Pride while watching the Brexit returns. Contrary to the elites’ counsel and predictions, Leave beat Remain. While there were plenty of Americans at the bar having a bloody good time, oblivious to the going-ons across the pond, one could pick out the Brits tensely watching the TV. When BBC called the referendum for Leave there was no cheering.
Stepping outside, I bummed a cigarette from an unhappy looking fellow. Mid-twenties, well-dressed, he was imperious, defiant, and British. I asked him what he thought, and while we both stole glances through the window at the TV, he declared: “Farage is a twat. This entire campaign is based on a bigoted, xenophobic lie.” Gesturing to his friend, a Frenchman, he declared, “There will be consequences with the EU and especially the French.” I held my tongue. It isn’t my country or my election and if there is one thing that annoys me it is when Europeans pontificate on American politics (John Oliver, go home). I told the man as much so there was no fisticuffs. Plus, there was no need to rub in the victory. Despite what I just said, I am for Brexit.
Walker Percy with dogs
Walker Percy in one of his essays discusses how modern man, unmoored from faith, has become an alienated being that can only think of life in terms of sex and death. All we have left are moments of pleasure and the fear of death. It’s a generalization, sure. But in the aftermath of my personal marital catastrophe, I’ve been struck by how many secular friends have suggested I need to just get a girlfriend and get laid. It’s the default response and a crude one at that. Percy got it right.
So here I find myself sitting on the roof in the dark, and from the stairwell bursts a man and a woman. Drunk. Talkative. I’ve had drinks myself but I’m lucid and the man engages me in conversation. Within a word or two I realize he’s gay (Check that, I discover later he’s bicurious. Either way I find the gay inflection as annoying as the macho bro’s style of discourse. Stop putting on an act and talk to me like a goddamn human being. In this way I’m an equal opportunity bigot.).
Season of the Wolf
When you see the wolf in the periphery there arrives an overwhelming surge of panic, a sudden re-framing of reality in which one does not have control. This is often accompanied by heart palpitations, trembling, dry mouth, deep-seated dread to the point of nausea, and even sweating and sudden sensations of stifling heat or numbing cold. Fawn response steeps the brain in norepinephrine, leaves the neural pathways soaking in it as an amalgam formation of pinpoint lightning bolts coalesce into a final reaction. Sometimes this reaction manifests in fight and sometimes it is flight. This is how the brain reacts when there is a wolf in the room. This is acute anxiety, the overbearing sense that one is in danger.
There is a bad moon rising. According to a Nuffield Foundation study of young people, anxiety symptoms have doubled in the last 30 years. One in fifteen for young men and one in five for young women are the new statistics. A number of data points have been used to explain this rise into our present panicked fever dream. The youth labor market has collapsed: youth full time employment has dropped by half down to 20%. The study also points to the increase of vocational and non-structured education and makes the startling claim that 25-35% of young people are engaged in educational courses which provide little to no perceptible value to their station in life. [Why am I doing this? Where will this lead? Are they wasting my time? Why don’t I care about this? Should I care about this? What is wrong with me?] The wolf looms large.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
― George Orwell, Animal Farm
As a huge fan of irony, the shutdown of Bernie Sanders attempt to speak at a Seattle event last month was simply delicious. The fact that he started off by saying “Thank you, Seattle, for being one of the most progressive cities in the United States of America,” only to have the microphone commandeered seconds later, was simply too perfect. I highly doubt Bernie recognized the connection between his statement and the following events which left him standing impotent, lost, and confused in the background as his ridiculous fedora-wearing goon engaged in a shouting match. This the kind of interaction which likely happens most often in the playgrounds of America’s schools. Replace the microphone with a shiny red bouncy ball and the picture becomes clearer. I’m sure this is old news for many people but I don’t really prescribe to the media news cycle. I laughed repeatedly while rolling the video back and re-watching the mayhem unfold. Sanders, the champion of every little guy and gal was finding himself on the receiving end of “sticking it to the man”, and it simply could not compute. How could the most progressive candidate for president be the enemy of minorities and the downtrodden? The answer is simple: if people choose to identify as victims, then there is no limit to whom they will ascribe to title of victimizer. There is no clear line in the sand, and that’s the mistake that many progressives make: assuming they are off limits.