October 13, 2005

The end of empire

Sam Smith of the Progressive Review has a new essay about cultural decay in the U S of A. He goes on a bit long about music, but it is nonetheless an essential read. Here are some excerpts.
Thomas Jefferson saw it coming. He warned, "From the conclusion of this war we shall be going down hill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights." ...

Instead of being outsiders, critics and moral observers, the American intelligentsia have become players accepting many of the values of the system they should be scorning. ...

It is particularly telling that in the past thirty years, America has passed more laws than it did in its first two centuries, a sign of a country that has lost its way and trying desperately to compensate by making the results of its failures illegal.

[A few contributing factors to our cultural decay:]

ABUSE OF MYTHOLOGY -- ... the culture that accepts such a redefinition of its own myths becomes a prisoner of the myth twisters, causing it to turn - as in the present case - not to Christ but to a Karl Rove or George Bush for an understanding of what faith means. While plenty of cultures have thrived on mythological faith, it is impossible to do so when faith becomes a massive fraud.

TELEVISION -- ... has become the means by which leaders have escaped their own culture, and their culture has lost contact with them.

THE CORPORATIZATION OF CULTURE -- ... Inherent in this bizarre value system is the inference that those who make or create things are less important than those who manage or sell them. In other words, as a matter of government, economic, and intellectual policy, the content of our culture is no longer as important as how well it can be marketed. Any culture with such priorities does not have a long life expectancy.

FAILED COMMUNITIES AND FORGOTTEN STORIES -- ... "Where we are is a world dominated by a global economy that places no value whatsoever on community or community coherence. In this economy, whose business is to set in contention things that belong together, you can no nothing more divisive than to assert the claims of community. This puts you immediately at odds with powerful people to whom the claims of community mean nothing, who ignore the issues of locality, who recognize no neighbors and are loyal to no place." [Wendell Berry]

... it is long past time to drop the pretense. As I was walking through one of our frightened airports I heard the real motto of our land repeated over and over: "Caution, the moving walkway is about to end." It's true. We're on our own now.
This is good place to mention the Vermont Independence Convention next Friday, Oct. 28. See the Second Vermont Republic for more information.