27.8.08

UK-1920, US-2010: Slouching in Kind

I'm reading Paul Johnson's "Modern Times"—particularly, the section on the cultural shifts of Brittan in the time between the wars (1919-1935). How like today it was then—a nagging consumption with inopportunity more than injustice. About license and freedom, bound almost unexplainably by boredom, weakness, and exhaustion—an image captured in the airport gambler that I noted during a recent trip through Utah. Surrounded by flashing lights and happy sounds—communicating energy and excitement—this shell-of-a-man sat slumped in his chair, mindlessly pushing buttons and pulling the switch with a unhindered fervor. And yet his eyes wandered aimlessly about the room—never on the screen before him—scanning the passing faces with as much disinterest as one man can present.

The current administration has been criticized for its policy on Iraq. Accused of neo-colonialism (echoing from the 1920s Brittan) the rhetoric has been touted, “The advance of democracy” (where 100 years ago it was the "Advance of Industrialism"). And yet that rhetoric has only come in the past four year. Prior to that—as one op-ed in the WSJ noted—our foreign policy on Iraq was framed around a Hussein that regularly ignored UN resolutions (nearly 15 of them all told).

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)? Certainly—the biochemical nerve agent known to exist (and documented by UN forces) in Iraq prior to a US invasion were never found. Could other weapons have gone the way of these unaccounted-for means of aggression (think Kuwait)? Probably—given the continued soft-border policy Iran has held to date with the Taliban. So, the US tenor of war changed from “international threat” and “failure to abide by UN resolutions” to “advancing freedom and democracy” around the world.

But to the point—why this change(again, a question asked by the WSJ op-ed writer)? Someone in the administration recognized that the heart of the people—that is, us: you and me—rested on the issues of inopportunity than with objections to injustice. Resolutions? Threats? WMD? Whatever!

It was supposed than an appeal to our carnivorous fascination with licentious freedom might spark a glimmer of compassion for Iraqis. Alas, no. And in this—we see ourselves laid bare—that nagging consumption with opportunity (how quickly heath care has become “a right” and not “a privilege.”); exhausted (despite our national—and my personal—addition to caffeine); and the extremes of perfection and destruction. Best noted in the lives of high school students of affluent communities—as pointed out by a friend of mine—they pursue perfection for the maximum advance (on the one end) or total and absolute rebellious, self-destruction (on the other). Straight A's or straight F's. Everything in the middle is mediocrity—and the guarantee of being forgotten—a lonely gambler in some corner of an airport. When every gate around him offers the opportunity to take him somewhere else, he remains in the in-between, nowhere; not going; not coming; just barely hanging on to existence: bored, witless, weak, and exhausted.

We do not travel unfamiliar roads—“there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9). The invitation remains—“Take the blue pill…and you wake up in your bed believing what you want to.” Contrary to Morpheus-ology, the story doesn’t end. The narratives of history are either our tour guides or else our bedfellows. Ecc. 1:9 is the blue pill. Ecclesiastes 12 is the red pill.

The only question is—do we have the strength to take it?

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