My dear virtual friends, here is something to mess with your head a bit, late on this Monday afternoon, which is so much like so many other Monday afternoons.
It’s a piece that I missed at the time (10 days ago, in the WSJ), checking it out only when I saw a letter to the editor referring to it. It’s by Pulitzer-winner Henry Allen, who says he “used to be Ziggy Zeitgeist, Harry Hip,” a guy sufficiently plugged into the Zeitgeist to write a book about what each decade of the 20th century felt like to life in.
Now, he is adrift:
Now I am disquieted. It’s not that I see things changing for better or worse, for richer or poorer, or even not changing at all. It’s something else: The most important thing in our culture-sphere isn’t change but the fact that reality itself is dwindling, fading like sunstruck wallpaper, turning into a silence of the dinner-party sort that leads to a default discussion of movies.
Is some sort of cultural entropy homogenizing us?
As novelist Douglas Coupland has pointed out, ordinary people in photographs from 1993 are indistinguishable from people in photographs now. Can you name another 20-year period in modern American history when this is true? 1900-20? 1920-40? 1970-90? His analysis: There’s not much geist left in the zeit….
I think he’s onto something, especially with that bit about how people look the way they did 20 years ago. You can look at pictures from the 60s (especially of famous, trendy people, like the Beatles) and pretty much tell what year it was. Every year felt and looked so different from those that preceded. Things slowed down a bit after that, but you could still recognize the decade. Until the last 20 years or so.
There’s more thought-provoking stuff in the piece:
We have individualism but we have no privacy. We are all outsiders with no inside to be outside of.
Or: We’ve lost our sense of possibility. Incomes decline, pensions vanish, love dwindles into hooking up, we’re not having enough babies to replace ourselves.
No arc, no through-line, no destiny. As the British tommies sang in the trenches of World War I, to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.”
I don’t know what’s going on. I doubt that anyone does. Is our democracy turning into a power vacuum? What will fill it?
Will organized religion die? I got talking to a girl from an Episcopal youth group in Missouri. “Episcopalianism is great,” she said. “You don’t have to believe in anything.”
Like most people I used to think the world would go on the way it was going on, with better medicine and the arrival of an occasional iPad or an earthquake. That was when I knew what was going on….
But you should just go read the whole thing…