Sunday, April 26, 2009

On the Cusp

There are moments in the history of a culture when we witness a particularly focused change, and can recognize it as such: we know that certain forces in public life us will become, in a matter of a few short years, mere remnants that have lost their force, except for a fringe few. The generational shift in attitudes toward gay marriage is one such shift; more generally the conservative mode of thinking -- in its present state -- is another remnant that is fading before our eyes. So heavily does it rely on a denial of obvious realities, and on manufacturing an alternate universe of "facts," that its framework, its infrastructure, is collapsing.

Collapsing, so far, to the 21% level, but there is no reason to count on an imminent rebound, since the movement is also undergoing paroxysms of self-immolation in these months.

Once you have science (and particularly modern science, focused far more than its ancient counterpart on method, on the inherent virtues of a testable system of investigation), you cannot go back to irrationality. The alternative to pure mystical irrationality, in a greater rational world, is crude denial of conditions as they exist, and insistence on something else.

Or more precisely, insistence on the falsehood of truth.

That's right: insistence is the method. Simple repetition, in ever-wilder voices. (I believe we were on redoing the American Revolution when I checked last month, costumes and all. I'm not sure what it is at the moment.)

One form of shouting, of course, when you haven't got anything else, is to claim the Direct Line to God. Remember, this is something not intended for public consumption, so the shouting would have done little good anyway:

God on our side: Comic book prepared by Rumsfeld for W's morning reading, and GQ breaks the story? Postmodernism in action.
(Go ahead and click on it -- just not while swallowing food.)

This image, and the others like it in a series of internal memos for the (apparently) indecisive Decider, have but one purpose: to clear the conscience of the President regarding the authorization of further attacks. Now Rand. She shares, with the current conservative short circuit, the insistence on abolishing the conscience in daily affairs: we should not be inhibited by an excess of sympathy for others, sympathy that will paralyze us in the fullest exercise of our personal freedoms.

Interesting here is the implicit acknowledgement that, if you did not deny conscience, it would bother you. The Randians and the conservatives know that conscience is human, in other words, and that all non-sociopathic vertebrates have one. It's just better to behave like a sociopath, even though we have never seen a functioning society where this is the norm. This is one aspect of Rand's antihumanistic tendencies we alluded to earlier. Here the antihumanist takes up ranks with the antisocial (what is the social structure of the Gulch, exactly?) to offer nothing on a silver platter.

Well, you can go back, but it won't be so cozy any more. And you won't have much time there.

To clear the palate, let me leave you with a Howard Nemerov masterpiece that is the consummate formulation of this entry's title. On the cusp -- the moment of change, recognized as it happens:

The Dependencies

This morning, between two branches of a tree
Beside the door, epeira once again
Has spun and signed his tapestry and trap.
I test his early-warning system and
It works, he scrambles forth in sable with
The yellow hieroglyph that no one knows
The meaning of. And I remember now
How yesterday at dusk the nighthawks came
Back as they do about this time each year,
Grey squadrons with the slashes white on wings
Cruising for bugs beneath the bellied cloud.
Now soon the monarchs will be drifting south,
And then the geese will go, and then one day
The little garden birds will not be here.
See how many leaves already have
Withered and turned; a few have fallen, too.
Change is continuous on the seamless web,
Yet moments come like this one, when you feel
Upon your heart a signal to attend
The definite announcement of an end
Where one thing ceases and another starts;
When like the spider waiting on the web
You know the intricate dependencies
Spreading in secret through the fabric vast
Of heaven and earth, sending their messages
Ciphered in chemistry to all the kinds,
The whisper down the bloodstream: it is time.