Saying of the week: "All sensible people know that vanity is the most devastataing, the most universal and the most ineradicable of the passions that afflict the soul of man, and it is only vanity that makes him deny its power. It is more consuming than love. With advancing years, mercifully, you can snap your fingers at the terror and the servitude of love, but age cannot free you from the thraldom of vanity....vanity cozens you with a hundred disguises. It is part and parcel of every virtue; it is the mainspring of courage and the strength of ambition; it gives constancy to the lover and endurance to the stoic; it adds fuel to the fire of the artist's desire for fame and is at once the support and the compensation of the honest man's integrity. It leers even cynically in the humility of the saint...sincerity cannot protect you from its snare nor humour from its mockery." -- W. Somerset Maugham
Have you ever wanted to look back on the events of today with the advantage of hindsight? I often do. The following is a little tibit from my imagination of what today could look like from 50 years out.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century A.D., the United States of America lay dying. Death permeated the stagnate air: never more visible than when the Christian families painfully pretended to keep alive their faith, as though by rouging the face of a corpse they could somehow bring it back to life. The frequent visits to sterile, well lighted, immaculate churches, the loud chants of brotherly love and family values and freedom, above all freedom, the heart-felt Amen to sermons on the Christian channel, had become purely decorative: a senile grimace before a cracked mirror. Death was in the air, and even though the Trade Towers no longer reached upward through the smog-filled air, the crowds in Dodger Stadium, and Madison Square Gardens, and at the Super Bowl still roared with pleasure.
The specters people witnessed in places like Iraq, the Sudan, Myanmar, all from the comfort of their cozy living rooms, was all too real: they were the projections of their own tortured souls. But the vast majority of people whose souls were already dead saw nothing, and therefore had no premonition of the terrible changes that were already in play.
With the fall of the Trade Towers at the beginning of the century, there had come a sharp change in the political climate. Politicians still boasted of the of the country’s military might, the benefits of technology, and increased corporate wealth; CNN still claimed the country was the land of freedom; but outsiders asserted, on the contrary, that the U.S. was dying, as did Rome, of iniquity and pride and vanity. People were more concerned with Paris Hilton’s latest embarrassment than how many people were killed in order to keep the nation’s troughs full. But events began to confirm the darker suspicions. After all, a predatory economy can only flourish so long. The wars bled the country into feebleness and debt while parasitism ran rampant, eating into the countries vitals: the blinded vulture could neither seize new prey nor remove the maggots that feasted on its own body.
Countries that were once allies turned hostile. The very people who profited most from the crumbling culture were the first to cut and run: the rich gathered their wealth around them like a cloak and fled to other countries, engrossing themselves in their private amusements rather than their public duty. Overburdened by their debts (from the wars, the astronomical cost of raw materials, the need for Hummers and a flat-screen TV in every room), the American middle class, who had once made America great, defaulted to their creditors, causing a collapse of the world banking system. Desperate people on the fringe became homeless, forming lawless bands of marauders roaming the countryside, who took what they needed to survive. Inside the cities alcoholism and drug addition became the norm; outside the cities it was every man for himself. Farmlands went fallow; the cost of food skyrocketed.
Many who could afford to leave the country did so, and in 2020 when the Congress sought to forbid the further exodus of the population, they were talking to empty air.
The engineering works were stable for many years, and indeed, large-scale expenditures for new public works were visible in the colossal municipal buildings, shopping malls, power plants, the Christian cathedrals, sports arenas, military spying technology, and monuments to the heroes fallen in war. These new projects were paid for by budget cutbacks in infrastructure maintenance, which hastened the decay, and the country began to crumble.
In the face of this steady deterioration, the remaining population’s belief in the “American way of life” and “a benevolent God who loves and protects them,” the opium of the self-centered masses, remained incorrigible. They were convinced that there would always be a United States of America, and that technology and Christian ideals would keep them at the pinnacle of human culture. So they thought until the blows of their conquerors came raining down on their heads.