As he walked, he thought about the religions of his parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. He thought about how the textures of their religions were little more than the different translations of the same works of Dostoevsky or Chekhov.
And he thought about Mom, the Flag and Apple Pie – what happy horseshit – but he couldn’t help but imagine too how it might have served those generations.
And he thought about game shows and Gunsmoke and My Three Sons and church outfits worn on Sundays. He thought about all the falsenesses of generations past. He thought about and wondered about all the pretension they must have known for what it was, yet accepted it anyway like an uncle’s bad hairpiece that’s never discussed in front of him. He thought about all those trifling things. And what remained of them, he’d always regarded as their dopey cultural fluff. But now, as he walked, he began to reconsider just how silly, or not, they may have been.
He thought about technology. He thought about the graph he’d seen that showed its explosive growth in his time. Then he thought about its caustic intersections at the decline of his ancestors’ religion and customs and their dopey ideologies and slogans like Mom, the Flag and Apple Pie. He thought about their descent criss-crossing with the ascent of the technologies we’ve had little time to adapt to.
He thought about the void left behind by his parent’s evaporated ideologies.
He understood how, as a kid, he saw all the previous generation’s silly shit. He saw it in his grandparents and his parents and he naturally rebelled against it. He’d seen how dopey sitcoms and game shows and church and gossip and bowling and booze and the 4th of July and the tree at Rockefeller Center had neutered them. He, like other rebellious youths and the class of the more culturally astute, didn’t want that leash. So they rebelled. They rebelled against Elvis and Hee Haw and Dinah Shore. They worked to eviscerate their parents’ popular culture. They refused to make it theirs, knowing what it had made of their soft and fluffy Wonder Bread parents.
He walked and thought about and had to recognize that, no matter how trite and silly and fake many of their ways were, all that shit helped bind them together – all their hokey cultural stuff as well as the Kennedys’ and King’s assassinations, the winning of world wars and putting men on the moon. It gave them a shared understanding of the way things were or the way things should be.
He wondered what’s left when shared ideologies crumble and explosive technological developments lead to economic turmoil. He wondered what fills the void of our myths in explaining plagues and famines when we hadn’t yet caught up to the truth. He wondered what was left to sooth us from the fear and the turmoil. Twitter? TikTok? The young woman down the street showing her pussy on OnlyFans for a low monthly subscription? Lives as devoted to fandom or our pets as were once devoted to religion, community and real family?
He saw what passed for politics filling most of the void left from our technologies decimating our ideologies. He thought about the Luddites. He’s not a suspicious man. Still, the specter of Ted Kaczynski gave him an eerie feeling that his was the wrong way to go. And he thought too that regression and reactionaryism were mostly excuses for being lazy. He thought about regression as the direction of those lacking creativity or imagination. He imagined it as the station for those either too afraid or too lazy for the efforts of progress.
He also saw that contemporary politics did nothing to sooth. It only served to divide and irritate, through which if offered at least some form of identity. It allowed for identities like particular church congregations either shaking orgasmically or handling snakes. Or, like teams in his grandfather’s bowling league. And it provided an ideology. A simple, almost infantile ideology of “Them bad. Us good.” He understood what politics had become – nothing more than contempt filling the void that was filled a bit by humanity, once.
He saw that such an ideology only led to one thing: absolute victory. He saw the need for either team to win because there was nothing else. He saw the hunger for a victory dance. He saw the need to conquer. He imagined the winner, hopefully generous and gracious enough in victory to not crush the loser, so long as the losers played according to the winner’s new rules. But he couldn’t be assured of any graciousness in winning or defeat. In fact, he doubted it.
He saw hollow unity. He saw the unity of halves, united by hatred of the other half. He wondered if there was something – anything anymore – that might unify them both. He wondered if it was too late. He wondered if technology was the real pandemic we’d been unprepared for. And he wondered, even in the pandemic’s passing, how we might survive with everyone still blaming and hating one another for all its casualties.
He wondered if there was some man or woman whose message might unite. He wondered if there was a person with such a message and enough conviction to stay on point rather than give in to the temptation of being adored as a savior. He wondered if there was a man or woman with good ideas who also understood and accepted the frailty of their humanity and didn’t strive to be more than the humble human they should be. He wondered if such a person existed who might reject the seduction of notoriety. He wondered if such a person exists whose message means more to him than celebrity. He wondered if celebrity or a desire for influence was a necessary condition of anything being heard.
He thought of Jesus and Martin Luther King Jr. And he understood how both have been placed on lowly perches on the tree of politics instead of high atop the tree of their virtues which they’ve earned. He understood how everything – all virtues and values – stand in the shadow of politics that shifts with the sun.
He understood how times change. He understood The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was never real America. He understood that Captain America was not and never will be the real America. He understood some people’s desire to accept things for how they are, not some idealized conception of how thing ought to be. He understood that dismissing realities – dismissing the wholeness of virtue and vice as one – was akin to narcissism. He understood too that idealism was as silly as Ozzie and Harriet. He understood that insistence on perfection was as stupid and false as an uncle’s cheap hairpiece.
He understood there was no stopping what had already changed us. He imagined there was no regression into anything better – only regression into our more barbarous selves. He understood that we needed someone of commitment to help commit us to something more humane and robust than our ideology of Us Verus Them. We need a robust, new ideology. And for it to stick, as cults of personalities have taught us, we needed a charismatic leader to get us there. Not only creative and charismatic, but strong willed enough to hold to his principles in light of the intoxication of fancying himself a God Among Men, an Übermensch or one of Kierkegaard’s Knights. He understood we need a man who may be more than the average man, but doggedly wants to be a mere mortal nonetheless.
He walked and he thought with dismay that unity was probably an impossible task. He thought about how culture unifies and, in order to satisfy, it must cater to so many diverse tastes from so many diverse personalities, ethnicities, spiritualities and so forth. He understood a culture’s need to supply the masses with bowling and Lawrence Welk and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and whitewall tires and beehive hairdos and Beatles haircuts, while giving all the minorities enough scraps of real and lasting and novelty and temporary art and progressiveness to keep them hopeful, maybe even satisfied for a while, too.