The other day The Wandering Monk commented that even though he’s performed some of the biggest changes as Ye Olde Wreck transformed to Mo Saorise Hermitage, the house now seems “natural” to him. As if it’s the way it was meant to be.
It’s true it’s getting harder to remember the utter horrorshow it was — the odor, the rot, the caved-in roof, the spiders and dead mice, the infamous not-a-garage, the corner of the bedroom that made us both back off from our labors with the simultaneous realization that the structure could fall on us.
It’s now looking more and more like a cozy, well-built (if you don’t take a level to the place) home, to the point of forgetting how it was.
This got me thinking about transitions and how we perceive them.
A major change, even if it’s only in one area of our lives, we notice. For good or ill, we stop cold and look at things as we never have before.
In the Friday Freedom Question about the first lines of our autobiographies, several participants mentioned some big moment of realization, about lies or tragedy, as a pivot point of their lives. A transition.
On a lesser scale, we remember where we were when we first heard The Beatles or Nirvana, when we lost our virgininity, or when we bought our first car … and a small part of our world changed.
I blush to admit that when the Monk and I have changed something on the house, even insignificantly, I can contemplate the newness for hours. Thursday I moved a chair into the laundry room so that I could stare longer at two slabs of drywall we’d just added. Yes, it’s embarrassing; but even mundane newness demands contemplation.
Eventually the “after” ceases to be abnormal. It becomes the new reality, even if the transitional event was tragic or seemingly insurmountable, like losing a child or a limb or some fundamental Truth we’d always believed in. We recall the “before” with increasing unreality.
Gradual transitions are a different animal.
We all know that. We’re so familiar with the dangers of long, slow transitions in the political and cultural world that I could sum up the following section with four words: frog in a pot.
Elsewhere, of course, gradual transitions can be wonderfully welcome. We improve a personal skill or our society gets richer and more educated. We grow out of our acne or into our best selves. Our neighborhood improves or justice becomes more just. But we can’t point to a day or an event where it happened. We might have a breakthrough moment during a transition, but the development was so gradual we mostly didn’t notice it.
In the wider world, especially the political world, gradual transitions nearly always run downward.
The other little event that got me thinking about transitions was the recent babblings of Beto O’Rourke, darling of leftists and the media (but I repeat myself).
When did we reach the point where egomaniacal morons, proceeding with the confident ambition of Mao Tse Tung announcing his next genocidally utopian scheme, are taken seriously as presidential candidates? Or as notable human beings, for that matter? When did drunken college dorm room idealism become standard political platform material?
And when was any candidate stupid and ego-blinded enough to go into Iowa and tell a state full of farmers what he’ll “allow” them to do — as the boundlessly self-admiring O’Rouke recently did?
Our would-be rulers shove foot in mouth and imagine their stinky appendage is a gourmet delight. The media either says nothing or nods right along.
It’s not just O’Rourke, of course. O’Rourke is merely a follower of the demented AOC. But even the nearer-mainstream “stars” of the political scene are morons. Joe Biden? Joe Biden??? A superannuated mediocrity whose dumb statements rival only his notorious handsiness as political “qualifications.”
Ask any Bernie Bro or Biden supporter about their faves’ notable achievements and watch faces go blank. These men have dwelt in politics all their lives while producing not one single outstanding act within their job descriptions. Yet supporters luuuuuuuuv them.
How did we get here? And how is it that many v*ters who presumably have some minor grasp of history (and if not that at least personal memories of “before”) going along as if this is business as usual? How does the media report on any of the current campaigns with a straight face?
These politician creatures are not normal. They exemplify all that’s worst of politicians without any of the other qualification that used to be demanded of the bunch at the top: skill, diplomacy, a real education (not just a watered-down, affirmative-action Ivy League degree), intelligence, and a background of achievement in some field outside politics.
Mind you, I’m not saying the old politicians were any better at their jobs. Obviously, in government, education and experience can be every bit as dangerous as ignorance and arrogance ala O’Rourke. “Brain trusts” and the “best and brightest” built the welfare state and mired us in the Vietnam war.
There’s no such thing as a “good” politician. They are all recipients of stolen goods and chronic other-people’s-business minders. If they achieve any good at all, it’s mostly by accident in the midst of lives otherwise dedicated to committing eternal harm.
I’m really talking about public expectations — what personal qualifications citizens demand of those who aim to rule them, what they will and won’t accept in terms of ideas and behavior.
Sure, there have always been clownish politicians, always a few whack-jobs making their way toward the top. And heaven knows, corruption has always been and will always be the hallmark of success in politics. (Lyndon Johnson, for instance, was both clownish and deeply crooked. And a warmonger to boot. But he was a highly skilled manipulator who knew how his game had to be played, unlike the current crop of presidential aspirants, who appear to imagine that ego and bizarre utopian vision are all they need.)
How far We the People have fallen — and how quickly. Yet invisibly.
Yet this is our new normal. And nobody can point to a moment when it somehow happened to us. Fewer and fewer seem to get that this is extremely abnormal. Next step is that one of these mad would-be rulers will appoint a horse to the Senate (and no jokes, please, about Congress already being full of horses’ asses). It’s only a myth that Caligula did it, but I wouldn’t put it past these new, strange folk.
They already appear to believe themselves gods — another famous (and not so mythical) trait of mad Roman emperors.
How did we fall so low? And with hardly anybody noticing?
Rhetorical questions, really. Frog in the pot, history as usual. So it goes. Forever and ever, world without end, amen.
But the real question isn’t the what or how of tyranny approaching. The real question is why most people don’t even notice, how they blandly accept mindlessly dangerous rot as their everyday reality.
Is it that “we” ourselves (present company presumably excepted) have also become so much less than we ought?
Last week while we ate lunch, the Monk read me a political discussion from his phone. The participants were a friend of his who shares his conservative viewpoint and an opponent making now-standard “progressive” arguments on immigration.
The Monk was incensed at the opponent’s viewpoint and character and (I think) expected me to be, as well, though he knows my views are more libertarian. But the only thing that struck me as he read the exchange was that both participants were being civil and rational. They were presenting their arguments, however right or wrong, with the facts and figures as they understood them. When expressing pure opinion, they both appeared to have thought their positions out, and were not merely being reactive or spouting slogans.
In the entire exchange, neither hurled a single insult. No one screeched “hater!” or “bigot!” or “airhead!” They let their ideas speak for themelves.
I found it so refreshing — because it was so unusual.
I’m not one who longs for good old days that never really existed. I get that political issues have always roused passions — up to and including sparking murder. But the worst of that was out on the fringes. Now, it’s a surprise to encounter anything in politics that doesn’t feel fringeoid in one direction or another.
That’s bad enough. But that the loudest and most notable representatives of the New Fringe appear to be as impulsive, thoughtless, and disconnected from reality as drunken teenagers is scary.
Why are even the supposed adults in the room accepting this? And when, in our long, gradual transition into an all-controling authoritarian state did it come about that “we” decided to accept government by the lowest of the low? To accept rule by people who are so stupid or ego-blinded that they don’t even know what dunces they are?*
You can make an anarchist argument that it’s a good sign — that politics have fallen into such disfavor that only the worst of the worst want to be involved. The highly qualified, skilled, experienced, and brilliant go elsewhere these days. The aware turn their backs on offices and institutions they recognize as hopelessly damaged.
I’ve made that argument myself.
It’s true in its way. But at the same time, it’s frightening that we’ve gotten to such a state in such a short time with so few even recognizing or caring what’s happening.
* And yes, I know I’m calling names. So be it. I’m not discussing issues with opponents, but contemplating onrushing rule by messianic clowns who’d destroy the world to “save” it.