This Generation and the Light at the End of the Tunnel

We do not live in a sophisticated age.  It’s a shame, but it’s true.  Our intellectual prowess is centred on finding the E! News app for our Smart Phones.  Our curiosity is confined to Kim Kardashian’s matrimonial motivation.  Our music is repetitive; our films derivative and our artistic vision still focused on Paris Hilton’s bum (although we’re all getting a little jaded with that.)  In comparison to most of recorded history, our time is, like the Dark Ages, distinctly low-end.  This is no sin, by the way.  As just about everyone has cliched (about almost everything) in the last six months: “It is what it is.”  So I come not to bury our time, but to praise it.

A Mogul like luxury covers our brutish world.  It disguises the crude nature of life in the 21st century.  We believe, therefore, that living vertically — with running water — makes us culturally superior to those in history who didn’t.  However, as convenient as peeing inside on a cold winter night might be, it has nothing to do with our contribution to the continuity of the human experience.  Simply put, we’re barbarians with indoor plumbing.

Just look around.  Ours is an angry world, thinly veiled by repeated assurances of tolerance.  Our conversations are so laced with profanity they’re incomprehensible.  We constantly call each other names — off-handedly.  “Bitch” is an all-purpose descriptive, eagerly applied across the genders, and it’s the mildest of our nominals.  Anatomical insults are mandatory in any conversation, just to demonstrate our total disregard not only for the opposing opinion but also for anyone who espouses it.  In the same vein, we conduct our disagreements with loud not logic, shouting like Visigoths to show the passion of our principles.

Sexually, we behave like parochial tribesman, mistaking smut for sophistication.  We hang on every slyly exposed curve of the female body, giggling like villagers at everything from a skirt lifted on an unexpected breeze to heavy-handed wardrobe malfunctions.  To prove our sophomoric enlightenment, we’ve made female breasts de rigueur in visual entertainment (everything from commercials to sitcoms.)  Likewise, gratuitous nudity is a Cable TV staple and amateur porn a celebrity necessity.   We’ve turned sensual privacy into random exhibitionism, based on a smirking philosophy dedicated to underhanded titillation.  Sex is so overvalued in our society it’s no wonder young people are too confused to do it properly.

Meanwhile, we’ve undervalued education.  Scholars are labeled nerds or geeks or worse.  They have taken such a back seat to the beautiful among us that recently the number one career ambition for girls in North America was Reality TV star.  The Kardashians might be smart business women (which I think they are, BTW) but obviously that isn’t the role model message they’re providing.  It’s common knowledge that Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of school, a fact pointed to with pride by every never graduated student with visions of grandeur.

And what is our vision of grandeur?  Indolence!  Couch potato-ing, social networking and gaming are now the world’s fastest growing activities.  More people play Farmville™ than actually farm.  More people are creating urban utopias in Sim City’s™ many incarnations than are at work on real urban problems.  And more people are engaging in criminal activity in Grand Theft Auto™ than are employed in law enforcement.  Our collective energies are being harvested by computers at an alarming rate.

This will be our legacy to the continuum of civilization.  As we persist in our relentless pursuit of leisure, we will demand more and better machines to do it with.  And not just handheld gadgets to take pictures or play games, but machines that will keep us alive, drive for us, cut our toenails and deliver pizza.  This is no sci-fi dystopian nightmare but a genuine and optimistic glimpse of our future.

History shows that the insatiable craving for spices, treasure and slaves drove the Europeans out of the parochial ignorance of the Medieval Age.  Their exploration and exploitation of the world funded the flowering of the Renaissance.  So, too, will our insatiable need for amusement drive our technicians to digital places as yet unimagined.  The playthings they produce will fund future and wiser generations.  When history views us (and it will) our monuments won’t be pyramids and cathedrals erected to the glory of our gods.  They will be miniature screens and gigantic TVs, lost in the dusts of obsolescence.  And when history judges us (and it will) we won’t be guilty of squandering our resources on smutty celebrities.  We will be praised for driving a mechanical revolution with our laziness.

We might be dumb, inarticulate and rude, but we’ve gotten used to sitting on our ass; now, we demand it.

Looking for a Few Good (old flabby) Men

Somewhere around the time our civilization crawled out of the Dark Ages, it was decided that the world should be run by Old Flabby Men.  This was a major step up from Vicious Barbarian Bastards who had been the norm since the fall of the Roman Empire, 500 years before.  The chief advantage of Old Flabby Men (OFMs) was they realized the world had a future, so it wasn’t a good idea to go around wrecking things all the time.  They’d been around long enough to understand that, with a little thought and planning, the world could become a better place.  This cut down on the rape and pillage by about half and confined wholesale slaughter to times of war.  It wasn’t an ideal system, but it stopped gangs of marauding men from stealing everybody’s  turnips every Tuesday, and ordinary people had a chance to do a few things other than starve to death.  Roads and schools were built, people bought homes and raised children (who actually survived infancy) and civilization advanced.

So, for the last 1,000 years, OFMs have made the rules, and, in general everybody else has done as they were told.  For example, when OFMs decided Canada needed a railroad, people got busy, imported boatloads of labour from Ireland and China, and built one.  Things like the mountains, the rivers, and the Precambrian Shield didn’t really hold us up for too long because everybody agreed that a railroad was a good thing.  Actually, it was quite an accomplishment.  We still call it The Canadian Dream.  To their credit, OFMs have done a number of these sorts of things around the world over the centuries — to everybody’s benefit. 

The problem with OFMs, however, is they form an exclusive club.  It’s very hard to get in, and most people aren’t allowed.  In order to join, you have to show up early (when you’re still lean and mean) and you have to toil away for years and years at an idiot job until you, too, become old and flabby.   At this point, if you’re lucky, you get to call the shots.  If not – oh, well!  Of course, any club has the disagreeable habit of forgetting why they’re there in the first place.  They start to worry too much about maintaining their membership and don’t remember their overall purpose.  The OFM club is no exception.  Every so often, they need to reinvent themselves.  Again, this isn’t an ideal system, but it works.  Just as an aside, in the 21st century women have joined the ranks of OFMs, but they can’t be called either old or flabby because that’s not very nice.

Anyway, over the centuries, the exclusive nature of the OFM club has always set a few people’s teeth on edge.  They tend to talk a lot of bull about social injustice, or redistributing wealth, or human rights.  They give off the quaint idea that we don’t really need OFMs and offer any number of alternatives.  This all sounds good, but, in reality, they’re offering unworkable solutions to a non-problem, and they just want to have a crack at making the rules themselves.   Essentially they want to join the club – usually as president.  Every once in a while, this brave talk boils over, the unruly mob gets involved and somebody has a revolution.  The OFMs are dragged from their offices, palaces or counting houses and given the chop.  What follows is a brief return to Vicious Barbarian Bastards.  Ordinary people are, once again, at the mercy of any number of armed thugs, legal or otherwise, who metaphorically start stealing everybody’s turnips.  Civilization falls into disrepair; this is inevitable.  For example, the French Revolution had its Reign of Terror, the Chinese Revolution, its Hundred Flowers Movement; and nobody knows how many people Stalin killed in just one of his many Five Year Plans.  Eventually, saner heads prevail, and the revolutionaries start looking like Old Flabby Men.  They move into the offices, palaces and counting houses recently vacated by the last bunch, and things gradually get back to normal.  This scenario was illustrated by George Orwell, in a cool book called Animal Farm.  And we are about to see it ourselves — up close and personal — in places like Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli.  With any luck at all, the new crop of OFMs will keep a few more of their promises than the last crowd did.  They will recognize that it’s a whole lot better for all of us if they regenerate themselves through the ballot box, not the bayonet.  This saves civilization from stumbling through nasty periods of Vicious Barbarian Bastards — where nothing gets done and we’re all in danger of getting dragged down into anarchy and chaos.

As we journey further and further away from our barbaric past, it becomes increasing apparent that OFMs give us the stability we need to advance our civilization beyond thumping each other on the head at any provocation.  They offer us a grander vision, something beyond the day after tomorrow.  They also take care of the little crap like street lights so we can get on with art and science and medicine.  But mostly, they provide us with the rule of law — so we don’t have to spend our days guarding our turnips against every marauder who wants to take them away from us.  This is extremely important because it gives us the time and leisure to engage in reasonable discussions about the role of Old Flabby Men in our society.