Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Loneliness, The Freedom of Speech and of Canned Goods and of Every Other Damn Thing. But, Oh, the Toothaches

I have written very little about Bush these last few months. What's there to say that all my favorite liberal blogs aren't saying 106 times before I've had my first cup of coffee? (Of course, I live in California, so their fury, which arises with the sun, has had a good head start.)

I think something rude, my boys and girls have already said something far ruder. And footnoted it, too. I need only nod in agreement. If that is apathetic, well, I have some footnotes of my own to work on.

Right now my wife and I are sitting back and letting out a sigh. We are thinking about the long haul, the fact this country certainly is in a kind of continental drift and the forces that are moving it are deep down. The fundamentalist Christians are numerous and motivated. The terrorists are out there trying to get in here and blow things up, which drives us past vigilance right on to paranoia and the excesses that come with that. The youth of America seem less and less committed to the Bill of Rights. Many forces collect, and those forces produce a vector, and that vector is toward the right.

One concludes this is going to continue for a while. One concludes that things will happen that will hurt, not just irritate. Lasting damage will be done. It won't be just a change in the cultural atmosphere and a general feeling of disquiet. People, plants and animals will be hurt; that's an elementary way of putting it. If you want to argue specifics, I'm in the book.

My wife and I have talked about this. We may not live to see a reversal, and it is intriguing to wonder just how "bad" -- and I put that in quotation marks to suggest it is a personal judgment -- things will get before things get better. Even the most optimistic of us must accept the possibility that some losses are permanent even if there is a reversal. We can certainly all agree on that. Some things are gone for good. I imagine Native Americans entertain that thought every day of their lives. So would the dodo if ....

I say all this to lead up to a recent and very minor revelation. On cable, I stumbled on Mel Gibson in "The Road Warrior," and I watched the last half of it. There the message was: Certain kinds of apocalyptic science fiction suggest that in the face of irretrievable loss one should fight with hope, vigor and a can-do spirit to salvage what one can. This is almost a cheerful state of affairs. We all recall that in the last "Terminator" movie all the efforts to avoid the destruction of the world fail. But that's okay. Go remnants of humanity. Beat those machines. Rah. Rah. Rah.

But I'm thinking that for many many viewers the idea of collective resistance to overwhelming disaster is really a secondary theme. I have always been more aware of other ways of looking at apocalyptic science fiction, particularly the narcissism inherent in much of it. In Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" the end of the world is welcomed by one of the minor characters because in his case life really is much better with less competition. That is one of the possible attractions of a world emptied by war or plague. The individual matters more than the society, particularly when you now have a chance to remake society in your own image. (I also suppose that there is the subliminal idea that if you survive the disaster, you have been judged worthy by god. Those other billions got what they deserved.)

Make the survivor young and male. Supply him with an attractive sexual partner. This is not so bad. Who among us has not thought, "If those 17 guys would only leave, I would be the best-looking guy in the room." None of us has completely shed that adolescent sense that if we could just clear the decks of all the fools, the bullies and the old people, we would shine. Surviving the apocalypse can be a very pleasant fantasy. (And, of course, like all fantasy it reminds us to look out the window: The world is not destroyed.)

But now, in the aftermath of Bush's second victory, I find a new pleasure in something like Mel Gibson's "The Road Warrior." (Rather less in "Terminator III." The further out from the end of the world the story starts, the greater the possibility of good cheer.) The great throbbing message in this kind of fantasy can be -- here's the data; frame it yourself -- that even with the world mostly destroyed, what remains is worth fighting for. If civilization is flattened and we are cast back into a new Eden, we can start again and this time get it right.

The same thing goes for Republicans gutting social security, digging holes in the permafrost and making us recite the Pledge to Jesus every morning. Even if all that gets done, let us not burst into tears and go hide in the closet.

This is not a subtle point, and I hope I have not made it too crudely. It is not a point of any particular weight, the idea that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Or the degradation of the good the enemy of fighting to preserve the pretty good. Or the rather thorough and irreversible destruction of the pretty good a reason to give up on the ....

You get it. You didn't need to get it to have a nice day.

And none of this means that I think George Bush should be equated with The Humungous in "The Road Warrior," even though The Humungous is a strong supporter of a culture dependent on large fast cars and a plentiful supply of gasoline and damn he's ugly.

You might well say that about Bush, but that's not what I'm saying. I'm just trying to keep my spirits up.

Addendum: If a dystopia is to emerge from the current trends in the U.S., it will almost certainly be a highly centralized lobotomized and narcotized police state as in 1984, not some post-atomic wasteland. It's much harder to imagine bringing that kind of state down. (Did someone mention Terry Gilliam's "Brazil"? Case in point. ) The irony is that the wasteland gives more lattitude for fantasies of hope than the police state. A post-apocalyptic world really is another way of getting back to the myth of the open American continent, a place where if we are not valued here we simply wander off to there.


Anonymous said...

I always interpreted Vonnegut's point in Cradle to be that man would ultimately destroy himself because of his compulsion to fuck with things just because he can. The narrator's attitude, as I gathered it, was simply Good riddance

The Big O

....J.Michael Robertson said...

So right, Big O, so right. The "minor character" is happy when Ice-Nine destroys civilization -- it changes a fundamental law of nature and thus "repair" is impossible. The narrator kills himself. It is a book the message of which is despair and surrender.

....J.Michael Robertson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
....J.Michael Robertson said...

....though oddly enough Ice-Nine, which raises the point at which water freezes, is a kind of catastrophic attack on the planetary ecology that does remind one (this one) of the Bush administration's refusal to accept the science on which the notion of global warming is based, that notion that, if true, would produce a devastating effect on the global environment not unlike the effect of the introduction of Ice-Nine. Whew. Long sentence.