Thursday, June 6, 2024

New. Old. And Vice-Versa.

I am very-close to a daughter-aged woman who I started working with almost a decade ago when we were both at Ogilvy. For anonymity's sake, I'll call her M. Though we haven't worked together since probably 2017, I'm thankful M and I remain friends.

When we first met, M was a young person in the big city. The "quotidian" cataclysms of life would frighten her. Not long ago in New York, someone crashed a cab into a clump of pedestrians. A bomb was put in a trash pail in a busy neighborhood. It injured dozens and scared thousands. People going through things like these the first time get scared shitless.

Just as teenagers often think they invented sex, each generation regards societal entropy as sure signs that the world  around them is crashing and crashing fast.

M came to me upset about the trash-pail bombing I described above. I asked her if she knew about Bernadeine Doern. The Weathermen. The FALN and Fraunces Tavern. The anarchist bombing of the Morgan Bank. And the IRA in New York blowing up more than one bomb a day for a year.

She looked at me like I was a conspiracy-theorist and had a worm growing out of my brain. Or a republican presidential aspirant. Or perspirant.

Thanks to M, I decided to start writing a non-fiction book I was planning to call it "Bombed in New York: A peculiar history of terrorists, extremists, anarchists, radicals, nihilists and militant bombings in the world’s greatest city." It was to be a history of terrorist bombings in Gotham from the olde Dutch days to present.  Here are a couple of excerpts of my unfinished tome. It's one of about 75 unfinished books I've started.

Right now I'm about to finish a book called "Pox Romana: The Plague That Shook the Roman World." The parallels to today's seeming collapse of the American Empire (which some have labelled Pax Americana) are eerie. 

At the end of the reign of Commodus around 192 AD, Rome was indeed a "shithole" country. It's written in "Pox," "The totality of the crisis—the epidemic, the grain shortage, the mob violence, the schemes and plots—may have washed over the emperor in one alarming moment." And "The emperor effectively flushed Rome’s dignity down the toilet..." And “the crimes committed by Commodus in a few years are worse than any in the whole of recorded history.” 

And in a summation that might be written after Trump KFCs himself to death, [His era] 
"represented a comprehensive emergency. The pandemic’s demographic, economic, social, political, and even spiritual components fertilized the sprouting stresses that preceded it. These crises then flowered in the 160s and 170s. Over time, the pandemic’s very real presence diffused into a looming ethereal threat, even as the disease itself died out. The world’s first observed pandemic—even if lacked the mortality of subsequent plagues—left a lasting impact on the societies that carried it for so many years. Disease deaths marred the Empire’s demography for generations, no doubt straining the tax base, suppressing military recruitment, and prolonging violence as the survivors fought over scarce resources. Economic inequality should have been reduced by drops in land prices, but the economic changes during and after the Antonine plague were complicated, to say the least. But one thing is clear: the enduring presence and pangs of the Antonine plague—both real and perceived—left an indelible mark on the course of Roman history..."

Believe it or not, M and other readers, this post is not gloomy. 

Despite all of the above, the western Roman Empire survived for another 250 years--roughly the length of all of American history. And the eastern Empire (Byzantium) lasted until 1453--another millennium.  

In short, horrid as life in the modern world seems, it takes a lot to kill the fungus that is life on earth.

The Roman historian Livy said in the early years we call AD, "we can survive neither our vices nor their remedies." But I don't think Livy was right. We seem as a species to take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.

So I'm inclined to agree with Faulkner. He wasn't exactly the life of the party, but he said on receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature back in 1949 when the US and Soviets were aiming thousands of missiles at each other, the planet had just survived the death of between 50-80 million in World War II and pan-Asia was erupting in horrific, bloody wars throwing off centuries of brutal, dehumanizing colonial control, 

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help a man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Of course, things might not be so good for Faulkner today. He used gendered nouns and pronouns in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. 

Today, worse than a Pox might cut him down. 

He might be canceled.

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