The jury may still be out on Iraq and Iran, on Brittany’s hairstyle and global warming, but by now we have a clear-cut verdict on the issue of western decline. No longer sufficient to admit that the West has lost relative position with regard to the rest of the world in material terms, it’s past time to confess that we are deep into the historically well-attested syndrome sobriqueted [my word] as decadence, a mortal condition, probably irreversible, that is reflected, indeed proved, by the waning quality of the civic and aesthetic arts in evidence today.
Has ever there been a time when merit and success were so inversely related? And really, could anything be more painful than forced to scan the roll call of America’s most famous people? Than the best-seller lists? Than our educational system? Than the conduct of billionaires? Than television?
Imagine the historians of the future trying to understand this, how the cultural contributions of the earth’s richest and most powerful nation can be summed up in terms of basketball, rock and rap, consumerism, new forms of pornography, art galleries full of high priced junk, “vibrant” neighborhoods, pulp journalism, etiolated children glued to computer screens, women soldiers, pullulating cities, special effects cinema, etc., etc., the whole bloody list.
Truth is, in its senescence our civilization has become a cultural failure, a denouement foreseen by Toynbee and others, fostered by comfort and security and a prosperity that has been too far prolonged – the worst of conditions for writers of serious intent.
(Future blogs will offer suggestions as to how writers can continue to operate under such conditions while still preserving some measure of human integrity.)