Some cultures die as men of iron and blood. Nobody mourns them. If they had some virtue, then they went out standing. If they were mostly brutal tyrants, then the world is a better place when they are gone. Then there are cultures that amuse themselves to death in a riot of bread and circuses. By the time the barbarians come to finish things off, the civilized try to hire them to do security.
If one must choose, then the bloody neighbor is worse than the decadent. Better to live next to Las Vegas than Tehran.
Today I am on a plane to Vegas, just before Thanksgiving. For us it is stop on the way to home, for some on the plane, the party has begun. Thanksgiving, the most family centered of American holidays, is a bacchanal. This is not a judgment on drink (God forbid!) or even gambling. Instead, count this as an observation based on conversations one could not help but hear at the volume used in the enclosed space the airline forces on us.
These are lonely people who do not know what else to do with a holiday. There are no Holy Days, no family they care to connect with. They are mostly older, my age at the youngest, and doing what they know to do. They are not rebelling against tradition, but instead lack any tradition other than looking at a machine, inserting coins, and partying. They are not having fun, these folk contrast with the families connecting to other flights or going home to Las Vegas, a place where much happens that is not on the strip.
Homer describes his cyclops as monsters, because they are powerful, but lack culture, tradition, custom. They live between animals and civilized men, because they lack family: isolated, angry without reason. This is dangerous to Odysseus and his men, because the Cyclops have inherited power without the restraints civilization creates. The Cyclops have no depth, they see with only one eye, and that is an outer symbol of their inner reality.
Have we grown up a race of cyclops? Has the consumer culture poked out our other eye, the one that might help us see more deeply? Is this a national trend? How can I know? Yet it leaves me with a frightful question:
What if we are simply decadent?
Active sins, those of blood and iron, are down, thank God. What if, however, this is less through our virtue and more due to laziness? The man looking at his screen may simply lack the time to do active harm, but he may be very alone, without culture, rootless.
A great prophet described a time when men would be without law, custom, or culture and called that an end. I think that I shall go home, call my dad and mom, prepare to drive to Dallas to see my aunts and uncles and submit to the discipline of family values. I will turn from the grinding consumerism, the cash driven fun of the strip that is never jolly, and go home.
That will civilize me if anything can. God, have mercy on me a sinner.