Here Thar Be Monsters!

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The Meaning Of Life?

For some reason, I woke up this morning with Cindy Lauper's "She Bop" running rampant through my brain.  Why in the hell THAT would be assaulting my morning mind, I can't say.  I couldn't shake it.  I immediately set about playing Handel's Water Music to drown out the inane pop anthem.

But it did set me to thinking, which should terrify anyone regularly reading this space.

The 70s and 80s in America were a time of great banality.  The arts had become vast wastelands of mediocrity that served only greed and narcissism.  True, there were stand outs like Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, alond with a handful of superior movies, but they serve as the exceptions that prove the rule.

The era produced such banal fads as Pet Rocks, glam rock and Michael J. Fox.  It was a period that all great societies seem to go through just before they implode and crumble into the dust from which they came.

In pondering how this inevitable trend operates, I came to the conclusion that at some point, major societies reach a point of such affluence and decadence that two things happen: creativity devolves into hacks for hire, and ultimately, no one wants to do the work.

Many (many) moons ago, there was a cartoon in Penthouse magazine that has been etched into my mind, even deeper than Miss June 1984.  It was a six-panel in which an artist starts out making his paintings in a bare single-room flat while wearing rags.  By the final frame, he is surrounded with admirers, wearing the finest togs and his paintings are now nothing more than his signature.

This was a profound commentary on society in general, and the arts in particular.  The rise of self-indulgent art, combined with the complete lack of discerning taste on the part of the public, is the final phase before the crash and burn.  It is as if the culture has reached the point where it has exploited everything it can get its hands on, and has turned on itself in a final desperate attempt to buy up the last dregs of esthetics.

The other side of this is the fact that some amount of wealth and affluence has reached pretty much every level of society.  At this point, everyone wants to be in the leisure class and no one wants to do the work necessary to build and maintain the mundane foundation of the society.

I mentioned Michael J. Fox earlier, and he is a perfect example.  He made a film called "The Secret of My Success," in which he is the proverbial man-on-the-make.  He slick-talks his way into opportunities and ultimately lands in a pile of money.  Now image an entire society of people just like that.  Everyone buys a cheap Armani knock-off and prints up some cards and becomes an entrepreneur without going through the prerequisite steps of becoming an expert in something.

It's at this stage that the entire culture is run by middlemen and brokers.  The problem with that is no one is producing, and eventually, no one is buying, since no one has money from the Big Deals they didn't make.

In the midst of this orgy of lopsided capitalism, folks forget about things like education and manufacturing and producing.  Instead, all creativity is focused and expended on facadism: it all looks like Town and Country magazine on the outside, but on closer inspection one finds that it's all just pirated copies and cheap reproductions.

At some point, all of this leads to an entire generation without prospects or hope.  There is no real business left, and the scraps that remain have so many barriers to entry that they can't possibly surmount them.  They are the seeds of destruction, the impoverished and forgotten that are the by-products of over-hyped lifestyle chasers.  Education has devolved into little more than puffed-up babysitting.  There are no savings or inheritances from the older generations to fertilize them.  There is nothing left that hasn't already been exploited to exhaustion.

What's worse is that they are stuck with the tab for the high living decades that preceded them, and they never even got a taste of the wine and roses.  All that's left of the bowl of cherries are the stems and pits.

And so the inevitable happens.  The decadence turns to decay, and ultimately the entire thing collapses.  What's worse is that the older generations try to cling to the old ways through the use of brute force.  Dictators spring up by popular will or apathy, who try to maintain the illusion of prosperity at the point of a gun.  Finally, basic human instinct kicks in with the overwhelming desire to be left the hell alone.

At this point, the immovable object meets the irresistible force.  In the clash, the remaining infrastructure of society is utterly destroyed, and from these ashes come opportunity and creativity, as people rebuild and rethink.

For ancient Rome, this process took the better part of 1,000 years.  For America, it was only a quarter of that.  China seems hell-bent on achieving it in a single life-time.  The cycle is speeding up at an alarming rate with seemingly no one learning anything new to remediate the problem.  At the same time, it's becoming a global, rather than regional phenomenon.

It's exactly like bacteria in a Petri dish.  The colony expands until the limits of the environment are reached, and then the entire system collapses.

The only solutions anyone seems to come up with are strict rationing and controls, but that simply implies that someone is in charge of the doling out and measuring.  Inevitably, all that happens in this case is that the watchers become mired in corruption and ultimately they start carving off bigger chunks for themselves until they are lamp-posted by the rabble.

It seems like an impossible dream that we, as a species, will learn to restrain ourselves, rather than always looking to a parental authoritarian system to force us into compliance.  We don't appear to have learned a single lesson from the past 20,000 years of experience.  No matter how civil and genteel the society, at some point someone notices others getting a fairer share of the goodies than they are, and it quickly becomes a greedy free-for-all, as soon everyone is scrambling to snatch up a bigger pile of goodies than the next guy.

Sometimes I wonder if our species wasn't exiled to this planet until such time as we had learned to behave ourselves.  If that's the case, then it seems that we are failing miserably, since we are not only not improving, we seem to be back-sliding into the muck.

Perhaps it will take a global collapse of unprecedented proportions for everyone to learn all at once that we are going the wrong way.  In the past, there was always an escape valve; folks could pick up and move somewhere else and start over.  With a global collapse, though, there will be no life unaffected.

Perhaps that is the subconscious origin of the current slavering rush to apocalypse.  Somewhere deep in the collective id, folks are pushing to see the final Big Poop, so that we can start anew, hopefully a bit wiser for the wear.

It does seem, though, that at the end of every Age, there is a massive upheaval that fertilizes the future.  Let's hope that someone is taking really good notes, though, so we can all copy off them before the exam.