Beijing coming away from the Airport
It was the creeping in all night, on one February weekend along the northern tip of Beijing. The natives had a long time saying, about the weeks of winter: there were three kinds, each one different from the others. The first kind was mild, then the cold came in, and then finally the frost broke, and though it was still winter of a kind, one could see the edges of spring.
He looked outside the glass all the taxi cab, and saw that it was still mild: it had not strained at all with the touching grudge of winter. It then amused him to think about the last time he saw her, and how he had sworn that he would never see her again. There was a confusion in his mind, that could not be resolved with her in the picture. And for a year or so, that was the dominant picture in his mind. He even got letters from China, begging and pleading him to come back; or at least answer her letters. But none of this did anything to him, at first. One could almost say that he was stone cold; but little by little his heart softened and he thought about all of the good times. These were seen in retrospect; the times in her apartment; the times where she took him in two the high towers and with a wave of her hand showed him the view of Shanghai. There was this and many more views; each one of them looking down on the city, or up where the glance at the low buildings was totally different from the tall buildings just a few streets over. She had taken him out to eat almost every day, to different establishments where he could taste food from all over China; and even select food from outside of China, so he did not get bored.
What he remembered the most was something very unique: all the world of people wrapped around them were indistinct, but she was clear. At the time, this both enraptured and repelled him: she was at once the witch who would entice him, and the purest goddess of Guan-yin, or if one preferred the old spelling: Kuan Yin. That tender goddess which he often dreamed about, and the longer he knew her the more it fused with her face, hands, and flesh. This would be the downfall of his relationship with the real woman: no one could be like a goddess, no one could be as pure as one's mind wanted them to be.
So he pushed her away, even though while she was not like a goddess; she was extremely close to one. Amidst all of the dirty trappings of Shanghai, she cleaned more brightly than could be possible. A brightness that turned her gaze, and revealed himself the real problem: he was not good enough for her. And in the deep dark of his mind, he knew that it was not her that once the problem, but him. So it was not bodhisattva, by him, whose fragile winglike existence – like the tail of the butterfly – was the heartless soul the problem.
This then worked on his inner emotions: the core was not her, but him. Even though he would tell his government employers that he was leaving, which they warned him was not a good idea. But he did not listen to them, and instead walked with a briefcase and blue pinstripe suit out the door of a very famous building in DC, which anyone who studies such things would know. He did not even glance back, or mind that his time on his resume was composed of seemingly odd jobs which they could verify, and did not even mention what his real work had been.
And what was that real work? Even now he did not want to admit what it was. Even now, it was a secret to deep and dark to contemplate. But still he contemplated the formless mass. And remain in his ears were jingles in several languages all competing to advertise, though half of the things were not available.
We live in a pre-war, not post-war, world.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
We live in a pre-war, not post-war, world.
I am far from alone in saying this. It is a sense that tracks across the cables released by wikileaks, where an increasingly hectoring and bullying American diplomacy alienates allies who had hoped for a change after George W. Bush. It is felt by a New York Times article, which compares wikileaks to the “long war” of the 20th century, the first battle between the pyramid and the sphere. It is sensed in another on how the present era of relative peace might be broken by American willingness to fight, and by an article on how the Imperial period of the Pax Americana might suddenly meltdown.
There are always prophets of doom, because somewhere, the bitter beat of dark angel's wings is close at hand for someone. However, it is rarer that a grand epoch enters its terminal decline, and a new one greys the east, lit by an invisible sun.
Dystopia is one of the twilight lands, that border the lands of the living. It borders the lands of prophecy, specifically the self-unfulfilling prophecy. Consider the novel 1984 whose existence warned the West of what was in store if should slip down the chasm of totalitarianism. It was a bleak warning that averted the very crisis that it predicted. Several of the most ridiculed cassandras have given voice to fear. From Silent Spring to the Omega Man the cri de coeur warning is one of the most compelling of genres. Marx, while he would have hated the idea, is perhaps at the top of the pantheon, by warning of what the agony of modernization could do, he was the figure who gave energy to save capitalism from the capitalists.
The dystopia is always a simple one, it is the linear or exponential extension of our own “S” curve. An S curve is the natural result of a bell curve of arrivals, a few early, then a flood as the ordinary arrive, and then a trickle. However near the point of last inflection, there is a point where whatever fuel is fed into it runs low, there are no more bishops to trade for pawns to get at the king. The center has not held. And everyone is full of conviction that there is no end in sight. “This time, it is different.”
The very certainty of the stupid that creates the boom, creates unease in those that know themselves to be more thoughtful, at least, than the mass, which feeds on its own stampede. From this the backlash of the intellectual elite, and from the contrarians, who might echo each other, but whose discontent springs from different well springs. One, the elite, cares not for success, but knows that a herd without a leader will find the nearest cliff. The other is the risk averse contrarian, who believes that if the herd were smart, the contrarian would be rich.
There are two dooms that hang over our own age: one feels a doom in global warming, and in peak oil. This looks back to the 18th century, which was “eating its own seed corn,” and could not yet perceive the unseen empire that it was standing at the doorstep of. One should always end an epoch with a preposition, the coming age is writ before it is made. In the case of the 18th century, it was sitting upon enough energy to flood the world with engines of commerce and destruction, but was too busy fighting over the meager present profits of the patents granted to two different men on the steam engine to exploit it. The Watt-Newcomb engine is so called, because each man invented half of it. But it would be almost 80 years before railways would spread like running vines.
The other is that the centripetal forces that will tear apart the present age of complacency, are coming close, and the stupid herds of normal people, who do not see the greatness of those that provide them with freedom. These are quite different from the doom that hung over the time of Wagner and Nietzsche, and which is felt by our own elites. It was and is expressed down the the most mediocre intellect attached to the courts of that and this age: it was an age of an empire of will and men, and the realization was that the slightest slip from that grip would lead to a fall of that empire. Of course this was a self-fullfilling prophecy: to be hard enough launched them into wars that destroyed the will. The colonial empires were given back by bled white core nations that had ripped themselves apart in the long wars. “The Second Thirty Years War” Churchill termed it.
For the elites, hard decisions are those needed to execute the neo-classical play of making the poor pay for the world we live in. The elites think of themselves as “neo-s” Neo-Liberal. Neo-Classical. Neo-Conservative. All of the answers are in and from the past. In an odd twist, one of the most resonant movies that preached the illusion of the present, called its hero “Neo” in an anagram of “One.” And then fizzled out as it found no answer to its answers. In fact, the elites are posts: Post-World War II, and Post-Cold War. They fear a Post-American world, a world which is arriving with every passing moment with the rise of China and its inevitable collision with America.
What has been missing from these predictions is the synthesis which ties them. It is also altering the shape of politics, because there is a difference between the political spectrum of the old order, which has its left and right, its ins and outs, and the opposition between those that cling to the post-world, and those which imagine a pre-world. After all, even totalitarian states have factions, it is not a contradiction to have a left to right spectrum of a conservative state.
The old essay was a classical temple, square and filled in, the new essay is organic, a journey. The first step in the mythic journey is to step away from the cozy starting point of the present conflict and explain what the post-world was, and why it found itself in a neo-mythology.
The 20th century self-consciously deconstructed the early 19th century, in an effort to keep control over the legitimacy of the late 19th century's empire and academic rigor, but remove the foundations of its power and control. It found in the organic naturalism of the Romantic period an easy enemy, since, first Romanticism had been dead for quite some time as an artistic force, and even more so as a political and social force. It was, however, the wellspring from which many of the tropes, the basic outlines, of the late 19th century, the Victorian, had sprung. The late 19th century was deconstructed as an epoch, with some help from the Victorians themselves. What was really a new order, established in a series of wars and revolutions between 1857 and roughly 1873, became the the theory of a post-Napoleonic Romantic world.