by Captain Future
Thu Aug 31st, 2006 at 02:37:06 AM EST
The imagery of decadence may suggest Roman orgies or American idols, but those are the more florrid and less important signs. What decadence means is decay, and we've got lots of that in the USA.
Decay may be a natural process of organisms but civilization is built on the ability to repair, renew and replace infrastructure, institutions and even ideas--including continually renewing a commitment to such ultimately crucial operating principles like fidelity to the truth.
But the signs of decadence are all around us, and Mr. Truth Decay is fiddling in Texas while the country falls apart.
The easiest to renew should be infrastructure, because mostly what that takes is maintenance and repair, the kind of attention that is the basic responsibility of government and the community as a whole. It's not exactly rocket science, it's supposed to be almost automatic. Guess what. We're failing at it and have been for years. It's decay. It's decadence.
The Seattle Times this week put it bluntly: Experts warn U.S. is coming apart at the seams.
The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation "D" for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem."I thought [Hurricane] Katrina was a hell of a wake-up call, but people are missing the alarm," said Casey Dinges, the society's managing director of external affairs.
The decay includes corporate failures like the shutting down of the Alaska pipeline. But it's a private and public problem that affects everyone:
The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating "at an alarming rate." It noted that half the 257 locks operated by the Army Corps of Engineers on inland waterways are functionally obsolete, more than one-quarter of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete, and $11 billion is needed annually to replace aging drinking-water facilities.
But it's not just a decay of attention. It's a decay in the moral center of civilization, which is to meet present needs and provide for the future. Corporations have always been tempted to let maintenance slide to save money in the present; a stock-driven business climate with a quarterly report morality and mentality has lavishly rewarded those who give in to that temptation. Meanwhle, masked by a partly sincere, mostly cynical pre-civilization view of public responsibility, reactionary Republican control of government has diverted money to the already wealthy rather than to people who get the job done, and the motive is mostly greed.
Joyce Marcel summarizes what else has been happening while we've been pouring immense assets down the bottomless pit of Iraq, and enriching the wealthiest people in the history of the world at the expense of everyone else now alive, or who will be alive in the foreseeable future:
Meanwhile, the Euro has surpassed the dollar in value; it's been this way almost from the day it was founded. China, which holds the paper on America, is now the world's fastest-growing economy. India's is the second-fastest. Moribund America, however, slides deeper and deeper into debt. We have no jobs. We make no things. We make no capital investments in our future. Our housing bubble, which has sustained the economy for years, is bursting as I write.
The only analogy - and I'm not the first person to make it - is that we are behaving like drug addicts and oil is our drug. We live in constant denial. We've cashed in all our assets, borrowed from everyone who will let us, robbed our parents' wallets, and now we're breaking and entering to get our daily fix. While we head for the gutter, the future has galloped past.
But real societial decadence is confirmed by attitudes towards such failures. If the response is denial and apathy, it is certain to go on until joined by ignorance. Today we have all three in interlocked array. All three are indicated by some of the more typical imagery of decadence--the amusements which absorb a civilization while its infrastructure and institutions fall apart around it. As the self-destruction gets more obvious, the amusements get more excessive and frenzied.
Our particular decadence is evidenced as much in, say, the surreal frenzy of the news media in covering every second of a plane ride by an addled man accused of a 10 year old crime, who anyone with sense had to suspect was not going to be charged, while completely neglecting actual news stories of far greater importance.
And while the excesses of sexual predators may also be evidence, so is the reactionary fundamentalism and the extent to which frenzied attention on stem cells and creationism not to mention phony prophecies concocted out of misread lines from a mistranslated black book can be taken beyond absurdity into insanity.
We are going in so many opposite directions that standing still can make you dizzy. Coming apart at the seams may be an apt analogy of the final effect.
We've already seen our basic sense of the truth has decayed and been replaced by denial, apathy and ignorance, throughout the entire Bush administration. The Bushites have given lying a bad name: public relations manipulation that is as crude as it has been effective so far.
Now smarting under the all-too apt analogies of Bush to Hitler (recall Kurt Vonnegut's immortal line: "The only difference between Bush and Hitler is that Hitler was elected") and the Bush government (with its hyper-nationalism and "unitary executive") as fascistic, the Bushites have appropriated the old playground taunt, "That's what you are--what am I?" After comparing Al Gore and lefty bloggers to Hitler and fascists, they're now systematically redefining the Evildoers (aka Terrorists) as Islamic fascists. What's next--the Climate Crisis revealed as a plot by the criminal mastermind, Mr. Tooth Decay?
Well, that's what you are, Bushites: Mr. Truth Decay.