Our county fair put me in mind of that American classic, Moby Dick, this year. So many white whales among the try-pots bubbling with rendered blubber, where crews of savages from all corners of the world toiled to bring forth batter-dipped Mars bars, Pop Tarts, corn dogs, funnel cakes, and other rarities of the deep fryer… and then the whales ventured a little further down the midway where they mounted the engines of swirling cosmic death, and were flung about in the centrifugal pods of fate on the ingenious mechanical arms of innovation, until their sickened souls gave forth with a mighty spewage of corn byproducts that rained down upon the moiling innocents below….
Like most metaphors, this one limps a bit, as did Captain Ahab himself, with his whale-bone peg-leg. But when everyday life gets detached from reality, metaphor is all you’ve got left. And in this ridiculous, sickening culture, with its toxic stream of electronic simulacrum politics sucking all the oxygen out of the collective brain-space, the mind is left wandering numbly across a kind of wilderness where twisted sign-posts point to mutant evangelists, freakish ideologies, false prophets, deadly miracle cures, phantoms on horseback, angels with bat-wings, and the ghost of Spotted Elk lying dead in the snow with his stiffened arm beckoning the way to extinction like Melville’s Ahab corded to the hump of his sounding white whale. Oh, America, pull your head out of your electronic ass while you still can! And look out below!
No place is more lost in metaphor these days than Washington D.C., the metaphor of “recovery” being the reigning hallucination. Now it’s all going up in a vapor, and the credibility of all involved is going up the spout with it. The rising Tea Party movement had some good innings off this creeping disillusionment on primary day. At least they have their inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and idiocies because their opponents, the sitting-officeholders in the chambers of power, have nothing, not a shred of a clue of an idea.
What continues to amaze me is that there is no corresponding rise of an intelligent opposition. How did it come to be in our time that Harvard-Yale-Princeton-Stanford and all the other incubators of supposed statesmanship have produced no figures of conviction and good intentions to demonstrate what it means to be resolute amid this grand failure of will? How have we managed to turn out two generations of lackeys, toadies, stooges, and flunkies from these citadels of power? If there are some competent, resolute adults waiting backstage — undistracted by phantoms related to Darwin’s theories or birth control or religious doctrine of one kind or another — they better enter the scene soon, or the fate of this country will be left in the hands of malicious, dogmatic, nincompoops beating their drums for Jesus, war, and the death of the planet.
How, for example, can Energy Secretary Steven Chu avoid spelling out the reality of our oil predicament, which goes way beyond any statement that America depends a little too much on oil from foreign lands. We are one international incident away from being put out-of-business as an advanced civilization. We’re fooling ourselves that wind power, solar electric, and other “alt.energy” schemes will allow us to keep running our stuff the way we do. Our luck is running out, and luck is all we’ve got left.
Mr. Chu is not alone in his thoroughgoing lack of conviction, his political and professional cowardice. His limp position is the norm. He deserves to be hounded out of office – and so does everyone else inside the Beltway in both parties, including the feckless President Obama. But does it have to be at the hands of ignorant yahoos like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh? (Can you imagine what James Madison would have made of Limbaugh?). Do we have to wait for the Millennials to grow up to hear somebody with half-a-brain call “bullshit” on the way we do things in this land?
This is the moment when the illusions fall away. This is the season when the comprehensive contraction becomes unmistakable and we have to make provision for its mandates: to get smaller, leaner, more local, more earnest, more truthful, and more willing to endure the discomforts of changed circumstances. Mr. Obama didn’t have to promise “change.” Change was happening all around us in the disintegration of our something-for-nothing dream of entitled exceptionalism. Tragically, the Tea Partiers want to claw back that absurd dream. They’re obviously too dumb to know the difference between dreams and realities.
But where are the men and women who do know the difference? And why are they too timid to step up and say something? Can it be that precious a thing to hang on to some mere appointed position just because the pay is good and you get to circulate in places where free canapés are passed around? What kind of chickenshit society have we become?
Well, brace yourself for a wild season. The Pequod is going down and the crazed harpooners are looking to slaughter everyone on board. Captain Ahab is down below the quarterdeck brooding on the mysteries of the cosmos and don’t count on him coming up from there to set things straight. Round and round we go as Moby Dick circles the ship, making a vortex with his gigantic flukes. I’m already in the water, waiting for Queequeg’s coffin to bubble up out of the cold blue sea.
The sequel to my 2008 novel of post-oil America, World Made By Hand, is shipping to booksellers now. Order via AMAZON.