Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mene, mene, tekel......?

[EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: It ain't the end of the world, in spite of all announcements to the contrary.]

A friend of mine, a very fortunate cultural maven with some wealthy friends, wrote me yesterday from Seattle:

Today I went to the ballet. My friend V. and her mom have had season tickets for 21 years, so occasionally they get extra tickets, which they give to me. I can't sit with them, but we get together during intermissions.

Anyway, I was seated next to this couple who were clearly enjoying the show, as I was, so we talked about it some. Then the husband turned to me, and said solemnly, "Enjoy this while you can, for we will never see anything like this again. Entertainment and the arts just won't be possible anymore. I lived through the Depression and hard as it was, it wasn't BAD. We had hope. We knew things would someday get better. The situation today is BAD. There is no hope. For the first time in my eighty-six years, I see nothing but bleakness in the future."

Talk about downers. This from a total stranger, no less. I tried to get back to enjoying the show. "You are too young," he said, "you don't have the experience to realize how hopeless things are today. As much as I admire your optimism, I know it is misplaced."

And after the show, V.'s mom announced that this would be their last season; they can no longer afford the ballet. So maybe the gloomy guy was onto something.

But still, I don't feel it like he does. Maybe it's because I've been living on so little for so long, that this doesn't feel any different to me? I dunno.

Neither do I. But while I am very much an optimist, there are many who are channeling the revenant spirit of Dr. Smith, and screaming: "We're doomed, we're doomed we're all going to DIIIIIIIEEEEE!!!!....."

OF course, our vaunted Political Elite would they'd never put it that way. But some convey that message nevertheless.

Take the latest offering from the WSJ's own Peggy Noonan, who engages in what can best be described as an amiable jeremiad about our current economic state:

It is six months since Lehman fell and the crash (or the great recession, or the collapse——it's time it got its name) began. An aspect of the story given less attention than it is due, perhaps because it doesn't lend itself to statistics, is the psychic woe beneath the economic blow. There are two parts to this. One is that we have arrived at the first fatigue. The heart-pumping drama of last September is gone, replaced by the drip-drip-drip of pink slips, foreclosures and closed stores. We are tired. It doesn't feel like 1929, but 1930. People are in a kind of suspended alarm, waiting for the future to unspool and not expecting it to unspool happily.

.... I asked a friend, a perceptive writer, if he is seeing what I'm seeing. Yes, he said, there is "a pervasive sense of anxiety, as though everyone feels they're on thin ice." He wonders if it's "maybe a sense that we've had it too easy in the years since 9/11 and that the bad guys are about to appear on the horizon." An attorney in a Park Avenue firm said, "Things look like they have changed and may not come back."
I'm hearing this over and over again: it is not just the end of an era; the era in question is OVER ALREADY. We have transitioned into a new time, of darkness, gloom, and endless FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt).

I for one am not buying.

Maybe I'm engaging in self-deception. But then, I'm not one of those lawyers who grew fat on the seven fat years and are beginning to feel uneasy at the appearance of the seven lean. This is Detroit, the land of the One-State Recession, the One-City Depression, as the rest of the country danced through the fat "recovery" of the last few years. Now that we're in a national recession, we've become a One-State Depression, with the city again being a One-City Depression within it.

In other words, no change. We've had seven years of lean here: what are seven more?

I truly don't buy that this nation is sinking into decline and/or that we live at The End of The American Century.


Yes, the stock market is down below 7,000.... which is where it was .... in 1996.

I seem to recall that the world was doing alright in 1996.

Yeah, we're in for a deep recession. But it is NOTHING like it was when my mother and father were becoming adults--1936, 1937, 1938, 1939. Back then? Recession, depression, communism rampant, Nazis rampant, a flailing Roosevelt administration, and the stink of war and Holocaust on the horizon, and for my father, five years of war, for both of them, all their brothers in uniform and in combat.

From which they all came home. (Albeit not without scars.)

What are today's difficulties compared to that?

What are our difficulties compared to 1967-1968-1969? The Summer of Love, so called. Communist thugs on the streets of Chicago. JFK dead, RFK and MLK killed. Riots throughout the country. Drugs everywhere. Woodstock (a malific event IMHO). Czechoslovakia crushed by the Soviets. War in the middle east. Charles Manson and his Family going berzerk. Vietnam. The Weathermen. Bernardine Dohrn and William Ayres. Etc etc etc.

What are our difficulties even compared to that?

I am optimistic. Maybe I shouldn't be--after all, I live in a one-earner household in a dinky apartment with three autistic kids, and live far more poorly than ever I expected I would. But like my friend in Seattle, I''ve been on the edge for so long that the edge doesn't frighten me. It annoys me, yes, and it worries me, but it doesn't frighten me. Maybe much of this dark mood consists of people who are approaching the edge for the first time in their lives.

It's not that we're not in for dark times--it's just that, particularly for the chattering classes, this is their first real taste of dark times in their entire lives. And they're whiny.

It isn't dusk in America. Not hardly. Today's difficulties will pass. Like a kidney stone, mebbe, but they will pass. I am sure of it.

Maybe it's time that someone digs up that classic audio of Gordon Sinclair reading his classic essay "The Americans." It's been 35 years, and the specifics have changed, but the general message has not. (If you've never heard it, click here.)

Let me be clear: I for one have not given up hope. It is NOT the end of the world.

To quote Ronaldus Magnus, it's still Morning in America. Even if some of us have woken up with a bad case of cocktail flu.

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