Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is America repeating the mistakes of ancient Rome?

In 2001, a book published by a small publishing company in the US came and went without receiving much fanfare.  Nestled among the many glossy get-rich-quick, positive thinking and self- help books that one commonly finds in Christian bookstores, "When the Empire Strikes Out: Are We Repeating the Pattern of Past Civilizations?", with its serious title and earnest, analytical tone, could not have seemed less untimely.  

After all, America had just experienced a whole decade of growth, peace and self-indulgence. The economy was booming, after a few "setbacks" like the dot com bubble that burst in 2000. The Soviet Union, long considered America's archenemy, had collapsed. The cold war was over, and Clinton had promised a "peace dividend". What could go wrong?

The book's author, William R. Goetz, delved into a theory with which most Americans are unfamiliar- Sir John Glubb's theory of the rise and fall of empires- and what this theory could mean to Americans- namely, that the United States was in the throes of its imminent collapse and death. Needless to say, the book was not terribly popular. Truth never is.

At the time, I found a copy in my local Christian bookstore, and read it with great eagerness. Goetz explains how Sir John Glubb's famed book The fate of empires and Search for survivalThe Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival outlined seven phases in the life span of an empire, from the first, the Age of Outburst, to the last, the Age of Decline and Collapse.

Goetz's book applied this theory to the history of the United States, and came to the almost inevitable conclusion that the United States was heading for disaster.

The parallels between the last days of Rome and the last few decades of the United States are appallingly clear -the political corruption, obsession with luxury, huge disparity of wealth, and above all, obsession with triviality, wealth and sex are found in both . Of course, we have all heard of the decadence of Rome's final years. In Caesar and Christ, Will Durant described Rome's final days as follows: 

"Prostitution flourished....  many rich men paid a talent ($3,600) for a male favorite; Cato complained that a pretty boy cost more than a farm. Marc Antony surrendered to such sensuality that his subjects lost respect for his authority. He surrounded himself with dancers, musicians, courtesans and roisterers, and took wives and concubines whenever a fine woman struck his fancy."

The worst ruler, Nero "divorced one wife, murdered his own mother, killed a pregnant second wife, then in regret found a youth who closely resembled her, had him emasculated, married him and used him in every way like a woman." 

Has it gotten this bad in the US yet? Thankfully, America has not yet produced a new Nero, but the many sexual scandals (including Bill Clinton's famed cigar incident with intern Monica Lewinsky) should give us cause to consider. 

Goetz quotes Henry Cabot Lodge in The History of Nations: "Perhaps the most significant mark of the corruption of the age is the frequency of divorce and the general aversion to marriage..... immorality was the rule." Another sign of a society in decline is the division of wealth: "(There were) two predominant classes in the state... the mass of beggars and the (incredibly wealthy). 

The "economic and social disintegration", as Lodge put it, caused the Romans to become lazy, overly fond of luxury and adverse to hard work.  The indolence of its citizens, the endless internal struggles brought about by societal disunity, and the financial burden of providing free bread for thousands- these were the first cracks in Rome's invincible facade. 

Add to this the assimilation of thousands of barbarians  into Rome, the frequent invasions from without and the many foreign wars designed to bring in much-needed funds to pay for the bloated military, public welfare and luxurious decadence of the Roman aristocracy, and you have the makings of disaster. 

To be sure, the long, slow decline of Rome has long been a favorite of historians, and innumerable books have pondered the causes for her fall. While few have read all of Edward Gibbon's momentous seventeen- volume work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the gist of the book's chronicle of Rome's downfall can be summed up in what Gibbons describes as the five significant factors in her inglorious end: a rapid increase in divorce, a craze for pleasure, a bloated military coupled with ignorance of enemies within, an increase in violence and a decline in religious morals. This, yet again, reads like a perfect description of American society today. 

The frivolity, hedonism, obsession with convenience (so that even walking five minutes is considered an undue burden) are one side of America's decline, and are even looked upon as comical. Home-grown terrorists, school massacres, a sudden rash of child abductions by predatory pedophiles and the splintering of society are the darker side. 

Selfishness and individualism cause children to be seen as a burden, instead of a blessing, as Goetz points out. One result is an increase in abortion, long a hot topic of controversy in the US. However, this, too, is nothing new. Ancient Romans  practiced not only abortion, but infanticide, as well. Moreover, while most Americans think of Europeans as "liberal", many of the late term-abortions performed stateside would be illegal in Ireland, Poland or Germany. America now has the dubious distinction of being one of the few countries on earth that allows abortions up to the last week of pregnancy, without restrictions.  

American hedonism has also brought us the "Great Recession" we are now seeing: a nation that, for decades, consumed without producing, bought what it couldn't afford and demanded more wages for itself, while consuming cheap goods from overseas, is destined for defeat.

When he wrote his book in the last years of the nineties, Goetz could hardly have seen just how horribly wrong America's short- sighted economic policies could have gone- we now see Washington sending trillions of dollars to rich banking billionaires, while a whole generation of kids will spend their formative years living in tents, sleeping in motels or in their parents' cars. 

Meanwhile, the open borders with Mexico means that the modern day "barbarians" will continue their invasion. Why do they keep coming? Again, America's short- sighted economic policies, such as NAFTA, forced millions of desperate Mexicans into poverty and hunger. With a drug war out of control, many now have little choice but to risk their lives fleeing from danger.

At the same time, millions of American citizens, out of work, are depending on extended unemployment benefits and food stamps, some living in their cars or in tents; all the while, America's wealthy elite would rather hire illegal immigrants than US citizens.     

On the political level, we see other signs of decay: the growth of a centralized, bloated bureaucracy, an inefficient, bloated military, the increase in expensive overseas battles, and a buildup in debt and ongoing corruption. No nation has ever successfully fought two wars on two fronts simultaneously and survived. The last two to try were Napoleon and Hitler, and both were defeated. The arrogance of our nation's leaders to think that they could succeed at such a task is astounding.

Interestingly, in chapter ten, Goetz enumerates the many threats facing America, many of which have, in the following years, come to pass. The Chinese have already committed many of the attacks that Goetz described a decade ago, including infiltration of the food supply (the melamine poisoning), shutting down power grids (which happened in 2003) and attacking the economic system through hacking (which happened last year). China's "information warfare" program is the second largest in the world- after the US. Because of America's dwindling number of native-born IT specialists (another product of the failed school and university system), we can expect the quality of China's program to soon exceed that of the US, if it hasn't already. 

In When Nations Die, Jim Nelson Black writes: "As I examine the parallels between American society and other great empires in history, I am often stunned by the way our civilization mirrors the fallen giants of the past."  If we want to see the future, we need only look at the past. Goetz's book now seems chillingly prophetic in its warnings. Too bad America's leaders were too busy playing golf, conducting sexual affairs or attending campaign fundraisers to pay attention to his dire warnings.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How to Destroy a Nation in 15 Easy Steps

1. Attack ALL tradition, even relatively innoculous traditions, like religious feasts, parades, traditional clothing, etc. Make sure that people follow fashion instead of tradition. Change the fashions as quickly as possible, so that people will have no time to attend to important matters, being continually consumed with following the latest trends. "New architecture", consisting of ugly buildings devoid of ornament, should be promoted. Old buildings that are beautiful should be torn down, so that people have little connection to the past. "Modern music" that is sterile, devoid of human feeling and hypnotic in effect should be promoted as well. Folk music, traditional forms of art and architecture should be eliminated. Art and film should reinforce a style that is either entirely devoid of meaning or substance, or simply decadent. "High art" should be eliminated from popular culture, and sneered at as "old fashioned" and "high brow". Thus demoralized, the population will be easier to manipulate.

2. Divide people by minor traits such as skin color. Reinforce these differences by treating people differently, or creating identity movements. Create separate magazines, television programs, radio stations, etc., so that people will be divided as much as possible.

3. Divide people by age. Make sure that young and old cannot wear the same clothing, eat the same foods, listen to the same music, or even speak the same language. Create a "generation gap". This will make it virtually impossible to create a community of resistance.

4. Create a plethora of different political groups, appealing to different factions,  all proposing the same policies, and none of them offering meaningful change. Put "your people" in every party.

5. Make sure that most people work at jobs that have little relation to their lives. Eliminate self-employment as much as possible, so that most people are completely dependent on corporations and anonymous multinationals. Slowly lower the wages and make sure that people have to work at several jobs to get by. A nation that is being worked to death cannot put up any resistance. They will not be able to take time off to demonstrate. 

6. Make sure that the nation is more and more dependent on imported goods. Eliminate small, family-run farms and locally owned factories. Bit by bit, send all meaningful work overseas to foreigners. A nation that produces nothing but debt will be easily cut off from outside resources. Those jobs that remain will be fought over by a desperate populace, who have lost their self-respect and self-sufficiency. 

7. Make sure that the nation goes into debt. In order to do this, it is necessary to encourage spending and discourage thrift. Consumerism and a life of shopping will mean that people will do anything to "keep up with the Joneses".

8. Attack the family and traditional marriage as "old fashioned". Make traditional virtues such as chastity, faithfulness and loyalty unfashionable, and replace them with "sexual liberation". Hire women to do "men"s work", paying them much less than men, so that one-parent families will be thrust into poverty. The children growing up without fathers or mothers will be easy to manipulate. Some can be taken by the state, raised to be "killers", and sent to the army. Undermine parental authority, so that children will do as they please. With the help of the media, you can steer them to do as you please.

9. Attack the traditions of the army. Make sure that morale is as low as possible, by allowing and encouraging abuse of power, rape and torture. Punish whistle-blowers, so that the most competent, ethical members of the armed forces will resign in disgust. When such abuse occurs, make sure that it is readily publicized, so that people will fear and distrust their own government. 

10. Attack or sublimate traditional religion.  Those that cannot be turned into mouthpieces for propaganda can be eliminated through infiltration, division and scandal. Send spies to the theology seminars, and have them seduce priests, pastors and seminarians. Disseminate heresy and pass it off as "new thinking". Encourage atheism. Meanwhile, pour as much money as possible into "fringe groups", sects and cults so that there is little unity among people. Make sure that legitimate religion is cast into the same pot as fanatical sects, so that people can see little difference between the two. A nation that is godless is also without morals, and can be persuaded to do anything that is suggested, including murder and cannibalism.

11. Find anything that is traditionally a sexual taboo (homosexuality, pedophilia, sadomasochism, bestiality) and re-label them "alternative lifestyles" and use the issue of sexuality as a wedge issue. Make sure you stoke as much controversy as possible, by allowing religious "fanatics" to have equal time with "perverts". Eliminate indecency laws, and allow pornography to flourish, becoming more and more crude. Meanwhile, divide people on the issue of "freedom of speech", so that they equate freedom with pornography, sexual libertinism and vulgarity. People will be so involved in defending their own positions on these issues, that they will barely notice that their nation is being taken over.

12. Attack the traditional school and university system, making sure that "new methods" do not encourage young people to think for themselves, but merely teach them to memorize facts, repeat other people's opinions and regurgitate information. Slowly lower standards so that the typical student is ill-informed and lazy. Discourage logical thinking. Meanwhile, "dumb down" all newspapers, television reports and books. Denigrate the study of history, politics, philosophy or theology and encourage young people to confine their studies to "practical" matters, such as business, engineering, banking, accounting, etc. You will then have a mass of willing slaves to perform remedial tasks such as bookkeeping, data processing, banking or graphics, none of which will be able to convincingly challenge your rights to do as you please. 

13. Plant some of your own people in positions of authority. Make sure that they propose laws that will undermine freedom and political transparency. If anyone opposes them, accuse them of being unpatriotic or old-fashioned. Use the word "patriotism" to your own advantage, diverting its meaning so that it is equated with flag-waving and nationalism instead of traditional values or traditions. 

14. Consolidate all news media and publishing companies, so that "your people" control virtually all that people see, hear, read or experience. Package propaganda as "entertainment". Vulgarize the arts so that they appeal to sensationalism instead of reflective thought.  Attack independent media by either "buying them out" or "shutting them down". Use the media to distract people with an unending stream of useless information, disinformation, scandals, gossip and trashy programming, so that they barely have time to attend to serious matters.

15. Without religion or traditions, moral and ethical objections to your political takeover will be rendered toothless. Set up fascist laws under the pretext of "security". Attack traditionalists as fundamentalists, reactionaries or terrorists. Attack liberal opponents as socialists or anarchists. Without laws guaranteeing fair trials, it will be easy to allow your opponents to "disappear", or die under "mysterious circumstances". You will now have the support of enough of the population that it will be relatively easy to take over. Many will barely notice a change in slave masters.

Do Morals Matter?

If you want to see the true effects of religion on society, you need look no further than the eradication of much religion in the countries in the Soviet bloc. Thanks to communism, much of the values and traditions rooted in Christianity were, if not outright abolished, scorned and sneered at. Modern man, it was believed, could do without religion. Sloganeering, exhortions to do what is right for fellow man, moral campaigns to encourage a feeling of unity- these were to replace religion, the "Opiate of the Masses", as Marx ever so succinctly put it.

Religion was blamed for many, if not all of the ills of society, and we could look forward to a "brave new world" based on scientific materialism.

In the "West", the new scientific capitalism was based on similar principles. It was widely taught that, because man was inherently good, he was in no need of religion, with its superstitious beliefs in candle-lighting rituals, miracles, prayers and saints. People would be able to do whatever they pleased, and somehow would gravitate towards doing good, without any outside help.

This pleased the business elite for two reasons: firstly, because without the church, they would finally be free from what the referred to as "middle class morality: the belief in such principles as honesty, fair play, integrity, a man's word of honor and a hard day's work. Secondly, they could finally be free to cater to the darkest impulses of men's spirits, without constraints; they could have free access to greed, avarice, lust, envy, wrath and all of the other dark impulses; they could use modern psychology to manipulate our minds with advertising, all the while castigating critics as "old fashioned" and "moralistic". 

In the US, starting in the early seventies, traditional churches have been broken up, marginalized or replaced by "new" churches that preached a pro-Capitalist propaganda message, promoting wealth as a symbol of God's favor, in much the same way, in Communist countries, the "official" church preached pro-government propaganda, extolling the virtues of Marxism. Capitalism and communism are twin images, two faces of the fascist monster that is devouring the earth, robbing the poorest people of their God-given freedom.

What is the end result of the destruction of religious ideals in a society? If we look at two examples, Russia and Poland, we can see the effects of religion and a lack thereof.

In Russia, those who clung to the Orthodox faith were ridiculed and mocked, faced discrimination and were socially ostracized. After many years of communist rule, many Russians had never laid eyes on a Bible. Few had read one.

In Poland, however, the population clung to their strong Catholic faith, and it became a means of resistance in the face of communist oppression.

In the fall of communism, both countries faced enormous economic, political and social turmoil and hardship. Russia collapsed into tyranny, gang warfare and prostitution. Even today, criminal gangs roam the streets, preying on wealthy businessmen, bankers and tourists. Murders, kidnappings, rape, mafia-related crime and drug dealing are rampant. Without religion, men become animals, preying on the weak and defenseless.

Poland, in contrast, has become a popular tourist destination. The economy has recovered and is attracting foreign investment. The crime rate is nowhere near that of Russia's. The difference? Polish people kept their faith in God.

Like Samson felling the ancient temple by tearing down the pillar with one swoop, the "Business Elite", in toppling the Christian pillar, have torn down Western Civilization with it. A civilization is more than a collection of peoples; it is held together by a common heritage, common languages, beliefs and traditions. Religion is a huge part of it.

The Gnostics believed that religious truth was the sole province of the religious elect; elitists, they believed that the common man was too crude for the subtleties of mystical truth. They were not too far off the mark; indeed, the mystical teachings of Meister Eckhardt or Hildegard Von Bingen may be outside of the grasp of the typical truck driver or factory worker. However, all men need a form of religion to feed their deepest moral, eithical and spiritual needs. For a simple person, simple prayers and rituals fullfill a need for deeper meaning. Without this, there is no ethical framework to hold society together.

As with individual men, so, too with nations; when a nation endures hardship, we see what kind of mettle they are made of. I fear it will not go well with America. A nation which, even in times of relative plenty, is awash in violence, hatred, animosity and greed will not suddenly find its moral compass in times of trouble.

A righteous man can endure suffering with patience. In the 1930's, America was thrown into economic hardship. At the time, most Americans were honest, churchgoing and devout. Little violence, rioting or fighting occurred, despite the hardship.

Today, America is a nation where automatic weapons are to be found on every corner. Thanks to video games, children as young as ten are trained killers and thieves. Millions believe in relative morality, that man decides what is right and wrong, not God. What will happen to America in the following years? I shudder to guess at it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Weapons of Cultural Mass Destruction

Is technology making us stupider? Are computers turning us into moronic dolts, incapable of reason? Or is technology a pathway to new freedom? In the 90's, when I was in college, our professors routinely pounded into us the idea that "technology is the future". The brave new world promised to us, in which every shiny happy worker with a knowledge of computers would have a stress-free life telecommuting to his high-tech job has been rapidly replaced by a dog-eat-dog world of techno-feudalism, in which workers compete in a furious race to the bottom. Is technology to blame? What new dangers does the post-modern world of technology offer up for us?  

To be sure, technology has always resulted in a loss of jobs  for those whose skills are outdated. Nowadays, arithmetic can be done by computers, spell-checking eliminates the need for learning spelling or grammar, and we rely on computers to help us with banking and tax forms, something that, years ago, we would have had to do for ourselves, using good-old-fashioned common sense and a slide rule. However, the danger inherent in technology is not merely that we use it as a crutch so that we can think less. 

No, the gravest danger lies in what technology has enabled us to do without. We can now do without learning musical instruments, or paying musicians to play for us- thanks to the CD player and the radio. Those recorded musicians, incidentally, can do without bothering to play or sing in tune (auto-tune will take care of it), playing with proper rhythm (yes, there is a plug-in for that) and can even type the music in to a program and have the computer play it, thus eliminating the need for musicians entirely. Nowadays, pieces of music are composed, produced and recorded without even one single musician picking up an instrument, strumming a guitar, or pounding away on a real-life drum.

The same goes for the visual arts. Many of the visual images that we are flooded by, day and night, have been doctored by computers. The ability to draw and paint using traditional media is quickly fading away into obscurity.

Some would say good riddance. Composing by hand, as Beethoven once did, painting and sculpting, as Michelangelo did, are seen by scoffers as modern-day anachronisms. We live in modern times, and "cutting edge" is all the rage. Music needn't be beautiful, tonal, or even recognizably musical, and art has long ago lost all pretensions of being about artistic craft, higher ideals or even artistry. In our cynical times, it is often considered the epitome of higher art to consider art itself redundant and of no greater value than a plastic chair found on the sidewalk. Cynicism is all the rage.

However, in the very act of compartmentalizing tasks to the point of giving over almost all of the drudge work to computers, we run into not only the danger of losing essential skills that could be forever lost, we run the risk of destroying the foundations of society itself. A nation which produces no painters, handcrafters or traditional musicians is culturally impoverished. A small tribe of grass-skirted "primitives", in which every member has skills in arts and crafts, can sing or play a musical instrument, is in less danger of cultural annihlation than one in which the work of producing art or music has been relegated to machines. Without a tactile relationship to making music and art, a person soon loses all ability to discern the difference between that which requires skill and the commodified and cheaply made. Our senses, once dulled, may never regain what has been lost. Is it no wonder that so many young people are becoming alienated and suicidal? Archaologists have often pondered the causes of highly complex civilizations, seemingly over night, vanishing without a trace. Ours, with its assembly- line culture, could very well be next.

The transient nature of the technology, the internet and modern media, in general, poses yet another problem. In previous centuries, knowledge was passed down gradually, with each generation carefully pondering the works of the previous one. There was a canon of accepted works which was honored, and all cultural change occurred incrementally. However, our history and previous culture is being erased with increasing rapidity. Soon all traces of lost attitudes, perspectives and ways of life may be lost forever. With cultural changes occurring not merely by the day but by the minute (such as Wikipedia), we are in danger of losing our cultural and historical footing altogether. With older ways of transmitting knowledge are cast aside or "reinterpreted" according to the whims of fashion, the question is will future generations even share the same language with previous ones? Will there even be a chance of understanding between generations? 

Technology is meant to be out slave, not our master. If we allow technology to rob us of our humanity, we have only succeeded in defeating ourselves. We mustn't let the traditional arts and humanities languish under the banner of modernity. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Blue Meanies of Our Age

I've recently been re- viewing an old childhood favorite of mine, the Beatles animated classic, "The Yellow Submarine", a psychedelic, pun-filled journey with the animated Beatles as they transverse through various seas, and use music as a weapon against the "Blue Meanies". I started reflecting on how succinctly the film depicts the cultural conflicts of its age, and what that means for us today.

The Beatles animated film was both a product of its time and a precursor of what was to come. The Beatles were, at the time, in the midst of the maelstrom of their time, culturally, politicaly and spiritually. Society was at a turning point. Social forces that had, up to that time, been kept in check, were now ready to be unleashed upon society.

The film's writers, no doubt strongly influenced by the messages and themes inherent in the Beatle's songs, could not help but be aware of the powerful currents of change in society at that time. The old order was crumbling. The new order and its ascendance was unmistakably present. The question was whose side were you on? The film's message, on the surface, seems to be a children's tale of the power of love and positivism. On a deeper level, however, the Beatles themselves are caught between the two sides, embodying this cultural conflict within themselves.

The two sides, representing love and madness, are embodied by the opposite forces, the residents of Pepperland and the Blue Meanies.

The residents of Pepperland, as well as Jeremy Boob, represent the traditional culture- one that valued order, authority, intellectual and artistic pursuits. It is no accident that Old Fred is represented as playing the violin. The rulers of Pepperland are so ancient that "Young Fred" seems to be at least 70 years old. Old Fred is positively ancient. Old Fred, as well as Boob, are, unfortunately, too out of touch to respond to the forces of evil in their midst. Old Fred, when warned of imminent attack, responds with, "They wouldn't dare". Boob, the "Nowhere Man", is helpless until the very end. Only George's advice, to box the Meanie, enables him to defend himself.

The meanies represent the forces of fascism and nihilism. Hating all beauty, they shout, "A thing of beauty, destroy it forever." Likewise, they hate music above all. The word "know", representing knowledge, is replaced by "no", negativity and oppression. They seem to have much in common with the communists, with their draconian rules and one-party system, or with Fascism. The people under the iron fist of authority (represented by the flying glove) become monochromatic and dull, as all that is beautiful is prohibited. 

The blue meanies of the arts and academia do not merely want to destroy things of beauty, then, they want to destroy the very idea of the beautiful, by erasing all memory of beauty. Snatches of beauty, heard throughout the film, are reminescences of long-forgotten beauty, and are quickly dismantled. In the sea of monsters, we hear a strain of Bach, only to be blown up by the monster's cigar. The traditional arts, based on studying the art of the past, and building on this structure, are here represented by the old-fashioned residents of Pepperland, with their love of art, music and culture. 

The art and music scene, as well as the realm of philosophy and the humanities, was being beset by the forces of nihilism at the height of the 60's. Andy Warhol was making what could be termed "anti-art", turning art into a commodity. This was not accidental; Warhol conceived his art as an extension of mass marketing and pop culture- it was meant to be as "throwaway" as the culture it represented. John Cage did similar things with music. Both were taking "rubbish" of consumer society and transforming it into art, thereby reducing art and music to a commodity, a temporary pleasure based more on the experience of the viewer or public than the intentions of the artist. 

According to Douglas Shearer: 

  •  "Traditionally, art expresses the noblest impulses of the specific culture that produces it.  But American art, since Andy Warhol, profanes the noble and ennobles the profane. And that's typically American: Americans distrust 'all embracing cultural ethics' because they threaten "personal choice". That thought underlies Warhol's two most famous paintings, 'Brillo box' and 'Tomato Can'." 

"Beauty is Truth, truth beauty"- the opposite of this belief is the idea that there is no truth, or that truth is relative. Similarly, then, beauty cannot be absolute. A garbage pail could, according to nihilistic philosophy, be just as beautiful as a flower. 

Nihilism can often be seen in the realm of film. Mean-spirited films, full of unlikeable characters, often with downbeat endings, seek to punish the viewer into a dismal, hopeless view of life. The effects of continual demoralization can be seen everywhere. On the archetypal level, good triumphing over evil is the "default" Thema, and can be seen in every culture, in folktales, art and poetry. The Blue Meanies, in their hatred of such words as "yes" or "love" and their especial hatred of music and the divine impulses that it engenders in us, would have been pleased to see our society destroyed by nihilism and the amorality that goes with it. 

The old order, which included a love of learning for its own sake, is mockingly represented in the person of Jeremy Boob, who is full of knowledge, yet lonely and foolish. Lord Mayor and even Young Fred are, at best, incompetent. It is their incompetence and unwillingness to recognize the looming danger of the Blue Meanies that spells their disaster.  

Nihilism, however, is a non-sustainable belief that contains its own destruction. It is like a virus that eventually destroys its host. The sucker monster sucks up everything in its path, including its own tail, much like the old masonic symbol of a snake eating its own tail. Similarly, the sentence, "There is no absolute truth" contradicts itself, for the sentence itself, then, cannot be true. The prohibition against absolute truths and absolute beauty must, and will, be destroyed.

The Beatles themselves straddle the two extremes. Indeed, their music, at the time, embodied both musical traditions, employing ragtime, skiffle, blues and classical influences as well as avante garde influences, such as Musique Concrete, atonality and free jazz. Similarly, their philosophy, as expressed in the film, is at times, simplistic, such as "All you need is love". At other times, Eastern philosophy, and its emphasis on the unreality of reality is expressed, by George saying, "It's all in the mind". 

Often, the Beatles give practical advice that had never occurred to the older generation, as typified by "Young Fred".  "Press a button", they tell Young Fred, starting the submarine. At one point, John must turn the hands of the clock forwards so they will stop going backwards in time, something that did not occure to the hapless, helpless Young Fred. In a way, they are a fusion of both old and new ways of thinking, eager to experiment, but giving the residents of Pepperland new life through their music.

In Pepperland, evil is defeated by love. This is the message of the film, in a kernel- that love conquers all. This optimistic, upbeat message epitomizes the very spirit of the sixties generation, with its sense of boundless possibilities.

Unfortunately, the optimism of the 60's was soon shattered. Evil forces are not so easily won over. The first signs were assassination of four unarmed peace protesters at Kent State University in 1970 and the government-approved murders of Dr. King, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy. The subsequent virtual takeover  of the US government by the Military Industrail Complex and the CIA proved to many that a peaceful victory over evil was virtually impossible. 

In our time, the creation of a CIA-sponsored "Islamist" movement in the Middle East (which mimics the "Pepperland" Blue Meanies by hating music and the arts), as well as a government- engineered corporation-friendly "Christian Right" movement designed to uproot and supplant the burgeoning Liberation Theology Movement, are more signs that the Blue Meanies are now in charge.

American Babylon- Can America Be Saved?

A huge change occurred in the 1920's, just after the "War to End all Wars" drew to a conclusion.

It was a change that hardly anyone, outside of a few crotchety old folks, bothered to notice.

It was the biggest change in culture that the US, and by extension, the now- US dominated European powers, had ever witnessed. This change in cultural mores, long in the making, was, in the 1920's, for the first time, out in the open: a change in clothing, behavior, music, the arts and the humanities. It was the beginning of a new age of crassness, cynicism, decadence and nihilism. Many trace the beginnings of this new nihilism to the opium dens and bordellos of Paris and Berlin, but the origins were firmly in the world's new cultural capital: New York City.

America had been a pioneer land, a land of farmers and manufacturers. America's cultural output had long sought to emulate European models, cultural models firmly rooted in Europe's Christian heritage. This would all change. Along with the change in culture, came a change in values; no longer were the good of society and the upholding of integrity and honor of highest benefit; instead, the new era celebrated the individual, and the self-aggrandization of the self as the supreme good. The bootlegger, mobster, robber baron and burlesque queen were the new reigning cultural heroes. How one gained success, whether through ingenuity or graft, was now beside the point.

William Butler Yeats' poem, "The Second Coming", written in the aftermath of WWI, clearly explicates this new moral illness that has taken its grip upon the West. As  prophesied by Yeats:
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

That this change was accompanied by Prohibition, a  puritanical movement akin in spirit to Oliver Cromwell's ill-fated takeover of British society in the 1600's, is all the more ironic. Cultural descents into nihilism and decay are almost inevitably linked to counter-movements which seek to enforce morality through law. In such times, as man loses the moral fibre and will to control the beast within, he turns desperately to outward authority, hoping to quell the rising tide of inner chaos.  Although Prohibition sought to fight the outward symptoms, the inner decay and rot had firmly set in, and we began, to paraphrase Robert Bork, "slouching toward Gommorah".

As this change in attitudes occurred, the fruits began to show- changes in modesty, morality, ethics, music and politics. America began to follow the path that brought down ancient Rome. As in latter day Rome, moralists who decried these developments were scoffed at as being "old fashioned". Seneca had decried the changes that he saw in ancient Rome. Tacitus, in his famed "Annals", had stated that Rome's moral degeneracy was the root cause of its decline; similarly, a decline in the American Empire is taking place, one that began in the years after the first World War.

The first obvious change was in standards of modesty. Suddenly, for the first time since the Christianization of Europe, we began to see women dressing immodestly.  For thousands of years, fashions had changed, and hemlines had gone up and down, always settling somewhere between knee length and floor length. Women in ancient Phoenecia and Egypt, as in many pre-Christian civilizations, had freely exposed their thighs and breasts; in Christian countries, this was unheard of. After the 1920's, however, it became soon hard to tell the difference between a prostitute and a housewife, as more and more women began to emulate the behaviors and fashions of prostitutes.

As in latter-day Rome, women's clothing became more and more skimpy. What began then, with the slight raising of hemlines, ends in today's society, in which 10 year old girls prance about in skin-tight clothes, hotpants and bare midriffs, and pedophiles and perverts snatch them off the streets to do as they like with them. Women of all walks of life are referred to as "hos" in today's popular music, and those who take offense are seen as "uptight". This is the shadow side to our much-vaunted "sexual liberation".

Another change would occur in music. Gone were "romantic" sentiments, now replaced by crass admonitions to "give a kiss", or "make love".  Of course, by modern eyes, these popular tunes are slightly risque, but nothing new. However, what we now, in out corrupt era, see as kitschy and quaint, was at the time shocking. This change in sexual mores was predictably coupled with a rise in divorce and abortion. We have now progressed to the point that premarital sex is taken for granted, and parents can expect to accompany their children to the drugstore to buy their first condoms. But is this "progress" or the sign of a culture and society collapsing? The values that existed for centuries have been thrown aside, with nothing to replace them but negation, or facile exhortations to "do what seems right".

Before the 20's, a woman could expect that her first kiss might be on her wedding night, or at least on the day of her engagement. After the 20's, however, the norms had changed, and women were encouraged to kiss as many men as possible. Soon, by the 50's, the standard was "heavy petting".  By the 60's, free sex was the standard.   We now are seeing an era in which many teens are considered "uncool" and "uptight" unless they participate in orgies. Girls are constantly bombarded with images of Snookie or "reality TV" stars sleeping around and getting pregnant. Even worse, not only do we espouse these new "virtues", we export them worldwide, in the form of "entertainment", all the while holding a hypocritical stance, by pretending to be "shocked".  We have become the new Babylon, a nation that seduces the world with hedonism. Is it any wonder that many countries call America the "great Satan"?

In the 1920's, a commonly held belief was that the new mania for jazz, with its syncopated rhythms and "African" influences, could be held to blame for the sudden sea change in cultural values. This glib response can be seen to be overly simplistic. It would be putting the cart before the horse. The new ideals were as equally expressed by Stravinsky's paganistic "Rite of Spring" as by boogie-woogie piano playing.  As opposed the what Nietzsche called the "Apollonian" side of culture, that which seeks balance and structure, we were now moving into the realm of the "Dionysian"- the irrational, the delusional, the fanatical side of human nature.

As a matter of fact, jazz progressed very rapidly from being simply a new syncopated dance form to being a full-fledged art music; in just a couple decades, it threw off the shackles of populism, and with its introspective passages and an intellectual language of its own,  began to strive towards being an art music. Concurrently, as jazz became more artistic, however, it was seen as more and more culturally irrelevant- as well as less financially lucrative- by the music business.  African American music reached a peak in the 1950's and 1960's, and was instrumental in giving African Americans a new, more positive image. Motown, Gospel R and B and jazz became popular all over the world; at this point, the music was a positive force.

Gradually, this, too, began to change and devolve; the "black music" that is been promoted today is more the doing of white businessmen who promote the stereotype of the black prostitute and criminal, as a means to have their cake and eat it too- to promote debauchery, all the while using "black culture" as a convenient front.

Thus the racist naysayers of the early 20th century were proved wrong by their earlier prophesy that jazz, as "black music" would be the undoing of America. What has, in reality, been the undoing of America, and its musical culture,  is the unfettered capitalism of the music "industry". Music, always at the behest of patronage, became a "product" in a coolly objective machine of advertising, payola and graft, and as a result, became objectified and debased. In Classical music, as well, the intelligentsia has replaced tradition with "deconstructed" music. Nowadays, the more chaotic and lifeless the music is, the more popular it is with music critics.

The content of popular music and entertainment has also changed dramatically over the past century. Once, most popular songs dealt with home, hearth, family and love, as well as heart-felt religious sentiment.  Films, once light-hearted dramas and comedies featuring the triumph of good over evil, happy-ending romances and musicals, have become bloodbaths with foul-mouthed criminal "anti-heroes". Good is seldom portrayed; godliness is unheard of, and the word "irreverent" now is taken to be the highest praise for any form of entertainment. Scoffing at "old fashioned" values is now so blase that nudity in the theater or film is merely yawned at. When I first visited New York in the eighties, "Oh! Calcutta", the seventies- era musical that was billed as the longest-running musical of all time, was still being performed entirely in the nude. When the show first opened, this was a sensation, meant to provoke shock or excitement, but by that time, it was already becoming blase. Today, we are used to seeing most films and many theater pieces featuring nudity, some also depicting incest or rape. "The envelope" has to be pushed ever further to excite controversy.

This future dystopia was, ironically, predicted in Fritz Lang's 1927 film "Metropolis", which  depicted the dehumanized workers, and the inevitable ascent of machine over man that we now see. Similarly, Charlie Chaplin's 1934 film "Modern Times" deftly portrayed a man caught helplessly in the grinding gyres of industrialism, driven mad by the harsh dictates of the machine. Go to any dance club nowadays, and you will see young people, like marionettes,  furiously dancing to the mechanized, lifeless unhuman beat of a machine, sometimes accompanied by chanted lyrics. This so-called "music" is without melody, harmony or spirit; its breath is the frigid sound of the abyss. As depicted by Lang's "Maschinenmensch", the machine who broke free from her master to create destruction, our machines have truly become our masters, because we have refused to serve God and one another.

Along with this new obsessive fixation on nudity and sexuality, came the sexualization of children. Pandora's Box of "sexual liberation", once opened, couldn't so readily be closed again. America now exports tons of hard-core pornography, featuring torture, abuse, defecating and urinating on others, bestiality and child porn. The producers of such smut are paraded on TV talk shows as "businessmen", just like any other- after all, who can argue with success? California, once a land of promise to weary immigrants, is now the center of the porn racket, ensnaring millions of women, men and children, many coerced into becoming so-called "sex workers".

At the beginning of the 20th century, American Gospel music, both the "white" country gospel, and the "negro spiritual" tradition, was characterized mainly by its rhythmic and harmonic simplicity, its heartfelt, humble lyrics, and contemplative character. Indeed, the plaintive sounds of black American singing often had such a profound effect on its listeners that it could be credited, in part, with helping to end slavery and promoting the cause of civil rights. At this point, black gospel and spiritual music was noted for its innate dignity and nobility of character.

As Gospel music became more and more a commodity and a form of entertainment, it, too, started to become "Dionysian"- emphasizing emotion over substance, becoming less and less introspective or meditative. Soon, what mattered was flashy arrangements, florid vocal displays, dramatic vocal leaps and hypnotic repeated choruses. This has, in our time, become so much the norm that we hardly question it.

In a "Christian" society, secular music tends to imitate the church's standard. In previous centuries, singers and musicians, schooled by the church, could "branch off" and turn to making "light" popular music, if they wished. The highest art was always that commissioned by the churches. In a fallen society, however, the church seeks to imitate the world. Hypnotic, paganistic music is now the norm in most churches. Contemplation and introspection are considered suspect, because that would mean that one would have to think for himself. Better to appeal to the rawest emotions- pride, vainglory, envy and malice. And all the better without that pesky conscience. It's a peculiarly Nietzschean form of Christianity, one that emphasizes the self above all, and declares each and every one of us a mini-god in the making.

As the church goes, so goes the society. And as church music goes, so goes popular music. Today's singers, coached in the histrionic excesses of America Gospel, eschew deeper, spiritual singing, and strive towards expressing pure ego.

The heart of these changes was in the rejection of God as moral authority. Although much about the nature of God and religion could be argued, in previous centuries, people had always agreed on the existence of a higher moral and spiritual authority. It was taken for granted that God was a God of order, that the universe followed logical laws and that music was an expression of order and logic, not chaos. The urge towards chaos, towards what Nietzsche described as the "Dionysian" side of the Arts- that which is irrational, emotional, and chaotic- came to the arts after it had thoroughly permeated the humanities- from Darwin, Freud, Marx and others.

This new era proclaimed great ideals which contradicted each other; Darwin proclaimed that we, mere mammals without souls or spirits, are descended from apes. Nietzsche told us that we will rise to become godlike "Supermen", through our own efforts. No higher power or higher authority would be needed. Social Darwinism has been used as the basis for both Mussolini's fascism and modern neoliberal "free trade" capitalism; at its root is a fundamental denial of the sanctity of human life, reducing man to the status of animal. With any of these modern philosophies, man could freely find justification to oppress his fellow man.

Moreover, without the intrusion of a guilty conscience, man could become the "noble savage" so fondly depicted by Rousseau in the 18th century. What Rousseau couldn't forsee, however, is that man without God is perhaps savage, but seldom noble.  The senseless bloodbath of WWI, with technology being put to use to kill men in ever-more efficient ways, should have been a wake- up call to humanity, to put an end to the worship of the self, and turn to God. Unfortunately, man's pride will seldom give quarter to God's mercy.

What we have seen in this past century is that man, refusing to submit to God, claims his "freedom", and in turn becomes a slave. Science, meant to serve man and humanity, becomes a servant of death and destruction, and the master of mankind. So the misuse of aviation and chemistry in WWI begat the misuse of physics in WWII, which will beget the mis-use of computer science, biology and genetics in WWIII. We cannot expect to survive WWIII.

We are now at a point in which America's music and entertainment industries have reached a zenith of cultural babylonism. No nation escapes Babylon's spell- all submit to her writhing melodies, hypnotic drumming, cunning, profane, seducing lyrics and visions of semi-nude dancing girls.

Mammon, the god to whom all things are sacrificed, stands at the apex of cultural Babylon. As with ancient Babylon, children are the preferred sacrificial victims. Unlike the God of love and Prince of Peace of Jesus' teachings, the new god is a god who demands blood- and hence, the nonstop hedonistic bloodbath of America's popular culture, in which death and murder are forms of entertainment. The spell of Babylon is completed by its "magic": technology which can bewitch young minds, and compel them to evil, murder and torture. We see ever-greater numbers of children succumbing to suicide, depression and violence- all sacrificed to the god of Mammon.

Sir Isaac Newton's third law states: "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." The moral descent is, inevitably, coupled with cries for law and order. Moral anarchy is quickly followed by tyranny, for as Jeremy Bentham states, "Tyranny and anarchy are never far apart."

As the moral anarchy rose in the aftermath of WWI, so did the people's demands for a restoration of order. Fascism soon spread in Europe and abroad- Mussolini, Hitler and the rise of fascistic communism in the east. Robert Paxton describes fascism as encompassing "a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond reach of traditional solutions" as well as "a need for authority by a natural leader above the law, relying on the superiority of his instincts". In place of a spiritual force informing the human conscience, a man is placed in the position of god. In the moral vacuum of a world without God, this leader removes the need for self-inspection and moral responsibility. In the inevitable bloodbath that follows, "We were only following orders" becomes the new mantra of the self-hypnotized masses.

Is it too late to turn the tide? So-called conservatives want to usher in a new era of Cromwellism- by enforcing morality, imposing prayer in the schools, banning "sinful" acts, and expanding America's gulag system (which currently holds 2 million prisoners). Their calls for morality by force of law are accompanied by record levels of corruption in government, law and religion.  Scandals involving pedophilia among priests, evangelist "church leaders" visiting prostitutes and "conservative" politicians soliciting sex in toilets or whorehouses are endemic of a culture that has rotted. Merely changing laws will not undo the decay that has set in. Allowing people to choose to follow their conscience, and keeping the separation between church and state is now more necessary than ever. America has never lived up to its promise of liberty and justice for all, but there has always been a force for good that had no need to be impelled by political force.

Cromwell and his Puritans proved themselves to just as intolerant of non-puritans as the oppressors they sought to replace. Repression and violence are the fruits of "moral" pseudo- Christianity, not the peace and love of Jesus' teachings. England soon tired of the dictates of Puritanism, and threw off the shackles of forced morality. Similarly, a fascist police state such as Mussolini's will not preserve, but rather, will destroy whatever vestiges of morality and Christianity America might have.  These are the very shackles of pseudo-Christianity that the right-wingers implore us to put on. Morality, however, comes from within, and forcing non-Christians to live as Christians will merely produce a generation of hypocrites.

Thus, the conservatives' cry that "liberalism" is the cause of all ills is rooted in the liberal/conservative dichotomy, a Hegelian dialectic which has been set up to divide and conquer. The twin sides of modern political evil- big government socialism and scavenger capitalism- have both served to sever man from his own humanity. Socialism renders the individual into a mere number, and capitalism turns him into a commodity. What we need is a new, humanistic libertarianism, a "middle way" that would avoid either extreme.

If America can be saved, it will be by rejecting a simplistic hedonistic philosophy of materialism, and seeking values that, while adapted to a modern age, have, at their heart, reverence for life, humanity and planet earth. A kinder, gentler America can exist, if we agree to change our hearts and minds, for the actions spring from within the will.

This, of course,  would mean being willing to change our way of life- it would mean a simpler lifestyle, with less luxury, but more meaning. It would mean embracing love and forgiveness, instead of hatred and negativity. It would mean living in harmony with nature, instead of fighting it, and it would mean placing technology below us, as our servant, instead of letting it be our master. It would mean dismantling the military-industrial complex, and renouncing any advantages we have received from it, and  replacing military supremacy with moral supremacy. The question remains: are we big enough people to do it? I pray that we are.