Post-Orlando: What Are We Witnessing?
What are we witnessing transpiring in the United States these days? Could it be the culmination of our political order and could this culmination be indisguishable from a collapse, the inglorious end of what was to have been “national greatness?” At the end of WW II, such greatness seemed secured, as it did when the Soviet Union disappeared. Some even proclaimed “the end of history,” meaning the final and permanent triumph of “the American way.”
It is difficult for many Americans to imagine that the end now in sight is an inglorious collapse rather than a glorious triumph. For the latter is how Americans have been taught to view themselves and their history, as participants in a story with a happy ending where all could revel in their virtue and the greatness that virtue created. So, to even suggest that our story doesn’t end that way, isn’t ending that way, seems unimaginable, even treasonous. To suggest such an ending seems, to borrow a word, “un-American.” You cannot be an American, a proper American, unless you embrace the national mythology according to which the American empire represents the culmination of those universal desires that when fulfilled raise humanity to its highest point.
But it seems in light of certain recurring phenomena necessary to wonder whether the desires the American empire feeds off and draws strength from are those desires that raise up human beings, that make them and their souls the best they can be. For example, the violence that permeates our society, high and low, forces us to confront this possibility. When this violence is disguised as a “gun problem” or, more generally, as a problem requiring some policy or policies to be “solved,” it is easy to overlook the deeper implications of the mass killings that permeate our society. Or, a policy like our “war on drugs” only makes sense insofar as the use of drugs is treated superficially, i.e., without realizing that our “drug problem” is much more than that, that it is a reflection of a way of being in the world that is empty or without promise.
How is it we have created a world that is permeated with violence, deadly violence, and with thrill-seeking but destructive drug use? These are phenomena that define us and, as such, they cannot be legislated away; in fact, they are not susceptible to control no matter who or which party wields the government’s power. As Sheriff Bell asserted [in No Country for Old Men]: “It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people can’t be governed at all.”
So, we are currently reaping our crop and, of course, we are reaping as we have sown. The only important question is: How have we sown, so as to make people good or to make people bad? Perhaps, though, we are where we are because we have forgotten that this is the only important question.