By Wayne Allensworth
I sometimes hear sane people comment that our “clown world” reality seems like a bad dream. True enough. Then they return to scrolling on their iphones and generally going about the empty business that constitutes so much of post-modern life. I’ve tried to put my finger on the surreal quality that permeates our daily lives, but it is as elusive as trying to catch a cloud. In fact, a lack of substance is glaringly evident in the AI-generated social parody we live in today.
It’s puzzling—apart from occasional bursts of resistance, it appears that most residents of Middle America, the prime targets of the Woke revolution, demonstrate a blithe, nonchalant insouciance, something like a fugue state following trauma. The word “fugue” is derived from the Latin fugere, to flee, and a flight from the alarming reality so many laugh off with a meme or a Babylon Bee article seems to be under way. Denial is our way of life, and it’s a deadly coping mechanism. Deadly, that is, for us.
Maybe it’s a continuation of a state of psychological denial that began with white flight from our cities, fed by wishful thinking, a shallow sense that whatever madness seemed to be in vogue at a given moment would pass. That the kids would grow up and move on. That the pendulum would swing back, and Andy’s Mayberry would somehow rise like a phoenix from the ashes of the cities that were burned in the 1960s.
That determination to deny that the country has already been irrevocably transformed — demographically, technologically, socially, economically, ideologically — is one of the chief roadblocks to our people’s capacity to see reality more clearly and preserve something for our posterity.
Many of us, and I mean “us” in the sense of those who acknowledge the madness, appear to either pretend that the psychotic state of post-America is simply another political problem for the next election cycle, or — how should I put this — another show to enjoy. They can disappear into a digital rabbit hole world in which MAGA troops combat the evil Biden administration, revel in denouncing their opponents, then shift gears and watch the baseball game. They can have a bottle of micro-brewed beer to spite Budweiser and move on.
I don’t mean to be overly harsh. I have to turn off the outrage for a while and try to live, too, but something is missing collectively in our society, if you can call our fragmented, atomized, increasingly dysfunctional mass a “society.”
The ennui of our modern, or post-modern, lives is as common as the sexual confusion, depression, and sense of purposelessness that plagues us. It’s no stretch to sense that these phenomena are, in fact, related, that they extend one into the other seamlessly, the pathologies of modern life reaching their apex in 21st Century post-modernity. Urbanization, industrialization, the uprooting of organic society, the fragmentation that followed, and the accompanying ideologies—scientism, materialism, globalism, what have you, flow into one another. Alienation and a sense of detachment are endemic in modern society and socio-economic organization.
Here’s a point to ponder: The word “bored,” as in suffering from ennui, did not come into common usage until the 19th Century, though it seems to have roots in the Enlightenment period. Widespread boredom is connected to modernity and the appearance, I would venture to guess, of a well-off middle class, one that was steadily drifting away from its traditional religion and heritage.
By the 20th Century, in the richest Western societies, the richest in human history, with more people in a position to never experience serious deprivation and more technological toys to play with, vast numbers of Americans were, to paraphrase social critic and media theorist Neil Postman, in a position to amuse themselves to death. Postman noted the trivialization of public life with, initially, television, then other forms of technology, reducing public affairs to entertainment. Postman observed the tendency in America to turn over control of all our institutions to technocrats who would regulate our lives. The “experts,” or James Burnham’s “managers,” were increasingly in charge. TV was succeeded by personal computers, the Internet, and iPhones. Each stage, each new technology, deepened a sense of detachment and abstraction, as well as the administration of, and fragmentation in, our lives.
Technology eventually gave us a virtual reality we could lose ourselves in, raging at, or harping on, whatever crisis of the moment mass media focused on, crises that served the purposes of what Postman called “technopoly.” Now we can temporarily relieve the tedium and sense of powerlessness that paralyzes so many of us through scrolling, clicking, and viewing at an increasing pace in a cyber reality that allows us the illusion of some degree of control. We can build our comfort zone as our country and our culture slip away from us.
And therein may be the source of the indifference, the false sense of wellbeing that serves our enemies so well. The globalist beast has its safety valve and its mechanism for unmanning us.
Francis Fukuyama, the avatar of globalization who foresaw the “end of history,” a culmination of human development in what Burnham would have viewed as a global managerial apparatus, and Postman a soul destroying technopoly, nevertheless feared the appearance of Nietzschean Last Men. The Last Man’s society would be so cushioned by abundance, so disconnected from hard reality by technology, that people incubated in that milieu would value security above all. The Last Man would be risk averse and, thus, incapable of achieving anything or becoming a fully realized human being, or of resisting his own dispossession.
Is this the end of history or are we merely witnessing the history of the end?
Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.