American Decline

The normalization of gloom, doom, demoralization, and despair

Sep 2, 2023
The “Scream” of despair and horror has become ubiquitous

I know for a fact that I am not alone in feeling a frequently intense sensation of consternation, if not panic, about the current state of things in the world, particularly the “Western” world, and even more particularly the United States of America (the nation of my birth, and the country in which I have lived for the entirety of my fairly long-lived life).

Indeed, there is a very real, even palpable apprehension about how things stand generally today, and even greater concern about “where things are headed.” Speaking for myself (and thus, admittedly, subjectively), for the past half-century in which I have dwelt in this body and walked (or in the beginning, crawled) on this earth, I can honestly say that, when I apply personal recollection, I find that there has never been a time when things have seemed worse than they do now.

Indeed, try as I may, I cannot recall a point in the past, at least not during the interval of years which comprise my lifetime, when there seemed to be such a conspicuous dearth of hope for the future, nor such an intractable state of despair with the present.

Nor, I think the reader will agree, am I alone in this sentiment. It seems, rather, to be quite widespread; even in a polity as bitterly divided as ours, there is at least common ground on this notion: “things are falling apart, the center cannot hold.”

“Burning burning burning burning” —TS Eliot, “The Wasteland”

And there are other notable aspects to the widespread sentiment concerning the collective disquietude over both the current state of things and the prospect of “where things are headed.” In the past, if someone complained that the present times showed a marked decline over the “good old days,” the malcontent would invariably be checked by another commentator with a more optimistic perspective on present trends. “Come now,” such a one would soothingly say, “what you are bemoaning as a decline is in fact little more than an evolution… things have changed, not all for the best, but certainly not all for the worse, for it is the state of culture itself forever to be in flux.”

Or, to put things more simply: as one singer/songwriter/pseudo-philosopher pronounced nearly forty years ago: The good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as a bad as it seems. Things are undeniably different now, the optimist would admit to the malcontent, but “different” isn’t synonymous with “symptomatic of decline.”

And, the optimist would further aver, despite what may seem to be massive division amongst the populace on the subject of first principles, morals, convictions, and general perspectives, in fact deep down people will still rally together during times of crisis, and, when push comes to shove, will behave as if these differences of belief were matters of no importance.


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