The real subject of this blog, however, is not me, but the world I grew up in whose days are also numbered. I am in anticipatory mourning for a vanishing world which I had loved.
Take classical music, for example. Probably most of you know that classical music has been one of my passions ever since I was a teen-ager. But now, with my bad hearing, when I listen to it, the sound is distorted. I sometimes can’t even recognize works I know very well until they are identified afterward. But, then, as I’ve said, I don’t really mean to write about my own losses in this regard, but the waning of interest in classical music itself.
Case in point: The Mostly Mozart summer festivals in New York. I remember going to one of those concerts with my then girlfriend in the mid-1980s. In those days, the motto was “Mostly Mozart, barely Bach, and neckties never.”
Hip-hop is fifty years old now. Roll over Beethoven before somebody steps on you.
Of course, classical music will continue, but its glory days, which probably reached their zenith in the first half of the 20th century, are clearly the things of nostalgic memories for people of my taste and vintage.
But of course there are many far more worrisome things in this troubled world of ours and surely the greatest of these are the mind-paralyzing effects of climate change. Just consider what has been going on in the last week at the time of my writing, which is the second half of August.
terrible devastation that was visited on Maui (and also the Big Island) as a result of the fires that ravaged the island and utterly destroyed Lahaina. I don’t think it is possible for those of us who could only witness that inferno on television to imagine the horror suffered not only by those who perished, including the birds and other animals, but that of the survivors. We didn’t smell what they did, didn’t see up close what they did; we didn’t lose our homes and everything in them, or our loved ones or our animals.
And yet this is the world we are now living in, isn’t it? At the moment, Los Angeles and other parts of the west in the United States are still recovering from the floods unleashed by Hurricane Hilary while up north in Washington, the state has been plagued by widespread fires that have ravaged towns and wildlife and likewise for parts of British Columbia. And of course there are still hundreds of fires burning away throughout the rest of Canada whose smoky air eventually drifts down to pollute and darken our own skies.
And of course, the damage hasn’t wreaked only the Western hemisphere. It’s been global with many countries in Europe burning up this summer (so much for the pleasures of the summer tourist season – you can kiss those goodbye, too, baby), and China and India as well (it’s not the time to visit Beijing or Delhi either).
And, surely you all know that this July was the hottest on record, and there’s little doubt that the year will end that way, too, with another record smashed. And not just on earth, but in the oceans, too, with the waters in the Gulf or around Florida reaching and even exceeding 100ºF.
You think it’s gonna get better? Dream on, friends, though what we are experiencing is more like a nightmare from which we only wish we could awaken.
Unfortunately, I need to continue with this song of lamentation, which is what a threnody means, of course, by taking at least a few minutes to mention one of the most painful aspects of our present condition, which is the calamitous erosion of the natural world. As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous blogs, in recent years there have been sharp and worrisome declines in population of the birds and bees of our world, of the insects generally, and on the other end of the size scale, in our megafauna, all of which are doomed and will probably disappear by the end of the century. You can also mourn the loss of the iconic polar bears, as the Arctic glaciers melt. They will eventually be replaced by the grizzlies as long as they can last.
Elizabeth Kolbert, we are currently witnessing the sixth extinction, another great die-off of many of the species of the planet like that which happened to the dinosaurs sixty-six million years ago. This is life in what has been called the Anthropocene, the geologic era in which we humans now find ourselves. This is the age when destructive human activity has become the dominant determinant of life on the planet. There are many wonderful and good people on earth, but as a species we have been ruinous to our only home. Instead, we have become the alpha-predator on the planet as we continue to destroy the habitats of other creatures, if we haven’t already killed them outright. We are guilty of ecocide, and we will be paying a heavy price for our sins.
It didn’t used to be this way when I was growing up. Nobody had heard of “global warming” then. We were innocent, most of us having no idea of the harm we were doing to the earth even then. It was the age before computers, mobile phones and social media. Kids like me used typewriters, slide rules, and paper and pencils, and when we were old enough to drive, gas was cheap (29 cents a gallon) and the open road called. Nature, too, was abundant and animal life flourished. That was then.
But let me turn, finally, just to what is happening in our own country, the good old U. S. of A.
Certainly, one of the most disturbing developments in recent years has been the increasing incidence of mass murders, which for a while earlier this year seemed to be almost daily occurrences. Commentators were quick to point out that these mass murders were being committed so often that they exceeded the number of days in the year. In other words, on average, more than one a day! What was happening to America?
I don’t need to tell you that when I was growing up, it wasn’t this way. Life was not perfect – I am not idealizing it – but no parents worried then that their children might be killed in another senseless rampage at their school. There was no need for “safely drills” (only for fires, not firearms) or to have armed policemen guarding their schools. So different from these days when so many parents must have these niggling fears in the back of their minds when they send their kids off to school in the morning.
I’m lucky. I’m a white guy. When I could drive, I never worried about such things. But I have a Black grandchild. It’s fortunate both for her and me (and her parents) that she’s a girl. But, still, despite the views of a certain Southern governor, who seems to believe that slavery was a benign form of vocational training, this country, born in violence and still permeated by racism, is now even more perilous for Black people. It’s sickening.
Of course, the easy availability of guns, and the fact that our country has far more guns per capita than any other country – and some of the laxest laws permitting their use – makes America a particularly dangerous place for all of us to live, regardless of our race or ethnicity. I don’t need to tell you that it didn’t used to be this way despite our history of racial violence and “race riots,” as they used to be called. But they were occasional, if shocking, eruptions of racial tensions; they didn’t suffuse our culture the way they do now. Now, we live in a climate of violence and mayhem and sometimes seem to be on the brink of another civil war.
Trump partisans would be best advised to skip this next section.) This is just my personal opinion, but ever since the advent of the Trumpian age in America, our ex-president (and would-be next president) has stoked violence and inflamed his followers with his poisonous rhetoric. He has made it legitimate to hate and to mock non-white people and immigrants. He even mocks and disparages his opponents by calling them insulting names like a five-year-old bully on a schoolyard. One well-known socialite who knew Trump well during his New York days, said “he was always a horse’s ass.” Touché.
As odious and hateful as I find Trump to be, and as dangerous as I know he is, I still find him essentially a buffoon, a kind of cartoon figure. Even his name and title: President Trump. It makes me smile. He reminds me of that English cartoon character, Colonel Blimp. I can’t help laughing when I see his plane with its big sign on top, TRUMP. Just to prevent someone from stealing it, I suppose. You may have noticed that his umbrellas are also emblazoned with his name. I suspect the same is the case with his underwear and hankies.
What a laughable narcissist, albeit a thuggish one. To me he is an absurd figure, incapable of telling the truth and with a serious character disorder that prevents him from ever acknowledging what everyone else knows – that he lost the last election. Trump can never admit that he’s lost anything, even his keys, because that would make him “a loser,” like all those competitors for president he is so quick to malign.
Still, he has fomented an atmosphere of violence in this country unlike any other president. And we saw what all that led to on January 6th of 2021. Of course, we have had venal presidents before, and we have had outright crooks and other unhinged presidents, too (does anyone remember Nixon?) But we have never had a president who was twice impeached and is currently facing four indictments for alleged criminal behavior in both federal and state courts.
Republican party, has cowed his craven Republicans into slavish fealty, and convinced his “base” of committed Trumpists that he has never done anything wrong, never lost the last election, and that Biden is not our legitimate president. He has become the deranged leader of a personality cult that used to be the Republican party. Trump uber alles.
Am I the only one who thinks we are all now living a nut house where people have just gone berserk? Am I the only one who doesn’t recognize this country anymore? We seem to be living in an era when “alternative facts” parade as truth and civility is a virtue to be sneered at. The wild west has returned, and lawlessness and insanity reign. Shoot ‘em up, cowboy! And if you see someone who is dumb enough to post a gay pride flag outside her store, kill her.
No, it didn’t used to be like this when I was growing up. And though I know the world wouldn’t be perfect if everyone had a near-death experience, I only wish that were possible because then love and kindness would rule and compassion would be an everyday virtue. That at least is the kind of world I would like to live in, not this doomed madhouse, and with any luck, that’s where I’ll be heading soon.