In his 1732 “An Essay on Man,” the poet, Alexander Pope, wrote “Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” which has been adopted over the years as its shorter version: “Hope springs eternal.” As our own hopes were dashed that 2021 would be a year of rebirth and renewal—as 2021 became a groundhog year to 2020—it is very difficult to breathe hope into our breast yet again. It feels as though hope betrayed us.
We all look to Covid data to gauge when we can lift our gaze from the ground to the sky, but those who study deeper socio-economic and political issues know, Covid (more particularly our response to it) is just the manifestation of much more significant issues now embedded in the American character.
There is a rule that has served me well throughout my life—in all aspects of my life. Does the opportunity, company, organization, person, or other relevant entity respond to intelligence? If it does, proceed with engagement. If it does not, abort. Unfortunately, too many people who call themselves Americans do not—will not—respond to intelligence. The very concept of learning—of taking in new facts about the realities we face and applying this knowledge to guide our decisions and behaviors—has, like masks, become politicized.
Many Americans have chosen ignorance over enlightenment as their stubborn modality to defy progress in the twisted hope of protecting their position in whatever they perceive to be the social, economic, and political hierarchy they prefer. And, of course, there are plenty of political charlatans who promote such politicization to serve their aim of gaining or preserving power. This profound deficiency—the rejection of knowledge—is at the root of our pernicious American character.
Before you read the balance of this post, I feel the need to share my perspective on my commitment to myself as a writer and to you as a reader. Occasionally, I am asked, what is the key to writing well, moreover, to keep writing day after day? The answer is to be selfish; to write for yourself first and always. The writer receives few, if any, accolades or positive feedback, and certainly little or no financial remuneration. If you write for any form of positive feedback, you won’t write for very long. I write to process the world I see before me; to make sense of it and maybe make a small contribution to the improvement of our collective welfare by sharing what I write.
As for you, the reader, I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate you. Although I do not expect feedback of any kind, you provide what every writer needs: an audience to aim at when making all the little decisions a writer must make. Every writer needs a muse. You are mine. You are the backboard against which I hurl my thoughts to observe the imaginary rebound: hit or miss? You are my necessary and highly useful mirage. At times, however, my truth must trump what I perceive as your preferences to honor my sense of reality; to meet my commitment to see things as they are. This post is one of those times.
I know you want hope in a New Year’s message. I, too, want hope. I want someone to come grab my hand and guide me from the state of languishing that swirls around me toward the sunshine of flourishing that has defined the American condition for decades. And, to be clear, I can point to many things that could break in our favor, but there are harder realities we must address in order for any of those lucky outcomes to produce durable benefits to American society—to change our course in a meaningful manner.
What follows now is a message of realism (combined of prose and verse) rather than puffery. Regardless of what luck may come, character issues continue to beset our path to renewal.
Place Your Bets
As the carousel of threats continues to turn, will we be spared?
In the crush of uncertainty, narcissism has overrun unity as the principal distinguishing factor of American identity. Narcissism’s first victim is love; when combined with the perplexing popularity of ignorance and alternative facts, its endgame may be the destruction of humanity. Can it be stopped? Who will save us?
E Pluribus Unum, rest in peace.
Our myths crumble, jarring and disorienting.
We face tomorrow before we understand what happened today.
Staring into a kaleidoscope of fractal unknowns.
Nature and our planet will be fine once we are gone.
The planet doesn’t care.
We’ve had our chance to prove our virtue.
Creatures, both great and small have no more tears.
Earth turns toward the next epoch, slowly cleansing.
We hold on tight to our sense of entitlement—a comfortable delusion.
We believe we are so special.
Then tumble down like pinballs striking out.
Surely, we will be recognized as deserving and great.
While empathy is hung from an oak tree at noon.
We beg for grace as we double-down on our sins.
The glory of God come forth!
Sacrifice (by others) to assure our redemption.
The light grows longer now to reveal what we have wrought.
The ringing from the belfry clangs discordant.
We lean on the warm shoulder of optimism to deceive our desperation.
Falsely saved to celebrate ourselves.
We sing our songs of self-exaltation.
Our tribal subscriptions weaken under the weight of hypocrisy.
The flag of humanity bleached of its brilliance.
The path forward grows narrow now as we slouch toward Bethlehem.
(We are the beast.)
Alas, the bell of reckoning tolls for thee.
Hands reaching to grasp the emptiness.
Striding past crumbling statues and rusting magnitudes.
The road, the road, the road.
Deliverance or desolation, is the choice still ours?
Who will carry the fire?
Place your bets, or turn in your chips.
The House doesn’t care.
Is it you? Is it me? Is it us?
The wheel of a new year churns.