Monday, June 09, 2008

The New Age

Get ready, kids. The New Age is upon us. Just substitute "Earth" for "God" in
this song, and you'll know what you have to look forward to in the Obama years.

TRIAL. I'm going to suggest a different kind of chronology by which we can understand the times we live in. It's one that should make more sense to young people than to traditionally educated historians. It also monkeys with the concept of distinct generations, which has been overused by those who presume to interpret cultural and societal trends for us. Baby Boomers know, for example, that their break with their parents was much more extreme than the rifts they've experienced between themselves and their own kids. When we speak of the Victorian Age, we are talking about a 60-year period, from 1840 to 1900, three full generations unified by a more or less common set of values and customs. That age might have been followed by what is now known as the Edwardian era, a slightly more relaxed and rococo phase of imperial Brit decadence -- except for the violently traumatic intervention of World War I, which reset the clock.

That's why the next milestone is the Jazz Age, whose official start date is the publication of Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise, the first work of real literature which documented the power of music and social rebellion to drive a sea change in cultural mores. Note that it's common to represent this phenomenon in technological terms -- as the ascendancy of popular music made possible by the emerging availability of records, radio broadcasts, and moving pictures. But this is the story as it is rendered by secularists. One can as easily make the case that it was jazz music which fueled the rapid advance of technologies capable of disseminating it to a generation starved for an avalanche of change. Because jazz was a revolt against formality, family tradition, and programmatic lives. It represented a reassertion of individual choice and spontaneous creativity at a time when traditional obligations had resulted in the worst carnage ever recorded in human history. Monarchies, aristocracies, elite credentials of family and class, immersion in the beliefs of the past were all suspect. The Jazz Age, for example, was the real beginning of the civil rights movement in America, as privileged white people discovered that wholly uneducated (in their terms) black people were capable of generating a brand new fom of music that was as intellectual as it was passionate.

The Jazz Age lasted for 40-plus years. All the way though the Great Depression, World War II, and the burst of prosperity in America that led to the election and presidency of John F. Kennedy. Long before the Rosa Parks moment and the first marches in the south, jazz music was a driving force of integration. It had served as an elemental diversion from the privations of the Great Depression, the insouciant soundtrack of the Second World War, the effervescent accompaniment of fifties confidence, and the clarion affirmation of all things American in the early sixties. It accorded entirely with who we were -- individual, adaptive, indefatigable, and in tune with the deep rhythms of personal freedom and expression. It was also -- in its respect for the individual voice of a saxophone, trumpet, xylophone, drum set, or human being (Sinatra, Nat Cole) -- a paradoxical demonstration of the American melting pot: individual spirits of widely divergent backgrounds could somehow bridge all the differences between origins, traditions, and times to produce a kickass togetherness of product.

The Jazz Age died with JFK and Vietnam. It had already accomplished a miracle -- delaying the nihilism implicit in the total savagery of World War I for 40 years. But it had subsisted on a false belief, that there was some kind of intellectualized theory of art that could legitimize the cost of so much human failure. Jazz had been a new incarnation of faith, a faith in the rhythms of life and the productivity of pushing essentially intellectually ideas of variation and expression into a creative realm that would offer a new kind of salvation for people who had grown weary of fairy tales.

If you're starting to get the idea that black people have been a kind of emotional barometer of the health of our culture, you are correct. The Victorian Age represented the compleat amputation of emotion from intellect. The Jazz Age was the first attempt to bridge the rift. It failed finally in the crashing careers of Coltrane, Davis, and Byrd. The Rock and Roll Age was a high stakes gamble to substitute emotion for intellect. Emotion and carnal instincts.

The Rock and Roll Age lasted from the mid-sixties to a few years ago. It provided the soundtrack to assassinations, the doomed war in Vietnam, and most of the lifetimes of the most spoiled, self-absorbed generation in several hundred years of history, the Baby Boom generation. But the Rock and Roll Age was even more flawed in its bases than the Jazz Age. Its prime assertion was that we were not questing intellectual creatures, but animals. Universal peace and contentment were to be had if we could at last recognize that our natures were governed by the need for sex, endorphins, and an absence of rules.

Both jazz and rock and roll arose from the same sources. Jazz was an intellectual thrust, very close to Bach and Mozart in its aspiration to make of music a sound-based expression of the universe. The music of the spheres, if you will. Rock and roll was the opposite. It was the music of the evolutionary biologists. We are animals. We can't help what we do. We feel, we lust, we seek sensation, and we're not at all concerned with the meaning of a Miles Davis solo or a Nietzchean rant.

And, sure, there are still jazz musicians. And rock bands. But their age has passed. Now we have returned, in the manner of threes, to a new version of the Victorian Age. Now we have given up real hope for a breakthrough and have decided to believe again in Old Testament sin. We have decided to believe that we must be manacled in laws, and repressions, and denials of our humanity that are more consistent with Yahweh's judgments on us than Christ's exhortations to freedom. After all, Christ was the ultimate rebel. He dared to suggest that we could live with only two commandments because we all have a spark of the divine in our makeup. But if there is no divine, then we are deserving of annihilation.

When you meet the true-blue Green, the worshipper of Gaia, the ones who want to punish mankind for environmental sins and so push him back to the fantasy harmony with nature they see in Native Americans who died at 28 from scurvy and hunger, you are seeing the price of disbelief in a higher power. You are seeing the final impact of the Law of Threes. It takes three times three generations of human beings to feel the full impact of a mistake. Three Ages.

It's all rather predictable, isn't it? But the question you have to ask yourselves is this: if science has liberated us from the need to believe in judgment, condemnation, doom, and hell, why are we so anxious as a secular people to embrace the concept that an insignificant by-product of random evolution should somehow subscribe to a death wish that values a few thousand tigers or polar bears over the species that produced the Sistine Chapel, the pyramids, and the works of Shakespeare, Newton, Einstein, and Jesus Christ?

Three Ages. Are you prepared for the next one? Now for my final idea of Ages. They also come in threes. Here are two YouTube videos, both focused on the subject of "The Trial." The first is based on a book written in 1925, about five years after the beginning of the Jazz Age.

It's actually a pattern. We put ourselves on trial again a few years into the Rock and Roll Age. (It takes longer when you're not thinking.)

But the idea of coming up short against a brick wall is the same. The first inquiry is a philosophical and theological drama. The second is a lugubrious exercise in self pity about the human plight of being sexual, psychological, emotional, powerless, and animal.

Next comes the reversion to paganism inside a veneer of science AND superstition. Try this unofficial poll. How many believers in Global Warming and Saving the Planet from Mankind would deny that this little display of pop culture was a significant breakthrough in human understanding?

Uh, yeah, stupid. But ask them. How many doubt that Obama is the "dawning of the Age of Aquarius"? Perhaps that's why their children and grandchildren are intent on sending us headlong back into the era of hippies and Weathermen.

The old'uns may think they're turning the clock back. But that's not how it works. The New Age will be the precursor to a wholly different age, in which the need to believe in a higher power will manifest itself in slaveries unthought of during the twentieth century. That's how strong the need to believe in a higher power is. Even if it's one invented out of whole cloth by objective science.

That's why Nietzche was smarter than the Nazis and all who sought to belittle him after the fact. He knew what people would do. That's why he collapsed in a heap at the abuse of a horse. Long ago.

The green folk are pretty sure by now that Nietztche was a fascist. They can't possibly imagine that they were his worst nightmare, brilliantly and presciently conceived as the end of all things human.

And Dostoevsky before him knew exactly what would happen when the "smart people" took control of the rest of us.

You see, only suppose that there was one such man among all those who desire nothing but filthy material gain-if there's only one like my old Inquisitor, who had himself eaten roots in the desert and made frenzied efforts to subdue his flesh to make himself free and perfect. But yet all his life he loved humanity, and suddenly his eyes were opened, and he saw that it is no great moral blessedness to attain perfection and freedom, if at the same time one gains the conviction that millions of God's creatures have been created as a mockery, that they will never be capable of using their freedom, that these poor rebels can never turn into giants to complete the tower, that it was not for such geese that the great idealist dreamt his dream of harmony. Seeing all that he turned back and joined -- the clever people. Surely that could have happened?"

"Joined whom, what clever people?" cried Alyosha, completely carried away. "They have no such great cleverness and no mysteries and secrets.... Perhaps nothing but Atheism, that's all their secret. Your Inquisitor does not believe in God, that's his secret!"

"What if it is so! At last you have guessed it. It's perfectly true, it's true that that's the whole secret, but isn't that suffering, at least for a man like that, who has wasted his whole life in the desert and yet could not shake off his incurable love of humanity? In his old age he reached the clear conviction that nothing but the advice of the great dread spirit could build up any tolerable sort of life for the feeble, unruly, 'incomplete, empirical creatures created in jest.' And so, convinced of this, he sees that he must follow the counsel of the wise spirit, the dread spirit of death and destruction, and therefore accept lying and deception, and lead men consciously to death and destruction, and yet deceive them all the way so that they may not notice where they are being led, that the poor blind creatures may at least on the way think themselves happy.

So what's the next age? Victorian without the prosperity or the belief in progress. Politically correct, totalitarian, suicidal, and filled with the spiritual anguish of those who must have a God but can't believe. Luddite with a desire to punish and reduce. There can be no more youthful rebellion. Rap is the last pyrotechnic explosion of that, as outrageous as it will be short-lived. What's left is collectivist, Stalinist chorales celebrating the life of Earth purchased by the death of Man.

You're gonna love it.

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