We live in an age of wonder. A satellite can tell us about tides and storms on Titan; one of my best friends has a robot dog that is exhibiting jealousy toward his robot vacuum cleaner (to be fair, poor Speedy, as the techno—canine is called, did try to make friends with the new contraption at first; the far less intelligent cleaning machine ignored these overtures). Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, one can carry on thoughtful written conversations with any number of intelligent people around the globe, and there are few interests, no matter how arcane, that do not have their own corner of cyberspace.
Images of long—dead stars can play their part in new movies — I much enjoyed Lord Olivier's latest performance in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Had my first landlord in L.A., the famed T.V. Psychic, Criswell, not 'departed our dimension in 1982,' as Tim Burton put it, he might well be amazed. Or perhaps not — he did predict that Mae West would be elected President in 1960, that brain transplants would be available via vending machines, and that the world would end in 1999.
But even more astonishing for that prophet would be a parallel development; at the same time that technology is taking us to dizzying heights, we moderns have lost one essential trait: guts!
Oh, not all of us, to be sure. It did take guts, I suppose, for Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court to rule traditional Marriage unconstitutional; for innumerable States, Counties, Cities, and now foreign countries to outlaw smoking in public places; for the municipal governments of Pasadena and Newport Beach, California, to ban flambé dishes served tableside in restaurants; and for the State Legislatures of Massachusetts and New York to force Catholic hospitals in their jurisdictions to violate their religion by providing for their employees contraceptives.
Or perhaps not. Just as it takes little bravery to push an old lady into the street or abuse an infant, it may be that the judges and politicians in these episodes accurately evaluated the resolve of their opponents. Take the last named case. In that instance (and when the California Supreme Court ordered that State's Catholic Charities to take similar action), the response of the local Catholic bishops was simply to announce that they would 'pursue legal channels.' Given the current state of the Judiciary, one can surmise where those channels will flow.
Much more effective would have been for at least one of the bishops affected to rise up and say something to the effect of 'Ladies and Gentlemen of the Legislature (or Supreme Court), we fully realize your commitment to your own values, and how much it galls you that we will not pay for our employees' contraceptives. Fair enough; you run the government, and power always decides. But we will not violate our consciences. If you insist upon this, we are withdrawing from health care (or charity work, in the case of California). We are all too aware of the financial burden this action will place upon your shoulders, and deeply regret this. However, you have only two choices: you may allow us to continue to work as we have, at our expense and under our rules, or you may see to the matter yourself, at your own cost. You cannot have it both ways; but please rest assured that if you do pursue the latter course, you will have the satisfaction of being able to do whatever you want in terms of health care, unfettered by our doctrines. We shall be only too happy to refer those in need to you directly.' One supposes that busloads of ill and/or indigent descending upon the public buildings in Albany, Boston, or Sacramento would be quite a sight, indeed.
But such a spectacle will not occur, and the bishops will probably cave. Yet it is not only Their Lordships who suffer from gutlessness: far from it. How many elected executives and legislatures could challenge power—mad courts via executive orders and legislative set—asides, over issues ranging from abortion to the Ten Commandments in courthouses? It will not happen, however.
|The cross is in the middle right section.|
In my own County of Los Angeles, the mere threat of a lawsuit from the omnipotent ACLU was enough to force three of the five county supervisors to remove the little cross commemorating the place of the Spanish Missions in our history from the County Seal — at a cost of over $700,000 to the tax payers. Of course, the ACLU were flush from victory over the City of Redlands, California, who also had had such an historical reference in their municipal seal (the city fathers there had also caved rather than go to court). But despite a favorable legal precedent in Texas, the Supervisors were not prepared to fight, despite the majority outcry from the citizenry. Even if they would not go to court, the Supervisors should at least charge the ACLU for the changeover of seals — they want it, they should pay for it! No guts.
Not that there is no sense of outrage in the modern world — far from it! But this sense is wonderfully selective. Take, for example, Prince Harry's swastika armband at his ill—fated masquerade party. Outrage radiated throughout the World, and there are steps being taken in the European Parliament to ban the odious symbol throughout the EU, just as it is in Germany. But apart from the threat of censorship (if the swastika is banned, what would prevent future European Parliaments from outlawing full frontal nudity in film?), why is there no similar outrage over the hammer and sickle? Not only did the Communists kill far more people than the Nazis, they are continuing to do so in Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and, of course, our most favored nation, China. Yet one hears nothing from either politicos or media.
Moreover, the Prince's faux pas has led to calls for the abolition of the Monarchy. But when his grandmother's government lowered the age of consent to 14, and legalized gay sex in public restrooms, little was said. (Prime Minister Blair's ban on hunting has provoked strident opposition, but of course incomes are threatened). Yet, surely, if an act of insensitivity on the part of a Prince merits the abolition of the Crown, the turning of Britain into a brothel could be argued to be a cause for abolishing the Prime Ministry? Both are idiotic arguments to be sure, but it is noteworthy that neither the Palace nor the Tories see fit to point out the inconsistencies. Again, no guts. (But, to be fair, since the new measures' passage arrests for both public lewdness and pedophilia have dropped considerably).
A large part of the problem in North America, Europe, and Australasia is that few have the guts to stare reality in the face. That reality is this: there are two kinds of folk in public life. Those who are content to administer the population that has fallen into their hands (perhaps liking them more or less as they are), and those who are not so content. These latter look at the folk beneath them, tenuously connected as they are via the ballot box, the tax collection, or the T.V. Screen, and are annoyed. The plebes must be pushed, prodded, cajoled, or otherwise beaten into whatever new pattern pleases the pusher, prodder, and cajoler. Of such stuff are or were Britain's Blair, Spain's Zapatero, Ireland's Ahern, Belgium's Verhoefstrat, Germany's Schroeder, and France's Jospin. So too were our Clintons. But these are only the most visible: you see the breed in the courts, in the media, and on every level of government and civil service.
Most of these folk are Baby Boomers (or the 'Generation of '68,' as our European friends call them). Like their contemporaries in China, they favor Cultural Revolution, albeit in a gradual mode. No one prattles about democracy more than they do. But if we define 'democratic' as meaning government that reflects the will of the majority, then they are most certainly not. The vast majority of people are generally content with whatever conditions they find themselves in — if they are not, bloodshed results. Now, I will not pretend that I think the majority are always right; but then, I do not pretend to be a democratic leader. Were I in power, and wanted to put across a manifestly unpopular measure, I should have to say 'I'm right, and you folks are wrong,' and some such — and of course, the consequences would have to be faced.
But our current leadership classes will not say that, and for good reason: it would take guts. More than that, it would reveal the deep contempt they have for their subjects and their subjects' traditions. It is not just that we proles are wrong, we are stupid — as, presumably, were the ancestors who bequeathed us the customs and manners now being dismantled.
In return for giving up all we have inherited from the past, however, we will be given wonders beyond compare, machinery exceeding our wildest expectations. But if we take the bargain, I fear, in the words of John XXIII, '...poor mortal creatures may well become like the machines they build—cold, hard, and devoid of love.' Surely, the view of human life — whether abortable or euthanasable — espoused by most of the dominant classes seems that way. Still, it may be just as well for us moderns. Machines lack both heart and guts; we may not find it much of a change.