This week my wife is taking a trip – nervous, first time she’s leaving our little one in my care voluntarily. Latina mamas; as if for want of foresight my boy and I will starve each other as we descend into a feral state from which there is no return; underwear and Doritos and cartoons until the wee hours.
She’s going to Istanbul – and we remain in the safe confines of West African seclusion. Excitement against boredom; history juxtaposed against these history-less lands where it seems nothing ever happens and nothing ever will. Oh sure they’ve had kingdoms and jihads – but set against the backdrop of Istanbul? Constantinople? Byzantium? The Ottoman Caliphates; Alexander the Great and Constantine – who can compete against so great a significance?
History and significance. That ancient town did abide, didn’t it? Rising and falling of empire – changes in religion and governance; sacking and rebuilding and sacking again in great waves of meaning and destruction and anguish. Lately I’ve been writing a lot about the arriving ordeal; of what is ending and what might be coming around the bend of history, though few can see it. Few care to entertain the idea that something great is over. We’ll call it “The West” for lack of anything more imaginative – though future historians might dub it something else as they dredge the ruins of our ancient harbors and burrow beneath the mushrooming slums to find something one-time great, hauling it all away to set it up in distant museums, a memory of a land that flourished for a time and then ended, probably not in an explosion but instead in a pathetic partisan whimper.
In Istanbul there’s just such a place as this; a museum beside Topkapi Palace in the Sultanahmet neighborhood where thousands of years of relics are on display: statues of Zeus; sarcophagi portraying in ancient battles the first images of Alexander the Great from times long before historians had cleaned him up and turned him into that handsome conqueror of old. It’s an amazing place – but for me the most astonishing lies not inside, but instead in front of the entrance where there’s a patch of land strewn with marble and statues, a refuse pile and one might ignore it; a trash heap in Sultanahmet is weird but moving on quickly, we need to get inside…! Not so fast, because these are in fact pillars from ancient Persia; statues dredge from the Alexandria seas; idols from pagan temples of old; artifacts from palaces that once were grand somewhere south of Sham, that fell away and were forgotten except to grace the junk piles of empire. And I think into our future. Will the head of Lincoln be hauled off to rest on its side beneath the rains in a pile gracing the entryway of a futuristic museum in Brazil or Mongolia or Nigeria? Will hot dog stands and day merchants adorn our noble Mall until somebody digs deep excavating a latrine or a hostel for tourists who wish to see the ruins of the White House and uncovers Martin Luther King or Einstein; cut in half and with the timeless words wiped away for lack of those who care to remember them?
Debt and polarization. They are what ends empire. I don’t post much on Facebook these days; and never partisan politics. Who am I trying to convince? Who would be convinced? If journalism is “literature in a hurry” social media is “journalism for idiots”. At any rate I do sometimes watch the vitriol, though I feel sick and somehow sullied after every session, asking myself ‘Why do I do it?’ Why I seek out the sewage; abuse hurled into cyberspace by my ‘friends’ who seem not to care how they look – how they are perceived – which of their friends is reading the nastiness and who is perhaps a gentle soul of a different opinion? Pawns to people like Nancy Pelosi or Bernie Sanders – thick and rich in their impunity, rushing to their many houses after frothing the mob into an orgy – “bread and circus”, everybody loves a show, right? Yesterday was another tiny march – tiny because there are 320,000,000 of us and a few thousand? Yawn – remember I’m a veteran of the Venezuelan marches, millions upon millions and still the country was destroyed. And while my friends frothed and filled Facebook with hate, Congress had just voted itself a bonus! HA! Yes – and why not? Getting us to ignore issues of nation; common bonds that allowed us to build our civilization; playing the emotions of idiots to their advantage – elites all who have understood that in a season of managerialism there must be stupidity for them to ‘supervise’.
Debt and polarization. It’s not complicated, this is how nations, civilizations self-destruct. Gladiators throwing bread into the maddened crowds before falling upon each other; nastiness and funny pink-hatted marchers spewing venom down noble old streets which before had hosted parades of the thankful and upon which we celebrated our returning heroes and mourned those who fell in epic acts of national courage.
Yup I’m pretty sure this is how it ends. Oh, Washington DC, New York and Chicago will still exist, in some form. Great cities do adapt; changing one set of clothing to don another just in time – the frescoes of the Christ in Hagia Sophia rapidly plastered over to appease the sensibilities of the new masters; to be rediscovered after centuries as a curiosity, a memento of days so far in the past they no longer elicit emotion. Yes, if we don’t watch out; don’t stop and think and learn, our “western” civilization may end, and all our efforts to create a world of property and prosperity will fall away. Then what will come? Ask yourself that?