Thursday, 7 July 2011
21ST CENTURY AMERICAN REVIVAL: AUGUSTUS, OVID, OR CHRIST?
The 21st century may very well be the epoch of East Asian preeminent global influence, just as the 20th was the American century. The IMF has already estimated that China will replace the US as the world's deminant economy by 2015 or so. While this by no means entails America’s eclipse, any more than Europe’s decline when disillusioned scholars and existentialist philosophers pronounced the premature decline of the west after WWI, the time for looking into defining the future is upon American society.
The Puritan work ethic deeply imbedded in American culture and the intense competitive sense in all endeavors will allow this land protected by two oceans east and west, and weak neighbors north and south to remain a global player for a very long time. This despite Europe’s resurgence and East Asia’s increasing global influence. Like an ancient Chinese red lantern at the gate of a lord’s mansion, every society’s value system guides its people toward a common goal.
Such a goal was evident in 1844 when Emerson wrote Young American and Politics expressing Jeffersonian ideals embodied in an optimistic nationalism during the nascent railroad era and prospects for westward expansion just before the US-Mexico War. While there has been no shortage of ‘futurists’ whose visions are lifted right out of science fiction robo-fantasy, the question is whether the ancient Chinese red lantern is guiding Americans toward a future of more anxiety and fear induced by the machine, mixed in with justified pride for a history of a former colony rising to a great power, then a Super Power, and now what of the future?
From Washington and Jefferson to Lincoln and JFK, president-heroes abound and even the fresh face of Obama projects hope. Does the US need Augustus Caesar to reform the imperial system, at least a leader projecting all of The Prince’s traits without possessing them as Machiavelli would argue, just as long as people believe in symbolism and act on it? Perhaps strong faith is the solution. Laudatory protestations that ‘middle America’ craves the Messiah’s return what if the Messiah cannot compete with ‘shop therapy’, plastic surgery, and the drive-up as a way of life? Where then is the Chinese red lantern guiding ‘middle America’?
Is America’s future pointing toward fast food culture - everything from drive-up banking, drive up college degrees, drive-up weddings, and drive-up prayer? Of the venerable poet Ovid writing in the nascent era of the Roman Empire and Christianity, of the emperor Augustus Caesar who exiled Ovid as he endeavored to establish sound foundations for a new Rome plagued by internal strife and patrician decadence, and of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah accidentally emerging from the small Roman province to leave a remarkable legacy on western civilization, what will secular America choose? In the early 21st century can ‘drive-up’ America do without the inspiration of the poet aesthete intent on disturbing rather than calming the beleaguered spirit?
Disengaged from tradition and what Carl Jung calls the ‘Participation mystique’, modern man, especially modern ‘middle American drive-up man’ is the culmination of techno-hope that like plastic surgery can repair problem areas, while just beneath the surface the problem remains. “The man whom we can call ‘modern’ is solitary. He is so of necessity and at all time.” writes Jung, in Modern Man in Search of a Soul. Only the poet’s inspiration, Ovid’s aesthetic spirit imbued into ‘drive-up future-world’ can modern man rediscover his lost soul and from there begin to create a ‘drive-up-free’ world, disconnecting dial-a-prayer, “now also available on the web for techno-loners.”