Any attempt at a socio-political diagnosis of North America’s current condition that hopes to claim the slightest dram of explanatory validity must convincingly account for the undeniable fact that the “New World” is afflicted with at least one collective distemper utterly unprecedented in the cultural history of the West.
North Americans have fallen into a state of crushing torpor untold in the chronicles of Western civilisation. For proof, we need only acknowledge that we find nowhere described in any of the histories of the West a popular reaction to brazen elite criminality as mutely bovine as that which greeted Wall Street’s wanton years-long poaching of the global economy. Our cowardice in the face of this perpetually unpunished disgrace has no known ancestor. It is the Mitochondrial Eve of societal moral squalor.
Until 2008, the West had produced no society so thoroughly drained of its ethical haemoglobin as to be prepared to accept with a lobotomised half-smile that the already-obscenely rich perpetrators of the systemic rape of trillions of dollars of global assets shall not only waltz away from their felonies uncharged, unconvicted, and unjailed but shall also be pensioned off with bonuses hundreds of thousands of times larger than the yearly wages of most of those they robbed. Never in the course of human history, not even during the Viking sacks of Ireland’s gold- and silver-larded monasteries, had an act of such rapacious barbarity been committed with such lucrative impunity.
In a society healthier than ours, that of Caligula’s Rome or of France’s late ancien regime, for instance, such a laughing display of unconscionable rapine would have landed an emperor, festooned with innumerable gladius slashes, floating open-eyed amid the currents of the Tiber, or would have destined the powdered limbs of aristocrats to adorn pikes held aloft by garlanded girls dancing down wide, sunlit avenues bordered by their joyously weeping fathers and mothers. Mark that these executors of the natural law would not have been, as they are today, ragtag scratch militias of the marginal and the disenfranchised: it was the powerful Praetorian Guard, quintessential insiders, who obligingly delivered to the Palatine crowds the emperors they wished deposed; it was the most talented, ambitious, and bright-futured among the comfortable French bourgeoisie who led the toppling of the Bourbons.
Meanwhile, we Canadians, clearly aping Americans’ acquiescence before robbery, as we seem to insist on aping every species of American moral idiocy, watch the slow-motion shipwreck of the robocall fiasco unfold with the sullen, heavy-lidded indifference with which a fifteen-year-old Crip, returning to class after a spliff-puffing session enjoyed behind the school dumpster, settles in for a lecture on quadratic equations. Too many commentators have attempted to explain Canadians’ apparent unconcern before the troubling Roboscam facts as a symptom of the alleged “complexity” of the case. Those less afraid to wield Occam’s razor will simply add this supine unconcern to the mounting evidence of Canadians’ quadrennially shrinking inclination to vote for their choice of faceless party automaton and come to the necessary conclusion that a growing number of Canadians do not care whether their government is elected fairly and constitutionally, whether it slithers and slimes its way into the House of Commons via an I-Ching or Tarot reading superintended by one of the Trailer Park Boys, or whether a government is elected at all. Among the most glorious fruit of the harvest of freedom seeded by Stephen Harper’s overturning of the Chretien/Martin tyranny is the undeniable fact that most Canadians, in the year 2013, have as little thought of meaningfully interfering in their own political lives as had Yorkshire ploughmen under the Plantagenets.
Asking whether or not there is hope is not the right question to ask at the tail end of one of the two (formerly liturgical) seasons the most marked effect of which on me is the sad recollection that our culture has managed to degrade two narratives that had at least an iota of morally redeeming value into mere Pavlovian retail reflexes whose only function and practical effect are to goad children into abducting their parents’ superegos and forcing them to enrich China’s Politburo through gratuitous purchases the flamboyant uselessness of which would have caused the buyers to be thrust outside the moral borders of the society that founded this Dominion.
The right question to ask is whether there is a way to hope that does not have at its foundation the very urges that turn our hopes to ashes.