Jul/Aug 2020  •   Reviews & Interviews

Farewell as Western Civilization Proceeds to Collapse

Commentary by Gilbert Wesley Purdy

The time was bound to come for the Virtual Vanaprastha concept to move on to the next stage. The present acceleration of the collapse of Western Civilization seems like as good a reason as any.

Of course, the persistent injustices accelerating it during this phase are real. Including the refusal by many to contribute to the public health through simple enhancements of personal hygiene. To what extent the phase will cure those injustices and/or make them worse and/or exchange them for other injustices is not clear.

What is clear—and all too predictable—is we have had to give trillions of dollars to the wealthiest among us in an attempt to keep the economy from collapsing. There is little choice. A failure would make us wish for the good ole days when we only had tens of millions receiving enhanced unemployment checks, only scattered arson and looting to worry about, and hospital intensive care units only strained to their limits instead of impossibly beyond them.

While Rome threatens to burn, Facebook continues, unaffected, to throttle page traffic ever more restrictively in its unspoken demand for paid advertising. Amazon continues to invent more and m ore special charges in order to keep its stated book royalty rate unchanged while steadily reducing the actual royalty paid. Both it and Google continue to serve their customers better and better by rating paying advertisers higher and higher on their search pages.

Of course, Facebook also allows us to safely stay in touch with our friends and family. Amazon allows us to shop safely for the stuff of our lives. They offer to collect for our favorite charities in our names, adding to their corporate image and database. Google gets us pretty much everything and everywhere else.

Small businesses are burning. Many will not recover from the ordeal. More neighborhoods will become this-deserts and that-deserts lacking stores to serve the local residents. Poverty will escort them to the emergency room, and soon, the ICU. Poverty will escort them to the cemetery decades earlier on average than those living in better neighborhoods.

Corporations going on as if not much has happened with burgeoning balance sheets, unconcerned for the impression it might leave upon a public fraught with anger and fear, is the actual symbol of what is happening. Long lines of people waiting for unemployment insurance that will too soon run out—if they can get it—will need those corporations in order to have any hope of a decent life. Some have already returned to their old, low-wage jobs, more thankful now to have them. Others have accepted still lower paying jobs in order to keep body and soul together. Others have been replaced by automation while the opportunity presented itself. Many, if not most, will struggle for years to come.

The anger and fear is also not unique to the present racial tensions. Social media has fueled an escalation of powerful emotions. Everyone who has grown up during the Internet Age feels misused, and everyone is sick and tired of waiting for what they know full well they have deserved without satisfaction for far too long. Everyone knows the answers, or that there are none—only opinions.

In other words, all of what is happening now amounts to an acceleration of the patterns we have seen for decades. Smoldering anger has taken flame. Not only that, but it is now constantly taking flame from one fuel or another. Emotions are driving poor decisions. Perhaps the worst decision is not to accept any good will or good actions to be remotely enough.

We long ago became in the habit of drawing upon the principle bequeathed to us by the past. Our inheritance is gone. The debts we told ourselves we would begin to pay down at a better time have never been paid down even in the best of times. We've been trained to take on large amounts of personal debt rather than to save up for what we want. It was necessary in order to supercharge our economy. So we face all of this without savings to get us through another hard time—a time that is not going to pass quickly.

The freelancer—even of the Virtual Vanaprastha variety—can do little to help improve the situation. My Elitism and the Election of Donald Trump: America in Critical Condition (2016) barely reached an audience at all, even as it described exactly what was coming. It is understandable. The vast number of words appearingĀ on the Internet every day drown the individual voice and the reader who might be seeking such a voice. The only way to distinguish among those words is to check their quantitative stats: size of publisher, number of advertisements, number of page views, of ad clicks, of shares, etc. All of which enforce a limited range of available subject matter: arguably, the subject matter that has locked us into the behaviors bringingĀ us to this point.

My years of reviewing—a number of them as editor of Eclectica's Review and Interview section—have been an effort to expand the craft as an alternative to stats. Informed conversations about books introduce the idea that legitimate criteria of quality are available and essential.

I will continue that in a smaller way. Mostly via my blogs and my Library of Babel Facebook page. It will be far too little, far too late. But I won't be trying to save the world. Only a few readers who desire to use the Internet not to pursue what might yield millions of clicks, with that model's attendant instability, but to put to use the enormous resources freely available through digital libraries, museums, archives, etc. I will invite my readers to reattach to the riches of the past in order to repurpose them to the needs of a collapsing civilization.

Besides, it's high time I started doing something with the library besides dusting it. So this works on a number of different levels.


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