If I had to contrast myself with the time I’m living in (always a difficult & rather vain thing to do), I would have to settle upon the fact that I more-or-less remember who I was as a child and feel that person is with me still. A less fanciful way of saying this might be to say, I have certainly grown older, but I have not definitively changed.
To some I’m sure this statement smells of immaturity, and perhaps it does. I never underwent the complete break with my past that is usually initiated either by coming to detest the persons and places of one’s childhood, or worse yet having those things blighted by traumatic connotations.
Quite the opposite, to the extent that my sense of nostalgia is not confined to particularly pleasant aspects of my past (beloved movies, games, etc). Rather than being confined such externals, my sense of nostalgia is most potent and profound when I think of who I was then–all the wrongs I had not done, or was not yet aware that anyone had done. In short, I liked myself and the world better, and that is what I am nostalgic for.
This nostalgia seems to be some subconscious bedrock, for I am usually conscious of it only after waking from a deep sleep. Then I can briefly catch glimpses of what this Original Me would think of whatever stimuli Current Me is nocturnally processing. This is not necessarily a new revelation–since my teenage years I have occasionally realized that a secondary voice occasionally commentates my dreams, and that this voice is most certainly Original Me–as unchanged and intact as when I left him.
However, this most recent instance was an emotional record-breaker. In short, I woke to realize that Current Me was processing a popular young p*rnstar. Readers are welcome to giggle until it is understood that she was–at least in this case–being thought of as an actual person, a fellow stranger, rather than a piece of meat. And for perhaps a minute I felt entirely overwhelmed by grief on her behalf, exactly as Original Me would have felt upon the subject.
I’m aware that this is strange in general, much less in the context of the here-and-now. Doubtlessly there is even some wretch out there who is liable to feel angry at me that I would feel unsolicited pity for her, what with her absolute autonomy as a strong, independent, empowered woman etc, ad nauseam. Well, take it up with 1998.
Nonetheless, this strangeness settled me upon a rather relevant word: continuity. However much older I become, however much differentiated from Original Me (almost always for the worst), I cannot shake a sense of continuity with him.
How many feel similarly today about anything? Where is the continuity in the postmodern first world? I must confess, at times it feels as though everyone, be it millennials or even boomers, have been struck by some kind of pre-internet amnesia. It is not that they have no memories, but that they seem to have negligible emotional continuity with those memories. Not only do they barely remember their Original Self–they could not earnestly testify “that is me.” Whatever comprises “me” has become a shifting sand rather than a firm foundation.
Now here is something to settle upon that seems of general relevance rather than personal eccentricity. To have one’s sense of self alterable with any ease–a matter of weeks or months rather than years, much less a matter of personal choice rather than colossal external interference–strikes me as effectively ahistorical. Lives were upset at a greater rate, but their underlying self was far slower to change. Genghis Khan could kill everyone you know, but if he deigned to let you live, your day-to-day activities and internal identity need not alter hardly at all. But now that we have convinced ourselves that we have progressed past such Genghis-like instances (haha), the rule is reversed; in the absence of external problems, we find the internal identity proliferating near-infinite issues, all of them screaming to be resolved, and resolved expediently.
Surely this harmonizes with the sudden resurgence of identity politics in the 1st world after a period circa ’70s through ’00s wherein race and sexual preference became rather boring and shallow criteria compared to what an individual chose to do with their newfound liberation. For any less-than-bright readers, I am not saying that this was a utopian period devoid of its own issues. I am saying the average person was far less likely to think of their or others’ color or orientation as the primary or even relevant aspect of their personhood. To put it another way–there is only one group of people I remember hearing of before the internet who based their entire identity around their race and sex preferences: white supremacists. Now, the abhorrence of this group is louder than ever, yet their tactics appear to have been adopted universally.
Regarding race, there was a time when minorities would have been insulted by the concept of Affirmative Action. “What? The fact that white folks have a head-start means I need a hand-out? Screw that. Watch me succeed anyway,” would have been the gist. Pride, in a word (either in one’s race or just in one’s self). Now, not only is Affirmative Action pervasive, but its equal-opposite has slithered in. Not only do the oppressed minorities need a hand-out to equalize the playing field; we should also be sure to cut the privileged majority down to size whenever possible. One wonders how much longer Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron story will be fictional. (P.S. Isn’t it strange that those who believe in no higher power than evolution are also those most interested in tampering with zero-sum competition? Darwin, Darwin, why hast thou forsaken me?)
Regarding sexuality, one need only consider the late explosion of non-heterosexual identification in nowhere but the first world. In my 2017 essay “Eros Fled” I supposed that this was a natural phenomenon, whereby when nature senses more babies are not needed–or even that more babies are needed but that they would be wasted upon this particular population–it “finds a way.” This is still not a terrible supposition, especially if new data regarding the extinction of human sperm within the century is accurate. However, one suspects nature is not quite as hamfisted as the recent examples of adults long past puberty who decide to “transition.” While I cannot rule out that someone could be “transgender” their entire life and eventually “come out,” I will absolutely call bullshit on the phenomenon as a spur-of-the-moment matter. Either the ability of plastics to tamper with hormones is much more potent than even the most alarmist of researchers is reporting, or this is an internet-inspired phenomenon, wherein people who otherwise would have continued their gendered existence have decided to plumb the depths of their potential identity until they strike upon something trendy. This does not necessarily mean that such identity-revamps are done primarily for the approval of others, for likes and clicks. No, the change itself is sufficient reward. When one feels utterly disconnected from their past and thus unmoored in their present, pioneering radically new futures is the only obvious escape from the undertow of nihility. Running from God usually concludes in the belly of a whale.
Perhaps this frantic pursuit of novelty is the seed of a new religion. Whereas antique religions all supposed that the answers to the mysteries of the present lay in our mysterious past, this new religion clearly believes all answers lie within our ineffable future. Such is the constant acceleration that makes possible the mental discordance of today’s 1st world, such as (to take but one grotesque example) effete liberals, proud feminists all, wholeheartedly supporting and importing Islam, perhaps the most conservative and female-oppressing ideology extant today. There is an extent of open-mindedness that causes one’s brain to fall out. (Note: given the choice between an extreme leftwing and average Islam, I would likely take the latter, seeing as Muhammad has produced far more lasting culture and innovation than Marxist tripe ever will; I use the example only to indicate strange bedfellows).
And while such novelty, such progress-for-its-own-sake, certainly renders the world or at least the internet a gibbering abyss of controversy, gossip, and self-satisfaction, one cannot help but notice that it also makes things suspiciously simple on a philosophical level, rather like the “wishful thinking” religion is accused of. The philosophical foundation is simply: old=bad, new=good. Which of course is the same as saying anything conservative is bad and anything progressive is good. This is reiterated infinitely as though it is some great discovery, when in fact it is simply Presentism enshrined. I suspect these acolytes might take to self-harm if they could but see how stupid and ugly their descendants will think them, as they now think of anyone who came before. Such, I suppose, is the new zero-sum competition: the dead are losers, not necessarily on a biological, but certainly on a philosophical level. Ha. Imagine having lived before humanity because so enlightened about X Y Z.
Of course, this completely ignores the “privilege” of being able to stand upon giants’ shoulders–an obvious product of being historically ignorant. But even more abhorrent, it pretends that one would be as progressively enlightened as they are now in less fortuitous circumstances. Similar to how most flavor-of-the-month occultists decide that they were Napoleon in a past life (never Napoleon’s barber or cook), everyone seems to be under the impression that they would have been the Gutenberg or Luther or Wilberforce or Lincoln of their day. The truth of course is that if anyone is relatively mediocre now, they would have been even more mediocre then due to worse diet, healthcare, machinery, etc. That is not even to touch upon the fact that tweeting a correct opinion and risking the gallows are non-overlapping magisteria.
Strangest of all, the morality of the new religion is simply the absence of moral values or value judgements. It is not about what one does, but about what one does not do. It is as though they took Jesus’s proscriptive fragment “judge not lest ye but judged,” and left his overwhelmingly prescriptive whole. This could even relate back to the progressive sycophancy for Islam; their taboo is clearly not “do not oppress women.” Their value is “do not oppress women unless combating the oppression of women would involve critiquing some other minority.” The weak must be protected, but only when it’s politically expedient or energetically easy. A white man must not oppress a woman–unless he coverts to Islam. Then it’s different. Such logical leaps and bounds–precisely the sort that children would never think up–indicates the hollowness at the center of it all. It is the appearance of courage without the necessity of courage, like wearing a mask precisely because it looks different from one’s real face.
Dostoevsky negatively rendered this religion, “all is permitted.” Crowley positively rendered it, “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” In my most recent publication Dinosaur, I rendered it, “all is permitted–except to question that all is permitted.”
The morality of children is the morality of fairy tales. There is right and there is wrong, and if you have difficulty seeing it, that speaks volumes about you more-so than it critiques the story. This grey pall, which races frantically from “issue” to “issue” as though the realization that the world is imperfect were some great Eureka moment, is the province of corrupted adults looking to excuse their corruption. It is a political morality (even the Devil knows scripture). It is the explanation for all of the madness that the next two decades hold, wherein the Hegelian dialectic* (cause the problem so-as to provide the predetermined solution) is set to attain full velocity. I hope only to shepherd the Original Me through whatever awaits us. Perhaps this Current Me was indeed necessary, if only to insulate him.
*Mark Carney, Klaus Schwab, Agustín Carstens–names to keep an eye out for.