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Biting the Dust: Ten Things I Wish Weren't Dead or Dying

The phrase "cumulative exhaustion" floated past this week, on the breakneck pace of change in the way we live now. Damn, that rang a bell. How to characterize the way life feels these days, online and “IRL”? It feels like my brain is swelling, while my skull is shrinking. It feels like they’re speeding up a treadmill, and things I love that can’t keep up are just flying off left and right. I used to be mildly horrified when older folks would say, “I’m glad I won’t be around to see it,” when “it” was some incomprehensible predicted change. You know, lunar vacation colonies or bionic bodies or food in a pill. Now I catch myself saying it.

The “future” used to be better, actually—the World’s Fair fantasies of housecleaning robots and flying cars. But as this Wonder Years kid approaches her AARP years, she notes a pattern: The World’s Fair stuff turns out to be largely bullshit, and the real surprises are rather hellish more often than not. We got Roombas and underwhelming electric cars. But hey, we also got cell phones and social media and Internet porn and cyberbullying and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And climate change. Didn’t see those coming, did you?

And with the Rise of the Machines comes the fall of...so much else. Although the poor millenials get blamed for “killing” things, from conversation to cursive writing, my fellow “Boomers” are responsible for their share of casualties. Some of these things may deserve to die. (I’m looking forward to an old age in which bingo and golf are extinct.) But no single demographic seems to have administered the coup de grâce to the familiar, the simple, the good. It’s as if post-modernism met the Internet and released a mutating virus with diverse hosts.

Just for the hell of it, being an old magazine editor (see #1), I've come up with a Top 10 List, off the top of my head, of things that matter terribly to me and have languished on my (quite recent) watch. What’s in your Top 10?

James Jarche, Science & Society1. Magazines. I always loved them, dreamed of writing and editing them, and studied journalism to make my dream come a little bit true, working for travel and health "books" and, once, getting a cover story for The American Spectator. (See #10, below.) Many magazines, of course, hang on, and digital "content" abounds. But opening a magazine freshly arrived through the mail slot is a joy that’s so last century.

2. Newspapers, the New York Times in particular. The Gray Lady was the air I breathed as a New Yorker. I reluctantly gave up the dead-tree Times when their erratic delivery service seemed to acknowledge its irrelevance, and I ditched the online edition when it morphed into a weird, elitist liberal echo chamber with near-zero Metro coverage. Now, with the tabloids reduced to tatters, there virtually is no Metro coverage. Some real journalism hangs on, under economic and political siege, but only just.

Ally Brosh, "Hyperbole and a Half"3. Blogs. If you’re reading this, I’ll bet you don’t have much company. There was a brief interlude, after the Internet but before social media, when it seemed as if citizen journalists, with a gloriously low bar to entry, would repopulate the media landscape, forming engaged communities and letting a thousand flowers bloom. Bloggers still blog, but any post bigger than a caption risks being “TLDR.” The firehose of social media, instead of watering blogs, has drowned them, with a numbing stream of pictures, GIFs, and memes. “Long form” posts now carry sheepish warnings: “Two-minute read.”

4. My beloved Catholic Church. Two waves of horror: the predator priests, and the preening demons in the hierarchy who covered them up or outdid them in corruption. It is my theology that the Church cannot die, but (at least in the West) it is withering and will rebloom, probably after my lifetime, looking very different. For this Caucasian mutt of dilute Irish-German extraction, the demise of the mid-century model of American Catholicism is quite literally the death of my culture.

 

5. Catholic education, its decline not wholly related to #4 above. Catholic "teaching" makes headlines when it zaps a third rail in the culture wars, but no one has "taught" it for decades. And now, after the long dark age of catechesis, they are literally turning out the lights in Catholic schools. Or at least they're doing so in the great cities where they served and formed generations of poor and working-class youth, for a host of despicably shoddy excuses. Colleges are doing alright, but only by burying their Catholic identity in the Zeitgeist. Where is the next generation of Catholics being formed? Oh, they're not. Among millenials, baptisms and weddings have slipped away as essential touchpoints; now even funerals are being made over into DIY secular "rituals." Jesus wept.

6. Television. Ah, TV: as simple as flipping a dial, a cultural force as unifying and ubiquitous as the air through which it traveled. Now it's just one more complicated private domain. We finally got a “smart” TV and now we struggle and argue and pay extra for this and that. Some of it is marvelous, but much of the best we can’t afford. I signed up for one cool-sounding “channel” only to find we couldn’t watch it on the only “platform” we use—an actual television set. The boob tube got smarter, we didn’t.

7. Food. I call it the “guilt list”: Is tuna killing the dolphins? Is red meat killing us? Are cage-free chickens really happier? Are carbs really the problem, or is it fat? I can’t afford organic, so that decision’s off the table, but everything else is a supermarket-aisle moral struggle. I worked the “healthy food” beat as an editor and writer for years, and even I can’t keep up. And of course, there’s the biggest struggle of all: being able to afford anything but pasta and the Dollar Menu. 

8. Travel. Even if some day I could “see the world,” it’s not the world I dreamed of seeing. “Globalized” destinations, including my own city, are blurring together, and not just thanks to McDonalds and Starbucks. Whether from entitled mobs of affluent tourists from rising economies or tragic encampments of migrant refugees from gutted ones (or both—see: Paris), so many legendary sites are culturally altered and reeling under the strain. (Selfish perspective, I know, but a moot point, since I can’t afford to go and fight the crowds anyway.)  Heck, even Notre Dame didn't wait for me.

9. Health care. My pediatrician made house calls with a shiny black bag. Back then, when we were boldly heading to the moon, it wasn't routine to go bankrupt from cancer (you just died from it). Now we have "health care networks," and insurers who decide what they can do for us. Ours offers “telemedicine,” wherein I can set up a webcam and, presumably, cough at my screen to a stranger. Most people I know, even those with insurance, live in terror of major illness or injury as the harbinger of economic catastrophe, and “GoFundMe” is the new normal for cancer care. How did we get here? (Oh, and still no cure for lots of cancers.)

10. Conservatism. Ah, the Right, dashing hearthrob of my youth. "We had brains then," to paraphrase Nora Desmond. I worked for National Review in college, revered Bill Buckley and James Burnham, was drawn to the intellectual rigor, feisty good humor and moral robustness of the Right—both the badass libertarians and the erudite cultural traditionalists. The so-called “Right” today? Need I say more? The bragging, ignorant pustule in the White House and his minions, fueled by the screeching blond harpies on Fox News, are killing conservatism and sowing the ground with salt for at least a generation. As I say to my agonizing liberal friends, if you think it’s hard to be a “progressive” these days, try holding your head up as a conservative.

So there you go, ten dust-biters without even trying too hard. I didn’t even get to global warming, the transformation of Brooklyn to Dubai, or the shitty hollowed-out job market that is sucking our kids’ souls. Or late-term abortion, the last fragile stumbling block to the deadened conscience of the West, now trampled under the onslaught of the culture of death.

And do not get me started on “gender.” Or Tinder. Or Fiverr. 

Urrr.

 

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