I feel compelled to keep up with the news for some reason, even though it causes me to then spend an awful lot of time fretting about the way things are going and the ways things are going to end up. I follow that with long spells of wondering what I am supposed to do to help or how I may be inadvertently contributing to harm. When I think about it all, it just seems like everything keeps getting worse and its a trend no one can reverse. And when I say ‘it’ I mean…you know…IT. All of it. Crazy egomaniacs with big mouths and tiny brains, economic policy debates,wars and plans for more wars, disasters both man made and natural, ridiculous people running for office, leaders of other countries who seem mentally ill, etc.etc.etc.etc.etc.etc.
But lately I started wondering whether things were ever better. Or are they always pretty much this bad and its just a question of your definitions ? Or am I maybe just getting punchy from a life-time build up of bad things that I have paid too much attention to and the older you get, the more of this craziness you have been cataloguing? The idea that things were at some point better is the premise on which the bellowing baboons of politics like Rush Limbaugh et al issue their edicts. With that as a basic underlying theme, they set the stage for the parade of mini-brained egomaniacs like Sarah Palin to give advice as they pretend they can see some kind of essential set of easily achievable truths that the fancy pants thinkers are looking past.
In his book “The Histories”, he recounts the events of 69 AD. By the way, Rome didn’t fall til 476. So 69 is not the worst year Rome ever had. Yet his book opens with this paragraph.
“The story I am approaching is rich with disasters, grimly marked with battles, rent by treason and savage even in peacetime. Four emperors perished violently. There were three civil wars, still more foreign campaigns, and often conflicts which combined elements of both. Success in the East was balanced by failure in the West. The Balkans were in turmoil , the Gallic provinces were wavering and Britain was conquered but immediately abandoned. The Sarmatian and Suebian peoples rose upon us, the Dacian distinguished himself in desperate battles won and lost and thanks to the activities of a charlatan masquerading as Nero, even Parthia was on the brink of declaring war. Now too, Italy itself fell victim to new disasters or ones which had not occurred for many centuries. Towns were swallowed up or buried along the richest part of the Campanian coast. Rome was devastated by fires, her most venerable temples were destroyed and the very Capitol was set alight by Roman hands. Things holy were desecrated, there was adultery in high places. The sea swarmed with exiles and cliffs were stained with blood. Still fiercer savagery gripped Rome. Rank, wealth and office, whether surrendered or retained, provided grounds for accusation, and the reward for virtue was inevitable death. The profits of the prosecutors were no less hated than their crimes. Some obtained priesthoods and consulships as the prize of victory, others acquired official posts and backstairs influence, creating a universal pandemomium of hatred and terror. Slaves were bribed to turn against their masters, freedmen against their patrons, while those who lacked an enemy were ruined by their friends.”
So that is what I now think about when I wonder WTF with regard to the million and one alarming headlines I read per day. Tacitus would probably have a look at them and say “Mm hmm. What else you got?” (though he would no doubt say it a little more eloquently than that.) But it seems like his one paragraph sum up of 69 AD brings a useful perspective.
Life! Whoever holds the patents on humans clearly sent them to market before working out enough of the bugs. If Steve Jobs put out a product this erratic, no one would ever shut up about it.