Awful as it seems, there is a certain redemptive aspect to what happened to Roy Horn of the Las Vegas act, “Siegfried and Roy.” It was the redemption of verity. A truth.
Call the tiger by its pet name, “Montecore.” Train it for years. Put your face next to its mouth. Make it jump through hoops. One day it will summon verity and will try to kill. This is what tigers do. And not all the relativism of this modern world will penetrate that ineluctable truth. Whatever framed that fearful symmetry is not to be mocked.
As fellow homo sapiens, we must root for Roy, wish him well in recovery, sympathize with the 267 employees of the famed tiger training act who are now out of work, yet regard that act of “Montecore” for what it is, the reassertion of a verity in an age where truth is benighted.
What other verities are compromised? We could list the sanctity of marriage, the reliability of religion, the pledge of one’s word. Belief in a higher being that demands a higher calling. Recite, if it is still permitted, the Ten Commandments. All were verities that have been subsumed in the relativism of this age. But the tiger remains a tiger, inculcated with an instinct. And in a horrifying moment on a stage for the enjoyment of paying customers it demonstrated its terrifying truth. It was, is, and remains at this moment, a tiger.
By sheer luck, there was no camera rolling, no videographer present, to record the act. We have been spared the ceaseless replay. It was an event that exists like many enactments of truth, unrecorded save by the witnesses who tell the story, and later by the doctors who affirm it.
We are assailed by half-truths now, to the point where anything is believed by a portion of a populace, and where nothing at all is subscribed to by many. We are inventing new truths by means of the Internet, a repository for opinion masquerading as fact, and gradually eroding what once was fact. One day, in an undertaking rivaling that of the original encyclopedists, mankind will have to purge this depository, re-establishing that which is known, that which was once said, rescuing experience from chaos.
But not now, not today. We are too busy inventing versions of the life experience to look back and see if that is really so.
Meanwhile, the tiger. Doing what a tiger does, always has, and always will, until some morphogenesis makes it what it is not.
There are gentler verities no less substantial. We need find them.
My father always warned me about crowds. It didn’t matter to him how benignly they assembled: at a sporting event, a religious revival or a political rally. According to him, any large group of people was always vulnerable to a demagogue who could manipulate the group into thinking as one, then hypnotically direct them in a stampede out of the stadium or town square to commit atrocities against their community’s less favored minorities.
Through most of the twentieth century, history was certainly on dad’s side: Pogroms in Europe, lynchings in the U. S., Kristallnacht in Berlin. Better to live in sixties America, he felt, with the citizenry atomized in suburban sprawl and ethnicity de-emphasized. Spread money through the economically depressed areas. Anesthetize the populace. Keep them happy. Keep them apart.
As we begin our new century, ubiquitous personal communications technologies (email, i-mail, wireless computing, cell phones) have made assembling a crowd easier and quicker than ever. When Samuel Morse was developing the telegraph in the mid-nineteenth century (courtesy of a government research grant), he had a vision of technology delivering to the people the “godly” ability to be two places at once. When explaining why he chose the biblical phrase “What hath God wrought” as the first telegraph transmission, Morse was explicit in stating that instantaneous communication was an emulation — however feint — of divine powers.
Today, Morse’s vision is at least half fulfilled: average people now possess the extremely powerful ability to both communicate instantaneously and be in two places at once. Inevitably, most of the uses people choose for these powers are hardly divine. In WTO cities like Seattle, Florence, and Cancun, a weird mélange of international interest groups (with internally contradictory goals) unify to wreak havoc and worse. In Gaza this summer, each time Israeli helicopters surgically terminated a Hamas biggie, crowds turned into mobs, with ritual car dismemberment becoming de rigueur. In Najaf, Iraq, 400,000 spontaneously gathered for a funeral of a religious leader. In each case, the tom toms fomenting rage were digital, invisible, and immediate.
But recently, here in the United States, we are applying these new technologies in a far different manner, creating new types of crowds — in groups that civilization has never seen before. In fact, we are witnessing the emergence of distinctly American crowds. And, dad’s suspicions notwithstanding, that might not be such a bad thing.
This summer, three new types of crowd appeared, with varying degrees of historical and cultural significance. Observed together, they illuminate an important moment in our social evolution.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?