If meat is murder, are eggs rape?
This is a moment of hope in history. Why doesn’t anybody say so? We are no longer in grave danger of the atomic war which, for nearly fifty years, threatened to annihilate humanity and otherwise upset everyone’s weekend plans. The nasty, powerful, and belligerent empire that was the Soviet Union has fallen apart. It’s nothing now but a space on the map full of quarreling nationalities with too many ks and zs in their names—armed Scrabble contestants. The other great malevolent regime of recent days, Red China, has decided upon conquest of the world’s shower flip-flop market as its form of global domination. The bad political ideas that have menaced our century—Fascism, Communism, Ted Kennedy for President—are in retreat. Colonialism has disappeared, and hence the residents of nearly a quarter of the earth’s surface are being spared visits from Princess Di. The last place on the planet where white supremacy held sway has elected a president of rich, dark hue. Apartheid-style racism is now relegated to a few pitiful and insignificant venues such as the U.S. Senate (and, if you think Caucasians have any claim to genetic superiority, imagine majoring in U.S. Senate Studies). Things are better now than things have been since men began keeping track of things.
Things are better than they were only a few years ago. Things are better, in fact, than they were at 9:30 this morning, thanks to Tylenol and two Bloody Marys.
But that’s personal and history is general. It’s always possible to come down with the mumps on V-J Day or to have, right in the middle of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a piece of it fall on your foot. In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: “Dentistry.”
WE KNOW THE TRUTH of these matters from stories we’ve heard in our own homes. Existence has improved enormously within the lifetimes of our immediate family members. My Grandfather O’Rourke was born in 1877 and born into a pretty awful world, even if we don’t credit all of his Irish embroidery upon the horrors. The average wage was little more than a dollar a day. That’s if you worked. O’Rourkes were not known to do so. The majority of people were farmers, and do you know what time cows get up in the morning?
Women couldn’t vote, not even incredibly intelligent First Ladies who were their own people and had amazing inner strength plus good luck playing the cattle futures market. (For all we know, Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes had quite an eye for beef on the hoof.)
Without voting First Ladies, there was no health-care reform. Of course, there was also no health care. And not much health. Illness was ever-present. And the most trivial infection might prove fatal. The germ theory of disease as argued by Pasteur was just another wacky French idea with no more effect on the people of the 1870s than Deconstructionism has on us. Men customarily wed multiple wives, not by way of philandering but because of deaths in childbirth. The children died, too, sometimes before a suitable foot-long nineteenth-century name could be given them. A walk through an old graveyard shows our ancestors often had more dead children than we have live ones.
Pollution was unchecked and mostly unthought of. Sewage was considered treated if dumped in a river. Personal hygiene was practiced, when at all, on the face, neck, and hands up to the wrists. My mother’s mother (from the indoor-plumbing side of the family) said that, when she was little, a hired girl had told her to always wear at least one piece of clothing when washing herself “because a lady never gets completely undressed.”
Everything was worse for everybody. Blacks could no more vote than women could and were prevented from doing so by more violent means. About 10 percent of America’s population had been born in slavery. “Coon,” “kike,” “harp,” and “spic” were conversational terms. It was a world in which “nigger” was not a taboo name, but the second half of “Beavis and Butt-Head” would have been.
Nowadays we can hardly count our blessings, one of which is surely that we don’t have to do all that counting—computers do it for us. Information is easily had. Education is readily available. Opportunity knocks, it jiggles the doorknob, it will try the window if we don’t have the alarm system on.
The highest standards of luxury and comfort, as known only to the ridiculously wealthy a few generations ago, would hardly do on a modern white-water rafting trip. Our clothing is more comfortable, our abodes are warmer, better-smelling, and vermin-free. Our food is fresher. Our lights are brighter. Travel is swift. And communication is sure.
Even the bad things are better than they used to be. Bad music, for instance, has gotten much briefer. Wagner’s Ring cycle takes four days to perform while “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” by the Crash Test Dummies lasts little more than three minutes.
Life is sweet. But you could spend a long time reading, going to the movies, and watching TV and not hear this mentioned. Especially, watching daytime TV. Of course, if you’re watching a lot of daytime TV your life probably is dreadful. But, as I pointed out, that’s your problem, not history’s. History is on a roll, a toot, a bender. No doubt it will all come crashing down around our ears one day when a comet hits the earth or Sally Jessy Raphael becomes Chief Justice of the United States. But, in the meantime, we should be enjoying ourselves, and we are not.
I HEAR AMERICA WHINING, crybaby to the world. I behold my country in a pet beefing, carping, crabbing, bitching, sniveling, mewling, fretting, yawping, bellyaching, and being pickle-pussed. A colossus that stood astride the earth now lies on the floor pounding its fists and kicking its feet, transformed into a fussy-pants and a sputterbudget. The streets of the New World are paved with onions. Everybody’s got a squawk. We have become a nation of calamity howlers, crêpe hangers, sour guts, and mopes—a land with the grumbles.
On the Fourth of July 1993, the lead story on the front page of the Boston Globe read:
The country that celebrates its 217th birthday today is free, at peace, relatively prosperous—but deeply anxious… . the American people are troubled, beset by doubts, full of anger.
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?