riots

Mothman

Headed to Audreys, the bistro down the street. Pretentious, but still the closest bar. First time out in 3 months since the lockdowns.

On the way I stop in my tracks. A rustling above, a wisp of a tail disappearing behind some leaves. I stare up, light up the keychain flashlight and see two cyan eyes in a mask-like pool of black, staring down at me. Raccoon. Curious, otherworldly, frozen amid the dark of the branches. We stand there, each wondering what the other means. Then I reach for my phone. Must get photos.

This is what you’re always supposed to do when you see anything even slightly unusual: reach for the smartphone. Catalogue all non-habitual reality. Be ready to document all anomalies. Help us help you to be safe. Locus of control, locus of absolution. Reach. For. The. Smartphone.

I get two decent shots, then stare at the phone in disgust and think: all moderns should be rotisseried. Served with au jus, hollandaise. Watch and see if it doesn’t start happening soon, with everything else going on. The new progressive cause: some will eat, and others beg to be eaten. Sadomasochism seemed edgy once but really it was just a warm-up run.

Why not? It already happened in Germany. Such an advanced country–

I pocket the phone again, leave the raccoon to his darkness high in the air, envying it, and go on. At the patio of Audreys I pass a small, skinny, debauched looking girl (but they all look that way now). I overhear her, perched over the table, hands flying, telling someone in a breathless, childlike voice:

“—see, I’m really having so many of these adult things going on in my life now that I’m twenty-two, I’m really such a different person now, I have all of these really big decisions ahead that could affect my entire life and…” It sounds like ticker-tape, a script mindlessly recited, or a Cranberries song sped up and recited as epic poetry.

One does not attain adulthood any more. One simply talks about attaining it for the entire age of the universe.

Youth smothers maturity in its crib [note to self: another inversion]. Stars form without light. The Beast draws near.

Once inside, I find my old bartender, L., does not work there anymore. Instead, a snarky woke-looking Asian girl tasks me for not putting on a mask even though I keep six feet away. No bar service anymore, I am informed. Fifteen minutes to sit down although the place is two-thirds empty.

This all should have been obvious to me. The only remaining sin: forgetting about Covid.

I realize without L. around—no familiar face, no one who knows what I like—the place devolves into what it always was: a tedious haven for degeneracy and narcissism. I say never mind and walk back home.

Later, showering, I startle at something on the top of the bathroom door frame. Another creature. A moth this time—a big one with a stout body and sharp triangles of umber and sienna all over its wings. As I watch it it slowly turns to face me, antennae waving deliberatively above the big prismatic eyes. Attuning itself.

I attune back. Mothman, I think. Harbinger of psychic disruptions. Manifestor of the unseen.

I come with a warning–there lies grave danger ahead.

Well what have you come to warn me about. America has cancer and my whole generation consists of a demented clone army. How much more can I have missed.

Moths have been everywhere this season, almost biblical. You come home each day to find a dozen new ones in every window, every lampshade. But this one is the largest and most ornate one I’ve seen.

There is a hint of metallic shine in the wings too, like old brass and bronze. Flecks of it worked into a darker gray, like ironwork. Still it looks just plain enough and just small enough that you wouldn’t necessarily ascribe it any significance. The perfect disguise.

I stand patient under the lukewarm, shimmering stream, gazing over the shower-curtain at the creature. Something in me inclines to think it is peering back, like some kind of ethereal communion with nature-spirits is underway. I think of Gandalf in The Two Towers: stranded by Sarumann he whispers to a passing moth. Aid me, O dusky one: make haste, summon the king of all eagles to my rescue.

But mostly there is just the sound of water and a sense of being in the presence of an entity so infinitely different I could never even begin to guess at what its mind is like. An alien. And I imagine with the world we have now, even if the moth did carry away some message for me it would just make a quick involuntary snack for the eagle. Lord of the Rings comic outtakes, volume five: Now tell me what the old wizard sent you for, the huge eagle jokes to his buddies, wiping a stray bit of antenna off his beak. Oops, so sorry, I hate when I do that.

“America”, the Empty Signifier?

What do we even mean when we say the word “America” or “USA” now? What is left?

A center of “innovation”? An engine for “growth”? A leader in “productivity”? A hub for financial transactions? A land of “liberty”, which in practice means a mixture of licentiousness, profiteering and stifling statist control?

Even if the USA is still any or all of these things, none of them, alas, amount to a country. They are instead merely dry, narrow minded technocratic constructions; and today, as the Floyd riots spread in a chain reaction of blind nihilism and inchoate resentment, they seem drier and emptier than ever.

For all the privations now sweeping the land, the problem is really this: the entity today called “America” (as well as most of the West) has “woke” up to find it has no shared wisdom; no spiritual convictions; no unifying ethnic identity; no idea of shared spaces; no serious relationship to the land and nature it occupies; no obligations to truthfulness or realism; no grasp of neighborliness, relationship or community; no operative idea of real heroism or tragedy; no aesthetic sensibility; and certainly no grounding for personal sacrifice. It cringes, lividly, at the very words “history”, “virtue”, and “God”.

Without any of these things, there is no basis for holding people together in any sort of large undertaking, except through bare-knuckled tyranny. There is instead only res idiotica as far as the eye can see. (Read Deneen if you need to be filled in on this terminology.)

This is what Donald Trump surely intuited when in one of his more lucid moments on the campaign trail, he lamented that “we don’t have a country anymore”.

Unfortunately Trump, as a man who ultimately sees only “economy”, big business, quantitative world trade and of course his own constantly-sore ego, was himself practically an avatar of the res idiotica, and so he could not quite penetrate to the deep implications of his very own words—just as he could not see the implications of nursing “a big, fat, ugly bubble” in the economy (also his own words).

The U.S. Constitution, in some ways a wise and thoughtfully constructed document, has little to say on any of this. And if it did, who actually bothers to remember what it means or says anymore, other than a small and mostly hated clerisy of jurists?

For some, the Constitution is a cherished rhetorical football, effectively the center of a mini-cult of its own. Most of the activists in the country, on the other hand, have stopped bothering with it altogether, except as something to be manipulated at will, in postmodern fashion.

The truth is large portions of the US Constitution are no longer operative, and even if they were, they would have little to say on the problems the USA now faces, since the Constitution was designed for a polity that had not yet destroyed its economic, natural, spiritual and cultural inheritance for the sake of imaginary money, hedonic jolts, narcotics both chemical and digital, and the narcissistic joys of endless grievance.

So three main options present themselves. One, chaos and dissolution. Two, tyrannical takeover. Or three, the rediscovery (through some miracle) of the vital patterns and knowledge that have been exhausted or thrown away.

Options One and Two may oscillate back and forth, feeding on each other, for some time yet. As for option Three, we must admit it seems unlikely in the extreme. Much about the current circumstances of the world, both material and mental, militates against it. But then again: cometh the hour…