Git-R-Done, Global Province Letter, 27 September 2011

Viva La Independencia! We celebrate every holiday and feast day and birthday that comes along. In fact, our joy in such proceedings reminds us of a line from the movie of Isherwood's A Single Man: a lady friend says,  "The past is my future."  For us, unlike the melancholy characters in this movie, the great occasions of the past very much equip us to deal with the present as well as tomorrow.  Squeezing a certain joie de vivre out of such days of note helps us dash away boredom and banish the spiraling fears that choke the hearts of modern men.

Mexican Independence Day was no exception.  Pig's feet tostadas with pickled radish and house-made escabeche, followed by black angus beef tongue with salsa de chilacate on hand-made tortillas, all washed down with watermelon Jarrito with olallieberry honey, tequila, and rum, quickened the conversation and transported one’s soul to mental landscapes far from the madding crowd.

Declinism. Such an occasion immunizes one against the plague racing through most advanced societies.  Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West, published as a final chapter of World War I, has become background music for every pundit, half-baked intellectual, and defunct leader a hundred years on. Without getting too complicated about this two volume German dissertation on decline (the Germans are still secretly in love with depression and descents into Hades), it more or less says we are going to hell in a handbasket. In other words, advanced societies have fallen victim to the mental disease of declinism.

Adam Gopnik writes tellingly of the phenomenon in "Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat,"
New Yorker, September 12, 2011:

Declinism is a bad idea, because no one can have any notion of what will happen next.  Yet the idea of our decline is emotionally magnetic, because life is a long slide down, and the plateau just passed is easier to love than the one coming up.

Gopnik reminds of an old Army adage:   "What's the worst post where you have served?”  "The next post," replies an old time soldier.  The future, the next post, is always worse in our minds than the familiar past which always seems warm and fuzzy.

The belief that it is all downhill from here gets special support at this junction in our history when events are a jumble and we have no clue as to what tomorrow will bring.  We are caught between inert institutions (government, big business, universities, organized religion) and a world society that is flying in all directions.  The tension between the inert and the chaotic has us fearful and at sea as to what to do.

The Santa Fe Institute. Atop a hill above Santa Fe, well isolated from most everything, a potpourri of types at the Santa Fe Institute think serenely about chaos and complexity.  They have made a living out of thinking about an unpredictable universe.  Of course, their thinking is a little tarnished because they are walled off from the rough and tumble of practically everything, especially the universe about which they theorize. And when it comes down to actually doing something, they make a hash of it.  For instance, they have put out a recipe book called Simple Recipes from Complex People (February 2010).  It's god-awful, charming because it is such a mess, take our word for it.  Lord help us, if the Institute actually tried to help us grapple with chaos and complexity.  But, like most think tanks, it just describes the phenomenal world, and does not really do anything about it.  Such descriptive knowledge makes us no less inert than we already were.

People Who Get Things Done.  In the face of all this, we must ask who gets something done.  By this, we mean someone who acts and does something, but above all, does something worthwhile.  By and large, the doers are anonymous figures who have spent time in large institutions and know how to thread through the environments in which they are caught.  So it may be an intellectual CIA operative named Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October who can identify with and converse with a rebelling Russian submarine captain named Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius. Peacefully, together, they capture the sub for the U.S, outsmarting their respective bureaucracies.  Or it could be Gene Sharp in Boston, unknown to all America, who has been the father of protest movements in the Middle East and around the world. In other words, the people who get societies out of a funk and into a new place, when the heavens are chaotic and global society is in an uproar, fly under the radar and are anonymous, with original minds,  who can work around the rigidities of large systems.  And, above all, they are exceptionally hard workers, constantly at their chosen tasks.  They're of interest now in societies that suffer both from lockjaw and arthritis.

Julian Fellowes.  Julian Fellowes comes to mind when one is looking to see what sort of character does get things done.  As Alex Witchel opines in "Dear Abbey:"

He toiled as a midlevel character actor for 30 years with 12 rejected screenplays to his name until, incredibly, at age 52, he won an Academy Award for his first produced screenplay, Robert Altman's "Gosford Park," in 2002.  But Fellowes, now 62, is the rare sort who, having won a life lottery, did not kick up his heels and make a fool of himself.  He has worked like a proverbial dog—or American—for his continued success, and if that means he is more in the manner
bought than born, that is fine with him."
In other words, chaps who get real things done in an unsettled world "work like a proverbial dog," live and think apart from the society to which they are only half connected, and are never taken in by the allure of celebrity.  Right now we are well served to look for such a bunch of guys, a furtive band who have worked 50 years at doing the right things.

P.SDaniel Lawrence Whitney (aka Larry the Cable Guy) from Nebraska is fond of saying Git-R-Done.  As much as anybody, he reminds us that the problem now is to get things done in a world stuffed with rhetoric and frenzied activity but short on worthy accomplishment.  It's easy to forget, however, that America has no monopoly on inertia and that the whole world is currently glued to square one.  Most of the advanced and semi-advanced nations are stuck:  the emerging nations are mobile.

P.P.S.  Spengler's work was a little more biological than we have represented.  But it does posit that every society has its day—and its closing night.


Back to Top of Page

Return to the Index of Letters from the Global Province


Home - About This Site - Contact Us

Copyright 2011 GlobalProvince.com