Gotham Diary:
Rather Rotten
22 November 2011

That may be the most beautiful cloud that I have ever seen or shall ever see.

Reading the digest of the Times that is served here with breakfast every morning, I found myself thinking about the body politic — actually thinking, and not just feeling queasily hopeless. Then I put down the paper and picked up Steegmuller/Flaubert. From Turkey, Flaubert wrote to his friend, Louis Bouilhet,

From time to time, in a town, I open a newspaper. Things seem to be going at a dizzy rate. We are dancing not on a volcano but on the rather rotten seat of a latrine.

That’s it, exactly, and everyone is waiting for the rotten seat to give way. Who will fall in? Who will grab an edge and clamber to safety? Nobody knows? Will the environment and the economy conspire to collapse simultaneously? Probably not, but at every turn, as we make our way from the unsustainable present to whatever future awaits us, it will be difficult to distinguish the momentous from the trivial. The only certainty is that, given the global nature of the mess, no one will arrive in the promised land before anybody else. Or perhaps the only certainty is that many people will have a lot less to lose than others. At the moment, dancing is about the only thing that makes sense.

One thing that makes no sense whatever is the Occupy movement in its current configuration. Occupy Wall Street? This ranks somewhere with the Children’s Crusade for naive nonsense. In a word: occupy Washington instead! That’s where the laws are made, after all, that, among other things, permit Wall Street and other markets to do what they do. That’s where tax policy is decided. Occupy the statehouses (as seems to have had some effect in Wisconsin). Occupy the town hall! Better yet, run for election! Create a new political party! Read The New Yorker.

I haven’t said much — it’s possible that I haven’t said anything — about the Occupy movement, because I haven’t seen much in it beyond a dreary replay of late-Sixties fatuousness. (I was there.) A lot of noise, a lot of quite juvenile provocation, and a disheartening glimpse into the persistent social rift that separates families who produce police officers from those who turn out graduate students (a rift that, I’m sure,  tears a good many families apart). Absolutely nothing in the way of a program. An atmosphere of profound fecklessness. Too depressing to think about really. Don’t the protestors at Zuccoti Park know the first thing about how things work? It seems that they don’t.  

What is to be done? What is to be fixed? What needs to be replaced? These are the questions that immobilize us now, because too many of us believe that the time for fixing things has irrecoverably passed. Do we find a more fuel efficient family car, or do we abandon the idea of family cars altogether, and scramble to provide public transport? Do we attempt to reconcile the libertarian and communitarian impulses that have brought political life to a standstill? Or do we give up on the idea of fashioning a “unum” from the “plures”?