Dear Mr. GS,
Please forgive the hastiness of this letter. I am writing you again before your response, which may be against etiquette, but I must write this now. I’m sure you won’t mind too much. Unless you’ve started a reply and will therefore have to write another letter in response to this one. Well, so be it.
I wrote in my last letter that I felt the approach of a storm. Well, it has come. It has come in the form of daydreams, annoyingly enough.
Yes, daydreams, my friend.
These are not ordinary daydreams. Nor are they pleasant. No, they are terrible, and completely out of my control.
There I am approaching a ruined city. It’s ruined buildings are blackened, and the wind rushes from behind me pushing me toward the ruins.
While walking through the city people are going about their daily business as if all were normal and as it should be. Perhaps it is for them, but not for me. This may be a result of my gradual disgust at what our culture has become. This culture that has sustained us seems to be turning against us. Do you also sense this betrayal? My daydreams are likely a result of my growing horror at what confronts us. I wonder if the Romans, during the decline of the empire felt the same way? The splendours of Rome were still somewhat in tact (at least at first) but the culture, (and I think of culture as an organism) was turning against them. From all sides it was devouring its own kind. The causes of the collapse are various and not important for the purposes of this letter. The fact remains: it happened. And it must happen again and again. These are the dictates of nature. We may be in the unfortunate position of witnessing a collapse. It happens slowly enough that many people will not notice it, but there is something I would like to call the minority of the perceptive few who see it and live it. For them (and I include myself and yourself in this minority) thinking of the future becomes a favourite past-time, if not a necessity of the highest degree. But are we prepared to think seriously of the future? Or are we only entertaining fantasies in order to escape the current mess?
Often I find myself looking for bits of decency in this world of ours. In my town (which as you know is experiencing some hard times) it is difficult to find. But I find it in unexpected places. I will give you one example that you will likely consider benign or unimportant: I frequent a shop while I am working to get some coffee. It makes the afternoon much better. The woman who serves me there carries herself well with a healthy amount of dignity. She has a good memory, knows what I want, addresses me pleasantly, and seems, generally, in good spirits. Undoubtedly she endures some struggles of her own, but she doesn’t broadcast them. In short, she hasn’t lost faith in the goodness of life. At least so far as I can tell by the way she carries herself. I recognize these brief interactions as moments of our old ways held intact.
In order to illustrate further what I mean I will draw a contrast: there are some places you enter in this town where the staff look at you as if you had crawled out of a sewer. They see your decency as a hindrance to their ironic, nihilistic shield. You’ve pulled a fast one on them–an honest fast one that is, and they don’t like it. You look better than they do; you sound better than they do, they know it, and deeply wish they were up to your standards. Whether they are aware of this last part remains to be discovered. Our sewer of decency couldn’t smell any better to us. To them it is everything they hate. To them it stinks of the old ways, and the old ways terrorize them.
On some occasions during my work I have redeeming interactions with people. I forget for a time my general outlook on the situation of cultural decay. It’s even better when you can relate to the other person about the rarity of decency. They may have an anecdote for you, and you for them. Then you know you have found an ally.
I’m forced by my own hand to comment again on Rome because I mentioned it earlier and can’t let it go. It seems such an easy example to use, Rome…but you wouldn’t mind, as you are a historian and take to such things. I will say this: the barbarians that slowly invaded the Roman Empire were more decent than the barbarians I speak of today. Our own countrymen and women who have swallowed the poison eclipse the barbarians Rome had to face. Not in physical stature (that’s laughable) but in their current state of moral decay. You may scoff at my extremism. That’s just fine. I realize I can go quite polar. But don’t we need more of that these days? If I am advocating for more decency to hold back the poison a little longer, don’t I, of necessity, need to take up an extreme position? Doesn’t this apply to yourself as well?
In the ruined city there is a banner that flies proudly. It somehow escaped the destruction. I hope these visions stop. Maybe after writing this letter they will halt. I’m tired of being reminded of 1945.
We carry a banner wherever we go, and for it we are powerful. How does power feel? I ask you this bluntly and expect an answer to it, you should know. So don’t skip over it in your reply.
Again, apologies for the second letter. I really had no choice.
PS: I don’t think I can rest.