Don’t be alarmed I am not a fatalist or nihilist for that matter. I just wanted to grab your attention with the title.
While walking home from the train station I was listening to one of my favorite my coming of age era bands R.E.M. Their songs are just as poignant then as they are today. The title of this blog post is not quite the same title of their song – “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”
It might be and I do, for now.
I was feeling a bit nostalgic reflecting on when R.E.M. was one of the most popular groups of the time. With catchy melodies and intelligent lyrics they were critical of politics and culture at that time.
This brings me to the main point of this post. Living in Japan I find that politics, while an important part of culture, does not dominate the headlines and daily conversations. In fact, I would say politics is doing what it is supposed to be doing, operating behind the scenes. Back in the R.E.M. days in the United States I would say it was the same, operating more in the background. But for some reason like many things in the United States it has been co-opted into a way to make money. How? By making it entertainment and dominating everyone’s lives.
One can argue this is an important time and politics matters. While it may be, it does beg the question, which I will lift from a lyric of another excellent band of the same era as R.E.M., a Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime,” and the lyrics, “How did I get here?”
The reality is that society is being played, puppets if you will. It’s not your fault, well it kind of is because you are giving it so much attention. But there is a lot of money to be made in political theater by entertaining you and getting and maintaining your attention, while forcing you to constantly talk about it.
Even from halfway across the world I get sucked in. Nightly zoom calls with Mom, politics dominates the conversation until I try and steer it to other topics. Short-lived we are back to Trump or Biden or some other politician who is dominating the news cycle that day.
I will confess I did consciously take time to watch a fascinating documentary from one of my favorite shows, Frontline. The title, “The Choice 2020: Trump vs. Biden.” It is well worth watching to gain insight into their characters as they went back to their childhood uncovering events and people in their lives that influenced who they have become today.
I do tend to watch these kinds of things with a bit of skepticism. Stories are all told from a certain perspective and often things are left out in order to form a particular narrative. But I will say they did a good job painting a picture of their characters. My conclusion it was frightening on both sides for very different reasons.
Making the connection to the title of this blog post and how I felt after watching this documentary, I fear for the United States regardless of the presidential election outcome. This isn’t based on one viewing of a documentary, rather from a number of sources including videos and podcasts from intellectuals who are seeing the unfolding in the United States, not from an optimistic viewpoint, nor from a zero sum game winner take all point of view. Rather from an historical and comparative point of view from other cultures and empires who have gone through very similar trajectories.
I have the advantage of not living in the US allowing for a distance and a perspective in which I get to compare how cultures operate under duress, specifically from the pandemic. Japan with calm, orderly citizens working together. The United States, a rudderless country unraveling and politicizing the pandemic with an everyone for themselves attitude. It is a scary time for many in the United States and I fear things are just beginning.
This is the end of the world as we know it, but not in that way. Rather a new empire, silently operating behind the scenes, a sleeping dragon if you will, coming to the fore in due time. I saw it rear its head during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. I thought to myself while watching this spectacle, “This is the coming out party for China to the world.”
Timing is everything and it’s just a matter of time before we see a lot more of China as the United States continues to unravel. I am not one to hope, hope is for people afraid to live in the present. But in this case, I hope I am wrong.
This may very well be end of the world as we know it, and I do feel fine, for now.