The musings of Mr Monkeysized

Billy you’re so far away from home by monkeysized
August 28, 2010, 21:23
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Mrs Monkeysized is away, so I’ve been sat watching a favourite film with a favourite bottle of wine. The film is the majesterial ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’.

Majesterial? A western? Well yes. It’s a meditation on when progress overtakes individuals – in this case the ranching system overtaking the frontier law in New Mexico.

BtK: “How does it feel?”

PG: “It feels like times have changed.”

BtK: “Times maybe – but not me.”

Men grow moustaches, wear underwear for weeks without taking them off, and life is cheap. Whores are octoroons, although there are other types. An astonishing amount of whiskey is drunk, bringing to mind an excellent podcast from Dan Carlin about how many figures in history were drunk when they embarked upon being historic.

I cried when Slim Pickens’ character is fatally wounded and goes to die by the edge of some water, eyes fixed on the confused face of the woman he loves, all to the strains of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’. As I said, it’s a top film.

And then Paco dies. He’ll build a house with a veranda. On the veranda he’ll have three chairs.

“And I’ll sit on the middle one. Anyone who doesn’t do right according to nature, and my mother, I will blow his head off.”

I’m off to drink whiskey and not change my underwear.

How a lack of confidence may lead to the end of America by monkeysized

Americans are confident people. Anybody can make it from the humblest beginnings to the highest office, even if they then collapse into villany, paranoia and infamy.

Americans don’t just talk about democracy, community spirit and the frontier spirit – they live it, as I found out while making this splendid BBC radio documentary a few years ago in Massachews Massachussetts Massachusets New England…

But if that optimism and, to use an often inappropriate American word, spunk, drains away, where does that leave the US?

David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy believes that the US without optimism is in a whole lot of mess:

This county is in a dark place economically unlike any I have seen in my half century or so of life. While I worry about the fiscal deficit and the trade deficit, we have seen those before and handled them. The more serious deficit we face is one that cuts to the very core of America’s character: it is an optimism deficit.

It is not an abstract concept. It is a tangible, palpable fact that average Americans deal with every day. Anyone who is an over thirty adult in the United States was raised in an America in which the heart of the dream was a better future. If you worked hard and followed the rules, while there may not be game show moments of ecstasy for everyone, you would end up offering a better future to your kids.

Rothkopf concentrates on lessons for the make-up of That Nice Mr Obama’s cabinet, but luckily a second Foreign Policy blogger, Stephen M Walt, fills in the chilling gaps in divining how an optimism-deficit might cripple this currently great nation. Drawing on the flawed genius Jared Diamond (who I believe lets down most books he writes by being 60% Californian and only 40% scientist) he talks about societal collapse. He talks about how decision making processes in some societies become increasingly flawed, and notes areas that resonate with the American experience. He ends with the following:

Even when states do figure out that they’re in trouble and get serious about trying to address the problem, they may still fail because a ready and affordable fix is not available. Given their remarkably fortunate history, Americans tend to think that any problem can be fixed if we just try hard enough. That was never true in the past and it isn’t true today, and the real challenge remains learning how to distinguish between those situations where extra effort is likely to pay off and those where cutting one’s losses makes a lot more sense.

Sadly for those of us looking for slightly more sensation, he stops there instead of letting his thoughts run to their obvious conclusion: that an America without optimism is doomed; that the country is already tipping down an irrevocable spiral of decline; that the time to stockpile tins of beans in that bunker at the end of your garden is now.

PS none of the above was informed by the books that I was reading while recently on holiday.