Sociologist Theodor Adorno once wrote that “Triviality is evil.” That might very well be an appropriate epitaph for our nation. We may actually see the end to a great experiment in freedom, creativity, ingenuity, genius, and a once civil society known as America. And it won’t be from a terrorist bomb.
Triviality certainly fits our current political climate. It describes much of religion in America today. It explains our economy and the shredding of fairness in the workplace, in the giant corporate arena, and in the wild untamed monkeyshine behavior of Wall Street and its gang of banks.
The problems we face, the challenges ever in front of us, are enormous and daunting. But we don’t confront them intelligently. Instead we are seized, haunted, gripped by fear. Our media apparatus is a daily around the clock unfolding of fear inducing hype, gossip, distortion, lies, and propaganda. A tragedy occurs like the San Bernardino shootings and CNN airs the chase, capture and killing of the perpetrators hour after hour day after day over and over again, the same scenes of violence never stopping. The other networks follow suit. And the talk by well-paid pundits about an ISIS invasion and that the terrorists are coming to murder all of us; that no one is safe anywhere just goes on relentlessly. More guns on the street and in the hands of every citizen are offered as a deterrent to Muslim monsters stalking our cities. And this nonsense creates hate and division and turmoil across the nation until the whole thing is trivialized into a ridiculous obscene assault on rational thinking.
Arab historian Ibn Khaldun has ominously pointed out that, “Throughout history many nations have suffered a physical defeat, but that has never marked the end of a nation. But when a nation has become the victim of a psychological defeat, then that marks the end of a nation.”
A psychological defeat. Did you get that? Not blown up malls and suicide bombers in Times Square taking down a nation. But rather a nation ends when it is the victim of psychological defeat. That’s scary. Because that is happening here in America.
The destruction of Israel. The fall of Rome. These were massive civilizations ruined not by raiding armies and weapons of violence but by corrupt kings and evil emperors who ruled with fear and superstition and whose greed and corruption was completely dismissed by an ignorant population of gullible exploitable followers who in every instance did what their leaders told them to do only to find out too late that it was always in their own worst interest to do it.
Terror. Fear. Guns. Violence. Greed. Hate. Discrimination. It’s all related to psychological defeat.
A nation of racial tension, violence and rancor and bitter scorn, where people are objects, where the police shoot first, no questions asked, to kill unarmed black suspects some of them children, and not only do they not ask questions first or even after the smoke clears and the blood settles, they don’t ask questions ever—that is a nation inviting defeat. Suspects are murdered. The police are exonerated. And nothing changes. The courts doze off when any of these cases are brought before them, the judges and juries bored with any sense of justice. The whole process is trivialized by indifference, bigotry, and white power. All the while the thinking of the country deteriorates and a nationwide emotional defeat collapses all structures of value.
Ultimately the terrorists didn’t do it. We did it to ourselves.
When we trivialize hurting people, people of color, the poor and disabled, immigrants and refugees, gays and women, our veterans, and the soldiers in places of horror every day with their lives on the line—when nothing or no one is any longer sacred or valued or respected—then we are defeated. Money won’t help us. Guns won’t save us. Religion can’t rescue us. War won’t end it. Because we’re already finished. Trivialized and psychologically defeated.
I think of Marshall McLuhan’s famous line, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”
It takes a thinking mind to grasp that. It takes a mature people. If we ever get that vision and see the wisdom of it; if we ever go back to working together again, all of us, stop fighting and cooperate, we may then be spared the defeat that is not far away.
© 2015 Timothy Moody