In Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman, the befuddled amnesiac Will Barrett arrives at this existential stoplight: When he was a youth he had lived his life in a state of the liveliest expectation, thinking to himself: what a fine thing it will be to become a man and to know what to do–like an Apache youth who at the right time goes out into the plains alone, dreams dreams, sees visions, returns and knows he is a man. But no such time had come and he still didn’t know how to live.
As a result the following quandary with its highly limited denouement arises: What happens to a man to whom all things seem possible and every course of action open? Nothing of course. Except war. If a man lives in the sphere of the possible and waits for the something to happen, what he is waiting for is war–or the end of the world.
In a society driven by the ever-flexible ethos of capitalism and a general disregard for transcendental values (a combination known to go out often together to town), such societal malaise becomes the defining feature. Individual consumer interest reigns as the supreme–if not as the only–enduring fixture. That is, the nature of the desire of the consumer-citizen is never questioned; the ruling question revolves around the method by which Desire X can be most efficiently satisfied (normally, with the creation of the new Desire Y–whatever such may be–to fill in the vacuum left by the recently satiated Desire X). Naturally, such an ad hoc society must necessarily oppose hierarchical structures, true societal roles, local prejudices (in a Russell Kirk kind of way), and moral prohibitions and taboos of all kinds, for these serve only to limit human desire for “artificial riches” (to use the language of St. Thomas Aquinas), which is infinite in capacity.
This Tilt-A-Whirl society that sacramentalizes the perpetual spin of human desire as a mystery that cannot be questioned will dogmatically defend mobility, namely, the abiding production of artificial desire and its subsequent fulfillment, regardless of where we must go or what we must do to achieve gratification for our manufactured desires. If mobility is understood in this sense, then, as Eirk van Kuehnelt-Leddin writes, “A mobile society may contribute to many achievements but, because of the nature of things, to even more disappointments. Psychological disturbances–nervous breakdowns, even suicides–may possibly increase in a socially mobile society (as well as the loss in religious conviction)” (Leftism Revisited).
Despite this conclusion, van Kuehnelt-Leddin still advocates, as do I, an open society over a closed one. Even given the frenetic pace of this current economic and social “adiminstration,” I, for one, do not care to return to the days of yore of strict class, gender, and racial stratification. However, I do think that it is a false dilemma to say that one must choose either a harsh echelon-oriented society (the paleo-conservative wet dream) and utter capitalistic chaos (the libertarian wet dream), but such will more than likely be addressed in a post that I will never write.
All this to say: if you enjoy purchasing fruit/vegetables out of season, watching movies on demand, downloading the latest Pandora recommendation, dressing (or undressing as the case may be) in nationally-syndicated fashions, laughing at the same claptrap humor in a sitcom at which anybody who access to it can also laugh, ordering books from Amazon so that you can then blog about themes deduced from them, etc., then accept the society that must necessarily exist to support this manner of living: a society that also makes possible viewing every pornographic-niche website conceivable. A society that exploits children as a reliable target audience. A society that reduces religion to another consumer choice in a buffet of lifestyles (all acceptable and tasty). A society in which only war, madness, suicide, and The End provide a shadow of relief.