Whether you read the Times or the Wall Street Journal, informed consensus has it that this country is in trouble. Our monster deficit increasingly undercuts economic growth, while our mounting foreign debts threaten to make us grad students at the table of nations, disregarded except when we’re subjected to lectures on the importance of industry. We need to stop spending money, stat, but at the same time we’ve got an economy in shambles, an infrastructure wearing through and at least two major cities (Detroit, New Orleans) half abandoned. Oh yeah—we’ve also embarked on two land wars in Asia. In this time of crisis, with a new president who rode to office as the explicit champion of American hope, we have opted to spend the past year arguing heatedly about the particulars of a health care reform package that we never passed. In the meantime, we managed to degrade our discourse to the point where the ruling party is regularly compared to Nazis, the president is accused of not being an American citizen, and even routine political appointments are ransomed for congressional pork, at least until somebody gets caught. At our time of crisortunity, when we were faced with the chance and the obligation to remake America for the twenty-first century, we as a nation have boldly stepped forward onto our own dicks, then fallen into the cat box. Which raises an interesting political question: What the fuck is our problem?
It’s Friday, and that means it’s time to fit the irregular detritus of the week into a taught chain of causal, um, links. The problem with contemporary life—if I can just jump right into it here—is that it’s increasingly non-narrative. Ever since the basic unit of work went from stalking a mastodon over the frozen plains for two weeks to franking insurance forms in a cubicle for eight hours, human life has become more and more episodic. That’s great for creating a mood but bad for developing character, to put it in workshop terms. Maybe that’s why the character of our nation has been so moody lately, with alternating factions declaring crisis amid recovery, victory in stalemate, strategem in disaster and vice versa, pretty much anew every morning. There must be a narrative in there somewhere, since yesterday will definitely not be happening again today, but sometimes the story seems hard to follow. Maybe we’re just looking at another week’s episode in the long-running melodrama of stupidity versus sense. Maybe stupidity has won, and the rest of the performance will be a puppet show, with shrieking socks debating each other in the same idiot’s voice. The fact of the matter is that not everything happens according to some plan, and our best evidence for destiny is still assembled in retrospect. This week, retrospect reveals only a startling refusal to cohere. As you move from the structure of your workweek to the short-form improvisations of the weekend, consider Camus’s assertion that meaning is only something we make for ourselves, and therefore so is meaninglessness. It is the edge between our desperate understandings and an indifferent universe where stories are made, and it’s the friction in the joint that gives them heat. It’s a cold morning in the Combat! blog offices, so let’s get a little fire going, huh?